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Posts Tagged ‘Painted Turtle’

Last Sunday I decided that a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene was in order because this stretch of river is one of only two places I know of where gentians grow, and I wanted to see how they were coming along. They should bloom in a little over a month.

People have been walking along this path since long before I came along and it’s still a favorite of bike riders, dog walkers, joggers and nature lovers. On a good day you might see ducks, geese, blue heron, beavers, muskrats, squirrels, chipmunks and more birds than you can count here, as well as a wide variety of wildflowers and fungi. There have also been quite a few recent reports of a black bear in the area, but I was hoping that it was taking this day off.

You might even see something you’ve never seen before; that was my experience with this Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis.) This is the first time it has appeared on this blog because this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. I was surprised by how small it was. I thought it would be as big as a tradescantia blossom but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive; it seems to be quite rare here. I love that shade of blue.

Another introduced plant that can be called very invasive is purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and I was sorry but not surprised to see it here. If left unchecked it might very well be the only plant on these river banks a few years from now. It eventually chokes out almost every native plant it contacts.

Native Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) grew along the river bank as well, and I hope it doesn’t lose the battle to purple loosestrife. I like seeing its dusty rose flower heads at this time of year.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) also grew on the river bank but I couldn’t get near them because they were growing in the water. I was surprised because every other time I’ve seen this native shrub it was growing up high on the river bank well away from the water. The waterfowl will appreciate it being so close because they love the seeds.

This was one of a few strange things I saw on this day. I don’t know what it was all about but what struck me as even stranger than its being here in the first place was that hundreds of people have walked by it and nobody has touched it. I must have seen at least ten children walking or bike riding with their parents and I don’t know why they left it alone. They must be very well behaved. When my own son and daughter were little this would have been like a magnet to them.

This was another strange thing I saw. It was nailed to a pine tree and I don’t have any idea why.  I do know for sure that Europeans weren’t nailing metal tags to trees in New Hampshire in 1697 though.

Yet another strange thing I saw was a turtle that appeared to be trying to fly. It kept putting its hind legs up in the air and wiggling its toes in the breeze. I don’t know what it was trying to do but it seemed very happy to be doing it. Maybe it was just celebrating such a beautiful day.

A young robin flew into a nearby bush and watched the turtle trying to fly. It didn’t seem real impressed, but what bird would be?

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) grew near the turtle’s log. At a glance common boneset looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water. The “perfoliatum” part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the leaf,” and that’s what boneset leaves look like; as if they had been perforated by the stem. The leaves joining around the stem as they do looked like bones knitting together as they healed to ancient herbalists, and that’s how the plant got its common name.

I’ve never seen pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) blooming along this stretch of the Ashuelot but the plants are here. I must not have walked this trail at the right time but I’ll be here next spring when they bloom.

There are many side trails off the main trail and every time I come out here I tell myself that I’m going to explore them one day but, even though I’ve been coming here since I was a boy, so far that day hasn’t come.

A crust fungus had nearly engulfed this entire tree stump. I think it was the netted crust fungus (Byssomerulius corium,) but I’ve never seen it get so big. It looked as if it was oozing right out of the stump.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) is sometimes called white lettuce but it isn’t a lettuce, though they are in the same aster family that the lettuces are in. It’s probably thought to be another lettuce because it blooms at the same time and in the same locations as the wild lettuces do, but instead of the daisy like petals of lettuce flowers these look more bell shaped and lily like. The Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of the plant in tea that they used to relieve pain. It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite.

Native long leaved pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus) also grew in the calm shallows. It likes to root in the mud and grow in full sun in warm standing water up to 4 feet deep. Many types of waterfowl including ducks and swans eat the seeds and leaves of this plant and muskrats like the stems. Many species of turtle eat the leaves, so it seems to be a plant that feeds just about every critter on the river. A man and woman came along when I was taking this photo and the woman came over to see what I thought was so interesting “Yuck, that’s disgusting!” she said. Since I see nothing disgusting about it her reaction to this important pond weed baffled me. Maybe she just doesn’t get out much.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is doing well this year; this plant was loaded with berries. They’ll ripen to a chalky white from the green seen here. I get into it every year and this year was no exception. One of my fingers has had a blister on it for about a week and is itching as I type this. Luckily it stays put on me and doesn’t spread, but I’ve known people who were hospitalized by it.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) isn’t being very blue this year. I keep hoping to find a plant with deep blue flowers but so far all I’ve seen are ice blue examples. There are hundreds of plants along this stretch of river and I know of many more that grow along a stream and some near a pond, so the plant must like to be near water, possibly due to the increased humidity.

Though I usually look for narrow leaf gentians (Gentiana linearis) near mid-August the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) along the Ashuelot were nowhere near blooming. Last year I found them blooming in mid-September, so I’ll wait awhile and come back. The plants looked good and healthy with plenty of buds and hadn’t been eaten by bug or beast, so they should bloom well.

I was born not far from this river and I first put my toes into it just about 50 years ago. I’ve been near it pretty much ever since but even after all this time I still see many things along its banks that I’ve never seen, and I guess that’s why I keep coming back. I hope there is a river in your life as well.

If you have a river, then you should share it with everyone. ~Chen Guangbiao

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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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. Clouded Sulfur

I saw a clouded sulfur butterfly (Colias philodice) on an aster recently. It moved from flower to flower but was willing to sit still long enough for a couple of photos. I like the color combination.

2. Painted Turtle

Painted turtles are still lazing in the sun along the Ashuelot River. Soon they will burrow into the mud on the river bottom. As the water cools their internal temperature will drop to nearly match the water temperature and their metabolism will slow. They will take up enough oxygen to stay alive through their skin and hibernate until the weather warms in spring.

3. American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

The American dagger moth caterpillar (Acronicta americana) feeds on the leaves of deciduous trees like birch, elm, ash, hickory, maple, and oak. This one had someplace to be and was moving about as fast as I’ve ever seen a caterpillar move. It had a black head but it wouldn’t let me get a shot of it. American dagger moth caterpillars aren’t poisonous but some people do get a rash when they handle them.

4. Moose Antler

A coworker found a moose antler in the woods and I asked if I could get a photo of it for those who have never seen one. This was from a young moose and wasn’t that big, but some can get very big indeed. One recent trophy moose had antlers that spanned over 6 feet (75 5/8 inches) from tip to tip. Shed antlers aren’t a common site in these woods even though moose wander through every town in the region. Since they are relatively rare large moose antlers can be valuable when found in good condition. The trick is to find them before the mice, birds, coyotes and other critters chew them up.

5. Virginia Creeper

Fall always seems to start at the forest floor and slowly work its way up to the trees. At present it has reached the understory, as this Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) shows. I grew up with this plant; my mother loved it so much that she planted it to grow up the side of the porch. I watched it turn red each fall when I was a boy and now I look for it every year at this time.

6. Burning Bush

Burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are also showing signs of fall, with more pink leaves coming every day. This shrub is much loved for its fall color but it is extremely invasive so its sale and cultivation are banned in New Hampshire. Our native highbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum) are quite colorful in the fall and are good alternatives for burning bush. Plant breeders have developed cultivars that are even more colorful than the natives. The American cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) is another native shrub that breeders have been working on and some cultivars display amazing color.

7. Burning Bush

They may be invasive but it’s hard to deny the beauty of burning bushes. Along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey there is a narrow strip of woodland where nearly the entire understory is made up of hundreds of these shrubs. It’s a great example of how invasive plants choke out the natives and create a monoculture. I’m not happy about the monoculture but when all of these shrubs turn the color of the leaves shown in the photo it’s an astoundingly beautiful sight. Though I can understand and even agree with every argument that says they should be destroyed, I have to admit that I’d be sorry to see them go.

8. Birches

Birch trees are among the first to turn in the fall but these examples are still showing more green than gold. We’ve had a very dry summer and I’m curious to see what the colors will be like this year; muted or more intense? So far the shrub colors don’t seem to be affected.

9. Lion's Mane Mushroom

Bear’s head or 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. I didn’t think I was going to see one this year but I found this naval orange size example growing from the cut end of a felled tree just yesterday. I took its photo with my cellphone because that’s all I had with me. I haven’t had much luck taking close-ups with that phone so I was surprised when I saw that this shot was useable.

10. Coral Fungus

I think this white coral fungus might be cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina coralloides.) Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips which often turn brown. I don’t see these as often as I do other types of coral fungi. They are supposed to like growing under conifers and that’s just where I found it.

11. Golden Pholiota (Pholiota limonella) Mushrooms

Golden pholiota (Pholiota limonella) mushrooms grew on a beech log. The gilled, lemon yellow caps with reddish scales are slimy to the touch on these inedible mushrooms. An oak kindly dropped an acorn beside them for me so I could give you a sense of their size.

12. Pear Shaped Puffballs

Pear shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme) grow in clusters on stumps and logs but these examples were growing on a rotted part of a living, standing tree. That’s not good and the tree will eventually have to go. Their common name comes from their upside down pear shape which can’t really be seen in this photo. As they age pores open in the top of each one so its spores can be released.

13. Wild Plums

The wild plums are ripening. I found a thicket of about 3 small trees under some power lines in Swanzey a few years ago and though I’ve taken photos of the flowers I never came back to take any of the fruit until this year. I thought they were American plums (Prunus americana) but I’m not positive about that. They could also be Canada plums (Prunus nigra.) I’m going to have to pay very close attention to the flowers next spring. The fruit is small at about half the size of a hen’s egg but is said to make delicious jelly, whether American or Canadian.

14. Indian Cucumber Root

Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana.) Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

15. Little Bluestem

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This grass is common, growing in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington. According to the USDA its appearance can vary in height, color, length of leaves, flowering, and clump diameter from location to location. It’s a beautiful little 2-3 foot tall grass that lends a golden richness to life outdoors. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful. The world would be a duller place without it.

16. Little Bluestem Seedhead

There is a lot going on in a light catching little bluestem seed head but I won’t try to explain it; I’ll just let you enjoy its unique beauty.

17. Hindu God Ganesh

I’ve been walking the banks of the Ashuelot River almost since I learned how to walk and I’ve seen some unusual things over the years, but by far the most unusual thing I’ve seen recently is this statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh that I found on its banks in Swanzey. Ganesh is said to be the lord of success and the remover of obstacles on one’s spiritual path. He is also thought to bring education, knowledge, wisdom and prosperity, so I’m wondering what it is the river is trying to tell me. It seems like whatever it is can only be good.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Blue Dragonfly

The beautiful blue of this dragonfly dazzled me for a few moments one recent day. I’m not sure but I think it might be a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis.) Its color reminded me of the blue stemmed goldenrod, which appears at this time of year.

NOTE: A reader says that this looks like a slaty skimmer. Any thoughts on that?

2. Blue Jay Feather

The blue of the blue jay feather matched that of the dragonfly. This shade of blue seems to appear in unexpected places in nature, like on smoky eye boulder lichens, cobalt crust fungi and first year black raspberry canes.

3. Turtles

There were two painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) on a log one day and the big one looked to be scratching the little one’s back. Or maybe he was trying to push the little one off the log, I don’t know.  They looked like happy turtles, whatever they were doing.

4. White Caterpillar

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is black and white and can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

5. Salamander

New Hampshire has eight native salamanders including the red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens.) I found this one under a log and I think it must be a juvenile red-spotted newt, which is called a red eft. It was bigger than many adults I’ve seen of that species but it was bright red as red efts are supposed to be.

NOTE: A reader has confirmed this salamander as an erythristic red-back salamander. Erythristic means that it has more red pigment, like a red headed person. Red back salamanders are the most common salamander in the northeast and usually found under logs, so everything fits this example.

6. Salamander

The salamander was cooperative and let me take several photos until finally quickly ducking under a leaf.

7. Hemlock Growing out of Stump

I saw that a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) seed had fallen onto a rotten hemlock stump that was apparently dirt like enough to let the seed grow. And grow it did, until its roots encircled the rotten stump and reached the ground. When the young tree is grown and the stump has rotted away this hemlock will look as if it’s standing on stilts.

8. Fern

Before they go dormant for the winter some ferns turn white, and if you catch them at just the right time they can be very beautiful.

9. Fern Shadow

Other ferns command my attention for different reasons.

10. Smooth Sumac Berries

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) berries are ripe and red. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds love them.

11. Staghorn Sumac Berries

Staghorn sumac berries, like the rest of the plant, are very hairy. They are an important winter emergency food for many types of birds including Robins, Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers. After a thorough soaking and washing, the berries were made into a drink resembling pink lemonade by Native Americans. In the Middle East they are dried and ground into a lemon flavored spice.

12. Sumac Pouch Gall

Since I’m speaking of sumacs I might as well give you an update on the sumac pouch galls that the Smithsonian Institution is coming to harvest. They’re looking for winged adult sumac gall aphids (Melaphis rhois) so they asked me to cut a gall open. These galls turn tomato red as they age but as the photo shows this example looked more like a blushing potato.

13. Sumac Pouch Gall Inside

All I found inside were green aphid larva. They need to grow a bit but since I don’t know much about their life cycle I’ll let the Smithsonian people decide when to come. They’re researching the coevolution of Rhus gall aphids and their host plants. Science has found that this relationship between the aphids and the sumac has been going on for at least 48 million years, with no signs of stopping. The galls are surprisingly light; they are really just bags of air.

14. False Solomon's Seal

When false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe they will be bright red, but I like them speckled like they are at this stage too. I’ve read that soil pH can affect fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

15. Solomon's Seal Berries

Dark blueish purple true Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) berries dangle under the leaves and look like grapes-quite different than the false Solomon’s seal berries in the previous photo. The berries and leaves of this plant are poisonous and should not be eaten. Solomon’s seal and its variants are great plants for a shaded woodland garden.

16. Burning Bush

Most burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are still green but every now and then just one branch will turn this orchid color, as if it can’t wait to announce summer’s passing. Though they are very invasive they can also be beautiful. They have taken over the understory of a strip of forest along the Ashuelot River and when the hundreds of shrubs all turn this color it becomes a breathtakingly beautiful sight.

One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity. ~ Edward de Bono

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Sign

I have helpers that readers of this blog don’t ever hear from and who I don’t thank enough. They send me corrections when I’ve misidentified plants, reveal the names of plants that I don’t know, and pass along tips about places that might be worth a visit. One of the places mentioned recently was Dickinson Memorial Forest in Swanzey, which was once owned by a prominent local family. Since I’d heard of it but had never been I decided to visit.

2. Gate Posts

When you’ve reached this point you have a choice to make; you can turn right and follow the trail into the forest or you can follow this old road into Muster Field, so named because volunteer firemen used to muster and train here. I followed both but my first choice was through these old gate posts.

3. Road

I chose the old road because it follows the Ashuelot River which is off to the right, and because this is just the kind of place that I spent large parts of my boyhood exploring. Before I left this place my spirits had soared and I was feeling like a kid again and smiling from ear to ear. I’ve returned several times since because for me being out here is like walking into a time machine.

4. Striped Wintergreen

Old friends like striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) told me that this land has been this way without being disturbed for a very long time. I’ve read that this plant won’t grow on land that has been disturbed within the last century. It grows either in the woods or just at their edges; places where the plow wouldn’t have gone. I rarely see it and I think this is only the third or fourth place that I’ve found it. It’s very happy here and is going to bloom soon.

5. Shinleaf

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica,) another of our native wintergreens, grew in a large colony here. This plant’s common name comes from the way Native Americans used it as a poultice to heal wounds; especially shin wounds, apparently. It contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and a tea made from it was used for many of the same ailments. The nodding white, waxy flowers are fragrant and very hard to get a good photo of.

6. River Bank

The river is doing what rivers do, which is eat away at their banks. Large sections of the silty embankment in this area have fallen into the river several times recently by the looks. In one spot it has fallen away right to the edge of the road. I drove out here one day not realizing just how close to the road the undercut embankment was, and I’m very lucky that my truck and I didn’t end up in the Ashuelot. Since then I haven’t driven past the gate posts in the second photo, but someone really should put signs warning people not to drive out here.

7. Canada Liliy

The reason I drove out here that day was because I was short on time and I wanted to see if the Canada lilies (Lilium canadense) that I saw on a previous visit were blooming. They weren’t then but they eventually did. I think that these plants succeed so well because they get tall enough to rise up above the surrounding vegetation to where the sunshine is. They soar to 7 feet tall sometimes and remind me of chandeliers at this stage.

In 1857 Henry David Thoreau was told by a Native American guide how the bulbs of this plant were cooked with meat in soups and stews to thicken them, much like flour does. Henry dug some and ate them raw, finding that they tasted somewhat like “raw green corn on the ear.” I’ve always been told that lilies were toxic when eaten so I’d say Henry was a lucky man. Cooking must remove the toxicity, which would explain how natives ate them regularly.

8. Canada Liliy

It’s nearly impossible to confuse the beautiful flowers of Canada lily with any other. Its large size, spotted throat, large red anthers and bright yellow petals and sepals make it unique among wildflowers in this area. We do have another native lily called the wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum,) but its blossoms are orange and point to the sky rather than nod like these do.

9. Canada Geese

A family of Canada geese relaxed on the far bank of the Ashuelot. This photo shows how low the water level is.

10. Turtle

A turtle was out for a stroll on the old road. She didn’t say where she was going but I’m assuming that she was looking for a suitable place to lay her eggs. She must have had quite a struggle to get up here from the river.

11. Spangled Fritillary

A spangled fritillary hid in the tall grass at the edge of the road. They and many other large butterflies love Canada lilies and like me were probably waiting impatiently for them to blossom.

12. Fallen Tree

In the Dickinson forest a dead tree had fallen across the trail and was hung up on some hemlock branches. This is a dangerous situation and I hope whoever maintains these trails will remove it. It wouldn’t take much of a breeze to blow it down and I hope there isn’t someone under it when it falls.

13. Bridge

A boardwalk and footbridge crossed a seasonal stream, which just a muddy ditch at this time of year.

14. Deer Print

I didn’t see any deer but I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw me. This hoof print looked very fresh.

15. Whorled Loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) grew all along the river. This pretty little flower has quite a long blooming season and it and its cousin the swamp candle (Lysimachia terrestris) can be seen in moist areas throughout the hottest months. Its common name comes from the way its flowers and leaves grow in a whorl about the stem. Native Americans brewed a medicinal tea from the stem and leaves of whorled loosestrife to alleviate kidney ailments.

The plant also played an important part in the American Revolution. According to the book The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffee “With the Revolution came the refusal to drink the tea of commerce and our four leaved loosestrife, being dried and steeped, was used in its stead.” And that’s why another common name for the plant is “liberty tea.

16. False Hellebore

The biggest surprise here was finding false hellebore. It grew quite a distance from the river, which I thought was odd because it usually grows as close to water as it can. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in our forests. Eating just a small amount can be lethal and people have even gotten sick from drinking water that it grew in.

17. False Hellebore

Even more surprising than finding the false hellebore was finding that it was flowering. That told me that these plants had grown here undisturbed for quite a while. Only mature plants will blossom and can take 10 years or more to do so. The bright yellow anthers were missing so I knew these flowers had nearly gone by. I never realized that the flower’s green petals and sepals are as pleated as the leaves are. There are pairs of nectar glands at their bases and ants visit the flowers to feed on their sweet treats.

18. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots lined the river bank. There were thousands of them, far more than I’ve ever seen in one spot. Forget me nots or no, I won’t forget this place. In fact I’m having a hard time staying away.

A ditch somewhere – or a creek, meadow, woodlot or marsh…. These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.… Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the field, the woods, the ravines – can teach us to care enough for all the land. ~ Robert Michael Pyle

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1. Chalk Fronted Corporal Dragonfly

I don’t know much about dragonflies but I think this one might be a male chalk-fronted corporal (Ladona julia) dragonfly. From what I’ve read he is a skimmer and gets his name from the two chalky “Corporal’s bars” behind his head, which actually are a Captain’s insignia, not a Corporals. Anyhow, he was sunning himself on a dead cattail leaf near a pond when I met him. I noticed that he had a very hairy back, which I’ve never seen on a dragonfly before. He wouldn’t let me get very close so I had to use the bigger Canon SX-40 with its zoom lens.

2. Pale Beauty Moth aka Campaea perlata

I was looking for cones on a northern white cedar one evening and found this beautiful white moth on one of the branches. It was getting late and the light was poor but I was able to get enough detail to make an identification. I’m fairly certain that it’s a pale beauty moth (campaea perlata) but if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know.  Whatever its name it was a beautiful thing.

3. Northern White Cedar

I remembered that I wasn’t checking the white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for moths; I came for the cones, each of which has dark, indigo blue tips when they’re young.

4. Northern White Cedar Cones

Here is a closer look at the pencil eraser size cedar cones with their blue tips. Whenever I see something like this I’m always curious why the plant would expend so much extra energy turning part of itself blue. Doing so must benefit the tree in some way. Or maybe it doesn’t take a lot of extra energy.

This tree has an interesting history; Native Americans showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of it and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He also had trees with him when he returned to Europe, so Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. English Plantain

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is blooming. The shape of the flower head is called ovoid. Each tiny (4mm) flower has a yellowish, pointed bract that is a little hard to see and will produce 2 seeds if pollinated. It is also called ribwort and narrow leaf plantain because of its basal growth of narrow, ribbed leaves. It is found in England and Europe and was brought over by early settlers because of its many medicinal uses.  Native Americans called it “White man’s foot” because it grew along foot paths used by the settlers. It is considered an invasive weed these days but I like its unusual flower heads so I don’t mind seeing it blooming in my lawn. This one had a little blue on it, which I’ve never seen before.

6. Flowering Grass

Grasses are flowering too, and it’s a splendid show that many people miss. I think this one is orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which is a cool season, high quality pasture grass with good drought tolerance. It comes from western and central Europe and has been grown in the US for over 200 years.

7. Flowering Grass Closeup

Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

8. Porcupine Sedge

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is also flowering. The tiny wispy white bits at the ends of the pointy “prickles” are its flowers. It’s easy to see how this sedge got its common name. Another is bottlebrush sedge, which also fits. This plant loves to grow near water and that’s where I always find it. Waterfowl, game birds and songbirds feed on sedge seeds and the sedge wren builds its nest and hunts for insects in wetlands that are dominated by sedges.

9. Turtle Laying

I was kneeling to take a photo of a toadflax blossom and looked over my shoulder to see this turtle laying eggs in a mown grassy area. I’m not great with reptile identification but I think she’s an eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta.) She was quite far from water and it didn’t seem to me like she had made a very good choice in nest sites what with lawn mowers running over it weekly, but the soil was sandy and easy to dig in and I’m sure she knows more about egg placement than I do.

10. Turtle

She didn’t care for posing and was tucked up into her shell as far as it would allow, so I took a couple of quick shots and let her be. Nest preparation can be exhausting work for a turtle.

11. Turtle Shell Growth

She had a strange wart like growth on the rear of her shell. Many of the turtles I see seem to have something wrong with their shells.

12. Unknown Insect

What the good folks at bug guide.net think might be a Muscoidea fly in the genus Anthomyia stopped in to see what I was doing one day. He was very hairy and I told him so. I don’t think he cared much for my opinion though, because he flew away. These flies can cause significant damage to crops because of the way their larva invade the stems and roots of some plants like onions. They are not at all garden friendly.

13. Unknown Insect 2

The folks at Bug guide.net tell me that this is a soldier beetle called Rhaxonycha Carolina or Atalantycha neglecta. They can’t tell which because of the poor quality of the photo, I presume. Both beetles have what looks like a fur collar. He was on my windshield and the “sun” he is crawling toward is the reflection of the camera’s flash. Soldier beetle larvae feed on the eggs and larvae of beetles, grasshoppers, moths and other insects, and adult soldier beetles feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insects, so they’re a good insect to have in the garden. They are attracted to plants like marigold and goldenrod.

14. Spittlebug Foam

Seeing this foamy “snake spit” on plants immediately takes me back to my childhood, because that’s what we called it when I was a boy. Of course it’s really the protective foam used by spittle bug nymphs and has nothing to do with snakes. The nymphs use it to make themselves invisible to predators and to keep themselves from drying out. They make the foamy mass by dining on plant sap and secreting a watery liquid which they whip up with air to create the froth. This example was on a yarrow stem.

15. Unknown Blue Damselfly

Since I started with a dragonfly I’ll end with what I thought was a common blue damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) until I found out that they live in Europe. Now I’m not sure what it is, other than a blue damselfly. I wish the background was less busy so you could see its wings better, but beggars can’t be choosers and I was lucky to have it pose at all. If you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

One should pay attention to even the smallest crawling creature for these too may have a valuable lesson to teach us.  Black Elk

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1. Coltsfoot Flowers

Some of our terrestrial wildflowers have started to open. I was real happy to find several coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) plants blossoming beside an old dirt road. Coltsfoot is one of our earliest blooming wildflowers and once I see them I know that things will happen fast from then on. Spring beauties, trout lilies, bluets and many others will follow in rapid succession now. I don’t think coltsfoot looks much like a dandelion but it does get mistaken for them.

2. Coltsfoot Stem

One look at the scaly stem of a coltsfoot should convince anyone that they’re not looking at a dandelion, which has a very smooth stems. I was hoping to find a dandelion so I could get a photo to use in comparison but what was once one of our earliest wild flowers now seems to be blooming later each year.

3. Single Daffodil

Getting a decent shot of a yellow flower in full sun is difficult to say the least but nothing says spring like a daffodil in the sunshine, so I had to try. We’ve had about a full week of good warm, sunny weather and the spring flowering bulbs are opening quickly now.

4. Striped Squill

One of the spring flowering bulbs I most look forward to seeing each spring is striped squill. The simple blue stripe down the middle of each white petal makes them very beautiful, in my opinion. The bulbs are very hard to find but they are out there. If you’d like some just Google Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica and I’m sure that you’ll find a nursery or two that carries them. They are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. The example pictured here grows in a local park.

5. Skunk Cabbage Leaf

Skunk Cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) are up and growing fast. It’s at this point that some of them really do resemble cabbage leaves.

 6. Male Alder Flowers

Male speckled alder (Alnus incana) catkins go from brown to purplish red to yellow as they open to release their pollen. It’s like someone has hung colorful ornaments from the branches during the night, because it seems like they appear that quickly.

7. Male Alder Flowers

Close up photos reveal brown and purple scales on alder catkins. These scales are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers usually covered in yellow pollen, but I’m not seeing a lot of pollen on this particular example.

8. Female Alder Flowers

When the male (staminate) alder catkins become more yellow than reddish brown then it’s time to start looking for the tiny female (pistillate) flowers. Since alders are monoecious both male and female flowers can be found on the same shrub. The female flowers often form at the very tips of the branches in groups of 3-5 and contain red stigmas that receive the male pollen. Once fertilized the female flowers will grow into the small, cone like seed pods that I think most of us a familiar with.

Nature uses this same color again and again on the female flowers of red maple, hazelnut, speckled alder, eastern larch and others but why, I wonder. All of those flowers are wind pollinated so the color isn’t used to attract insects. There must be something more to it that I’m missing.

 9. Frogs

One day I went to a small pond and there must have been hundreds of frogs of at least three different kinds peeping, croaking and quacking at once. It was the loudest frog concert that I’ve ever heard.

10. Garter Snake

Frogs aren’t the only ones that the warm days have stirred. I saw these two garter snakes warming themselves in the sun one day.

11. Garter Snake

I don’t know enough about snakes to know if one was a female and one a male but this is the other one.

12. Turtle

I’m not sure why this turtle was balancing itself on such a skinny little tree branch but it seemed content and was willing to pose.

13. Robin

I didn’t see it until I looked at the photo but this robin had a damaged a wing feather. It didn’t seem to hinder his flying ability at all so I think he was probably fine. I was surprised that he let me get so close.

14. Willows

My grandmother had a large weeping willow so willow trees always bring back fond memories. Right now they have taken on that golden haze that they show only in early spring and seeing them makes my winter weary spirit soar.

15. Willow Flowers

Down at eye level the gray, fuzzy willow catkins have turned to golden blossoms that light up the pond edges and river banks. They are a beautiful reminder of why spring has always been my favorite season and it’s such a joy to see them again.

Whenever I have found myself stuck in the ways I relate to things, I return to nature. It is my principal teacher, and I try to open my whole being to what it has to say.  ~Wynn Bullock

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