Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Oak Leaves in Winter’

I’ve seen some glorious sunrises lately. This one reminded me of the old “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” saying, which is based in fact. According to Wikipedia “If the morning skies are red, it is because clear skies over the horizon to the east permit the sun to light the undersides of moisture-bearing clouds.” The concept is over two thousand years old and is even referenced in the New Testament, so sailors have been paying attention to the skies for a very long time.  

I like looking for patterns in ice and I thought I saw the Statue of Liberty’s Crown in this puddle ice. The whiter the ice, the more air bubbles were trapped in it when it froze. That explains the color, but what explains the long, needle like crystals and the strange pinging noise it makes when it breaks? There might be answers to those questions out there, but I still haven’t been able to find them.

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are a native holly that love wet feet so I look for them in swamps and along streams.  Conditions must have been perfect for them this year because I’ve seen more berries on them than I ever have. Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings all eat them so this year they’ll eat well.

Spindle berry is native to Europe but we have a native version called eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus,) and I think this plant is probably the native version. The photo above is of its interesting bright red fruit, which many birds eat. I watched a pair of blue jays eating the fruit just the other day, in fact. Though Native Americans used the bark, leaves and fruits medicinally  all parts of this plant are considered poisonous if eaten. Wahoo was their name for the shrub.

When young yellow hawkweed seedlings (Hieracium caespitosum) look like the above photo; very hairy. And when it gets cold the leaves will turn purple unless covered by snow. When covered the leaves will often stay green all winter and there are thousands of them in a meadow where I work. Hawkweeds were used in Europe to treat lung disorders, stomach pains, cramps, and convulsions. Native Americans used our native hawkweeds in chewing gum.

I know I showed Mount Monadnock in my last post but I’m showing it again because I just heard that a man had to be rescued from the summit recently. Unfortunately this has become a common occurrence that is expensive and dangerous for rescuers. It usually happens because people simply aren’t prepared for the weather conditions up there. They get wet, cold, and find themselves in serious trouble. People have died on that mountain, so if you plan on climbing it please do some research and stay safe. By the way, all the snow in this photo is gone now but it’s still mighty cold up there. For a current forecast visit https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Mount-Monadnock/forecasts/965

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) grows long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. Virgin’s bower is our native wild clematis vine that blooms anytime from July through September. Botanically speaking these “seeds” are achenes, which are fruits with one seed. This is a common plant seen draped over shrubs and climbing into trees all along these tracks. What is uncommon is its pretty star shaped seed head. The hairy looking seeds give it another common name: Old Man’s Beard.

I think this is the worst tree wound I’ve ever seen. Though dead now the tree lived like this for many years. It showed me that the natural drive to live is very strong among all living things.

I saw a familiar black growth on a fallen beech limb (Fagus grandifolia) that I recognized as an unusual little fungus that I had seen before.

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. The fruiting bodies seen here are described as “cushion like round or flask shaped masses of fungal tissue with nipple or pustule shaped pores.” It took me about three years to be able to identify this fungus, so you have to be persistent in nature study.

Another black fungus found on trees is the bootstrap fungus. It is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

Fungal spores can enter trees through wounds in the bark, like sapsucker holes for instance. Yellow bellied sapsuckers are in the woodpecker family but unlike other woodpeckers they feed on sap instead of insects. They drill a series of holes in a line across the bark and then move up or down and drill another series of holes before moving again, and the end result is usually a rectangular pattern of holes in the bark. They’ll return to these holes again and again to feed on the dripping sap. Many small animals, bats, birds and insects also drink from them, so these little birds help out a lot of their forest companions.

Many ash trees have black winter buds, like black ash for instance, but I know this one by its fruit and it is a native mountain ash. It grows in a very un-mountain like wet place and because of that I think it suffers. It seems a weak, sickly tree and I didn’t know that its buds also looked sickly until I took this photo. It does bear a limited amount of fruit though, so it’s obviously trying.

But none of that was the actual point of taking this photo; I took it so I could tell you that the best way to start learning to identify trees when they are leafless is to find a tree with prominent or unmistakable features (like buds) and start there. Once you’ve learned all you can from that tree choose another. Sooner or later you’ll notice similar patterns among tree species and that will make them even easier to identify.

Shrubs too, can teach. I can’t think of another shrub with chubby purple buds like those found on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa.) In spring the outer purple bud scales will open and show the green inner bud and they will be very beautiful in their purple and green stripes. A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open in the spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new leaves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” An imbricate bud is a bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles. In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

The inner bark on dead staghorn sumacs can be a beautiful bright, reddish orange color in the winter. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner (live) bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. The plant is said to be rich in tannins and I do know that dyes in colors like salmon and plum can be made from various parts of the plant, including its bark.

I’ve seen various animals and even beautiful Hindu dancers in grape tendrils but in this one all I see is infinity, because it doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end. A grape tendril is a flower stalk that has evolved into a grasping support to get the vine into the bright life giving sunshine at the tops of trees. They bend in the direction of touch so if the wind happens to blow them against a branch they will twist spirally around it. In a vineyard they usually point to the north.

I like the warm, rich brown of oak leaves in the winter. These were curled together in a hug, as if to keep each other warm.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) seed pods covered the ground under an old tree and I was glad I wasn’t the one who had to rake them all up. When the seed pods are green the pulp on the inside is edible and very sweet, while the pulp of the very similar black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is toxic. One good way to tell the two trees apart is by the length of their seed pods; honey locust pods are much longer and may reach a foot in length, while black locust pods only grow to about 4-5 inches long. Honey locust seed pods look a lot like giant flat string beans about 9-12 inches long and often curled. Some of them look like polished mahogany and others can be purple. Beautiful white, fragrant flowers cover these trees in late spring. Locusts are legumes, in the pea family. Deer love the seed pods.

Honey locust thorns grow singly and can be 3 to 6 inches long. They will sometimes branch like the example in the photo. These thorns are big and as hard as iron. They can reach 6 inches in length and poke right out of the bark of the tree along its branches and sometimes even the main trunk. They are tough enough to puncture shoe soles and I always watch my step when I walk under one of these trees because thorns like these can cause a nasty wound. In the past the hard thorns of the younger trees were used as nails. Confederate soldiers once used them to pin their uniforms together and survivalists still use them as fish hooks, spear heads, nails, sewing needles and even small game traps. Native Americans used the wood to make bows, and medicines were made from various parts of the plant.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »

As soon as I mentioned spring in a blog post winter returned and we’ve had a cold, snowy week. Last Saturday it was cloudy but not too cold at 37 degrees F. when I went to play on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. I’ve been playing on these river banks my entire lifetime and I’ve seen a lot of trees in the river, but I’ve never seen one actually fall in. That leaning white pine over on the left is going to fall in any time now, I’d guess, but I doubt I’ll see it happen. Once it falls in it might be in this spot for a year or two or maybe more, but eventually the river will flood and off it will go on its journey to the Atlantic. White pines are our tallest trees and I’m guessing that this one is over 100 feet tall.

Ice baubles that would have been more at home on a chandelier hung from the slab of ice that had formed over a stone.

They hung from anything close enough for the river to touch.

Just like a candle dipped in hot wax the waves engulf an icicle again and again, depositing a new layer of ice each time. The excess water runs down its length and pools there, creating the fat bottom just above the water. In this shot the point from where the bauble dangles doesn’t look very strong.

Last Monday the temperatures fell into the single digits F. and the wind roared with 60 mile per hour gusts. After that it was snowy all week and cold enough to keep the snow from melting. Everything that fell stayed right where it landed.

And the snow on tree trunks marked the direction the wind had blown it in from.

I saw lots of beaver activity here. They had sampled this young beech at might have come back and cut it down that night.

Sometimes a beaver will sample a tree and find it not to its liking, and leave it alone.

But usually they know what they’re cutting and they cut down trees and haul them away. They like beech and I’ve seen them cut huge old trees down to get at the upper branches.

The chips the beaver left behind looked like the same things a pileated woodpecker would have left but I didn’t find any woodpecker damage on any of the nearby trees.

I’ve noticed many times that fallen oak limbs have a golden color on their bark. What I don’t know is if this happens when the branch dies or is it there when they’re alive. I’ve cut down and cut up oak trees but I’ve never noticed the color on a fresh limb.

Fallen oak limbs often have jelly fungi on them, especially amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) like that seen here. This one was about the size of a nickel and frozen solid. Once it thaws it will grow on as if nothing ever happened. It’s the only jelly fungus I know of that holds its size when it dries out. Most shrivel down into little chips on the bark.

I love the soft brown color of last year’s oak leaves and the way they curl together as if hugging to keep each other warm.

I think the fungus on this tree was conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) which I’m seeing a lot of this year. It is also called bleeding parchment because of the blood red liquid it exudes when damaged but this example was very dry. The fungus causes heart rot and means a death sentence for a conifer. I’ve seen this fungus in just about every bit of woodland I’ve been in recently and after not seeing it for years, that seems strange. It’s almost like an outbreak.

Milk white toothed polypore was dry enough to be almost unrecognizable but I’ve seen it enough to know what I was looking at. This crust fungus has ragged bits of spore producing tissue that hang down and look like teeth, and that’s where part of its common name comes from. This common fungus can usually be found on the undersides of hardwood branches.

Common ground pine (Lycopodium dendroideum) is a clubmoss and has nothing to do with pines. It also has nothing to do with moss; it’s a vascular plant that produces spores instead of flowers. The spores are produced in the yellowish “clubs” called strobili. In this photo the strobili are still tightly closed. When they open to release the spores they have a kind of ragged look to them. The dried spores they are highly flammable, and they were once used in place of flash bulbs in photography. That’s one reason that clubmosses were so hard to find at one time. People also made Christmas wreaths from them and that also helped to nearly wipe them out. They’ve made a comeback though and I see lots of them.

Snow always melts faster under the evergreens because the branches block so much of it from falling next to the trunk. This gives birds and small animals places to scratch around and find any morsels that might have been missed.

The return of the bluebirds made me think that other migrants might be coming back as well, but the sumac berries still aren’t being eaten. I’ve heard that the fruit is low in fat and not very nourishing but I would think it would at least fill an empty stomach and get them by until they could find something a little more nourishing. These berries are on a smooth sumac (Rhus glabra,) which I’ve never seen growing here.

The birds have eaten all the seeds from the asters, but what they leave behind is still pretty enough to make me think of flowers. It’s hard to imagine birds getting much nourishment from such tiny seeds but I suppose if you happen to be a tiny bird they’re just right.

They say a warm up is coming starting next week so I hope to be able to show you something besides ice and snow soon. I still haven’t seen a sap bucket but I dreamed I was in a sugar bush of huge old trees with hundreds of buckets hanging from them, so I hope to also be able to show you one of those soon. I have seen that plastic tubing they use instead of sap buckets these days, so I know the sap must be flowing.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1. Hoar Frost

I thought the colors of the wet leaves and tiny feathers of hoar frost in this puddle were very beautiful. Hoar frost forms when twigs or other things coated in warm water vapor meet cold air. I’ve been to this place before and the water here never seems to freeze. It seeps in a small rivulet all year round and sometimes even feels warm to the touch. That could be an illusion though, because when the air temperature hovers just above zero many things feel warm.

 2. Goldenrod Seed Head

Goldenrod lived up to its name when a ray of golden sunshine fell on it. There seem to be plenty of seeds left for the birds but berries and other fruits are going fast. I’ve read that in cold like we’re having now they look for what has the highest fat content first.

3. Burning Bush Berries

There are still berries on the invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) near the river. Birds seem to wait until spring to eat these. Even though they don’t seem to be a first choice birds sure do spread the seeds around and there are large swaths along the riverbank where almost nothing but burning bush grows. They have shaded out and overcome almost all the native plants in that area.

4. Blue Ashuelot

The Ashuelot River taught me that if I took a photo of it with the sun over my shoulder it would be very blue and on this day it didn’t disappoint. I was standing on a bridge when I took this and the river on the other side of the bridge, just a few feet away but with the sun in front of me, was gunmetal gray and looked completely different.

5. Mallard Pecking a Stone

Even though she had to have seen me standing on the bridge a female mallard came floating downstream, quacking loudly. I watched her dive several times and then she swam over to a rock and started pecking it, like a woodpecker pecks at a tree. It was a loud enough tapping to echo through the woods and I couldn’t figure out what the attraction was until I saw that she held an acorn in her beak and was trying to crack it open on the rock. I’ve read that ducks eat acorns but I’ve never heard of them cracking them open on rocks. Maybe this one was smarter than your average duck.

 6. Liverwort on Maple

When it gets cold dark, almost black spots appear on the bark of trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a reddish color and not quite so noticable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

7. Liverwort on Maple

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. Tree cutters on the other hand might find that they itch a bit after handling logs covered with this liverwort because it can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) haa been seen in loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with this liverwort on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs, but how do you get a logger to stop handling logs? It sound like they’d better wear gloves and long sleeves.

8. Vole Tracks-2

Vole tracks in my yard made it look as if the snow had been zipped up. Look closely and you’ll see that this pattern echos that found in the frullania liverworts in the previous photo.Nature seems to use many of the same patterns over and over, but in very different ways.

9. Lichen Garden

A pine tree fell and as I looked it’s branches over I was astounded by the number of different mosses and lichens that had been growing way up in the topmost part of it. In the book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about a field expiriment involving chipmunks and sticky paper. When the chipmunks ran across the sticky paper whatever was on their  paws stuck to the paper, and she found that many mosses travel by way of chipmunk paws. It’s one explanation for how mosses can grow so high up in trees, and I wonder if it applies to lichens as well. Of course both lichens and mosses release spores that are borne on the wind, so that’s another way that they must use to find their way into the tree tops.

10. Pixie Cup Lichen

Pixie cup lichens are squamulose lichens with fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. Squamulose means they have scale like lobes that often overlap like shingles and the green leafy bits in the above photo are the squamules. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. Podetia means a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. Finally, frucitose means a lichen with bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen (Cladonia pyxidata). Pixie cups grow on the ground and rotting logs and stumps. Some also grow in stone. No, I don’t carry all of this information around in my head; it all comes from the book Lichens of North America.

11. Oak Tree

I think most of you who read this blog know that I’m colorblind. That’s why I didn’t trust my own eyes when I drove by this oak tree and saw that it was full of pink leaves.  Pink leaves? It can’t be, they have to be brown, I thought.

12. Oak Leaves

Imagine my surprise when my color finding software looked at these leaves and saw salmon pink in both dark and light shades. Maybe I can trust my own eyes after all. Of corse, the color finding software doesn’t say that every leaf is pink-it just sees pink here and there. It also sees orange, several shades of brown including tan and chocolate, green, gray and Navaho white. What if I were to take up a paintbrush and paint an oak tree with all of those colors in its leaves-would you all think I had been out in the sun too long?

13. Shadows on Snow

The oak tree with pink leaves reminds me of the time my art teacher in high school, a wonderful woman named Norma Safford, told me that snow shadows should be blue. I argued that they should be gray because that’s what I saw. It was photography that finally showed me that Mrs. Safford had been right all along. Somehow my vision has been corrected in that area at least, because I now see blue snow shadows in person as well as in photos.

 14. Ashuelot Falls

The setting sun tried to turn the Ashuelot River falls to molten gold one afternoon but old man winter wasn’t having any of that and he won the battle.

15. River Ice

It always pays to slow down and take a closer look at nature, even when all you see is ice. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve thought Huh, would you look at that.

Outdoors is where the great mystery lies, so going into nature should be a searching and humbling experience, like going to church. ~Skip Whitcomb

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »