Posts Tagged ‘Puffball’

Last weekend I decided to visit Yale forest in Swanzey, and I chose the part of the forest with the old paved road running through it. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

There were a lot of leaves down so you couldn’t see the pavement that still exists here. Yale founded a school of forestry and environmental studies in 1900 and owns parcels of land all over New England. Alumni donated the land in some cases and in others the University bought or traded other land for it, and in time good sized pieces of forest were put together. This particular parcel is 1,930 acres in size. Since logging vehicles occasionally come through here the pavement is slowly being broken up and nature is taking it back.

Beech trees were beautiful along the old road but even they are starting to change.

Even so it was a beautiful time to walk through here.

Even deer tongue grass wore its fall colors. Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) gets its common name from the way its leaves resemble a deer’s tongue. It’s one of the earliest denizens of the forest floor to start showing its fall colors. Purples, yellows, oranges, and other colors can often be found in its leaves.

I also saw a beautifully colored puffball far beyond “puffing.” It had split wide open and was full of grayish spores. When raindrops hit these spores they are splashed out, and I’m guessing there will be a fine crop of puffballs here next year.

A lot of maple leaves had fallen but a few trees held on, and they were beautiful.

I saw a few maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora.) Plain and undressed without the fussiness of other lichens, it is beautiful in its simplicity. But how does it reproduce? I’ve never seen any reproductive structures of any kind on it so I had to look it up. The answer is that it does have apothecia, but very rarely. It also has “a thin patchy layer of soredia,” though I’ve never noticed it. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify this lichen, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

Yale University did some logging in this part of the forest a few years ago so it’s thin in places but there are plenty of young tree coming along.

A large pile of logs was left behind from the logging. I’m not sure why.

One of the most noticeable things about this walk were all of the fallen trees. I must have seen at least a dozen of them, including this maple.

In two places huge old pine trees had fallen. We had strong winds just a while ago and it looked like these trees had been blown over. Trees like these are bad news when they fall across a trail because you can’t go over or under them due to all the branches.

The rootball on this fallen pine was taller than I was and it left quite a crater in the forest floor when it was torn up. There were many fallen trees right in this area and I was forced to go quite far into the forest to get around them.

I noticed a lot of pine bark beetle activity on the branches of these trees. Not only do the beetles transmit disease from tree to tree, if they chew one of their channels completely around a branch it will die from being girdled. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest. Dead branches mean no photosynthesizing which will weaken the tree and eventually it will die. For those who have never head the term; girdling of a branch or tree happens when the phloem and bark has been cut around its diameter in a complete circle. Native Americans and then early settlers used girdling to remove trees from fields and pastures and it is still used by some today.

Fungi of any type on a standing tree is a sign that something is wrong, and these branches had a lot of jelly fungi on them.

But in spite of the blowdowns the forest is recovering well from the logging. There are lots of new hardwood shoots coming along and they will make excellent browse for deer and moose.

When you’re close to where the old road meets the new Route 10 a stream cuts its way through the forest.

On this day I was once again able to step / hop across the stream but I’ve seen it when I couldn’t.

Once you’ve hopped the stream the road becomes a closed in trail. I could hear cars going by on the nearby highway.

Moments after crossing the stream you come to what was once a beaver pond on the left side of the road, but it was abandoned quite a while ago by the looks. This place is unusual because when the beavers were active there were ponds on both sides of the road, or one large pond with a road running through it. It seems kind of an odd place for them to have built in.

Beavers, from what I’ve read, will work an area in what averages thirty year cycles. The first stage is damming a stream and creating a pond. The flooding kills the trees that now stand in water and the beavers will eat these and the other trees that surround the pond. Eventually the pond fills with silt or the beavers move away and the dam fails. Once the land drains it will eventually revert back to forest with a stream running through it and the long cycle will repeat itself. Many other animals, birds, fish, amphibians, waterfowl and even we humans benefit from beaver ponds. I’ve seen mallards here in the past but there were none on this day.

Until this walk I knew of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) so I was shocked (and happy) to see them blooming here so late. On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant. They were a perfect ending to a beautiful forest walk.

He who does not expect the unexpected will not find it, since it is trackless and unexplored. ~Heraclitus of Ephesus

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This post is part two of all the things I see that don’t seem to fit in other posts but are too interesting to disregard. This post is more about shapes, colors and textures than anything else.This looks more like a pineapple than a pinecone to me, but it is called a pinecone willow gall. This gall appears at the branch tips and is caused by a midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs in them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. This gall was smaller than an egg, but still quite big. This oak gall was fairly fresh-they are a darker brown after they have aged. There are horned oak galls, gouty oak galls, artichoke oak galls, potato oak galls, and oak marble galls. The photo above is of a marble gall and it really is about the size of a marble. These marble galls are usually near perfect spheres but this one looked like it had been stretched a bit. Some galls form on the undersides of leaves, some on the tree’s roots and others, like the one shown, on the twigs and stems. All are caused by different wasps or mites which will only lay their eggs on the leaves, roots, or twigs of their favorite species of oak tree. Native blue cohosh fruit (Caulophyllum thalictroides) couldn’t be mistaken for anything else even though lack of rain dried the plant’s leaves up. You can also see a few of the unripe green fruit in this photo. I tried very hard to find this plant last spring and couldn’t, so this discovery means that I’ll see it next spring if I can get to it. The medicinal qualities of this plant have been known for hundreds if not thousands of years-it was used by Native Americans to ease childbirth. It has since been learned that, though the plant does indeed ease childbirth, it also damages the heart and all parts of it are considered toxic. This burl was on near a large pine tree that had fallen. You can clearly see all the gnarled, swirled grain patterns that burl is famous for and which make it so valuable. I thought it was a beautiful thing and because it was a small, detached piece I brought it home. If you look closely at the right hand edge of the burl you can see bits of blue lichens, which are rare. I wish I’d seen them when I was taking the picture.This burl I saw on a maple tree would most likely look every bit as nice as the previous one once it was taken from the tree, carved and turned on a lathe to create a bowl.Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers seem to turn into fruit so fast that you can almost see it happen as you stand there watching. Those in the photo will eventually become black, shiny, poisonous berries. Pokeberries have long been used as a source of ink-the United States Constitution was written in ink made from them. Native Americans used to make a red dye from the berries that they used to decorate their horses. I took this photo because of the vivid purple stems.Some parts of white cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) have no chlorophyll and this gives it a silvery- gray appearance. This moss, because of its shape and color, is one of the easiest to identify. It is very common in moist, shaded areas.I thought these prickly sow thistle seed heads (Sonchus asper) looked like they were worthy of having their picture taken. I have no doubt that the previous plant was a sow thistle (Sonchus asper,) but I can’t find an example in any book of a sow thistle with plum colored buds like these, which were on the same plant. This plant has been used as a potherb since ancient times. It is native to Europe and Asia. The black seed pods of blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) were once used as rattles by children. Not surprisingly, other common names include rattle weed and rattle bush. Native Americans made a blue dye that was a substitute for true indigo from this native plant.Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) was hit hard by our lack of rain but it can still make you itch, even at this stage.This puffball was about the size of a tennis ball. I can’t come up with an identical match for it, either in books or online, so I’m not really sure what it is.I’ve seen a lot of wild grapes this year. Since there are dozens of species it’s always hard to tell which one it is that you have, but I think these are fox grapes. The fox grape is as big as a nickel, deep purple in color, and said to be the most delicious wild grape in North America. Concord, Isabella, Catawba, Niagara, Chautauqua, and Worden grapes all come from the fox grape. Heavy with not quite ripe, speckled fruit is false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa.) I see large bunches of these berries everywhere I go, so it’s going to be a good year for birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters. When these berries are fully ripe they will be bright red, but I like them speckled too. Soil pH can affect fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant. Its roots contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used.Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) seed heads are more interesting than the flowers, I think. This is our most common native clematis and can be seen on roadsides draped over shrubs or climbing high up in the trees. Many bird species eat the seeds and goldfinches line their nests with the soft, feathery seed coverings that are just beginning to show in this photo. Clematis can cause internal bleeding, so it should never be eaten.The fuzziness of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina,) on the right, is apparent even in its fruit while smooth sumac (Rhus glabra,) on the left, has smooth fruit. It isn’t just the fruit but the limbs and leaves which are smooth or hairy. Smooth sumac seems to have brighter red fruit. Its leaves are also darker green and shiny. Around here staghorn sumac gets much taller and forms larger colonies than smooth sumac. Smooth sumac trunks are usually much more crooked as well. The leaves of both plants turn brilliant red in the fall.This beech tree looked like it had gone through some tough times but didn’t have any dead branches or appear to be ailing. It looked like someone had wrinkled it up and then hadn’t quite straightened it out again. I couldn’t help wondering what its grain pattern would look like, but I’d bet that a sawyer would love to find out. This tree is on state land however, and will hopefully be protected for its lifetime.

Free your heart from your mind. Embrace wonder for one moment without the need to consider how that wonder came to be, without the need to justify if it be real or not. ~Charles de Lint

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I think it’s time for another post full of all of those things I see that don’t seem to fit in with the flowers. I never saw a pine tree with blue (purple?) cones until I saw this one at a local park.  I’ve searched books and online extensively and the only other tree that I can find that even remotely resembles this one is called a Bosnian Pine (Pinus heldreichii var. Leucodermis or Mint Truffle.) Several cultivars of that plant have cones very similar to these.Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are just starting to come up in our area. Indian pipe has no chlorophyll so it can’t make its own food. Instead it feeds off the roots of a fungus. Russula and Lactarius mushrooms are two that are known hosts. This plant doesn’t benefit its host plant, so it is considered a parasite. Because it lacks chlorophyll it doesn’t need light to grow-these plants were found quite deep in a pine forest where only dappled sunlight could be seen. Native Americans used the sap for medicinal purposes, which most likely explains the common name of Indian pipe. Each stalk holds one nodding flower. Indian pipes are related to blueberries and rhododendrons. Puffballs have started appearing as well. This one was as big as a quarter and is the first I’ve seen this year.  It was growing in some dry pine woods. New milkweed pods are just beginning to form. Very small, new pods are edible and some say they taste like okra. Others say that the plant is mildly toxic and shouldn’t be eaten, so it’s all in who you choose to believe when it comes to eating wild plants. If milkweed is grown in the garden to attract butterflies these pods should be picked off before they go to seed. This will stop the plant from spreading to other parts of the garden. This pearly crescent spot butterfly (Phyciodes tharos ) stopped by and sat on a milkweed leaf long enough for me to get a few pictures.  The crescent shaped spot on the underside of its wing gives this butterfly its name. Though it is said to be very common this wasn’t the easiest insect to identify, so if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know. Goldenrod stem galls are very easily identified. They are caused by the Goldenrod Gall Fly (Eurosta solidaginis,) which is a parasite. The female injects eggs into the goldenrod stem. Once they hatch the larvae begin to eat inside the stem of the plant. Their saliva contains a chemical which causes the plant to deform and create a gall around the larvae. The larvae live in the gall for a full year, leaving the gall the following spring.  Downy Woodpeckers and Carolina Chickadees sometimes break into the galls to eat the larvae. If the stem gall is elliptical rather than round it is caused by a gall moth (Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis.Another gall regularly seen on goldenrod is called bunch gall. Bunch galls are caused by a gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) which lays its egg in a leaf bud. When the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leave and the new leaves bunch all together at the top of the plant, forming the type of gall seen in the picture. This midge does plant hunters a favor because it likes only Canada goldenrod (Solidago Canadensis.) It was so dark in the woods because of the leaf canopy that I had to use the flash to get a picture of this large shelf fungus growing on an American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) tree. If this were round it would be as big as a basketball. I’m not sure of the species, but it was pure white underneath. This white ash tree (Fraxinus Americana) had an alarming number of seed pods on it this year. Often when a tree produces more seeds than normal it is because it is under stress and is compensating for its coming death by making sure there will be plenty of seedlings to carry on the species. Unfortunately white ash trees are very susceptible to damage from insects and disease. The wood of the white ash is the first choice for baseball bats and tool handles because it is so tough. American Burr reed (Sparganium americanum) is an odd looking plant that can be found growing in or near slow moving water. This plant has both male and female flowers. The male flowers are the smaller round clusters at the top of the zig zag stem and the female are the larger clusters lower down. Burr reed is a wind pollinated plant and once the male flowers have released their pollen they wither away while the female flowers develop into fruit. This plant was growing near a stream at the water’s edge. Burr reed has leaves that resemble those on cattails and it often grows with them, making it hard to find unless it is flowering or fruiting. Burr reed fruit. Burr reed seeds are an important food for waterfowl. Muskrats will eat the whole plant. The flower that this spider is crawling on was smaller than a pencil eraser and the spider was tiny. I think it’s a crab spider, but I’m not 100% sure. The native red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) berries are ripe. Birds don’t seem to be thrilled by these white berries and leave them alone until mid to late winter when other foods are scarce. Some Native Americans used to eat the berries to treat sore throats and colds, and others smoked the inner bark of the shrub like tobacco.This year’s crop of broadleaf cattails (Typha latifolia) is flowering.  We also have narrow leaf cattails (Typha angustifolia.) On narrow leaved cattails the male and female flowers have a gap between them and on broadleaf cattails they touch, as the picture shows. The tiny male flowers always appear at the top of the stalk and the female flowers make up the brown “club.” Once the female flowers have been pollinated the male flowers will disappear. Both species intermingle and hybridize so it can be difficult to tell them apart at times. Cattail roots can be dried, ground and used as flour but they act as filters and filter contaminates out of the soil, so I’d want to know the conditions of both the water and soil before eating them. Many of the pictures in today’s post were taken near this stream. As far as I know it has no name, but a large number of unusual plants grow in and around it and many animals visit it regularly.

As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream, the great door that does not look like a door opens.~ Stephen Graham

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Update note: I realized that there was a picture missing so I just inserted it. It is the large bracket fungus. The text was there but the picture had disappeared!

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