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Posts Tagged ‘northern catalpa’

This photo of Half Moon Pond in Hancock only tells half the story because there is still plenty of snow out there, but one day we had a lot of rain that immediately froze into ice and now it’s hard to get into the woods without Yaktrax or some other non-slip grippers on your boots. Where there is still snow there is a thick, icy, and very slippery crust on it. I’ve wanted to climb a hill but I’m a bit put off by the ice. If I was a skater I think I’d be very happy right about now.

I saw this curious lens like formation in some puddle ice. I can’t even imagine how it would have formed.

You can see all kinds of things in ice and I found an owl in this section of puddle ice. It’s on the right, tilted slightly to the left.

Here is a closer look at the owl. There is blue around its eyes and a V shape between them. You can see some amazing things in puddle ice, from distant solar systems to frozen currents, and I always stop and give it a close look. In fact I’ve been known to get down on my hands and knees for a closer look but I found that I was disrupting traffic when I did that, so now I can only do it in the woods. “What is that nut doing kneeling on the side of the road?” I imagined the people wondering as they slowed to see. “Why, he’s taking pictures of a mud puddle!!” It takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

I found this strange ice formation on the river’s shore. I don’t know how it formed but I’m guessing that those branches had something to do with it. It reminded me of the Roman temple ruins I’ve seen photos of. Ice is an amazing thing that surprises me almost every time I look closely at it.

But enough with the ice; it’s giving me a chill. I found a grape vine hanging on for dear life, but it has nothing to worry about. River grapes (Vitis riparia) are also called frost grapes and they’ve been known to survive temperatures as low as -57 degrees F, so our paltry 20 below zero readings this year hardly bothered them at all. Their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties. If you grow grapes there’s a good chance that your vines were grafted onto river grape rootstock. I looked for some leftover grapes on this vine but the birds have taken every single one this year. I wouldn’t wonder; the poor things have had to suffer through two weeks of below zero weather this winter.

We have a bird here in North America called the acorn woodpecker and it makes its living stashing acorns in holes it has drilled into trees, utility poles, house siding, or any other wooden object. But they are a western bird and we don’t have them here in the east, so what bird put this acorn into this hole in a birch tree? After a little reading on the subject I found that many woodpeckers do this, though not on the same grand scale as the acorn woodpecker, apparently. In fact jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes but they can’t drill the holes like a woodpecker can, as far as I know. In the end I can’t say which bird put this acorn in the hole. Maybe a woodpecker drilled the hole and another bird hid the acorn. In any event if I ever see an oak growing out of a birch I’ll know what happened.

I’ve always loved seeing birds but I knew early on that I could never really study them because of colorblindness. Still, I’ve learned an awful lot about them by blogging, and one of the things I’ve discovered is that the same birds in different parts of the country have different habits. In the Midwest for instance, birds will quickly eat all the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries they can find, but here in New Hampshire they pretty much leave them alone until spring and it’s common to see sumac seed heads still full of seeds even in April. I’ve read that sumac berries are very low in fat and that’s why birds shun them, but that doesn’t fully explain it. Sumac berries in the Midwest have the same amount of fat that those in New Hampshire do, so it must be something else. Maybe it’s the super abundance of other foods we have here. It could be that the birds simply don’t need to eat the berries until the supply of other foods runs out.

A television naturalist noted that a half a loaf of bread provided all the food a large troop of baboons needed for an entire day. They could steal and eat a loaf of bread in a half hour and play for the rest of the day, or they could forage for natural foods all day and not have time for anything else. “Which would you do?” the naturalist asked, and that got me wondering about invasive plants like the Japanese barberry in the above photo. These plants form huge thickets and are loaded with berries, so why would a bird expend energy flying from tree to tree all day foraging for food when it could simply sit in a barberry thicket and eat its fill in an hour? That’s a big part of the reason invasive plants are so successful, I think.

Though American basswood (Tilia americana) trees are native to the eastern U.S. I never find them in the forest in this area so I really don’t know that much about them. I never realized that their seeds were so hairy and I didn’t know until I did some research that chipmunks, mice, and squirrels eat them. Birds apparently, do not. Virtually every basswood tree that I know is used as an ornamental shade tree and that might be because they are one of the hardest trees to propagate by seed. Only 30% of their seeds are said to be viable, and that might account for their scarceness. Surprisingly, the foliage and flowers are both edible and many people eat them. Native Americans used the tree’s pliable inner bark to make ropes, baskets, mats and nets. Bees love the fragrant flowers and basswood honey is said to be of the highest quality.

The smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) vine can reach 8 feet long, with golf ball size flower heads all along it. The female flower clusters when pollinated become globular clusters of dark blue fruit. The berries are said to be a favorite of song and game birds so I was surprised to find several clusters of them. Raccoons and black bears also eat the fruit, so maybe the bears will get some when they wake up in spring. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries of the vine but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of it. Their strong odor resembles that of decaying meat.

How do you show the wind in a photograph? I thought this downy feather stuck on the tip of a branch would show how windy it was on this day but I had the settings on my camera set to stop even a feather being blown about by the wind, so I guess you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was very windy. Wind is often the nature photographer’s enemy, but you can sometimes find ways around it.

It seems odd that a tree like the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) would have such tiny buds, because everything else about the tree is big. It even has big leaf scars, and that’s what this photo shows. But the bud that appears just at the top of the leaf scar is so small you can barely find it. The tree has huge heart shaped leaves that are the biggest I’ve seen, and great trusses of large flowers which become string bean like seed pods that can be two feet long. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew great plantations of them to be used as railroad ties. They are still used for utility poles today.  Midwestern Native American tribes hollowed out the trunks of catalpa trees and used them as canoes, and the name Catalpa comes from the Cherokee tribe’s word for the tree. Natives made tea from the bark and used it as an antiseptic and sedative. Parts of the tree are said to be mildly narcotic.

Where I work we’ve seen hundreds of what we thought were stink bugs. They started coming indoors when it got cold and got into smoke detectors, light fixtures and heating ducts. Once I had this photo I was able to look them up and I found that they weren’t stink bugs at all, even though they do have an odor if they’re crushed. Instead this is the western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis.) This insect sucks the sap from the developing cones of many species of conifer. It is native to North America west of the Rocky Mountains but has expanded its range and is most likely here to stay. Though they are a minor pest when it comes to conifers they can be a major pest indoors, because they can pierce PEX tubing with their mouth parts and cause leaks. If your house happens to be plumbed with PEX tubing you might want to vacuum up as many of these insects as you can find when they come indoors in the fall. They can’t bite but they can spray a bitter, stinky liquid when they’re threatened.

Split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) are winter fungi that appear in late fall. They are covered by what looks like a wooly fur coat. Because they are so hairy they are very easy to identify. They are usually about the size of a penny and I find them on dead branches. They are very tough and leathery.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. I’ve never seen one that was this furry on its underside. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have isolated a compound from it that is said to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

This is the only clear shot I’ve ever gotten of the open split in the underside tissue of a split gill fungus. Though called gills they really aren’t. It’s just this mushrooms way of increasing its spore bearing surface and thereby increasing its spore production. It’s always about the continuation of the species, whether we talk about fungi, fig trees, fish, falcons or fireflies.

The spidery twigs of lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) make them very easy to identify in winter. They had a fantastic crop last year, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do this year. Quite often when a plant produces a bumper crop one year it has to rest for a while in following years. It can take as long as 5 years for some plants to recover.

It’s hard to believe that anything could live on tiny tree buds but deer can, and they do. Of course, that isn’t all they eat but buds are part of their diet. Winter forage isn’t very nutritious though and deer burn considerable amounts of the fat that they put on in the fall. They can add as much as 30 pounds of fat in a good year but then burn it all just getting through winter. In a winter as harsh as this one has been many may not make it through. You can tell that a deer has been at this twig by the way it is roughly torn. Deer have incisor teeth only on their bottom jaw and these teeth meet a hard pad of cartilage on the front part of their upper jaw, so they can’t bite cleanly like we do. Instead they pull and tear. They also have top and bottom molars but they are quite far back in the mouth and are used for chewing rather than biting.

We’ve had days warm enough to send me off looking for witch hazel blossoms but I didn’t see any. Instead I saw a lilac bud that was as green as it should be in spring and which seemed to be thinking about opening. I hope it changed its mind because we could still have plenty of winter ahead of us. Traditionally February is said to be our snowiest month, so this little bud might have made a mistake. On the bright side it’s time to say goodbye, and possibly good riddance, to January.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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Imagine a tree 80-100 feet high and 50 feet wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it Catawba.

Each beautiful catalpa flower is made up of petals that have fused to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple insect guides can be seen in the throat. The opening is quite big; easily big enough for a bumblebee.

If the berries taste anything like the plant smells then I wouldn’t be eating them from a bittersweet nightshade vine (Solanum dulcamara.) It’s a native of Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes, and the fruit is a red berry which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. Bittersweet nightshade produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic. In medieval times it was used medicinally but these days birds seem to be the only ones getting any use from it. I always find that getting good photos of its small flowers is difficult, but I’m not sure why.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa,) as is the one in the above photo. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. Silky Dogwood  has berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Native dogwoods are also sometimes confused with viburnums, but viburnum flowers have five petals and dogwoods have four. Its flowers become white, single seeded berries (drupes) on red stems (pedicels) that are much loved by many different birds. Most of our native dogwoods like soil that is constantly moist and can be found along the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams.

Once you get used to seeing both dogwoods and viburnums you can tell them apart immediately. The flowers on our native viburnums like the the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful.

Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Heal all (Prunella lanceolata) has tiny hooded flowers that remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. This one had a friend visiting.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. I’ve only seen a handful each year for the past several years.

Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

Heartsease (Viola tricolour) has been used medicinally for a very long time as an expectorant, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Used both internally and externally, the violet is said to be helpful for cystitis, rheumatic complaints, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Though Viola tricolor, the parent of today’s pansy, is native to Europe the medicinal qualities have been found to be the same for all of the species. Native Americans used our native blue violets for cancer treatment. American pioneers thought that a handful of violets taken into the farmhouse in the spring ensured prosperity, and to neglect this ceremony brought harm to baby chicks and ducklings.

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms and you can see certain roads that are lined with the glossy leaved, white flowering shrubs. They seem fussy about where they grow but when they find a spot that they like they can form dense thickets that are nearly impossible to get through. In this spot they grow to about 10 feet tall.

The pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. I saw several bumblebees working these flowers and you can see some relaxed anthers in this photo. Once the anthers are released from their pockets they don’t return to them.

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the tough wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

I find mallow plants (Malvaceae) growing in strange places like roadsides but I think most are escapees from someone’s garden. The flowers on this example look a lot like those of vervain mallow (Malva alcea), which is a European import. Like all plants in the mallow family its flowers were large and beautiful. Other well-known plants in this family include hibiscus, hollyhocks, and rose of Sharon.

I found this white mallow looking for all the world like a white hibiscus.

I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

A very special guest flower for this week is the rare (here) and beautiful ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), a plant that I’ve searched for for many years and could never find. Where I finally found it was amazing; one of the lawns where I work had construction going on near it and couldn’t be mowed for two weeks, and in those two weeks up popped several ragged robin plants. It is said to prefer disturbed habitats like meadows and fields and I guess the fact that it grew in a lawn proves it.

Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S., like the very beautiful Clarkia pulchella shown recently on Montucky’s blog,  this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England. It might have come as a garden ornamental, but when ships arrived from foreign lands it was once common practice to dump their ballast of gravel and stones on our shores so they could take on cargo, and this plant was reported growing in ship’s ballast in 1880. However it got here I was very happy to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes my pulse quicken and my breath catch in my throat and is what can take me out of myself to a higher place, much like art or music might do for you. The chance of seeing something so beautiful is part of what keeps me going back to nature day after day, year after year.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ~Rumi

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1. Tall Meadow Rue Closeup

Just in time for the 4th, tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) puts on its own fireworks display. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo. This plant grows in moist places along stream and pond banks and gets quite tall. I’ve seen it reach 6 or 7 feet.

2. Catalpa Blossom

Northern catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) are loaded with beautiful orchid like blossoms right now. Soon long, thin seed pods will dangle from the branches. When I was a boy we always called catalpas string bean trees.

 3. Dogbane Plant

Native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a perennial wildflower that looks like a shrub. It spreads by both seeds and underground stems and is considered a weed in some places. I find large colonies of it growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges. The plant in related to milkweed and many species of butterflies rely on it.

4. Dogbane Blossoms

Spreading dogbane has small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. This plant is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just big enough to hold a pea.

5. Rattlesnake Weed Blossom

Most people seeing this flower would say that it is yellow hawkweed and they would be half right. This is the blossom of rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum,) which is in the hawkweed family and is sometimes called rattlesnake hawkweed.  The flower clusters grow at the tops of long, wiry stems and that makes getting a photo of the flowers and leaves together just about impossible. I’ve been trying for quite a while.

6. Rattlesnake Weed Foliage

The foliage of rattlesnake weed changes as the season progresses. The leaves shown here started out very purple in the spring, with deep purple veins. They were also very hairy, but now they are smooth and green with reddish veins. The plant’s common name comes from the thought that it grew where there were rattlesnakes. Because of the very unusual foliage I think it is one of our most beautiful native plants, but unfortunately it is also extremely rare. This is the only one I’ve ever seen.

 7. Pinks and Cinquefoil

Our meadows are spangled with maiden pinks and yellow cinquefoil right now. The two colors go very well together. If you didn’t know better you’d think it had been planned.

8. Maiden pink aka Dianthus deltoids

Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) originally hail from Europe and Asia and were imported to use in gardens. Of course they immediately escaped and can now be seen just about everywhere. The name “pinks” comes from the way the petal edges look like they were cut by pinking shears. Butterflies love them.

9. Daisies and Lupines on River Bank

The ox-eye daisies and lupines along the riverbank have been beautiful this year. The spot in this photo is where I have always found chicory (Cichorium intybus) growing as well, but there is no sign of it this year and I wonder if our harsh winter has killed it.

10. Yellow Irises

I found a small pond in the woods that was surrounded by yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus). This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is a rarity in this part of the state. This is one of just a very few times I have seen it and it was quite beautiful. Even though I jumped from hummock to hummock to get this photo, I couldn’t get any closer without waders.

 11. Wild Grape Flowers

One of the great delights of wandering the New Hampshire woods in late spring is the amazing fragrance of wild grape flowers that wafts on the breeze. Their perfume can be detected from quite a distance so I let my nose lead me to this vine, which was growing over some sumacs. I’m always surprised that such a big scent comes from such tiny flowers, each no bigger than the head of a match. We have a few varieties of wild grape here in New Hampshire including fox grapes (Vitis labrusca).

12. Cranberry PLants

Another native food found here in New Hampshire is the cranberry. Though I usually find them in wet, boggy areas these grew high on an embankment quite far from the water of a pond. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

13. Cranberry Blossom

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

14. Elderberry Flowers

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) bushes are common and seen everywhere here in this part of New Hampshire; common enough to be largely ignored, in fact. But, if you take the time to stop and really look at them you find that the large, flat flower heads are made up of hundreds of tiny, uncommonly beautiful flowers. Later in August each flower will have become a small purple berry so dark it is almost black.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~ Lydia M. Child

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July.

 

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Goodbye February! It might be the shortest month, but it always seems like the longest to me. It’s still very cold here with below zero nights but the sun has greater warmth and the days are longer so the snow is slowly melting away from the places where fungi, mosses and lichens grow. What follows is some of what I’ve seen on recent walks.

 1. Gouty Oak Gall

Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

 2. False Turkey Tail aka Stereum ostrea

I saw hundreds of these small bracket fungi covering a tree trunk and thought Great-false turkey tails-I won’t have to spend two weeks trying to identify them for the blog!  Nature had other ideas though- one look at the undersides told me that they were not false turkey tails (Stereum ostrea) at all. Unfortunately my peek at their hidden faces didn’t tell me what they were, and after looking through 4 mushroom books and countless web pages, I still don’t know. I thought I’d include them here to once again illustrate how important looking at the spore bearing surface of a mushroom is when you are trying to identify it.

 3. False Turkey Tail aka Stereum ostrea Underside

This is what the underside of the bracket fungus in the previous photo looked like. I’m sure I’ve seen them before but I can’t find a similar example in a book. False turkey tails have a smooth, whitish underside-much different than the maze like surface seen here.

 4. Barberry Inner Bark

The bark of the common or European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) contains berberine, a yellow crystalline, bitter alkaloid. It is said that chewing a piece of bark, even on the hottest days, will make your mouth water and slake your thirst. The inner bark is very yellow and it and the bark from the plant’s roots have been used for centuries to make yellow dye used to dye fabric and leather.

 5. Gypsy Moth Egg Case

I recently found several gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) egg cases on a tree. Gypsy moths were first introduced from Europe in Massachusetts in 1869, to breed with the silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) to produce a hardier silkworm. Naturally, it escaped and has become one of the chief defoliators of deciduous trees and conifers in the eastern United States. Each egg mass can contain 100-1000 eggs and should be destroyed when found.

 6. Partridge Berries

There are still plenty of partridge berries under the evergreens and on south facing slopes where the snow has melted. Turkeys love these berries so I’m surprised to see that there are any left.

 7. Trametes hirsuta

I think this grayish white bracket fungus is the hairy bracket (Trametes hirsuta). This fungus is very hairy and turns brown as it ages. It is closely related to turkey tail fungi (trametes versicolor) and is zoned like they are, but its zones aren’t as pronounced or as colorful as those on turkey tails, and are easy to miss.

 8. Wavy Starburst Moss aka Atrichum altercristatum

I think this moss might be wavy starburst moss (Atrichum altercristatum).It doesn’t look like it has been affected by winter at all. When wet its bright green, rippled leaves spread out and give this moss a star like appearance and when dry they curl and turn brown. Finding green mosses in winter seems to make it easier to get through somehow.

 9. Northern Catalpa Leaf Scar aka Catalpa speciosa

Northern catalpa has some of the largest leaf scars of any tree I know. This one was a half inch long. The leaf scars are sunken and come in sets of three spaced around the diameter of the twig. The heart shaped leaves of catalpa are also some of the biggest that I know of. Its large clusters of orchid like flowers are beautiful and its wood is rot resistant and makes good fence posts.

 10. Oak Buds 3

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds don’t seem to be swelling much. The terminal buds of this tree usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

11. Striped Maple Buds 2

Native Striped Maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) buds always remind me of a trident. The large central terminal bud is unusual because it has only two bud scales. Red oak buds like those in the previous photo have 3 or more bud scales. Striped maple is very fussy about where it grows and will not stand pollution, heat, or drought. It likes cool, shady places with sandy soil that stays moist. They bloom in June and have very pretty green blossoms. I can’t say that they’re rare here, but I don’t see them very often. I’ve been searching for one in bloom for 3 years and haven’t found one yet.

12. Vernal Witch Hazel

This vernal (spring blooming) witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) grows in a local park. I think it miscalculated this year and bloomed too early. You can see how some of its strap shaped petals got too cold and browned before retracting back into the tiny cup like bracts. Proof that even nature can make an occasional mistake. Our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms in late fall.

The most beautiful things in life go un-noticed. ~ Omar Hickman

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Here are a few more examples of what we have blooming here right now.

1. Black Eyed Susan

Really? I thought. Black eyed Susans already? I like these flowers but at the same time I’m never in any hurry to see them because to me they represent the top of the hill we have been climbing since the last of the snow melted. Once Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) bloom we start down the other side of that hill towards autumn, and I’m in no hurry to get there.  These plants are native to the U.S. anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and introduced west of them.

2. BlueToadflax

Dry, sunny, sandy roadsides suddenly turn blue when blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) blooms. Tiny, pale blue and white flowers sit on thin, wiry stems. This native plant was introduced to Europe and has naturalized in some areas, including Russia. It is in the snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) family. Toadflax boiled in milk is said to make an excellent fly poison.

3. Tall Buttercup

I’ve tried several times to get a photo that shows the waxy shine on common buttercup (Ranunculus acris) petals, and I think this one might be it. This shine is caused by a layer of mirror-flat cells that have an air gap just below them, and just below the air gap is a smooth layer of brilliant white starch. All of these layers act together to reflect yellow light while blue-green light is absorbed.

4. Catalpa Blossoms

The orchid-like flowers of the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree have opened. These native trees grow to 70 feet or more and often the branches are so high up that you can’t see the flowers closely, but I was lucky to find an immature tree. Each flower is made up of petals that fuse to form one large, frilly petal. Yellow, orange and purple can be seen in the throat. Flowers will give way to long, thin pods that we used to call string beans when I was a boy.

5. Crown Vetch

Crown vetch (Coronilla varia) has an interesting flower head made up of up to 25 individual flowers. The standard is upright and deeper pink than the 4 lighter petals that make up the keel. Flowers have a typical pea-like shape. This plant was introduced as a forage crop and has escaped to the point where it is found regularly along sunny roadsides.

6. Indian Cucumber Root Flower

The flowers of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) can be challenging to photograph. Out of more than 20 shots this is the only one worth posting. It shows how the yellow-green petals curve backwards to reveal a long, spidery style and 6 stamens, all in crimson and plum. When these plants aren’t flowering they are sometimes mistaken for starflower because of the way the leaves whorl around the stem. The root of this plant tastes like cucumber and Native Americans used it for both food and medicine. People seem to feel the need to taste the plant’s root and because of it Indian cucumber is now endangered in many areas. Please admire them and let them be so the rest of us can also admire them.

7. Dogbane

Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) is supposed to be toxic to dogs so the Apocynum part of the scientific name means “Away dog!” The second part of the scientific name, cannabinum, means “like hemp,” which helps explain the plant’s other common name of Indian hemp. Dogbane has white, sticky sap that is toxic, so animals avoid it. Native Americans made thread and cord from dogbane and used it for nets and snares because the fibers hold their shape and do not shrink when they get wet. Dogbane fibers have been found in archaeological sites that are thousands of years old.

 8. Mountain Laurel Flowers

Our woods are full of native blooming mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) right now. Many believe that these evergreen shrubs are related to rhododendrons, but they are actually more closely related to blueberries. The white to pink flowers of Mountain laurel each have 10 pockets or depressions in the petals that the anthers bend to fit into. When a pollinator lands on the blossom the anthers spring from these pockets and dust the insect with pollen.

 9. Mountain Laurel Flower Backs

This view of the back of mountain laurel blossoms shows the unusual pockets that the anthers fit into. Mountain laurel is very toxic and has been known to kill livestock that have eaten it.

10. Yellow Rattle aka Rhinanthus minor

Yellow rattle box (Rhinanthus crista) is a very strange plant that is, in botanical terms, “hemi parasitic” on pasture grasses. This means that even though it creates its own food through photosynthesis its roots attack the roots of other plants and literally suck the life out of them. If enough of them grow in a pasture they can destroy the grasses in it. This plant is from Europe and gets its common name from the way the dry seeds rattle around in the round, flat pods that form behind each flower.

 11. Lobelia

There are so many lobelias that it is often hard to tell, but I think this is pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata.) Lobelias usually prefer moist places so I was surprised to find it in a small, dry clearing on the side of a hill. I was also surprised that the flowers on some plants were such a deep blue, because they usually range from pale blue to white. Flowers are found on a thin, wiry stem. When I was looking for information on this plant I was surprised to find that it is listed as rare in New Hampshire. In my experience it is quite common. Lobelias are toxic so no part of the plant should ever be eaten.

 12. Lobelia-Single Flower

Each flower of Lobelia spicata has an upper lip that is divided into 2 lobes and a larger lip that is divided into 3 lobes. A dark blue stigma sits between the upper 2 lobes. The petals are fused and form a tube. At a glance it might be easy to confuse this plant with blue toadflax.

 13. Flowering Raspberry

The petals of our native flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) always look like somebody forgot to iron them before they put them on. If this flower reminds you of a rose, that’s because it is in the rose family. The 2 inch wide flowers are fragrant and attract butterflies. If pollinated, they are followed by large berries that are said to taste good, but have too many seeds to be useful. The red to orange fruit is shaped like a thimble and that gives this plant another common name-pink thimble berry.

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.  ~John Ruskin

Thanks for coming by.

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