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Posts Tagged ‘Polypody Fern’

1. Blueberry Stem Gall

It might look like a fermented kidney bean on a stick but this is actually a blueberry stem gall. Last summer a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damaged a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responded by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This plant was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) These galls do no real harm to the plants.

2. Witch's Broom on Blueberry

Witch’s broom on highbush blueberry is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. If you have a blueberry plantation and want to keep other plants from becoming infected then any bushes with witch’s broom need to be removed and destroyed.

3. Oak Apple Gall

The first recorded mention of ink made from oak galls and iron was by Pliny the Elder (23 -79 AD). Tannic acid extracted from fermented oak galls was mixed with scrap iron, gum arabic, and water, wine, or beer to make a dark black ink that was used for many centuries in virtually every country on earth. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Johannes Sebastian Bach, Victor Hugo, George Washington and countless others wrote, sketched, and composed with it. The Constitution of the United States was written with it and the U.S. Postal Service even had its own iron gall ink recipe. Chemically produced inks became widely available in the mid-20th century and oak galls went from being prized and sought after to those strange growths seen on forest walks.

4. Willow Pine Cone Gall

If you can stand hearing about one more gall, the willow pine cone gall is an interesting one that isn’t seen that often. The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

 5. Fishbone Beard Lichen

Fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) is one of many different beard lichens that we have here in New Hampshire. It is a forest species that seems to prefer growing on spruce limbs and anyone who has ever deboned a bony fish like perch will understand where its common name comes from. The main branches are covered with shorter, stubby branches and the whole thing looks a lot like fish bones. One of the ways I find lichens in the winter is by picking up and looking at fallen tree branches. They almost always have lichens on them.

6. Powdered Ruffle Lichen

This powdered ruffle lichen (Parmotrema arnoldii) grew into a V as it followed the shape of the forked branch it grew on. This is a beautiful foliose lichen  that I don’t see very often because it seems to grow high in the treetops and the only way that I can find it is by inspecting fallen branches. Features that help identify this lichen are the black hairs on the lobe margins, which are called cilia, and the black to brown undersides. There are several similar lichens with the same common name but different scientific names.

7. Sidewalk Firedot Lichen

Sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) gets its common name from the way it likes to grow on concrete. In this photo it is growing on the concrete between the stones in a stone wall. If it is seen on stones it’s a good indication that they are limestone or contain some lime because this lichen almost always grows on calcareous substrates. Something unusual about it is how it is made up almost entirely of tiny, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (Apothecia) and doesn’t appear to have a thallus (body) like most lichens.  Firedot lichens can be red, orange, or yellow. There are also granite firedot lichens (Caloplaca arenaria) and sulfur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens).

 8. Frost Crack on Gray Birch

A couple of posts ago I talked about frost cracks on trees. Here’s a severe example on a gray birch which probably happened a year or two ago and never healed and which, in this case, will probably kill the tree. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night.

9. Frost Rib on Red Oak

Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. It almost looks as if a young tree has somehow grown onto the side of an older tree but that’s only because of the differences in the age of the bark, which of course is much younger on the healed frost crack.

Thanks very much to Michael Wojtech’s book Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast for helping me identify and understand this process. If you are serious about nature study this book is a must have.

10. Polypody Ferns

Though it might seem like polypody fern fronds curl in response to the cold in winter, it is really dryness that makes them curl. Polypody ferns are one of a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying, much like non vascular lichens and mosses do. Once the soil thaws they will begin to once again absorb water and will return to normal.  When they curl like this it’s a good time to study the spore cases (sori) on the leaf undersides, and a good time to reflect on how dry winter soil can be even though it might be covered by 3 feet of snow.

 11. Woodpecker Holes

 

Long, rectangular holes with rounded corners are made by a pileated woodpecker, probably looking for carpenter ants. It’s hard to tell which woodpecker made the round holes but I’m guessing it was the same pileated woodpecker because they were quite big.

12. Woodpecker Holes

One of the smaller woodpeckers made these holes; maybe a hairy woodpecker. They looked fairly fresh and there were wood chips on the snow so I probably scared this one away.

 14. Beech Bud

The tips of the bud scales on American beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) show just a small hint of the gray, hairy edges that will be on the leaves to come. It is thought that these leaf hairs keep caterpillars and other insects from eating the newly opened leaves, but they also make them something worth watching for. The long feathery hairs disappear quickly once the leaf opens, so you have only a short time to see how very beautiful they are.

13. Beech Bud Break from May 2014-2

I don’t usually reuse photos but since I was on the subject of how beautiful beech buds are when they break I thought that a picture might be worth a thousand words. This is one of the most beautiful things that you’ll ever see in a New England forest in my opinion, and it is just one reason I spend so much time in the woods. It won’t be so very long before we see them again-this was taken in late April last year, just when the spring beauties bloomed.

Natural objects themselves, even when they make no claim to beauty, excite the feelings, and occupy the imagination.  Nature pleases, attracts, delights, merely because it is nature. We recognize in it an Infinite Power.  ~ Karl Humboldt

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. High Blue Sign

As of last weekend we hadn’t seen any snow but it was cold enough to make it on the ski slopes. I was curious to see if they had been making any so I decided to hike up high blue trail in Walpole and take a peek over into Vermont.

2. High Blue Trail

It was a cool but beautiful sunny day.

3. Mossy Ledges

Now that the leaves have fallen you can really see the hardscape that makes up the forest floor-what I call the bones of the forest. This is a great place to look at mosses and lichens.

4. Rock Tripe

The larger boulders in these woods are festooned with rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata.) Some of the biggest examples I’ve seen-as big as a hand-grow here. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

 5. Polypody Fern Sori

Polypody fern, also known as rock cap fern, grows on the tops of many ledges and stones in these woods. This fern likes places with little wind and high humidity, so it will tell you something of your surroundings. The round sori where spores are produced can be found on the undersides of the leaves and are orange brown and look fuzzy when they are mature like those in the above photo. Many fern sori are covered by thin membranes called indusial, but those of the polypody fern are naked.

6. Reflector on Tree

Something odd that I saw was two reflectors on a tree. They were about three quarters of an inch in diameter and looked to have been hammered into the tree much like a big thumbtack. I can’t even guess who would be coming up here at night, or why. My idea of a good time doesn’t include dancing around on cliff edges in the dark.

7. Beech Foliage

The beech trees along the trail still showed a little color.

8. Black Jelly Fungus

When they are moist black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) puff up like little black pillows, but when they dry out they shrink down to little more than black specks. Since this example didn’t look like either I think it was frozen solid.

9. Orange Jellies

These orange jellies (Dacrymyces palmatus) looked frozen too. I see a lot of these at this time of year and almost all of them grow on eastern hemlock logs.

10. Stone Foundation

Seeing this old stonework always gets me thinking about the people who once lived on top of this hill.

11. Stone Wall

What a job clearing this land must have been for a man with nothing but an axe. Just as daunting would have been having to get rid of all the stumps and stones before he could plow. It must have been near back breaking labor from sunup to sundown. I’ve cut trees with an axe and built stone walls, so it’s no wonder to me that they died so young. I think they must have simply worn their bodies out.

12. Ice on High Blue Pond

The pond had ice on it, so it had been quite cold up here the night before. I wonder if this small pond was originally a hand dug stock pond. It’s very close to the old foundation. Someday I’m going to have to research the history of this place.

13. High Blue Sign

The sign lets you know that you have arrived.

14. High Blue View

As always the view was very blue and as I suspected there was snow on Stratton Mountain over in Vermont. They like to be open on Thanksgiving Day, which is November 27th, so most of the snow is probably man made.

15. Ski Trails

Man-made or not, if it’s cold enough on these mountain peaks to keep snow and ice from melting during the day then it won’t be too long before those of us down in the valleys get a taste of winter too. This view looks to the west so the wind is almost always blowing through here. I was dressed for fall but up here it was winter and the wind was biting, so I didn’t stay out in the open long.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Bald Mountain Sign

Bald Mountain Preserve in Marlow, New Hampshire is a great place to see many wildflowers, including purple trillium (Trillium erectum), painted trillium (Trillium undulatum), blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis), foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), goldthread (Coptis trifolia), violets, and others. It is north of Keene and is called “the icebox of Cheshire County” because it often boasts the lowest temperature in winter.

2. Trail

Can you see the trail? There it is just to the left of the fallen birch. You have to climb over the stones to follow it.

3. Stream Crossing

You also have to use stones to cross a stream that winds its way through the preserve.

4. Hobblebush Flower Bud Opening 2

I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen so many hobble bushes (Viburnum lantanoides) in one place, and they were almost ready to bloom. I’ve got to remember to get back here soon because all of these bushes in bloom must be quite a sight. They are one of most showy and beautiful native shrubs.

 5. False Hellebores

False hellebore (Veratrum viride) plants grow all along the stream banks here and I’ve seen many bear flowers in the past. This tells me that they have been here for a while because this plant doesn’t begin to bloom until it is at least 10 years old.

8. False Hellebore

People often mistake false hellebore for skunk cabbage, but the leaves of skunk cabbage aren’t pleated like these are. Confusing the two isn’t an issue because people don’t eat skunk cabbage, but unfortunately people do confuse false hellebore with edible ramps, also known as wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) and have been poisoned by doing so.

False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the forest and if you forage for edible plants, you should know it well. In 2010 five campers in Alaska nearly died from eating its roots. Thanks to being airlifted by helicopter to a hospital they survived. There is another account of an entire family being poisoned by cooking and eating the leaves. It is said that the plant was used by some Native American tribes to select a new leader. All the candidates would eat the root, and the last to start vomiting would become the new leader. I think I would have been comfortable with just being a follower.

9. Ramps

Though I didn’t find them at the Bald Mountain preserve I’m including a photo of ramps here so people can compare them to the previous photo of false hellebore. Personally, since even the color is different, I don’t see how anyone could confuse the two plants, but it has happened.

10. Bench

Some kindhearted soul built a bench to sit on. There isn’t much of a view from it but you can sit and catch your breath.

11. Monolith

The most impressive sight here is this monolithic granite outcrop that has to be at least 60 feet tall. It would soar above a two story house and it is a large part of the reason that this place is so popular with rock climbers.

12. Fallen Slabs

By pacing off this broken slab I got rough measurements of 30 feet long by 15 feet wide by about 4 feet thick. At 168 pounds per cubic foot that equals over 150 tons, which is more than a diesel locomotive. What a sound it must have made when it fell from the cliff face! Even more remarkable than its weight is how one face is almost perfectly flat.

13. Polypody Fern

It’s clear that these boulders have been here for a very long time. This one was all decked out in mosses and polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum.) They are also called rock cap ferns, for good reason. Grouse, deer and wild turkeys feed on their evergreen fronds in winter.

14. Cinnamon Fern Fiddlehead

Other ferns like cinnamon fern were just out of the soil. It is interesting how plants that have just come up out of often wet soil can look so clean. The muddy soil doesn’t seem to stick to them at all. If I could discover their secret it sure would save me a lot of laundry and vacuuming time.

15. Marlow Waterfall

In the end I didn’t find any wildflowers but that doesn’t bother me because I know that when they’re finished blooming in Keene they will still be blooming here, so I’m glad that I made the journey.

I was surprised to see the waterfall in the above photo on my way home-surprised because it is in a spot that I’ve driven by hundreds of times without ever seeing a waterfall. It’s amazing what we miss.

On the path that leads to nowhere
I have sometimes found my soul.
~Corinne Roosevelt Robinson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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Here are a few more of those out of the ordinary things that I stumble across in my travels.

 1. Beard Lichen

Like the bones of a prehistoric reptile or the ruins of an ancient castle, beard lichens (Usnea) always remind me of the great age and great mysteries of this earth. This one has become an old friend and I visit it often. Most lichens refuse to grow where there is air pollution, so seeing them is always a good sign.

2. Bubbkegum Lichen

Ground dwelling lichens like this bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum) will become covered with leaves and harder to see before too long.  This lichen gets its common name from the bubble gum pink fruiting bodies.

3. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grows on stones in full sun, so it will be visible all winter long. This is one of my favorite lichens and one of the most beautiful, in my opinion.

4. Beechnuts

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) are dropping their ripe nuts now and I saw a few places last week where the forest floor was littered with them.  The chipmunks and squirrels have been busy though, so you find more empty husks than anything else.

5. Beechnut  Opened

If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open like the one in the photo, and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards. Since most of the kernels I opened were empty I have to assume that this isn’t a mast year.

6. Wild Sarsaparilla Fruit

The black, shiny wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) berries are ripening. This year has been amazing as far as the bounty of nuts, fruits, and berries I’ve seen. I think the birds and animals will have a good winter with plenty to eat.

7. Polypody Fern Sori

Now is the time to turn over the leaves of the common polypody fern (Polypodium virginanum ) to see the naked spore capsules, which are called sori.  Most ferns have a flap like structure called an indusium that protects their spores, so being able to see them exposed like this is unusual. They always remind me of tiny round baskets full of flowers. The Druids though this fern had special powers because of its habit of growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbal and botanical texts.

8. Cockleburrs

Common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows in every state except Alaska and throughout most of Canada. The spiny parts of the plant in the photo hide its tiny female flowers parts. Male flowers can be seen in the upper part of the photo, just to the right of center. I find cocklebur growing on riverbanks but it can also grow in agricultural areas. Since it can be toxic to livestock it isn’t a favorite of farmers and ranchers. Historically it has been used medicinally by Native Americans and was once used to make yellow dye.

9. Wild Cucumber Fruit

Young boys just need something to throw at each other (and rarely at young girls if they’re trying to get their attention) and it’s as if wild cucumber seed pods (Echinocystis lobata) were specifically designed for that purpose. The spines are scary looking but in reality are soft and aren’t really prickly until they are dried. This one reminded me of a small spiny watermelon.

10. Foxtail Grass

It’s not hard to see where green foxtail grass (Setaria viridis) gets its common name. This grass is a native annual that grows in clumps. Each bristle, called an awn, comes from a single grass flower and through natural rain and frost action burrows into the ground with the seed once it falls from the seed head. These plants are very dangerous to dogs and other animals because the awns, driven by the animal’s normal muscle movements, can burrow into their skin and cause infection and even death if not treated. Dog owners would be wise to rid their yards of any kind of foxtail grass.

11. Wooly Alder Aphid aka Paraprociphilus tessellatus

This colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb was quite large. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

12. Water Lily Stems

I watched the sun come up over a local pond recently and it was at the perfect angle for lighting up water lily stems. Since this isn’t something I often see I thought I’d show them here. These leaf stalks are flexible and coil somewhat to allow for fluctuations in water depth.

13. River Rocks

I visited a different section of the Ashuelot River one day and found that someone had been stacking rocks. Some Native American tribes believed that stacked rocks were a spiritual method of protecting sacred spaces. They were often built near powerful energy sources like springs or places with high numbers of lightning strikes. Piles and stacks had many different shapes and sizes and each meant something different.

14. Old Red Oak Tree

This large red oak stood next to a trail I was following one day. It isn’t the biggest I’ve seen but it was big. I leaned my monopod against it to give an idea of its size. A small sign nearby said that its age is estimated to be 300 years, and that it probably was never cut because it grew on a stone wall. Stone walls are boundary markers here in New Hampshire and it is illegal to remove stones from them or alter them in any way unless they are on your land. I can picture the farmers on either side of the wall not cutting the tree because their neighbor might have claimed ownership. That’s the way we do things here-not wanting to bother our neighbor, instead of asking we wait and see, sometimes for 300 years.

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. ~Carl Sagan

Thanks for coming by.

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I knew that false hellebores were blooming so I set off to find some over the past weekend. I’ve been promising for almost two years that I would show you the flowers, but I’ve had quite a time finding plants that are mature enough to blossom.

1. Forest Path

One of the places I visited had a path I like to follow. Can you see it? Why, I wondered as I climbed, is everything worth seeing uphill? Why, I have to ask, can’t beautiful things ever be found on flat, level ground? I suppose that one of the answers would be that it is hard to find a waterfall on level ground.

2. Woodland Boulder

I took a rest from climbing to get a shot of this boulder covered with polypody ferns. They are living up to their common name of rock cap fern. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photo that I saw all the bracket fungi on the tree in the background.

3. Forest Bench

I don’t know who carried this piece of plank here, but it makes a nice spot to sit and catch your breath, so I’m glad they did.

4. False Hellebore Flowering

This is what I came to find-the flowers of false hellebore (Veratrum viride.) These plants are hard to find in flower because they do so only when they are mature, which means ten years or more old. When they do blossom they do so erratically, so you never really know what you’ll find. When they finally bloom they carry hundreds of flowers in large, branched terminal clusters.

5. False Hellebore Flowers

The small flowers aren’t much to look at, but it’s easy to see that the plant is in the lily family by their shape. These flowers are the same color green as the rest of the plant but have bright yellow anthers. There are nectar producing glands that ants feed on and when they do, they pollinate the flowers. Animals leave this plant alone because it is one of the most toxic plants known, and people have died from eating it by mistaking it for something else.

6. Waterfalls

This is the other reason I came to this particular place. Though this stream was within its banks there was evidence everywhere that it had flooded recently-probably just the night before. We’ve had a lot of rain over the last week including some thunderstorms that triggered flash flood warnings, so I wasn’t surprised to see that it had flooded. Roads have washed away in some towns.

7. Evidence of Flooding

The flooding wasn’t strong enough to take down trees but it sure flattened almost everything else in its path. I learned a few things here-first and foremost was that, although false hellebore plants appear to have weak stems, they are actually very strong. They were one of very few plants left standing in the path that the water carved out of the forest.

8. Grass Under Water

This grass was underwater and it isn’t aquatic, so the water level of the stream was still several inches higher than it had been when the grasses grew.

9. Yellow Button Mushroom

All of the warmth and moisture was prompting some mushrooms to fruit. I think this one was possibly fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) in the button stage. It was about half the size of a grape.

10. Marlow Church

All but one of these photos were taken in a small town called Marlow, New Hampshire, which is about a half hour north of Keene. I thought I’d include the kind of photo that you see in tourist brochures-almost a cliché view of the small New England town, but those of us who live here enjoy it. The mill pond in the foreground is part of the Ashuelot River, which has appeared in this blog many times.

 11. White Water Lily 2

The mill pond is full of fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) that I couldn’t get very close to, so my camera’s zoom was almost fully extended for this one.

 12. Ashuelot Rapids on 6-30-13

 Not long after it leaves the mill pond the Ashuelot River is squeezed between narrower banks and so begins to rage-especially because of all the rain we’ve had. This is a favorite spot for kayakers and I saw two of them unloading kayaks as I was leaving. You wouldn’t catch me riding a tiny plastic boat through these churning waters. I stood on an old wooden plank bridge to take this photo and that was enough for me, because the water level had almost reached the underside of the bridge. What does someone in a kayak do, I wondered, when faced with a bridge they can’t get under while speeding down a raging river? Maybe I’m better off not knowing-I’d still like to buy a kayak someday.

 13. Ashuelot Rapids on 6-29-13

If you have ever been swimming and heard the noise that somebody makes by doing what we used to call a cannonball, imagine that sound repeated over and over countless times in rapid succession. It creates a loud roar that is heard long before you can even see the river.

 

 14. Butterfly on Knapweed 2

 A cabbage white butterfly was interested in the knapweed (Centaurea) that grows along the river bank and let me stand there taking photos as it went from blossom to blossom. Mike Powell showed an excellent close up of this butterfly recently on his blog that revealed its green speckled eyes. They were quite beautiful-and unexpected.

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

Thanks for coming by. Have a great 4th of July.

 

 

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Spring starts today at 7:02 am so I’ll wish everyone happy spring, even if the weather is saying otherwise and even if the first full day isn’t until tomorrow. Two years ago today this blog started. I remember thinking that I’d be lucky to keep it going for 6 months, because there just wasn’t that much to write about. Fortunately nature has provided plenty. In this post you’ll find those things I’ve seen that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

 1. Skunk Cabbage

A large patch of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) that I visit is near a swamp with a water level that rises in winter and falls in the spring. Most of the plants grow in soil that was underwater in the winter but has dried out somewhat by the time they come up. Except for this year-two days of rain along with snow melt refilled the swamp, so now many skunk cabbage plants are underwater. The plant in the photo just barely escaped.

2. Fan Clubmoss aka Diphasiastrum digitatum

The thing that makes our native evergreen fan clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) easier to identify is the way the very flat, shiny branches are parallel to the ground. Once you get looking at clubmosses closely the differences between them are easy to see. Clubmosses got their common name from the fertile, upright, club-like shoot that is called a peduncle. On the peduncle are strobili, which are cone-like fruiting bodies.  Spores are released in the fall. On this clubmoss the peduncle (not seen here) branches near the tip.

 3. Wrinkled Broom Moss aka Dicranum polysetum

Clubmosses aren’t true mosses but this wrinkled broom moss (Dicranum polysetum) is. I found it growing on the ground in a small clump, surprised that there wasn’t more of it around. Its shiny, greenish-gold, rippled leaves stand out against the surrounding terrain, making it easy to see. It wasn’t fruiting but y new moss book “Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians” says that this moss has “macaroni shaped spore capsules with exaggerated, long beaks.”

4. Cinnabar Polypore aka Pycnoporus cinnabarinus

Cinnabar polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus) is a bracket fungus that grows on hardwood logs. Mushroom books describe it as “widespread but not common.” I’d have to agree since I’ve never seen it before. The bright orange-red color really lights up the forest and makes these fungi easy to spot from quite a distance. These two were about the size of a standard chocolate chip cookie and were frosted with a little snow.

5. Cinnabar Polypore aka Pycnoporus cinnabarinus Underside

The underside of the cinnabar polypore is bright red. The cinnabarinus part of the scientific name means “bright red” or “vermillion.” As they age these polypores lose color and slowly lighten to almost white. These mushroom cause white rot in fallen logs.

6. Toothed Bracket fungi

Growing on another deciduous log near the cinnabar polypores were these bracket fungi that I’ve been trying to identify for about a year and a half. I thought they might be jelly rot fungi (Phlebia tremellosa), but they don’t quite match the description. If anyone knows what they are I’d love to hear from you.

7. Poison Ivy Berries

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans ) berries can still give you quite a rash, even when they are dried out like these were. Last spring I knelt on some leafless ivy plants while shooting pictures of trout lilies and had itchy knees for a week or two. This spring when the trout lilies bloom I’ll have a tarp with me.

 8. Pussy Willow aka Salix discolor

This is the first and only pussy willow that I’ve seen this spring. If you were to order a pussy willow from a nursery in this area you would most likely get Salix discolor, which is also called American willow. In nature study though, it’s common practice to call any plant with soft, fuzzy, gray catkins a pussy willow. I believe the one pictured, which grew near a beaver pond, is an American willow.

9. Winged Euonymus

The stems of burning bush (Euonymus alatus) have thin, corky projections that protrude from the stems in a spiral pattern. This gives it the common name winged euonymus. The word alatus from the scientific name is Latin for “winged.”  This shrub is from China, Korea, and Japan and is considered invasive, spread by birds eating the small, red berries. It is beautiful in the fall when the foliage turns from a deep maroon to bright red and then to a light, pastel pink just before the leaves fall.

10. Maleberry

If you came across a maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrub when it was blooming you might think you were seeing a blueberry bush, because the blossoms and leaves are very similar. You would have a long wait for blueberries though, because maleberrry shrubs grow 5 part, hard, woody seed capsules instead of a fruit. The seed capsules stay on this medium sized shrub almost year round, which makes for easy identification.

11. Polypody Fern Sori Closeup

The common polypody fern (Polypodium vulgare) bears watching at this time of year because its naked spore capsules (Sori) start out life on the undersides of leaves looking like small piles of birdseed and then turn into what look like little mounds of orangey flowers when they mature.  Each sori is made up of a cluster of sporangia, which are small enclosures where spores develop. Many thousands of dust-like spores live in the sporangia until they mature, and then the wind blows them away.

12. Crescent Moon

I heard that March 13th would be prime viewing time for the Pan-STARRS comet, so at the recommended 45 minutes after sundown I set up my camera and tripod, looking off to the west. The comet was supposed to appear just above and slightly to the right of the crescent moon, but I waited until it was almost too dark to see and never saw it. It is supposed to be visible from March 12-24 in this part of the world, but every night since the 13th has been cloudy.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.~Lewis Mumford

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The weather people were a little off with their predictions for last weekend and instead of a nor’easter dumping a foot of heavy, wet snow we had drizzle that lasted for a day and a half. I was happy that it didn’t snow because I’m ready for spring, but the clouds and drizzle didn’t make for very good photographic opportunities.

 1. Ashuelot River on 2-23-13

February has been a moody, cloudy and cool month and it’s another one that I’m not sorry to say goodbye to. I don’t know if I’m imagining it or not, but even the geese seem to prefer sunny days. I hardly ever see them in this part of the Ashuelot River in cloudy weather.

 2. Witch Hazel Buds

The river banks are lined with Native witch hazel (Hammamelis virginiana) in this area. The buds on this shrub might fool you into thinking it was spring by the way the tiny leaves appear, but they have no bud scales so this is how they look all winter long-naked to the weather.

 3. Elm With Beaver Damage

Beavers have been gnawing at this elm tree for months. I can’t imagine why they picked on one of the toughest, stringiest trees unless it is to keep their ever growing teeth from getting too long.

 4. Growth on Maple Trunk

This maple burl was interesting but on the small side-probably about as big as a football.  One day, if it is allowed to grow, it could be worth a lot of money if sold as figured maple lumber.

 5. Soft Crep Mushroom

The trouble with finding mushrooms at this time of year is it’s hard to tell if they are fresh or if they have been there all winter. These looked and felt fresh and I’m fairly certain that they are jelly crep mushrooms (Crepidotus mollis.) They are also known as soft slipper mushrooms. The biggest one was about as big as a quarter.

  6. Polypody Ferns

The fronds of our native evergreen polypody ferns curl sometimes and that makes their spore bearing capsules (Sori) much easier to see. They appear on the undersides of fertile fronds.

7. Spore Sacs aka Sori on Polypody Fern

The spore sacs on the undersides of the common polypody fern frond are naked rather than covered. They look like tiny piles of birdseed. Common polypody ferns are also called rock cap fern because they like to grow on boulders.

 8. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen aka Porpidia albocaerulescens

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) also like to grow on boulders and weren’t too far from the polypody ferns. I can’t be positive that this is a smokey eye boulder lichen because the reproductive structures (Apothecia) are so blue. They are usually light to dark gray, so I don’t know if the one pictured is another species or if the color is a trick of the very low light from the drizzly sky.

 9. Hair Cap Moss aka Polytrichum

Hair cap moss (Polytrichum commune ) is always a welcome sight. This moss is very common on nearly every continent and gets its common name from the hairs that cap the hood that protects the spore case. Sometimes it is called goldilocks.

10. Grape Tendril

In the forest everybody is racing to grow taller faster to reach the required amount of sunshine first. Grape vines stake out their territory the previous year by fastening themselves to anything and everything, so when it gets warm enough they have a head start advantage.

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters. ~Saint Bernard

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I don’t know why, but for the last two or three months I’ve had the urge to go places I’ve never been and see things I’ve never seen. Recently I walked into a forest in Winchester, New Hampshire, which lies south of Keene on the way to Northfield, Massachusetts to see a waterfall called Pulpit Falls.

 1. Stream and Bedrock

The directions weren’t the best; follow an old logging road until you hear running water, and then bushwack your way upstream until you see a waterfall. In other words, once I left the logging road there was no trail-just me and the woods.

2. Stream

Being so late in the year there was little actual bushwacking to do. What few shrubs grew near the stream were easily skirted. Since there was no trail the meandering stream became the trail.

3. Mt. Laurel Thicket

Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia) grew here and there. These native shrubs often grow in large impenetrable thickets that are always best to walk around rather than through. This place must be beautiful in the summer when the laurels are covered with pink and white blossoms. Native Americans used to make their spoons out of the wood, which is why it is also called spoon wood.  This plant was first recorded in this country by the Swedish / Finnish botanist Peter Kalm in 1624.

4. Pulpit Falls

We’ve had such a dry summer that the falls themselves weren’t much to write home about, if indeed this was them. But, easily seen was evidence that this small stream could become a raging torrent several yards across. I’ve seen pictures of the falls when the stream is running like that and it would be worth the hike to see it. I’ll come back during the spring rains, if we have them.

5. Boulders at Pulpit Falls

Upstream from the falls, the stream appears from under these huge pieces of stone. The biggest of them was as big as a delivery truck. I didn’t see anything that looked like a pulpit, so I’m not sure where the name Pulpit Falls came from. Uphill above these boulders was nothing but forest-no stream or any sign of a stream, so it must go underground somewhere uphill and then reappear here. What bothers me is that this area doesn’t look like the pictures I’ve seen. The rocks are much flatter than round in those pictures.

6. Fern on Stream Bank

A thin shaft of sunlight fell through the trees and lit up this fern as if it were on a Broadway stage. It was growing on a boulder at the side of the stream and I think it was a polypody fern, also known as rock cap fern. These ferns are evergreen.

7. Clubmoss Fruiting

The clubmosses here were covered with fruiting “clubs” where spores are produced. I think this is common ground pine (Lycopodium dendroideum) which is native and which the U.S.D.A. lists as rare. The people at the U.S.D.A. have obviously never hiked through the woods of New Hampshire, because this plant is everywhere now. It was once endangered after being over collected for use as Christmas greenery. The dried spores of this plant were also once used in photography as flash powder before flashbulbs were invented.

 8. Beard Lichen

I found a tree branch on the ground that was covered with lichens, so I put it on this mossy boulder and took a picture.  I think the larger hairy examples are bristly beard lichens (Usnea hirta.) The others are foliose lichens that I don’t recognize.

9. Ledges

On my way home from the falls I stopped to get a few pictures of a local hill that has had its heart torn out by a construction company, which crushes the rock and sells it. To give you an idea of how massive this really is-the “shrubs” on top of the hill in the upper left hand corner are actually white pine trees (Pinus strobus.) White pines can grow to around 160-190 feet tall are the tallest trees in eastern North America, but the youngsters in the photo were probably closer to 100 feet.

10. Icy Ledges

You know it’s cold when stone doesn’t absorb enough heat from the sun to melt the ice that clings to it. But at least we saw some sunshine!

If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere ~Frank A. Clark

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The city of Keene, New Hampshire sits on an ancient lake bed surrounded by hills. One of these is west hill, which I climbed recently. In the late 1800s the Colony family of Keene owned several large parcels of land on west hill. Today the land, called the Horatio Colony Preserve, is open to the public.

The road seen here was laid out in 1763, long before the Colony family owned the land. In the 1800s when they owned the land the road was still used by horse drawn carriages but now it slowly dwindles down to a narrow, very steep foot path. I read a posting on line that said the path “meandered” to the top, and I guess it does-if you call an almost vertical climb a meander.

This cabin was built in 1937 by Horatio’s grandson, also named Horatio, as a place to write. Horatio the younger wrote several books, including books of poetry and essays. 

This sign mentions the tip top house at the top of the hill, which was my goal on this day. 

I hadn’t traveled far past the cabin when I saw that this large white pine had blown down. This root ball was huge-probably 12 feet across-but was also very shallow. It didn’t leave much of a depression when it fell like you would expect.  That’s most likely due to the very moist soil found on this hill. When soil is constantly moist a plant doesn’t have to send its roots too deep to search for moisture. White Pine trees (Pinus strobus) often have a tap root like a dandelion that can extend as much as 12 feet into the soil, but this one didn’t. 

It doesn’t take long for mushrooms to start growing on fallen trees.  I think these were oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus.) 

This toothed mushroom (Hericium americanum) was quite high up on this standing tree. 

These wolf fart puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme ) were the last fungi I saw for a while because the forest changed from relatively open canopy hardwood to more dense hemlock. For a while it was so dark that very little grew there. Though we think of mushrooms as lovers of darkness even they seem to need some light to grow. The name ‘wolf fart’ is from the Greek “lyco” which means “wolf” and “perdon” which means “to break wind.” The person who named them had a strange sense of humor, apparently. 

Higher up the hill the gloom began to subside and I saw some dog lichen (Peltigera canina) growing on mossy tree trunks. Dog lichen is a foliose or leaf-like lichen. It is called dog lichen because its fruiting bodies look like dog’s teeth. It was used to treat rabies in the middle ages for the same reason.  This looks a lot like some liverworts, but doesn’t have a vein (nerve) in the center of each “leaf.”

Just to the right and quite out of focus is a beech drop plant (Epifagus americana .) I saw many of these on this hill but didn’t get a decent picture of any of them.  Beech drops are parasitic on the roots of beech trees. 

I came to a huge granite outcropping that was covered with rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata,) which is another large foliose lichen. I’ve never seen so much rock tripe in one spot. Usually it grows on boulders near lakes and ponds but in this case the constant drip of water down the rock face makes this spot a good home for it and mosses. 

A closer look at some rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata.) 

This view is one reason to climb to the top of the hill. This looks to the north with Surry Mountain in the distance. Surry Mountain is known for its quartz crystals and once had a gold mine on its summit. West hill had a lead mine. 

Goldenrod grows in what’s left of Horatio the elder’s Tip Top House. The stone foundation and some cast iron pieces are about all that is left. 

Heather is the last thing I expected to see at the top of this hill, but it was in full bloom and was beautiful. I don’t know what variety this is but I know it is heather because heather blooms in the fall. Heaths bloom in the late winter or early spring. Heather is not native so someone must have carried this plant here.

Two kinds of reindeer lichen grow over the boulders in quite large colonies. I think this might be gray reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina.

I think this one is called woodland reindeer lichen (Cladonia arbuscula.) Its growth habit isn’t as tight and rounded as the previous lichen and it is much lighter in color. 

In my experience in the New Hampshire woods, this fern is rarely seen, though it is supposed to be abundant. I think this is Polypodium virginianum, called rock polypody. The polypody fern family includes about 1000 species but only two of them are native to the northeast-rock polypody and Appalachian polypody (Polypodium appalachianum.) This fern is evergreen and looks and feels much like the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides,)  but the odd way that the leaflets are aligned on either side of the stem quickly shows that it isn’t that fern.  There were very large colonies of this fern scattered here and there, mostly growing on boulders. Thoreau liked them and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” 

Of course there were turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) because I see them wherever I go. Now that the underbrush is thinning again these are becoming much easier to see. Last year they were more blue / purple and this year they are mostly shades of brown. I want to watch them closely this fall and see if cold affects their color.

That’s it for this half day trip up one side of West Hill and down the other. I can’t wait to return next spring-I have a feeling that many hard to find wildflowers might grow here. Thanks for stopping in.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves ~John Muir

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