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Posts Tagged ‘Plantain Leaved Sedge’

I couldn’t remember the last time I was at Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene so last weekend I thought I’d take a walk up the old abandoned road to the falls that are at the end of it. As far as I can tell the old road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 1970s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Nature has been taking back what is hers ever since and the old road slowly gets narrower as the plants and trees grow in toward its middle where the sunlight is. It is kept open to the public as a nature trail and follows Beaver Brook, so named because of the beavers that once thrived here.

It was cold the night before and was still cold when I started out. Below freezing weather had created ice here and there on the brook, mostly in areas that don’t get much sun.

I like to come here because I can find things here that I don’t see anywhere else, like this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) Actually I see this lichen just about everywhere I go but nowhere else are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) so blue. The blue color comes from the way the light falls on the waxy coating that covers the black outlined apothecia and often when the light is just right the stone they grow on appears golden, which makes for a very beautiful scene.  

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) Is another reason I come here. This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. Today I discovered that it must be evergreen because we’ve had over a week of real cold weather, with nighttime temperatures sometimes in the single digits, and it was still as green as it is in May.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge. The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge. The leaves can be up to a foot long and an inch wide and I can’t think of another sedge that has leaves that look quite like these. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high. There is a stream just a few feet from where this one grows.

There are calm pools along Beaver Brook and this is one of them. It had a thin skim of ice along the stream banks but it still caught the forest in reflection.

Where the water splashed and dripped, icicles grew in long fingers.

In places the old guard posts and cables survive. These posts used to have to be hand painted black and white, one by one, all the way along this and every other road in the county. Of course it was a lot more open here then, when the forest wasn’t allowed to grow so close to the road.

The guard rails were a necessity on a narrow, two lane road. You didn’t want to drive into the brook because in places the embankment is quite steep. This is a view across the brook to the hillside beyond. There is a boulder fall there and when we get enough rain a stream runs down through and over it. On this day there was only ice.

The utility pole in the distance is broken off at the base and it leans precariously toward the brook. I think it will eventually fall into the brook if something isn’t done. It looks like it might be taking these two poles with it.

I’m not sure what these electric lines power but whoever receives their power from them must be frequently in the dark because every time I come here there are trees on the wires. In fact there are fallen trees all through here.

Here was a huge pine tree in the brook. It had fallen with its top pointing perfectly downstream. Whether or not it will dam up the brook is anyone’s guess but it looked to be about 100 years old and was big enough so I doubt the brook will be able to move it, even in flood.

Beech nuts and their husks littered the old road. There are lots of beech trees here and this seems to be a mast year, so the forest animals will eat well. Native Americans ate beech nuts raw but they contain toxins that can be removed by cooking, and they are said to taste better when roasted.  Early settlers pressed the nuts and used the oil for lamp oil and as a substitute for olive oil.

In this light it was easy to see how the golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) came by its common name. There are many of them here right alongside the road and they make a beautiful contrast on winter afternoons when the snow is deep blue in the shadows. These trees like it cool and moist and are often found near streams and ponds. They can also stand a lot of shade so a cool, shaded forest is perfect for them. Golden birch is also called yellow birch, and Native Americans tapped this and other birch trees for their sap, which they boiled down into syrup. They also made a medicinal tea from the bark.

We have several vase shaped evergreen ferns and a few species grow here. This one was a little flat but it was still green.

The two rows of spore cases (sori) growing on the underside of the sub-leaflets and the large brown scales on the bases of its stalks told me this was the evergreen wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia.)

Black raspberry leaves (Rubus occidentalis) provided some late fall color.

There was ice on the ledges and it wasn’t a surprise.

The groundwater that created the ice in the previous photo is slowly bringing down the ledges, which are weakened and shattered after close to 300 years of freeze / thaw cycles. This big rockfall could have killed anyone standing under it so I don’t get too close to these ledges anymore. Most of the stone here is feldspar, which is why it appears white in the photo. Feldspar is a soft rock when compared to quartz or granite and it can be split with a sledge hammer. When you strike it with a hammer it has a very unusual smell.

Beaver Brook cascades over ledges into a small, shaded pool that was once a popular swimming hole. There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about how high the falls are; I’ve heard everything from 10 feet to 100 feet, but I’d guess that they are closer to 30 to 40 feet and maybe 50 if you include the part that isn’t visible in this photo. They’re big enough to make a roar that can be heard from a distance.

Up above the falls there is a small turn off; I guess you’d call it a rest area, where cars could have pulled off the main road. The guard posts seen in this photo would have stopped a car from tumbling into the falls, but just beyond the last one you could walk right off the edge and fall into them if you weren’t paying attention. That’s probably why I can’t remember my father ever stopping when he drove through here on our way to see relatives. I was what you might call a “handful” when I was a boy and he probably thought he’d have to fish me out of the brook if he let me out of the car. A few years back a teenage boy was fishing up here and fell in and was swept over the falls. He was lucky to come away with only some bruised ribs and a broken arm.

Right before the turnoff is a fairly good side view of the falls when the leaves have fallen. In fact I think just after the leaves fall is the best time to come here because you can see the falls from the old road, and that’s important if you happen to be a little too creaky to slide down the steep embankment to the brook. Soon it will be winter and the roar of Beaver Brook will most likely become a whisper under the ice for a while; some winters even the falls are muffled by the ice.

But for now you can still see the old no-passing lines in the road. I could do 5 posts on this place and still not show you all of the beauty found here, so if you live nearby I do hope you’ll pay it a visit. It isn’t far from the center of town, which makes it a perfect nature spot for anyone living in Keene.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

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It was cloudy but warm last Saturday when I visited the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. This is a nice walk on an old abandoned road that is only 5 minutes from the center of town by car, so quite a few people come here. I was pleased to see that there was little snow here on this day because it usually quickly turns to ice from all the foot traffic. As I said in my last post, it is very strange to drive from here where there is virtually no snow to my job a half hour away in Hancock, where there is plenty.

Beaver Brook was behaving itself despite all the rain and snow we’ve had. The last time I came here I would have been in water up to my neck if I’d been standing in this spot.

I have a lot of old friends here, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. There are also many other one-of-a-kinds I can visit while I’m here.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge.

The sun finally came out just a few hours later than the weather people said it would, and the golden light falling on the brook was beautiful. I dilly dallied for a while beside this pool, thinking how some might consider coming to such a place a waste of time or an attempt to escape reality, but this is not an escape from reality; it is an immersion in reality, because this is just about as real as it gets. And getting a good dose of reality is never a waste of time.

This is the only place I know of to find the beautiful rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each rosette of leaves is about the size of an aspirin and looks like a little flower, and that’s where its common name comes from. Rose moss likes limestone and it’s a good indicator of limestone in the soil or stone that it grows on, so it’s a good idea to look around for other lime loving plants if you find it. Many native orchids for instance, also like lime in the soil.

Another moss that I’ve only seen here is the stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens,) which is also called glittering wood moss  possibly due to its satiny sheen when dry. Though it looks quite fragile I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it many times, and it grows north even into the Arctic tundra. The stair step part of the name comes from the way new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth. You can’t see it in this photo but it’s a fun thing to look for if you find this moss.

Unlike the rarer mosses we’ve just seen juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) grows just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it is any less interesting than the others.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here.

This is a look at the business end of the spore capsule, which is still covered by a thin lid of tissue. What looks like notches around its perimeter are slots that fit over specialized teeth called peristome teeth at the mouth of the capsule. These teeth move with changes in humidity and spread in dry conditions to release the spores, which are taken by the wind. The spore capsule’s diameter at this stage is less than the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. I’d bet that I’ve probably tried a thousand times over the years to get this shot and this is the only time I’ve succeeded.  I wish I had a microscope so I could get even closer.

Here was another moss that grew all mixed in with a liverwort. It was hard to tell exactly what it was but its sporangium were covered by white calyptra that looked like a swarm of tiny insects with white wings.

Here is a shot of one of the spore capsules from the moss in the previous photo. The spore capsules have a white (when dry) 2 part calyptra that doesn’t appear to be hairy, and I haven’t been able to identify it. I have a feeling it is another moss in the Polytrichum family but I don’t know that for sure. Sporangium means “spore vessel” in Latin, and of course that’s exactly what it is. Note the long beaked lid at the end of the capsule, which is its operculum.

The liverwort that was mixed in with the moss in the previous photos was the greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata.) It lives happily on stones right along with mosses so you have to look closely to be sure what it is you’re looking at. This pretty liverwort looks almost like it has been braided and always reminds me of a nest full of centipedes.

Each greater whipwort leaf is about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of its scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” You might notice though, that some have more than three.

There was a good bit of ice on the roadside ledges but it was rotten and falling so I didn’t get too close.

Drill marks in the stone of the ledges tells the history of this place. This road was one of the first laid out in the town of Keene, built to reach the first sawmill. If you didn’t have a sawmill in town in those days you had a dirt floor. Or one made of logs, which was probably worse than dirt.

It turned out to be a beautiful and relatively warm day. The lack of snow on the old abandoned road made walking a pleasure. I’ve seen this natural canyon with so much snow in it I had to turn back.

The yellow lines are still here on the old road, but since nobody has driven here since about 1970 they really aren’t needed.

One of the best examples of a healed frost crack that I know of can be seen here in this golden birch. Sun warming the bark in winter can cause a tree’s wood to expand. If nighttime temperatures fall into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly as the bark the stress on the bark can cause it to crack. On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots in the woods, but the sounds are really coming from cracking trees. They can be quite loud and will often echo through a forest.

The spot where this yellow jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica) grew was heavily shaded so I had to use my camera’s onboard LED light to get a shot of it. I was surprised when I saw the photo because you could clearly see the shiny and dull, matte finish surfaces on the fungus. I’ve read that the fungus produces spores only on its shiny side, but in previous photos I’ve taken the entire thing always looked shiny. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the two surfaces in a photo so I’m quite happy to have solved another riddle, even though there are always hundreds more just around the next bend when you’re involved in nature study.

If you come upon a white spot on a tree that looks like it has been inscribed with ancient runes you are probably seeing a script lichen. This common script lichen (Graphis scripta) was bold and easy to see. The dark lines are its apothecia, where its spores are produced, and the gray color is its body, or thallus. If you happen to be a lichen there is nothing more important than continuation of the species through spore production, and script lichens produce plenty in winter.

There is a great waterfall here but unfortunately you have to just about break your neck to get to it, so since I wasn’t interested in doing so here’s a shot of it from a few years back. Height estimates vary but I’m guessing about 30-40 feet, and it was roaring on this day. Just think; history lessons, plants, ferns, lichens, mosses, fungi, liverworts, a waterfall and a brook that sings to you all along the way. Where else can a nature lover find all of these things in one walk? Nowhere else that I know of, and that’s why I come here again and again. I do hope you aren’t getting bored from seeing it so much.

To taste life, so true and real. Sweet serenity. ~Jonathan Lamas

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Flowers aren’t the only beautiful things to appear in spring. Fern fiddleheads can also be beautiful as this lady fern fiddlehead (Athyrium filix-femina) shows. Lady fern is the only ferns I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers.

I came very close to stepping on this small garter snake because I didn’t see it until the last moment, but it didn’t move. In fact it let me take a few photos and walk away and when I went back later it was still there soaking up the sun. It’s a good thing my grandmother wasn’t with me because she would have been up the nearest tree, so great was her fear of snakes. She knew garter snakes weren’t poisonous, but she was still afraid of them.

Garter snakes might not be poisonous but false hellebore (Veratrum viride) certainly is. In fact it’s one of the most toxic plants to grow in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. I think the deeply pleated oval leaves are quite pretty when they first come up in spring.

It’s hard to believe that a plant with flowers that look as delicate as those on heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) can make it through a winter but these plants are evergreen and because of that are photosynthesizing far ahead of their competition. Their pretty 4 inch tall racemes of small white flowers will appear in mid-May. Sometimes these leaves are mottled with purple or have dark purple veins. Some Native American tribes used the mashed roots of foamflower in a poultice on wounds and used an infusion of the dried leaves to relieve sore eyes.

Japanese knotweed can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb, so maybe we could defeat it by eating it.

Speaking of rhubarb, it has just come up. This one was just unfolding a new leaf and had a tomato red bud just waiting. Rhubarb is a native of China, and though its leaves are poisonous it was used medicinally there for centuries.

Though these plants looked like ferns I’m not sure if they are. If they are they’re the earliest to leaf out that I’ve seen.

Beaver brook wasn’t showing any signs of new leaves on the trees that arch out over it but I don’t think it’s going to be long before they appear. We saw 90+ degree temperatures this week.

While at beaver Brook I visited the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) to see if its flower buds had opened. They were open but only the cream colored male stamens were showing. This is odd because female sedge flowers usually appear first.  In any case I’m sure it knows what it’s doing better than I and I would bet that by now the female flowers are out and waiting to be pollinated.

How I wish you could have heard all the spring peepers chirping and trilling away in this beaver swamp. It’s a sound that many of us here in New England long to hear once March and April come along.  For those not familiar with them, spring peepers are small frogs with a loud voice and sometimes a pond full of them can be almost deafening on a warm spring evening. They are brown with a darker X shape on their backs and large toe pads for climbing. The “peep” is a mating call that comes from the male, which of course is trying to attract a female.

I went to the beaver pond looking for the bloodroot flowers that grow there but they hadn’t come up yet. Instead I saw some of what I think were Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica) flowers. It’s too bad that many people never see these tiny blooms. They stand about 4 inches tall and grow from a clump of what looks like coarse grass, but what is actually a sedge. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like female pistillate flowers. The female flowers usually open first so they can receive pollen from another plant and avoid self-fertilization. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. Though it looks much like the plantain leaved sedge flowers we saw earlier these flowers and plants are much smaller.

What look like giant pussy willow catkins are actually the catkins of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides.) Quaking aspen is the only poplar tree with catkins like these that doesn’t also have sticky bud scales. If the shiny brown bud scales were sticky it would be a balsam poplar(Poplar balsamifera.) These long catkins fall from the trees and get stuck in other tree’s branches and in shrubs. They can make quite a mess for a short time.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clamshell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes.

When you see white fur like that in this photo appear on female silver maple buds, this means the seeds (samaras) are just about to appear. For just a very short time they’re deep red with a furry white fringe, and they’re beautiful enough to watch each day so you don’t miss them. I hope to have a chance to catch them in all their glory this year.

The stamens of male box elder flowers (Acer negundo) hang down from the buds on long filaments and sway in the breeze. Box elder is in the maple family but its wood is soft when compared to other maples. Several Native American tribes made syrup from its sap and the earliest example of  a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Once the leaves start to show on a box elder it’s time for the lime green female flowers to appear.

Here’s a closer look at the female box elder pistils just starting to show. They’re very pretty things but they don’t last long. Soon the seeds will form and there will be no need of flowers.

The flower buds of the American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves and can be colorful sometimes and at other times be as black as blackberries. The Native American Wabanaki tribe made baskets from ash splints and some tribes believed the wood was poisonous to rattlesnakes, and used canes made of ash to chase them away.

The beautiful pink and orange buds of striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) have appeared but I was a little late in seeing them because many had already opened so the leaves could unfurl. Their opening signals that it’s time to now watch beech buds, which should open at any time. Beech bud break is another very beautiful forest treat that many people miss seeing.

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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I was shooting photos of a wintery Mount Monadnock when spring hopped into the photo in the form of a robin. He’s there in the grass on the left.

Robins are very curious birds, I’ve found. They seem to like watching what I’m doing as much as I like watching them. I had one let me stand right next to it just the other day.

A raccoon has become a regular visitor to where I work. Somehow it has damaged its paw and doesn’t seem to be able to see very well. We think it must be quite old for a raccoon but it still gets around fairly well and can still climb trees.

Two mallards hid in the reeds in a small roadside pond. While he watched me she tipped up and ate. She ate quite a lot, ignoring me the whole time.

They finally got tired of me watching them and swam off. Ducks and other waterfowl are very wary of humans in this area. They don’t swim right up to you when they see you like they do in other places because nobody feeds them, so getting photos of them is usually tough. This pair put up with me longer than most do.

Activity seems to have increased among all creatures except bees, which I still haven’t seen yet. Squirrels are certainly in abundance; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. This one was hopping across a lawn when I tried to get its photo.

I’ve never seen so many pinecones fall as they have this year either. They’ve made a squirrel’s life pretty easy, as this large stone covered with pinecone scales shows. For some reason squirrels usually like to sit up off the ground when they eat and one or more of them ate a lot of pine seeds on this stone.

There was a storm brewing on an ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock on March 29th when this was taken.

This is what the pond looked like 14 days later on April 12th. We’re getting just about one sunny day each week and this one was that week’s day. The ice on the pond wasn’t completely gone but there was very little left. It has snowed again once or twice since that photo was taken.

I found what I thought was a toothed crust fungus, but this fungus wasn’t acting like any other crust fungus that I’ve seen.

This crust fungus had developed fruiting bodies that looked like mushrooms with a hollow stem. On the smaller one on the left you can just see the teeth hanging from the underside of the cap. I don’t really know if the toothed crust developed from the mushroom like fruiting bodies or if the mushrooms arose from the toothed crust. Each “cap” was about as big as an aspirin.

On a nearby section of log the toothed crust, if that’s what it is, had completely enveloped the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies. I’ve never seen anything like this and haven’t found anything like it, either in my mushroom guides or online. If you know what it is I’d love to hear from you.

I know what this is; an orange jelly fungus behaving strangely. Orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) are common here and usually grow on fallen eastern hemlocks. They absorb many times their own size and weight in water and usually shrink when they dry out but this one looked like it was melting. These fungi are eaten in China and are said to improve circulation and breathing.

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) is a large plant as sedges go, with wide, pleated, foot long leaves that wrinkle like crepe paper. It’s large leaves are for gathering light so it does well in the shade under trees, where the one pictured grows naturally. Sedges like cooler weather and cool soil, so they grow and flower best in spring in this area. Once it gets hot their growth slows but sometimes in a cool fall they’ll have a second growth spurt. This one is on the rare side here. I know of only a few plants, all growing in one spot.

Plantain leaved sedge usually blooms in mid spring and this plant seems to be right on schedule. It had several beautiful dark purple flower spikes showing. These flowers will open into wispy white female flowers on the lower part of the stalk (Culm) and the long, yellowish male flowers on the upper part. The flowers are called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, and that leads to the old saying “sedges have edges.” I’m guessing that these flowers will appear in a week or two, depending on the weather.

Soil crunching underfoot in the spring and fall is a sure sign that you’re walking on ice needles. For them to form the temperature at the soil surface has to be below 32 degrees F while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, which is sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because more water is freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. They are often very dirty.

There is a plant called common cotton sedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) but I doubt this is it because another name for it is bog cotton due to its habit of growing in damp boggy ground, and this plant was growing in a spot that was high and dry. It grew at the edge of the woods under pine trees and I’ve never seen anything else like it. It had a single hairy stem about a foot tall with this bit of “cotton” at the top. It had no leaves because of the time of year. If you know what it is I’d love to know.

An eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was healing a wound in a strange way, I thought. The wound cork had grown over a scar in a kind of lump rather than flat as it usually does. According to the book Bark, by Michael Wojtech eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeast that grows wound cork in annual increments. Because it grows this way it can be counted just like a tree’s growth rings. From what I counted this scar took 10-12 years to heal. Native Americans used the inner bark (Cambium) of hemlock as a base for breads and soups or mixed it with dried fruit and animal fat to use in pemmican. They also made tea from the tree’s needles, which have a high vitamin C content. This saved many an early settler from scurvy.

I recently went to see one of my favorite lichens, the poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana.) One of the reasons it is one of my favorites is because it is almost always producing spores in its large, sucker like fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) This lichen grows on tree bark near a pond and has a mounded growth habit rather than flat. This example might have been a half inch across. It’s a pretty little thing.

I might have already shown these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) but I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter anyway because seeing such beautiful things doesn’t have to happen just once. I certainly think they’re worth a second look. As beautiful as they are though turkey tails frustrate me a bit, because I’ve never been able to find out how they come by their color. They have a wide range of colors and something must influence what color they’ll be. I think it might be the minerals in the wood they feed on, but that’s just a guess. I hope you’ll be able to see at least one thing as beautiful this week.

The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves. ~Kahlil Gibran

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I’d like to take you for a little walk through December in New Hampshire so those who’ve never been here might know what it’s like. I’m going to start on December 9th, when I was taking photos of Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor.) As any gardener knows these pretty little flowers don’t mind a little cold but still, seeing them blooming in December is rare here.

Even rarer than Johnny jump ups blooming in December is forsythia blooming at any time beyond June, but I found one shrub blooming happily in the warm sunshine on the same day I saw the Johnny jump ups. And it wasn’t just a single blossom; this bush probably had 30-40 flowers on it. Whether or not it will bloom again in the spring like it should is anyone’s guess.

Flowers weren’t the only thing happily carrying on in the warmth; bright yellow lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) decorated the end of a log. They look like tiny drops of sunshine sprinkled over logs and stumps, and are fairly common. Lemon drops are in the sac fungus family, which refers to their microscopic reproductive structures that resemble wineskins. There are over 64,000 different sac fungi, including ear and cup fungi, jelly babies, and the morel and false morel mushrooms.

Lemon drops start life as a tiny yellow disc and look as if they lie flat on the log, but they actually hover just above the surface on a short stalk. As they age each disc will become cup shaped. The citrina part of the scientific name comes from the Latin citrin, and means “lemon yellow.” They are very small; the smallest in this photo would be barely the size of a period made by a pencil on paper, so a hand or macro lens comes in handy.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a tease and always reminds me of spring, but it just lies under the snow all winter staying almost as green as it is here. Greater celandine was purposely introduced from Europe and is now considered an invasive plant but nobody really seems to mind it. When I was a boy we called it mustard because of the yellow sap that stained your hands, but it is in the poppy family and has nothing to do with mustard. The sap was once used to remove warts but science has found that it is toxic and can be extremely irritating, especially to the eyes and skin, so its use isn’t recommended.

Sweet little bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is the smallest member of the dogwood family that I know of here in New Hampshire. It gets its name from the bunches of red berries that appear after the flowers are pollinated, and I hoped to get some photos of them for you this year but they are apparently popular with the critters because they disappeared quickly. Instead all I can show is its pretty fall leaves. Bunchberry was an important plant to Native Americans. They made tea from it to treat colds and also dried the leaves for smoking. Ashes from the burned plants were used to treat sores and insect bites and the roots were ground and used to treat colic in infants. The plant has strong antiseptic, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties but I love it for its beautiful pure white, dogwood like blossoms.

I wish I could tell you what this is but I don’t know myself. I found several of them growing in damp, sandy soil in full sun and it says liverwort to me, but I can’t be sure. It is a low growing, flat on the ground plant. When I went back to look a little closer they had all curled up and died from the cold. At least I think so.  If you’ve seen them and know what they are I’d love to hear from you.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, so I wasn’t that surprised to see these blossoms in December. What the real surprise concerning witch hazels was this year was their lack of blossoms. Most of the shrubs that I know of didn’t bloom at all this year, and that’s very strange. In fact I only saw two or three shrubs out of hundreds blooming and I can’t guess what is holding them back, unless it was the unusually cool weather in August. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore.

Since I was in the neighborhood I had to stop in to see the only plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that I know of. It grows in an old stone wall and I like to see its crinkly, foot long evergreen leaves. Each leaf has a prominent midrib and a vein running on either side of it, and this makes identification very easy. I often come to see it in mid spring when it blooms. I wish I’d see more of them but so far in my experience this plant is quite rare here.

Heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) blooms in May and seems like a delicate little thing, but in reality it’s a very tough plant that stays green under the snow all winter. Some foamflower plants have leaves that turn pink and maroon but these examples stayed green. Like many plants that hold their leaves through winter, this year’s foliage will only brown and die back in spring, when new ones will appear. It is thought that some plants stay green in winter so they can get a jump on their competitors by photosynthesizing just a short time earlier. Foamflowers form dense mats of foliage and there is usually nothing else seen growing among them.

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) another of our native evergreens, goes by many other names but to me it will always be the checkerberry. Thanks to my grandmother, who had trouble getting up after keeling and so had me crawl around through the forest looking for its bright red berries, it was the first plant I learned to identify. We loved the minty, spicy flavor of the berries but coming up with only a handful was often difficult. The name checkerberry comes from the chequer tree, which is a mountain ash tree native to Europe and which is thought to have similar berries. From what I’ve seen though the only similarity is the color of the fruit. Oil of wintergreen can be distilled from the leaves of American wintergreen, and they also make a pleasant, minty tea. Native Americans would take a handful of the leaves with them on a hunt and nibble on them to help them breathe easier while running or carrying heavy game.

With a name like evergreen Christmas fern you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see this fern’s green leaves in winter, but these leaves did surprise me because they weren’t the deep green color that they usually have. They were a much paler, blanched green and this is something I’ve never seen before. I can’t even guess what would have caused this nearly indestructible fern to lose its color. Early colonials used to bring the fronds of this fern indoors in the winter, presumably to brighten what must have been a long, cold, dark period for them. If you look closely you can see that each leaf has a tiny “toe,” which makes it look like a Christmas stocking.

You would expect it to get cold in December and we weren’t too deep into the month when I started finding mushrooms like these brown ones frozen absolutely solid, but the cold that froze them was nothing compared to what was to come.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of even the crustiest New Englander just say the words “Ice storm.”  An ice storm coats absolutely everything in ice and as the ice builds up layer after layer on tree branches the branches and sometimes the whole tree will fall, and when they fall they usually take the already weighed down power lines with them. This leaves entire regions; sometimes millions of people, without electricity. Of course it is cold outside as well, and when you don’t have electricity to power your furnace, unless you have a woodstove or fireplace you have only two choices: move or freeze. I have no backup heat source, and all of these thoughts crossed my mind as I walked through the landscape on the morning of Christmas Eve day, right after an ice storm.

An ice storm can be both beautiful and terrible at the same time, but thankfully only a few thousand people lost their power this time and it was restored rather quickly. I’ve known people who have lost their power for close to a month after an ice storm and returned home only to find their house nearly destroyed by frozen and burst water pipes. I don’t think there is any weather event that we fear more.

The ice looked thick on all the trees but in reality was probably only about a quarter inch thick, which isn’t usually enough to cause much damage, thankfully.  Anything above that can mean trouble.

After the ice came about 5 inches of snow on Christmas morning, and this weighed the branches down even more because most of the ice was still on them. Still, though the Christmas tree lights blinked once or twice our power stayed on and I was able to cook our Christmas ham.

After the snow of Christmas day came the cold, and I do mean cold. Record breaking, dangerous cold settled in and hasn’t left yet, nearly a week later. As I write this I’m hoping I don’t wake to -16 °F again tomorrow as I did this morning, because you don’t go outside in that kind of cold, and it’s hard to chronicle what is happening in nature if you can’t get outside. In nearly eight years of writing this blog the weather has never stopped it, but this year could be different. I waited until it warmed to +14 ° and went out to take some photos, but an hour of that was all I could take. I must be getting old or maybe just tired of the cold; when I started this blog I could stay out most of the day if it was above 10 degrees but on this day it was more like work than fun.

But the cold can’t last forever; the earth will continue tilting toward the sun and spring will come once again. Meanwhile I’ll get outside when I can and if I can’t I might have to do a re-blog, which is something I’ve never done and don’t have the slightest idea how to do. It can’t be that hard.

If you’re wondering why I’m showing a photo of an old rock, it isn’t the rock I’m trying to show; it’s the skirt of ice it’s wearing. This stone is in the Ashuelot River and the river has frozen over from bank to bank in places. All I need to see is the river frozen over like that and I don’t need a thermometer to know it has been cold.

I see feathers all the time, but this is the first partridge feather I’ve ever seen. The partridge is an old world game bird that was introduced into the U.S. sometime around 1790. From what I’ve read it hasn’t been very successful here but it can do well on northern prairies and open farmland.  They forage in tall grass and whole flocks of them can often be very close but remain unseen, so that might help explain why I’ve never seen one. I hope they and all the other birds and animals survive this terrible cold. How they do so, I don’t know.

So that’s our look at December in New Hampshire. Maybe January will be warmer so we can all go outside once again.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt

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The spring growth on a white pine (Pinus strobus) begins when the terminal bud at the end of a branch forms what is called a “candle.” The cluster of candles in the photo above are new shoots that will bear the tree’s leaves (needles.)  White pine needles grow in bundles of 5 and last for 2 years before turning first yellow and then brown before finally falling off. White pine needles contain five times the amount of vitamin C of lemons and were used by Native Americans to make tea. The knowledge they shared saved many early settlers who were dying of scurvy.

Both the cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) are up and growing quickly. Both have wooly fiddleheads that make them hard to tell apart when young, but there are clues.

If you look closely you might see each fiddlehead is covered by tiny spherical bumps.

These tiny spheres are the fern’s spore bearing sporangia, and of the two ferns only interrupted fern has sporangia on its fronds. Cinnamon ferns grow separate fertile fronds that bear its sporangia and they appear a little later on, so I’d say that these fiddleheads belong to the interrupted fern. In any case neither fern has edible fiddleheads. In fact some ferns have fiddleheads that are carcinogenic, so if you want to eat fiddleheads in spring it pays to learn all you can about them.

As the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing. 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.

When I see beech buds begin to curl I watch them closely, because I know that any time now the new leaves will appear and I wouldn’t want a spring to pass without seeing them. They are silvery and downy and very beautiful at this stage and I’ve lost myself in their beauty many, many times.

The process of bud break in beech trees moves from start to finish very quickly so you have to watch closely but luckily each tree’s buds will break at different times, so you still have a chance to witness it if you live in the Keene area.  Due to the cool rainy weather (I think) some buds are still just starting to curl.

The only example of plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that I know of grows in an old stone wall and is blooming now. The prominent midrib, two lateral veins, maroon bases, and puckered look of the leaves are all used as identifying features for plantain leaved sedge. The leaves can be up to a foot long and an inch wide and I can’t think of another sedge that has leaves that look quite like these.

The flowers stalks (culms) of plantain leaved sedge are about 4 inches tall and have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” I can’t speak for the rarity of this plant but this is the only one I’ve ever seen and it isn’t listed in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high. There is a stream just a few feet from where this one grows.

New spring leaves on many hardwood trees show some amount of red but sunlight and warmth quickly turn them green so they can photosynthesize. When we have a cool, cloudy spring like we’re having this year though, the red stage can last considerably longer. It also seems to depend on the tree; I’ve seen new spring leaves of both red and green on maples.

Oak trees are among our last to leaf out but with the cloudy cool weather holding some trees back it seems to be happening all at once this year. New spring oak leaves are often red but not these examples, even though they still wear their soft downy coatings.

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. The plants grow quickly into large, 4-5 foot tall shrub like masses that shade out natives. I’ve heard that the new shoots taste much like rhubarb, so maybe if we all developed a taste for them we could finally eradicate them, at least from our roadsides.

The shoots of the common or field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) seemed to appear overnight in a large colony that thankfully wasn’t near anyone’s garden. If you’ve ever tried to rid a garden of them, you know what I mean.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common or field horsetail ends in a 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. 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 the gritty green infertile stems that most of us are probably familiar with. Horsetails were used as medicine by the ancient Romans and Greeks to treat a variety of ailments.

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.

I was admiring these beautiful spruce tree cones (flowers) when it hit me: Wait a minute, I thought; spruce cones always hang down and fir cones always stand up! Well, yes and no. After quite a lot of research I found that young cones of some spruce and pine trees stand up until they are pollinated. This is because they are pollinated by wind borne pollen, and it’s easier for the pollen to settle onto the open cones while they’re in an upright position like those in the photo. Once pollinated they close up, turn green and grow bigger and heavier until they tip over, where they hang until the seeds mature. Once the seeds mature the cones open and the seeds (or the cones) fall to the ground. So is it true that fir cones always stand up and spruce cones always hang down? As is often the case in nature, if you remove the word always the answer is yes.

I thought that this unfurling shoot of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) was very beautiful. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and I’ve seen others with flower buds already. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant usable.

I love the movement in the young spring shoots of whitebane berry (Actaea pachypoda) and I look for them every spring. They’re such a beautiful and interesting little things, with new leaves that always remind me of prehistoric hands or wings. If I was still drawing they would be one of my first subjects.

Native Americans used a root tea for various problems including pain, colds and coughs but the entire white baneberry plant is extremely poisonous and its berries especially so, so no part of it should ever be eaten. The bitter berries 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.

Each summer for the past two years we saw nothing but wall to wall sunshine, day after day for month after month. Clouds were rare and I complained about how boring it was to see a never ending flat blue sky. This year nature seems to have decided that it was time I learned another lesson; for the first half of May sunny days have been rare. I took this reflection photo on one of those rare days when the sun was shining. It was also very still that day. Days without wind have also been few but things seem to be turning around now. We’ve had four sunny days in a row this week.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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1. Abandoned Road

The weather man said that Easter Sunday would be sunny and in the mid-50s so I planned to climb one of our local hills, but instead of sun we had clouds that were low and thick enough to keep the temperature in the low 30s. I quickly changed my plans and decided to hike up to Beaver Brook Falls. Actually it’s more of a walk than a hike because you have an old abandoned road under your feet the whole way.

2. Beaver Brook

The old road was built to access a sawmill in 1736 and follows Beaver Brook to the north of Keene. The brook was relatively placid this day but it hasn’t always been so in the past.

3. Plantain Leaved Sedge

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

4. Road

The old road isn’t travelled by car anymore but there were many years that it was. We had relatives living north of Keene when I was a boy so I’m sure I travelled the road many times with my father. I don’t really remember a single instance though; in those days I was far more interested in what was at the end of the road than the journey along it, and I probably couldn’t wait to see my cousins. These days I care more about what I see along the roadsides and don’t think much about when or where they might end. It’s funny how your perspective can change so easily, without any real effort at all.

5. Lines

I don’t suppose the no passing lines will ever wear away now since there has been no traffic on this road since the 1970s.

6. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) gets its name from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. You can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps. It’s a very tough moss that even grows on the Arctic tundra. It has a certain sparkle to it when it’s dry and is also called glittering wood moss because of it. According to the Islandwood outdoor classroom in Seattle, Washington, stair step moss was once used to chink the logs in log cabins. Wet moss was pressed into the cracks between logs and when it dried it stayed compressed and green for the life of the cabin.

7. Beech Fungus

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. It has no common name apparently, and I had a very hard time identifying it; it took three years before I finally found its scientific name.

8. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Other things I come here to see are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens,) not because I can’t find them anywhere else but because of the way the light reflects off their spore bearing apothecial disks here. They look beautifully sky blue in this light, much like the whitish bloom on plums and blueberries make them look blue in the right light and it’s all due to a powdery waxy coating that the lichens and fruits have. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen, which can be the golden brown seen here or grayish white. The disks are barely bigger than a written period on paper. This is a really beautiful lichen that’s relatively common on stones and ledges.

9. Washed Out Culvert

The old road is washing away along the brook in more and more places each year. I talked to an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen water up over the road a few times in the past. Chances are one day far in the future there won’t be a road here at all.

10. Guard Rail

Many of the old wooden guard posts that hold the guard wires have rotted off at ground level and hang from the wires but this one was still solid. It’s probably been close to 50 years since they last saw any maintenance. Even the triangular concrete posts used to replace the wooden posts are breaking up and washing downstream.

11. Waterfall

There are a few things that can get me to climb over the guard wires and one of them is this view across the brook of a waterfall that appears sometimes when it rains. I like the mossy rocks and wish I could get over there with dry feet, but the only way I see is by walking through the brook. This photo also illustrates the kind of steep hillsides found on both sides of the road. Together they make this place a canyon that it would be very hard to climb out of.

12. Dog Lichen

The biggest dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) that I’ve seen grows here. It’s about 9-10 inches across and grows happily surrounded by mosses. The mosses soak up water like a sponge and that keeps the lichen moist as well. When moist it is pliable and feels much like your earlobe but when it dries out it feels more like a potato chip. The grayish / whitish areas show where it’s starting to dry out.

I’ve heard about four different theories behind the name “dog lichen.”  One says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the lichen’s fang like rhizines that anchor it to the substrate look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. There’s not a single part of it that reminds me of a dog.

13. Apple Moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warmer rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny green globes.

14. Path to Brook

The path down to the brook near the falls is steep and getting steeper all the time because it’s slowly washing away. Each time I stand here I ask myself if I’m not getting too old for this but each time if it isn’t icy, down I go. It’s a kind of half slide/ half climb situation going down so coming back up is always easier.

15. Beaver Brook Falls

The reason I climb down to the brook is of course to see an unobstructed view of the falls, which people who stay up on the road don’t get to see. It was really too shady to be down here on this day but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m guessing the falls are about 40 feet high but I’ve also heard all kinds of other guesses about its height. I don’t think anyone really knows, but I’m inclined to believe the old timers. It’s high enough so I know I wouldn’t want to ride down it.

16. Above the Falls

I’ve shown this place many times on this blog but I’ve never shown this view of Beaver Brook from above the falls. It’s a bit hard to see because of all the trees but it was the best I could do. When I took the previous photo of the falls I was down there at water level. You don’t really understand what that means until you see it from up here.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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