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Posts Tagged ‘Red Elderberry’

Westmoreland lies north of Keene and the soil there is lime rich in certain places which means that you can see plants there that won’t grow in the more acidic soil of Keene, so last Sunday off I went down one of my favorite rail trails. I used to try to ride my bike out here but the gravel of the trail is very soft and I had such a time getting through it that I ended up walking the bike for much of the way anyhow, so now I just walk it. Though it was cloudy it was a great day for hiking with all of the beautiful spring green and singing birds.

This maple was that green that only happens in spring; kind of a yellow green, I guess you’d call it.

Though it doesn’t mind acidic soil red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) does well here in the more alkaline soil.  There were several plants which were flowering well with panicles of whitish flowers growing from the axils of the upper leaves.

Each greenish white flower is about 1/8″ across. They have 5 petals (petaloid lobes) that curve backwards sharply. The flower’s 5 stamens have white filaments and are tipped with pale yellow anthers. There is also a pistil with 3 small stigmata. If pollinated each flower will become a small bright red berry.  Though the plant is said to be toxic many Native American tribes steamed, dried and ate the berries. They are said to be very bitter unless prepared correctly.

There are plenty of reminders of exactly where you are out here, like this old signal base.

When the rails were torn up the railroad left all the ties stacked up along the railbed. People came and took what they wanted but there are still plenty to be seen, slowly rotting into the soil.

The boulder in the previous photo had a golf ball size hole in it, probably made by a steam drill so it could be blasted apart when they were laying the rails. For some reason they decided not to blast it.

Almost there; the dark circle in the distance marks the end of one leg of this journey.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) wears bronze for its new spring coat, but its leaves will green up quickly. Wild sarsaparilla grows all through our forests and is a common sight. The plant sets flower buds quickly just as its leaflets have unfurled, and often before they’ve changed from their early deep bronze to green. In botanical terms the “leaves” are actually one leaf with a whorl of 3 compound leaves, which have groups of 3-7 leaflets. People sometimes confuse the plant with poison ivy before the flowers appear because of the “leaves of three” as in leaves of three, let them be. One easy way to tell the difference is by looking for a woody stem; poison ivy has one but this plant does not.

Wild sarsaparilla always starts out with its three compound leaves held vertically and clasping at the very top.

I was surprised to see logging going on in this part of the forest, but not completely. There are many hardwoods here like beech, oak and maple and very few conifers. Hardwood always brings more at the mill.

A logging road had to be built to get to the section of forest to be logged, so huge boulders were bulldozed into a place that needed a retaining wall. These stones are new, meaning they were just dug or cut. You can tell by how clean they are, and by their color. Most stones will turn gray in just a few years.

Here we are at the man made canyon that showed as a dark circle in a previous photo. There are a few of these along this section of trail, and they were all blasted out of the bedrock almost 150 years ago for the Cheshire Railroad.

I don’t know what it is that draws them here, but many interesting plants not easily seen in other places grow on these ledges.

Purple or red trillium (Trillium erectum) grows here in fair numbers. Each flower averages about as big as a quarter, or about an inch across.

Trilliums are all about the number three. Even the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, meaning three. On the purple trillium the three green sepals just are behind the three red petals. Once they open the flowers often nod under the three leaves (actually bracts,) and are mostly hidden from view for a short time before finally standing erect above the leaves. Inside the flower are six stamens and three stigmas. If flies pollinate the flower a three chambered, red fruit will grow.

False Solomon’s seal grows well here. Though it’s too early for their June bloom time the plants were budded. In about three weeks they should have small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of their stems. The blossoms will give way to small but beautiful reddish and tan speckled berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife.

The wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) are what I came here to see and as usual they stole the show. They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. The rich alkaline soil is very unusual in this part of New Hampshire and many rare plants are known to grow in this area. The trick is in finding them; though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen wild columbine.

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

I couldn’t stop clicking the shutter, always hoping for a better shot. The wind was blowing through the canyon so I was sure every photo would be blurred. There have been years I’ve had to come back three or four times for that very reason.

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. 5 funnel shaped holes lead to nectar spurs and long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.”
~Robin Wall Kimmerer

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There are spring haters out there. I know there are because I’ve talked to some of them. They complain of dirty snowbanks, brown grass, bare trees, wind and cold, and just the blah-ness of it all. No color, they say. Well, this post is designed to show them how wrong they are. Spring shouldn’t be about seeing tulips and daffodils out of the car window as you drive past. It should be about walking slowly, looking closely, and marveling at what is in my opinion the most beautiful season of all. It should be about seeing the incredible beauty of nature, and witnessing the miracles that happen each and every day. It’s hard to deny the beauty of red maple blossoms (Acer rubrum) for instance, as we see in this photo. Though this shot is from last year they have started blooming now. The blooming period doesn’t last long, so now is the time to look for them. You won’t have to look hard though, because these trees are everywhere.

Silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum) look a lot like those of red maples, but the fruits (samaras) of silver maple are far more beautiful, in my opinion. You can find these in mid-May here and no, you don’t need to be able to tell a silver maple from a red maple; all you need to do is look closely, regularly.  These samaras look like this for only a day or two.

American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) have also just started to bloom. These beautiful, rarely seen things are very small, so if your eyes are as old as mine you might want to carry a loupe or macro lens. Or, there are also free magnifying glass apps that you can get for a cell phone. I have one and it works well. I took this photo at just about this time last year. Hazelnut shrubs grow along rail trails, roadways, and in waste places.

Other tiny flowers are those of the speckled alder (Alnus incana.) The cylindrical flower clusters are long and thin and often appear in groups at the ends of branches. They are called catkins or aments. Each flower cluster has many crimson, thread-like female stigmas just poking out. Don’t be afraid to grab a branch of a tree or shrub and pull it toward you so you can see better; you won’t hurt the plant at all. This photo was taken on March 26th of last year and I’ve already seen hints of them this year, so the time to look is now in this area. Alders get little hard black cones called strobiles on their branch ends and usually grow near water.

If you can’t find anything to marvel at on shrubs or trees check the stones. They’re often covered with lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown here. Unless the stones are covered with snow there are always lichens to see and they can be very beautiful.

If there aren’t any stones look in the bushes. You might be astonished by what you find. These robin eggs hatched in May two years ago.

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) look like tiny fingers as they pull themselves away from their protective covering of the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub; this photo was taken in mid-April of 20105. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers, followed by bright red berries. One of life’s simple pleasures is watching buds like these open and it costs nothing but a few minutes of time each day.

On every stone, on every branch and in every puddle, the beauty of spring can be found. Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid-May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them in this photo from May 17th of 2014. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

Leaves can also be beautiful, as this photo of the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebores (Veratrum viride) from mid-May of 2015 shows. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants we have here, so you’re probably better off just admiring rather than touching this one. They like low, moist areas along streams and rivers.

The point of all this is to learn to see rather than to simply look. There is a difference; one day I met two college age girls on a woodland trail. They complained that they hadn’t seen a single wildflower, though the area was known for them. When I walked the same trail I saw flowers everywhere. They were small yes, but they were there. So how can this be? I’m guessing that they probably walked too fast and thought more about the end of the trail than what they might see along it. A toddler’s pace and a willingness to look a little closer would have let them see beautiful things that they probably hadn’t even imagined were there. Beautiful little Pennsylvania sedge flowers like those shown here are barely 4 inches tall, so you have to look the ground over carefully for them. They’ll appear along woodland edges and roadsides in mid-April, coming up out of what look like little tufts of course grass.

Orangey pink striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) are a good example of why, when a bud or flower catches your eye in the spring, you should watch it every day because changes come quickly. In a day or two your beautifully colored bud might have become leaves. The tree or shrub you happen to be looking at wants food, and food means leaves that can photosynthesize. There is no benefit to keeping its leaves tightly wrapped in the bud unless it is to protect the tender new growth from cold. If it is warm they’ll open quickly.

Box elder (Acer negundo) is in the maple family but it’s a “soft maple” and in this area is considered a weed tree because of how they come up everywhere. A box elder was the first tree I ever planted when I was a boy though, so they’re special to me. I think they’re at their most beautiful in April when they flower. The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers seen in this photo appear along with the tree’s leaves, just a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike a lot of other maples. The earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Fern fiddleheads just out of the ground are some of the most beautiful things to see in spring. One of my favorites is the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina.) Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams.

If you’re in a moist, loamy area looking for lady ferns you might as well look for some horsetails too. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. I find these at around the end of April.

I know what the big buds of shagbark hickory look like when they open but even so, they’re so beautiful they always stop me in my tracks and make me stand there with my mouth hanging open. They are easily one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and I start watching for them in mid-May. I usually find them growing near water; along river banks or near lakes and ponds.

So why  should you bother looking for all this stuff in spring? Well, why should you bother going to an art gallery, or listen to music, or read a book? We do these things to enrich our lives, to help renew and rejuvenate our minds and spirits; to make ourselves more comfortable with the unknown; more at peace, and more creative. Nature will do all of this for us and more. Nature, from my own experience, is very healing. If you face a rough spot in life try just walking alone on a favorite woodland path each day. In no time at all your problems will seem to have been solved with very little effort. I would never tell you this if it wasn’t true; it has happened in my own life again and again. I think it’s because nature study makes us meditate quite naturally, so we don’t even realize we’re doing so. It’s hard to worry and fret when something captivates your attention so just look at all that’s happening in the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) shoot above. Just up out of the soil and it’s already amazing. When I see it I want to draw it, and I think I could sit and look at it all day.

A large part of why I spend every free minute in nature is because of the incredible beauty I see. It’s amazing to think that so much beauty has been in plain sight all along. For a large part of my life I never took the time to see it and I hope you won’t make the same mistake. Everyone knows where there is a beech tree. Just start watching the branch tips around the first week in May. You’ll see the long, pointed buds begin to curl quite severely and then a day or so later miracles will happen; it will look like a host of angles has swooped down and shed their downy wings. Even the gloomiest among us will feel their pulse quicken and magically, a smile will appear on their face. If they spend time with nature it will be there for a while, so they’d better get used to it.

So here we are at the end of this post and until now we haven’t seen a flower with petals on it, so if you’re one of those people who think the beauty of spring means tulips and daffodils I hope I’ve changed your mind. But, if it is still flowers you want try a woodland walk in mid-April. If you’re lucky you might just find some spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) like those in this photo. All of what you’ve seen here and so very much more is just starting to happen, so I hope very much that you’ll get out there and see it for yourself.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1-half-moon-pond

After an extended nice warm January thaw we were brought back to reality by a sleet / freezing rain / snow/ rain storm that immediately froze into concrete like ice, making it treacherous to walk just about anywhere. This was the view across Half Moon Pond in Hancock to Mount Skatutakee, taken by cell phone the next morning. The pond Ice was cold but the air was warm, and that meant fog.

2-monadnock

It wasn’t fog but a cloud that tried to hide the summit of Mount Monadnock at Perkin’s Pond in Troy recently. There is still very little snow on this, the sunny side of the mountain. Every time it snows up there the sun melts it before it snows again, resulting in the least snowy Monadnock summit I’ve seen in a while.

3-puddle-mud

My thoughts turned from the lofty heights of mountaintops to the lowly depths of puddle mud when I found this. I don’t know if the mud froze and made these patterns or if ice on the puddle made them before it melted and then evaporated. Mud puddles can be very interesting things.

4-white-cushion-moss

The white cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) growing on a boulder made me want to reach out and pet it, and so I did. Though it looks like it might be stiff and prickly it’s actually quite soft. White cushion moss gets its common name from the way it turns a whitish color when it dries out so even though it was surrounded by ice this one was very dry. A perfect example of the winter desert when, though there is plenty of snow and ice, it’s too cold for any melt water to benefit plants.

5-crowded-parchment

Crowded parchment fungus (Stereum complicatum) lived up to its name on this log. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself.” This fungus often grows on fallen oak limbs and parasitizes some types of jelly fungi. It causes white rot of the heartwood when it grows on standing trees.

6-milk-white-toothed-polypore

I spoke about finding a very young milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) in my last post. Since then I’ve seen older ones and this is one of them. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.” Look for them in the undersides of tree branches.

7-turkey-tails

I’ve been looking for turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) that were wearing something other than brown all year and I finally found some that looked bluish gray. They were a little dry I think, because of their wilted looking edges, or maybe they were just old. This fungus been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years and the FDA has approved them for trials on cancer patients. They’re found in forests all over the world from Europe to Asia in the US and Russia.

8-unknown-fungi

These mushrooms were well past their prime but I didn’t care because I loved their color and texture and the way they looked as if they had been sculpted and bronzed. In death they were far more beautiful than they had been in life.

9-sumac-berries

Birds aren’t eating staghorn sumac berries but they never seem to in this area until the end of winter. I’ve heard that birds shun them because they’re low in fat, but I wonder if that’s true of all birds because when birds like red winged blackbirds return in spring the berries disappear quickly. It’s a head scratcher because Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog in Michigan says that the birds there gobble them up.

10-rose-hips

Birds haven’t eaten these rose hips either but they were as big as grapes, so maybe swallowing them is a problem. Fresh or dried rose hips are higher in vitamin C than citrus fruits and they can be used in many recipes, including a tea that is very soothing for a sore throat. The seeds inside rose hips should always be removed before use though, because they have a hairy covering that can be irritating. They can cost as much as $25.00 per pound in health food stores, which is more than the price of a rose bush, so it is worth growing your own if you have a fondness for them. The best time to harvest rose hips is after the first frost because frost removes some of the tartness. Choose fruit that is firm and has good, deep color. These examples were not firm but they had plenty of color.

11-cherries

These cherries were the size of peas, so it wasn’t size that turned the birds away from them. I think they were chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) which are dark purple / black when ripe, but I wonder if these might have frozen before they had a chance to ripen. Robins, thrushes, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, jays, bluebirds, catbirds, kingbirds, and grouse eat chokecherries, and so do mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, foxes, deer, bear, and moose. The inner bark of the chokecherry was used by Native Americans in the smoking mixture known as kinnikinnick to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf, which was the chief ingredient for many tribes.

12-red-elderberry-buds

I don’t see many red elderberry bushes (Sambucus racemosa) but I’m always happy when I do because then I get to see their chubby plum colored buds, which are some of my favorites. Later on the plant will have bright scarlet fruits that birds love. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

13-poplar-sunburst-lichen

I had to go and visit one of my favorite lichens; the poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana.) It grows on a tree near a retention pond in Keene, right next to a shopping mall. I’ve visited it off and on for years now and it has never stopped producing spores. The sucker like, cup shaped bits are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) where the spores are produced. Will it ever stop producing spores? After watching it do so for about 4 years now, I doubt it. In fact, it could go on for millennia:

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earthly being can be.

14-star-rosette-lichen-physcia-stellaris

As I finished admiring the poplar sunburst lichen my attention was drawn to another lichen that seemed to be winking at me. It was a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), which has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to a white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on blueberries, plums, and first year black raspberry canes. I’ve noticed by watching smoky eye boulder lichens, which also have pruinose apothecia, that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue. These examples were kind of blue gray but it was a cloudy day.

15-black-birch-witchs-broom

I keep running into black birches (Betula lenta) with what appears to be a deformity in their buds. I wouldn’t call it witches broom but the buds grow in a tightly packed cluster which isn’t normal, judging by the other buds on the trees. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it from any source, so if you happen to know I’d love to hear from you.

16-black-birch-bud

This is what a normal black birch bud looks like. Birch beer was once made from the black birch and so was oil of wintergreen. If you aren’t sure if the tree you see is a black birch just chew a twig. If it’s a black birch it will taste like wintergreen. So many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen that black birch is still hard to find in many areas today.

17-liverwort

I saw something on a tree that seemed very pale for this time of year. Most mosses are a deep green in winter so this chartreuse color really stood out. After a little research I think it is a liverwort called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanata.) I’ve read that it is common on trees and shrubs but I’ve never seen it. Plants are usually flattened, either forming patches like the one seen above or single stems creeping among mosses.

18-liverwort

A closer look at the liverwort shows round, flattened, overlapping leaves which are quite small. Each one is no more than 1/16  of an inch across. The even smaller, darker leaves look to be part of the same plant but I can find very little information on this liverwort. It is said to like sunny, sheltered, moist conditions and will sometimes grow on streamside rocks. Liverworts are epiphytes that take nothing from the trees they grow on. I’ve read that they were the first land plants to evolve about 500,000 million years ago and are the oldest living land plants.

19-twilight

The days are finally getting longer but it’s still too dark to do any serious photography before or after work. I took this shot of ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock at 7:30 one recent morning and it looks like the sun was setting rather than rising. The lack of light on weekdays leaves only weekends for taking photos and lately you can barely find the sun, even on a weekend. Our weather predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil just predicted six more weeks of winter (which just happens to coincide with the six weeks of winter left on the calendar) but the days are getting longer and not even old Punxsutawney Phil can stop that. I’m very much looking forward to being able to spend more time in the woods.

The days are short
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.
 ~John Updike

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1. Red Maple Flowering

Before our recent 5 inch snowstorm and two nights of record breaking cold I thought I’d try again to get a decent photo of a red maple (Acer rubrum) in flower. The above is my latest attempt. If you can imagine the scene repeated thousands of times side by side you have an idea what our hillsides and roadsides look like now. It appears as a red haze in the distance.

2. Red Maple Flowers

The female red maple flowers are about as big as they’ll get and if pollinated will now turn into winged seed pods called samaras. Many parts of the red maple are red, including the twigs, buds, flowers and seed pods.

3. Red Elderberry Bud

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) 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. The berries are said to be edible if correctly cooked but since the rest of the plant is toxic I think I’ll pass.

4. Daffodil

Last spring the first daffodil blossom didn’t appear on this blog until April 18th. This year they are over a month earlier, but the snow and colder temperatures have fooled them. Plants don’t get fooled often but it does happen.

5. Pennsylvania Sedge

I was surprised to see Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) in full bloom because when I went by here a week ago there wasn’t a single sign of flowers. This sedge doesn’t mind shade and will grow in the forest as long as it doesn’t get too wet. It likes sandy soil that dries quickly.

6. Pennsylvania Sedge

Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers but the female flowers always open first to receive pollen from a different plant. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. It’s a beautiful little plant that is well worth a second look.

7. Female Hazel Flower

Our American hazelnut (Corylus americana) shrubs are still blossoming as the above photo of the female blooms show. They are among the smallest flowers I know of, but getting a photo so you can see them up close is usually worth the effort.

8. Hyaxinths

The local college planted a bed of hyacinths. I love their fragrance.

9. False Hellebore

I like to see the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebore (Veratrum viride) in the spring. This is another plant that seemed to appear overnight; last week there was no sign of them here. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants known, and people have died from eating it by mistaking it for something else. It’s usually the roots that cause poisoning when they are confused with ramps or other plant roots.

10. Skunk Cabbage Leaf

There is a very short time when the first leaf of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) really does look like cabbage but you wouldn’t want it with your corned beef. It comes by its common name honestly because it does have a skunk like odor. Whether or not it tastes like it smells is anyone’s guess; I don’t know anyone who has ever eaten it. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation, and that the roots should be considered toxic. One Native American tribe inhaled the odor of the crushed leaves to cure headache or toothache, but I wonder if the sharp odor didn’t simply take their minds off the pain.

11. Trout Lily Leaf

I was happy to see trout lily leaves. Surely the yellow bronze buds and the spring beauties can’t be far behind. I learned by trying to get a sharp photo of this leaf that it couldn’t be done, on this day by my camera anyhow. Though everything else in the shot is in focus the leaf is blurred and it stayed blurred in close to twenty shots. I wonder if it isn’t the camouflage like coloration that caused it. I’ve never noticed before if they did this or not and I’d be interested in hearing if anyone else had seen it happen.

12. Forsythia

On the day of our recent snowstorm forsythia was blooming well, but on the day after not a blossom could be seen. Luckily most of the shrubs hadn’t bloomed yet, but I don’t know if the cold nights hurt the buds or not.  I’ll check them today.

13. Forsythia

Forsythia is over used and common but it’s hard to argue that they aren’t beautiful, and seeing a large display of them all blooming at once can be breath taking.

14. Box Elder Flowers

The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers (Acer negundo) often appear along with the tree’s leaves, but a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. In the examples shown here they were just starting to poke out of the buds. They’re beautiful when fully open and I hope to see some this weekend. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike red maples which can have both on one tree. Several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap and the earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

15. Lilac Bud 3

Lilac leaf buds are opening but I haven’t seen any colorful flower buds yet.

16. Beech Bud

In the spring as the sun gets brighter and the days grow longer light sensitive tree buds can tell when there is enough daylight for the leaves to begin photosynthesizing, so the buds begin to break. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud” and this can be a very beautiful thing. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud. Last year beech bud break didn’t start until May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke. Others I saw had not curled yet.

17. Hobblebush Leaf Bud

The buds of our native viburnum that we call hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) has naked buds, meaning that there are no bud scales encasing the leaf and flower buds to protect them. Instead this shrub uses dense hairs. As the weather warms the leaf buds grow longer and the flower buds swell, and the above photo shows a growing and expanding leaf bud.

18. Magnolia

I love the color of the flower buds on this magnolia. It grows at the local college and I don’t know its name. As magnolias go it’s a small tree.

19. Striped Squill

One of the spring flowering bulbs I most look forward to seeing each year is striped squill. The simple blue stripe down the middle of each white petal makes them exceedingly beautiful, in my opinion. The bulbs are hard to find but they are out there. If you’d like some just Google Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica and I’m sure that you’ll find a nursery or two that carries them. They are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. The example pictured here grows in a local park and they were blooming a full month earlier than last year. I’ll have to go see what the cold did to them, if anything.

20. Snow on Seed Head

I’ve heard that Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and virtually all of New England are having the same on again / off again spring with snow and cold, so we all just wait confident that it will happen eventually. In 1816 there was a “year without a summer” when snow fell in June and cold killed crops in July, but that was an anomaly caused by volcanic activity that will surely not happen again. At least we hope not.

Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring. ~Lilly Pulitzer

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Male and Female Alder Catkins

I’ve tried many times to get a fairly good photo of male and female speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) together but always failed until this time. The male catkin is the large golden object on the left and the female catkins are the long brown pointy objects on the right. They grow on the same bush but are very hard to get in the same photo.

Brown and purple scales on the male alder catkin are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen.

2. Female Alder Catkins

Each female speckled alder catkin is cone shaped and about a half inch long. A catkin, botanically speaking, is a slim, cylindrical flower cluster, usually with no petals. It is also called an ament. When I look for alder flowers I can only see a faint hint of red in the right light; the flowers are too small to see without a camera or loupe.

3. Female Alder Catkins

Each flower is a thin reddish strand that is the stigma; the part of the flower that receives the pollen. Normally a flower’s central pistil is made up of the stigma on the end of a style which then connects to the ovary. These flowers are so small that I can’t think of anything to compare them to except a hair, but they are bigger in diameter than that. They are certainly the smallest flowers that I try to photograph.

4. Hazel Catkins

The late afternoon sun turned the catkins of American hazel (Corylus americana) to gold. American hazel is a common roadside shrub that I don’t think many people ever see. When I tell people about it and the hazelnuts that it bears they always seem surprised. I wonder if that’s because they like hazelnut flavored coffee.

5. Hazel Catkins 2

The male hazel catkins are just starting to release their pollen. It pays to watch them develop because once they’re releasing pollen the tiny female flowers will soon begin to blossom.

6. Hazel Female Flower

The female hazel blossom is another flower that it’s hard to convey the size of. They are simple sticky crimson stigma just like the alders we saw previously, but since they grow from a bud rather than a catkin they’re slightly easier to see. I still have to look for a reddish blush though, because they’re too small for me to see. Luckily the camera can see very small things.

7. Golden Willow

The willow trees have taken on their golden spring crown but our willow shrubs are still holding on to their furry gray catkins. Maybe this will be the day that they bloom. It’s supposed to sunny and warm.

8. Crocus

Crocuses are blooming a little more but still seem a bit hesitant to really let go and bloom to their full potential. It could be the up and down weather.

9. Crocus

They were in the shade so these crocus blossoms didn’t seem to want to open but that was fine, because I was loving them just as they were. I’ve never seen this variety before.

10. Reticulated Iris

Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) are our earliest iris I think, and usually bloom at about the same time as crocus. I love these examples for their color, though I’m not sure what it is. I see blue but my color finding software sees both blue and purple. I’m happy believing they’re all blue. This beautiful little plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran.

11. Skunk Cabbage1

Something strange is happening to the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) this year. The spathes, which are seen here, aren’t opening fully and the flowers on the spadices inside aren’t producing pollen. Normally you would be able to see the spadix with its flowers inside the spathe at this time of year, dusted with pollen. They’re noting that the same thing is happening with skunk cabbages in New York. It’s a mystery.

12. Male Red Maple Flowers

Many of the male red maple flowers I’ve seen have stopped producing pollen already.

13. Female Red Maple Flowers

But the female red maple flowers seem to be still waiting to be pollinated.

14. Yellow Witch Hazel

The yellow vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis) that grows in a local park was timid and slow to get started this year but now it’s blooming better than I’ve ever seen it. Every branch is loaded with strap shaped petals.

15. Orange Witch Hazel

The orange vernal witch hazel’s branches are as full of blossoms as the yellow but these flowers are smaller with shorter petals. But what they lack in size is more than made up for with fragrance. I’ve never smelled anything else like it and standing downwind from a shrub full of these flowers is like smelling a bit of heaven. It’s such a fresh, clean scent.

16. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) has just started poking out from under the leaves to bloom. These examples were quite small as can be seen by comparing them to the acorn cap in the upper left corner. I expect that I’ll see many more this weekend.

17. Robin

It’s always a little surprising when a bird or animal acts like it has no fear of humans by getting close to you but it also means a great opportunity for photos, and I thanked this robin for swooping down beside me and posing.  Robins used to be harbingers of spring but the people who know birds say that many stay with us year round. That may be, but over the last few years I’ve watched their numbers increase each spring. It’s almost as if someone flipped a switch and suddenly there are flocks of robins everywhere.

18. Snowy Road

Once again the warmth and sunshine gave way to winter’s return, but thankfully it was a short visit. The streaks in the sky in this photo were made by falling snowflakes just after sunrise.

19. Half Moon Pond

This photo was taken in the afternoon of our snow day. By the time it got dark most of the snow had melted but the rest of the week turned cloudy and cool.

20. Red Elderberry Bud

The buds on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) have opened and they didn’t seem to mind the snow. There’s a lot going on in there. The part that looks like it has fingers will be a leaf; when the bud scales are closed tightly one leaf on each side wrap around the flower bud to protect it. The flower buds will be deep purple soon, and will resemble lilac buds for just a short time. As time passes they’ll become greenish white flowers. I hope I can show them to you when they’re at their most beautiful.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy Easter.

 

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1. Vole Tracks JANUARY

I’ve never done one but since year in review posts seem to be becoming more popular, I thought I’d give it a try. The hardest part seems to be choosing which photo to show for each month. I struggled with trying to decide at times, so some months have two. I’ll start with a reader favorite from last January; this shot of vole tracks on the snow seemed to draw a lot of comments.

1.2 Red Elderberry Buds JANUARY

Another reader favorite from last January and a favorite of mine as well was this shot of red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa.) I remember wondering why the bud scales were opening so early in the year since they’re there to protect the bud. We must have had a warm spell, but I remember it being very cold.

2. Ashuelot River FEBRUARY

There was no warmth in February, as this photo of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey shows. We had below zero F cold for long periods throughout the month and the river froze from bank to bank. That’s very rare in this spot and when it happens you know it has been cold.

3. Skunk Cabbage Spathe MARCH

Despite of the cold of February in March the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) appeared right on schedule, signaling the start of the growing season.  Through a process called thermogenesis in which plants create their own heat, skunk cabbage can raise the temperature above the surrounding air temperature. This means it can melt its way through ice and snow, which is exactly what it had done before I took this photo. Skunk cabbage is in the arum family.

4. Female Hazel Blossom APRIL

In April the tiny female flowers of our native hazelnuts (Corylus americana) appear and I’m always pleased to see them. I measured the buds with calipers once and found that they were about the same diameter as a strand of spaghetti, so you really have to look closely to find the flowers.

5. Beech Bud Break MAY

In May the beautiful downy angel wing-like leaves of American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) begin to appear. Seeing them just after they’ve opened is one of the great delights of a walk in the forest in spring, in my opinion.  Beech is the tree that taught me how leaves open in the spring. I won’t bother explaining it here but it’s a fascinating process.

5.2 Trailing Arbutus MAY

Since mayflowers, also known as trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) were one of my grandmother’s favorites I had to include them here. They are also one of the most searched for flowers on this blog. I’m anxious to smell their heavenly scent again already, and it’s only January.

6. Red Sandspurry JUNE

In June I stopped to take a photo of the red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) that I’d been ignoring for so long. These are easily among the smallest flowers I’ve ever tried to photograph, but also among the most beautiful. Though they’re considered an invasive weed from Europe I don’t see how something so tiny can be considered a pest. They are small enough so about all I can see is their color when I view them in person, so I was surprised by their delicate beauty when I saw them in a photo. I’ll be watching for them again this year.

7. Meadow Flowers JULY

July is when our roadside meadows really start to attract attention. There are beautiful scenes like this one virtually everywhere you look. For me these scenes are always bitter sweet because though they are beautiful and bring me great joy, they also mark the quick passing of summer.

8. Unknown Shorebird AUGUST

In August I saw this little yellow legged tail wagger at a local pond. I didn’t know its name but luckily readers did. It’s a cute little juvenile spotted sandpiper, which is not something I expect to see on the shore of a pond in New Hampshire.  It must have been used to seeing people because it went about searching the shore and let me take as many photos as I wished.

8.2 Violet Coral Fungus aka Clavaria zollingeri AUGUST

August was also when my daughter pointed me to this violet coral fungus (Clavaria zollingeri,) easily the most beautiful coral fungus that I’ve ever seen. It grew in a part of the woods with difficult lighting and I had to try many times to get a photo that I felt accurately reproduced its color. I plan to go back in August of this year and see if it will grow in the same spot again. Stumbling across rare beauty like this is what gets my motor running and that’s why I’m out there every day. You can lose yourself in something so beautiful and I highly recommend doing so as often as possible.

9. Aging Purple Cort SEPTEMBER

According to reader comments this aging purple cort mushroom (Cortinarius iodeoides) was the hit of the September 12th post. This mushroom starts life shiny and purple and then develops white and yellow streaks as it ages. Its shine when young comes from a very bitter slime that covers it. Only slugs don’t mind the bitterness apparently, because squirrels and chipmunks never seem to touch it.

10. Bumblebee on Heath Aster OCTOBER

In October all that was left blooming were a few of our various native asters and goldenrods. The temperature was getting cool enough to slow down the bumblebees, sometimes to the point of their not moving at all. It’s hard to imagine anything more perfect in nature than a bee sleeping in a flower.

10.2 Fallen Leaves OCTOBER

This was my favorite shot in October, mostly because the fallen leaves remind me of shuffling through them as a schoolboy. And I’ll never forget that smell.  If only I could describe it.

11. Oaks and Beeches NOVEMBER

But leaves are always more beautiful on the tree, as this November photo of Willard Pond in Antrim shows. The oaks and beeches were more colorful than I’ve ever seen them and I could only stand in awe after I entered the forest. It was total immersion in one of the most beautiful forests I’ve ever been in.

Then strangely, on Friday November 6th, all the leaves fell from nearly every oak in one great rush. People said they had never seen anything like it. I got word from Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, saying the same thing happened in those states on the exact same day. It will be interesting to see what the oaks do this year. I can’t find a single word about the strange phenomenon on the news or in any publication, or online, so I can’t tell you what science has to say about it. The post I did on Willard Pond generated more comments than any other ever has on this blog.

11.2. Porcupine NOVEMBER

It was also in November when Yoda the porcupine slowly waddled his way across a Walpole meadow and sat at my feet. I wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted but I wondered if maybe he just wished to have his photo taken. After all, I could tell that he had just seen his stylist by his perfectly groomed hair. I was happy to oblige and this is one of the photos taken that day. He was just too cute to not include here.

12. Water Plants DECEMBER

This one I’m sure most of you remember since it just appeared in the December 9th post. That was when I decided to do an entire post with nothing but photos that I had taken with my phone, and this was the winner, according to you. It’s a simple snapshot of some water plants that I saw in Half Moon Pond in Hancock one foggy morning, and it showed me that you don’t need to go out and spend thousands of dollars on camera equipment to be a nature photographer. Or a nature blogger.

13. Strange Shot

So you don’t think that I just click the shutter and get a perfect photo each time, I’ve included this little gem. The oddest thing about it is, I don’t know how or where it was taken. It just appeared on the camera’s memory card so I must have clicked the shutter without realizing it. It illustrates why for every photo that appears on this blog there are many, many more that don’t.

Perhaps you need to look back before you can move ahead. ~Alan Brennert

Thanks for stopping in. As always, I hope readers will be able to get out and experience some of the beauty and serenity that nature has to offer in the New Year.

 

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