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Posts Tagged ‘Oriental Bittersweet’

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-beaver-brook

It has cooled off now but “cool” compared to the near 70 degrees of last week means 40s and 50s this week, and that’s still warm for March first. That means a lot of snow has melted and that has turned our normally placid streams into raging rapids, as this shot of Beaver brook shows. No beaver in its right mind would be swimming in that.

2-beaver-tree

But they do eat trees all winter long if the ice of their pond doesn’t freeze completely. This beech tree was still being visited each night well into February. The hole in the ice must have closed up because they haven’t been here for a while.

3-beaver-tree

A beaver’s teeth grow continuously so they have to be chewing on something all the time. In this instance a beech tree was chosen, but they’ll chew on just about any species of tree. I’ve even seen them tackle  elms, which is one of the toughest woods I know of. Their incisor teeth wear away faster on the rear surface than the front, so a chisel edge is created by the uneven wear.

4-beaver-tree

The chisel edged teeth of a beaver can leave a sapling looking like it has been cut by steel loppers. Native Americans called beavers “Little People,” and are said to have greatly respected them. They used beavers for food, medicine and clothing and Native children of some tribes would offer any teeth that they had lost to the beavers for good luck.

5-rose-moss

I decided to pay a visit to the one small patch of rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) that I know of. Rose moss is a very beautiful moss; each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience.

6-smoky-eye-boulder-lichen

Not rare at all but still very beautiful are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that I find growing on stone. The golden body of the lichen studded with blue apothecia could almost pass for a piece of jewelry. The blue color is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies (Apothecia,) which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. It’s as if pieces of the sky had been sprinkled on the stones when the light is right, but the apothecia can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.

7-spider

One morning as I was getting ready for work I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. It was a tiny spider with big eyes. It sat very still, watching me as I fumbled with my camera, trying to turn on the on board LED light. I finally got it and that’s what caused the shadows in this photo.

8-spider

It was a furry little thing. And it was little; it could have easily hidden behind a pea. It wasn’t frightened by the camera and remained still, seemingly very interested in what I was doing. It had plenty of eyes to watch me with. (They have 8 of them.)

9-platycryptus-undatus-female-tan-jumping-spider

I got a blurry photo of its back as it scurried away, and the markings lead me to believe that this was a female tan jumping spider called Platycryptus undatus. I’ve read that they live on vertical surfaces like tree trunks, fence posts, and outer walls so what she was doing on my horizontal table is a mystery. I’ve also read that they are very curious about people and can be quite friendly when they’re handled gently. I didn’t see this one jump but they do, up to 5 times their own body length. Which isn’t far when you consider that this one was half the size of a pea. I haven’t seen her since that morning.

10-bittersweet-berry-2

There are still quite a few oriental bittersweet berries that the birds haven’t eaten and that’s a good thing, because birds help this very invasive alien plant get around. This example didn’t look very tasty.

11-bittersweet-on-tree

Oriental bittersweet isn’t well liked by those who know it, and the above photo shows one reason why. The vines are as strong as wire and when one wraps itself around a tree it will not break or give, so as the tree grows the vine cuts into it and strangles it. The tendrils on the left are from another vine; a grape.

12-oak-leaf-surface

A stick figure walked across an oak leaf.

13-winter-firefly

I’ve never seen a firefly light up in winter but I have seen the winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca.) It is commonly seen on snow and tree trunks  according to Bugguide.net, and can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like sap and will drink from wounds in trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one was looking for a crevice in the bark of an oak to hide in. It looked at several before it found one that was to its liking.

14-gypsy-moth-egg-case

I saw this gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) egg case on a tree. Gypsy moths were first introduced from Europe to Massachusetts in 1869, to breed with the silkworm moth to produce a tougher 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. It looked like a bird had been at this egg case.

15-beard-lichens

I see beard lichens (Usnea) almost always growing on tree branches but occasionally they grow on tree trunks; especially white pines (Pinus strobus.) Even rarer are those that grow on stone. I see maybe 1 out of 100 growing on stone. If you see beard lichens in your area rejoice, because they are very fussy about pollutants and will only grow where the air is clean and of high quality. The air here must be very good because I see these bushy little lichens everywhere, even growing on wooden fences. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

16-unknown-lichen

I’ve spent years trying to identify some lichens and I might have to wait that long before I know this one’s name. I’ve searched lichen books and online and can’t find any lichens that look like it. Blue and yellow doesn’t seem to be a very common color combination among lichens. This example grew on maple tree bark.

17-mealy-rim-lichen

The book Lichens of North America says the fruiting bodies (apothecia) of the mealy rim-lichen (Lecanora strobilina) are flat to convex and a waxy yellowish color. These look more orange but I’m sure they must vary some. They grow on bark and wood of many kinds in full sunlight and the apothecia are very small at about .03 inches.  I think this is one of those lichens that prefers winter for producing spores. I’m suddenly seeing it everywhere.

18-disc-lichen

I know disc lichens because of rock disc lichens (Buellia geophila) but the problem was the example in the above phot was growing on tree bark. For that reason I think it must be a cousin of the rock disc called simply disc lichen (Buellia erubescens.) The body of the disc lichen is gray, grayish white to ivory, dull, and smooth. Its fruiting bodies are convex and black, and are called discs. It grows on the bark of oaks, pines, and junipers, or other trees with bark of low pH. I found this example growing on an oak.

19-feather

This is just a small feather in the mud but it was pristine and very downy, like it came from a bird’s breast.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Leisure is a form of silence, not noiselessness. It is the silence of contemplation such as occurs when we let our minds rest on a rosebud, a child at play, a Divine mystery, or a waterfall. ~Fulton J. Sheen

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-trail-closed-sign

When I was a boy growing up in Keene, New Hampshire I spent a lot of time following the railroad tracks that ran just a few yards behind my house. These tracks crossed a lot of roads if you followed them long enough but the hardest one to get across was always route 101, a main artery which runs the width of the state, east to west from Keene to the seacoast. A lot has changed since then; the railroad tracks are now a rail trail and the highway has become so busy that you can hardly get across it.

2-trail

This view of the rail trail looks north toward the house I grew up in, but also toward Keene State College. Off to the right, unseen in this photo, is the college athletic complex. The students use the rail trail as a convenient way to reach the athletic fields without having to drive to them, so this trail can get very busy in warmer months. Of course all those students have to cross the very busy route 101 to get here and that can be dangerous, so the town came up with a solution: build a bridge over the highway, and this section of rail trail has been closed while that project is completed.

3-side-trail

A side trail leads from the rail trail to the athletic complex, but most enter by way of a gate a little further down the trail.

4-wires

Long before the college built their athletic complex the electric utility ran their high voltage wires through here. I used to spend hours playing under and around these power lines when I was a boy and never gave them a thought, but in April of 2014 one of the wires fell to the ground and tragically, a college employee was electrocuted. For me, who once spent so much time here, the news was a real blow and woke me up to the dangers I faced as a boy without even realizing they existed. I told myself then that I’d never walk under these power lines again and I haven’t but many, especially dog walkers, still do.

5-hazel-catkins

Hazel catkins danced in the sunlight. They are the male flowers of the hazelnut shrub, in this case American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) The tiny crimson threads of the female flowers won’t appear until late March and by then the male catkins will be showing signs of shedding pollen.

6-hazel-catkin

One of the catkins was deformed and looked like a cartoon animal paw.

7-virgins-bower

The seed heads of the native clematis that we call virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) decorated a fallen tree. Chances are it once grew to the top of the tree and fell with it. This vine is toxic enough to cause internal bleeding but it was used it as a pepper substitute and called was called “pepper vine” by early pioneers. Native Americans used it to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and for skin infections. Herbalists still use it to treat the same illnesses today.

8-bittersweet-in-dead-elms

There are many elms along this trail that have died of Dutch elm disease and invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) vines grow into their tops and slowly pull them down. The bittersweet wants full sunshine and it climbs to the tops of trees to get it; it doesn’t care if the tree is living or not. There are several broken limbs hanging from vines in this view and many downed trees buried in vines along the trail.

9-bridge

In what would have been a short while if I hadn’t kept stopping to look at things I reached the bridge, which is still closed while the freshly poured concrete deck cures. The deck is wrapped in plastic and gets heat pumped up to it from truck sized heaters on the ground below.

10-bridge

I had to wait a while before I could get a shot of the bridge without cars under it. I drive this way each morning on the way to work and I can vouch for the busy-ness of this road. Traffic is almost nonstop at any time of day and I can imagine it being very hard to walk across. It was hard enough when I was ten. I didn’t know it until I saw this photo but the center of the bridge is far to right of the center of the road from this vantage point. It was built in I think 4 pieces and lifted into place by crane.

11-burning-bush-fruit

An invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) still had plenty of fruit on it. I was happy to see that the birds weren’t eating it and helping it spread. Studies have shown that 170- 700 seedlings per acre can grow from a single fruiting shrub. If you have hundreds of them fruiting then you have a real problem, and we do. The shrubs get large and shade out native plants and since deer won’t eat them they have virtually no competition or control, so they’re free to form large monocultures where nothing else grows. That’s why planting and / or selling them is banned in New Hampshire.

12-mealy-firedot-lichen-caloplaca-citrina-on-cherry

The bark of this black cherry tree had large areas covered with mealy firedot lichen (Caloplaca citrina.) This yellow to yellow-orange crustose lichen grows on wood or stone and the book Lichens of North America says it is very common lichen that rarely produces spores. The mealy part of its common name comes from the numerous granular soralia, which are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are meant to break off and start new lichens.

13-mealy-firedot-lichen-caloplaca-citrina-on-cherry

As you can probably imagine if you brushed against this lichen tiny pieces of it would easily fall from the tree and might even stick to your clothing for a while so you could transport them to another place. Many lichens use this method of reproduction and it appears to be very successful.

14-hillside

This view across a cornfield faces west toward Brattleboro, Vermont and I had forgotten how the wind comes howling over that hill. I used to walk south from my house to a friend’s house on the road that is in front of the hill but can’t be seen, and my right ear would feel just about frozen by the time I got there. When I went back home it was my left ear. Of course it wasn’t cool to wear a hat in those days, but I was wearing one when this photo was taken.

15-milkweed

The wind had torn the seeds out of this milkweed pod. It’s not too late; milkweed seeds need at least 3-6 weeks of cold to grow to their best.

16-corn

There were a few cobs left on the corn plants and they were at just the right height for Canada geese, which land here in quite large numbers in the fall.

17-drainage-ditches

Keene sits in a bowl with hills as the rim on land that was once swampy ground, so farmers dug drainage ditches to dry out the fields. They were a ten year old boy’s dream come true and I still walk along them occasionally even today. There are some beautiful wildflowers that grow on their banks, including some of the darkest purple New England asters I’ve seen.

18-nest

I saw one of the tiniest bird nests I’ve ever seen. It could have just about hidden behind a hen’s egg and I have no idea what bird might have built it. A hummingbird maybe?

19-frosted-comma-lichen-arthonia-caesia

A dime size (.70 in) spot of white on a tree caught my eye and when I moved closer I saw that it was covered with blue dots. It was a beautiful sight and I didn’t know it at the time but its name is (I think) the frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia.) The unusual spherical blue dots are its Ascomata.

20-frosted-comma-lichen-arthonia-caesia-close

Ascomata are the fruit bodies of lichens and contain the spores, which can number in the millions.They are most commonly bowl-shaped (apothecia) but may take a spherical (cleistothecia) or flask-like (perithecia) form. This lichen has spherical ascocarps so they must be cleistothecia. They’re also very beautiful, and are the only truly blue fruit bodies I’ve seen on a lichen. Some, like those on the smoky eye boulder lichen, can be blue due to the slant of the light falling on them and I found a completely blue lichen recently but it had turned blue because of the cold. This one is naturally blue and I loved seeing it.

I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road. ~Stephen Hawking

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1-naturally-grafted-maples

Since I live in a forest and work in a forest and spend most of my free time in forests, I see a lot of trees. But I don’t see many like these two. If two trees or parts of trees like limbs or roots of the same species grow close enough together the wind can make them rub against each other, wearing the outer bark away. Once the outer bark wears away and the cambium or inner bark touches, the trees can become naturally grafted together. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see at least a couple of self or naturally grafted trees each year. From what I can tell these two maples had limbs that rubbed together and finally grew together years ago.

2-natural-graft-on-maplws

Trees that are naturally grafted together or conjoined are sometimes called “husband and wife” trees, or “marriage trees.” These two young red maples (Acer rubrum) were in the early stages of becoming grafted; it’s easy to see where they rubbed together. This can happen to most species of trees and can sometimes even happen to two trees of different families, like a red maple and a sugar maple.

Man can also graft trees and has been doing so for as long as anyone can remember. Fruit trees, especially apples, are often grafted. Many other plants like roses and grapes are also grafted onto the stronger rootstock of another in the family.

3-entwined-striped-maples

These young striped maples were entwined but not yet conjoined. Though it looks like there are three trees here there are only two. The ones on the right and left come from one stump and the middle tree comes from a separate stump. Why they grew this way is anyone’s guess but I’d say it’s a fair bet that they will all eventually become one tree. You can see how the bark has puckered on the lower part of the tree on the far right, and that’s a sign that they have been rubbing together.

4-lichens-on-tree

Trees support a lot of life on their limbs and bark, like the many lichens pictured here. Since people see lichens growing on the dead branches of trees they think the lichens killed the branch but lichens simply sit on the bark and take nothing from the tree. They are opportunists that like a lot of sunshine though, and the best place to find the most sunshine is on a branch with no leaves on it.

5-script-lichen

I always like to look at trees like the one in the previous photo because the spots on their bark can turn out to be quite beautiful, like the script lichen pictured here. Script lichen looks just like its name suggests but it is a very ancient script, like long forgotten runes. The dark “script” characters are its fruiting bodies that produce its spores. There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. I think this example is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta) which prefers smooth barked trees like maple and beech.

6-maple-dust-lichen

Other spots on trees might turn out to be beautiful maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora.) I don’t have time to look at every tree with lichens on its bark, but I wish I did because when I don’t look closely I feel as if I’m missing something beautiful.

7-target-canker-on-red-maple

Target canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” Apparently the fungal attacker gives up after a while, because as the tree ages the patterns disappear and the tree seems fine.

8-burl-on-maple-2

Burl is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tree tissues. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize them highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, but this example was on an old maple. It was as big as a basketball.

9-chaga

Trees of course are very beneficial to mankind in many ways, even medicinally. Chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that grows on birch and other trees. Though many think that the area that looks like burnt charcoal is the fruiting part of the fungus it is actually the “roots” or mycelium. It is black because it contains large amounts of melanin, which is a naturally occurring  dark brown to black pigment in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is also responsible for the tanning of skin exposed to sunlight. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

10-bootstrap-fungus

Fungal spores entering a wound on a tree can sometimes mean death for the tree. Bootstrap fungus 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.

11-pine-tree-foam

For years I’ve noticed that a soapy foam at the base of certain white pine trees (Pinus strobus) when it rains. Sometimes it is in just a spot or two and at other times it nearly circles the entire tree.  This happens because when there is a drought or dry spell salts, acids and other particles from the air can coat the bark. Soap is essentially made from salts and acids and when it rains, these natural salts and acids mix with the water and begin to froth. The froth (foam) is from the natural agitation of the mixture when it finds its way around bark plates as it flows toward the ground.

12-frost-rib

This hemlock tree had a healed frost crack, called a frost rib. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo.

13-frost-rib

Another example of a frost rib, this time on yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis.) Frost cracks and frost ribs are fairly common.

14-bittersweet-on-elm

Many things can damage a tree. This oriental bittersweet vine was about the same diameter as my little finger and was already strangling a young elm that was wrist size. Anyone who has ever tried to cut or split elm knows that it’s one of the toughest woods, so the bittersweet must be very tough indeed. It’s hard to know which will win this battle; I’ve seen trees with bittersweet vine grooves in their bark live on, and I’ve seen live bittersweet vines on dead trees.

15-bittersweet-berries-2

Oriental bittersweet is all about continuation of the species, so it climbs up trees so it can sit in the crown and gather up all the sunlight so it can flower well. Each pollinated flower means a berry that a bird will come along and eat, and that’s how it multiplies. The young vines are shade tolerant, so when a bird sits in a tree and drops a seed to the ground beneath it the plant can germinate and live on while searching for the best path to the light at the top of the tree. Other vines like our native Virginia creeper, grapes and virgin’s bower also seek light at the tops of trees but they aren’t nearly as aggressive and don’t hurt them.

16-fence-in-woods

One of the strangest things I’ve seen in the woods recently is this old piece of fence connected to a tree. It has been there so long the tree has started to grow over it and if it continues the tree will eventually has a substantial piece of fencing embedded in its wood for its lifetime. Trees seem to shrug this kind of thing off and just keep on growing, no matter what the obstacle might be. The process is known as “compartmentalization of decay in trees,” where the tree uses scar tissue to compartmentalize the section with a foreign object in it. They do the same thing when fighting decay.

17-fence-grown-into-tree

Though trees might easily shrug things like this off,  woodcutters don’t. There’s nothing worse than running into a piece of metal with a chainsaw. Not only does it ruin the chain, it’s also very dangerous. Many things have been found in trees, including screws and nails, signs, pipes, fencing, cannonballs, bullets, beer bottles, hammers, hand saws, horse shoes, chains, ropes, stones, and one arborist even found a Chevy Corvette rim.  It seems that a tree will grow around just about anything.

18-zig-zag-scar

Sometimes scars on trees aren’t easy to explain. I’ve shown this zig zag scar on this old hemlock a few times on this blog and the consensus seems to be that it was made by lightning, but I wonder if we aren’t thinking that simply because both lightning and the scar are zig zagged. In any event I don’t suppose we’ll ever know for sure but it’s fun to guess at its origin. It comes directly out of the ground, straight for about half its length, then it zig zags for the other half. Its total length is about 4 feet.

19-zig-zag-scar

This is a close look at the zig zag scar in the previous photo. It doesn’t look like it was made by a boy with a new pocket knife either. If you’ve ever seen anything like it or know what might have caused it there are several of us who would love to hear from you.

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I can’t understand how someone can walk out of a forest and say they didn’t see anything, but I’ve heard people say it a few times. “For gosh sakes,” I always want to ask, “what about the trees!?” You don’t need to know anything about burls or frost cracks or inosculation or even what kind of tree you’re looking at to just enjoy their astounding beauty. That’s what I spend a lot of my time in the woods doing, and I hope you will too. I’ve put this post together with the thought that it might make your next journey through the woods a little more interesting.

I did not want to think about people. I wanted the trees, the scents and colors, the shifting shadows of the wood, which spoke a language I understood. ~ Patricia A. McKillip

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1-purple-cort

Do mushrooms wait until it rains before they fruit? This purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides) would have me answer yes to that question because it’s the latest I’ve ever seen them. I usually find them in August. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of mycelium, which is found underground. The mycelium could be compared to a tree and the mushroom its fruit. The fruit is what we see growing above ground, but this fruit has spores instead of seeds. Rain helps mushrooms spread their spores., so it would make sense for them to wait for rain to fruit. We had a good day of rain recently and finally, here are the mushrooms. Purple corts often have a slimy cap and are toxic enough to make you sick. Slugs are the only critters that I’ve seen eat them.

2-velvet-shank-mushrooms

Velvet foot (Flammulina velutipes) mushrooms are considered a “winter mushroom” and they can usually be found from October through early spring. Though many say that they grow on logs I always find them growing in clusters on standing trees, particularly on American elm (Ulmus americana) as they were in this photo. They are very cold hardy and I sometimes find them dusted with snow. This group had just appeared and was very small; no more than an inch and a half high.

3-velvet-shank-mushrooms

On another nearby elm tree this grouping, probably about six inches from top to bottom, grew. The orange caps of these mushrooms often shade to brown in the center and are very slimy and sticky. The stem is covered in fine downy hairs that darken toward the bottom and that’s where their common name comes from. When the temperature drops below freezing on a winter day it’s a real pleasure to see them.

4-velvet-shank-mushrooms

Still another grouping of velvet foot mushrooms grew on another nearby elm, and these had reached full size, with caps maybe 3 inches across. Though the caps are slimy it was raining on this day so they were also wet. They aren’t usually this shiny. I’ve never been able to find an answer to the question of why some mushrooms wait until cold weather to fruit. Another one that is commonly seen when it gets cold is the fall oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus.)

5-turkey-tails

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have been all but invisible this year but I did find the brown ones pictured here recently. I was hoping for another year like last year when they grew in beautiful shades of blue, purple, and orange but I suppose the drought has affected them. This bracket fungus gets its common name from the way it resembles a turkey’s tail, and according to the American Cancer Society there is some scientific evidence that substances derived from turkey tail fungi may be useful against cancer.

6-lion-s-mane-fungus-aka-hericium-americanum

Bear’s head, also called lion’s mane mushroom (Hericlum americanum) is a beautiful toothed fungus that looks like a fungal waterfall. Soft spines hang from branches that reach out from a thick central stalk. As it ages it will change from white to cream to brown, and the brown tips on this example means it has aged some. This one was small; about the same size as a hen’s egg, but I’ve seen them as big as a grapefruit. They seem to fruit toward the end of summer but this year they’re later than in recent years.

7-wolfs-milk-slime-mold

I keep my eye out at this time of year for what look like small, pea size white or pink puffballs. They aren’t puffballs though, so if you squeeze them you’ll be in for a surprise.

8-wolfs-milk-slime-mold

The “puffballs” are actually a slime mold called wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) and if you squeeze them when they’re young instead of the smoke like spores you would expect from a puffball, you often get pink or orange liquid. Though books say that the consistency is that of toothpaste I almost always find liquid like that seen in the photo. As it ages the liquid will become like toothpaste before finally turning into a mass of brown powdery spores. By that time the outside will have also turned brown and at that stage of its life this slime mold could probably be confused with a small puffball. I think these examples were very young.

9-fallen-tree

Something you don’t hear much about until you have a drought is how the dryness weakens the trees enough to make them topple over. Dryness can cause the root system to shrink and makes it hard for the roots to hold onto the dry soil. Without a good strong root system trees can become almost top heavy. Sometimes all it takes is a gust of wind to bring down a big tree like the one in the above photo, so you have to watch the weather before going into the woods. I just heard that, rather than a single summer of drought, this current one has been ongoing for about 4 years. Though that may be true this was the first year that it was so obviously dry in this corner of the state.

10-maple-leaf-viburnum

Falling trees or not I’ll be going into the woods because that’s where you find things like this beautiful maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) The leaves on this native shrub have an amazing color range, from purple to orange to pink, but they always end up almost white, with just a faint hint of pastel pink.

11-bittersweet-berries

There are many berries ripening right now and the birds are happy. Unfortunately they love the berries of invasive Oriental bittersweet and help it in its quest to rule the world. This vine is very strong like wire and as it twines its way around tree trunks it strangles them. Once it reaches the tree canopy it grows thickly and covers it, stealing all the light from the tree. It’s common to see a completely dead tree still supporting a tangle of bittersweet, and sometimes the vine is the only thing holding it up.

12-burning-bush-fruit

Another invasive that’s fruiting right now is burning bush (Euonymus alatus.) It’s a beautiful shrub in the fall but Its sale and importation is banned here in New Hampshire now because of the way it can take over whole swaths of forest floor. Birds love the berries and spread the seeds everywhere, so it isn’t uncommon to find a stand of them growing in the woods. I know a place where hundreds of them grow and though they are beautiful at this time of year not another shrub grows near them. This is because they produce such dense shade it’s hard for anything else to get started.

13-canada-mayflower-berries

Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is described as “a dominant understory perennial flowering plant” and dominate it is, often covering huge swaths of shaded forest floor. It forms monocultures in forests and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. Its tiny white four petaled flowers become red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals. It’s a native plant that acts like an invasive.

14-cranberry

The native cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) have ripened and normally you’d get your feet wet harvesting them, but this year they were high and dry because of the drought. The pilgrims named this fruit “crane berry” because they thought the flowers looked like sandhill cranes. They were taught how to use the berries by Native Americans, who used them as a food, as a medicine, and as a dye. Bears, deer, mice, grouse and many other birds eat the fruit.

15-geese

Each year for as long as I can remember hundreds of Canada geese have stopped over on their way south in the fall to glean what they can from the cornfields. The harvester must spill quite a bit to feed such large flocks of geese.

16-sensitive-fern

Early settlers noticed this fern’s sensitivity to frost and named it sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) This fern loves low, damp places so when you see it it’s a fair bet that the soil stays on the wet side. I don’t know if they eat it or use it for bedding, but beavers harvest this fern and I’ve seen them swimming with large bundles of it in their mouth.

17-forsythia

A Forsythia couldn’t seem to make up its mind what color it wanted to be.

18-witch-hazel

Another odd thing about this drought is how trees like oak are loaded with acorns and shrubs like witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) have more flowers than I’ve ever seen. They’re very beautiful this year, and fragrant too.

19-monkshood

Witch hazels might be late bloomers but so is aconite, commonly called monkshood (Aconitum napellus.) It’s a beautiful flower which, if you look at it from the side, looks just like a monk’s hood.  This plant can take a lot of cold and its blooms appear quite late in the season. Though beautiful the plant is extremely toxic; enough to have been used on spear and arrow tips in ancient times. In ancient Rome anyone found growing the plant could be put to death because aconite was often used to eliminate one’s enemies. It is also called wolfbane, because it once used to kill wolves.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

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1-stream-in-early-morning

Fall continues to amaze. Especially amazing to me is how colorful everything is in spite of our drought, which seems to go on and on. Even old timers who have seen the colors come and go for years often stand agape at the current year’s brilliance, and some say it’s the best they’ve seen. But then, we say that almost every year, so you’ll have to judge for yourself.

2-fall-colors

The red maples (Acer rubrum) are really putting on a show this year and that surprises me because another name for them is “swamp maple,” which hints at how much water they like. As of right now many of our swamps, small ponds and streams have dried up, but since these trees grow right at the water’s edge I’m sure they aren’t suffering.

3-bittersweet

The yellow leaved vine in the foreground of this photo is oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus,) climbing high into the trees seeking more light. At all other times of year it bends into the green background but in the fall it turns bright yellow quite early, and that’s why this is the best time of year to try to eradicate it. It’s very invasive and very hard to get rid of once it becomes established.

4-monadnock

Puffy white clouds would have done a lot for this shot of Mount Monadnock from Perkin’s Pond in Troy, but we don’t see too many clouds these days so I have to take what nature gives. This is the first time in the fall that I’ve had this spot all to myself. There are usually cars lined up along the road and painters and photographers vying for the best spot. Maybe they were waiting for clouds to appear.

5-fall-foliage

More red maples, this time at the edge of the pond in the previous photo. Too bad they don’t stand in front of the mountain.

6-red-maple

I drive by this red maple tree every day on my way to work and I’ve watched it get more colorful each day until finally I had to stop and take its photo. Red maples are among our most beautiful trees and fortunately our forests are full of them. This one grows right beside a stream and even though I see it each day its color seems almost surreal. It was all my camera’s sensor could do to capture its true brilliance.

7-along-the-river

I think the trees along this section of the Ashuelot River in Keene are turning a little more slowly than in other places, but it’s happening.

8-mallard

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard preened in the late afternoon sunlight. Are they oblivious to the incredible beauty that surrounds them or do they know that they’re part of it, I wonder?

9-bittersweet-nightshade

Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.

10-bittersweet-nightshade-foliage

The leaves of the bittersweet nightshade were an amazing dark purple, almost black.

11-mushrooms

Even the mushrooms are dressed for fall.

12-maple-leaf-viburnum

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.

13-maple-leaf-viburnum

This is one example of the colors found in maple leaf viburnum leaves…

14-maple-leaf-viburnum

…and this is another, with the berries (drupes) included as a bonus. These fruits are about the size of raisins and I’ve heard that they don’t taste very good, but many birds and animals eat them. They disappear quickly and getting a shot of both fall colored leaves and fruit is difficult. In fact it’s something I’ve been trying to do for years.

15-along-the-river

I often walk along the Ashuelot River in the late afternoon in the fall, and this is one reason why. When the sun is right it looks like the trees are on fire, and it can sometimes be breathtaking. Many times I’ve come upon people who were frozen in place, just staring. I love seeing the beauty of nature take people outside of themselves, and this is a great place to see it happen. I know well how they feel, so I rarely leave without a smile on my face.

16-fall-colors

Though many of the photos in this post were taken near water this is the only one that showed a clear reflection of the trees. Catching reflections is often not as easy as it might seem.

17-walnut

The beautiful reds, oranges and purples of this small tree caught my eye.  I think it’s a young walnut. The colors are so bright it looks like I used a flash, but I didn’t.

18-staghorn-sumac

The staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are showing good color this year. In the fall these small trees can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.

19-staghorn-sumac

I thought my color finding software was going to have a breakdown when I asked it to tell me what colors were in these sumac leaves. Most prevalent is something it calls “Indian red,” but it also sees tomato red, pale violet red, fire brick, coral, salmon pink, peach puff, rosy brown, burly wood, light yellow, and Peru, which is a shade of orange, and believe it or not, tan. That’s a dozen colors on a single branch. I see red, orange and a little yellow and I’m happy with that.

20-branch-river

This was taken along the Branch River in Marlborough in full sun. I can never decide if full sun or an overcast sky is better for showing off the colors so I try to get some of both for these posts. This year though, overcast skies have been hard to come by.

21-rail-trail

On the television news one recent evening they were interviewing visitors from other lands who had come to see the fall foliage. Many said that photos couldn’t ever compare to the real thing, and I have to agree. I’ve tried my best to show what I’ve seen, but I hope one day everyone will get to see this beautiful yearly spectacle in person. It’s when nature pulls out all the stops and reminds us what the word beauty really means.

Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell–some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

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1. Striped Maple

Some of the most beautiful things that happen in a northeastern forest are happening right now, and I hope everyone living in the area will have a chance to witness them. Bud break, when a plant’s bud scales open to reveal the new leaves within, can be a very beautiful thing, as we see here in the velvety pink buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum.) The larger center bud’s scales have just opened and leaves will appear shortly. Bud break can go on for quite some time among various species; striped and sugar maples follow cherry, and birch and beech will follow them, and shagbark hickory will follow birch and beech. Oaks are usually one of the last to show leaves. That’s just a small sampling that doesn’t include shrubs like lilac and forest floor plants that also have buds breaking.

2. Horsetail

Even the lowly horsetails are breaking bud beautifully. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores.

3. Horsetail Closeup

The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. Nature can seem very complicated at times but it always comes down to one simple thing: continuation of the species.

4. Horsetail Infertle Stem

More people are probably familiar with the infertile stems of horsetail, shown here. They grow from the same roots as the fertile spore bearing shoots in the previous two photos and they do all the photosynthesizing.  Horsetails spread quickly and can be very aggressive. If they ever appear in your garden you should remove them as soon as possible, because large colonies are nearly impossible to eradicate.

5. Bittersweet on Elm

Invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is an expert at continuation of its species; not only does it produce berries that birds love; it also strangles the tree it uses to reach the most abundant sunshine. That can be seen here as this bittersweet vine slowly strangles an American elm. The vine is like a steel cable that wraps around the tree’s trunk and since the tree can’t break it, it often slowly strangles.

6. Cattail Shoot

Cattails (Typha latifolia) have just started coming up. Cattails at the edge of pond can grow faster than fertilized corn in a field and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are also very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.  Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods.

7. Male Mallard

A mallard swam serenely in the pond near the cattail shoots, so intent on something he saw on the far side that he didn’t even hear me walking on the trail.

8. Male Mallard

Or so I thought anyway. He knew I was there but my presence didn’t seem to bother him and he just swam along beside me as I walked the trail. I think he was as curious of me as I was of him.

9. Unknown Shoots

If you looked at the root of the aquatic arrowhead plant (Sagittaria latifolia) you’d see a whitish, chestnut size tuber with a shoot coming out of its top center. The shore of a local pond was littered with many shoots and since I know arrowheads grow here I’m guessing that’s what they were from. Though arrowhead plants are also called duck potatoes mallards eat only the seeds but muskrats, painted turtles and snapping turtles all eat the tubers. I’ve never seen a muskrat in this pond but I’ve seen many of both kinds of turtles here, so they may be the culprits.

10. Turtle

All of the sudden I’m seeing turtles everywhere, as if someone flipped a switch. This painted turtle let me get one photo and then it was gone. Fossils show that painted turtle have been here for about 15 million years. They can be found from Canada to Mexico and Maine to California and can live for over 50 years. Native Americans listened for the turtle’s splash into the water and used it as an alarm and one native legend says that Painted Turtle put his paint on to entice a chief’s daughter into the water. I don’t know about that but they have certainly enticed many a child into the water, and I was one of them.

11. Bullfrog

I doubt that painted turtles bother bullfrogs but I’d bet that snapping turtles do, and there are some big ones in this pond. I wondered if that was why this male bullfrog was sitting in the trail instead of in the water. He didn’t flinch when I walked to within a foot from him, and he let me take as many photos as I wanted. Bullfrogs are big; the biggest frog in North America, and the males do sound a bit like a bull. I’ve seen bullfrogs in the Ashuelot river that were so big they wouldn’t have fit in the palms of both hands held together.

12. Bullfrog

He let me walk around him to take photos of his other side without moving. Since it was just the two of us it’s doubtful that he though I couldn’t see him. Male bullfrogs have very large tympanic membranes that cover their ears. They sit slightly below and behind their eyes and are always bigger than the eye. Females have tympanic membranes that are the same size as their eyes, even though female bullfrogs can be much bigger than males. In some Native American tribes frogs were considered medicine animals that had healing powers and brought rain. Some, like the Chippewa tribes, had frogs as their clan animal. Clan members take their clan animal as their emblem, but they don’t believe that their clan is descended from that animal.

13. Robin

This robin looked like it had been eating very well. I’ve never seen as many as we have lately; large flocks of them. In the past I’ve felt lucky to have seen a single bird in spring.

14. White Baneberry

I love the movement in the young spring shoots of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) and I look for it every spring. This example had what looked like a prehistoric hand holding its flower buds while the newly opened leaves gazed down from above, enraptured. I fell under its spell for a while myself; it was such a beautiful and interesting little thing. This entire plant is poisonous and its berries especially so. They are white with a single black dot that gives them the common name doll’s eyes. In summer the berries follow a raceme of white flowers that is taller than it is wide, and which will grow from the tiny buds seen in this photo.

15. Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be very beautiful as it spreads its new leaves to catch the sun. Unfortunately it’s also very invasive and almost impossible to control. I’ve seen Japanese knotweed shoots killed to the ground by cold in the past, and within 3 weeks they had come right back and grew on as if it had never happened. I’ve heard that the new shoots taste much like rhubarb but the plants grow into large, 4-5 foot tall shrub like masses that shade out natives.

16. Cinnamon Fern-2

Both cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns (Osmunda claytoniana) have fuzzy shoots, called fiddleheads because of their resemblance to the head of a violin. Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) must be up as well, and fiddleheads from that fern are considered a delicacy in many restaurants. Last year I went with a professional fiddlehead forager and saw thousands upon thousands of ostrich fern fiddleheads. Cinnamon and interrupted fern fiddleheads are very bitter and mildly toxic. In fact many are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten unless you know them well or are buying them at a store or restaurant. .

17. White Ash Buds

The male flower buds of American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves and can sometimes be colorful and sometimes black as blackberries. The Wabanaki Indian tribes made their baskets from ash. Some tribes believed ash was poisonous to rattlesnakes and used ash canes to chase them away.

18. Sugar Maple Bud

The buds of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) have just broken on some trees and on others small leaves are already showing. The veins are prominent even on leaves that haven’t unfurled. Deer love to snack on sweet sugar maple buds and quite often you find only branch stubs and this time of year.

19. New Maple Leaves

Red maple (Acer rubrum) leaves live up to their name when they’re this young. The red color in spring leaves is caused by the same pigments that bring the reds of autumn, the anthocyanins. That covers the how but little is really known about the why. One theory says that it’s because deer and moose can’t see red and therefore won’t eat the new, tender leaves. Another says that the red color protects the leaves from cold temperatures and damaging ultraviolet rays, but nobody seems to know for sure. I like to think the colors are there just to make the world a more beautiful place.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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1. Half Moon Pond

I’ve been taking photos with my phone off and on since I got it but not seriously. Once in a while I’d snap a landscape because of the phone camera’s wider, almost panoramic format. Then recently I took a close photo of a mushroom and was surprised that it did so well, so I decided to put it through its paces and really see what it could do. This post is made up entirely of photos that I took with the phone, starting off with a foggy, rainy view of Half-Moon Pond in Hancock. The phone camera did about what I’d expect in such gloomy conditions; the scene looks like it was shot in black and white.

2. Crowded Parchment Fungi

This was taken with the phone camera on another rainy day but the colors of the crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) still came through. One of my mushroom books describes them as orange fading to cream, or cinnamon buff. These are definitely orange fading to cream. Sometimes crowded parchment fungi grow so close together that their edges fuse together, even though there seems to be more than enough room on the branch for all. This fungus grows on fallen deciduous tree branches; usually oak.

3. Lemon Drops

The phone camera seems to handle color and high contrast quite well, as the yellow lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) on a dark log show.

4. Lemon Drops

Lemon drops are very small but even when cropped the phone photo still holds plenty of detail.  The smaller examples in this shot are about the size of a period made by a pencil on paper. These tiny disc shaped sac fungi actually have a stalk but it’s too small to be seen by me.

5. Milk White Toothed Polypore Crust Fungus

Milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) is a crust fungus with “teeth” that are actually tubes or pores in the spore bearing surface which break apart with age and become tooth-like as the above photo shows. As they age these “teeth” turn brown as they have here. I wasn’t sure if the phone camera could pick them out but it did a fairly good job of it. This crust fungus is common on the undersides of fallen branches and rotting logs.

6. Half Moon Pond 3

I’m not sure what happened to make the hill lit by the rising sun in this photo so red / brown. Since I didn’t look at the photo until a few days after I took it I can’t say if the colors were enhanced by the phone or not, but do know that I’ve seen the early morning sun do some very strange things here at Half-Moon Pond in Hancock.

7. Black Raspberry

The phone camera has a macro function so of course I had to try it, but I ended up not liking it. Either I was doing something wrong or it has trouble focusing in macro mode. When I zoom in on the photo of the bud on this black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) I can see that it isn’t in sharp focus at all. It seems like the camera actually does better with close up shots when it’s in normal shooting mode.

8. Black Locust

It did okay with these black locust thorns (Robinia pseudoacacia) as far as focus goes but there is kind of a garish look to this photo, as if it was done in high dynamic range imaging (HDRI) that wasn’t set quite right.

9. Bitersweet Berries

The phone camera picked up the pucker on these oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) with no problems and also did well on the color. Red can be a tough color for some cameras, especially in bright sunlight as these examples were.

10. Hazel Leaves

The strangest thing about witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) to me is how its leaves always seem more colorful after their fall color has left them. They turn yellow in the fall but it isn’t the blazing yellow of beech and maple. It isn’t that it’s a drab color; it’s just not very exciting. Then the leaves go from yellow to brown, but it isn’t just any old brown. It’s a beautiful, vibrant and rich orange-brown that always makes me stop for a closer look, and sometimes a photo or two. I think the phone camera did a good job with the color. Even though I’m colorblind I can still see certain colors, and I can see that this one is very different from the pink brown of an oak leaf, or the red brown of iron oxide on stone. This brown is warm and alive, and on a cold winter day it can warm your perspective.

11. Moss on Quartz

Now that I see these phone photos I wish I had also taken the same photo with a different camera so I could compare the two. I’m fairly certain that either one of my other cameras would have seen the brightness of the quartz in this scene and darkened the shot considerably to compensate. But the cell phone didn’t and I really didn’t have to fiddle around much with this shot. The broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) looks more alive than just about any other photo of moss that I’ve taken, and it’s very beautiful against the milky white of the quartz.

12. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

The spore bearing apothecial disks of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) look blue in the right light. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and that makes them appear blue. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen which can be brown or the grayish white color seen here. They’re very small and I was surprised that the phone camera picked them out so well.

13. Feather

I wanted to see how the phone camera did on stop action shots and what could be a better subject for that than a feather blowing in the wind? The camera failed miserably but I think that’s because I didn’t have the settings adjusted the way they should have been. I really don’t use it enough to know what’s best.

14. Half Moon Pond

This simple shot of water plants on a foggy morning is my favorite shot to come out of the phone because it speaks of serenity, solitude and bliss; all things that I find regularly in these New Hampshire woods.

What I hope this post shows is that you don’t need anything more than a phone camera to record what you see in nature, and I hope it will inspire more people to get out there and give it a go. As I’ve said here before, if you photograph what you love that love will burn brightly in your photos and it will be very apparent to others. I don’t think the brand of camera you use matters as much as how you feel when you use it. If the subject and the photo please you they will please others as well. If you’d like to see a daily blog done solely with a cellphone you should take a peek at Marie’s blog, called I Walk Alone. She’s been writing a blog for several years now and uses nothing more than a phone camera, and her photos are often stunning.

Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself. ~Annie Leibovitz

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Pine Bark Beetle Damage

Pine bark beetles (Ips pini) made an intricate design on a white pine (Pinus strobus) limb. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest. They feed on the phloem tissue just beneath the bark and if they girdle the branch it will die. Dead branches mean no photosynthesizing and eventually the tree will die. For those who have never head the term; girdling of a branch or tree happens when the phloem and bark has been cut around its diameter in a complete circle. Native Americans and then early settlers used girdling to remove trees from fields and pastures and it is still used by some today.

2. Reindeer Lichens

I saw a beautiful drift of gray and green reindeer lichens recently. This shrubby lichen gets its common name from the way reindeer and caribou paw through the snow to find and eat it. Reindeer lichen reproduces vegetatively by small growths called soredia that break off and grow new lichens under the right conditions. The soredia are carried by wind, water or animals. Reindeer lichens grow about .31 inches (8 mm) per year so it’s clear that this drift has been here for a very long time. They can live for a century or more and studies have shown that only boiling and radiation caused severe damage to them. There are many who believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore immortal.

3. Reindeer Lichen

Reindeer lichens remind me of corals that you would see under the sea. The grayish white color and the way that the branch tips all point in one direction tell me that this one is gray reindeer lichen (Cladina rangiferina.) I find the biggest colonies of this lichen along the edge of a pine forest, growing in a very thin quarter to half inch of dry sandy soil over granite bedrock. At times they get so dry that if you walk on them it sounds much like it would if you walked on potato chips. I’ve read that reindeer lichens produce a single new branch each year and that their age can be determined by counting the branches. The plants pictured must have been very old indeed. I’m glad that I didn’t have to count their branches.

4. Bittersweet in Tree

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) grew into the top of a tree and then found that it had nowhere else to climb so it massed in the tree top, and its bright red berries show that. Bittersweet is very persistent and will simply grow or hang back down until it reaches the ground and then creep until it finds something else standing vertical. As it grows the vine winds tightly around the tree trunk and doesn’t expand when the tree does, so its wire like strength will eventually strangle the tree. This is why its sale and cultivation are banned in New Hampshire.

5. Blueberry Stem Gall

Blueberry stem gall always reminds me of a kidney bean. This gall forms when a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damages a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responds to the damage by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This example was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) The galls do no real harm to the plants.

6. Witches Broom on Blueberry

This witch’s broom on a highbush blueberry looked very red. It’s interesting that the highbush blueberry’s leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall and the stem galls and witch’s broom are also red. Why so much red present, I wonder. Witch’s broom is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. I’ve worked on blueberry bushes that have borne large amounts of fruit even though they had witch’s broom, so I’m not sure how much the deformity harms the plant. I think it’s more offensive to the eye than anything.

7. Waterlily Leaf in Ice

A water lily leaf was trapped in the ice just off shore in a small pond. It tugged at me and I thought it might make a fine picture, but it looked much better in person than it does here.

8. Hornet Nest

Do hornets care that what they build is so beautiful, I wonder?

9. Burl

There was a time that I thought I had some artistic ability and I’d sit for hours drawing and painting. One of the things I loved especially was pen and ink drawing, and that’s what this burl I found on an old tree stump reminded me of. It looked like a Da Vinci sketch in pen and ink with a colored wash over all to add some depth and character, and how beautiful it was. I think the old master himself would have been pleased to see it.

For those not familiar with burl; it’s an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. Bowls and other objects made from it can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

10. Wooly Aphids

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

11. Wooly Aphids

Wooly aphids are sap sucking insects that secrete sweet honeydew on branches and leaves of plants. The honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold. Since the mold only grows on the aphid honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. In fact the aphids will do far more harm. I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They were very small; not even pencil eraser size.

12. juniper Berries

I love seeing juniper berries at this time of year. A waxy coating called bloom makes them a bright and beautiful blue. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat.

13. Unknown Fungi

Part of what I try to do on this blog is show the amazing and beautiful things that are tucked into virtually every nook and cranny of nature and, with nothing but a slower gait and a watchful eye, how easy they are to see. Walking along at a toddler’s pace and looking at logs is just how I found the unknown fungi in the above photo. I knelt to give them a closer look and saw that they were like nothing I’d seen. Finding unexpected beauty like this can take us to that higher place where time seems to stop for a while. Sometimes it’s hard to know how long you’ve been there but that’s okay; as Mehmet Murat ildan said: “If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found.”

14. Mushroom Mycelium

Mushroom mycelium grew on the bottom of a log where it made contact with the soil. It wept golden nectar and its many intricacies reminded me of distant cosmic nebulae where stars and planets are born.

He who does not expect the unexpected will not find it, since it is trackless and unexplored. Heraclitus of Ephesus

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1. Beaver Pond

Our fall colors are just about at peak right now, with some trees already dropping their leaves and others like the oaks yet to turn. The show stealers at the moment are beech, which are bright yellow, and maples, which can be red, orange, yellow, and sometimes even pink. I think I saw them all at this beaver pond.

2. Red Maple

This maple was quite red. Oaks are an even deeper red and can sometimes border on purple. When some oak leaves dry they turn pink.

3. Ashuelot North

North of Keene on the Ashuelot River the foliage was yellow and green but it seemed like every nuance of each color was represented.

4. Bittersweet

The tree with red leaves in this shot has the bright yellow leaves of a bittersweet vine nearly at its uppermost branches. Invasive oriental bittersweet vines (Celastrus orbiculatus) are as strong as wire and they strangle many native trees by wrapping themselves around the tree’s trunk like a boa constrictor. I’ve seen vines as big as my arm wrapped tightly around trees so as the trees grew they had no room to expand and slowly died. If you want to rid your yard of bittersweet vines this is the perfect time to do so because they’re more visible right now than at any other time of year.

5. Bittersweet Berries

The spread of Oriental bittersweet vines is helped along by humans. At this time of year people use bittersweet vines that have fruit on them to make wreaths and table decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving. The berries are green for most of the summer but slowly turn yellow as fall approaches. Finally the yellow outer membrane splits into three and reveals a single, tomato red fruit. At the end of the season people throw the used vines onto the compost heap or out in the woods and the fruits grow to become new vines. Birds love the berries too, and also help the spread of the plant.

6. Pond View

Many people think bright sunshine is the only way to go when viewing fall colors but from a photography standpoint I think the colors are at their best on a slightly overcast day. In this photo the colors seem almost bleached out by the sun.

7. Hillside Colors

Keene sits in a kind of bowl surrounded on all sides by hills, and this is one of them.

8. Shack

This is another hillside view, with a favorite shack included for a sense of scale.

9. Virginia Creeper

The Virginia creepers (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are beautiful this year. This one had a bit of purple on it and reminded me why my mother loved it enough to plant it on our house.

10. Maple Leaf Viburnum

In my opinion one of the most beautiful shrubs in the fall forest is the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) Its leaves can be red, orange, purple, pink, or even a combination of all of them all before turning to a pale, almost white pastel pink before dropping. You can see both purple and orange on this example.

11. Sensitive Fern

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its common name from our early colonists, who noticed that it was very sensitive to frost. Usually by this time of year these ferns would be brown and crisp from frost but since we haven’t had a real frost yet this year this example is slowly turning white. In my experience it’s unusual to see this particular fern doing this. Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) do the same each fall and are usually the only white fern that we see.

12. Rail Trail

If you want to get really close to the colorful foliage rail trails are the perfect place to do it.

13. Beech

Beech leaves glow in the sunshine. If you’ve ever wondered what being inside a kaleidoscope would be like, just walk down a wooded New England trail on a sunny fall day.

14. Monadnock

Once again this year I missed most of the foliage at Perkins Pond near Mount Monadnock, but seeing the mountain itself was worth the drive.  Last fall a Japanese couple, through mostly sign language and broken English, asked me to take their photo in this very spot with the mountain behind them. It was the only time I’ve ever had my hands on an Ipad and I didn’t know what I was doing, but they seemed very happy with the photo.  This year I met another Japanese couple here and they had a Nikon DSLR but they didn’t ask me to take their photo. As I was leaving I wondered if I stood here long enough if I’d have a chance to try out every kind of camera made.

15. Peat Moss

I was surprised to see large mats of orange sphagnum moss growing just off shore in Perkins Pond. There wouldn’t be anything unusual about seeing peat moss at a pond’s edge except that these weren’t here the last time I was, and I was surprised by how fast they had appeared.  This one even had cranberries growing already on it.

16. Fallen Leaves

I found this scene last fall and it reminded me so much of scuffling through the dried leaves as a boy in grade school that I had to go back and revisit it. The sight, sound and smell that comes from wading through freshly fallen leaves crisping in the sun are things I’ll never forget.

17. Maple Leaf

You might not have the colorful fall foliage that we have here in New England but don’t despair; I can guarantee that nature has something every bit as beautiful for you to see right where you are.  The only condition is, it won’t come to you-you have to go outside and find it. Today might be the perfect day to do so.

There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep. ~Edward Abbey

Thanks for stopping in.

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