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Posts Tagged ‘Rattlesnake Weed’

It’s turtle time here in this part of New Hampshire and the big snapping turtles are on the move, looking for soft sand to dig their nest in.  Average adult snapping turtles can be over two feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds and they can be very aggressive on land, so it’s best to stay away from them. They don’t have teeth but they have strong jaws and beaks that can easily break fingers. I took this photo of a female wandering along the side of a dirt road from my car window.  I’ve read that the largest snapper ever recorded weighed 75 pounds. It must have been huge.

Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans.

Snapping turtles aren’t the only reptiles laying eggs; painted turtles are also nesting.

Tent caterpillars are out of their nests and searching for food. Many people confuse tent caterpillars with fall webworms, but tent caterpillars appear in spring and do much more damage than fall webworms, which usually eat foliage that trees no longer need. Tent caterpillars prefer fruit trees but will also eat maples, hawthorns, and others. They can defoliate a tree in a short amount of time and a large outbreak can leave large areas of forest weakened.

I’m seeing more swallowtail butterflies this year than I’ve ever seen but I can’t get a single one to pose for a photo. This cabbage white was willing though, and sat for a while on this yellow hawkweed blossom while I clicked the shutter. At least I think it’s a cabbage white; my insect identification abilities aren’t what they should be.

I was able to identify this rosy maple moth because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like it. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

I went looking for the beautiful purple flowers of the larch tree (Larix laricina) but instead I found the tiny yellow eggs of a ladybug stuck to a larch branch. Each egg is less than a millimeter in length and this entire batch of them was less than an inch long. This larch must have an aphid problem because I’ve read that ladybugs will always try to mate as close to an aphid colony as possible. The ladybug lays infertile eggs along with the fertile ones though, and the hatchlings will eat these infertile eggs if they can’t find any aphids. They also eat scale insects and mealybugs, so they are great friends to have in a garden.

On the same larch I also saw some newly emerging needles which I thought were something most of us never see. Larch trees lose their needles in winter and grow new ones each spring; the only conifer I know of to do so.

Other conifers are busy right now too; pines are growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

Here’s a close look at some pine pollen cones that have opened and released their pollen. Not good news for allergy sufferers, I’m afraid.

When all that pollen falls on water it can make some fantastic abstract designs that I love watching as they slowly float along on the current and change shapes and patterns. There were also white locust blossoms scattered here and there on the pond on this day. The scene kind of takes me back to the seventies when my consciousness was expanding.

Here was a snake like river of pollen on the surface of a pond. I can’t even begin to explain how it could have formed. I hope everyone gets to see such beautiful things in their day to day travels. These are the things that make us wonder and, as Edgar Allan Poe once said: It is happiness to wonder, it is happiness to dream.

To ensure that there will be plenty of pollen available for future generations here was a tiny white pine (Pinus strobus) seedling. If everything goes according to plan it will grow to become one of our largest trees.

Sometimes I wonder if every now and then nature does something just to please us because I can’t think of any other reason rattlesnake weed’s foliage (Hieracium venosum) would have evolved into something as beautiful as this. Leaves colored in such a manner would only lessen photosynthesis I would think and I doubt that would be a benefit to any plant, so until I learn differently I’m going to believe that this kind of beauty was put here simply to please any onlookers that might pass by. This is the only plant of its kind I’ve ever seen and each year I make a special pilgrimage to see it, so I hope you like it. It is in the hawkweed family and has flowers that resemble those of yellow hawkweed.

And here was another plant at the river that looked like it was trying to mimic rattlesnake weed. I haven’t been able to identify it but I do know that I’ve never seen another like it. If you should recognize it I’d love to know what it is. It grew very low to the ground.

Here’s something that I’d guess that most of us have never seen; the tiny seed pods of dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius.) I know of one small colony of perhaps 20 plants and this is the first time I’ve ever seen seed pods on one. I hope all of them grow into new plants.

The tiny splash cups of juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) have appeared. These are the male reproductive organs of this common moss, which grows both male and female plants. Male plants produce sperm in these cups and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If everything is wet enough and all goes well the sperm will swim to a female plant and fertilize the eggs found there. If you sat a single pea in one of these splash cups the tiny cup would disappear behind it.

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra. This cap is very hairy, which is where the common name comes from, and it protects the spore capsule and the spores within. As the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra will fall off. The spore capsule will continue to ripen and when the time is right the end cap will fall off and  the spores will be released to the wind. At this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti.

It has been so dry here we’re already down about 3.5 inches from our average rainfall so I’m not seeing much in the way of fungi, but I did see these examples growing on a pine root. There are many mushrooms that look like these so I’m not sure what their name is. They are pretty though.

I also saw a few examples of the aquatic fungi known as swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans.) Each one is about as big as a wooden match stick and I find them in seeps where there is open water year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark; only on things like last year’s saturated leaves.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and wished I could think of something to make from all those threads. Native Americans used yucca fibers to weave sandals, cords, and baskets. They also ate the fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. They used every single part of this plant.

It’s hard to believe that something as tiny as a river grape blossom (Vitis riparia) could be fragrant but in places right now you can follow your nose right to the vines, so strong is the fragrance. And this isn’t the end of the joy they bring; in the fall the fermented fruit on a warm day will make the woods smell just like grape jelly.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you every day. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder.
~Avina Celeste

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For six weeks now we’ve had at least one rainy day per week and often two or three. This has amounted to a drought busting 2-3 inches of rain each week and the water table is again where it should be, if not a little high. Unfortunately along with the rain we’ve had cold and until this past week it seemed that it would never warm up, but warm up it has and temps in the 90s are expected for part of next week. Beaver brook seems happier when it’s full. It cheering chuckles and giggles can be heard throughout the forest and it is a welcome companion when I walk along its shores.

The orangey red fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have appeared. They once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how this fern comes by its common name.

A closer look shows that this isn’t cinnamon. The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which is where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Even the seeds (samaras) of red maple (Acer rubrum) are red, and a beautiful red at that. Squirrels love red maple seeds and that’s probably a good thing because our trees produce many millions of them. A single tree about a foot in diameter was shown to produce nearly a million seeds, and red maple is the most abundant native tree in eastern North America. Native Americans used red maple bark to wash inflamed eyes and as a remedy for hives and muscle aches. The tree’s wood was used for tools and its sap boiled into maple sugar, much like the sap of the sugar maple.

One of the things that determines how many acorns an oak will produce is the weather. Since the male flowers release pollen to the wind in the hopes that it will reach the female flowers, rain can have a big impact because it can wash the pollen out of the air. Since we’ve had a lot of rain this spring it will be interesting to see how many acorns we have this fall. The flowers shown are the male catkins of a red oak (Quercus rubra.)

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the mugo pine (Pinus mugo.) Mugo pine is a native of southwestern and Central Europe which is used as a landscape specimen. Its pollen cones closely resemble those of our eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing pine cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire pine pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

I heard that the new spring fiddleheads of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) were purple and, since I’ve never paid attention to them I decided to go and see some. Sure enough they were deep purple. I shouldn’t have been surprised because another name for this fern is flowering fern, because its fertile fronds are purple.

Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I usually end up with a rash on my legs each spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it.

This Northern water snake was basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2 feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a good photo of.

Early one morning I saw a dragonfly on a building. I knew it was alive because it was moving one of its legs slowly back and forth. It let me get the camera very close and didn’t flinch even when I turned on the camera’s LED light. I haven’t been able to confidently identify it but I thought it might be a Lancet club tail. I hope someone will let me know if I’m wrong.

I’ve never gotten so close to a dragonfly. Odd that it didn’t fly away.

Tent caterpillars appear in early spring as buds begin to open. They prefer fruit trees but can also be found on maples, hawthorn and others. Their nests are smaller and more compact than fall webworms and are found in the crotch of branches rather than at the ends. Often the caterpillars can be seen crawling over the outside surface of the nest as these were. They feed in morning and early evening, and on warm nights. They do a lot of damage and can defoliate a tree in no time at all. Though the tree will usually grow new leaves it will have been severely weakened and may not bear fruit. As the larvae feed they will make the silky nest larger to enclose more foliage.

A close up look at the tent caterpillars. They can be seen crawling everywhere at this time of year. Tent caterpillars are an important food source for insects, animals and birds. One bear was found to have eaten about 25,000 of them and more than 60 species of birds will eat them. Frogs, mice, skunks, bats, reptiles and 28 different insects help control the population but nothing can stop them. Scientists have found that a severe outbreak can defoliate tens of thousands of acres of forest.

This robin had a beak full of caterpillars but they weren’t tent caterpillars. He didn’t seem real happy to see me.

Some think that without ants their peony blossoms wouldn’t open, but that’s really just an old wive’s tale. Peony buds have very small glands called extrafloral nectaries along the outside edges of their bud scales. These glands produce a mixture of sugar, water and amino acids, and this is what attracts the ants. To repay the peony for its gift of nectar the ants drive off pests that might harm the buds.

Native Americans held turkeys in such high regard they buried the birds when they died, but the turkey’s value was in its feathers, not its meat. The feathers were used to decorate their ceremonial clothing and as arrow fletching to stabilize arrows.  They were also used for winter cloaks because they were lightweight and very warm. A feather from a turkey was powerful medicine thought to symbolize abundance, pride, fertility and wisdom, but the meat was considered starvation food. Early colonials mentioned the small flocks of young turkeys seen near Native villages and how the Natives refused to kill them for food, which they couldn’t understand. Of course Europeans saw little to no value in the feathers.

Why some plants have red or purple leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red or purple. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how purple some new spring leaves can be. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the color won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant at any time of year.

The heartwood of oaks and some other tree species have a high tannin content and when iron or steel come into contact with the tannins a chemical reaction takes place. This almost always results in a discoloration of the wood. It is caused by nails, barbed wire, chains, or any one of a hundred other iron or steel objects that can be found in trees. There is even a photo online of a bicycle grown into a tree. This is trouble for loggers, because if the sawmill sees stains like those on the red oak log pictured above they’ll reject the log. Their saw blades are expensive and running them through steel just doesn’t work.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break it would be easy to believe that you were seeing a tree full of beautiful flowers, but what you saw would be the colorful insides of the newly opened bud scales. What you saw would also be one of the most beautiful things you could find in a New England forest in spring.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.  ~Susanna Clarke

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1. Road to Work

Good morning! As many of you read this I’ll probably be on my way to work, which is where the road in this photo leads. May is living up to its promise of spring beauty and the many shades of green seem particularly vibrant this year.

2. Canada Geese

One morning on my way to work I saw mother goose. Father goose was there too and so were their rapidly growing goslings. Since I was early I was able to sit with them for a few minutes, watching the parent geese bob their heads up and down on their long necks. I think their head bobbing behavior was meant to signal a threat but the goslings were having none of that and just kept on eating as if I wasn’t even there.

3. Interrupted Fern

There are many ferns up and still unfurling their long fronds. The interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the darker colored fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.

4. Interrupted Fern

The leaflets on the interrupted fern’s fertile fronds are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores through tiny openings and then fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets.

5. Cinnamon Fern

Both the cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns have wooly fiddleheads that make them hard to tell apart in the fiddlehead stage, but at this stage the fertile fronds make identification easier. The fertile fronds on cinnamon fern are separate from the infertile fronds and there is no gap or interruption along the stem. These fertile fronds once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how the fern comes by its common name.

6. Cinnamon Fern

I don’t think of cinnamon sticks when I see the cinnamon fern’s fertile fronds, but I’m not naming it so that’s okay. These fronds are covered with tiny sporangia just like those on the interrupted fern and they’ll release their spores in the same way.

7. Cinnamon Fern

Here’s a close-up of the cinnamon fern’s sporangia. They’re hardly bigger than a pin head so I had to push my camera to the limit for a useable shot of them.

8. Stream

I have a calendar that has a view looking up a stream for the month of May and it’s a beautiful photo, so I thought I’d try to replicate it. I failed at that but I decided to keep the above photo because it shows what it’s like in the woods right now, with the light streaming through all the different shades of green.

9. Beech

But it isn’t just green that you see in spring; many new leaves unfurl in shades of red and maroon, as these beautiful beech leaves show so well. According to Chittenden (Vermont) County Forester Michael Snyder, most hardwood tree leaves have some red in them when they open. They turn green gradually as they produce more chlorophyll but cool, cloudy weather like we had in April prevents them from making chlorophyll, so they remain reddish until the sun comes out and it warms up. The beech leaves in this photo were growing from a stump on the shaded edge of the forest and were slow to turn green.

10. Rattlesnake Weed

Why some plants have red leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how red some new spring leaves can be, though it has some that have started to turn green. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the red won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant.

11. Hawkweed Buds

Rattlesnake weed is in the hawkweed family and though I didn’t look at its still tiny buds I’m sure they will grow to look like these that I saw on a hawkweed plant. They are very hairy.

12. Ladybug Eggs

I went to visit a larch tree (Larix laricina) that I know to see if it was flowering and found these tiny yellow jellybean like objects on one of the needles. It wasn’t very big; the entire cluster was half the size of the head of a match, and each tiny object was about 1/4 of an inch long. It took some research to discover that they were ladybug eggs. I saw a ladybug on a branch too, so it makes sense. Why they choose larch needles to lay their eggs on is anyone’s guess.

13. Larch Flower

This is what I was looking for when I got distracted by the ladybug eggs; a larch flower, which will eventually become a small brown cone. These are even smaller than the cluster of ladybug eggs and are hard to see, but it’s always worth it because they’re beautiful little things. I had trouble getting a photo of one this year because they are almost too small for me to see. I think a dozen of them could dance on my thumbnail, so I look for color rather than shape.

14. White Morel

I saw the honeycombed cap of a yellow morel mushroom (Morchella esculentoides) near the larch tree. This is supposed to be a choice edible mushroom but since I’m not really a mushroom person I left it for someone who is. This example stood only about 4 inches high and wouldn’t have made much of a meal.

15. Gray Feather

I’m always finding feathers everywhere I go and this one seemed interesting with its black stripe so I took a photo of it. When I got home I tried to figure out what kind of bird lost it. It was only about 6 inches long so I thought it was maybe a grackle feather, but I didn’t see any feathers that looked like this one on line from any bird. Instead I found reams of information on what feather colors mean. Gray signifies peace and neutrality, authenticity and flexibility, while black signifies protection and warning, mystical wisdom, and spiritual growth. I don’t know the truth of any of that but I have read that Native Americans held all feathers in high regard and considered them a gift from the bird that left them. Birds were considered messengers; if this were a raven feather for instance, it would symbolize creation and knowledge – the bringer of the light.

16. Shagbark Hickory

I know a place along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey where shagbark hickory trees grow, and each spring along about the first week of May I start checking the buds for signs of swelling. The buds are fairly big anyway, but they swell up to the size of an average human’s big toe before the bud scales open to reveal a new crop of leaves. The insides of the bud scales are often striped with shades of yellow, pink, orange or red and a tree full of them is a very beautiful sight. There are many things in nature that can take us out of ourselves and let us walk in a higher place for a time, and for me this is one of them.

17. Stream

This post was about showing you spring in New Hampshire but I’ve only just scratched the surface. I don’t think I could ever show you everything there is to see, but I’ll keep trying. I hope spring is just as beautiful where you live and I hope you can get outside to enjoy it.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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1. Black Eyed Susan

Few flowers say summer to me like the black eyed Susan, but they always whisper of summer’s passing too, and tell me that summer is fleeting, and I’d better get out there and enjoy it before the crisp winds of fall start to blow. Though it’s actually an early summer flower, I always think of it as a fall flower because of its very long blooming season. These flowers will often still be blooming when we see the first hard frost, several months after they’ve started.

2. Black Eyed Susan

A spider had built a web on this black eyed Susan. Nothing unusual about that but I wondered why it was yellow. Can the color somehow come off the petals, I wonder?

3. Campion

Red campion (Silene dioica) likes alkaline soil with a lot of lime and that’s why we rarely see it here. That’s also why I’m fairly sure that this plant is a white campion (Silene latifolia,) which can also be pink. Just to confuse the issue red campion flowers can also be pink or white and it takes a botanist to tell them apart. Both are natives of Europe, Asia and Africa. It was pretty, whatever it was.

4. Tradescantia

I used to see spiderwort plants (Tradescantia) growing wild everywhere when I was a boy. I thought they were beautiful and used to dig them up from along the railroad tracks to plant at home. My father also saw them growing along the tracks and he called them weeds, so he couldn’t understand why I kept “dragging those damned old weeds home” and planting them in the yard. Now every single time I see the plant I think of him. I also understand how one man’s flower can be another man’s weed.

Apparently our early settlers thought tradescantia was beautiful too, because it was introduced into Europe as an ornamental in the 1600s. Since it can be a bit weedy I wonder if it has become an invasive there.

5. Purple Tradescantia

I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that plant breeders had been working on tradescantia and had created a purple variety. Personally I prefer the blue that I grew up with, but the purple flowers seem do to attract more insects. At least they did on this day when I was watching the blue and purple flowers in a local park.

6. Elderberry

American elder (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) was highly valued by Native Americans for its medicinal qualities and it has been found that their uses of the plant closely parallel the ways that Europeans used their elder (Sambucus nigra.) Both old and new world people used the plant for everything from an emetic to a treatment for headache. Hippocrates is said to have referred to the elderberry bush as his “medicine chest,” and it appears that modern medicine is finally catching up with him; the National Institutes of Health has given five universities a total of $37.5 million for a five-year study exploring possible medical benefits of elderberries, including its use in fighting prostate cancer. I don’t have much taste for alcohol these days but if I can find a bottle of good elderberry wine I might drink a small glassful each night before bed. It can’t hurt, as long as it was made from the berries and not the plant’s poisonous roots.

7. Vervain

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is also called swamp vervain because it likes water, and I find it either in wet meadows or along river and pond banks. It is also called simpler’s joy after the herb gatherers of the middle ages. They were called simplers because they gathered medicinal or “simple” herbs for mankind’s benefit and since vervain was one of the 9 sacred herbs, finding it brought great joy. It was thought to cure just about any ailment and Roman soldiers carried the dried plants into battle. Since blue is my favorite color finding it always brings me great joy as well.

8. Rattlesnake Weed

I can’t think of many plants that are rarer in this area than the native rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum.) I know of one plant and this is it. As you might suspect from its flowers it is in the hawkweed family, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Its flowers stand at the end of long wiry stems so it’s usually impossible to get both the flowers and leaves in one photo but this time I was able to do it. Its purple veined leaves don’t show that well but they are very unusual, as the following photo will show.

9. Rattlesnake Weed Foliage

One story says that because people thought its foliage resembled a snake’s skin, rattlesnake weed was a cure for snakebite. I’ve also heard other stories that say the name comes from the plant’s habit of growing in places where snakes were seen. It’s hard for me to believe that such a rare plant is considered an invasive weed in some places, but it is.

10. Bristly Sarsaparilla

Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) isn’t common but I know of two places where it grows in dry, sandy soil. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Every time I see its flowers they’re covered in ants but curiously this time they were absent. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter. Each small flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job. The USDA lists this native plant as endangered in Indiana, Ohio and Maryland.

11. St. Johnswort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) gets its common name from the way that it flowers near June 24th, which is St. Johns day, but it has been well known and used medicinally since ancient times. The Roman military doctor Proscurides used it to treat patients as early as the 1st century AD and it was used by the ancient Greeks before that. The brown / black dots on its yellow petals make this flower very easy to identify. The perforatum part of its scientific name refers to the many clear dots on its leaves that look like pin holes when its leaf is held up to the light. Originally from Europe, it was introduced in 1696 to Pennsylvania by a religious group who believed that it held magical properties. Today it can be found in all but 4 of the lower 48 states; Utah, Arizona, Alabama, and Florida. In all of the others it can be found in meadows and along roadsides growing in full sun.

12. Dwarf St. Johnswort

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that might get ankle high on a good day and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference apart from their smaller size is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. I find them growing at the edge of a local pond and soak my knees every time I try to take a photo of them. It’s worth it though because they’re beautiful little things.

13. Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here but I haven’t seen any monarch butterflies visiting them yet. I was going to write about how complicated these flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated that I got lazy and instead will just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll just enjoy their beauty and their scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

14. Rose

Roses are adding their perfume to the sweet smell of summer and I smelled this bush full of tender pink blossoms before I saw it. I sample the fragrance of roses every chance I get because they take me back to my childhood and our hedge full of gloriously scented cabbage roses. Those poor roses attracted rose chafers by the billions it seemed, but if you sat out on the porch and closed your eyes on a warm summer evening you didn’t have to imagine what heaven would smell like. You knew that you were smelling it right here on this earth.

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols

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1. Tall Meadow Rue Closeup

Just in time for the 4th, tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) puts on its own fireworks display. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo. This plant grows in moist places along stream and pond banks and gets quite tall. I’ve seen it reach 6 or 7 feet.

2. Catalpa Blossom

Northern catalpa trees (Catalpa speciosa) are loaded with beautiful orchid like blossoms right now. Soon long, thin seed pods will dangle from the branches. When I was a boy we always called catalpas string bean trees.

 3. Dogbane Plant

Native spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a perennial wildflower that looks like a shrub. It spreads by both seeds and underground stems and is considered a weed in some places. I find large colonies of it growing in sandy soil along sunny forest edges. The plant in related to milkweed and many species of butterflies rely on it.

4. Dogbane Blossoms

Spreading dogbane has small, light pink, bell shaped flowers that have deeper pink stripes on their insides. They are fragrant but their scent is hard to describe. Spicy maybe. This plant is pollinated by butterflies and the flowers have barbs inside that trap short tongued insects. That’s how it gets another of its common names: flytrap dogbane. Each flower is just big enough to hold a pea.

5. Rattlesnake Weed Blossom

Most people seeing this flower would say that it is yellow hawkweed and they would be half right. This is the blossom of rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum,) which is in the hawkweed family and is sometimes called rattlesnake hawkweed.  The flower clusters grow at the tops of long, wiry stems and that makes getting a photo of the flowers and leaves together just about impossible. I’ve been trying for quite a while.

6. Rattlesnake Weed Foliage

The foliage of rattlesnake weed changes as the season progresses. The leaves shown here started out very purple in the spring, with deep purple veins. They were also very hairy, but now they are smooth and green with reddish veins. The plant’s common name comes from the thought that it grew where there were rattlesnakes. Because of the very unusual foliage I think it is one of our most beautiful native plants, but unfortunately it is also extremely rare. This is the only one I’ve ever seen.

 7. Pinks and Cinquefoil

Our meadows are spangled with maiden pinks and yellow cinquefoil right now. The two colors go very well together. If you didn’t know better you’d think it had been planned.

8. Maiden pink aka Dianthus deltoids

Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) originally hail from Europe and Asia and were imported to use in gardens. Of course they immediately escaped and can now be seen just about everywhere. The name “pinks” comes from the way the petal edges look like they were cut by pinking shears. Butterflies love them.

9. Daisies and Lupines on River Bank

The ox-eye daisies and lupines along the riverbank have been beautiful this year. The spot in this photo is where I have always found chicory (Cichorium intybus) growing as well, but there is no sign of it this year and I wonder if our harsh winter has killed it.

10. Yellow Irises

I found a small pond in the woods that was surrounded by yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus). 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. This is one of just a very few times I have seen it and it was quite beautiful. Even though I jumped from hummock to hummock to get this photo, I couldn’t get any closer without waders.

 11. Wild Grape Flowers

One of the great delights of wandering the New Hampshire woods in late spring is the amazing fragrance of wild grape flowers that wafts on the breeze. Their perfume can be detected from quite a distance so I let my nose lead me to this vine, which was growing over some sumacs. I’m always surprised that such a big scent comes from such tiny flowers, each no bigger than the head of a match. We have a few varieties of wild grape here in New Hampshire including fox grapes (Vitis labrusca).

12. Cranberry PLants

Another native food found here in New Hampshire is the cranberry. Though I usually find them in wet, boggy areas these grew high on an embankment quite far from the water of a pond. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think the plants pictured are the common cranberry.

13. Cranberry Blossom

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries. The flower petals do have an unusual habit of curving backwards, but I’m not seeing cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

14. Elderberry Flowers

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) bushes are common and seen everywhere here in this part of New Hampshire; common enough to be largely ignored, in fact. But, if you take the time to stop and really look at them you find that the large, flat flower heads are made up of hundreds of tiny, uncommonly beautiful flowers. Later in August each flower will have become a small purple berry so dark it is almost black.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~ Lydia M. Child

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July.

 

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1. Rail Trail

I’ve decided that what I like most about rail trails is the same thing I liked about them when the trains were running. Back when I was a boy everything was a mystery and new discoveries waited around every bend. I find that little has changed in that regard on these old paths through the forest. I’ve been walking and biking the rail trails in the area over the past few weeks and this year I decided to look for a little history as well as interesting plants. I found plenty of both.

2. Box Culvert

If you’re on a rail trail and see a stream flowing under it, there’s a good chance that it is flowing through a culvert-possibly a very old culvert. The one in the photo is a box culvert, made up of two side walls, top or lintel stones, and a stone floor. In the mid-1800s railroad stone masons cut these stones from ledges or boulders found in the woods near the rail line. There were certain rules that they had to follow. One regarded the thickness of the lintel stones and by how many inches they had to overlap the side walls, and even how much soil would be packed on top of them. These lintel stones were at least a foot thick and supported the weight of locomotives twice a day for over a century.

3. Trestle

Though I grew up hearing everyone call this type of span a trestle, according to Wikipedia this is a Warren-type through-truss bridge. This type of bridge was made of wood, wrought iron, cast iron, or steel. We have several that cross and re-cross the Ashuelot River but trees and shrubs along the river banks are making them harder to see each year. Last year I could see the river from this spot, but not now.

4. Signal Box

This appears to be an old switch box of the kind that would alert the engineer that the through track had been switched to a side spur. Whatever it was, it was powered by electricity. The rectangular base was bolted to a concrete pad and the warning indicators would have been at the top of the pole, but that part had been broken off.

 5. Forget Me Not Colony

One of the largest stands of forget me nots (Myosotis scorpioides) I’ve ever seen is beside a rail trail. You never know what plants you might find along these trails, and I’ve seen some amazing things.

6. Forget Me Nots

Forget me nots are such pretty little things and here they grow happily, way out in the middle of nowhere.

7. Box Culvert

This is another, bigger box culvert. According to a website I found called Historic Stone Highway Culverts in New Hampshire the difference between a bridge and a culvert is the length of the span. (Width of the opening) Anything less than 10 feet is a culvert, and more than that is a bridge. Most culverts are covered by earth fill but the one in the photo surprisingly had very little fill over it. The amount of fill over a culvert plays a huge role in how much weight it can carry.

8. New Culvert

This is an example of a new culvert, recently installed. Will it last for centuries like the box culverts have?

9. Rattlesnake Weed

Rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum), one of the rarest plants that I’ve ever found, grows beside a rail trail. I was very happy to see that it is going to bloom this year. Its flowers look like those of yellow hawkweed and, though they aren’t very spectacular, flowers mean seeds and seeds mean more plants.

 10. Arch Street

Sometimes these old rail trails still cross over roads.

11. Tunnel

Way up at the top of that embankment through a break in the trees is where I was when I took the previous photo. Many of these old granite tunnels have been taken down, but this one still stands. My question is, how did the railroad build it? Did they dig a hole through the hillside and then line it with granite block, or did they build the tunnel and then fill in with soil over the top of it? I’m guessing the latter, but can anyone imagine the amount of soil they had to move? It’s staggering to think of it.

The plants growing in the gaps in the face stones are pushing them away from the arch stones (voussoirs) and they really should be removed.

 12. Early Azalea

In my last post I wrote about finding a native early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) out in the woods, and just as I was taking photos for this post I found another growing beside a rail trail.

13. Early Azalea 2

The fragrance of this azalea is really magnificent and it was my nose as much as my eyes that led me to it.

 14. Arched Culvert

What most impresses me about the railroad is how, even out in the woods, the stone masons displayed their extraordinary craftsmanship. They knew when they built this arched culvert that few if any people would ever see it, but they created a thing of beauty anyway. Each one of those stones was split, faced and fitted by hand, using little more than hammers and chisels. That they have stood and stood well since the mid-1800s is a testament to their mastery of the art of stone masonry. Having built with stone myself I am left in awe of their skill and knowledge. Stone arch culverts are rare in comparison to the box culvert, representing only ten percent of the total culverts in New Hampshire.

In part two of this post we’ll see abandoned mills, old railroad depots, rock slime, rusting boxcars and of course, more flowers.

Sometimes you don’t choose the path, it chooses you. ~Anonymous

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1. Larch Cone

Behind every stone, on every branch and in every puddle, beauty can be found. This tiny new larch cone (Larix laricina) is to me as beautiful as any flower.

2. Lilac Buds

Since I was just a boy one of my favorite things about spring has been watching lilac buds swell and finally open. It’s a simple thing, but for me it’s part of the magic of life that makes it so worth living.

3. Trapped Solomon's Seal

Does an emerging plant make a hole in one of last year’s leaves, or is the hole already there and the plant grows up through it? These are questions that came to mind as I sat pondering how every one of this Solomon seal’s leaves (Polygonatum biflorum) got trapped by a hole in a leaf. Will the plant be able to break free of the leaf and live as it was meant to, or will it be forever trapped by it?

4. Unknown Nest

The nest in this photo was baseball size and hanging from a maple branch. I don’t know what made it but the insects buzzing all around it looked like hornets or yellow jackets. The really odd thing about it is how it looks more like a bird’s nest than a hornet or wasp nest. I’ve never heard of an insect using birch bark to build a nest. Could it be that the wasps or hornets were attacking a bird inside its nest? Another forest mystery.

 5. Painted Turtle

This painted turtle seemed to be having some trouble with its shell. Since seeing it I’ve read that turtles can have all kinds of shell problems, including rot and fungus.

6. Garter Snake

My grandmother was so afraid of snakes that she would almost convulse with revulsion at the mere mention of the word. You’d think someone had run their fingers down a chalkboard to watch her. I think that’s why I became so interested in snakes at an early age. I wanted to see what it was that scared her so badly-she who wasn’t afraid of anything. It sure was a good thing she wasn’t with me when I saw this garter snake. It was a cloudy day and he was too sluggish to slither away, so I had a chance to get a couple of photos. My grandmother would have jumped in the river before the shutter had even clicked.

7. New Beech Leaves

A pillow for thee will I bring.
Stuffed with down of angel’s wing.
~Richard Crashaw

8. Bracken Fern

If you live in New England and see a fern with a single tall stem and three branches at its tip it is a bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum.) Bracken ferns often grow in large, dense colonies with few other plants present and this is because it releases chemicals that inhibit the growth of many other plants. Plants compete for light, water, and nutrients but bracken fern has found a way to almost eliminate the completion.

9. New Staghorn Sumac Leaves

Most tree leaves start life colored something other than green and that’s because they don’t need chlorophyll at this stage because they aren’t photosynthesizing. Production of the green pigment chlorophyll requires plenty of light and warmth so if spring weather happens to be cloudy and cool, you might see reddish leaves on the trees for a while. The crimson leaves on this staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) have just started unfurling. This year, with sunshine and warmth, it has taken them less than a day to turn green.

 10. Petrified Red Pine Cones

The branch that these pine cones grew on died before they could mature and now they seem frozen in time, as if they’re petrified, curled and pointed like animal claws.

11. Rattlesnake Weed aka Hieracium Venosum

The rarest plant I know of is rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum). I’ve seen one plant in my lifetime and this is it. It has grown in this spot for some time but didn’t bloom last year and I wondered if it would even appear this year, but here it is. It is in the hawkweed family and its flowers look just like yellow hawkweed, but its purple veined foliage is what makes it so unusual and so beautiful. I’m hoping it will produce plenty of seeds this year and that they will grow into more plants. Its common name comes from the old belief that it only grew where there were rattlesnakes.

12. Unknown Sedge Poss. Carex nigra

I like to watch for grasses and sedges at this time of year because many flower now and they can be very beautiful. I think this one might be common or black sedge (Carex nigra). I like its scaly, almost reptilian appearance. I found it growing beside a small pond.

13. Shagbark Hickory Bud Break

I can understand why flowers have certain colors, and mushrooms and even slime molds, but it’s hard to even guess why the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree (Carya ovata) have such extraordinary colors. They spend their entire existence closed tightly around the tender leaves and then open for a day or two before falling from the branch, so what purpose can such colors serve?  I like to think that some things on this earth are here simply to delight the eye of the lucky person who stumbles upon them, and maybe these bud scales are a good example of that.

Looking at beauty in the world is the first step of purifying the mind. ~Amit Ray

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