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Posts Tagged ‘Oriental Bittersweet’

Fall has slowly been making its presence known here in this part of New Hampshire and Half Moon Pond in Hancock is one of the best places to see it happen, because it always comes here before anywhere else that I know of. I’m not sure what the trees on the other side of the pond are but they always turn very early. The trees on this side of the pond are mostly maples.

And maples are changing too. I found this one in Swanzey.

Not only are leaves changing, they’re dropping as well.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) have ripened and hang in great bunches from the vines. If they aren’t all eaten they will begin to over-ripen and on warm fall days they make the forest smell just like grape jelly. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climb high in the trees to reach as much sunshine as they can. They aren’t noticed for most of the year but when their leaves start to turn they can’t be ignored. Virginia creeper berries are poisonous to humans but many birds and small animals eat them. My mother loved this vine enough to grow it on the side of the house I grew up in. It shaded the porch all summer long.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is another vine that climbs to the top of trees for sunlight but unlike our native vines this one is highly invasive and damages the trees it climbs on. It is the yellow leaved vine in this photo and it is slowly strangling an ash tree.

Black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) are trees that often change early. In June these trees are loaded with white, very fragrant blooms that hang down like wisteria blossoms. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well .They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

The invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River will go from green to red, and then will finally become a soft pastel pink to almost white. Right now they’re in their loud orange / red / yellow stage. It’s too bad they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, but they dominate the understory and create so much shade nothing else can grow.

A few burning bush leaves had already changed to pastel pink. I’ve seen thousands of these shrubs along the river drop their leaves overnight when the weather is cold enough and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year so I can show them to you in their pastel pink stage. When hundreds of them are this color it really is a beautiful sight.

I chose a swamp in Swanzey to show you what happens to white pines (Pinus strobus) in the fall. Many evergreens change color in the fall and many lose their needles. The row of pines are the taller trees in the distance in this photo, looking somewhat yellow brown.

These examples of fall color grew right at the edge of the swamp.

Dogwoods also grow in the swamp, and along with blueberries they often make up most of the red you see.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the sunlight and glows in what are usually luminous pink ribbons but every now and then you see patches of deep purple, as this example was. This common grass grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington and is beautiful enough to be grown in many gardens. After a frost it often takes on a darker reddish purple hue, but we haven’t had a frost yet.

It’s the way its seed heads capture and reflect sunlight that makes little bluestem glow like it does.

Here is the same view from a different angle. I’ve learned that if you want to have blue river water in your photos you should photograph it with the sun behind you, and now I’m wondering if the same isn’t true with some grasses.

Virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) light up shady spots at this time of year and sometimes you can see hundreds of them together. Virgin’s bower is a native clematis that has small white flowers in late summer. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

Pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) are beautiful when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Why it is that in a field of thousands of goldenrod plants one or two will turn deep purple while the rest remain green is a question I can’t answer, but that’s often what happens. The plants somehow just decide to stop photosynthesizing earlier than all of their cousins.

We have several different varieties of sumac here and from what I’ve seen all are very colorful in the fall. This is smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) At least I think so; I didn’t pay real close attention when I took the photo. It could also be shining sumac (Rhus copallinum.)

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between. Once fall starts there is no stopping it and soon people from all over the world will come to enjoy it. I’ll do my best show you all of this incredible beauty that I can.

Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Last Saturday’s sunshine and 50 + degree temperatures made it easy to fall into spring daydreams. I decided to walk along the Ashuelot river in Swanzey where there are witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) growing to see if they might be blooming. They often blossom on warm winter days and I’ve even seen them blooming in January.

The river had tamed itself and the water level had dropped considerably since the last time I was here. There weren’t even any waves to photograph.

There were ice baubles still hanging onto the twigs in shaded areas but their gray opaqueness told me they were rotting in the sun.

Here was one with a hole right through it, which I can’t explain. I’m guessing it was made by a twig, but where is the twig?

There was green grass along the river and that made it even easier to dream of spring. It was a beautiful day; a well-deserved bonus day after the terrible weather of the last month or two.

I’m not sure what caused this bright yellow color on this and a couple of other stones. It wasn’t lichen. These stones spend time submerged when the river rises so I wonder if it might be some type of algae. I doubt the color is natural to the stone itself, it looked more like it was on it rather than part of it.

The spot where the witch hazels grow is on a small peninsula that juts out into the river. There was a trail out to its end but it has come close to disappearing over the years. I thought it was an old fisherman’s trail but I’ve seen enough deer tracks out here to wonder if it isn’t a game trail. It’s still being used;  you can just see the disturbed leaves that mark the trail just to the right of center in this photo.

Off to the right of the trail, closer to the river, the high water mark lies just above silt which has been deposited by the river over the years. I’ve seen this high water mark grow closer and closer to the trail, which means flooding on the river is getting worse. This is a very scary place when the river is high.

The ice on this tree branch shows how high the water was just recently. I’d guess about two feet higher than it was on this day, and I’d have had very wet feet and probably wet knees as well.

The silt the river leaves behind is as fine as sugar and anything that falls or steps on it will leave a mark. Even raindrops pock mark it. I wondered if these tracks were made by a beaver but there were none of the usual claw marks. They were big enough to be made by a bobcat  and cats have retractable claws, so that’s a definite maybe. Whatever made them comes here a lot because there was a trail of these prints through the silt, going in both directions.

There are beavers here. This was a freshly cut tree, and a beaver would make a good meal for a bobcat.

The witch hazels were indeed blooming and even though these aren’t spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) the sight of flowers just made my dream of spring all the more real. The thought hit me while I was here that it is this intense longing for spring that makes winters seem so long for me. Desire causes pain. Remove the desire and remove the pain. It sounds so simple.

One of my favorite mosses grew on a log.  I love the way it reaches out to colonize new lands. I think it might be beaked comb moss( Rhynchostegium serrulatum) but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen it with spore capsules. It might also be Isopterygium tenerum, which is another creeping moss.

A woodpecker had pecked very small holes in a limb that was no bigger than 2 inches across. I was thinking that it must have been a very small woodpecker when I heard a tapping behind me.

It was a woodpecker pecking at a tree and it wasn’t tiny. Judging by where its red spots are I’m guessing it is a hairy woodpecker, but since I don’t do birds I could be wrong. It didn’t sit still long, whatever its name.  There were lots of other birds here too including chickadees and juncos and this small piece of forest was full of birdsong, which of course made it seem even more like spring.

I think the reason so many birds populate this area is because there is plenty here for them to eat, but unfortunately much of that food comes from plants that are invasive, like the oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) seen here.

This maple tree shows what bittersweet can do when it wraps itself around a tree trunk. The vine is as strong as wire and doesn’t expand as the tree grows, so the tree has no choice but to grow out around it, and this deforms the tree.  The tree will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

I saw what looked like a blush of blue on a lichen that grew on a tree so I took a few photos of it, but it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photos that I saw something very unusual.

Very unusual in my experience, anyhow; each of the lichen’s apothecia, which in this case are little round spots where its spores are produced, had liquid in them. It hadn’t rained for a while so I’m not sure what this is all about. I have seen lichens with wet apothecia right after a rain but nothing like this. This lichen looked more like moisture was being squeezed from it rather than it picking up any moisture from its surroundings. If you know what it happening here I’d love to hear from you. I’ve searched and searched but haven’t had any luck.

The sun had gone by the time I was ready to leave but that didn’t bother me because it had been a great spring like walk with plenty of interesting things to see. Any day that reaches 50 degrees in December is a good day in my opinion. That night I actually dreamed lilacs were blooming and the strangest thing about that is, I rarely remember my dreams.

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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As I write this 3 straight days of November rains have finally stopped but now there’s a howling wind blowing, so I expect the landscape will look very different tomorrow, possibly with more leaves on the ground than in the trees. Will this be the last fall foliage post? It could be, but the oaks and beeches are still in full color and I even saw a few maples that were still hanging on, so maybe not.

Here’s what the maples and birches looked like one recent sunny day.

Oaks have an amazing color range but their colors don’t shout it out quite like the maples.

When you’re in the woods and a beech tree gets between you and the sun it can be amazingly beautiful. They seem to glow under their own power. Luminous is the word, I think.

Many birches and especially gray birches like those shown here are still hanging on to their leaves. Or at least they were before this wind. The weather people say there are 60 mph gusts blowing in parts of New England.

This is a good post to compare foliage colors on cloudy and sunny days. It was drizzling when I took this photo of young maples. I think the color is often more intense on cloudy days. Perhaps it’s the gray background.

But there’s a lot to be said for sunshine too, as this road leading to my workplace shows.

The colors of the oaks along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey looked a little dull on a rainy day, I thought. In fact everything is on the dull side in this photo.

We’ve had large amounts of rainfall since July; 11 inches above average in fact, and the Ashuelot River was flooding in places on this day.

No matter where you go the woods are flooded by large puddles like this one. The ground is completely saturated and the two or three inches of rain falling each week simply has nowhere to go. We need a dry week or two to dry things out but it doesn’t look like that’s in the cards. Many are also hoping for a drier winter. If all this rain was snow we’d all be doing some serious shoveling.

The invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the river seemed to glow on a recent rainy day. Before they drop their leaves they will become a soft pastel pink to almost white. Right now they’re in their loud orange / red / yellow stage. It’s too bad they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, but as you can see they dominate the understory and create so much shade nothing else can grow.

Here is a closer look at a burning bush. I’ve seen thousands of these shrubs along the river drop their leaves overnight when the weather is cold enough and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year so I can show them to you in their pastel pink stage. It really is a beautiful sight.

You can find color in unexpected places. This is the first time I’ve noticed how yellow the foliage of slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) becomes.

I pay attention to lake sedge (Carex lacustris) in the fall because I like the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

The blue of this monkshood (Aconitum napellus) I saw growing at a local bank was a complete surprise. I went looking for this plant at a local children’s butterfly garden earlier and found that it had finally been removed. That’s a good thing, because monkshood is one of the most poisonous plants known. People have died from its sap simply being absorbed through their skin, and in ancient Rome you could be put to death if you were found growing it. That was because to the Romans the only reason you would grow such a thing was to poison your enemies.

Toxic or not monkshood has a beautiful flower. Another name for it is winter aconite because it blooms so late. If you look at the side view of a flower you can see how it resembles the hoods that medieval monks wore, and that’s how it comes by its common name. I’m not sure which insects would pollinate it this late in the season, but there must be some that do.

You might think that this was a big yellow tree but you’d be wrong because it’s actually a big green tree; a white cedar that is covered by invasive Oriental bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus.) These twining, wire like vines want all the sunshine they can get and they will climb anything to get it. Trees, telephone poles, and even houses aren’t safe from it, and it will most likely pull this tree down eventually. Not only does it block all the light from the host tree, it also wraps around the tree’s trunk and slowly strangles it.

Oriental bittersweet berries are big, plump and showy and birds love them, and that’s why man will never defeat this invader. Even its seeds germinate faster than those of our native American bittersweet.

The hillsides that surround Keene are still showing quite a bit of color thanks to the big old oaks. There could be some beech and maples here and there as well.

We’ve had a beautiful fall season this year and it might not be over yet, but even if it is there is still plenty of color to be seen. I hope you are able see beauty like this wherever you may live.

How beautiful leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days. ~John Burroughs

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We had another couple of warm days last weekend with temps in the high 40s F, so I decided to go and check on the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) to see how they were doing. They are our earliest flowers, often flowering in March, and they grow around the swamp in the above photo, which is one of only two places I’ve seen them.

I doubted I’d see any since it’s only January but there was a single green shoot, probably still there from last fall. This is not a flower bud though, it is a leaf bud. Skunk cabbage is an arum and the actual flowers are hard to see because they blossom inside a spathe. A spathe is a modified leaf which in skunk cabbages usually is colored a splotchy, mottled yellow and maroon. True leaves appear around mid-April when the plant is done flowering.

Do cattails (Typha latifolia) produce new shoots in the fall or in spring? I wondered when I saw these. When I looked them up I read that new shoots appear in spring, but this is January. I have a feeling they appeared last fall and are just biding their time until it warms up. Native Americans wove cattail leaves into waterproof mats and used them on their lodges.

The approach to the swamp is through the woods shown here and then down the steep embankment in the distance, so I was glad there wasn’t much snow to slip and slide in.

I saw a bird’s nest and wondered, because of the way it hung from branches, if it was a Baltimore oriole’s nest. It was about as big around as a coffee mug and hung in a shrub at about waist high, which seems much too low for an oriole’s nest. The ones that I’ve seen have always been quite high up in the trees. Maybe there are other birds that weave nests that hang.

This photo shows how the bird hung the nest in the V shaped crotch of a branch. It is hung from 3 points for stability. Grasses, cattail leaves and birch bark is what the nest was mostly woven from. I wonder if Native Americans first learned to weave baskets by studying bird nests.

The shiny evergreen leaves of goldthread appeared by the place where skunk cabbages grow and surprised me, because I’ve never seen them here. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its name from its bright yellow, thread like root. Tiny but beautiful white flowers will appear in late April. Native Americans chewed the roots of goldthread to treat canker sores, which is why the plant is also called Canker root. The natives shared the plant with the English settlers and it became such a popular medicine that by 1785 shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for it dried, which meant people dug up all they could find. At one time there was more goldthread sold in Boston than any other native plant. Luckily after a couple of centuries the plant has recovered enough to be relatively common once again.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a native plant that makes a good garden groundcover. Small, heart shaped leaves on creeping stems grow at ground level and you can mow right over it. In spring it has white trumpet shaped flowers that grow in pairs and in the fall it has bright red berries which are edible but close to tasteless. I leave them for the turkeys, which seem to love them. My favorite parts of this plant are the greenish yellow leaf veins on leaves that look as if they were cut from hammered metal. I have several large patches of it growing in my yard.

The small blackish bead-like sori that make up the fertile fronds of the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) will open to release the spores soon. Sensitive fern is another good indicator of moist places, so I wasn’t surprised to see it here. Its common name comes from its sensitivity to frost, which was first noticed by the early colonials. I just read that turkeys will peck at and eat the sori, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

These oak leaves were pretty amazing for January, warm day or not. I’m not sure how they did this; most other oak leaves I’ve seen this winter have been brown, or sometimes pinkish brown. Maybe these were flash frozen in November, I don’t know, but it was a pleasure to see them.

We saw more pine cones fall from the white pines (Pinus strobus) this year than most of us have ever seen and the squirrels are reaping the harvest. They pull the cones apart scale by scale and eat the seeds, and big piles of scales are a common sight in the woods. Squirrels like to sit up higher than the surrounding landscape when they eat and often sit on stones or logs.

This is what’s left of a white pine cone when a squirrel is finished with it. Not much.

There are plenty of goldenrod and other seeds to keep the birds happy this year as well.

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) catkins are a common enough sight in the winter but I’m not sure what these examples were doing. They usually hang straight down but a couple of these decided to be different. These are the male flowers of the hazel shrub and before long, usually in mid-April, they will begin to show pollen and turn golden yellow.

Turkeys, squirrels and many other birds and animals usually eat hazelnuts up quickly so I was surprised to see quite a few nut clusters still hanging from the branches. It could be that the bumper crop of acorns is keeping the animals busy.

Blackberry seed gall is caused by the blackberry seed gall wasp (Diastrophus cuscutaeformis.) These very small, round hollow galls look like seeds and form in clusters around blackberry stems. Each tiny gall has a stiff, hair like spine and together they form a hairy mass like that in the photo. They start out bright yellow-green and mature to brownish red. This one was about as long as your index finger.

I hoped the vine I saw up in a tree was American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), but it turned out to be just another invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus,) which is quickly outpacing the natives. That’s mainly because its berries are more enticing to birds and its seeds germinate much faster. The easiest way to tell American bittersweet from Oriental is by the location of the berries on the vine; American bittersweet berries grow on the ends of the vines and Oriental bittersweet berries grow all along them. While both vines climb trees and shrubs, American bittersweet is less likely to strangle its host like Oriental bittersweet will.

I keep seeing this red inner bark on some dead staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) and each time I see it I try to find out why it would be red, but so far I’ve never found an answer. It’s always surprising that such a beautiful color would be hidden from sight. Or maybe it turns red as it peels away.

There are often ducks here in this part of the swamp but they probably heard me long before I could have seen them and swam off. Soon this will be a very busy, growing place full of nesting red winged blackbirds, snapping turtles, herons, ducks, and frogs but for now it is simply open water and quiet and for me, that was enough.  I hope you have a nearby swamp or wetland that you can visit, because they’re fascinating places that are full of life.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. ~Henry David Thoreau

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Though we do have some bare trees now all the warm weather we’ve had lately seems to be keeping a lot of the leaves on the trees. I thought I’d take a drive down one of our many country roads recently to see one of my favorite views of Mount Monadnock, and to see what the foliage was like there. The above photo shows what the road looked like and also shows that yes, I stopped to take photos. Luckily there isn’t much traffic on most of these back roads but even if there was we’re used to seeing people stopped on the side of the road with cameras at this time of year.

And oh, the things you see along these back roads. You really just have to stop sometimes and let yourself absorb the beauty of it all. This kind of magic isn’t something that we who live here take for granted; if you came here to see the foliage you would find that many of us locals would be standing right there beside you, and like you we’d be knocked speechless by the beauty of it all.

This view shows you what we were just driving through, with Mount Monadnock in the background. This is one of my favorite views of the mountain, but the bright sunshine made the foliage colors all look orange to me again.

I thought this red maple tree (Acer rubrum) was beautiful enough to have its own photo.

Maple trees can be any one of several colors including yellow, orange and red, and often once they have fallen they turn a beautiful deep purple. The leaves in this photo seemed to be heading towards yellow.

This is a view of the red maple trees along Route 101, which is a busy highway. Highway or back road it doesn’t matter, because you find this everywhere you go.

The sun chose a yellow leaved maple tree to spotlight and it looked like someone had thrown a great handful of yellow confetti out over the Ashuelot River. Sometimes you just have to say gosh, will you look at that. Hopefully you will have a camera in your hands when you do.

But isn’t it funny how the direction and intensity of the light can make a scene look so different? Like the previous photo this is a shot of the Ashuelot River in bright sunlight, but how very different the two scenes look. Photographers want to know these things so they can take them into account when taking a photo, but the path to that knowledge is usually strewn with many thousands of rejected photos. Of course it could be worse; that path could be strewn with rejected paintings.

This view from along the Ashuelot River shows how some maples have lost their leaves. Usually though, oak and beech trees start to turn and are at their peak just after the maples lose their leaves, so there is an unbroken line of color that can sometimes last a month. I think this year it will last more than a month.

Many of the leaves fall into the water and end up at the bottom of the river.

But while they float they’re still pretty.

On shore you might see the red / orange foliage of marsh St. Johnswort (Hypericum virginicum.) Many St. Johnsworts have a lot of red in them in their buds and seed pods, but I can’t think of another that I’ve seen with red leaves. Marsh St. Johnswort is also unusual because of its pink rather than yellow flowers.

Our hillsides still have good color but I’m seeing more bare trees on them too. When all the color on this hillside is gone it’s going to seem a very dramatic change.

Many of our bracken ferns (Pteridium) have turned to their flat, pinkish brown color but this one still glowed. I love to look at the many different patterns on ferns.

Oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) have a three part yellow outer shell that encloses the tomato red berry.  Once the berries, each containing 3 to 6 seeds, are showing birds and small animals come along and snap them up, and that’s why this vining plant from China and Japan is so invasive. Its sale and planting are prohibited in New Hampshire but the berries make pretty Thanksgiving centerpieces, so many people go out and cut what they find in the wild before the holidays. This also helps the plant spread.

This year the record warmth is making the process go very slowly, but the burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey are still changing to their pink / magenta color. Just before the leaves fall they’ll turn a soft, very pale pastel pink. The leaves on the trees above them seem to help regulate how quickly the burning bush leaves change color by keeping frost from touching them. In years when the overhanging branches lose their leaves early there is a good chance that the burning bushes will also lose theirs quickly. There have been years when I’ve seen hundreds of bushes all lose their leaves overnight.

The burning bushes might lose their leaves quickly some years but the berries will persist until birds have eaten every one of them. That’s what makes them one of the most invasive plants in the area and that is why, like Oriental bittersweet, their sale and cultivation have been banned in New Hampshire.

Just as beautiful but nowhere near as invasive are our native maple leaf viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium.) This one had the same pink as the burning bushes, but this small shrub can wear many colors, from orange to deep purple, and yellow to pale pink. I’m not sure if each one has the same colors year to year or if weather affects and changes their color each year.

You often get lucky and see two colors on maple viburnum leaves. I thought these purple and orange ones were absolutely beautiful with the beech leaves as a backdrop.

Few plants can outshine the beautiful deep purple of bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara.) This native of Europe and Asia is in the same family as potatoes and tomatoes and produces solanine, which is a narcotic, and the plant is considered toxic. It was used medicinally in medieval times, possibly as a dangerous sedative. In large enough doses solanine can paralyze the central nervous system.

The water was warm and the air cool one morning, and a gray mist rose from Half Moon Pond in Hancock. The light was also quite dim with the sun still behind the hills, so I was surprised that this photo came out at all. The time falls back an hour next weekend as daylight saving time ends. I’m not looking forward to it being dark at 5:00 pm, but I will be happy to see sunny mornings again.

Oak and beech trees are usually the last to change in this part of New Hampshire and they have just started changing. That means that the astounding colors found in the oak and beech forest that surrounds Willard Pond in Antrim should be just about at their peak and perfect now, so that’s where I’m headed today. Hopefully the next fall foliage post that you see on this blog will be from there, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in the fall.

Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of love. ~Anonymous

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Our fall color was off to a good start with a cool end to August but then it got hot, and then it got even hotter until this past week has seen record breaking heat in the 90s F. and tropical humidity. We haven’t had any beneficial rain for a couple of weeks either and all the stones seen in the view of Ashuelot River above show how low the water has gotten. The heat and lack of rainfall seem to have slowed the fall foliage transformation down dramatically but you can see some color along the Ashuelot. The yellow in the tree over on the left isn’t the tree’s color but comes from an Oriental bittersweet vine that has grown up it.

This is what oriental bittersweet can do. What you can’t see is how it wraps itself around the trunk and slowly strangles the tree. The reason I’m showing this is to point out how easy it is to spot this invasive vine at this time of year, and once you’ve spotted it you can eradicate it by cutting it and painting the cut surface with glycophosphate.

This view of the Ashuelot River in north Keene doesn’t show much fall color but it’s a pretty spot that I like visiting at all times of year.

White ash (Fraxinus americana) is one of the first trees to change in the fall and they usually start out bright yellow, but are often multicolored with yellow, orange, red and deep purple all on the same tree.

This photo gives an idea of the range of colors found in white ash trees.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) is another tree that turns early and is bright yellow. I’m guessing that this one is one of the many thornless cultivars developed from our native trees. Native honey locusts are very thorny, with sharp thorns that can be 4 or 5 inches long.

Though this photo doesn’t show a lot of foliage colors it’s another one of my favorite places, and on this day the trail led to some good color. Unseen just off to the left is the Ashuelot River and this trail follows it. The trail has been here for many years; possibly many hundreds of years, and I’ve been following it since I was a boy. Even so I usually see something here that I’ve never noticed before.

Colorblindness can make blogging difficult at times. I could see the red of the leaves on the red maple tree in the center of this photo just fine in person, but I can’t see them in the photo. They just blend into the other colors for me, but I’m including the photo because I know not everyone is colorblind and I think most of you will see those red leaves. At least I hope so.

Colorblindness can also be very subtle. The red maple in this photo I can see just fine, but I can’t tell you why. It’s something you learn to live with but at this time of year I’m never 100% sure of the colors I see. I once drove to a spot where there were some beautiful flaming orange maples, only to find when I got home and got the shot on the computer that my color finding software saw them as yellow green.

Colorblindness isn’t all bad though; colorblind people can often see camouflaged objects clearly and their services are highly valued by the armed forces. Outlines are clearly defined because they aren’t being blurred or muddled by color. I can see a black chanterelle (Craterellus cornucopioides) mushroom on the forest floor with ease even though many mushroom hunters say they are one of the most difficult to find, but if a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears instantly. In fact I’ve never seen a cardinal even when they were pointed out, so if the newer readers of this blog were wondering, that’s why you don’t see many birds in these posts. Or cardinal flowers.

I didn’t have any trouble seeing the pumpkin orange of this cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.) Many ferns are very colorful at this time of year and cinnamon ferns are one of the most beautiful.

For years I’ve said on this blog that lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) were the only ones I knew that turned white in fall, but I was forgetting about the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis,) which often does the same. The above photo is of lady ferns. I haven’t found any white sensitive ferns yet, but they’ll be along.

I found a goldenrod with all of the color washed out of it, which is something I’ve never seen.

This is one of those trees that I saw as orange but fully expected to find out it was green when I got home, so I was happy when my color finding software told me it had orange in it. But it’s a kind of drab orange and some are saying that our fall colors won’t be quite as eye popping as usual this year because of the dryness and the heat. Last year we were in a drought and the colors were still beautiful, but we didn’t have tropical heat and humidity in September. It’s always a guessing game, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Peak color typically happens in mid-October here in the southern part of the state, so stay tuned.

These leaves fell off the tree in the previous photo. It’s amazing how many different colors can be on a maple tree at the same time.

The dogwoods are showing a lot of color this year. This large silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) was a deep maroon and stood out from the surrounding plants like a beacon.

This view of the Branch River in Marlborough is another of my favorites in the fall. Though the color finding software sees a lot of green it also sees red, orange and yellow. And of course the blue of the river. Rivers taught me that if I wanted to have this beautiful blue in a photo of them I had to snap the shutter when the sun was behind me.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) has bright yellow leaves in the fall, and this is how they start to turn. Soon they will be full of small blossoms with yellow, strap shaped petals; our last and latest flower to bloom. Though they usually blossom in October during one mild winter I found them still blooming in January. We also had dandelions blooming in January that year.

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are showing some great color this year, starting out in shades of orange before finally turning several shades of red. Red can be a very hard color to photograph and cameras don’t seem to like it but this appears to be an accurate shot of what I saw.

Crimson is just one of the several shades of red you can see on a staghorn sumac.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is another plant that turns several shades of red but will also occasionally become deep purple. My mother loved this native vine so much that she planted it beside our porch before she died. It grew big enough to provide cool shade in summer and bright color in fall, and it is included in my earliest memories.

Friends of mine have a huge Virginia creeper growing up a tree near their house that has more berries on it than any Virginia creeper I’ve seen, but it refuses to turn red so this will have to do for now. The berries are poisonous to humans but many birds eat them, including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds, turkeys, and chickadees. Mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels and deer also like them so there is plenty of competition for the fruit. I’ve read that birds are more attracted to red berries than the blue-black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves and stems in the fall. When the birds land amidst all the red hues they find and eat the berries.  Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be a successful ploy.

I found this Virginia creeper in a shaded part of the forest. I don’t know if it was ever red, but it was white and pale green when I saw it and I wanted to show it here so you could see how very different the same plants can appear in the fall. Sometimes it takes me a minute or two to figure out exactly what it is I’m seeing.

The New Hampshire bureau of tourism estimates that ten million people will come to see the fall foliage this year and I hope that each and every one of them will be able to see scenes like this one that I saw early one recent morning in Hancock. If you can’t make it to New Hampshire this year I hope you’ll have plenty of colorful foliage to see in your own area.

Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance. Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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It was 22 degrees when I left the house last Sunday to explore a section of rail trail that I’d never been on, but had wondered about for years. It was cold but not as cold as Saturday, so I was able to dawdle and look for those special things that are hidden in plain sight.

One of those special things is this group of plum trees that grows beside the trail. 3 or 4 years ago logging contractors hired by the electric utility came through here and cut every living thing on their right of way except these plum trees, and that’s very strange. Here you had a strip of totally bare ground that stretched for miles but these plum trees were left standing. Why? How did the electric utility know that they were special trees? Do they have a botanist who goes ahead of the loggers / brush cutters? Native plum trees are worth saving. These are the only ones I’ve ever seen.

Something else that I think is special is this old bridge; the only one I know of that is still held up by wooden timbers. Trains once passed under it and I’ve driven over it many times but it is closed to all but foot traffic now. I think I heard that it will be replaced, which I’m sure will make the people of this neighborhood very happy.

The bridge uprights in the previous photo might look a little spindly but they’re actually stout 12 X 12 inch timbers that probably look as good as they did when the bridge was built. The railroad built things to last and many of the bridges and trestles along these rail trails have been here for nearly 150 years.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) was trying to take the bridge down. The railroad would’ve never let this happen. If the bridge wasn’t going to be replaced I’d report this to the town because it wouldn’t be long before the bridge was covered with it.

This vine was loaded with berries and that’s a good thing, because when berries remain on the vine it means fewer are being scattered by the birds.

 I’ve walked just a short way down this rail trail before but I’ve turned around at the bridge because beyond there was a huge ankle deep mud hole that never seemed to dry up. Going through it looked like it would have meant a boot full of mud so I turned around, but then the snowmobile club came along and cleaned up the original drainage ditches and replaced gravel on the trail, and now it is mud free. This photo shows how cold it was; the drainage ditches were frozen.

The snowmobile club has also put crushed stone on the embankments on either side of the trail near the bridge, trying to stabilize them and probably minimize runoff at the same time. I hope everyone will do what they can to help their local snowmobile clubs. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have many of these trails to enjoy.

I’m sure you must have noticed the high tension electric wires in several of these photos. The electric utility ran their lines very close to the railroad tracks and walking this rail trail so near to them bothered me, because it was one of these wires that fell and electrocuted a maintenance worker in Keene a few years ago. It was on the ground and he accidentally got too close to it. I made sure that it looked like all of these were hanging the way they were supposed to.

This Pigeon didn’t seem to be bothered by me or the electricity. It seemed odd to see a single bird. They usually stay in large flocks here.

I’ve probably driven past this old brick building a hundred times but I’ve always seen the other side, which is by the road. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this side. It looks like bittersweet was trying to take it over like the bridge.  When walking on rail trails I sometimes forget that I can be walking through people’s back yards. I try to respect their privacy and don’t go poking around, so I have no idea what this building is or why it is here. I’d like to find out its history one day. It certainly was well built, and that tells me it must have been connected to the railroad somehow. It was just feet from the railbed.

Someone rode through on one of those bikes with wide, under inflated tires. It was about as wide as an adult foot, apparently. They seem to do fine on snow but I wonder how they are on ice. There is lots of it to be found right now, and it can be anywhere.

There are bars across most rail trails to keep people from driving on them but in winter they’re unlocked to let snowmobiles use them. They would have been just about ready to be locked up again but we had a nor’easter dump about a foot of snow on us Tuesday, so they’ll stay open for a while yet.

I thought someone had made a brush pile out of white pine (Pinus strobus) branches but it was an odd shape and relatively small size, and it was crowded between some trees. It didn’t look right for a brush pile.

As I walked around it I saw that it had a small doorway in it. I could have crawled through it on my hands and knees. Instead I bent down and stuck the camera through the doorway and snapped the shutter a few times.

It was big, open, one room hut, complete with another doorway and folding chairs. You can just see the folded chair legs on the right. There was nobody inside but I’m guessing if there were they would have boys about 10-12 years old; because that’s about the age I was when I built things like this. We called them hideouts and many magical things happened in them. I just couldn’t leave without getting on my knees and peeking inside. It was like being in a time machine; I felt like a boy again.

I think one of the best finds of the day was a pile of black cherry logs (Prunus serotina) covered with cinnabar polypores (Pycnoporus Cinnabarinus.) These bright red orange bracket fungi grow on beech, birch, oak, and black cherry.

The tough cinnabar polypore is red orange on its underside as well as its upper surface. It is considered rare and is found in North America and Europe. This is only the second time I’ve seen it and both times were in winter, but it is said to grow year ‘round. It is also said to be somewhat hairy but I didn’t notice this. They turn white as they age and older examples look nothing like this one.

A cinnabar polypore just coming into being looks like just a red lump but they are a beautiful color; quite startling against the white snow and dark tree trunk.

Something else that had me feeling like a boy again was this Baltimore oriole nest hanging from a tree branch. I couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14 last time I saw one. Many nests like this one  used to hang throughout the huge 200 year old elm trees that lined my street but Dutch elm disease took the trees and the orioles disappeared. The birds are said to be found in open woodlands, forest edges, orchards, and stands of trees along rivers, in parks, and in backyards. They forage for insects and fruits in brush and shrubbery. I would think all of the wild fruits we have around in this area would attract them but I never see them. Maybe they like the plum trees.

Explore often. Only then will you know how small you are and how big the world is. ~ Pradeepa Pandiyan

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