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Posts Tagged ‘Partridge Berry’

Last Sunday I decided to follow a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew had a trestle on it. History and botany are two of my favorite things and I knew I’d find a lot of both here. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and hiking just about anywhere would have been pleasant.

Sometimes the sap of white pines will turn blue in very cold weather but it was warm on this day and the sap was still blue. I wonder if it stays blue once it changes.

I’ve never heard of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) being evergreen but there were several plants along the trail, all wearing their winter purple / bronze color. If this plant looks familiar it’s probably because it is the smallest of our native dogwoods and the 4 leaves look like miniature versions of dogwood tree leaves. Bunchberry gets its common name from its bunches of bright red berries. It is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Something unusual I saw this day was a Canada yew (Taxus canadensis.) It is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy. A man in England died not too long ago from eating yew, so I wouldn’t advise trying to make tea from it. Natives knew how to treat poisonous plants in ways that made them beneficial to humans, but much of that knowledge has been lost.

A yew branch looks very flat and once you get to know what they look like you’ll never mistake it for any other evergreen.

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative. Tell tales are rarely seen these days; the above photo shows the only example I know of.

The Ashuelot River was full in places.

And over full in others. This happens regularly throughout this area and the trees survive it just fine. Many are silver (Acer saccharinum) and red maples (Acer rubrum.)  Another name for them is swamp maple because they often grow in the lowlands along rivers that flood regularly.

The large crimson bud clusters make the maples easy to spot at this time of year but I couldn’t tell if these examples were flowering or not. Many are, now that we’ve had some warmth.

There isn’t a lot of ledge in this section of trail but there is some and it shows the marks of a steam drill.  The railroad workers cut through the solid rock by drilling deep holes into the stone using steam powered drills and then poring black powder into them. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. Trains first rolled through here in the mid-1850s.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) are beautiful and are definitely worth looking for. I’ve found them growing on maple, oak, beech, and poplars. They are usually quite a different green but the camera didn’t seem to be seeing green very well this day.

You can tell that it’s a maple dust lichen by the tiny fringe around its outer edge.

The trail goes on for many miles and it is wide, flat, and sometimes busy as it was on this day. I saw several people while I was here and I was happy to see them out enjoying nature. I hope they saw as many interesting things as I did.

There was snow for anyone who might want it. I didn’t.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break 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. Beech bud break doesn’t usually start until mid-May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke caused by early warmth. Others I saw had not curled yet.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers are fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. Native Americans ate the berries and made them into a jelly, which was eaten in case of fevers. Partridgeberry is still used in folk medicine today to treat muscle spasms and as a nerve tonic.

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grows along the sides of the trail and its thousands of tiny spore capsules were shining in the sun. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. In the spring the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.  Sometimes the capsules do turn red as they age, so I suppose the name makes sense.

Most of these spore capsules were not quite spherical and that means that they were still immature. When they become spherical the spores will begin to ripen and prepare for the wind to disperse them.

Human history and natural history are visible from rail trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town by bicycle on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-bare-trees

The above photo makes me feel that I should say good morning, so please consider it done. I saw this scene on my way to work one morning but since I don’t bring the camera that I use for landscape photos to work with me, I had to use my cellphone. It was a cold morning but the pastel sky was plenty beautiful enough to stop and gaze at. My color finding software tells me it was colored  peach puff, papaya whip, and Alice blue. How bare the trees are becoming.

2-dewberry

The swamp dewberries (Rubus hispidus) are certainly colorful this year. In June this trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

3-oak-leaves

Some of the smaller oaks are hanging on to their leaves but they’re dropping quickly from the larger trees now.

4-frost-crystals

Jack frost has come knocking. These crystals grew on my windshield overnight and though I wasn’t happy about the cold that made them I was happy to see them, because I love looking at the many  shapes that frost crystals form in.

5-frosted-mushrooms

Frost had found these mushrooms and turned them to purple jelly. I’m not sure what they started life as.

6-frosted-strawberry-leaves

Frost rimmed the edges of these wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) leaves too. There is a lot of beauty to be found in the colder months.

7-blue-crust-fungus

At this time of year I always start rolling logs over, hoping to find the beautiful but rare cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) but usually I find this lighter shade of blue instead. After several years of trying to identify this fungus I’ve finally found a name for it: Byssocorticium atrovirens. Apparently its common name is simply blue crust fungus, which is good because that’s what I’ve been calling it. Crust fungi are called resupinate fungi and have flat, crust like fruiting bodies which usually appear on the undersides of fallen branches and logs. Resupinate means upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to be. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of logs the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it. They seem to be the least understood of all the fungi.

8-blanched-moss

While rolling logs over to look for blue crust fungi I found these mosses that had been blanched almost white from having no sunlight reach them. They reminded me of something I’d see on a coral reef under the sea. I’m guessing that they originally grew on the tree in sunlight before it fell, and when it fell they ended up on the underside of the log. The odd part is how they continued to grow even with no sun light. That urge inside of plants that makes them reach for light must be very strong indeed.

9-mount-skatutakee

We seem to be having weekly rainy days now and the drought’s grip on the land is slowly easing. One showery day at about 1:00 pm a sun beam peeked through the clouds just long enough and in just the right spot to light up Mount Skatutakee in Hancock. I always trust that sunbeams falling in a concentrated area like this will show me something interesting because they always have, so now I’m going to have to climb Mount Skatutakee. From what I’ve heard it takes 4 hours but at my pace it will most likely take 6 or more; I’m sure there will be lots of wonders to see. The name Skatutakee is pronounced  Skuh – TOO -tuh – kee and is said to come from two Native American Abenaki words that mean “land” and “fire,” so there might have once been a forest fire there. It certainly looked like it was burning on this day.

10-wind-circles-in-the-sand

We can’t see the wind but we can often see what it has done. In this case it blew a dead plant stalk around in a complete circle and the stalk marked the river sand as it twirled around and around. It’s one of the more unusual things I’ve seen lately.

11-common-stinkhorn

I don’t see many stinkhorn fungi and I’ve wondered if that was because I wasn’t looking in the right place. This example was sticking out of a very old and very rotted yellow birch log. It is the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) and I have to say that, even though stinkhorns are said to have an odor like rotting meat, I didn’t smell a thing when I was taking its photo. The green conical cap is also said to be slimy but it didn’t look it. This mushroom uses its carrion like odor to attracts insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores.

12-common-stinkhorn

It’s friend took a turn. Whether it was for the better or worse I don’t know. The old birch log it was on must have had 8-10 different kinds of mushrooms growing on it.

13-false-turkey-tail-stereum-ostrea

False turkey tail fungus (Stereum ostrea) looks a lot like true turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) but it doesn’t have pores on its underside and I find that it often comes in shades of orange. It always helps to look at the underside of fungi when trying to identify them.

14-larch-branch

Eastern larch trees, also called tamarack larch or just tamarack, (Larix laricina) turn brilliant orange yellow in the fall and are one of the few conifers that shed their needles in winter. They like to grow in wet, swampy places and seeds that fall on dry ground usually won’t germinate. Tamarack was an important tree to Native Americans; some used branches and bark to make snow shoes and others used the bark from the roots to sew canoes. The Ojibwe people called the tree “muckigwatig,” meaning “swamp tree” and used parts of it to make medicine.

15-partridge-berries

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a native evergreen with small, heart shaped leaves on creeping stems which grow at ground level. In spring it has white trumpet shaped flowers that grow in pairs and share a single ovary. In the fall it has bright red berries which are edible but close to tasteless. I leave them for the turkeys, which seem to love them. Bobwhites, grouse, red foxes, skunks, and white-footed mice are also said to eat them.

16-partridge-berry

The unusual fused ovary on the partridgeberry’s twin blossoms form one berry, and you can always see where the two flowers were by looking for the dimples on the berry.

17-poison-ivy-berries-2

Poison ivy berries are ripening to white but until I saw this photo I didn’t know how it happened. It looks as if there is a brown shell around each white berry, and it looks as if the shell falls away to reveal it. Many songbirds eat the white berries, and deer eat the plant’s leaves. In fact there doesn’t seem to be an animal or bird that the plant bothers, but it sure bothers most humans by causing an always itchy, sometimes painful, and rarely dangerous rash. I get the rash every year but I’m lucky that it stays on the part of my body that touched the plant and doesn’t spread. That usually means a hand, knee, or ankle will itch for a week.

18-oak-apple-gall

An oak leaf had fallen with an apple gall still attached. Apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage.

19-oak-apple-gall

Both the leaf and gall together weighed next to nothing and the hole in the gall told me that the resident wasp had most likely flown the coop.

20-half-moon-pond

I don’t know its name but the hill on the other side of half-moon pond in Hancock still shows a little color. Even so, fall is nearly over now. We’ve had frosts, freezes and were lucky enough to have Indian summer twice and though we rarely talk about it we all know what comes next in the natural progression of the 4 seasons. But it’s only for 3 months, and the weather people now tell us that it will be “normal.”

Every corny thing that’s said about living with nature – being in harmony with the earth, feeling the cycle of the seasons – happens to be true. ~Susan Orlean

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1. Black Eyed Susans

Our lack of rainfall continues but in spite of the dryness our roadsides and meadows are starting to blossom. In this photo yarrow and black eyed Susans soak up the sunshine.

2. Black Eyed Susans

I have trouble with black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) because they always remind me how fast summer is passing. It’s probably because I’ve always thought of them as a late summer or even fall flower. I don’t know if they’re blooming earlier or if their blooming later in the year was in my imagination all along. Either way I’m always happy to see them but at the same time not so happy that another summer is flying by.

3. Black Swallowwort

Black Swallowwort (Cynanchum louiseae) has purplish-brown to nearly black star shaped flowers that are about 1/4 inch across. They have five-petals and are fragrant, but not in a good way. It has a hard to describe their odor but I’ve seen it described as a rotting fruit odor, which I’m not sure I agree with. I think it’s worse than that. On a hot summer day this plant can be smelled from quite a distance. It’s a vining plant native to Europe that twines over native shrubs and plants at the edges of forests and shades or strangles them out. Colonies of this plant have been found that covered several acres of land and it is said to be able to completely replace a field of native goldenrod. It is nearly impossible to eradicate from a garden because its roots mingle with those of other plants and if you pull the stem it just breaks off at ground level.

4. Catalpa

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) trees can be messy but I’d still love to have one in my yard because they’re one of our most beautiful trees. Imagine a 100 foot tall tree covered in large white, orchid like blossoms and you’ll have a good mental picture of the catalpa. This tree is used ornamentally, but it needs plenty of room because it gets very large.

5. Catalpa

At 1-2 inches catalpa tree flowers are large. Each flower will become a long, bean like seed pod and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba. Some tribes used its inner bark to make a tea which had a sedative effect and is said to be mildly narcotic. The bark tea was also used to treat malaria.

6. Cow Wheat

Humble little narrow-leaf cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) seems like a shy little thing but it is actually a thief that steals nutrients from surrounding plants. A plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants is known as a hemiparasite. Its long white, tubular flowers tipped with yellow-green are very small, and usually form in pairs where the leaves meet the stem (axils). I find this plant growing in old, undisturbed forests. It is quite common, but so small that few seem to notice it. The tiny flowers bloom at about shoe top height.

7. Elderberry

Our native common elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have just come into bloom and can be seen dotted around the landscape. Its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

8. Elderberry

Common elderberry flower clusters look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Each flower is tiny at only 1/4 inch across, and has 5 white petals or lobes, 5 yellow tipped stamens and 3 very small styles that fall off early after blooming. Each flower will be replaced by a single black (dark purple) drupe. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a single seed like a peach or cherry. Native Americans dried the fruit for winter use and soaked the berry stems in to make a black dye for basketry.

9. Foxglove

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is not a native plant so I’m always surprised to see it growing along the edge of the forest like I did recently. I don’t see it in the wild often but it seems to escape gardens and find places that suit its temperament and there it stays, sometimes forming small colonies. There were 5 or 6 plants in this group and they were beautiful.

10. Foxglove

I like to try to get a bee’s eye view of foxglove blossoms. The lower lip protrudes a bit to give bees a landing pad, and from there they follow the spots, which are nectar guides, up to the top of the blossom where they find the nectar. While the bee is busy with the nectar the anthers above it rub on its back and deposit the flower’s pollen, which will then be taken to another blossom.  If successfully pollinated a foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds.

11. Whorled Loosestrife

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) has just started blooming in the tall grass along roadsides. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. This example had 3. According to Pliny the young leaves of whorled loosestrife will stop bleeding when they are tied to a wound.

12. Whorled Loosestrife

Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. This shot shows how pitted the leaves can be. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It grows in dry soil at the edge of forests.

13. Swamp Candle

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are another yellow loosestrife that blooms at about the same time as the whorled loosestrife that we saw previously. Not surprisingly, they like to have their feet wet most of the time and are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water. These plants stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

14. Swamp Candle

Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

15. St. Johnswort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD, and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. Originally from Europe, it can be found in meadows and along roadside growing in full sun. I’m not sure why this example only has 4 petals; it should have 5.

16. Partridge Berry

The unusual, hairy twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

17. Sulfur Cinquefoil

Five heart shaped pale yellow petals tell me that this is sulfur cinquefoil. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I found this example in an unmown field.

18. Tall Meadow Rue

I don’t see tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) in meadows unless the meadow is wet. I usually find it at the edge of streams or in ditches as the example in the above photo was. In fact this one sat just where a ditch met a stream and the stream ran under the road. It was down an embankment, which is the only way I could have gotten a view looking down on it because it often grows 7-8 feet tall. Getting above it is usually next to impossible without a ladder. Native Americans are said to have given lethargic horses ground meadow rue leaves and flowers to increase their vigor and to renew their spirit and endurance.

19. Tall Meadow Rue

It wouldn’t be the fourth of July without fireworks and every year, right on time, tall meadow rue blossoms with fireworks of its own.  At least the male flowers do, with starbursts of petal-less dark yellow tipped stamens.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4 th!

 

 

 

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1. Spruce

I’d be willing to bet that when most of us here in New England (and maybe the whole country)  hear the word evergreen we think of a pyramidal tree with needles that stays green all winter, but as I hope this post shows there is much more to the evergreen story than that.

2. Striped Wintergreen

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) loses its chlorophyll and turns deep purple in winter. This plant is relatively rare here and though I’m finding small numbers more and more most of them flower but don’t set seed.  I was happy to see this one had a seed pod on it. The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love,) so it loves winter and does not die from the cold.

3. Teaberry

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and it is the first wild plant that I learned to identify, with the help of my grandmother. We used to love to eat the bright red minty tasting berries. It’s probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin so it’s not good to eat a lot of it, but a taste of the berries shouldn’t hurt. Its leaves often turn purple as the nights get colder, as the plant in the rear shows.

4. Foam Flower

Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I like the native best, I think.

5. Partridge Berry

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

6. Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite plants and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of most of these plants, in fact.

7. Gold Thread

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its also being nearly collected into oblivion like trailing arbutus and others. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, probably by its other common name: canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

8. Dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which stay green under the snow all winter. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow.

9. Intermediate Wood Fern

Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) is also called evergreen wood fern. It is said to be the only fully evergreen fern with a lacy appearance but it cross breeds with so many other ferns in the Dryopteris  genus that I’m not sure how an amateur botanist like myself would ever know for certain what he was looking at.  But it isn’t always the name that’s so important. Just the fact that you can walk through the forest in January and see some green is often enough.

10. Intermediate Wood Fern

Unlike the spore producing sori on the marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which appear on the leaf margins the sori on evergreen woods ferns appear between the midrib and the margins. In this photo this frond looks very much like the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana,) which it cross breeds with. It also crosses with marginal wood fern.

11. Christmas Fern

Evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) has deep green, tough leathery leaves that usually lie flat on the ground after a hard frost. They stay that way under the snow until spring when they will finally turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. Christmas fern is so common that it’s hard to walk in these woods without seeing it. It’s also very easy to identify.

12. Christmas Fern

What makes an evergreen Christmas fern so easy to identify are its leaflets (Pinna) which some say look like little Christmas stockings. You can see why if you look at the part of leaflets near the stem in the photo. Each leaflet has a little bump or “ear.” This is the toe of the Christmas stocking and this is the only fern in the New Hampshire woods with this feature. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.

13. Fan Club Moss

Fan shaped clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum.) was also once used as a Christmas decoration (and still is in some places.)  These forest floor evergreens were collected by the many thousands to make Christmas wreaths and they are still rarely seen here because of it. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but do produce spores and are called “fern allies,” which are vascular plants that don’t produce seeds. I think fan shaped clubmoss is the most elegant of any of the clubmosses and I’m always happy to see it, especially in winter.

14. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Not all evergreens look alike and some, like the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) pictured, don’t look evergreen at all. Orchids are often thought of as tender, fragile things but not our native orchids. It’s hard to tell from the photo but this plant is covered almost entirely by short, fine hairs. I watched it get covered by feet of snow last year and in the spring it looked just as good as it does in the photo. I think its leaves are every bit as beautiful as its small white flowers are.

It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring and that gives them a head start over the competition. This post has just scratched the surface; there are many other evergreens out there and I hope now you’ll see more than conifers wearing green this winter.

The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools. ~Henry Beston

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1. Coneflower Seed Head

When I walk through the fields and forests in the fall I’m always struck by the great abundance of food that nature provides, from seeds to nuts to berries. Everything from bees to birds to bears relies on it and it’s always good to see a year like this one when they can easily find plenty.  Some is saved and not eaten right away but coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) like the one in the above photo always seem to be stripped of seeds almost as soon as they form. Goldfinches especially love these seeds.

2. Aster Seeds

If you’d like a photographic challenge try a shot of a single aster seed. If that seems too easy try it when the wind is blowing. Turkeys, goldfinches, sparrows, chipmunks, and white-footed mice all eat aster seeds. There are so many asters that the seed heads last through most of the winter.

3. Milkweed

There is one oddity in this post and this is it. Though I’ve searched several times for birds, animals or insects that eat milkweed seeds (Asclepias syriaca) over the years I can’t find a single one that does. It’s hard to believe that a plant would produce so many seeds when they don’t get eaten, but milkweed seeds apparently aren’t eaten by anything. Or if they are, scientists don’t seem to know much about it.

4. Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) grows along rivers and streams and this is the perfect place for ducks and other waterfowl to get at the seeds. Deer feed on the shrub’s leaves and wood ducks often nest in its thicket like branches. Native Americans chewed its bark to relieve toothache pain.

5. Winterberry

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is our only deciduous native holly. Many birds including robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and cedar waxwings love these berries and will eat them throughout winter. Though the berries are toxic it is thought that their toxicity lessens the longer they stay on the shrub, so that might help explain why many of the berries can still be found in late winter.

6. Grapes

It’s a great year for grapes; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on the vines. These in the photo are river grapes (Vitis riparia), so called because they grow on the banks of rivers and streams. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness. The freeze we had finished the leaves on this vine but not the fruit, which probably became sweeter. Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows.

7. Apples

In the mid-1800s for several different economic reasons the bottom fell out of farming in this area and many farms were abandoned, with the farmers and their sons going off to work in the woolen, shoe and paper mills that were springing up everywhere in New England. What they left behind is mostly gone now except for many miles of stone walls, an occasional cellar hole, and apple orchards. It isn’t at all unusual when out in the middle of nowhere to stumble upon apple trees that are still bearing bushels of fruit. Of course since they receive no care the apples aren’t very good for much besides cider, but many animals and birds love them. Deer and bears will travel long distances for ripe apples and just the other day I saw two gray squirrels fighting over a half-eaten one. Robins, blue jays, bobwhites, cardinals, cedar waxwings, crows, grackles, downy woodpeckers, bluebirds, grosbeaks, catbirds, hairy woodpeckers, house finches, mockingbirds, orioles, purple finches, red-bellied woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, and titmice all eat apples.

8. Virginia Creeper

Though Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are poisonous to humans many birds love them, including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted more to red fruits than the blue black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves and stems in the fall. When the birds land amidst all the attractive red hues they find and eat the berries. Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be a successful ploy.

9. Partridge Berry

I don’t know about partridges, but I do know that turkeys eat the berries of partridge berry plants (Mitchella repens) because I’ve seen them doing so. Bobwhites, grouse, red foxes, skunks, and white-footed mice are also said to eat them. This little trailing, ground hugging vine makes a great native groundcover if you’re looking to attract birds and wildlife.

10. Poison Ivy

I’ve always suspected that birds or animals were eating poison ivy berries (Toxicodendron radicans) because they disappeared so quickly, but it wasn’t until I visited Grampy’s Goat Sass Farm blog that I saw photos of them actually doing so. By the way, if you’re a bird lover you’d be wise to visit Grampy’s blog; you’ll see some of the most amazing photos of them that you’ve seen, including bald eagles. For example I saw some photos of warblers, chickadees and sparrows eating these poisonous berries and thought Ah ha, I knew it! I’ve since read that vireos, cardinals, goldfinches, woodpeckers, deer, black bears, muskrats and rabbits consider the berries a delicacy. For a human, eating these berries would be a very bad idea. People have nearly died from getting the rash produced by poison ivy inside their bodies.

11. Burning Bush

Unfortunately birds also love the berries of the highly invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) 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. The sale and cultivation of the shrub is banned in New Hampshire. There are many native shrubs that make a good substitute.

12. Barberry

Another highly invasive plant with berries that are loved by birds is the Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii.) In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. These thickets are so thorny that only the smallest animals can get through them so for years the plant was used for hedges.

European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) also grow in parts of New England but each of those has clusters of three or more thorns while Japanese barberry has a single thorn, as can be seen in the above photo. Thorn count is a good identifying characteristic when the plants have no leaves. This is another shrub that is banned in New Hampshire but I don’t think we’ll ever stop its spread.

13. Rose Hips

Rose hips are a fruit that’s good for birds, animals, and humans; they are one of the richest sources of vitamin C known. During World War 2 vitamin C syrup was made from rose hips because citrus fruits were almost impossible to find. The best rose hips for harvesting are found on Rosa rugosa, named for the wrinkled (rugose) surface of its leaves. Personally I like to leave them for the birds and animals. Squirrels, rabbits, deer, bears, moose, and coyotes are animals that are known to eat rose hips. Birds include blackbirds, robins, grouse, juncos, bluebirds, grosbeaks, pheasants, quail, and thrushes.

14. Shadbush

Shadbush (Amelanchier arborea) is a tree with a lot of historical baggage. The Native American food pemmican was flavored by its fruits along with dried meat and fat. Natives also made arrow shafts from its dense, hard wood and showed early colonists how to use the blue-black berries. The name shadbush comes from the way the trees bloomed in spring when the shad fish were running in New England Rivers. I recently found a spot where many of them grow and they were heavily laden with fruit, which surprised me because bluebirds, cardinals, cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, orioles, red squirrels, and scarlet tanagers all eat the fruit. Beavers and deer eat various other parts of the tree but I didn’t see any signs of them either. It seems odd that there would be so much fruit left and I wonder why the birds and animals haven’t eaten it.

15. Shagbark Hickory

We have many different nut trees here in New Hampshire, including beechnuts, walnuts, butternuts, hazelnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts. We have several hickories here including bitternut and shagbark, like the one in the above photo. Unfortunately most of our chestnuts were wiped out by blight in the early 1900s, but I’ve heard rumors of them possibly making a comeback.

16. Shagbark Hickory

Bears, deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, grouse, pheasants, and wood ducks are just some of the animals and birds that eat our native nuts. Without nuts many forest animals and birds wouldn’t survive.

17. Acorns

I’ve never seen so many acorns on the ground as we have this year. A single large oak can produce 15,000 acorns in a good year and there are so many on the ground right now that walking the trails is like trying to walk on marbles. The blue jays, pigeons, ducks, woodpeckers, squirrels, mice, chipmunks and other birds and animals are having an easy time of it, thankfully. I ate some red oak acorn meat once when I was a boy and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how bitter it was, but acorns were the main food source for many Native Americans tribes who knew how to remove the bitterness.

If you’d like to try to make flour from acorns as the natives did, choose only those with their caps still on, because when acorns are ripe they normally fall fully dressed. Usually only the added weight of a worm thrashing around inside can make them break free from their caps while still on the tree, and you don’t want wormy acorns.

18. Gray Squirrel

My little smiling friend seemed very happy to see such abundance in the forest but it isn’t always this way. Plants go through cycles and sometimes a year of abundance can be followed by a year of scarcity. One way to help animals and birds survive the winter is by planting native trees, shrubs and plants. Our natives often have beautiful flowers as well as fruit that animals and bids love, so you really can’t go wrong in choosing them.

Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits. ~Samuel Butler

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1. Catalpa

Imagine a tree 100 feet high and 50 wide full of orchids and you’ll have a good idea what the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) looks like in full bloom. Of course the flowers are not orchids, but they’re very beautiful nevertheless. At 1-2 inches across they are also large, and so are the heart shaped leaves. These trees have long, bean like seed pods and when I was a boy we called them string bean trees. Luckily we were never foolish enough to eat any of the “beans” because they’re toxic. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe. Other tribes called it catawba.

2. Catalpa Leaf

For those who have never seen a catalpa leaf, here is my camera sitting on one. I took this photo last fall.

3. Heal All

And since we’re thinking about orchids, here is our old friend heal all (Prunella lanceolata,) whose tiny hooded flowers also remind me of orchids. The plant is also called self-heal and has been used since ancient times. It is said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Some botanists believe that there are two varieties of the species; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America. Native Americans drank a tea made from the plant before a hunt because they believed that it helped their eyesight.

4. Knapweed

Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea) has started to bloom. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

5. Partridge Berry

The unusual twin flowers of partridge berry (Mitchella repens) fuse at the base and share one ovary. They will become a single small red berry that has two dimples that show where the flowers used to be. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but don’t climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. Ruffed grouse, quail, turkeys, skunks, and white-footed mice eat the berries.

6. Mt. Laurel

June is when our native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms. The pentagonal flowers are very unusual because each has ten pockets in which the male anthers rest under tension. When a heavy enough insect lands on a blossom the anthers spring from their pockets and dust it with pollen. You can see flowers with relaxed anthers in the upper center and left parts of this photo. Once released from their pockets the anthers don’t return to them.

7. Mt. Laurel from Side

What once may have been five petals are now fused into a single, cup shaped blossom. A side view of a single mountain laurel blossom shows the unusual pockets that the anthers rest in. Another old name for mountain laurel is spoon wood, because Native Americans used the wood to make spoons and other small utensils.

8. Hedge Bindweed

I saw a beautiful bicolor hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) flower one day. Though for many years all I ever saw were white flowered hedge bindweeds these bicolor ones have become more numerous over the last few years. Bindweeds are perennial and morning glories are annuals and one good way to tell them apart is by their leaves; morning glory (Ipomoea) has heart shaped leaves and bindweed has arrowhead shaped triangular leaves.

9. Red Sandspurry

This is the first time that red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) has appeared on this blog, maybe because it is so small I’ve never noticed it. The tiny flowers aren’t much bigger than a BB that you would use in an air rifle, but grow in groups that are large enough to catch your eye. I find them growing in sand at the edge of roads and parking lots.

10. Red Sandspurry

The pretty little flowers of red sandspurry are pinkish lavender, so I’m not sure where the red in the common name comes from. This plant was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s. An odd fact about the plant is that it has reached many states on the east and west coasts but doesn’t appear in any state along the Mississippi river except Minnesota. It must have been introduced on both coasts rather than first appearing in New England and then crossing the country like so many other invasive plants have.

11. Silky Dogwood

Silky dogwood has just started blooming. One way to tell that it’s a dogwood that you’re looking at is to count the flower petals. Dogwoods have 4 and viburnums have 5. What I like most about this shrub are its berries. They start off white and slowly turn deep blue, but for a while they are blue and white and remind me of Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the Chinese got the idea for blue and white porcelain from these berries. This shrub is also called swamp dogwood. I usually find it growing on the banks of rivers and streams.

12. Columbine

I saw these beautiful wine red columbines in a friend’s garden. I think they probably started life as flashy bicolor hybrids and now the seedlings reverted back to one of the parents.

13. Sulfur Cinquefoil

Five pale yellow heart shaped petals surround a center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils in a sulfur cinquefoil blossom (Potentilla recta.) Close to the center each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides but it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I like seeing its pale yellow flowers among the purple maiden pinks and white ox-eye daisies.

14. Tulip Tree Blossom

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) gets its common name from the way its flowers resemble tulips, at least from the outside. As the photo shows, the inside looks very different. The fruit is cone shaped and made up of a number of thin, narrow scales which eventually become winged seeds. Another name for this tree is yellow poplar. It is the tallest hardwood tree known in North America, sometimes reaching 200 feet. Native Americans made dugout canoes from tulip tree trunks.

15. Crown Vetch

I love all flowers but some seem to have a little extra spark of life that makes me want to kneel before them and get to know them a little better. One of those is the lowly crown vetch (Securigera varia.) I know it’s an invasive species that people seem to either despise or ignore but it’s also beautiful. In fact if I had to design a beautiful flower, I don’t think I could do better than this.

If you love it enough, anything will talk with you. ~George Washington Carver

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Goodbye February! It might be the shortest month, but it always seems like the longest to me. It’s still very cold here with below zero nights but the sun has greater warmth and the days are longer so the snow is slowly melting away from the places where fungi, mosses and lichens grow. What follows is some of what I’ve seen on recent walks.

 1. Gouty Oak Gall

Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

 2. False Turkey Tail aka Stereum ostrea

I saw hundreds of these small bracket fungi covering a tree trunk and thought Great-false turkey tails-I won’t have to spend two weeks trying to identify them for the blog!  Nature had other ideas though- one look at the undersides told me that they were not false turkey tails (Stereum ostrea) at all. Unfortunately my peek at their hidden faces didn’t tell me what they were, and after looking through 4 mushroom books and countless web pages, I still don’t know. I thought I’d include them here to once again illustrate how important looking at the spore bearing surface of a mushroom is when you are trying to identify it.

 3. False Turkey Tail aka Stereum ostrea Underside

This is what the underside of the bracket fungus in the previous photo looked like. I’m sure I’ve seen them before but I can’t find a similar example in a book. False turkey tails have a smooth, whitish underside-much different than the maze like surface seen here.

 4. Barberry Inner Bark

The bark of the common or European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) contains berberine, a yellow crystalline, bitter alkaloid. It is said that chewing a piece of bark, even on the hottest days, will make your mouth water and slake your thirst. The inner bark is very yellow and it and the bark from the plant’s roots have been used for centuries to make yellow dye used to dye fabric and leather.

 5. Gypsy Moth Egg Case

I recently found several gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) egg cases on a tree. Gypsy moths were first introduced from Europe in Massachusetts in 1869, to breed with the silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) to produce a hardier 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.

 6. Partridge Berries

There are still plenty of partridge berries under the evergreens and on south facing slopes where the snow has melted. Turkeys love these berries so I’m surprised to see that there are any left.

 7. Trametes hirsuta

I think this grayish white bracket fungus is the hairy bracket (Trametes hirsuta). This fungus is very hairy and turns brown as it ages. It is closely related to turkey tail fungi (trametes versicolor) and is zoned like they are, but its zones aren’t as pronounced or as colorful as those on turkey tails, and are easy to miss.

 8. Wavy Starburst Moss aka Atrichum altercristatum

I think this moss might be wavy starburst moss (Atrichum altercristatum).It doesn’t look like it has been affected by winter at all. When wet its bright green, rippled leaves spread out and give this moss a star like appearance and when dry they curl and turn brown. Finding green mosses in winter seems to make it easier to get through somehow.

 9. Northern Catalpa Leaf Scar aka Catalpa speciosa

Northern catalpa has some of the largest leaf scars of any tree I know. This one was a half inch long. The leaf scars are sunken and come in sets of three spaced around the diameter of the twig. The heart shaped leaves of catalpa are also some of the biggest that I know of. Its large clusters of orchid like flowers are beautiful and its wood is rot resistant and makes good fence posts.

 10. Oak Buds 3

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds don’t seem to be swelling much. The terminal buds of this tree usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

11. Striped Maple Buds 2

Native Striped Maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) buds always remind me of a trident. The large central terminal bud is unusual because it has only two bud scales. Red oak buds like those in the previous photo have 3 or more bud scales. Striped maple is very fussy about where it grows and will not stand pollution, heat, or drought. It likes cool, shady places with sandy soil that stays moist. They bloom in June and have very pretty green blossoms. I can’t say that they’re rare here, but I don’t see them very often. I’ve been searching for one in bloom for 3 years and haven’t found one yet.

12. Vernal Witch Hazel

This vernal (spring blooming) witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) grows in a local park. I think it miscalculated this year and bloomed too early. You can see how some of its strap shaped petals got too cold and browned before retracting back into the tiny cup like bracts. Proof that even nature can make an occasional mistake. Our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms in late fall.

The most beautiful things in life go un-noticed. ~ Omar Hickman

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