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Posts Tagged ‘Pine Pollen Cones’

It’s turtle time here in this part of New Hampshire and the big snapping turtles are on the move, looking for soft sand to dig their nest in.  Average adult snapping turtles can be over two feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds and they can be very aggressive on land, so it’s best to stay away from them. They don’t have teeth but they have strong jaws and beaks that can easily break fingers. I took this photo of a female wandering along the side of a dirt road from my car window.  I’ve read that the largest snapper ever recorded weighed 75 pounds. It must have been huge.

Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans.

Snapping turtles aren’t the only reptiles laying eggs; painted turtles are also nesting.

Tent caterpillars are out of their nests and searching for food. Many people confuse tent caterpillars with fall webworms, but tent caterpillars appear in spring and do much more damage than fall webworms, which usually eat foliage that trees no longer need. Tent caterpillars prefer fruit trees but will also eat maples, hawthorns, and others. They can defoliate a tree in a short amount of time and a large outbreak can leave large areas of forest weakened.

I’m seeing more swallowtail butterflies this year than I’ve ever seen but I can’t get a single one to pose for a photo. This cabbage white was willing though, and sat for a while on this yellow hawkweed blossom while I clicked the shutter. At least I think it’s a cabbage white; my insect identification abilities aren’t what they should be.

I was able to identify this rosy maple moth because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like it. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

I went looking for the beautiful purple flowers of the larch tree (Larix laricina) but instead I found the tiny yellow eggs of a ladybug stuck to a larch branch. Each egg is less than a millimeter in length and this entire batch of them was less than an inch long. This larch must have an aphid problem because I’ve read that ladybugs will always try to mate as close to an aphid colony as possible. The ladybug lays infertile eggs along with the fertile ones though, and the hatchlings will eat these infertile eggs if they can’t find any aphids. They also eat scale insects and mealybugs, so they are great friends to have in a garden.

On the same larch I also saw some newly emerging needles which I thought were something most of us never see. Larch trees lose their needles in winter and grow new ones each spring; the only conifer I know of to do so.

Other conifers are busy right now too; pines are growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

Here’s a close look at some pine pollen cones that have opened and released their pollen. Not good news for allergy sufferers, I’m afraid.

When all that pollen falls on water it can make some fantastic abstract designs that I love watching as they slowly float along on the current and change shapes and patterns. There were also white locust blossoms scattered here and there on the pond on this day. The scene kind of takes me back to the seventies when my consciousness was expanding.

Here was a snake like river of pollen on the surface of a pond. I can’t even begin to explain how it could have formed. I hope everyone gets to see such beautiful things in their day to day travels. These are the things that make us wonder and, as Edgar Allan Poe once said: It is happiness to wonder, it is happiness to dream.

To ensure that there will be plenty of pollen available for future generations here was a tiny white pine (Pinus strobus) seedling. If everything goes according to plan it will grow to become one of our largest trees.

Sometimes I wonder if every now and then nature does something just to please us because I can’t think of any other reason rattlesnake weed’s foliage (Hieracium venosum) would have evolved into something as beautiful as this. Leaves colored in such a manner would only lessen photosynthesis I would think and I doubt that would be a benefit to any plant, so until I learn differently I’m going to believe that this kind of beauty was put here simply to please any onlookers that might pass by. This is the only plant of its kind I’ve ever seen and each year I make a special pilgrimage to see it, so I hope you like it. It is in the hawkweed family and has flowers that resemble those of yellow hawkweed.

And here was another plant at the river that looked like it was trying to mimic rattlesnake weed. I haven’t been able to identify it but I do know that I’ve never seen another like it. If you should recognize it I’d love to know what it is. It grew very low to the ground.

Here’s something that I’d guess that most of us have never seen; the tiny seed pods of dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius.) I know of one small colony of perhaps 20 plants and this is the first time I’ve ever seen seed pods on one. I hope all of them grow into new plants.

The tiny splash cups of juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) have appeared. These are the male reproductive organs of this common moss, which grows both male and female plants. Male plants produce sperm in these cups and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If everything is wet enough and all goes well the sperm will swim to a female plant and fertilize the eggs found there. If you sat a single pea in one of these splash cups the tiny cup would disappear behind it.

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra. This cap is very hairy, which is where the common name comes from, and it protects the spore capsule and the spores within. As the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra will fall off. The spore capsule will continue to ripen and when the time is right the end cap will fall off and  the spores will be released to the wind. At this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti.

It has been so dry here we’re already down about 3.5 inches from our average rainfall so I’m not seeing much in the way of fungi, but I did see these examples growing on a pine root. There are many mushrooms that look like these so I’m not sure what their name is. They are pretty though.

I also saw a few examples of the aquatic fungi known as swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans.) Each one is about as big as a wooden match stick and I find them in seeps where there is open water year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark; only on things like last year’s saturated leaves.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and wished I could think of something to make from all those threads. Native Americans used yucca fibers to weave sandals, cords, and baskets. They also ate the fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. They used every single part of this plant.

It’s hard to believe that something as tiny as a river grape blossom (Vitis riparia) could be fragrant but in places right now you can follow your nose right to the vines, so strong is the fragrance. And this isn’t the end of the joy they bring; in the fall the fermented fruit on a warm day will make the woods smell just like grape jelly.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you every day. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder.
~Avina Celeste

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For six weeks now we’ve had at least one rainy day per week and often two or three. This has amounted to a drought busting 2-3 inches of rain each week and the water table is again where it should be, if not a little high. Unfortunately along with the rain we’ve had cold and until this past week it seemed that it would never warm up, but warm up it has and temps in the 90s are expected for part of next week. Beaver brook seems happier when it’s full. It cheering chuckles and giggles can be heard throughout the forest and it is a welcome companion when I walk along its shores.

The orangey red fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have appeared. They once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how this fern comes by its common name.

A closer look shows that this isn’t cinnamon. The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which is where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Even the seeds (samaras) of red maple (Acer rubrum) are red, and a beautiful red at that. Squirrels love red maple seeds and that’s probably a good thing because our trees produce many millions of them. A single tree about a foot in diameter was shown to produce nearly a million seeds, and red maple is the most abundant native tree in eastern North America. Native Americans used red maple bark to wash inflamed eyes and as a remedy for hives and muscle aches. The tree’s wood was used for tools and its sap boiled into maple sugar, much like the sap of the sugar maple.

One of the things that determines how many acorns an oak will produce is the weather. Since the male flowers release pollen to the wind in the hopes that it will reach the female flowers, rain can have a big impact because it can wash the pollen out of the air. Since we’ve had a lot of rain this spring it will be interesting to see how many acorns we have this fall. The flowers shown are the male catkins of a red oak (Quercus rubra.)

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the mugo pine (Pinus mugo.) Mugo pine is a native of southwestern and Central Europe which is used as a landscape specimen. Its pollen cones closely resemble those of our eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing pine cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire pine pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

I heard that the new spring fiddleheads of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) were purple and, since I’ve never paid attention to them I decided to go and see some. Sure enough they were deep purple. I shouldn’t have been surprised because another name for this fern is flowering fern, because its fertile fronds are purple.

Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I usually end up with a rash on my legs each spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it.

This Northern water snake was basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2 feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a good photo of.

Early one morning I saw a dragonfly on a building. I knew it was alive because it was moving one of its legs slowly back and forth. It let me get the camera very close and didn’t flinch even when I turned on the camera’s LED light. I haven’t been able to confidently identify it but I thought it might be a Lancet club tail. I hope someone will let me know if I’m wrong.

I’ve never gotten so close to a dragonfly. Odd that it didn’t fly away.

Tent caterpillars appear in early spring as buds begin to open. They prefer fruit trees but can also be found on maples, hawthorn and others. Their nests are smaller and more compact than fall webworms and are found in the crotch of branches rather than at the ends. Often the caterpillars can be seen crawling over the outside surface of the nest as these were. They feed in morning and early evening, and on warm nights. They do a lot of damage and can defoliate a tree in no time at all. Though the tree will usually grow new leaves it will have been severely weakened and may not bear fruit. As the larvae feed they will make the silky nest larger to enclose more foliage.

A close up look at the tent caterpillars. They can be seen crawling everywhere at this time of year. Tent caterpillars are an important food source for insects, animals and birds. One bear was found to have eaten about 25,000 of them and more than 60 species of birds will eat them. Frogs, mice, skunks, bats, reptiles and 28 different insects help control the population but nothing can stop them. Scientists have found that a severe outbreak can defoliate tens of thousands of acres of forest.

This robin had a beak full of caterpillars but they weren’t tent caterpillars. He didn’t seem real happy to see me.

Some think that without ants their peony blossoms wouldn’t open, but that’s really just an old wive’s tale. Peony buds have very small glands called extrafloral nectaries along the outside edges of their bud scales. These glands produce a mixture of sugar, water and amino acids, and this is what attracts the ants. To repay the peony for its gift of nectar the ants drive off pests that might harm the buds.

Native Americans held turkeys in such high regard they buried the birds when they died, but the turkey’s value was in its feathers, not its meat. The feathers were used to decorate their ceremonial clothing and as arrow fletching to stabilize arrows.  They were also used for winter cloaks because they were lightweight and very warm. A feather from a turkey was powerful medicine thought to symbolize abundance, pride, fertility and wisdom, but the meat was considered starvation food. Early colonials mentioned the small flocks of young turkeys seen near Native villages and how the Natives refused to kill them for food, which they couldn’t understand. Of course Europeans saw little to no value in the feathers.

Why some plants have red or purple leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red or purple. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how purple some new spring leaves can be. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the color won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant at any time of year.

The heartwood of oaks and some other tree species have a high tannin content and when iron or steel come into contact with the tannins a chemical reaction takes place. This almost always results in a discoloration of the wood. It is caused by nails, barbed wire, chains, or any one of a hundred other iron or steel objects that can be found in trees. There is even a photo online of a bicycle grown into a tree. This is trouble for loggers, because if the sawmill sees stains like those on the red oak log pictured above they’ll reject the log. Their saw blades are expensive and running them through steel just doesn’t work.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break it would be easy to believe that you were seeing a tree full of beautiful flowers, but what you saw would be the colorful insides of the newly opened bud scales. What you saw would also be one of the most beautiful things you could find in a New England forest in spring.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.  ~Susanna Clarke

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