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Posts Tagged ‘Red Baneberry’

The clouds were very angular on this morning at Half Moon Pond in Hancock, but they weren’t what I was trying to get a photo of. I was interested in the trees along the far shoreline, which are starting to show just the first hint of their fall colors.

Some of our native dogwoods like this silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) have already turned a beautiful deep red-maroon.

Silky dogwood berries go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe birds eat them up quickly.

Among the birds that love silky dogwood berries is the beautiful, sleek cedar waxwing. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see on its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol. I met a drunken cedar waxwing once so I know that story is true. I got between a bird and its fermented dogwood berries one day and it flew directly at my face at high speed, only pulling up at the last second. I wondered what is with this crazy bird as it flew at me several times, but once I finally realized what was happening and moved away from its berries it left me alone. I can still remember the feel the wind on my face from its drunken aerobatics.

If you’re wondering if I climbed a tree to get above that cedar waxwing in the last photo the answer is no; I just stood on a bridge and looked down on it. There is a huge brush pile against one of the bridge piers and the birds rest here between flights. They fly out quickly and grab insects out of the air in the evening, just before the sun sets. Earlier in the day they feed on silky dogwood and other berries and rest in the bushes.

Cedar waxwings are beautiful birds that don’t seem to mind me being above them, but if I walk down along the riverbank so I can be eye to eye with them it causes quite a ruckus among the flock and they all go and hide in the bushes. Though this photo looks like we were on nearly the same level I was quite far above the bird when I took the photo. Once I saw the photo I thought that the bird’s wing didn’t look quite right. Or maybe it does; I’ve never been much of a bird studier and it was obviously able to fly, but it does seem to be missing the red wax drops.

Rain can be a blessing to an allergy sufferer because it washes all of the sneezy, wheezy pollen out of the air, but on this day it washed it into the river where it could reveal the otherwise invisible currents and eddies.

One of the reasons I like cutting and splitting firewood is because, unless you want to lose a finger or two, you have to be focused on the task at hand and on each piece of wood before you. When you focus so intently on any subject you see many unexpected things, like these robin’s egg blue “insect eggs.” At least I thought they were insect eggs, so I put this piece of wood aside to see what happened when they hatched. They hatched all right, but after turning white and splitting open instead of baby insects out came black spores, and then I knew it was a slime mold. Blue is a rare color among slime molds and I’m happy to have seen it.

This event really was an insect hatching and there were hundreds of baby hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) crawling all over this tree. I’ve never seen as many as there are this year.

Hickory tussock moth caterpillars have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

I’ve done several posts that included hickory tussock moth caterpillars but I just realized that I’ve never seen the moth itself, so I went to Wikipedia and found this photo of a very pretty hickory tussock moth by Mike Boone from bugguide.net.

According to what I’ve read the banded net-winged beetle (Calopteron discrepans) is commonly found resting on leaves in moist woods, and that’s right where I found this one. Its bright Halloween colors warn predators that this insect contains acids and other chemicals that make it at best, distasteful. The adult beetles eat nectar, honeydew, and decaying vegetation.

I find more feathers than you can shake a stick at but this is the first time I’ve ever found one like this one. It was quite big as feathers go and I think it was a great blue heron feather.

But the feather wasn’t from this great blue heron. I walked around a tall clump of Joe Pye weed at a local pond and almost ran nose to beak into this bird. We both looked at each other for a moment and I don’t know which of us was the most startled, but instead of flying away the big bird just calmly walked into the cattails and began hunting for food while I fumbled around for my camera.

Instead of pretending to be a statue the heron bent and jabbed at some unseen morsel several times, but from what I could tell it missed every time because it never swallowed.

Each time after the heron had dipped and missed whatever it was it was trying for it would look back at me and grin in a self-effacing way before wiggling its tail feathers vigorously. I’m not sure what it was trying to tell me. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again?

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and so are the pink stalks (pedicels) that they’re on. Though Native Americans used its roots medicinally all parts of this plant are extremely toxic. As few as six berries can kill so it’s no surprise that “bane berry” comes from the Old English words bana or bona, which both mean “slayer” or “murderer.”

Another baneberry that can have white berries is red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but I know these plants well and I’m sure they’re white baneberry. It really doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I often find it at or near the base of embankments that see a lot of runoff.

On their way to becoming brilliant red, the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time. This plant is also called treacle berry because the berries are supposed to taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They are rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from the burning roots to treat headaches and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

From a distance I thought a beautiful spotted butterfly had landed on a leaf but as I got closer I saw that the beauty was in the leaf itself.

I did find butterflies though; they were all on the zinnias at the local college but only the painted ladies were willing to pose. I was able to tell the difference between this butterfly and the American painted lady thanks to a link posted by blogging friend Mike Powell. If you love nature but aren’t reading Mike’s blog you’re doing yourself a real disservice. You can find him by clicking on the word here. I’ve also seen several monarch butterflies lately but none would pose for a photo.

How very lucky and grateful I am to be able to see such beauty in this life. I hope all of you will take time to see it too.

Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises. ~Amit Ray

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Here are just a few of the wildflowers I’ve seen recently.

1. Bulbous Buttercup aka Ranunculus bulbosus

I try hard to not misidentify the plants that appear here and all of the little yellow, 5 petaled flowers growing in lawns increase the chances of that happening, so I usually leave them alone. This bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) was relatively easy to identify though, so here it is. This plant gets its common name from its bulbous root, which is a corm.

2. Red Trillium

Most of the red trillium (Trillium erectum) blossoms have faded or have been eaten, but I still see them here and there. They lighten from deep red to a pale purple color before finally turning brown.  The fading of red trilliums means it’s time to start looking for pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) and painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum.)

 3. Hawthorn Blossoms

I love the plum colored anthers on these hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms. They are very beautiful, in my opinion.

 4. Mayapple Blossom

I’ve decided that mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum ) are hard to photograph, and that’s because I’ve never been happy with a single one that I’ve taken.  The flowers are very close to the ground but even if I lie out flat they never seem to be fully in focus.

 5. Sessile Leaved Bellwort

Our native sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) have put on a good show this year. I’ve seen more than I ever have. Botanically speaking the word sessile means sitting, as in the leaves are sitting on the main stem, which means that the leaves themselves don’t have a stem (petiole.)

 6. Red Baneberry Blossoms

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) is blooming early this year-probably because of the early warmth we had. Soon each tiny blossom will become a poisonous red berry. Native Americans dipped their arrowheads in concentrated baneberry juice to use as a poison.

7. Dwarf Ginseng Blossoms

Dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) will set a cluster of yellowish fruit if the tiny white flowers are pollinated.  If it doesn’t set berries this plant often disappears without a trace shortly after flowering. The trifolius part of the scientific name refers to the three compound leaves that always appear in a whorl around the stem. Each leave has three to five leaflets that are nearly sessile on the stem.

 8. Jack in the Pulpit

I wasn’t sure if I’d see a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) this year. I visited all of their growing places that I know of and found only two plants. That could be because last year was a banner year and I saw them everywhere. Many plants-even oak trees-“rest” after a bountiful year. This plant is in the arum family, along with skunk cabbage and many others.

 9. Jack in the Pulpit

I always pop the hood on jack in the pulpits to see what ‘Jack” is up to. I also like to see the purple stripes on the inside of the spathe, which is the hood that overhangs Jack. Jack is a club shaped spadix which in this photo appears black, but is actually purple. At the bottom of the cup shaped spathe male or female flowers will form at the base of this spadix. The spadix smells like mushrooms and if its female flowers are pollinated by tiny fungus flies, they will become bright red berries that deer love to eat.

 10. Blue Bead Lily

I found quite a large patch of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) recently. If you gave this plant a quick, passing glance you might mistake its leaves for those of pink lady’s slipper, but blue bead lily leaves don’t have deep pleats like lady’s slipper leaves do.

 11. Blue Bead Lily

Blue bead lily is in the lily (Liliaceae) family and it’s not hard to see why when you take a good look at one of the small flowers-they look just like a Canada lily. If pollinated each flower will become a single berry that will turn from green to white and finally to an almost fluorescent, bright blue. I had a hard time finding any berries last year so I’m hoping there will be many to see this year.

 12. Bluets

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are still blooming in great drifts across mowed places.  This plant is considered an ephemeral, but given enough moisture it will bloom well into summer. Their range of color goes from almost white to dark blue and I always try to find those with the darkest color. These ones looked fairly dark.

 13. Cypress Spurge aka Cemetary Weed aka Euphorbia cyparissias

Cypress Spurge ( Euphorbia cyparissias) is also called cemetery weed because it’s often found there.This plant was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. Of course, it immediately escaped the gardens of the day and is now seen in just about any vacant lot or other area with poor, dry soil. This plant forms explosive seed pods that can fling its seeds several feet.

14. Gaywings

One of my very favorite woodland flowers is fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia,) also called gaywings. This plant is a low growing creeper which at a glance is easily mistaken for a violet. I know that from experience because last year was the first time I ever really paid any attention to it. I think that I have passed it off as just another violet for most of my life, which is too bad. The flowers are made up of five sepals and two petals. Two of the petals form a tube and two of the sepals form the “wings.” The little fringe like structure at the end of the tube is part of the third petal which is mostly hidden. When an insect lands on the fringed part, the third petal drops down to create an opening so the insect can enter the tube. There are 3 or 4 flowers in this photo, and they all seem to be growing on top of each other.

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

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About two weeks ago the sun came out and has stayed out, and each day has been warmer than the last. The eighty degree temperatures make it feel like summer and I have to keep reminding myself that it’s still early May. Of course, the sunny days mean no rain and we are starting to see the effects of that.

1. Water Line on Rocks

The boulders at a local reservoir show that the water level is about three feet lower than it should be. The water level is drawn down in the fall to make room for snow melt and spring rains. Unfortunately the spring rains haven’t happened this year and now we are about 4 inches below normal.

2. Cloudless Sky

This has been our weather-not a cloud in the sky-for about 15 days.

 3. Weeping Willow Flowers

 Some plants have been affected by the lack of rain but not this weeping willow (Salix babylonica,) which was in full flower the day I visited it. Weeping willows like a lot of water so it was surprising to see the tree in such fine shape.

 4. Christmas Fern Fiddleheads

Ferns are still coming up in the wetter areas. These are the silvery fiddleheads of evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides.)

 5. Cinnamon Fern Unfurling

The fronds of cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) are just starting to unfurl. These ferns seem to prefer wet areas. That’s where I see most of them growing.

 6. Coltsfoot Seedhead 4

In spite of the dryness coltsfoot held up well and had quite a long blooming season. Now the wind is doing its job of distributing the seeds. Once the seed heads have disappeared the leaves will begin to grow. One of coltsfoot’s common names is “son before the father” because of the way the flowers appear before the leaves.

 7. False Morel Mushrooms

I was surprised to see several false morel mushrooms in such dry soil. I think these are Gyromitra esculenta. This is a mushroom that you don’t want to eat by mistake. According to Tom Volk’s fungus identification website these fungi contain a chemical called gyromitrin (N-methyl-N-formylhydrazine), which is metabolized to monomethylhydrazine when eaten. This is rocket fuel. Really-rocket fuel-and it destroys red blood cells in human beings who are unlucky enough to ingest it. People have even gotten sick from inhaling the steam produced by boiling these fungi.

 8. Rattlesnake weed aka Hieracium venosum

Rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) got its common name from the way people thought it grew where there were rattlesnakes. We have timber rattlers in New Hampshire but they are as rare as a blue moon. This plant has flowers that resemble those of yellow hawkweed, but I like its purple veined leaves. I can’t say for sure how rare this plant is in New Hampshire but I’ve seen only one in my lifetime, and this is it. It is listed as endangered in Maine. This plant grows in a dry, sandy spot in full sun.

9. Red Baneberry Buds

The new leaves of red baneberry (Actaea rubra) always look tortured to me- as if they were in a gale force wind. I like looking at them and have pictures from last year that I keep telling myself I’m going to draw. Someday.  This plant is already showing flower buds and will later have poisonous red berries.  The leaves closely resemble those of black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa.) This one grows on an embankment that never dries out completely. They seem to like a lot of water.

10. Skunk Cabbage Fruiting

I thought I’d show what the fruit of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) looks like when it is forming for those of you who have been following along and watching the plant’s development. The fruit is contained within the splotchy purple/yellow/brown spathe and will ripen between July and September. These plants like low, swampy places that are wet in spring but don’t seem to mind a little dryness later in the year.

11. New Oak Leaves

These tiny new oak leaves were red and fuzzy. I ‘ve been reading about why new spring leaves aren’t green in many species of trees and have found, according to the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative, that trees require plenty of light and warmth to begin producing the chlorophyll that makes them green.  When there is a cloudy, cool spring trees will not be able to produce chlorophyll and their leaves will stay red (or orange, yellow or another color) until the weather turns sunny and warmer. Oak leaves are among the last to appear in spring, so it hasn’t enjoyed the last two weeks of warm, sunny weather.

 12. Poplar Leaves

These new poplar leaves are also fuzzy, and almost completely without color. It is the only tree I know of that has white leaves in spring. Trees keep a weather history in their rings and I wonder if someone in the future will read our history and see that we’ve had very strange weather over the past three years.

13. Shagbark Hicory Bud Unfurling

The new leaves of shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) are green from the start, but the insides of the bud scales that enclosed and protected the new growth are fantastic shades of orange, pink, and yellow. They are so colorful and unusual that they are sometimes mistaken for flowers.  It seems like in spring every plant wants to show how beautiful it can be.

 14. Ashuelot on 5-10-13-2

As soon as I started writing this post telling you how sunny and dry it was, clouds rolled in and we’ve had scattered showers for the last two days. Who says Mother Nature doesn’t have a sense of humor?

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long.

~ John Moffitt

Thanks for coming by. Happy mother’s day to all of you moms!

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