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Posts Tagged ‘Pussy Willow’

Last Friday the temperature started to fall and it didn’t stop until it bottomed out at a meager 4 degrees Saturday morning. Along with 30 mph wind gusts, that meant a wind chill factor of about 19 below zero. In that kind of cold flesh can freeze in 30 minutes, so I decided to wait until it warmed up a bit. By noon the temperature had risen to 15 degrees above zero with a wind chill of zero, so off I went to one of my favorite stands of American hazelnut shrubs (Corylus americana.) They grow beside the rail trail in the above photo. Snow squalls Friday night coated the ground with an inch or two of fresh powder and added to the arctic feel.

I wanted to see the hazels up close to see if the male catkins shown here had opened. They had barely started to open and didn’t look like they would have been releasing much pollen.

But much to my surprise on such a cold day female flowers were just starting to show. Each tiny crimson thread is a flower stigma protruding from the female buds. The golden catkins that we saw in the previous photo are the male flowers, and the wind blows their pollen to the female blossoms. This photo also shows how hairy this shrub’s stems are. They feel slightly prickly when you run your finger over them, and that’s an easy way to identify them.

Female hazelnut flowers are simple sticky crimson stigmas and are among the smallest flowers that I know of. I have to look up and down each stem very carefully to find them. Even then I often see only color and no real shape so I let the camera sort that out. I had been out in the weather for about a half hour and that was about all I could stand. I hope the hazel flowers weren’t hurt by it; last year I saw many that had been frost bitten.

On a warmer day I had spent some time looking at the alder catkins. The large ones in the foreground are the beautiful male catkins and the tiny ones in the upper left are the female flowers, which at this time were only showing a hint of their crimson stigmas, which are similar to female hazel blossoms in color and shape. The male catkins had already started releasing pollen so the female stigmas should have come out fully at any time, but then we’ve had this terrible cold so now I’m not sure.

Brown and purple scales on the male alder catkin are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen. The opening of alder catkins is one of the earliest signs of spring and when thousands of them open it looks like the bushes have been hung with sparkling jewels.

I was glad to see that the chubby little buds on the red elderberry hadn’t opened yet. Last year they opened early and were frostbitten. The week of 60+ degree temperatures at the end of February fooled a lot of plants. I just heard on the news that apple tree buds started opening and now orchard owners are lighting fires in barrels along the rows of trees, trying to keep them from freezing.

The bud scales on some of the red maple buds (Acer rubrum) have pulled back to reveal cups full of male anthers tightly packed together. When the fuzzy bud scales are closed they protect the flowers through winter and keep them from getting damaged by the cold.

Some red maple blossoms couldn’t wait and started showing themselves, and I’d guess that they’re probably blackened and shriveled by now. I saw many get frost bitten last year but it didn’t seem to hurt the trees any. What it will do is cut down on the number of seeds, so squirrels and other animals that eat them won’t be pleased. When maple trees blossom their sap gets bitter so seeing these flowers tells me that we’re near the end of the syrup season.

Daffodil leaves poked up out of the snow. At least it was just their leaves. Last year we had a cold snap after they had blossomed and I saw many blooms lying on the ground.

Tulip leaves were also covered by snow. I don’t know if tulips are coming up earlier each year or if I’m just not paying attention, but it seems very early for tulips.

The season of Lent began on March first, but I fear the Lenten roses (Hellebores) will give up blossoming for lent this year. The season doesn’t end until April 13th though, so I could be wrong. The flowers are beautiful and I’d like to see them, but not if there’s a chance of them being damaged by cold.

Pussy willows seem to have shrugged off the cold; they hadn’t changed since the last time I saw them.

There was no yellow showing and plenty of fur, so I’m guessing the pussy willows will be fine.

Because skunk cabbage can melt its way through ice and snow by raising their temperature by as much as 50 degrees through a process called thermogenesis I didn’t think the cold would bother them at all, but I found quite a few that had been damaged. Though the above examples look healthy many flower spathes had darkened and had become soft and rubbery. I found several like that last year and wasn’t sure why they seemed sick. Now I know.

The greatest shock for me on this day was seeing the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) all in bloom. I’ve never seen them bloom in this kind of cold and only time will tell if they were hurt by it. I saw this scene on Saturday afternoon and that night it dropped to 2 degrees F., so I won’t be surprised if these flowers show more brown than yellow next time I see them.

There is an old Chinese Proverb that says “Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men” and the plants, shrubs, and trees are telling me that as far as they’re concerned it is indeed spring, but the weather certainly doesn’t seem to agree. I hope that the cold doesn’t harm too many early blossoms but there aren’t many plants that I know of that can survive such a long stretch of below freezing temperatures and now snow as well. We’ll just have to wait and see.

There I was, hoping for a warm spring rain.
But instead frost flowers bloomed on my window pane.
It wasn’t right; this cold, cold March.
Instead of frost on the windows there should be blooms on the larch.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Half Moon Pond 3-9

Ice out is when the ice on a pond or lake melts or breaks up enough in spring to make the water navigable by boat again. I took this photo of Half-Moon Pond in Hancock on our first 70 degree day of the season, which was March 9th. In spite of the extremely warm temperatures there was still a lot of ice on the pond.

2. Half Moon Pond 3-10

March 10th brought rain but it was a warm rain on a 60 degree day, and it made mist form wherever there was ice.

3. Half Moon Pond 3-11

On March 11th the pond was completely ice free and I was surprised that it could happen that fast. Ice out dates on Lake Winnipesaukee, which is New Hampshire’s largest lake, have been recorded since 1887. The earliest ice out date for the big lake was March 23 in 2012 until yesterday at 11:30 am. Now the earliest ice out for Lake Winnipesaukee is March 17, nearly a full week earlier than the previous record. The latest ice out was May 12 in 1888.  On average ice out has been happening earlier in the season each year throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

4. Icy Stream

Though most of the ice fell to our warmer than average temperatures there is still ice to be seen if you care to search for it. Most don’t care to.

5. Snowdrops

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are the third flower I’ve seen this season, coming right on the heels of skunk cabbage and vernal witch hazels. Their common name is a good one; there was a plowed snowbank just feet from where these grew. The first part of this plant’s scientific name comes from the Greek gala, meaning “milk,” and anthos, meaning “flower.”  The second part nivalis means “of the snow,” and it all makes perfect sense. Snowdrops contain a substance called galantamine which has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not a cure but any help is always welcome.

6. Crocus

I was surprised to see quite a few crocuses blossoming. It’s easy to forget that it’s still winter when you see such sights. At least it’s still winter astronomically for one more day. Meteorological winter ended on March first. I didn’t realize it when I was taking this photo but every crocus was tilted towards the sun.

7. Bee in Crocus

One crocus blossom had an upside down bee in it. That was another surprise.

8. Male Red Maple Flowers

The buds of red maples (Acer rubrum) have just opened so sugar maples won’t be far behind, and that means an end to this year’s maple sugaring season. Once the night temperatures stay above freezing and the trees begin to flower the sap becomes bitter, so sap collection ends. This photo is of the tree’s male (staminate) flowers just poking out of the buds.

9. Female Red Maple Flowers

These are the female (pistillate) flowers of the red maple, just emerging. They are tiny little things; each bud is hardly bigger than a pea and each crimson stigma not much bigger than an uncooked piece of spaghetti. Once the female flowers have been dusted by wind carried pollen from the male flowers they will begin the process of becoming the beautiful red seeds (samaras) that this tree is so well known for. If you’re lucky you can often find male and female flowers on the same tree.

10. Red Maple Flowers

Each year the hills that surround town come alive with the red haze caused by millions of red maple flowers opening at once. Each year I try to catch it in a photo but never have much luck.

11. Squirrel

Squirrels eat the seeds, buds and sap of red maples. They bite the trunk to let the sap run and then when it dries they come back and lick up the sugar. Red maples are one of the trees that squirrels nest in as well. I once read that squirrels can get enough moisture from trees to never have to come down out of them for a drink. I’m not sure what the squirrel in the photo was looking for but it probably wasn’t water.

12. Pussy Willow

I thought I’d see some beautiful yellow willow flowers but they’re holding back and are still in the silvery gray catkin stage. I’d guess by today they’ll be blooming profusely so I’m going to have to go and see.

13. Poplar Catkins-3

Though these might look like pussy willow catkins they’re really quaking aspen catkins (Populus tremuloides.) Quaking aspen is the only poplar with catkins like these that doesn’t also have sticky bud scales. Balsam poplar catkins (Populus balsamifera) look much the same but their brown bud scales are very sticky to the touch.

14. Alder Catkins

Among all the beautiful things to see in the early spring woods one of the most beautiful are alder catkins (Alnus.) They hang from the shrubs all winter long but it is only when they are ready to release pollen that they become purple and golden striped jewels. They will stay this way for just a short time before becoming more gold than purple, and that’s when the shrub’s very tiny crimson female flowers will appear. Look for alders near streams and ponds.

15. Sunrise

The warmth and sunshine were great while they lasted but we’ve had rain almost every day for the last five and they say that tomorrow night and through Monday we might see a nor’easter which might leave more snow than any storm this winter. It would be just like New England weather to drop over a half foot of snow on the first full day of spring. Oh well, if it comes it’ll melt quickly and the flowers will still bloom; there’s no stopping spring now.

She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
~ A.A. Milne

Thanks for stopping in. Tomorrow the first day of spring is also the first day of the 6th year of this blog. I’d like to thank you for all your thoughtful comments and helpful input over the years.

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1. Stream IceWinter made a strong comeback last week with daytime temperatures barely reaching the 20s and nights near zero, so everything froze up again. The weather can often change dramatically and quickly in New England and this winter has certainly done its best to prove it; today we might see 70 degrees.

2. Stuck Log

A tree got stuck on the Ashuelot River dam and the spray grew into long icicles.

3. Canada Geese

The Canada geese drew me over to the river with their loud honking. Several of them seemed to be looking for something and honked back and forth as they swam and walked the shore. Could they be looking for nesting sites, I wonder? I’ve also seen many flocks flying overhead lately.

4. Canada Geese Flying

I must have spooked them because all of the sudden several of them flew up river, letting me get the first fuzzy shot of a bird in flight to ever appear on this blog.

5. Ice in Bushes

Ice high on the branches of the bushes told the story of the drop in water level. I’d guess it must have been at least 5 feet from the surface of the water.

6. Witch Hazel

The yellow vernal witch hazel that grows in the park by the river was blooming heavily. What a change from the last time I was here when there wasn’t a flower to be seen on it.

7. Witch Hazel

If there is a color combination more pleasing than yellow and blue, I can’t think of what it would be. When I see this shade of yellow I think of daffodil, dandelion, and Forsythia blossoms.

8. Cornelian Cherry

Since Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) doesn’t bloom until mid-April I was surprised to see that its bud scales had opened to reveal a glimpse of its yellow buds. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do. The small yellow flowers will produce fruit that resembles a red olive and which will mature in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C and has been used for at least 7000 years for both food and medicine. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included Cornelian cherry, and the Persians and early Romans also knew it well.

9. Box Buds

Box shrubs (Buxus) were showing white flower buds in their leaf axils. They will open into small greenish yellow flowers soon. The flowers are very fragrant and attract a lot of bees. These small leaved, easy to trim shrubs are usually used ornamentally, often in hedges. Only the European and some Asian species are frost hardy and evergreen, so any examples seen here in New Hampshire are from those parts of the world. Box is another plant that has been used by man since ancient times; it was used for hedges in Egypt as early as 4000 BC.  Some species of box can live as long as 600 years.

10. Swamp

I made my way to a beaver pond to see if the beavers were awake yet, but the only sign of activity was a woodpecker drumming on a distant tree.

11. Beaver Lodge

Skunks have come out of hibernation and chipmunks are once again scampering along the stone walls so I’m sure the beavers must be awake, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their lodge. They might have abandoned this area.

12. Heron Nest

We had some ferocious winds one day that blew to near 50 miles per hour but the great blue heron nest stayed in the dead tree in the beaver swamp. It looks like it might need some tidying up, but it held.

13. Hole Under Tree

I found what was left of a wild turkey here last year and I wondered if a bobcat had gotten it. I didn’t see this hole under a tree then, but it looked to be the perfect place for a bobcat den. That could explain the lack of chipmunks in this place. Bobcats are doing well in New Hampshire and there is now a debate raging here about whether or not there should be a bobcat hunting season. They do a lot of good in the way of rodent population control and I say let them be. Though they can rarely reach 60 pounds in weight most aren’t a lot bigger than a house cat and are rarely seen. After having a few run ins with feral house cats over the years I know that I wouldn’t want to tangle with a bobcat, no matter what it weighed.

14. Stilted Golden Birch

Sometimes if a stump or log has decayed enough tree seeds can grow on them. In this photo a golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) grew on a log that has since mostly rotted away, leaving the birch to look as if it’s standing on stilts. From what I’ve seen any type of tree will do this.

15. Hellebore Buds

The pale shoots of hellebore (Helleborus) were nestled under last season’s leaves. Once they grow up into the sun they’ll become deep green but for now they are blanched white. A common name for hellebore is Lenten rose because it blooms very early; often during lent. This year lent ends on March 24th, so this plant has some fast growing to do if it’s going to live up to the name.

16. Skunk Cabbage

The curvy, splotchy spathes of the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowers have come up fully now but the foliage shoots are just sitting and waiting for the right time. Once they’ve started they will grow quickly and the leaves will hide what we see here.

17. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

The swamp where the skunk cabbages grow looked like it was frozen solid but with all the thin ice warnings this winter I didn’t want to try my luck. There’s nothing quite like a boot full of ice water.

18. Pussy Willow

The pussy willows have gotten bigger since the last time I saw them. I love their beautiful bright yellow flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon. They’re among the earliest to bloom.

19. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) protect their buds with as many as four pairs of rounded, hairy edged bud scales. The scales are often plum purple and the bud inside tomato red. If you see more red than purple on the buds that’s a sign that they’ve began to swell. Red maple is one of the first of our native trees to blossom in spring and also one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. Each small bud holds as many as 6-8 red blossoms. Red maple trees can be strictly male or female, or can have both male and female blossoms on a single tree. They bloom before the leaves appear and large groves of them can color the landscape with a brilliant red haze.

20. Maple Sap

The drop of maple sap on the end of the spile shows that the trees are coming out of dormancy and growing again. A spile is the metal or wooden peg which is hammered into the hole made in the tree and it directs the sap into the sap bucket that hangs from it. Flowing sap means that the tree is taking up water through its roots and that means that the ground has thawed, so it won’t be long now.

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men. ~Chinese Proverb

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Staghorn Sumac  Fruit

Fuzzy staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries look much different after it rains.

2. Staghorn Sumac Fruit

This is what staghorn sumac berries look like when they’re dry.

3. Rolling Stone

I didn’t think I’d ever see a rolling stone, but this one rolled down a small hill right in front of me. Gravity, sunlight, and ground frost at work.

 4. Pileated Woodpecker Chips

I learned a long time ago that when you see wood chips all over the ground at the base of a tree it can only mean one thing-a pileated woodpecker has been at work.

 5. Pileated Woodpecker Hole

Sure enough he / she had drilled these white pines (Pinus strobus) full of holes. Pileated woodpeckers usually drill into trees that are already sick and are often hollow. Their holes are always rectangular with the long axis vertical, and with rounded corners. This tree isn’t long for this world but while it stands owls, ducks, bats, and other birds will live in these holes.

 6. Pussy Willow

This pussy willow (Salix) seemed to be a bit of an over achiever, with its furry, silvery buds showing in December.

7. Wild Cucumber Pod 2

When I was a boy my friends and I used to spend quite a lot of time throwing things at each other. Snowballs, crabapples, dirt clods, acorns-anything that wouldn’t inflict serious damage-were used as ammunition. One favorite source of ammo was wild cucumber vines (Echinocystis lobata.) The fruit has terrible looking spines that are actually soft and harmless until they dry like those in the photo. In this stage the spines are quite prickly, but since they’ve dried out and dropped their seeds they have little weight and that means they are worthless for throwing.  Probably a good thing.

8. Mealy Pixie Cup Lichens

The pebbly texture and trumpet shape point to the mealy pixie cup lichen (Cladonia chlorophaea.) Though these lichens resemble golf tees they aren’t even one tenth the size.

 9. Burning Bush Fruit

Birds don’t seem to be eating the berries of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) this year and that’s a good thing, because this shrub doesn’t need any help in its mission to take over the understory. Since its introduction from Asia as an ornamental in 1860, Winged euonymus has spread as far south as the gulf coast, north into Canada, and as far west as Illinois.

 10. Empty Goldenrod Gall

A bird went to great lengths to get at the goldenrod gall fly larva (Eurosta solidaginis) that was growing inside of this goldenrod gall. Both downy woodpeckers and chickadees have been seen pecking at these galls but there are other predators after the gall fly larva as well. The galls form thick walls to discourage the parasitic Eurytoma gigantean wasp from laying her eggs in the gall chamber. If the wasp is successful when her eggs hatch the wasp larva quickly eat the gall fly larva.

11. Engraver Beetle aka Ips calligraphus calligraphus Damage on Log

The Engraver Beetle (Ips calligraphus) is called the calligrapher beetle because the damage it causes under the bark of pine trees looks like some form of ancient text. These beetles usually attack weak or dying trees but they can also kill healthy trees by girdling them.  Adults bore small holes in the bark and lay eggs in a cavity. Once the larvae emerge from the eggs they make tunnels in the inner bark. Once they stop feeding they will pupate at the end of these tunnels. The pupae then become young adults and fly off to find another tree. These beetles carry spores of a bluestain fungus (Ceratocystis ips) which can grow on the outer sapwood and stop the upward flow of water to the crown.

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before its afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? ~ Dr. Seuss

Thanks for coming by.

 

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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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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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We had a strange, warm winter here in southwestern New Hampshire and now it appears that spring will be as strange, and even warmer. Temperatures in the 80s caused many flowers and trees to bloom as much as a month ahead of their average time. Now the cold returns and we all wait to see what harm it might do. Anything below 15 degrees will damage fruit tree buds enough so they won’t bear. 

I ran into these strange flower clusters in a local park and though I didn’t know what they were I took a few pictures. Once I had the time I began trying to identify them. At first I thought they might be Sassafras but they weren’t. After several hours of looking in shrub books and online, I now know this to be the Cornelian cherry (Cornus officinalis,) also known as Japanese Cornel Dogwood. It is an unusual member of the dogwood family that can bloom as early as February and isn’t often seen, except in city parks and arboretums.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)wasn’t unexpected, but I found them growing in a spot where trout lilies grew last year and I saw no sign of the lilies. Each flower last for only 3 days. 

It’s early for bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis.) Every time I see this flower with its strange stem clasping leaf I think of ancient times when travelers wrapped themselves in cloaks. Behind and to the right of the larger flower a green spike of lily of the valley is just emerging.

 The plant usually blooms in mid-April here and is called bloodroot because of the red sap that flows from the bruised root. One blossom was trying to open. These are among the most beautiful of early spring flowers.

Pussy willow (Salix) bloomed at the edge of a large vernal pool that will have completely disappeared before too long if this dry weather keeps on. 

Box (Buxus sempervirens) is a common shrub often used for hedges, but many don’t realize that its flower is worth waiting for. This is a good example of why shrubs shouldn’t be trimmed too early in spring. 

This tree didn’t look like an American elm (Ulmus americana,) but the flowers certainly looked like they belonged on an elm. The tree could be an elm hybrid, of which there are many. Elms have incomplete flowers lacking petals and sepals that hang at the end of long, thin stems (pedicels.) Three or four of these trees grow along a busy street in Keene, N.H. 

Red maple(Acer rubrum) flowers are easy to find in spring and are very fragrant. The photos above show the male (left) and female flowers. The male flowers have numerous colorful stamens with pollen bearing anthers on the ends and the female flowers have stigma bearing pistils, ready to receive the pollen. The trees can be confusing; some trees have only male flowers, some only female flowers, and some perfect flowers, which have both male and female parts. To make things even more confusing both male and female flowers can appear on the same tree, and flower color can range from yellow to red. The male flowers are responsible for much of the pollen floating about at this time of year. 

I was sorry to find ornamental cherry trees (Prunus) blooming. These blossoms are very susceptible to cold and with 2 or 3 below freezing nights in the forecast, I’m afraid their beauty was short lived this year. 

If you like a plant that is tough to identify, might I recommend one of the over 5000 sedge species? Without fruit a positive identification is close to impossible, but I’m fairly sure that this plant is Pennsylvania sedge, also called common oak sedge (Carex pensylvanica.) Here the pointed, scaly looking spike that is the staminate flower bud rises above the smaller and less noticeable pistillate flower buds on the same stalk. These plants are wind pollinated and native to eastern North America. The fruit holds a single, tiny seed.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) has a nice flower that it is only 1/8 of an inch across and easy to miss. Though it looks like the flower has 10 petals, there are really 5 with a deep notch dividing each one nearly in half. The 5 green sepals directly under the flower help to identify this one. Chickweed is very common in lawns. 

Hearts ease (Viola tricolor,) also known as Johnny jump ups. So why is it called tri color when only two colors are visible? Quite often the two uppermost petals will be blue or purple, but not always. The flowers can be white, purple, blue, yellow, or combinations of any or all of them. These were introduced from Europe so long ago that they are thought to be native by many. Today’s garden pansies were developed from this plant. 

A dandelion grew right next to the viola. This is the first one I’ve seen since I took a photo of one on December 21st. What a strange winter and spring!

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