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Posts Tagged ‘Red Elderberry Buds’

In the spring walking along Beaver Brook in Keene is one of my favorite things to do because there are so many interesting and rare plants growing there. Last Sunday was a beautiful spring day of warm temps and a mix of sun and clouds, so off I went to see what was growing.

The walk is an easy one on the old abandoned road that follows alongside the brook. Slightly uphill but as trails go it’s really no work at all.

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

The flower stalks (culms) on plantain leaved sedge are about 4 inches tall and when they bloom they’ll have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” I can’t speak for the rarity of this plant but this is the only one I’ve ever seen and it isn’t listed in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high.

The sedge grows on a stone that’s covered by delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which is a very pretty moss. I like how it changes color to lime green in cold weather. Because I’m colorblind it often looks orange to me and an orange moss commands attention.

I knew that red trilliums (Trillium erectum) grew near the plantain leaved sedge but I didn’t expect to see any on this day. But there they were, and already budded, so they’re going to bloom maybe just a little early, I’d guess. They usually bloom in mid to late April. They are one of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers and are also called purple trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent.

Bud break is one of the most exciting times in a forest in my opinion, and one of the earliest trees to open their bud scales so the buds can grow is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum.) The large velvety buds of striped maple in shades of pink and orange are very beautiful and worth looking for. Bud break can go on for quite some time among various species; striped and sugar maples follow cherry, and birch and beech will follow them, and shagbark hickory will follow birch and beech. Oaks are usually one of the last to show leaves. That’s just a small sampling that doesn’t include shrubs like lilac and forest floor plants that also have beautiful buds breaking.

This is how striped maple comes by its common name. Striped maple bark is often dark enough to be almost black, especially on its branches. This tree never seems to get very big so it isn’t used much for lumber like other maples. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one bigger than my wrist, and even that might be stretching it. It could be that it stays small because it usually gets very little direct sunlight. The green / white stripes on its bark allow it to photosynthesize in early spring before other trees leaf out but it’s still the most shade tolerant of all the maples, and in the shade is usually where it’s found. It is said that Native Americans made arrow shafts from its straight grained wood.

I found a mountain maple (Acer spicatum) growing here a few years ago and realized on this day that I had never paid attention to its buds. I was surprised how even though I’m colorblind I could see how bright red the bud scales were. And then the bud is orange. I can’t think of another tree that has such a splashy color scheme. Something else unique is how all other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

Someday I’ve got to poke around more in this old boulder fall, because there are some quite rare plants growing among the stones. I believe a lot of these stones are lime rich, due to the plants that grow among them.

One beautiful thing that grows on the tumbled stones of the boulder fall is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever found it.

The two toned buds of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are poking up everywhere now. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but Native Americans knew how to prepare them correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant medically useful.

One of my favorite things to see here is the disappearing stream on the other side of the brook. It runs when we’ve had rain and disappears when we don’t, but the beautiful mossy stones are always there. You can’t see it here but there was still ice up in there in places.

Another reason I wanted to come here on this day was to witness the buds breaking on the red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) that grow here. They are handsome at this stage but the whitish, cone shaped flowers that will follow are not very showy. The leaves, bark and roots are toxic enough to make you sick, so this shrub shouldn’t be confused with common elderberry (Sambucus nigra) which is the shrub that elderberry wine comes from.

The spring leaves of the red elderberry  look like fingers as they pull themselves from the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers soon, and they’ll be followed by bright red berries that birds snap right up. The berries are said to be edible if correctly cooked but since the rest of the plant is toxic I think I’ll pass. Some Native Americans used the hollow stems to make toys. According to the U.S. Forest Service the Alaskan Dena’ina tribe made popguns from the hollow stems, using a shelf fungus (Polyporus betulinus) for ammunition. The Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia made toy blowguns from red elderberry stems.

I was surprised to find wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) leaves. This plant is a ground hugger, easily hidden by any plant that is ankle high or more, so I have to hunt for it and though I can’t say if it is rare here, I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grows in a wet area by the brook. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger. This is the first time I’ve noticed the hairs on its leaves.

I wasn’t sure if these were early spring mushrooms or if they were leftovers from last fall. Little brown mushrooms, or LBMs as mycologists call them, can be very hard to identify even for those more experienced than I, so they always go into my too hard basket. There just isn’t enough time to try to figure them all out.

It looks like people are geocaching again. I used to find them here quite often, though I never looked for them. According to Wikipedia “Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.” Someone tried to put this one under a golden birch but it wasn’t hidden very well.

I hoped to see some fern fiddleheads while I was here but I had no luck. I did see some polypody ferns though. Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of yellow and orange flowers but these had gone past ripened and in fact most had fallen off the leaf, leaving a tiny indentation behind.

We’ve had enough rain to get Beaver Brook Falls roaring. I toyed with the idea of going down to the brook to get a face on view of them but I’m getting a little creaky in the knees and you slide more than walk down the steep embankment, and then you have to nearly crawl back up again on your hands and knees. Since I was the only one here I didn’t think any of that was a good idea, so a side view is all we get.

In the right light the spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) turn a beautiful blue. It happens because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in the special light found here they glow different shades of blue and are as beautiful as jewels on the golden colored ledge they grow on. Beaver Brook is one of only two places I’ve ever seen them this beautiful, and they’re just one of many beautiful reasons I love to spend time here.

We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. ~C.S. Lewis

At Beaver Brook I did indeed bathe in beauty. Thanks for stopping in, and take care.

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I saw the first bee I’ve seen this season. It’s over there on that left hand dandelion blossom. I wish I had seen it when I was taking the photo so I could have gotten a closeup but I didn’t see it until I saw the photo. I’m always more amazed by what I miss than what I see.

Here is another attempt to show you what an alder looks like when all of the male catkins are blooming. Not a very successful attempt I’m afraid but I’ll get it right one day.

The male speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) are open now and this bush let go a cloud of dusty greenish yellow pollen when I touched it. The brown and purple scales on the catkin are on short stalks and 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. Since the female blossoms are wind pollinated it doesn’t take much for the males to release their pollen.

And the female speckled alder flowers are waiting to receive that pollen. The tiny female (pistillate) catkins of speckled alder consist of scales that cover two flowers, each having a pistil and a scarlet style. Since speckled alders are wind pollinated the flowers have no petals because petals would hinder the process and keep male pollen grains from landing on the sticky female flowers. These female catkins will eventually become the cone-like, seed bearing structures (strobiles) that are so noticeable on alders.

I was going to open this post with this photo but I thought if I did no one would care to read it. This was what we woke up to last Thursday, the first day of spring; about two inches of wet, slushy snow that had all melted by the end of the day. Nature has a very refined sense of humor but sometimes I don’t get the joke. 

Female red maple flowers (Acer rubrum) have presumably received their allotment of pollen and will soon become tiny red seeds (samaras.) A plant puts a lot of energy into seed production and that could be why the sap becomes bitter when red maples flower, but I don’t know that for certain. What I do know is that many billions of maple seeds will be in the air before too long.

Male red maple flowers pass quickly out of photogenic appeal in my opinion, but they get the job done. Continuation of the species is all important and red maples are experts at it.

Native Americans used to tap box elders (Acer negundo) and make syrup from their sap but I don’t think today’s syrup producers tap them. They’re in the maple family but it seems to me that I’ve read that it takes too many gallons of sap to make syrup, and that isn’t profitable for today’s producers. This example had its bud scales opening. The earliest known Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from the wood of a box elder.

In a ground ivy blossom (Glechoma hederacea) five petals are fused together to form a tube. The lowest and largest petal, which is actually two petals fused together, serves as a landing area for insects, complete with tiny hairs for them to hang onto. The darker spots inside are nectar guides for them to follow into the tube. The pistil’s forked style pokes out at the top under one of the three separate petals. It’s in a perfect position to brush the back of a hungry bee. It’s another invader, introduced into North America as an ornamental or medicinal plant as early as the 1800s, when it immediately began taking over the continent.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) buds are swelling up quickly now. Soon they’ll open to reveal what sometimes look like dark purple fingers that will grow quickly into green leaves. In mid May the white flower panicles will appear and they’ll be followed by bright red berries that birds love.

I pulled back the leaves at the base of a tree in a place I know it grows and sure enough, there was a wild ginger (Asarum canadense) shoot tipped with a new bud. I admired it for a bit and then covered it back up with the leaves. It will bloom toward the end of April. Wild ginger is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. The small brown, spherical flower buds appear quickly so I start watching them about once each week starting in mid-April.

I went to the place where spring beauties, trout lilies, false hellebores and ramps grow, but so far all I’ve seen were sedges, and they were greening up fast. They should bloom soon.

I saw some of the prettiest little reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) that I’ve ever seen. These flowers are often so early they’ll even bloom with snow around them, even before crocuses, but this year they and the crocuses bloomed at about the same time.

This is one of my favorite crocuses. It’s more beautiful in bud than when its plain white flowers open, in my opinion.

I like the soft shading on this one too. We’re lucky to have so many beautiful flowers to enjoy in the spring.

Many daffodils are now showing color.

Unfortunately this is what happens to over anxious magnolia buds. It has gotten frost bitten badly.

Grape hyacinths bloomed early in this spot and I was surprised to see them. The Muscari part of their scientific name comes from the Greek word for musk and speaks of their fragrance. I just learned that grape hyacinths can be classified in both the asparagus family and the hyacinth family, which seems a little odd.

The beautiful little scilla have come along, pushing up through last year’s leaves. Their name comes from the Latin word “scilla,” which is also spelled “squilla,” and that means “sea onion.” I very much look forward to seeing them each spring.

There was lots of pollen showing on this one and I’m surprised that I didn’t see more bees. It was a chilly, windy day though, so that may be why.

What I believe are beaked willows (Salix bebbiana) are very nearly in full flower now but I haven’t seen any of the showier willows blooming yet. This small native tree is common and is also called gray willow, or Bebb’s willow. It was called red willow by native Americans, probably because of its very red branches which were used for baskets and arrow shafts. I like looking for willows in the spring because they grow in wet places and I often hear spring peepers, chickadees and red winged blackbirds when I’m near them. Lost in this sweet song of life I awaken inside, much like the earth awakens each spring.

The flowers are what give beaked willow its name. They are spherical at the base and taper into a long beak. Each flower has 2 yellow stamens at its tip. But willows can be very hard to identify and I’m never 100% positive about what I’m seeing when I look at them. Beaked willows easily cross pollinate with other willows and create natural hybrids. Even Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.”

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.  ~Marcus Aurelius 

Thanks for coming by. Stay safe everyone.

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One of the strangest things I’ve found in nature is when a normally roaring brook is muffled by ice, so last weekend I went up to Beaver Brook to see if it had been muffled or if it was still singing. As this photo shows, it was singing. Loudly.

There were places though, where the ice had almost grown from bank to bank. The ice doesn’t quiet it absolutely but very close, and it’s an eerie thing to know a brook is there and not be able to hear it.

Icicles hung from the edges of ice shelves but they weren’t as impressive as in years past. This has been such a warm winter. It gets cool and snows but then it warms up and the snow melts, and then it happens again, so we have no real snow depth. The reason it has lasted here is because Beaver Brook flows through a shaded canyon between two hills.

I saw more ice on the ledges that line the old road than on the brook.

An evergreen fern waited patiently for spring.

What I call the color changing lichen had put on its lavender / blue coat. My color finding software sees more “steel blue” than any other color but in the warm months this lichen is ash gray. When I see it I always wonder how many other lichens change color. This one is granular and crustose and I’ve never been able to identify it.

I didn’t want to get too close to where the color changing lichen grew because the ledges here are unstable and large pieces have been falling recently. Cracks like this one are caused by water running into them and freezing. The expanding ice makes the crack bigger and bigger and eventually the stone falls, pried away from the ledge face by the ice.

On the hillsides above me there were many fallen trees. Since there are electric lines running through here they have to be cut when they fall on the wires.

I was sorry to see that one of the fallen trees was an old beech with hundreds of beechnut husks on it. These nuts are an important food source for many different animals but I hardly see them at all.

A maple leaf had such beautiful color it stopped me in my tracks and held me mesmerized for a time. I took far too many photos of it but colorful maple leaves are unexpected in February.

I think it has been over a year since I last saw the yellow jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica) called witches butter, even though they’re fairly common. Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. An odd fact about jelly fungi is that they can be parasitic on other fungi.

There are lots of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) growing along Beaver Brook. They have colorful twigs and buds and are among the easiest trees to identify no matter what time of year because of the green and white vertical stripes on their bark. Their terminal buds have two scales and are valvate, meaning they have two bud scales. Striped maple is very fussy about where it grows and will not stand pollution, heat, or drought. It likes cool, shady places with sandy soil that stays moist. They bloom in June and have very pretty green bell shaped blossoms.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) also does well along the brook. Their buds are naked, meaning they have no scales to protect them, so they have wooly hair instead. This photo shows that the flower bud in the center and the two leaf buds on either side are clothed more in wool than hair, but they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

The chubby little green and purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are some of my favorites, but I don’t see them often. Lucky they grow along the brook in places so I could admire them on this day. Red elderberry buds have imbricate scales, meaning they overlap like shingles. Soon the buds will swell and the purple scales will pull back to reveal the green scales underneath.

Here was something I’ve never seen; the normally round buds of red elderberry had elongated. There were several that had done this and I can’t figure out why they would have. Maybe they can gather more sunlight with this shape and are evolving right before the eyes that care enough to watch.

When light rain or drizzle falls on cold snow it can freeze into a crust and that’s what had happened during the last storm. The shiny crust can be very hard to capture on film but here it is, on the other side of the brook. Crusty snow can be awfully hard to walk on because it acts like it will support your weight, but at the last minute it breaks and your foot falls through it. Having it happen over and over makes for a jarring and tiring walk.

A tree fell perfectly and wrapped its arms around another.

Native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) also line the banks of Beaver Brook. This is a shot of the recently opened seed pods, which explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never am. Seeing the ice on the one on the left, I’m wondering if the pods hold water.

I like to visit my old friend the stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) when I’m here. It’s a very beautiful moss that grows on stones as far north as the arctic tundra. It seems fairly rare here; this is the only example that I’ve seen, and it doesn’t seem to be spreading. When dry stair step moss has a slight satiny sheen to it, and that’s probably how it came by its other common name of glittering wood-moss. The name stair step moss comes from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. It is said that you can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps.

The liverwort called greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata) was frozen absolutely solid. Even frozen it still reminds me of centipedes. It’s very easy to mistake this common liverwort for moss so you have to look closely. The root-like growths are new branches. They aren’t always present but sometimes there will be a lot of them as there were here. This was a happy liverwort, even though it was frozen.

This scene of green algae in a seep reminded me of spring. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer. This seep is a warm one; in all the years I’ve known it I’ve never seen it completely freeze. Seeps don’t have a single point of origin like a spring, instead they form a puddle that never dries up and doesn’t flow. They’re an important water source for many small animals and birds and unusual plants and fungi can often be found in and around them.

The waters of the stream played the part of the orchestra, and the sunlight provided the dancers. Every now and then a crescendo of wind highlighted the symphony in the clearing by the creek.
~Edward Mooney Jr.

Thanks for coming by.

 

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I’ve seen some glorious sunrises lately. This one reminded me of the old “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” saying, which is based in fact. According to Wikipedia “If the morning skies are red, it is because clear skies over the horizon to the east permit the sun to light the undersides of moisture-bearing clouds.” The concept is over two thousand years old and is even referenced in the New Testament, so sailors have been paying attention to the skies for a very long time.  

I like looking for patterns in ice and I thought I saw the Statue of Liberty’s Crown in this puddle ice. The whiter the ice, the more air bubbles were trapped in it when it froze. That explains the color, but what explains the long, needle like crystals and the strange pinging noise it makes when it breaks? There might be answers to those questions out there, but I still haven’t been able to find them.

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are a native holly that love wet feet so I look for them in swamps and along streams.  Conditions must have been perfect for them this year because I’ve seen more berries on them than I ever have. Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings all eat them so this year they’ll eat well.

Spindle berry is native to Europe but we have a native version called eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus,) and I think this plant is probably the native version. The photo above is of its interesting bright red fruit, which many birds eat. I watched a pair of blue jays eating the fruit just the other day, in fact. Though Native Americans used the bark, leaves and fruits medicinally  all parts of this plant are considered poisonous if eaten. Wahoo was their name for the shrub.

When young yellow hawkweed seedlings (Hieracium caespitosum) look like the above photo; very hairy. And when it gets cold the leaves will turn purple unless covered by snow. When covered the leaves will often stay green all winter and there are thousands of them in a meadow where I work. Hawkweeds were used in Europe to treat lung disorders, stomach pains, cramps, and convulsions. Native Americans used our native hawkweeds in chewing gum.

I know I showed Mount Monadnock in my last post but I’m showing it again because I just heard that a man had to be rescued from the summit recently. Unfortunately this has become a common occurrence that is expensive and dangerous for rescuers. It usually happens because people simply aren’t prepared for the weather conditions up there. They get wet, cold, and find themselves in serious trouble. People have died on that mountain, so if you plan on climbing it please do some research and stay safe. By the way, all the snow in this photo is gone now but it’s still mighty cold up there. For a current forecast visit https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Mount-Monadnock/forecasts/965

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) grows long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. Virgin’s bower is our native wild clematis vine that blooms anytime from July through September. Botanically speaking these “seeds” are achenes, which are fruits with one seed. This is a common plant seen draped over shrubs and climbing into trees all along these tracks. What is uncommon is its pretty star shaped seed head. The hairy looking seeds give it another common name: Old Man’s Beard.

I think this is the worst tree wound I’ve ever seen. Though dead now the tree lived like this for many years. It showed me that the natural drive to live is very strong among all living things.

I saw a familiar black growth on a fallen beech limb (Fagus grandifolia) that I recognized as an unusual little fungus that I had seen before.

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. The fruiting bodies seen here are described as “cushion like round or flask shaped masses of fungal tissue with nipple or pustule shaped pores.” It took me about three years to be able to identify this fungus, so you have to be persistent in nature study.

Another black fungus found on trees is the bootstrap fungus. It is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

Fungal spores can enter trees through wounds in the bark, like sapsucker holes for instance. Yellow bellied sapsuckers are in the woodpecker family but unlike other woodpeckers they feed on sap instead of insects. They drill a series of holes in a line across the bark and then move up or down and drill another series of holes before moving again, and the end result is usually a rectangular pattern of holes in the bark. They’ll return to these holes again and again to feed on the dripping sap. Many small animals, bats, birds and insects also drink from them, so these little birds help out a lot of their forest companions.

Many ash trees have black winter buds, like black ash for instance, but I know this one by its fruit and it is a native mountain ash. It grows in a very un-mountain like wet place and because of that I think it suffers. It seems a weak, sickly tree and I didn’t know that its buds also looked sickly until I took this photo. It does bear a limited amount of fruit though, so it’s obviously trying.

But none of that was the actual point of taking this photo; I took it so I could tell you that the best way to start learning to identify trees when they are leafless is to find a tree with prominent or unmistakable features (like buds) and start there. Once you’ve learned all you can from that tree choose another. Sooner or later you’ll notice similar patterns among tree species and that will make them even easier to identify.

Shrubs too, can teach. I can’t think of another shrub with chubby purple buds like those found on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa.) In spring the outer purple bud scales will open and show the green inner bud and they will be very beautiful in their purple and green stripes. A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open in the spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new leaves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” An imbricate bud is a bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles. In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

The inner bark on dead staghorn sumacs can be a beautiful bright, reddish orange color in the winter. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner (live) bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. The plant is said to be rich in tannins and I do know that dyes in colors like salmon and plum can be made from various parts of the plant, including its bark.

I’ve seen various animals and even beautiful Hindu dancers in grape tendrils but in this one all I see is infinity, because it doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end. A grape tendril is a flower stalk that has evolved into a grasping support to get the vine into the bright life giving sunshine at the tops of trees. They bend in the direction of touch so if the wind happens to blow them against a branch they will twist spirally around it. In a vineyard they usually point to the north.

I like the warm, rich brown of oak leaves in the winter. These were curled together in a hug, as if to keep each other warm.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) seed pods covered the ground under an old tree and I was glad I wasn’t the one who had to rake them all up. When the seed pods are green the pulp on the inside is edible and very sweet, while the pulp of the very similar black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is toxic. One good way to tell the two trees apart is by the length of their seed pods; honey locust pods are much longer and may reach a foot in length, while black locust pods only grow to about 4-5 inches long. Honey locust seed pods look a lot like giant flat string beans about 9-12 inches long and often curled. Some of them look like polished mahogany and others can be purple. Beautiful white, fragrant flowers cover these trees in late spring. Locusts are legumes, in the pea family. Deer love the seed pods.

Honey locust thorns grow singly and can be 3 to 6 inches long. They will sometimes branch like the example in the photo. These thorns are big and as hard as iron. They can reach 6 inches in length and poke right out of the bark of the tree along its branches and sometimes even the main trunk. They are tough enough to puncture shoe soles and I always watch my step when I walk under one of these trees because thorns like these can cause a nasty wound. In the past the hard thorns of the younger trees were used as nails. Confederate soldiers once used them to pin their uniforms together and survivalists still use them as fish hooks, spear heads, nails, sewing needles and even small game traps. Native Americans used the wood to make bows, and medicines were made from various parts of the plant.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

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Last Sunday it was a warm but cloudy day when I went to the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. I haven’t been there to do a blog post since last fall so it was time for another visit. Posts from there usually write themselves as this one did. In fact I often feel like I’m being led from one thing to another; as if there is a director off in the woods saying okay, bring him over here next, and there I find another fascinating bit of nature to show all of you. It really is amazing the way it works but I know I’m not the only one it happens to. Stories write themselves in many minds but whether or not they all include lichens, mosses, and liverworts I don’t know.

This old road was abandoned sometime around 1970 when the new highway was built but strangely, nobody I’ve talked to has been able to remember exactly when. I’m sure there must be records somewhere. As this photo shows, even though the old road is snow covered you can still see that you’re on a road by the old guard posts. Most have rotted away or been broken but in this stretch they look as if they might still keep a car out of the brook.

This post had moss capping it.

The moss on the post was one of my favorites, delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which isn’t really delicate at all but it is very pretty with its fern like foliage.

If you picture a steep sided, V shaped canyon with a stream running through it you’ll have a good idea of what this place looks like. In the 1700s a road was cut through beside the stream and at one time this road carried quite a lot of traffic north out of Keene.

Beaver brook was frozen over for the most part and its normally happy giggles had been hushed down to almost a whisper.

The ice on the brook looked to be about 4-5 feet thick, and that’s because of the water rising and falling so often. Sometimes you come here and the water roars through the canyon, filling the stream banks, and at other times it’s tame, with low water flowing lazily along. If we get the warm temperatures predicted for next week it will be roaring again soon.

If you’ve ever wondered how trees get damaged in the woods, this is one way.

The tree with ice against it is in the previous photo is a golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis.) There are many of them here and they’re easily identified by their color and by the way their bark peels in shreds. These trees like it cool and moist and are often found near streams and ponds. They can also stand a lot of shade so a cool, shaded forest is perfect for them. Golden birch is also called yellow birch, and Native Americans tapped this and other birch trees for their sap, which they boiled down into syrup. They also made a medicinal tea from the bark.

Many of the golden birches here have healed frost cracks, which is that vertical bulge running up the center of this tree. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and its cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  It’s fairly common to hear trees cracking with a sound like a rifle shot on cold nights.

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is rare in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever seen it and I’ve never seen it with new shoots growing, like this example had. The shoots are the tiny white pointed bits seen here and there. This moss was very dry; as dry as paper, so it looks a bit ragged. Normally it is a beautiful healthy green color that sparkles in the right light, and that might be what gives it the name glittering wood moss. It is said to be more common in northern forests and grows even into the Arctic.

Here is a closer look at the tip of one of those shoots.

This is one of thousands of common script lichens (Graphis scripta) that grow on the trees here. The black squiggles that sometimes resemble a long forgotten ancient text are its apothecia where its spores are produced. This family of lichens, like many others, seems to prefer winter to produce spores. Its long, narrow apothecia are called lirellae, and they’ll fade and all but disappear in warm weather. Script lichen is also called secret writing lichen.

An elderly lady passed me on snow shoes and remarked about how beautiful the place and the day were. I agreed, and I wondered if I’d be anywhere near as able as she when I reached her age. She must have been close to 80 but she was cruising right along.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) buds are naked, meaning they have no bud scales to protect the bud from the winter cold. Instead they have hair and this one looked very hairy. This native shrub will bloom in mid-May and will be covered with large, hand size clusters of pure white blossoms. The name hobblebush comes from the way it can “hobble” a horse (or a man) with its low, ground hugging tangle of branches. The Native American Algonquin tribe rubbed the mashed leaves of this shrub on their foreheads to treat migraines. They also ate its deep purple berries that appear in fall.

I got to see the chubby purple and green buds of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) that I enjoy seeing so much. They looked a bit dry but they’re on their way to opening I think. It looks as if the outer bud scales have pulled away from the buds. This is another native shrub that has clusters of bright red berries in summer that Native Americans used as food.

There are many ledges here along the old road and last year one of them collapsed into quite a large rockslide, with stones big enough to crush a car falling into the old road.

This shows the big hole in the ledge that the stones left when they fell. Someone small could sit in there behind the ice but I wouldn’t advise it because this area looks very unstable.

Most of the stone in these ledges is feldspar but there is some granite schist mixed in, as can be seen here. There are lots of garnets mixed into the stone as well and though some can be large none are of gem quality, from what I saw in my mineral collecting days.

With a last look at the beautiful blue ice on the ledges I walked back down the old road, in truth wishing I was seeing blue flowers instead. It looks like the end of the really cold air is finally in sight; we’re supposed to see temperatures in the 40s F. next week. That should finally get spring started in earnest.

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

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I should mention, for newer readers, that these “Things I’ve seen” posts are made up of photos I’ve taken of things that didn’t fit into other posts, usually because the other posts were already far too long. Quite often I end up with too many photos to fit in one post but I don’t want to waste them, so here they are.

The pond in this shot shows very well what “rotten ice” looks like. Specks of dirt and bubbles get between the ice crystal bonds and weaken their strength, and when it looks like this, with a dark matte finish, you certainly don’t want to walk on it. Of course this was taken when we had a warm spell. The ice has firmed up now and is covered with about 6 inches of snow.

The pond in the previous photo connects to a swamp by way of a culvert under a road and beavers use it to travel back and forth, stopping long enough to cut some trees on the way.

The beavers have been very active here this year and have cut many young birch trees in this area. They do this every few years and then cut somewhere else, giving the birches time to grow back. I’ve seen these clumps grow back at least twice in the 30 years or so that I’ve paid attention.

You know you’re seeing some strange weather when a tree drips sap in January.

But then it got cold; cold enough to grow ice shelves on the Ashuelot River.

How enticing they are to pig headed little boys who don’t like to listen to their elders. I know that because I was one of those once, and I walked right down the middle of the frozen river. All of the sudden I heard what sounded like rifle shots and I ran as fast as I could for the river bank. When I was able to peel myself from the tree I had a death grip on and take a look, I saw water where I had been walking. It scared me more than anything else ever has I think, and I doubt I’ll ever forget it.

Even the stones were coated with ice.

The Ashuelot was tame on this day and there were no waves to take photos of.

The river had coughed up an ice bauble which caught the sunshine but didn’t melt. I’m always surprised by how clear river ice is. This bauble was so clear I could see a V shaped something frozen inside it.

Jelly fungi are made almost entirely water so of course they were frozen too. This amber example felt like an ice cube rather than an earlobe as they usually do. Freezing doesn’t seem to affect them much, I’ve noticed.

The seed eating birds have been busy picking all the prickly looking coneflower seeds in my yard. They had just gotten started on this one.

And they had just about finished with this one. Odd that these seed heads are hollow.

I don’t know if birds eat the tiny seeds of forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) but the seed pods look almost like a trough that would make them easy to reach. I can’t remember this pretty little annual plant having such hairy parts in life but they certainly do in death.

I thought the color of these dead fern stems (Rachis) was very beautiful on a winter day. I think they might have been hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula,) which grow in large colonies and have stems that persist long after the leaves have fallen.

Many things are as beautiful in death as they are in life, especially fungi. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call this one beautiful but it was certainly interesting.

This isn’t a very good photo but it does help illustrate how strange our weather has been, because you don’t see too many flies flying around in January in New Hampshire. Last Tuesday it was -13 degrees F. and everything was frozen solid. By Thursday it was 50 degrees; warm enough apparently to awaken this fly. It was also warm enough to cause an unusual snow slide in Claremont, which is north of here. A large amount of snow suddenly slid down a hillside and slammed into a house, partially destroying it. It also pushed a parked truck about 75 feet.

It’s easy to see how the horse hoof fungus (Fomes fomentarius) got its name. It’s also easy to see how this fungus grows, because its spore bearing surface always points toward the ground. If you see a fallen log with this fungus on it and its spore bearing surface doesn’t point toward the ground you know that it grew while the tree was standing. If it does point toward the ground it grew after the tree fell. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that it can produce as many as 800 million in a single hour; fine as dust and nearly impossible to see. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by Hippocrates, who is considered the father of medicine.

Lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) start life as a tiny bright yellow disc and look as if they lie flat on the log, but they actually hover just above the surface on a short stalk. As they age each disc becomes cup shaped. The Citrina part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Citrin, which means “lemon yellow.” They are very small, so you’ll need a loupe or a macro lens to see them properly.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I like looking at buds at this time of year and some of my favorite buds are found on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa.) They’re about medium size as buds go, and nice and chubby. I love their beautiful purple and green color combination.

I think my favorite thing this time around is this river ice that caught and magnified the blue of the sky. I thought it was quite beautiful, but blue is my favorite color so that could have something to do with it.

The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves. ~Kahlil Gibran

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So many more of the smaller things become visible when the leaves fall, like the tongue gall on these  alder cones (strobiles.) These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host.  I wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

I didn’t know if this ladybug was dead or alive or maybe frozen, but it wasn’t moving. And where were its spots? The answer is, it doesn’t have spots because it isn’t our native ladybug; it’s a female multicolored Asian ladybug. From what I’ve read it is highly variable in color and was purposely introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a biological control agent. It is a tree bark dwelling beetle that consumes large amounts of aphids and scale, both of which do large amounts of damage to crops. They’re slightly larger than our native beetles and can drive homeowners crazy by collecting on windowsills, in attics, and even indoors in the spring. They can release a foul smelling defensive chemical which some are said to be allergic to.

We’ve had more snow in parts of the state. It’s very odd to leave my yard at my house that has no snow in it and drive to work where I see snow like this. It’s only a distance of about 25 miles, but it’s enough of an elevation change to cause cooler temperatures. It really drives home what a difference just a few degrees can make.

I thought this beech tree was beautiful, with its Christmas ornament like leaves.

And what was that poking up out of the snow?

It was a fallen limb which was covered by what I think was orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum,) which is very common here. I see large fallen limbs almost completely covered by it. Though this isn’t a very good shot of it the color is so bright sometimes it’s like a beacon in the snowy landscape. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself”  and that is often just what it does.

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) grew on the same branch the orange crust fungus grew on. I like holding these up so the light can shine through them because sometimes they look like stained glass. Being in the snow meant these examples had absorbed plenty of water so they were pliable and rubbery, like your ear lobe. I see this fungus everywhere, especially on fallen oak limbs but also on alder and poplar as well.

I decided to visit a grove of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) that I know of to see if they were still blooming. Blooming or not, they were beautiful with all of the newly fallen snow decorating them.

And they were still blooming, even in the snow. This tells me that it must be the air temperature that coaxes them into bloom because it was about 40 degrees this day.

I know it’s far too early to be looking at buds for signs of spring but red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) buds are so pretty I couldn’t help myself. I’ve known people who thought that buds grew in spring when it warmed up, but most buds actually form in the fall and wait  for warm weather to swell up and break and form leaves and / or flowers. These buds should break in mid-May, if it’s warm enough.

I’ve seen some unusual lichens lately, like this grayish white example which had the same color apothecia (fruiting bodies) as the body (Thallus.)  This made them hard to see and I only saw them by accident when I got close to look at something else.

I wish I knew what caused the colors in a lichen. As far as we know they don’t use color to attract insects but many of them are brightly colored nevertheless. I have seen teeth marks in lichens so I’m fairly sure squirrels eat them and I know for sure that reindeer eat them, but I don’t know if this helps them spread or not. I also don’t know the identity of this lichen. I haven’t been able to find it in any of my lichen books or online.

Here’s another unusual lichen; actually two lichens separated by the nearly horizontal crack between them. The lichen on top might be a bumpy rim lichen (Lecanora hybocarpa,) which gets its name from its bumpy body (Thallus) and the rims around its apothecia.  The lichen below the crack has me baffled. It has a fringe around its perimeter that makes it look like a maple dust lichen but I can’t find any reference to apothecia on a maple dust lichen. It’s another mystery to add to the thousands of others I’ve collected.

Here is a true maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Note the white fringe around its outer edge, much like the lichen in the previous photo.  But unlike the previous lichen it has no visible fruiting bodies.

If you have ever tasted gin then you’ve tasted juniper berries, because that’s where gin’s flavor comes from. The unripe green berries are used for gin and the ripe, deep purple black berries seen here are ground to be used as a spice for game like deer and bear. The berries are actually fleshy seed cones and they appear blue because of a waxy coating that reflects the light in such a way as to make them appear blue. The first recorded usage of juniper berries appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used the fruit of junipers medicinally and Native Americans used them both as food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated.

Gray, furry willow pine cone galls appear on the very tips of willow branches, because that’s where a midge called Rabdophaga strobiloides lays its egg. Once the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into the branch tip and the willow reacts by forming a gall around them. These galls are about as big as the tip of your thumb and do not harm the plant.

A woodpecker, chickadee, or other bird started pecking at this goldenrod gall to get at the gall fly larva (Eurosta solidaginis) that is growing inside the gall. These galls have thick walls that discourage parasitic wasps like Eurytoma gigantean from laying its eggs inside the larval chamber. If successful the wasp larva quickly eat the gall fly larva. If the bird is successful then everything inside will be eaten.

We’re certainly having some beautiful sunrises lately, probably because of the low cloud deck we seem to have almost every morning.

And those low clouds can hide things, including mountains. Off to the left in this photo is the huge bulk of Mount Monadnock behind the clouds. It’s too bad it was hidden; the bright morning sunshine on its snowy flanks tells me it probably would have been a beautiful scene.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

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