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Posts Tagged ‘Porcupine Sedge’

I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog lately that I’ve been doing a lot of walking, so I thought I’d show you some of the things I see on these walks. If I choose to go this way, I can see a pond full of water plants like burr reed and yellow pond lilies. The big circular plant colonies are all yellow pond lilies, and they appear to be trying to take over the pond.

I’ve seen lots of hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) on an old hemlock stump and the pile of logs beside it. For the first time I’ve had a chance to see these mushrooms grow day by day and I can now understand that they grow quite fast. This one went from looking like a piece of dough to what we see here in less than two weeks. It’s about the size of a salad plate; less diameter than a dinner plate but more than a saucer. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom, and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) burned brightly in roadside ditches. This is our first yellow loosestrife to bloom each year and I sometimes see them in great numbers. They like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. In fact my knees were getting wet so this isn’t a very good shot.

Soft or common rush (Juncus effusus) also grew in a ditch alongside the road. Ditches are always a good place to find a variety of plants that like wet feet, like rushes and sedges. Soft rush can form large clumps and are easy to grow. They’re interesting if placed here and there around garden ponds.

Sedge stems are triangular and have edges but soft rush stems are smooth and cylindrical, with a light pith inside. They feel soft if you pinch them, not sharp. The flower head, shown in the above photo, looks like it grows from one side of the stem but the stem actually ends at the flowers. Anything appearing above the flowers is a bract, not part of the stem. The flowers are tiny and not showy, but overall the plant is pleasing to the eye.

Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi) always reminds me of the spiky mace weapons that knights used in the Middle Ages. A botanist would say this about that: each spikelet consists of a globoid cluster of perigynia that radiate in all directions. A perigynium is a fleshy cup or tube, which in this case comes to a point or beak. Coming out of each beak are the flowers, which are what look like threads in this photo. They start out white and brown as they age. Gray’s sedge is named after Asa Gray, who wrote Grays Manual of Botany in 1848. I read my copy about 50 years ago and have used it many times since that initial reading. If you have trouble sleeping at night just read Asa’s manual for a half our or so before bedtime. You’ll sleep like a stone.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) had recently flowered and I knew that because the tiny threads at the ends of the perigynia were still white. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) has flowered and is now producing its tiny winged seeds, which look a bit like stalks full of flakes.

If you look closely, you will see that each flake, which is more like a wing, has a tiny seed on it. It looks like a seed pearl at this stage but as they ripen and age the seed and its wing will turn brownish. Finally they will fall from the plant and the wind will catch the tiny wings and blow them to new places to grow. They will often persist through winter and fall the following spring. Since March is the windiest month, it is a sensible strategy for a plant that depends on the wind to get around.

Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is another ditch loving plant that likes full sun and wet feet. This one had a fern ball on its tip. Fern balls appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like what the photo shows. Inside the ball is a caterpillar, which has pulled the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tied it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the fern leaflets and live completely in the fern ball until they are ready to become a moth. Emily Dickinson once wrote “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else,” and I wonder if she didn’t see a fern ball just before she wrote it.  

Native Americans called blueberries star berries, and now you know why; the blossom end of each berry forms a five-pointed star. They used blueberries, and also the plant’s leaves and roots, medicinally as well as for food. They cultivated the bushes and made a pudding out of corn meal and water and added the blueberries to it. They then baked it, and it saved the life of many a European settler, as did their pemmican.

I see several native catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) on my walks and right now they’re in full bloom and very beautiful. It’s like looking at a tree full of orchids.

Catalpa flowers are big; your index finger will fit right in there. The trees they grow on are also very big and a mistake I see people make over and over again is planting them too close to their house. Catalpa, for all its beauty, is also a messy tree. First the spent flowers fall by the thousands in early summer, and then in fall the giant heart shaped leaves turn yellow and fall. In the spring the seedpods come down. These are like two-foot-long string beans and they make quite a mess. It is a tree that creates a lot of work if planted where everything that falls from it has to be raked up but in spite of all of this if someone asked me if they should plant a catalpa I’d say absolutely, just keep it away from the house. Plant it at the edge of the property, or by a pond if you have one.

I saw a bittersweet nightshade plant (Solanum dulcamara) coming up out of the center of a yew, and it was loaded with its pretty blue and yellow flowers. It might be pretty but it’s a real stinker, and if you break the stems, you’ll smell something unusual. It produces solanine which is a narcotic, and all parts of the plant are considered toxic, so that might account for the smell. The plant climbs up and over other plants and shrubs and often blossoms for most of the summer. It’s originally from Europe and Asia and is in the potato family, just like tomatoes. The fruit is a red berry, which in the fall looks like a soft and juicy, bright red, tiny Roma tomato. I wouldn’t eat one though.

I like the flowers when they’re fully open like this one but you have to be quick to catch them this way because the petals recurve quickly. You can see that most of them have done so in the previous photo. Cranberry flowers do the same thing.

A button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was budding up and preparing to flower. It will have a perfectly spherical flower head that looks a lot like a pincushion before it is through. I’ve seen lots of button bush flowers but apparently, I’ve never paid any attention to the buds. These reminded me of the game Jacks that we used to play long ago.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flowers open in rings as they circle their way up the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else but I see more of it each year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) has just started blooming. This now common plant wasn’t always common in this area. When I was a boy, I had a transistor radio and at night I used to fall asleep listening to it. One of the songs I could count on hearing every night was Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White. It was about a poor southern girl who had only pokeweed to eat because her mother was on a chain gang and her grandmother was eaten by an alligator. Her father and brothers were lazy, so all they had were the poke greens. Of course all of us school kids talked about both the song and the plant, but when we asked our parents what pokeweed was, they didn’t know. They just said it must be a southern plant, but no more; now it’s an everywhere plant, and it is big and noticeable.

Pokeweed flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. Native Americans called the plant pocon and used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses. People still use it to dye wool today. If you’d like to hear the song about Polk Salad Annie that I used to hear in 1969, just click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCSsVvlj6YA

Pokeweed is toxic unless you get the early spring shoots and I’ve read that it can make you kind of crazy if you eat too much of it, so that might account for all the grunting and oohing you hear from Tony Joe White.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is having an amazing year and the plants are huge. It starts blooming usually in June and then takes a rest in the heat of summer before re-blooming when it cools off again. This plant was once so highly valued that it was traded among all the people of the earth, but now we hardly give it a glance. It is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching, which is said to pre date recorded history, and it was found in an excavation of a Neanderthal grave site. It was a valuable healing herb, one of the nine “holy herbs,” and its value was most likely due to its ability to staunch the flow of blood. The Achillea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers it is said, used the plant to treat their wounds. Because of its being so freely traded it is one of just a few plants that now grow on every continent except Antarctica. I see it everywhere I go.

Poplar seeds fall from the female trees and often find each other in the wind, and then roll into a ball of what looks like cotton. This is the reason the trees are also called cottonwoods. A tree 100 feet high and five feet across can grow from a seed just 5/32 of an inch long. For a certain amount of time in spring the air is filled with them.

Back when I was a boy everyone said that when the wind blew hard enough to show the bottoms of the leaves on trees like silver maple, it meant that it was going to rain. I have since learned that what it really means is that the wind is blowing, and nothing more. The strong wind might be caused by a front passing through, but that doesn’t always mean rain. On this day all the leaves were showing silver but we didn’t see a drop fall.

I like to watch grasses flower and turn purple, and one of the most purple of them all is Timothy, named after farmer Timothy Hanson, who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720. Each tiny flower on Timothy grass has three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. I spent a lot of time when I was a boy chewing on a piece of this grass hanging while I walked the railroad tracks and as I’ve mentioned before, it is the grass I think of when I hear the opening line of the song Ventura Highway by the band America, which starts Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road… I just listened to it and it still sounds as good as it did in 1972. It reminds me of simpler times.

These are the leaves of staghorn sumac, which I see just about everywhere I walk and which in spring remind me of bamboo. Later on they’ll remind me of palm trees. If I’m lucky I’ll see them wearing bright red in the fall.

I hope you enjoyed this walk, just one of several that I do. There is nothing easier than walking; you don’t even have to choose where to go because the paths are just there and going right or left really doesn’t matter. I’ve always been more of a walker than a driver but until now I never really paid attention to the health benefits. I’m losing weight, my legs and knees feel better and I can breathe much easier than I could just a few months ago. I don’t think of distance or destination or anything else. I just walk until I’m ready to stop. If you’re healthy and interested open your door and start walking, and just see what you see. Give yourself the time and freedom to wander. You might be surprised by what you find.

The only way to understand a land is to walk it. The only way to drink in its real meaning is to keep it firmly beneath one’s feet. Only the walker can form the wider view. ~Sinclair McKay

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Last Sunday, the first full day of summer, was another hazy, hot and humid day. By the time I had finished this walk on a rail trail in Swanzey my car thermometer said 98 degrees F. That, coupled with no beneficial rain for several weeks, means that many plants are blooming quickly, with their flowers lasting only a day or two in some cases. I thought I’d see what was blooming in the shady areas along the trail.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is one of the plants that is having a hard time. I saw many of them wilted enough so their flowers and leaves were drooping badly. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s where its name comes from. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It normally grows in dry soil at the edge of forests but as I’ve seen, that soil can be too dry.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) came and went so fast this year I barely had time to see them. All I see now are its tiny seed pods, like the one seen here.

I was surprised to see that there was still a trickle of water running through this old box culvert. Many small streams and ponds have dried up.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is blossoming. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge and I usually find it on the shores of ponds or in wet ditches. The flowers of porcupine sedge are so small they are almost microscopic, but you can see them here. They are the whitish wisps that appear at the ends of the spiky protrusions, which are called perigynia. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds. These were found in the now dry drainage channels along the trail.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have now released their spores and all that remains of that process are the bright red fertile fronds that give the fern its name. Someone once thought it looked like a cinnamon stick.

The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which are tiny spheres where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head and you can see their open halves here. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) looked like it had just finished blooming. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf. I saw many yellow leaves on this day but that isn’t normal for June.

This grass couldn’t have held another flower. I’m not sure what its name is.

I found these hawkweed flowers (Hieracium caespitosum) blooming in the shade, which is odd for a sun lover. Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head is actually a single, complete flower. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Oak apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage.

This apple gall still had a small leaf attached.

A man walking his dog walked by and saw me kneeling at the edge of the trail to get a photo of a flower. “Be careful” he said, “there’s poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) all along here.” He was right and I thanked him for the warning but I know poison ivy well enough not to kneel in it. Usually when I kneel on it it’s early spring before the leaves come out and then I get a rash on my knees from the naked stems, because all parts of the plant are poisonous. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

Sweet ferns (Comptonia peregrine) grew here and there and I saw this one was producing nuts. The part that looks like a burr at the top of the plant is actually a cluster of bracts.

Inside these bracts are 4-6 small brown nuts (seeds) that are about 1/4 inch long and oval in shape. They can be just seen here. These seeds form in place of the female flower, which is red, small, and easily missed. Sweet fern foliage is very fragrant but it isn’t a fern; it’s actually in the bayberry family. Native Americans used the fragrant foliage as incense, putting bundles of them on smudge fires. They also made a tea from the leaves and some people still make tea from them today. I’ve heard that a handful of leaves put in a Mason jar full of cool water and left in the sun will make very good tea. “Sun tea,” it’s called.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail, but it’s a long climb down to it. As I walked along I could see large sandbars in the river, and they told the story of how low the water really was.

Before you know it you’re at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle, which has been refitted for snowmobile travel. We’re lucky enough to find these old trestles still crossing the river on many of our rail trails. It would be costly to replace them but they’re well-built and should last for many years to come.

The great thing about having the rail trails and the trestles is that you can easily get to parts of the river that you would normally never see. I hate to think of how long I’d spend and how much bushwhacking I’d have to do to get to this part of the river without the trail, because the surrounding countryside is about as close to wilderness that you can get.

The water was very low in the river. Only once before have I seen it low enough to expose the fallen trees along the bank like it was this day. It’s hard to get any sense of scale from this photo but some of those trees are mature white pines, which routinely grow to 100 feet or more.

There are lots of silver maples (Acer saccharinum) along the river and some are so close to the trestle you can reach out and touch them, so I plucked a leaf so I could show you the silvery underside, which is what gives the tree its name. A story I’ve heard my whole life is how, when the wind blows and you see the silvery undersides of maple leaves, it means it’s going to rain.

But the clouds obviously haven’t heard the old story of the maple leaves because they haven’t hardly let go a drop of rain in weeks. They say that today and tomorrow we might finally see some rain and everyone seems willing to even give up their weekend outdoors to get it. I know I’ll be happy to see it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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Last Friday I cut wood for most of the afternoon at work and come Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling very agile, so I decided to take an easy, gentle and very beautiful walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. I think I must have been about 10 years old the first time I walked this trail and it has been one of my favorite places to go ever since. You really never know what you’ll see here and I think 9 times out of 10 I come back surprised at what I’ve seen.

The biggest surprise of this day was a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank. I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right out in the open. This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like 50 years from now if the plants are left alone.

In places the riverside trail is about 4 people wide but most of it is more like 2 people wide. Though I have no proof I believe the original trail is thousands of years old; once used by the Native Americans who used to fish, hunt and camp here. Natives were known to populate the Keene area and a little further upriver a school was built a few years ago and many Native artifacts estimated to be somewhere near 12,000 years old were found.

American water horehound (Lycopus americanus,) with its purple leaves, grew along the bank of the river. An interesting fact about this plant is how the Native American Iroquois tribe considered it poisonous, but the Cherokees used it to treat snakebite in both people and dogs. Usually I find that a plant used medicinally by one tribe was used in much the same way by other tribes, but not this one. In modern times it is used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments including anxiety and insomnia.

A hoverfly found an ox-eye daisy very inviting. One of its wings seemed a little skewed but it looked like it could fly with no problems.

Like the ribs of an ancient sunken ship the branches of a fallen tree rose up out of the river. I read recently that in June 24, 1819 the New Hampshire legislature granted permission for the river, from this point south to where it meets the Connecticut River, to be dredged for steamboat travel. A toll on the steamers would be no more than 50 cents per ton of weight. Locks were built and in November of 1819 the first steamer 60 feet long and capable of carrying 15 to 20 tons, arrived in Keene. The venture seemed promising for a few years but the arrival of the railroad finally dashed the hopes of those wanting to see steamboats traveling the Ashuelot. Thanks goes to Alan Rumrill, director of the Cheshire County Historical Society, for this interesting bit of historical knowledge. If I saw a riverboat floating on the Ashuelot today I think I’d have to be revived.

Recent rains and high humidity helped a slime mold to grow on a well-rotted log. This slime mold is called coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides) and it loves to grow on rotted logs after a rain.

Coral slime mold is a plasmodial slime, which means that it moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They then shift from the growth stage to the fruiting stage. Slime molds die if they dry out, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain. One of the most fascinating things about slime molds is how they move. They are thought of as a giant single cell with multiple nuclei which can all move together as one at speeds of up to an inch per hour. According to Wikipedia “A plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is how they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is really quite amazing.

My daughter was with me on this day and she found a broken robin’s egg, so I’m guessing that mom and dad are keeping very busy these days. If what I’ve read is accurate they will feed the young until they learn how to feed themselves. That could take as long as a month.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed along the river. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) started blooming a while ago. This plant has a very long blooming period; I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, even into November. I usually find more of them in waste places but I see them just about everywhere I go. It is considered a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to grow in unused pastures, or cleared or burned areas. Woodchucks and rabbits will eat the leaves and stems. Native Americans made a tea from the plant which was used as medicine for digestive ailments. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) was getting ready to blossom in sunnier spots. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew everywhere out here and in this shot it is growing up a dead tree. I just featured this rose in my last flower post so I won’t say much about it, other than its fragrance was astounding.

Insects love multiflora rose and that is the problem with its invasiveness, because birds love the rose hips that pollinated flowers produce. But just try to stop it; the genie is out of the bottle and there is no stopping it or any of the other invasive plants that are in this country.

Luckily invasive plants haven’t choked out all of our natives. Here was a large colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana,) all in bloom.

The 3 large styles of Indian cucumber root darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. Native Americans used Indian cucumber roots as food. As its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.

It was a beautiful day to be on the river, but the big puffy clouds in the distance reminded me that there was a chance of a real old fashioned thunderstorm. When I was a boy our house had a covered porch and I used to love sitting on it and watching thunderstorms as they rumbled by. I don’t have a porch now but I still love a good summer thunderstorm.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were quite a few growing in this part of the river where the water was so still it hardly moved at all.

The little red bridge is my signal to turn and go back because not too far after it is a highway full of cars. Both my daughter and I were surprised by the time. What seemed like a relatively short walk had taken us hours, but that’s what happens when you become lost in the beauty of nature and start discovering things that you’ve never seen before; time is a very easy thing to forget.

My favorite photo of this day was of what I think is American eelgrass (Vallisneria Americana.) I love the hypnotizing way it moves and undulates in the current of the river. It is also called tape grass and water celery, and it is an important food for turtles and other aquatic wildlife.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her.
~ Buffalo Joe

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1. 12 Spotted Skimmer

When I first started trying to get photos of dragonflies it seemed like they just never sat still, but after a while I found that they do, and sometimes for quite a long time. This male twelve spotted skimmer stayed still for a while so I was able to get close enough for a useable shot. He gets his name from the 12 brown spots on his wings, but some people (and many books) count the white spots and call him the 10 spotted skimmer. Only mature males have these white spots. Females and immature males have the twelve brown wing spots but not the white spots.

2. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly

I think this is another skimmer; the widow skimmer. Bothe males and females have the dark wing spots but only mature males have the white ones. Adult males also have the powdery blueish white color on their abdomen. The name skimmer comes from the way that they fly low over the water, but some are also called perchers. I’m always happy to see the perchers, the skimmers are a little too fast when they’re skimming.

3. Possible Eastern Amberwing

I saw a dragonfly land one day but because of the distance, the bright sunlight, and my colorblindness it instantly disappeared among the cattail leaves. I thought I knew where it was though so I just shot blindly a few times, hoping the lens had caught sight of it. The above photo is the result, proving that yes, dumb luck plays a part in being a nature photographer. I’ve had a hard time identifying this one but I think it might be an eastern amber wing.

NOTE: Several blogging friends have said that this is a male calico pennant and after a little research I agree with them. Thank you all very much for the help, I appreciate it.

4. Cattail Blossom

While I was watching the dragonflies I was also looking for flowering cattails. Out of many hundreds this was the only one that had flowered up to that point but it won’t be long before they all have flowers. Native Americans used the roots of cattails to make flour and also wove the leaves into matting. Cattails produce more edible starch per acre than potatoes, rice, taros or yams, and during World War II plans were being made to feed American soldiers with that starch in the form of cattail flour. Studies showed that an acre of cattails would produce an average of 6,475 pounds of flour per year, but thankfully the war ended before the flour making could begin.

5. Viceroy Butterfly

It was a hot but very windy day when I found this viceroy butterfly clinging to a leaf for dear life. I must have stood there for 20 minutes waiting for it to open its wings and it did every time I looked away or fiddled with the camera’s controls, so I ended up with one blurry shot of it with its flaps down. This shot shows how the strong wind was curling the tops of  its wings toward the camera. I was surprised that it could hang on at all. Those legs are small, but very strong.

6. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

There wasn’t any wind when I saw this eastern tiger swallowtail drinking from a vetch blossom but it was tilted in an unusual way so I never did get a really good shot of it. Now that I look at the photo I see that I could have gotten down lower and shot up at it, but then I probably would have been shooting into the sun. It’s amazing how birds, animals and insects use sunlight to their advantage and will often position themselves so the sun is behind them, meaning it is shining directly in your eyes if you try to see them. Fighter jet pilots use the same strategy to blind the enemy.

7. Luna Moth

Since I work outside all day every day I always carry a small pocket camera, because as anyone who spends time outside knows, you just never know what you might see. One day I saw this Luna moth in the grass. At first I thought it was dead but it was just crawling through the grass rather than flying and I don’t know enough about them to know if this is normal behavior or not. Luna moths are one of the largest moths in North America, sometimes having a wingspan of as much as 4 1/2 inches. They are beautiful, with a white body, pinkish legs, and pale lime green wings. In northern regions the moth lives for only 7 days and produces only one generation, while in the south they can live for as long as 11 weeks and produce three generations.

8. Beetle

We have a small yellow buggy that we use to get around the 760 acres where I work and one day this beetle landed on it. I haven’t been able to identify it but I think it’s one of the longhorn beetles. They are also called wood worms because of the way that many of them bore into wood. Some, like the invasive Asian longhorn beetle, can do serious damage to forests.

9. Queen Anne's Lace

Along the Ashuelot River Queen Anne’s lace buds were just beginning to unfurl themselves in the sunshine.

10. Sedge

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed a few feet upriver. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

11. Ashuelot in June

The stones showing in the river tell the story of how dry it has been. You don’t usually see this many until August but the water level is low enough in this spot right now to walk across without getting your knees wet, and we’re still in June. I suppose I shouldn’t complain; we’ve seen some damaging floods in recent years.

12. Flowering Grass

What I think might be bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) sparkles and shimmers in the breeze along the edges of the forests.

13. Flowering Grass

The closer you get, the more interesting it becomes. It’s a beautiful tall grass with very large seed heads.

14. Flowering Grass

It’s only when you take a real close look that you discover why it sparkles and shimmers so. Yellow pollen bearing male (staminate) flowers hang down, waiting for the wind will carry their pollen to waiting feathery white female (pistillate) flowers. Usually the pollen bearing male flowers will bloom and release pollen before the female flowers appear. In that way the pollen of one plant reaches and fertilizes nearby plants and the grass avoids fertilizing itself.

15. Orchard Grass

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) is another tall, beautiful grass that seems to be having an extended blooming period this year. I wish more people would take a look at grass flowers because they can be very beautiful. And they’re easy to see because they’re virtually everywhere, even in vacant city lots.

16. Hay Bales

Orchard grass is especially good for baling and it and most of the other pasture grasses grown on local farms will end up in hay bales. The lack of rain is working in the farmer’s favor and the first cutting of hay has dried well, but if the dryness lasts much longer it will start to work against them.

17. White Pine Pollen Cones

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

18. White Pine Pollen Cones

When the white pine’s pollen cones have shed all of their pollen they fall from the trees in the many millions and cover the ground for a short time. Here they’re suspended in a spider’s web.

19. Cornfield

Here in this part of the country our corn is supposed to be knee high by the fourth of July but it looks like the dryness might keep it shin high instead. When I was a boy cornfields stretched to the south as far as I could see, growing on rich bottomland along the Ashuelot River, built up by annual spring flooding over thousands of years. This land has been farmed for at least as long as I’ve been alive.

20. Bracket Fungus

You might find a conspicuous lack of fungi and slime molds here this year but again, that’s because it has been so dry.  I did see a bracket fungus that was a little sad but it still had a blush of pinkish orange on it. Since orange is such a hard color to find in nature I thought I’d show it here.

I think we are bound to, and by, nature. We may want to deny this connection and try to believe we control the external world, but every time there’s a snowstorm or drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us.  ~Alice Hoffman

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1. Chalk Fronted Corporal Dragonfly

I don’t know much about dragonflies but I think this one might be a male chalk-fronted corporal (Ladona julia) dragonfly. From what I’ve read he is a skimmer and gets his name from the two chalky “Corporal’s bars” behind his head, which actually are a Captain’s insignia, not a Corporals. Anyhow, he was sunning himself on a dead cattail leaf near a pond when I met him. I noticed that he had a very hairy back, which I’ve never seen on a dragonfly before. He wouldn’t let me get very close so I had to use the bigger Canon SX-40 with its zoom lens.

2. Pale Beauty Moth aka Campaea perlata

I was looking for cones on a northern white cedar one evening and found this beautiful white moth on one of the branches. It was getting late and the light was poor but I was able to get enough detail to make an identification. I’m fairly certain that it’s a pale beauty moth (campaea perlata) but if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know.  Whatever its name it was a beautiful thing.

3. Northern White Cedar

I remembered that I wasn’t checking the white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for moths; I came for the cones, each of which has dark, indigo blue tips when they’re young.

4. Northern White Cedar Cones

Here is a closer look at the pencil eraser size cedar cones with their blue tips. Whenever I see something like this I’m always curious why the plant would expend so much extra energy turning part of itself blue. Doing so must benefit the tree in some way. Or maybe it doesn’t take a lot of extra energy.

This tree has an interesting history; Native Americans showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of it and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He also had trees with him when he returned to Europe, so Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. English Plantain

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is blooming. The shape of the flower head is called ovoid. Each tiny (4mm) flower has a yellowish, pointed bract that is a little hard to see and will produce 2 seeds if pollinated. It is also called ribwort and narrow leaf plantain because of its basal growth of narrow, ribbed leaves. It is found in England and Europe and was brought over by early settlers because of its many medicinal uses.  Native Americans called it “White man’s foot” because it grew along foot paths used by the settlers. It is considered an invasive weed these days but I like its unusual flower heads so I don’t mind seeing it blooming in my lawn. This one had a little blue on it, which I’ve never seen before.

6. Flowering Grass

Grasses are flowering too, and it’s a splendid show that many people miss. I think this one is orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata,) which is a cool season, high quality pasture grass with good drought tolerance. It comes from western and central Europe and has been grown in the US for over 200 years.

7. Flowering Grass Closeup

Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

8. Porcupine Sedge

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is also flowering. The tiny wispy white bits at the ends of the pointy “prickles” are its flowers. It’s easy to see how this sedge got its common name. Another is bottlebrush sedge, which also fits. This plant loves to grow near water and that’s where I always find it. Waterfowl, game birds and songbirds feed on sedge seeds and the sedge wren builds its nest and hunts for insects in wetlands that are dominated by sedges.

9. Turtle Laying

I was kneeling to take a photo of a toadflax blossom and looked over my shoulder to see this turtle laying eggs in a mown grassy area. I’m not great with reptile identification but I think she’s an eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta.) She was quite far from water and it didn’t seem to me like she had made a very good choice in nest sites what with lawn mowers running over it weekly, but the soil was sandy and easy to dig in and I’m sure she knows more about egg placement than I do.

10. Turtle

She didn’t care for posing and was tucked up into her shell as far as it would allow, so I took a couple of quick shots and let her be. Nest preparation can be exhausting work for a turtle.

11. Turtle Shell Growth

She had a strange wart like growth on the rear of her shell. Many of the turtles I see seem to have something wrong with their shells.

12. Unknown Insect

What the good folks at bug guide.net think might be a Muscoidea fly in the genus Anthomyia stopped in to see what I was doing one day. He was very hairy and I told him so. I don’t think he cared much for my opinion though, because he flew away. These flies can cause significant damage to crops because of the way their larva invade the stems and roots of some plants like onions. They are not at all garden friendly.

13. Unknown Insect 2

The folks at Bug guide.net tell me that this is a soldier beetle called Rhaxonycha Carolina or Atalantycha neglecta. They can’t tell which because of the poor quality of the photo, I presume. Both beetles have what looks like a fur collar. He was on my windshield and the “sun” he is crawling toward is the reflection of the camera’s flash. Soldier beetle larvae feed on the eggs and larvae of beetles, grasshoppers, moths and other insects, and adult soldier beetles feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insects, so they’re a good insect to have in the garden. They are attracted to plants like marigold and goldenrod.

14. Spittlebug Foam

Seeing this foamy “snake spit” on plants immediately takes me back to my childhood, because that’s what we called it when I was a boy. Of course it’s really the protective foam used by spittle bug nymphs and has nothing to do with snakes. The nymphs use it to make themselves invisible to predators and to keep themselves from drying out. They make the foamy mass by dining on plant sap and secreting a watery liquid which they whip up with air to create the froth. This example was on a yarrow stem.

15. Unknown Blue Damselfly

Since I started with a dragonfly I’ll end with what I thought was a common blue damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) until I found out that they live in Europe. Now I’m not sure what it is, other than a blue damselfly. I wish the background was less busy so you could see its wings better, but beggars can’t be choosers and I was lucky to have it pose at all. If you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

One should pay attention to even the smallest crawling creature for these too may have a valuable lesson to teach us.  Black Elk

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1. Yellow Slime Mold

We’ve had some rainy weather here along with enough heat and humidity to get slime molds growing. I think this one might be Physarum polycephalum. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. From Mushroom Expert. Com : “Slime mold plasmodium is a mass of glistening vein-like material that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil at the rate of as much as an inch per hour, growing and eating.” I think that they are very beautiful things and I always look forward to seeing them after a good summer rain storm.

2. Coral Fungus with Slime Mold

The slime mold had a friend growing nearby on the same log. I think it might be crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) Crown coral branches at right angles like a candelabra and each branch ends in a tiny little crown, just like what is seen here. Black eyed Susans haven’t even blossomed yet so it seems very early to be seeing both slime molds and coral fungi, but there they are. Whether I understand it or not, nature has its way.

3. Brittle Cinder fungus aka Kretzschmaria deusta

Brittle Cinder fungi (Kretzschmaria deusta) in this stage are stunning, in my opinion. I like the powder gray against the bright white. However, since it causes soft rot and will kill a tree, it isn’t something I like to see growing on living, healthy trees. Later on the fruiting bodies will turn into a brittle black crust.

 4. Bug on a Maple Leaf

This crane fly sat still long enough for me to admire its stained glass like wings and get a couple of photos. Many young birds have been raised on these harmless insects that are often mistaken for mosquitos.

5. Gall on Maple Leaf caused by maple bladdergall mite  V. quadripedes 2

I’m colorblind and have a lot of trouble with red and green, but even I could see these bright red galls on this maple leaf. They were the size of the BBs that are used in BB guns and each one sat on a tiny stalk. They were caused by a member of the maple bladder gall mite family called Vasates quadripedes. Galls are unsightly on ornamental trees but they don’t hurt the tree at all.

 6. Beech Seedling with Seed Leaves

Unless you own a nursery or spend a good deal of time in the woods, there’s a good chance that you’ve never seen the seed leaves of an American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia.) Seed leaves are called cotyledons and appear before a plant’s true leaves. If the plant has 2 seed leaves it is called a dicot (dicotyledon), and if only one it is called a monocot (monocotyledon.) The cotyledons are part of the embryo within the seed and contain stored food that the young plant needs to grow. As the food stores are used up the cotyledons might either turn green and photosynthesize, or wither and fall off. That’s the quick botany lesson of the day.  It’s hard to make it any more exciting.

7. Beech Seed Leaves

Seed leaves, as anyone who has ever started vegetables from seed knows, often look nothing like the true leaves.  In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves and feel tough and leathery. If you know of a beech tree that produces nuts, take a look underneath it in the spring for seedlings that still have their seed leaves. They are a rare sight.

8. Honey Locut Thorn

I once read a story by a Massachusetts man who said he took great delight in running through the forest. Not on a trail-just through the forest-and I shiver a bit when I think of all of the reasons that one shouldn’t do such a thing. One of those reasons is the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos.) Its thorns grow from the bark of the branches and trunk and can reach up to 8 inches long. They are also very hard and sharp enough to pierce flesh. Thorns on fallen branches could also puncture some shoe soles, so it’s best to be aware of your surroundings when near this tree. Admire it but don’t meet it accidentally.

 9. Shining Bur Sedge aka Carex intumescens

Many sedges, rushes and grasses are flowering now. This is shining bur sedge (Carex intumescens,) which is also called bladder sedge. The tiny white bits are its flowers. Most sedges like moist soil and I usually find them near ponds and streams. When trying to identify something that looks like grass I always feel the stem first. There is an old saying that says “sedges have edges” because of their triangular stems. Grasses have round stems.

10. Porcupine Sedge

Sedges can also have funny names. This one is (I think) called porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina.)

11. Panicled Bulrush aka Scirpus microcarpus

Every summer for the past three years I’ve tried to get a decent photo of panicled bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus) where it didn’t fade into the background. Finally, by using the flash on a bright day, its panicles of flowers and leaf like bracts stand out from the background cattails and silky dogwoods. This plant has a triangular stem, so it is in the sedge family. It is also called small fruited bulrush. Though they aren’t related and don’t even look very much alike these plants always remind me of papyrus, which reminds me of the pyramids of Egypt and what you could see floating down the Nile. Sometimes the mind wanders as you walk along.

 12. Flowering Orchard Grass

According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.” I just like to look at its flowers but it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who thinks grasses are exciting.

 13. Wool Sower Gall Wap Gall on White Oak

I’ve never seen anything quite like this gall on an oak limb. It was createdd by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and was the size of a ping pong ball but felt like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls.

14. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectablis v. regalis) is one of the easiest plants in the forest to identify because nothing else looks quite like it. It has a light and airy appearance and is almost always found growing near water. The Osmunda part of the scientific name is believed to come from Osmunder, which is one of the Saxon names for the Norse god Thor. Royal fern is one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful ferns.

15. Ganoderma tsugae on Hemlock

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus called hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

These are the kinds of questions that come to me as I wander through the woods, even though I don’t really expect to ever find the answers to them. Maybe there are no answers-maybe the colors are there just so we can admire them for a time and feel grateful to be alive in the midst of all of the natural beauty that surrounds us.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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