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Posts Tagged ‘Pocket Moss’

We’ve had a return to summer here in southwestern New Hampshire and it was a hot, humid day when I sought out the natural air conditioning of the deep cut rail trail in Westmoreland. It’s always about 10 degrees cooler here and there is almost always a breeze blowing through the man-made canyon. The canyon was hacked out of the bedrock by railroad workers in the mid-1800s. The rails are long gone but luckily, thanks to the efforts of local snowmobile clubs, the trails remain open. Note all the fallen leaves.  Already.

The last time I was here in May I found that a huge stone had fallen from the canyon wall. Though someone had been cleaning out the drainage ditches and cutting brush, the stone still sat where it had fallen. I think it would take a good size bulldozer to move it but then, move it where? The only way out of here is by one end or the other; there are no side trails.

Rocks aren’t the only things falling here; a large maple tree had fallen as well, but someone had cut it up. It seems odd that I see so many things that have fallen but I never see them fall. Maybe I should just count my blessings. That tree or the boulder could have easily killed a person.

The railroad used the stone blasted from the canyon to build retaining walls along parts of the trail. They’re beautifully built and they’ve held the hillside back for 150 years. Anyone who knows much about lichens would expect a wall like this one to be covered with them, but this entire place is remarkably almost lichen free.

Most of the trail is natural; just a very long trench cut through the bedrock of the hillside. It really must have been difficult to remove the snow from here in the winter so trains could get through. The canyon walls would have allowed just a few feet of space on either side of a train.

Many kinds of mosses, liverworts, ferns, flowering plants, and trees grow on these ledges, constantly watered by groundwater that seeps out of cracks in the stone. The scope of what you can find here is really amazing; I’ve seen things here that I’ve never seen anywhere else. At this time of year the lush green growth always reminds me of the Shangri la that James Hilton wrote about in his book Lost Horizon.

Drainage ditches on either side of the rail bed catch all the seeping groundwater and transport it out of the canyon so the rail bed stays dry. The railroad built the rail bed by laying large, flat stones like Roman road builders once did. On top of that they put course gravel, and over the gravel they laid track ballast. Track ballast is the crushed stone on which the ties or sleepers were laid. If the ballast was thick enough it kept weeds from growing and helped with drainage. Judging by all of the plants that usually grow alongside the ditches the ballast is most likely gone now, or it has certainly thinned out. I knew that people had been working here because all of the shoulder high plants that normally grew alongside the ditches had been cut, but they’ll grow back.

8. Washed Out Trail

We had torrential storms this past summer which in certain instances dropped 4 inches or more of rain in less than 24 hours in places, and this was one of those places. This photo shows a 3 foot wide, 6 inch deep trench that rushing water cut down the center of the rail bed. There were 2 or 3 other places that had washed out as well, so somebody has a lot of work ahead of them. Luckily trucks can get in here, but I doubt anything bigger than a one ton dump truck would get through without destroying the rail bed. The only thing good about the washout was that it let me see how the railroad built the rail bed.

Green algae (Trentepohlia aurea) grow here and there on the walls and are bright orange and very hairy. They grow like small tufts of hair all over some rocks. I’m not sure what the algae / stone attraction is, but it only grows on certain stones and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. I keep hoping I’ll see it producing spores but I never have. In fact I’m not sure if I’d know when it was producing spores because it always looks the same to me.  Algae do produce spores though, and they can produce them in high enough concentrations to actually color rainfall. Red, yellow, green, and black rain has been reported in various parts of the world.

I saw plenty of asters on this trip and some of them grew right out of the cracks in the stone walls of the canyon. Many plants and even trees grow on these walls, wherever they can gain a foothold.

In the winter huge columns of ice, some as big as tree trunks and 50 feet tall, grow here; fed by the constantly dripping groundwater. In places the groundwater carries a lot of minerals with it, and the above photo shows orange staining on the stone, probably caused by iron in the soil or stone. The minerals in the water also stain the ice columns in winter and you can find blue, green, red, orange, yellow, brown, and even black ice. It’s a magical, beautiful place when we have a cold winter.

The ledges soar overhead, up to 50 feet in places, and rock and ice climbers can often be found training here. I haven’t been able to talk to any of them to see what they think of the large boulder that fell, but I would think that it would make them a bit nervous. The shadows make the stone look very dark but it isn’t quite as dark as the camera thinks it is.

The sun lit up the yellow fall foliage of the black birches (Betula lenta) that grow at the top of the canyon walls. This tree is also called sweet birch and its numbers were once decimated because of its use as a source of oil of wintergreen. The bark looks a lot like cherry bark but chewing a twig is the best way to identify it; if it tastes like wintergreen then it is black birch. If not then it is most likely a cherry.

Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) grows well here in the moist soil, and even grows on the ledges. Since they have a root much like the corm on a gladiolus I’m not sure how they manage to grow on stone but they do. Though it is considered toxic Native Americans cooked and ate the roots, and this gave the plant the name Indian turnip. Jack in the pulpit is a native plant in the arum family similar to the Lords and Ladies plant found in the U.K.

The ripe fruit of a Jack in the pulpit is bright red when ripe. Deer love these berries and often come by and chomp off the top of the plant, but I don’t know if deer dare to come into this canyon. I’ve never seen any signs of them here. Each Jack in the pulpit berry starts out green and contains 3-5 seeds.

Where it hadn’t been cut jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) still bloomed. These blossoms dangle at the ends of long filament and sway in the slightest breath of a breeze, so it was tricky getting a shot of one here where the breezes almost always blow.

Many species of moss grow on the moist stone ledges. I think this example was cypress-leaved plait-moss (Hypnum cupressiforme,) also called sheet moss or Hypnum moss. It is one of the mosses that are often used in moss gardens.

My favorite liverwort is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and they grow here on the stone ledges by the thousands. I was worried about them last year because many of them turned gray and looked like they might be dying, but now they’re back to their green color and looked to be good and healthy. Last year’s color change must have been a reaction to the drought. These plants need plenty of water.

Great scented liverwort is also called snakeskin liverwort, for obvious reasons. The reason it looks so reptilian is because of the way its pores and air chambers are outlined on its surfaces. It is the only liverwort with this feature, so it is very easy to identify. They love growing over the drainage channels here with ground water dripping on them from above. They are very fussy about water quality and will only grow where the water is clean and pure.  When you crush a leaf of this liverwort you smell a clean spicy aroma that I always think would make an excellent air freshener. They’re very beautiful things and I wish I could see them every day.

Another pretty moss that grows on the ledges is the leafy common pocket moss (Fissidens taxifolia.) This small moss is a water lover that grows near waterfalls and streams on rock, wood, or soil. It’s very small though; what shows in this photo would fit on the face of a penny. Its tiny leaves are only one cell thick and in the right light they are translucent.

The trail goes on all the way to Keene and I always tell myself that someday I’m going to follow it all that way, but by the time I’ve reached the old lineman’s shack I’m usually ready to turn around and head back. By this time I’ve seen much and have taken hundreds of photos, so I don’t need any more of those.  I like to take a little time poking around the old shack and usually end up wondering how it is still standing, and if it will make it through another winter. It was built well, that’s for sure. It’s only supported by two walls and only has half a roof and half a floor now.

There is always an adventure waiting in the woods. ~Katelyn S. Bolds

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Trail

I paid a visit recently to one of my favorite places; an old “deep cut” rail trail that was blasted out of the rock about 150 years ago. I visit the place at this time of year mostly to see the rare mosses and liverworts that grow there but I also visit in the winter to see the ice. Immense columns of it in different colors cover these stone faces all winter long but I was surprised on this day, the hottest we’ve had so day this year, to still see ice still here.

2. Shiny Ice

It wasn’t anything like it is in winter but this ice was still pretty impressive. The top of that cliff has to be at least 50 feet high. The ice was shinier than I’ve ever seen it but it was also rotten, which meant that it could fall at virtually any time. I saw some that had fallen into the trail so I stayed well away from it and used my zoom lens. Ice like this is massive enough to crush anything or anyone it falls onto.

3. Shiny Ice

It was amazing how it cooled the air temperature. It was about 75 degrees and hot on the roadside, but as you got closer and closer to the trail you could feel the air get cooler. I’d guess that it was a good 15-20 degrees cooler in here.

4. Liverwort Colony

In some places every inch of rock surface is covered by liverworts of many different species, and this is what I come here to see at this time of year. 5. Pellia epiphylla with sporophytes

This is something I’ve never seen before, here or anywhere else. It is a liverwort called overleaf pellia  (Pellia epiphylla) (I think) producing spores. The whitish filaments grow quickly and have a tiny greenish black spore capsule on top of them which bursts to release their spores. This all happens in less than a day, so being there to see it was just luck.

6. Pellia epiphylla sporophytes

It’s hard to describe the size of the spore capsules (sporangia) but they were small enough so I didn’t even see them when I was taking these photos. Luckily, the camera did. Each whitish green stalk or filament (setae) seemed close to the diameter of a piece of thin spaghetti, or maybe a little less. They were about 2-3 inches tall.

7. Pellia epiphylla sporophytes (2)-2

This is what the round spore capsules look like after they explode, and they really do explode and expel the spores with considerable force. I’m sorry that this photo is on the fuzzy side but they were so small that it seems a miracle that my camera could get a photo at all.

8. Possible Pellia epiphylla Liverwort

The fruiting Pellia epiphylla liverwort had a tangle of mosses and other liverworts all over it and I couldn’t really see it clearly, but I think this photo is a good example of what it looks like. I’ve read that it can have a lot of purple in its leaves.

9. Pocket Moss

At first I thought this was a leafy liverwort called greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) but the spore capsules convinced me that it was a pocket moss called Fissidens taxifolius. The spore capsules are out of focus in this photo but their shape is enough to tell me that this can’t be a greater featherwort because it has round spore capsules, much like the overleaf pellia that we saw previously.

10. Great Scented Liverwort

I’ve seen quite a few different liverworts since I started really looking for them but my favorite is still the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) I like the reptilian look. If you squeeze a bit and sniff it you’ll find that it smells clean like an air freshener, and if you’re anything like me you’ll wish you could bottle it and spray everything you own with it. It’s the freshest, cleanest smelling plant that I’ve ever met.

11. Ice in Ditch

Water runs down these rock faces constantly so there are drainage ditches between the rail bed and the stone ledges that the liverworts grow on. I put on rubber boots and walk in the ditches looking for plants, but there was a large iceberg in this one that reminded me that I needed to look up occasionally to make sure I wasn’t under any hanging ice.

12. Coltsfoot

In spite of all the ice I saw quite a few coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) blooming. Soon every tiny ledge all up and down the rock faces will drip with thousands of blooming violets. It’s an amazing thing to see.

13. Algae

With my boots on I was able to get close to this “green algae,” (Trentepohlia aurea) which is actually bright orange. A carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll in the algae. It grows like small tufts of hair all over certain rocks. I’m not sure what that algae / stone attraction is, but it only grows on certain ones.

14. Algae

Every time I can get close enough I try to get a better photo of the hairy orange algae. It’s very small and hard to photograph but this one didn’t come out too bad. These algae are described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment that masks the green chlorophyll can also be yellow or red, and in the Yajiageng River valley in China all of the stones in the entire valley have turned bright red due to algae growth. It is called Red-Stone-Valley and has become a popular tourist attraction. There are other places on earth where these algae also grow in very high concentrations; in India in 2001 airborne spores from these algae were in high enough concentrations in to cause a “red rain” that actually stained clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported. You can read more about that by clicking here.

15. Shack

The old lineman’s shack tells me I’ve gone far enough because seeing it usually coincides with the feeling that if I go much farther I’m going to get blisters from the rubber boots I’m not used to wearing. It’s hard to get a photo of it unless the lighting is perfect, but there is graffiti written in chalk on the back wall that dates back to 1929.  People are slowly picking it apart and I don’t think they’ll be happy until its roof is on the ground, by the looks of things. That roof is slate and very heavy, so they better hope they aren’t under it when it comes down.

16. Bridge

Someone has been clearing brush around the lineman’s shack and has uncovered this old bridge to nowhere. I’m not sure if it’s an old snowmobile bridge or if it dates even farther back to the time the railroad was built. The boards are all rotten but the underpinnings are steel trusses so they’re probably still quite strong.

17. Bridge

You can just see the steel truss work through the undergrowth. If someone was willing to replace all the rotting wood this would probably still make a good bridge, but I can’t guess where it would lead.

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

Thanks for coming by.

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