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Posts Tagged ‘Poison Ivy’

 

1-ashuelot-islandsThough we’ve had a rainy day or two the drought has brought the level of the Ashuelot River down to the point where islands have appeared where they’ve never been, and they’re already covered with grasses and wildflowers. It would be quicker to walk down the middle of it than trying to navigate it in a boat. I don’t think you would even get your knees wet now, but in a normal summer it would be about waist deep here.

2-ashuelot-island-flowers

Extreme zooming showed the flowers were nodding bur marigolds (Bidens cernua.) I don’t know how they and the grasses grew on the islands so fast.

3-great-blue-heron

It’s cooling off quickly now and morning temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s, but great blue heron are still with us. They can take a lot of cold and can sometimes be seen even when there’s snow on the ground.

4-great-blue-heron

This one walked slowly into the pickerel weeds as I watched. It was nice to see one that wasn’t practicing to be a statue for a change.

5-hickory-tussock-moth-caterpillar

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

6-lbms-on-log

We’ve had a poor mushroom season because of the dryness but there are occasional surprises, like these brown mushrooms colonizing a log. I think they were in the Galerina genus, which contains some of the most toxic mushrooms known including the deadly galerina (Galerina marginata.) Mushroom hunters would be wise to study them and know them well.

7-bracket-fungus

This large leathery bracket fungus grew on a tree root and looked like a well-worn saddle. I haven’t been able to identify it.

8-hen-of-the-woods-fungus-on-oak

Do mushrooms grow back in the same place year after year? Yes, some do and this convoluted bracket fungus is a good example of that. I found it at the base of a large oak tree last year and here it is again. I believe that it is hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) which is an edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I see green and my color finding software sees gray.

9-hen-of-the-woods-fungus-on-oak

Hen of the woods mushroom caps are attached to each other by short white stems. They appear at the base of oak trees in September and October and can be quite large; sometimes two feet across. In China and Japan they are used medicinally. Science has found that they contain blood sugar lowering compounds that could be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.

10-mushroom-on-mushroom

This was a first for me; the white mushrooms were growing out of the black decaying gills of another mushroom. I’m not quite sure how to explain it.

11-jack-in-the-pulpit-berries

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are ripe and red, waiting for a deer to come along and eat them. Deer must love them because they usually disappear almost as soon as they turn red.

12-jack-in-the-pulpit-root

I found a Jack in the pulpit that someone had kicked over and I washed the bulbous root (corm) off in a nearby stream so we could see it. All parts of the Jack in the pulpit plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable, and that’s why another name for the plant is “Indian turnip.” My father in law liked hot foods and would eat hot peppers right out of the jar, but when he bit off a small piece of this root one day he said it was the hottest thing he’d ever tasted.

13-false-solomons-seal-berries

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe and are now bright red instead of speckled. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the drooping stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

14-yew-berry

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red flesh of the berry, which is actually a modified seed cone. The seed within the seed cone is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as 3 of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 a man named Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever been able to figure out why he did such a thing but the incident illustrated how extremely toxic yews are.

15-virginia-creeper

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

16-bvirginia-creeper-berries

On Virginia creeper even the flower stems (petioles) are red.

17-royal-fern

Burnt orange must be one of the most frequently seen colors in the fall and this royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) wore it well. 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.

18-sensitive-fern

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its common name from early colonials, who noticed that it was very sensitive to frost. Usually by this time of year these ferns would be brown and crisp from frost but since we haven’t had a real frost yet this year this example is slowly turning white. In my experience it’s unusual to see this particular fern doing this. Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) do the same each fall and are usually the only white fern that we see. This is only the second time I’ve seen a sensitive fern do this.

19-burning-bush

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) almost makes up for its invasiveness by showing beautiful colors like these each fall, but Its sale and importation is banned here in New Hampshire now because of the way it can take over whole swaths of forest floor. Ironically not that many years ago though, homeowners were encouraged to plant it by the state, which touted its attractiveness to birds and other wildlife. The saying “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.

20-virgins-bower-leaf

The crinkly leaves of Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) continue to turn purple. Despite its being toxic enough to cause internal bleeding this native vine was called was called “pepper vine” by early pioneers because they used it as a pepper substitute when they couldn’t get the real thing. Native Americans used clematis to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and for skin infections.

21-poison-ivy

Speaking of toxic plants, poison ivy is putting on its fall show. It’s often one of the most colorful plants on the forest floor but no matter the leaf color they’re still toxic, and so are the stems that they grow on. I usually get a rash on my knees in early spring by kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of wildflowers. Luckily I’m not that sensitive to it, but I know people who have been hospitalized because of it.

The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. ~George R.R. Martin

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1. Trail

On Saturday I went to see some old friends and to get there I had to take a short hike down this rail trail in Westmoreland. It was a warm and beautiful spring day and I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many birds singing. The dark dot at the end of the trail is where we’re going. It looks like a tunnel in this photo but it isn’t.

2. Woods

The forest here is made up of nearly all hardwood trees; mostly beech, maple and oak, and there are some old, large examples here. The fallen tree shown in this photo doesn’t look like much because I was so far away from it, but it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen.

3. Oak

For every fallen tree there is a new one coming along to replace it and the oaks were just unfurling their new leaves when I was here.

4. Ledges

Here we are already. This is the dark spot that looked like a tunnel at the end of the trail in that first photo. For a short time there are ledges on either side of the trail made by the railroad blasting their way through the bedrock 150 years ago, and some remarkable plants grow here.

5. Ledges

Almost every crevice has some type of plant or tree growing out of it.

6. Columbines

And these are the old friends that I came here to see; the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis.) They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. Though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen them.

7. Columbine

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

8. Columbine

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. From this viewpoint you can see the 5 funnel shaped holes that are the start of the nectar spurs. Long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

9. White Ledge

Columbines like sandy, well-drained soil on the poor side that has limestone in it, so seeing them is a good indication of what type of soil is in the area.  Some of the stone faces here are covered by grayish white deposits of something I’m assuming is limestone leaching out of the stone. At first I thought there were lichens covering the stone but the powdery deposits rub off easily with a finger and I’ve never seen a lichen do that.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

You can tell that there are pockets of somewhat deep soil on the ledges because Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) also grows here. They have a root that forms a corm, which is a kind of flattened bulb much like those found on gladiolus plants, and they need a few inches of soil to grow well.

11. Trillium

At the base of the ledges purple trillium (Trillium erectum) and many other plants grow. It is near the end of its brief time with us and this one was just about done blooming. If pollinated a three part seed capsule will form.

12. Poison Ivy

It’s easy when photographing flowers and other ground dwellers to become so absorbed in the subject at hand that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings and just kneel or lie wherever you need to be to get the best photo. That wouldn’t be wise here because poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also lives here and I’ve ended up with itchy knees by kneeling on leafless vines in the early spring. Luckily I’m not very sensitive to it and the rash usually just stays on my knees without spreading, but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it, so I try to always watch for it.

13. Stone Wall

When the railroad had to blast through a hillside they used the stone to fill in low spots, but if they had too much they simply piled the excess in the woods. Local people often took the stone to build with and this landowner built a stone wall with it. You can tell exactly where the stone came from because there isn’t a rounded edge on a single one. Our natural stones are almost always rounded.

14. Concrete Pad

There are reminders of the railroad all along this trail. I’m guessing that a signal box once stood on this concrete pad, because an old road once crossed the tracks up ahead.

15. Wires

Whatever the signal was it took 6 stout wires to control it.

16. Tie Plate

I flipped this tie plate over to see if there was any writing on it. I’ve seen them with a maker’s name and date but this one didn’t have a mark on it.

17. Fallen Beech

One of the biggest beech trees I’ve seen fell last year and shattered some oaks as big as watermelons when it did. Last summer I heard a tree fall in the woods close to where I was but not close enough to see. I’ll never forget the sound it made as it crashed its way to the forest floor. This beech fell right across the rail trail and I’m glad I wasn’t nearby when it happened. I see a startling number of fallen trees; usually at least one each year in every location that I visit regularly, and often many more.

18. Trail

I was going to take you on a climb up a new (to me) hill for this post but there were high wind gusts forecast for Sunday so I stayed out of the woods for most of the day and visited meadows instead. I’m very grateful that I got to see such a rare sight and I hope you enjoyed seeing the wild columbines as well. For me this walk has become an annual spring rite and I always look forward to it.

Gratitude turns anything into enough, puts past to rest, brings tranquility to our hopes of tomorrow, and blesses today with harmony and bliss. ~ Joseph Rain

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1. Coneflower Seed Head

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

2. Aster Seeds

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

3. Milkweed

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

4. Buttonbush

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

5. Winterberry

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

6. Grapes

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

7. Apples

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

8. Virginia Creeper

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

9. Partridge Berry

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

10. Poison Ivy

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

11. Burning Bush

Unfortunately birds also love the berries of the highly invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and spread the seeds everywhere, so it isn’t uncommon to find a stand of them growing in the woods. I know a place where hundreds of them grow and though they are beautiful at this time of year not another shrub grows near them. This is because they produce such dense shade it’s hard for anything else to get started. The sale and cultivation of the shrub is banned in New Hampshire. There are many native shrubs that make a good substitute.

12. Barberry

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

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

13. Rose Hips

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

14. Shadbush

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

15. Shagbark Hickory

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

16. Shagbark Hickory

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

17. Acorns

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

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

18. Gray Squirrel

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

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

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1. Along the Ashuelot

I know that a few of you have been looking forward to seeing some photos of fall colors in New Hampshire so this post includes some that I took recently. The above scene is from the Ashuelot River in Keene. We’ve been in a drought for months but we received over 4 inches of rain one day last week and that filled the river’s banks.

2. Ashuelot North

The Ashuelot wasn’t quite as placid north of Keene. The brown color of the water shows that a lot of soil was washed into it.

3. Ferns

Ferns grow all along the river but in a few spots they’ve colonized the entire understory. I think these examples were cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.)

4. In the Forest

This is what our forests look like from the inside right now…

5. Along the Ashuelot

…and this is what they look like from the outside.

6. Old Road

Though there were only yellows and greens showing along this old road when I took this photo by now there are probably many other colors to be seen. It doesn’t matter which road you choose to travel in New Hampshire at this time of year because all of them lead to amazing colors.

7. Lily Foliage

A Canada lily (Lilium canadense) caught my eye.

8. Fall Colors

Fall wouldn’t be the same without the purples, blues and whites of asters mingling with the yellows, reds and oranges of the trees and shrubs. This scene is repeated over and over, all along the edges of our forests.

9. Blue and Yellow

I’ve always liked yellow and blue together and I’m seeing plenty of both this season.

10. Along the Ashuelot

Another view from along the Ashuelot River, across from one of my favorite trails.

11. Poison Ivy-2

Quite often poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) will turn a beautiful scarlet color in the fall but this group of plants decided to wear yellow this year.

12. White Pine

As a gardener I used to get a lot of questions in the fall from people who thought their white pines (Pinus strobus) were sick, but it’s perfectly normal for pines and other conifers to shed a few needles when there is no longer enough light to support them all. Conifer needles photosynthesize just like the leaves on deciduous trees do, but they need plenty of sunlight to do so.

13. Witch Hazel Foliage

The leaves of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) turn bright yellow in the fall, starting at their edges.

14. Staghorn Sumac

Sumacs are noted for their autumn red hues and this staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) didn’t disappoint.

15. Half Moon Pond

When the sun rises over the hill that was behind me when I took this photo the first rays fall on the lightest point seen across half-moon pond in Hancock. Coincidentally, that’s where the first fall colors began to show on the trees. Spending a few moments alone with this view is how I start my work day each day, and at this point I don’t think I’d trade it for anything. Actually I’m not completely alone; I share the view with squirrels, chipmunks and bass, which are usually all around me as I stand there and gawp.

I am too rich already, for my eyes mint gold. ~Mervyn Peake

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1. The Group

Last Saturday afternoon the weather cooperated and after 2 or 3 false starts the Pathfinders finally made it to Keene for their tour of the old abandoned road that follows Beaver Brook. Their group was much smaller than what had been originally planned last winter, but I hope that the ones who couldn’t make it can come another day. When I took this photo of them walking up the old road I thought oops, I forgot to tell them to wear long pants. The road is covered with poison ivy along one side and it’ll be a miracle if none of them starts itching.

2. Poison Ivy

I was busy showing them the mosses, lichens and liverworts that they had come to see and didn’t take many photos so I went back the following day after it had rained to get more shots of the poison ivy and other things that we saw. That’s why it’s going to look dry in some of these photos and wet in others.

I pointed the poison ivy out to the Pathfinders right away but I didn’t need to because they all knew it well. I forgot that they are called “Pathfinders” for a reason and probably know the woods as well as I do.

3. Jewelweed

Many think that jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) gets its common name from its spotted orange or yellow flowers but the name actually comes from the way the waxy coating on its leaves makes rain water bead up and sparkle like jewels. The pathfinders noted that the plant always seems to grow near poison ivy, and how its sap has been used since before recorded time by Native Americans to alleviate the rash brought on by its toxins. It’s as if nature put the illness and the cure side by side.

4. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Everyone was impressed by how the spore bearing apothecial disks of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) looked blue gray in certain light but more blue in a photo. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and that makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen but they are still very small.

The Pathfinders needed to find 5 lichens, 5 mosses, and a liverwort (I think) to earn their badges in one of the nature categories, similar to what the Boy Scouts do, by the sounds of it. In the end they found all they needed and more.

5. Dryad's Saddle Fungus

I saw some dryad’s saddle (Polyporus squamosus) bracket fungi on a dead elm. I was surprised to see them since May had been such a dry month. These mushrooms get quite large and are fairly common on dead hardwood trees and stumps in the spring and fall. They are often funnel shaped rather than flat and saddle shaped like the example above.  The squamosus part of the scientific name means scaly and this mushroom almost always has brown scales on its cap. By the way, a dryad is a tree nymph or female tree spirit from Greek mythology. They were considered very shy creatures but I suppose even shy creatures need somewhere to sit down every now and then.

6. False Solomon's Seal

There were many false Solomon’s seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum) blooming along the roadsides. This common plant grows in every state except Hawaii and is also called treacle berry because its ripe red fruit tastes like molasses. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for the plant including as a cough suppressant and a treatment for sunburn. They say that the young spring shoots taste like asparagus but there are other poisonous plants with shoots the look much the same, so I think I’ll just let them grow.

7. False Solomon's Seal

Each tiny false Solomon’s seal flower is slightly more than an eighth inch across and made up of 6 tepals, 6 stamens, and a central pistil with a short pudgy style. The word tepal is used when a flower’s petals and sepals look enough alike to be nearly indistinguishable, as they do in this case.

8. Forest Tent Caterpillar

The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria Hübner) is found in hardwood forests across America and is especially abundant here in the east. Though their preferred foods are sugar maple, aspen, cherry, apple, oaks, birch, ash, alder, elm, and basswood this one had been munching on a flowering raspberry leaf (Rubus odoratus.) They hatch near the time of bud break and eat both flower and leaf buds along with mature foliage. If they happen to defoliate the same tree more than 2 years in a row they can kill it. I’m not crazy about it defoliating trees but I love the beautiful sky blue color of its stripe.

9. Rose Moss

I was able to show the pathfinders a few rare mosses including rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum). I think it was their favorite, judging by the amount of photos being taken. It’s a beautiful thing that isn’t often seen in this area. It isn’t normally so shiny; the shininess of it in this photo is because it had rained.

10. Polypody Fern Sporangia

We spent a little time talking about polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) and I showed them what the sporangia, where the spores are produced, looked like. They grew on the boulders all around us and explained very nicely why “rock cap fern” is one of their common names.

11. Polypody Fern

Polypody ferns are one of our few evergreen ferns. They love to grow on boulders and could be seen topping many of the larger stones. They have a very tough, leathery feel, not delicate at all.

12. Beaver Brook

Beaver brook was little more than a trickle in places; so low that I don’t think a beaver could have swam in it without first damming it up. In a normal spring with normal rainfall I would have been swept downstream if I had tried to stand where I was when I took this photo.

 13. Falls

All but one of us made the slide / climb down to the falls. The light was all wrong for a good photo but the bright sun brought out the pinks and tans in the microcline feldspar that is so prevalent here. The brook was low enough to walk across so some of the kids crossed over and had some fun splashing around in the small pool at the base of the falls (and almost losing shoes.)  I’ve never seen these falls with so little water flowing over them, even in July. It was really surprising and drove home the point that rainfall is down nearly 6 inches from March first. The Pathfinders wanted to know if you could swim here. I told them that people used to but nobody did.

14. The Road Dark

The Pathfinders are polite, well behaved, fun, happy, and all around good kids. I really enjoyed my time with them and I hope we can get together again sometime. Though this old road leads nowhere these days, I have a strong hope that the experiences they had on it will help lead them to a love of nature that will stay with them throughout their lives.

Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives. ~ Thomas Berry

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Ashuelot River on 5-23-15

The month of May has been very warm and dry so far in this part of the state and we are now officially in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rainfall was down by 5.17 inches since March first at last look. It seems odd since we had record breaking snowfall last winter, but they say all of the water from winter has now dried up. To illustrate the dryness, this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey shows the many stones that aren’t usually visible until July. The water in this spot is shallow enough to allow walking across the river without getting your knees wet right now, but normally attempting that at this time of year would be foolish.

2. False Hellebore

Even tough plants like false hellebore (Veratrum viride) are slowing down. I was struck by the lack of insect damage on the beautiful pleated leaves of these plants. Though very toxic their leaves usually look like they’ve been shot through by buckshot at this time of year.  I’ve read that the roots of this plant can be ground and used in a spray form to keep insects away from garden plants so I can’t imagine what insect actually eats it, but whatever it is doesn’t appear to be very hungry this year.

A word of warning: if you think you might want to grind the roots of false hellebore and make a spray for your own garden you should be aware that this plant is extremely toxic. Native Americans once made poison arrows from its sap, and knowing that is enough to make me stay away from damaging it in any way.

3. Ginko Leaves

I don’t see many ginkgo leaves (Ginkgo biloba) so I have to take photos of them when I do. The order ginkgoales first appeared around 270 million years ago but almost all of its species had become extinct by the end of the Pliocene; wiped out during the ice ages by advancing ice. Ginkgo biloba, which is only found in the wild in China, is the single surviving species. The tree is an actual living fossil; fossilized leaves look much like those in the photo. Extracts made from this tree have been used medicinally for over 3000 years.

4. Grass Flowering

Grasses are starting to flower. Many grasses are beautiful and interesting when they flower, but it’s an event that most of us miss. If only we had the time to slow down a little and look a little closer at the things around us, how much more interesting this world might be.

5. Dandelion Seed Head

Dandelions aren’t wasting any time in their quest for world domination, though they do seem to be blooming later in spring here each year. Dandelions are apomictic plants, meaning they can produce seeds without being pollinated. They produce somewhere between 54 to 172 seeds per seed head and a single plant can produce more than 2000 seeds per season, all without the help of insects.

6. Haircap Moss

Common hair-cap moss (Polytrichum commune) is tending to perpetuation of the species which, if you know anything about the way this moss reproduces, is odd, considering the lack of rain.

7. Haircap Moss Splash Cup

Male and female plants of common hair cap moss grow in separate colonies but the colonies are usually quite close together. Male plants have splash cups like that shown in the above photo where sperm are produced. In spring, raindrops splash the sperm from the male shoots to the female plants where they then swim to the eggs.

8. Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

Common hair cap moss gets its name from the hairs that cover, or cap, the calyptra where each spore case is held, and which can just be seen in the above photo. Once the male sperm reaches the eggs and fertilizes them spores are produced in the capsules. Later on in the summer the capsules will open and the wind will carry the spores to new locations where they will germinate so the process can begin again. But none of this can happen without rain; rain to splash the sperm out of the splash cups and moisture on the plants for them to swim in to reach the eggs.  Maybe they know it’s going to rain.

9. New Oak Leaves

The gall insects aren’t wasting any time, as these new oak leaves show; hardly unfurled and already galled. Oak apple galls are usually found on the midrib of an oak leaf so these might be them just beginning to form. Galls can be unsightly but don’t hurt the tree and the best thing to do about them is to just let nature take its course.

10. Japanese Andromeda Leaves

The new leaves on this Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) were a startling shade of red. Chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light and reflects green so leaves look green, but most plants also have other pigments present. Carotenoids are usually yellow to orange and anthocyanins are red to purple. Only one pigment usually dominates, so a plant with red leaves probably has higher than usual amounts of anthocyanins. Chlorophyll is still present even in leaves that aren’t green, and if a plant like this Andromeda normally has green leaves chlorophyll will eventually dominate and its new red leaves will soon turn green. Thanks go to Susan K. Pell, director of science at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for explaining that so well.

11. Poison Ivy

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also 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 got a blistering rash on my lower leg this spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Even burning the plants and inhaling the smoke can be dangerous; having the rash inside your body can lead to a hospital stay.

12. Robin Eggs

Friends of mine have robins nesting in their holly bush again this year, so they must have had success there last year. It might have something to do with their little dog Minnie, who spends much of her time just a few feet from the nest and keeps the cats away.

13. Snapping Turtle

I asked this snapping turtle to smile for the camera but this was the best he could do. He doesn’t have to worry about me dangling my toes in his pond. I think the yellowish string like objects are floating pine needles that somehow came out looking vertical.

14. Spring Peeper aka Pseudacris crucifer

This tiny little spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) was hopping through the dry forest litter and I wondered if he was looking for water. Most of the smaller forest pools and brooks have dried up, so he might have a hard time finding it. They say that we might see thundershowers every afternoon this week but showers don’t usually help much.

Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. ~Anonymous

Thanks for coming by.

 

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This is the second part of a two part post about an old abandoned road here in Keene, New Hampshire. To read part one just scroll down or click here.

 1. Bluestem Goldenrod

As I said in part one, there are many wildflowers that grow along this old road and this one, blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia), is rare in this area. This road is one of only two places that I know of to find this plant. With its little tufts of flowers spread out along its stem it is one of the easiest goldenrods to identify. The “blue stem” comes from the waxy coating on the stem that protects it from sunlight and helps hold in moisture. It is very similar to the whitish “bloom” seen on blueberries.

 2. Bluestem Goldenrod

A closer look at the flowers of blue stemmed goldenrod.

 3. Poison Ivy

Wildflowers aren’t the only plants found here. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) runs rampant on both sides of the road. This isn’t the place to be hiking with shorts on.

 4. Ledges

On the side of the road opposite Beaver Brook ledges soar quite high in places. These ledges were cut out of the bedrock by hand, long before there were power tools to do the job.They are great places to find mosses and lichens.

 5. Common Powderhorn Lichen

I found these common powderhorn lichens growing on one of the ledges. There are very similar to British soldier lichens, but without the red tips.

 6. Star Drilled Stone

You can still see evidence of the star drills that were used to drill into the stone, which happens to be feldspar in this example. Star drills were long pieces of steel with a star shaped tip that were held by one man while two others hit the end with sledge hammers. After each hammer blow the drill would be rotated 1/8 turn and eventually a hole would be cut into the stone. A good team could do about 12 holes per day. Once enough holes were drilled small tools called feathers and wedges were tapped into each one to split the stone away from the ledge face. Then all of the fallen stone would have had to have been put into ox carts and hauled away. This was very labor intensive and it took a long time to cut a road through solid rock. This is why old roads were so full of curves-they followed the path of least resistance.

 7. Beaver Brook Falls

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 are certainly high enough to allow me to say with certainty that you wouldn’t catch me jumping off those ledges.

If you’d like to see a very short video from above the falls taken by someone with absolutely no fear of heights, just click here. You’ll also be able to hear the great roar of the falls.

NOTE: What the person who shot this video did was extremely dangerous because of the crumbling cliff faces and I would strongly urge others to not try it. I hope he at least had a rope around his waist!

 8. Beaver Brook Falls

A lot of people come here to see the falls, but to get a clear view of them like that in the photo you have to climb/ slide / fall down a very steep embankment and then climb over large boulders. I did all of that 6 or 7 times trying to get photos for this post and I’m glad I don’t have to do it again right away. This photo shows a hint of the large stone in the center of the lower part of the falls that splits them in two in dry weather. Beaver Brook’s headwaters are in Gilsum, New Hampshire, north of Keene, and when the falls are split in half, you know that it has been very dry there.

 9. Historic Beaver Brook Photo

This old hand colored postcard shows the falls split in two due to dry weather. This photo was taken sometime around 1910 and if you look very closely above and to the right of the falls you can see a woman sitting on a ledge with her feet hanging over. There is a bare tree branch hanging down just behind her on her right. (Our left) She is wearing a long, rose colored dress and a big, wide brimmed hat. Most of these old photos and postcards have people in them somewhere, but I’m not sure why. It’s possible that it was done to give an idea of scale, which this lady does very well. Maybe she had been diving into the pool from the ledges and was resting.

 10. Path to Road from Falls

I know why the lady in the rose colored dress needed a rest! If you think getting down to the brook to get photos of the falls was difficult, just wait until you have to climb back up carrying cameras and a tripod! It’s close to vertical but with just enough slant to make it possible.

11. Old Postcard

Here is a view of the falls circa 1900 that you can’t see today because trees and brush block the view. It seems amazing to me that this land was once so clear, with hardly a bush or tree on the hillsides. If it wasn’t for their roar you could walk right past the falls today while hardly getting a glimpse of them.

If you’re wondering if there is a person in this postcard the answer is yes. He or she is standing on the road beside the white fence just about even with the falls. It’s either a woman wearing a long black dress with a white collar or a man with a long white beard wearing a long black coat. This postcard was made from a hand colored black and white photograph.

12. New Highway

If you were to follow the road in the postcard view today you would run smack into one of the biggest piles of dirt you had ever seen. All of the fill that the “new” Route 9 North sits on had to be trucked in from elsewhere when the highway was built in the late 70s. It’s amazing to think that what was once a footpath beside a brook, used by Native Americans to hunt and fish from, is now a multi-lane highway. This was and is an important route north out of Keene and now leads to Concord, the state capital.

13. Old Road Extension

If you stand on the highway and look down you can still see part of the original old road. This view is on the opposite side of the highway from the falls that we were just visiting and the old road isn’t as overgrown. The highway was built directly across the road, cutting it off from motorized travel forever.

The old road was originally built to access a sawmill which was built on Beaver Brook in 1736. In 1735 100 acres of “middling good land” and 25 pounds cash was offered to anyone who could build a sawmill capable of furnishing lumber to the settlement of Upper Ashuelot, which is now called Keene. Without a sawmill you lived in a log cabin, so they were often built before anything else in early New England settlements.

14. Beaver Brook Dam

If you follow Beaver Brook upstream from the falls and across the new highway you will eventually come to this dam, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1986. The dam has saved Keene from devastating floods several times, but it does not completely eliminate all flooding in the city. At capacity Beaver Brook Dam can hold back 106 acres of floodwaters.

15. Beaver Dam

Beavers are still here doing their part in finding flood control solutions too.

 16. Above the Dam

When flooding doesn’t occur the area behind the dam is essentially the same wetland, called “three mile swamp,” that it has always been. This is a great place to spot wildlife. As I was gathering photos for this post I saw ducks, geese, and a great blue heron who sat on a dead tree branch just out of camera range.

Well, now you folks know as much about this old rad and the surrounding area as I do. I hope it was an enjoyable excursion and I thank you for coming along.

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. ~ Jawaharial Nehru

 

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