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Posts Tagged ‘Ostrich fern’

 

I’d been almost everywhere I knew of where coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) grow and hadn’t seen a single one, so last Sunday I decided to visit the last place I knew of to find them; the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland. I don’t like going there at this time of year because this is when all the ice that has accumulated through winter starts melting, and when it starts melting it starts falling, and this can be a dangerous place to be when tree size pieces of ice come crashing down.

There was a lot more ice than I expected and it was rotten, which means it has probably released its hold on the stone and could come down at any time.

3. Falling Water

Melt water ran off the stone walls in gushing streams.

4. Trail

I decided to get out of the deepest, northern part of the canyon and head south where the coltsfoot plants grow.

5. Columbine Seedlings

This rail trail includes the ledges where the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) grow, so I thought I’d see what was happening there as well. I saw lots of columbine seedlings but still no blue cohosh shoots.

6. Red Elderberry Buds

I also got to see some red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) opening. They always open with tiny purple fingers like those seen here. It won’t be long before this plant is covered with bright red berries. The birds love them so much and eat them so fast it’s almost impossible to get a photo of them. I think I’ve gotten just one photo of red elderberry fruit in the 8 years I’ve done this blog.

7. Turkey Tail

I saw a turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) wearing colors that I don’t often see. I’ve been seeing a lot of blue ones this year so this one was a pleasant surprise.

8. Unknown

I also found this chunk of blue something. It’s light and feels like plastic but it also crumbles so I doubt it is. I don’t know what it is or where it came from but I love its color; almost the same as the blue of cohosh fruit.

9. Unknown Stems

And then I saw these strange little trumpet shaped stems. They easily pulled right out of the wet soil and had a tap root.

10. Unknown Stem

The stems were thin and hollow and felt like paper. I don’t know what plant they’re from but there is a huge selection of plants growing here. I’ll have to see if I can figure it out in the summer when they’re growing.

11. Drainage Ditch

The drainage ditches had so much water in them in places it looked like they would wash up over the trail. I moved some bunches of wet leaves that were holding back the flow in a couple of places.

12. Fallen Ice

And this is where I had to stop. If you look closely you can see ice columns that have fallen completely across the trail. These columns are huge, easily as big as trees, and if one ever fell on you it wouldn’t be good.

13. Fallen Ice

This “small piece” was about two feet square. I can’t imagine what it must have weighed but I wouldn’t want to feel it falling on me.

14. Green Ice

The ice here is often colored, I think because of the various minerals in the groundwater, and there was some green ice left. It was very rotten and I didn’t get near it. Rotten ice has a matte, opaque “sick” look and the dull thud it makes when you tap it gives it away. It should sound like a sharp crack. Ice becomes rotten when air and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and it becomes honeycombed and loses its strength.

15. Great Scented Liverwort

The beautiful great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) made it through the winter just fine despite many of them being completely encased in ice. They like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water but of course in winter that means ice. They show that the groundwater here is very clean and most likely drinkable.

16. Great Scented Liverwort

This is the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful plant and they are one of the things that make this place so very special. Their amazing scent is where their common name comes from; if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle. I didn’t have my rubber boots with me to walk through the drainage ditches so I had to take this shot from about 6 feet away, but at least you can see the pores and air chambers outlined on the many leaf surfaces. It makes them look very reptilian and leads to the name snakeskin liverwort.

17. Algae

The green algae called Trentepohlia aurea looks to be spreading some. Though it is called green algae the same pigment that colors carrots orange makes it orange as well. It’s also very hairy, but I couldn’t get close enough to show you. Algae produce millions of spores and colored rain has fallen all over the world because of the wind taking the spores up into the sky. If you ever hear of red rain chances are it’s algae spores coloring it.

18. Mosses

It was so nice to see so much green for a change. It was also nice and warm here, which was a surprise with all the ice.

19. Ostrich Fern Frond

I was surprised to find the fertile frond of an ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) because I’ve never seen one growing here. Now I want to come back to get photos of the fiddleheads, which are pretty and very hard to find in this area. There are thousands of ostrich ferns growing along the Connecticut River but most of the land along it is privately owned.

20. Unknown Leaf

Well, in the end I never did find coltsfoot plants in bloom but I certainly found lots of mysteries along the trail on this day. Here’s another one that maybe one of you can solve. I know I’ve seen this plant and I should know its name, but I can’t think of it. The leaves are large at about an inch and a half across, and I think the bronze color is just what they do in winter. They sprawl on the ground in all directions from a central crown like a violet, but the leaves are too big to be a violet. It’s a pretty thing but without flowers it’s hard to identify.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life. ~Lewis Mumford

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1. Silver Maple Seeds

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

2. Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

I joined a professional ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddlehead forager earlier to see where the ferns grow along the Connecticut River. There were many thousands of ferns there-so many that I don’t think a busload of people could have picked them all. I also saw some of the biggest trees that I’ve ever seen that day. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered a great delicacy by many and many restaurants are happy to pay premium prices for them at this time of year. I’ve always heard that ostrich fern is the only one of our native ferns that is safe to eat. They like to grow in shady places where the soil is consistently damp. They really are beautiful things at this stage in life.

3. Lady Fern Fiddleheads

Though I’ve heard that ostrich fern is the only fern safe to eat many people eat lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fiddleheads as well, and gourmet restaurants in Quebec will pay as much as $10.00 per pound for them. Both ostrich and lady fern fiddleheads are considered toxic when raw and should be boiled for at least 10 minutes, according to one chef. After they are boiled they are sautéed in butter and are said to hold their crispness. They are also said to have the flavor of asparagus, but more intense. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks.

 4. Cinnamon Fern Fiddleheads

Both cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns (Osmunda claytoniana) have wooly fiddleheads that taste very bitter and are mildly toxic. Some fern fiddleheads, like those of the sensitive fern, are carcinogenic so you should know your fern fiddleheads well before picking and eating them or you could get very sick. I’ve known the fern in the photo for a few years now and know that it is a cinnamon fern, but if I hadn’t seen its fertile fronds in the past I wouldn’t know for sure. The fertile fronds that will appear a little later on once reminded someone of a stick of cinnamon, and that’s how it comes by its common name.

5. Interrupted Fern

The interrupted fern gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the brown, fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.

6. Interrupted Fern Fertile Frond

Though usually brown the fertile leaflets on this interrupted fern were bright green and I wonder if they change color as they age; I’ve never paid close enough attention to know for sure. In any event, the fertile leaflets are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores through tiny openings and then the fertile leaflets will fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets.

7. Algae

Last year at about this time I found this greenish stuff seeping out of the rocks on a rail trail and, not knowing what it was, called it rock slime. It looked slimy but if you put your finger in it, it felt like cool water and wasn’t slimy at all. Now this year I seem to be seeing it everywhere, but still seeping out of rocks. Luckily last year our friends Zyriacus, Jerry, Laura, and others identified it as a green algae of the genus Spyrogyra.  Zyriacus said that some 400 species of this genus are known, and they thrive in freshwater. It’s great having knowledgeable friends-just look at the things we learn from each other!

 8. Beaver Tree

Beavers started cutting this tree, but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to see it fall because it has been this way for a while. The only part of the tree’s trunk they eat for food is the inner bark, called the cambium layer, so maybe they were just snacking.

9. Beaver Tree Closeup

A beaver’s teeth really do make it look like someone has been chiseling the tree. If they have a choice they’d rather tackle trees less than six inches in diameter but they can fell trees up to three feet in diameter. The Native American Cherokee tribe has a story that says that the beaver collects the baby teeth of the tribe’s children, and will give a child good luck in return for a song.

10. White Baneberry

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) has so much movement and interest in its spring shoots. They remind me of tiny bird claw-like hands and always make me wish that I had brought a pencil and a sketch pad so I could draw them. Later on this plant will produce bright white berries, each with a single black spot, and that is how it got the common name doll’s eyes.

11. Striped Maple Bud Opening

We’re having some unusual spring warmth and it seems to be speeding up events that normally take a few weeks. I took this photo of a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) bud breaking on April 30th. On May 10th I was taking photos of striped maple flowers. From no leaves to flowering in just 10 days seems quite remarkable to me.

 12. Shagbark Hickory Bud Break

As you walk the trails along the Ashuelot River you might see what look like large pinkish orange flowers on the trees and think gosh, what beautiful things. If you get closer you will see that the colors are on the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree, and aren’t flowers at all. And then you might wonder why such beautiful colors would be on the inside of a bud where nobody could ever see them, and as you walk on you might find yourself lost in gratitude, so very thankful that you were able to see such a thing. And later on, you might wonder if this chance meeting might have been an invitation.

 13 Beech Bud

In the spring as the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing, as we just saw with the shagbark hickory. American beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) break is every bit as beautiful and begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud.

 14. Beech Bud Break

Now we know how beech buds open, but who can explain why they’re so beautiful when they do? Maybe it’s just another invitation. These invitations come so unexpectedly. Art, music, the beauty of a leaf or flower; all can invite us to step outside of ourselves; to lose ourselves and walk a higher path, at least for a time. It’s an invitation which if accepted, can be life changing.

One who not merely beholds the outward shows of things, but catches a glimpse of the soul that looks out of them, whose garment and revelation they are–if he be such, I say he will stand for more than a moment, speechless with something akin to that which made the morning stars sing together. ~George MacDonald

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 1. Sap Buckets

People who collect maple sap the old way in buckets like these are becoming a rare breed. The sap is flowing but syrup producers say it’s coming slowly, in fits and starts, because we’ve had so many cold days. Daytime temperatures need to be in the mid-forties and nighttime temps at around 28 degrees  for optimal sap flow. Though some days and nights have been perfect it hasn’t been consistent. We’re still seeing below zero nights and, since the 4-6 week season ends in early April, each cold snap brings a renewed sense of urgency. Last year New Hampshire produced 176,000 gallons of syrup. In the abnormally warm winter of 2012 producers didn’t even see half that amount, and this year it might be cold that hinders production.

 2. Muddy Road

When we have the kind of cold we’ve had this year it drives the frost deep into the ground. In spring when the soil begins to thaw the water can’t seep into the frozen ground so it sits on top, saturating the soil to the point where it can’t hold any more water. When the soil in question happens to be a road, things can get very interesting. Here in New England we call it “mud season” and when I drove over the road in the above photo I knew it was upon us, because it felt like I was driving on gelatin. Our roads become quaking quagmires that have been known to swallow even 40 foot long school buses.  If you’d like to see some photos of mud season in all its muckiness, just click here.

 3. Peat Mosses

In the swamps, peat mosses aren’t wasting any time. They seem to green up almost immediately after the snow melts. I just read that scientists took a piece of moss from part of an Arctic ice core sample that was over 1000 years old. When they exposed it to light and warmth the ancient moss grew just fine. This moss that is now green once again was alive when Rome was in its infancy. This is why some people wonder if mosses and lichens ever really die.

 4. Skunk Cabbage 

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are growing fast in spite of the cold nights. Since they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, they don’t care how cold it is. This photo shows skunk cabbage spathes partly out of the soil. Once they reach full size they will open so flies can visit the flower covered spadix within.

 5. Vernal Witch Hazel 

The vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) keep poking out their strap like petals, only to roll them back up again because of the cold. They, like the maples, are going through fits and starts this year.

 6. Red Maple Buds

Red maple (Acer rubrum) and other tree buds are swelling and the hills off in the distance have taken on a reddish haze that is impossible for me to take a photo of, so I settled for a branch. Red maples are one of the first trees to flower in spring and I always look forward to seeing them because they are very pretty. The sap can be made into syrup just like that of sugar maples but it turns bitter when the buds start to break. Since they appear earlier than those of sugar maples, the season doesn’t last as long.

 7. Red Maple Buds

Both red and sugar maple buds are high energy foods and eastern gray squirrels eat them in spring. These buds also have high moisture content and that means that squirrels don’t have to leave a tree for a drink at this time of year.

 8. New Fern Growth 

I spotted this fern growing on a boulder. The cluster of round buds in its center will grow into new shoots, called fiddleheads, before too long. The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly or they can make you sick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has investigated a number of outbreaks of food-borne illness cause by raw and undercooked fiddleheads. They should always be boiled for at least 15 minutes.  Some say you can also eat lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) fiddleheads but there is a great debate raging about the safety of eating them, so I can’t say for sure if you should or shouldn’t.

 9. Trailing Arbutus

The snow has melted enough to reveal the tough, leathery, evergreen leaves of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). My grandmother always called this plant mayflower but I’ve found its fragrant pinkish flowers much earlier in April. Because it has been so cold this year though, it might live up to its common name. I usually find it in mixed forests growing on sunny embankments.

 10. Oak Leaf on Snow

Last year’s oak and beech leaves are starting to fall. More signs of spring.

 11. Grasses in the Sun

The afternoon sun catching these dry grasses looked very spring like, but the scene looked better in person than it does in the photo.

12. Melting Snow

Sometimes spring comes creeping in quietly and slowly and is hardly noticeable, so we seem to go from winter right into summer. I have a feeling that this year will be that way.

Tomorrow, the first day of spring, will mark the 3 year anniversary of this blog. I remember wondering how I’d ever get through 6 months of it, so thanks go to all of you who have kept it going.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.  ~Henry Van Dyke

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