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Posts Tagged ‘Poplar Catkins’

Last Sunday dawned sunny and relatively warm (in the 40s,) so I decided to visit a rail trail that I’d never been on. Of course as soon as I reached it the clouds returned and that was the end of the sunshine for the day. As the photo shows this trail is paved; one of just a handful that are. It was a pleasure to not have to slip on ice or trudge through snow for a change, but I really prefer unpaved trails.

I don’t expect you to read these signs but they do contain interesting historical information so I’ve put them here for those who may be interested.

Poplar trees (Populus) are in the willow family and their hairy catkins remind me of spring pussy willows. North American poplars are divided into three main groups: the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. If the buds aren’t sticky then the tree belongs in the aspen group. Those shown here weren’t. Aspen buds begin to swell during the first warm period in spring, when minimum temperatures are still below freezing. Air temperature rather than day length determines when their buds will break, so it can vary from year to year. I think this year they misjudged and opened early. These examples were very wet from the rain and snow that fell the day before.

Crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) grew on a tree trunk. This moss is very common on tree trunks in these parts and I see it all the time. When dry its leaves tighten and curl tightly, and that’s where the “crispy” part of its common name comes from. This clump was about an inch across. Most of them I see are quite small. This one seemed to have a bright inner light and it called me off the trail to enjoy its great beauty. Mosses are overlooked by many and that’s too bad because they can be remarkably beautiful. They are also everywhere, and very easy to find.

This beech tree was as big around as my leg and its twisted shape showed that it had been strangled by oriental bittersweet  (Celastrus orbiculatus.) Luckily for the tree someone had cut the wire like vine away, but it will always be twisted.

Male hazel catkins (Corylus americana) are just starting to release their pollen. It pays to watch them develop because once they’ve started releasing pollen the tiny and rarely noticed female flowers will soon begin to blossom. During early to middle spring, the drooping catkins begin to swell and become longer and larger in diameter. Each male flower has two tiny bracts and 4 stamens. You can just see the yellowish stamens beginning to show on these examples.

The female hazel flowers open at the same time as the male flowers, or sometimes even a little sooner. As this poor photo shows, several of the hair like female flower stigmas can grow and bloom out of each small swollen bud. They are very small and always a photographic challenge. When pollinated by the wind each female blossom with become a small, sweet nut. The nuts were used by Native Americans to flavor soups, and other parts of the shrub were used medicinally.

I keep hoping that I’ll be able to show you what female speckled alder blossoms (Alnus incana) look like but this year the lingering cold is making them wary, as if they are afraid to bloom. You can just see hints of the tiny female stigmas as they poke out from under the bracts of the catkin, but at this point there should be enough to make them look quite shaggy. These flowers are even smaller than the female hazel blossoms in the previous photo; in fact I think they’re the smallest flower that I’ve ever taken a photo of.

This pedestrian bridge crosses over Beaver Brook and replaced the original railroad bridge that stood here. I used to see a side view of it every day, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it from this angle.

Another sign tells of railroad and industry history in the area.

The reason I used to see the previous bridge from the side every day was because I used to stand on this one, which is slightly down stream. This is a private bridge which was once owned by the Kingsbury Corporation, a machine tool developer and builder. I worked here for a decade or so as a mechanical engineer and often stood on that bridge at break times. It’s hard to tell from the photo but Beaver Brook actually passes underneath the building, and when it floods so does the building.

Up there where the red brick stripes contrast with the concrete block was the engineering department. It had 50 seats and they were all full, night and day. The bottom fell out of the engineering and machine tool trades in this part of New England though, and now the land and buildings are up for sale.

Though I enjoyed my time at Kingsbury Corporation I sometimes wondered if the barbed wire was meant to keep people out or keep us in. It seemed to go both ways.

This tree looked to be trying very hard to escape…

…while this one just stood and watched.

Kingsbury started life as a small toy company in the 1800s and Kingsbury toys are prized by collectors today. As it evolved it grew to employ over 1,100 people in the U.S. and Canada. This chimney on the property is a familiar landmark in this part of town but it looks like it’s having a few problems.

One of the steel bands that help hold the chimney together has come loose, and I wonder if anyone knows. It’s on private property and nobody should be near it but there are plenty of ways in and I wouldn’t be surprised if teenagers and others walked right under this. Even if it isn’t repaired it should at least be taken down safely.

There were some nice birch groves along the trail. I don’t know if they were natural or planted by the city but they were very pretty. Most were paper birch (Betula papyrifera) but there were a few gray birch (Betula populifolia) mixed in. Not only did Native Americans use paper birch bark for canoes and wigwams but they also made hunting and fishing implements, along with buckets and other containers used for carrying, storage, and even for cooking food in. They were an essential part of native life and many tribes considered birch trees a sacred gift.

I’ve been looking for colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) all year and here they were the whole time. Turkey tails grow in nearly every state in the country and throughout Europe, Asia. and Russia. Their colors are described as buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown, but “versicolor” means “having many colors” and I’ve seen purple, blue, orange and even pink. Turkey tail fungi have been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years. Fueled by grants from the National Institute of Health, here in the U.S. scientists are researching its usefulness in breast and bone cancer therapy.

There was another grove of birches over across Water Street but I didn’t follow that section of the trail because from here it’s just a short walk to downtown Keene. As I turned around I found myself wishing that I had walked this rail trail years ago when I worked for Kingsbury. I saw many things that I didn’t know were here and the things I knew were here I saw from a different perspective. It was an enjoyable walk.

One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for stopping in. Happy April!

 

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This past week I was determined to find some real live, growing things. I’m happy to say that my quest was a success.

1. Pines

The snow has melted in the woods now, so both hiking and finding plants has become easier.

 2. White Clover

White clover (Trifolium repens) was looking very spring like in a ditch beside the road.

 3. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot bloomed happily in yet another roadside ditch. Other than skunk cabbage, this is the first wildflower I’ve seen this spring. The plant’s lack of leaves and the scaly stems make coltsfoot hard to confuse with dandelions. Coltsfoot originally comes from Europe, Africa and Asia and is considered an invasive weed in some areas. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years, but it can be toxic to the liver if it isn’t prepared correctly.

 4. Coltsfoot Closeup

Composite flowers are highly evolved, and coltsfoot is a plant with this type of flower. It has flat, petal like ray flowers in a corolla around the outside of a central disk shaped area that holds disk flowers. Botanically speaking, each “flower’ on this plant is actually a flower head made up of many flowers. This photo shows the lily like, pollen bearing center disk flowers just starting to open.

 5. Little Brown Mushroom

I’ve seen several mushrooms, even when there was snow on the ground, and I’m convinced that many mushrooms that guide books describe as “late fall” mushrooms also grow in early spring.  There is a group of mushrooms called LBMs, (for little brown mushrooms) that can be very poisonous and are often hard to identify.  Since I haven’t been able to identify this one I’ll just call it a little brown mushroom.  I can’t vouch for its edibility, but I know that I wouldn’t eat it.

 6. Pussy Willow

Pussy willows can be seen everywhere now.

 7. Common Alder aka Alnus glutinosa Catkins

Every now and then nature will put something in your path that leaves you standing silently- awestruck at the beauty before you.  I had one of those moments when I saw hundreds of these beautiful male alder catkins (Alnus glutinosa) hanging from shrubs that surrounded a small pond.  Soon the wind will blow pollen from these catkins to the waiting female flowers.

8. Poplar Catkins

Two weeks ago these poplar (Populus) catkins were as small as pussy willows, but now they have lengthened in preparation for pollen release. The poplar family is split into 3 main groups:  the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. This tree is in the aspen group. The female blossoms appear on different trees and, if pollination is successful, they will develop cottony seeds that will fill the air in May. The old New England Yankee name for this tree was popple.

9. Trailing Arbutus

The flower buds of our native evergreen trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) also called Canada Mayflower, are all set to bloom once it gets a little warmer. These small, waxy, 5 petaled blossoms are very fragrant, and can be white or pink. This plant is also called gravel plant because the Shaker religious sect sold it as a remedy for kidney stones. Native Americans also used the plant for kidney ailments, indigestion, and joint pain. Modern tests have shown that the plant can be toxic.  Trailing arbutus was nearly picked into extinction in the past because of its strong, pleasant, almost tropical scent. Its flowers should never be picked.

 10. Skunk Cabbage Flower

 Nobody will be picking this flower because of its pleasant scent! We’ve probably all seen enough pictures of skunk cabbages to last us until next spring, but what we are usually seeing is the splotchy, red / purple / yellowish-green hood that covers the actual flower. This hood is called a spathe and protects the flower, which is called a spadix. In this photo you can see the spadix inside the spathe, as well as flecks of pollen on the outside surfaces.  The plant’s disagreeable odor attracts the flies and bees which pollinate it. Occasionally hungry black bears just out of hibernation will eat these flowers, but most animals leave them alone.

 11. Skunk Cabbage Flower

 The plant in the previous photo had a spathe with an opening that was large enough to sneak the lens of my Panasonic Lumix into, so here is a close up shot of the spadix, or flower, covered in pollen. If the plant is successfully pollinated it will produce a round, red fruit head that will contain several berry like fruits.  Each fruit will have a single seed. The strange lighting in this photo is from the sun shining through the spathe wall.

12. Mountain Haircap Moss aka Polytrichastrum pallidisetum

 The leaves of mountain haircap moss curl around the stem when they’re dry. The upright fruiting bodies are called sporophytes and each is covered by a pointed, whitish cap, called a calyptra. Each calyptra is covered with hairs and that is where the name haircap comes from. As the capsules, shown in the following photo, containing the spores mature and enlarge these calyptrae will fall away.

13. Mountain Haircap Moss Spore Capsules aka Polytrichastrum pallidisetum

These are the tiny capsules that contain the spores of mountain haircap moss. They are 4 sided like a box and have a lid, which eventually falls off to release the spores to the wind. The capsules in this photo lost their lids and released their spores last summer, but were still standing.

Go out, go out I beg of you
and taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
with all the wonder of a child.

~Edna Jacques

Thanks for stopping in.

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