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Posts Tagged ‘Red Oak’

Last Saturday was a beautiful spring day so I decided to walk a rail trail in Winchester, which is south of Keene. This particular section of trail has an abundance of wildflowers and native flowering shrubs all along it and I wanted to see what was blooming. Out and back the hike I usually do through here is 6 miles but on this day I cheated and only did about three miles. It was enough to see plenty of flowers.

The trail follows along the southern stretch of the Ashuelot River after it leaves Keene. In this area the river is at its widest. Not too far from where this photo was taken, in Hinsdale New Hampshire it meets up with the Connecticut River, and from there it will flow south to the Atlantic.

The railroad engineers had to hack their way through some serious ledges out here but nothing too deep, so plenty of light gets in. I think that must be why so many flowers grow here.

One of the first flowers I saw were these very small white violets and I wondered if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens.) From what I’ve read it’s an early white violet that prefers damp woodlands, and it is certainly damp here.

The flowers sat atop long stems but they were half the size of the violets that I usually see. In fact they were so small that I couldn’t even tell they were violets from five feet away. They’re pretty little things and there were lots of them.

I think every shade of green I’ve ever seen was represented here on this day. The forest was amazingly beautiful and I felt like I was being bathed in chlorophyll.

Some trees like this cherry couldn’t have fit another blossom on its limbs.

Oaks were in the business of flowering too, but this one’s buds hadn’t opened yet. I think this was a northern red oak (Quercus rubra.) We have other oak species but red oaks are the most common in this part of the state.

I thought that these tiny oak leaves, just opened and velvety soft, were very beautiful.

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

All parts of spurge plants contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock. Cypress spurge has very unusual flowers. There were tiny insects flying all over this group of plants but I couldn’t tell what they were.

I was hoping the hobblebushes would be blooming and wow, were they ever. Winter must have been kind to these native shrubs because I’ve never seen them bloom as heavily as they are this year. Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native shrubs in my opinion, and they have just started blooming. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads.

Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to bright red before ripening to a deep purple color. The outer infertile flowers are about three quarters of an inch across and a single fertile flower could hide behind a pea. All flowers in a hobblebush flower head have 5 petals, whether fertile or infertile.

These beautiful shrubs bloom all along this trail and when they’re finished native azaleas will take their place. The azaleas will be followed by native mountain laurels, so this place will be blooming for quite some time.

For the first time I decided to get off the rail trail and follow this old road, which leads to the site of a ruined factory which stood out here years ago. Undergrowth and trees grew close to the road, making it narrow and hard to see what was going on very far up ahead. I talked to a man a few years ago who told me that a black bear had followed him and his wife when they were hiking out here once, so this closed in place made me want to be super aware of every sound. I heard lots of beautiful birdsong and what sounded like a fawn calling for its mother, but I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a bear. I’d guess this place must be a bear’s dream come true though, because all these flowers will eventually become fruit. Rose-hips, hobblebush berries, blueberries, apples, crab apples, grapes, raspberries and blackberries are just a small sampling of what could be on a bear’s menu here. When all that fruit ripens it could literally eat its way over six miles of trail.

Rubble piles are all that’s left of the factory, which I believe was a paper mill. I think someone told me that it burned down quite a few years ago. There were a lot of bricks but little wood, so it seems plausible.

You can’t see it because of all of the growth on the far side of the river but there is a road behind the trees. At one time a bridge crossed the river here and led directly to this factory from that road. This pier in the middle of the river is all that’s left of the bridge, which was probably taken by a flood.

! was surprised to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) blooming out here because I’ve been here several times and have never noticed it, but a colony like this one has obviously been here for years. It grew almost vertically on moss covered stone.

This will probably be the last time I see these flowers this year. The brown spots on them is a good sign that they’re just about done.

There was a Boston and Maine railroad siding near my grandmother’s house and there were always boxcars parked there so I used to climb all over them when I was a boy. These tired old boxcars are slowly sinking into the ground they sit on but I like to come and see them. They bring back some happy memories.

These cars were originally from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont. Why they were put out here I don’t know, but I’m sure they must have once served the paper mills in the area.

I saw quite a few forget-me-nots near the old boxcars. They weren’t really a surprise because I’ve seen them along this rail trail before. Only Myosotis scorpioides, native to Europe and Asia, is called the true forget me not. The plant was introduced into North America, most likely by early European settlers, and now grows in 40 of the lower 48 states. In some states it is considered a noxious weed though I can’t understand why. I hardly ever see it.

The big surprise on this day was seeing white forget-me-nots. I’ve never seen them before and didn’t know they came in white. They were pretty enough but I think I like the blue ones more.

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

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing plenty of spring wonders!

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1-lilac

I’ve spent many winters watching the buds of trees and bushes, especially those right around my house like the lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo. I check it regularly starting in February for signs of swelling. In winter buds are my connection to spring and I love watching the bud scales finally open to reveal tiny leaves or flowers. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud. The lilac bud above is a good example of an imbricate bud.

2-rhody

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like lilacs fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds. This one was half the length of my thumb.

3-cornelian-cherry

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. I was surprised to see the bud scales on this example opening already. We can still get below zero cold.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

4-nannyberry

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) are also examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. The bottom bud scale was broken on this one. Nannyberry is another of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit. Native Americans ate them fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally.

5-staghorn-sumac

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) have no bud scales so their naked buds are hairy and the hairs protect the bud. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what its branches feel like. Native Americans made a drink from this tree’s berries that tasted just like lemonade, and grinding the berries produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice.

6-hobblebush

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is another native shrub with naked buds. 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 there are no scales for protection. Still, they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

7-magnolia

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds,” which means that instead of using scales or hairs they use both. The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Meanwhile, the bud stays wrapped protectively in a fur coat.

8-red-oak

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

9-sugar-maple

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) The large, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. In 2016 New Hampshire produced 169,000 gallons of maple syrup but the season only lasted through the month of March due to the warm weather. The average cost per gallon in 2015 was $59.40. I’m guessing it went up in 2016.

10-striped-maple

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) 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 like the nannyberry buds. 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.

11-striped-maple-bark

Striped maple bark makes the trees very easy to identify when they’re young, but as trees age the bark becomes uniformly gray.

12-beech

The bud I’m probably most looking forward to seeing open in spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves 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.”

13-gray-birch

It was about 15 degrees and snowing when this photo was taken and you can see the frozen gummy resin that glues some bud scales together on this gray birch (Betula populifolia) bud and male catkin on the right. Ruffed grouse will eat the buds and catkins and. pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

14-sweet-birch

Black birch buds (Betula lenta) don’t have as many bud scales as gray birch buds and the bark doesn’t look at all like other birches, so it can be hard to identify. Another name for the tree is cherry birch and that’s because its bark looks like cherry bark. It is also called sweet birch because it smells like wintergreen, and I always identify it by chewing a twig. If it tastes like wintergreen then I know it’s a black birch. Trees were once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen. So many were taken that they became hard to find, but they seem to be making a good comeback.

15-catalpa

Everything about the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree is big. It grows to 70-100 feet and has huge heart shaped leaves. Great trusses of large white orchid like flowers blossom appear on them in late spring, and even the seedpods look like giant string beans. But then there are its buds, which are tiny. In this photo the brown leaf bud appears just above the suction cup like leaf scar, which is where last year’s leaf was. Each tiny bud has about six small pointed scales. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew large plantations of them to use as rail ties. It has also been used for telephone poles. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe.

16-catalpa-leaf

Catalpa trees have the biggest leaves of any tree I know of. This shot of my camera sitting on one is from a couple of years ago. It’s amazing that such a big thing can grow from such a tiny bud.

17-white-pine

Clusters of small, sticky buds appear at the ends of white pine branches (Pinus strobus.) They are sticky because they’re coated with pine sap, which we call pine pitch. They aren’t sticky when it’s cold though; the white platy material is frozen pine pitch. Once the weather warms it will go back to being a thick, amber, sticky fluid that doesn’t easily wash off.

I have to apologize for the quality of some of these photos. With it dark before and after work these days photography can only happen on weekends and if it’s dark and cloudy on those days then I have to assume that nature is giving me a lesson in great patience and I just have to do what I can with the camera.

Despite the poor photos I hope this post has shown how interesting and beautiful buds can be, and I hope you’ll have a look at the buds in your own yard or neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you find.

Leaves wither because winter begins; but they also wither because spring is already beginning, because new buds are being made. ~Karel Capek

Thanks for coming by.

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1-road-in

Last Sunday I was up before dawn with a mission in mind. It had rained most of the day Saturday and was due to rain again this day, but the weather people assured me that there would be a dry time until at least noon. With staying dry in mind I left as early as I could for Willard Pond in Antrim. The oaks and beeches are our last trees to turn and I didn’t want to miss them. If the road to the pond was any indication they were going to be beautiful this year.

2-pazrking-lot-color

This is the view that greeted me as I parked in the parking lot. The beech trees looked to be at their peak of color.

3-loon-sign

Willard Pond is a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the New Hampshire Audubon Society and it is unusual because of the loons that nest here. There are also bears, moose and deer living here, as well as many bird species, including bald eagles.

4-view-from-boat-ramp

Last year when I was here there were blue skies and white puffy clouds, and the sun made the forested hills burn with reds, yellows, and oranges. This time the sky was gray and the clouds darker, and the colors were muted but no less beautiful. After the drought we’ve had I certainly can’t complain about a few rain clouds in my photos.

5-view-from-boat-ramp

Every now and then the sun would peak through a hole in the cloud cover and light the trees up beautifully. The thick dark line at the base of each stone in this shot shows how much water the pond has lost to drought.

6-clouds

At 108 acres in size Willard pond is not small. I doubted I’d get all the way around it and I didn’t even know if there was a trail all the way around, but I set off  to see what I could see.

7-leaf-covered-trail

The trail was leaf covered as I expected but the trees were well blazed, so there was no chance of absent mindedly wandering into the woods. Even without a trail and blazed trees it’s close to impossible to become lost on the shores of a pond or lake. At least physically. Mentally it’s very easy to lose yourself in the beauty of a place like this.

8-foliage

The oaks were doing their best but from where I stood the beech trees were stealing the show, and they were glorious.

9-oak

Here’s a little oak sapling. As I said, they were trying, too.

10-bridge

Two or three bridges crossed long dried up streams but at least one still had water in it.

11-stream

It seemed odd that other streams had dried up while this one still had so much water in it but that seems to be what is happening this year. I’ve seen good size streams with nothing but gravel in their beds.

12-blueberry

Blueberry bushes lined the trail and wore various shades of red and purple. Blueberries have beautiful fall colors and are a good choice instead of invasive shrubs like burning bushes.

13-maple

Surprisingly a few of the maples were still showing color. Most haven’t had leaves for a week or more.

14-pazrking-lot-color

The sky was quickly getting darker but the oaks and beeches still burned with their own light, and I was the only one here to see them. Though I am a lover of solitude it seemed too bad that so many were missing this.

15-crowded-parchment-fundus

Have you noticed how much yellow and orange there are in this post? Even the fungi were orange, but crowded parchment fungi (Stereum complicatum) are always orange.  They also live up to their common name by almost completely covering any log they grow on.

16-granite-bench

I don’t remember seeing this granite bench when I was here last year. I marveled at the ingenuity of the stone workers, getting such a heavy thing out here. The trail is one person wide and weaves through boulders and trees, so there was no way they could have used machinery to get it here unless it was a helicopter. They must have been very strong.

17-beech-limb

A large beech limb had fallen and lost its bark. It fell right along the trail and made it seem as if a carpenter had built a smooth, polished bannister to help people negotiate the rocky and root strewn trail. While I’m thinking of it, if you come here wear good sturdy hiking boots. This isn’t the place for sneakers or flip flops.

18-huge-boulder

In places huge boulders seemed ready to tumble down the hillside, but they have probably rested in the same spot since the last ice age. This one was easily as big as a one car garage. The tree on the right has displayed remarkable resilience by shaping itself to conform to the shape of the stone.

19-fallen-tree

This is truly a wild place, untouched for the most part except for the trail I was on and occasional evidence of saw cuts. Trees seem to fall across the narrow trail quite regularly and, except for cutting out the piece blocking the trail, they are left to lie where they have fallen. This makes for some interesting tree borne fungi.

20-coral-fungus-fingers

Like tiny fingers of flame, orange spindle coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) leapt from a crack in a log.

21-beaver-damage-on-beech

I saw a lot of signs that beavers were once here in the form of blackened stumps that they had cut years ago, but I didn’t know they were still here until I saw this very recently gnawed beech tree. Since the tree was about two feet across I wondered if maybe they had bitten off more than they could chew. It’s going to make a big noise when it falls and I hope I’m nowhere near it.

22-witch-hazel

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) grows in great abundance here, all along the trail. As flowers go they might not seem very showy but when they are the only thing blooming on a cold day in November they’re a very cheery sight and their fragrance is always welcome. Tea made from witch hazel tightens muscles and stops bleeding, and it was used by Native Americans for that purpose after childbirth.

23-polypody-ferns

Henry David Thoreau said about polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” I would add that, since they are tough evergreen ferns they are there in the winter too, and that’s what cheers me most about them. They are also called rock cap fern or rock polypody because they love to grow on top of rocks, as the above photo shows.

24-polypody-fern-spore-cases

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 flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers. More orange. Why is there so much orange at this time of year when there is very little during the rest of the year I wonder, and why has it taken me so long to notice that fact?

25-forest-view

You don’t need a sign to tell you how special this place is because you feel it as soon as you walk into the forest. It’s the kind of place where you can be completely immersed in nature; where time loses importance and serenity washes over you like a gentle summer rain. It’s a beautiful place that is hard to leave; one where I can’t seem to resist taking many more photos then I should, and I apologize once again for going overboard with them. The only thing that stopped me from taking even more was the sky. It got so dark that it seemed to be early evening even though it wasn’t yet noon, so after about three hours I left without having made it even half way around the pond. There was just too much to see.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man.
~
Luther Burbank

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Goodbye February! It might be the shortest month, but it always seems like the longest to me. It’s still very cold here with below zero nights but the sun has greater warmth and the days are longer so the snow is slowly melting away from the places where fungi, mosses and lichens grow. What follows is some of what I’ve seen on recent walks.

 1. Gouty Oak Gall

Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

 2. False Turkey Tail aka Stereum ostrea

I saw hundreds of these small bracket fungi covering a tree trunk and thought Great-false turkey tails-I won’t have to spend two weeks trying to identify them for the blog!  Nature had other ideas though- one look at the undersides told me that they were not false turkey tails (Stereum ostrea) at all. Unfortunately my peek at their hidden faces didn’t tell me what they were, and after looking through 4 mushroom books and countless web pages, I still don’t know. I thought I’d include them here to once again illustrate how important looking at the spore bearing surface of a mushroom is when you are trying to identify it.

 3. False Turkey Tail aka Stereum ostrea Underside

This is what the underside of the bracket fungus in the previous photo looked like. I’m sure I’ve seen them before but I can’t find a similar example in a book. False turkey tails have a smooth, whitish underside-much different than the maze like surface seen here.

 4. Barberry Inner Bark

The bark of the common or European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) contains berberine, a yellow crystalline, bitter alkaloid. It is said that chewing a piece of bark, even on the hottest days, will make your mouth water and slake your thirst. The inner bark is very yellow and it and the bark from the plant’s roots have been used for centuries to make yellow dye used to dye fabric and leather.

 5. Gypsy Moth Egg Case

I recently found several gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) egg cases on a tree. Gypsy moths were first introduced from Europe in Massachusetts in 1869, to breed with the silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) to produce a hardier silkworm. Naturally, it escaped and has become one of the chief defoliators of deciduous trees and conifers in the eastern United States. Each egg mass can contain 100-1000 eggs and should be destroyed when found.

 6. Partridge Berries

There are still plenty of partridge berries under the evergreens and on south facing slopes where the snow has melted. Turkeys love these berries so I’m surprised to see that there are any left.

 7. Trametes hirsuta

I think this grayish white bracket fungus is the hairy bracket (Trametes hirsuta). This fungus is very hairy and turns brown as it ages. It is closely related to turkey tail fungi (trametes versicolor) and is zoned like they are, but its zones aren’t as pronounced or as colorful as those on turkey tails, and are easy to miss.

 8. Wavy Starburst Moss aka Atrichum altercristatum

I think this moss might be wavy starburst moss (Atrichum altercristatum).It doesn’t look like it has been affected by winter at all. When wet its bright green, rippled leaves spread out and give this moss a star like appearance and when dry they curl and turn brown. Finding green mosses in winter seems to make it easier to get through somehow.

 9. Northern Catalpa Leaf Scar aka Catalpa speciosa

Northern catalpa has some of the largest leaf scars of any tree I know. This one was a half inch long. The leaf scars are sunken and come in sets of three spaced around the diameter of the twig. The heart shaped leaves of catalpa are also some of the biggest that I know of. Its large clusters of orchid like flowers are beautiful and its wood is rot resistant and makes good fence posts.

 10. Oak Buds 3

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds don’t seem to be swelling much. The terminal buds of this tree usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

11. Striped Maple Buds 2

Native Striped Maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) buds always remind me of a trident. The large central terminal bud is unusual because it has only two bud scales. Red oak buds like those in the previous photo have 3 or more 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 blossoms. I can’t say that they’re rare here, but I don’t see them very often. I’ve been searching for one in bloom for 3 years and haven’t found one yet.

12. Vernal Witch Hazel

This vernal (spring blooming) witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) grows in a local park. I think it miscalculated this year and bloomed too early. You can see how some of its strap shaped petals got too cold and browned before retracting back into the tiny cup like bracts. Proof that even nature can make an occasional mistake. Our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms in late fall.

The most beautiful things in life go un-noticed. ~ Omar Hickman

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Here are a few more of those out of the ordinary things that I stumble across in my travels.

 1. Beard Lichen

Like the bones of a prehistoric reptile or the ruins of an ancient castle, beard lichens (Usnea) always remind me of the great age and great mysteries of this earth. This one has become an old friend and I visit it often. Most lichens refuse to grow where there is air pollution, so seeing them is always a good sign.

2. Bubbkegum Lichen

Ground dwelling lichens like this bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum) will become covered with leaves and harder to see before too long.  This lichen gets its common name from the bubble gum pink fruiting bodies.

3. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) grows on stones in full sun, so it will be visible all winter long. This is one of my favorite lichens and one of the most beautiful, in my opinion.

4. Beechnuts

Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) are dropping their ripe nuts now and I saw a few places last week where the forest floor was littered with them.  The chipmunks and squirrels have been busy though, so you find more empty husks than anything else.

5. Beechnut  Opened

If you harvest beechnuts and then leave them alone for a day or two they will open like the one in the photo, and out will drop two kernels. Like many trees and other plants, beech trees will have a year of heavy production, known as a mast year, and then produce very few nuts for a few years afterwards. Since most of the kernels I opened were empty I have to assume that this isn’t a mast year.

6. Wild Sarsaparilla Fruit

The black, shiny wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) berries are ripening. This year has been amazing as far as the bounty of nuts, fruits, and berries I’ve seen. I think the birds and animals will have a good winter with plenty to eat.

7. Polypody Fern Sori

Now is the time to turn over the leaves of the common polypody fern (Polypodium virginanum ) to see the naked spore capsules, which are called sori.  Most ferns have a flap like structure called an indusium that protects their spores, so being able to see them exposed like this is unusual. They always remind me of tiny round baskets full of flowers. The Druids though this fern had special powers because of its habit of growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbal and botanical texts.

8. Cockleburrs

Common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) grows in every state except Alaska and throughout most of Canada. The spiny parts of the plant in the photo hide its tiny female flowers parts. Male flowers can be seen in the upper part of the photo, just to the right of center. I find cocklebur growing on riverbanks but it can also grow in agricultural areas. Since it can be toxic to livestock it isn’t a favorite of farmers and ranchers. Historically it has been used medicinally by Native Americans and was once used to make yellow dye.

9. Wild Cucumber Fruit

Young boys just need something to throw at each other (and rarely at young girls if they’re trying to get their attention) and it’s as if wild cucumber seed pods (Echinocystis lobata) were specifically designed for that purpose. The spines are scary looking but in reality are soft and aren’t really prickly until they are dried. This one reminded me of a small spiny watermelon.

10. Foxtail Grass

It’s not hard to see where green foxtail grass (Setaria viridis) gets its common name. This grass is a native annual that grows in clumps. Each bristle, called an awn, comes from a single grass flower and through natural rain and frost action burrows into the ground with the seed once it falls from the seed head. These plants are very dangerous to dogs and other animals because the awns, driven by the animal’s normal muscle movements, can burrow into their skin and cause infection and even death if not treated. Dog owners would be wise to rid their yards of any kind of foxtail grass.

11. Wooly Alder Aphid aka Paraprociphilus tessellatus

This colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb was quite large. These insects can be winged or unwinged and need both silver maples and alders to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring, nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to alder trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature, return to silver maple trees and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage.

12. Water Lily Stems

I watched the sun come up over a local pond recently and it was at the perfect angle for lighting up water lily stems. Since this isn’t something I often see I thought I’d show them here. These leaf stalks are flexible and coil somewhat to allow for fluctuations in water depth.

13. River Rocks

I visited a different section of the Ashuelot River one day and found that someone had been stacking rocks. Some Native American tribes believed that stacked rocks were a spiritual method of protecting sacred spaces. They were often built near powerful energy sources like springs or places with high numbers of lightning strikes. Piles and stacks had many different shapes and sizes and each meant something different.

14. Old Red Oak Tree

This large red oak stood next to a trail I was following one day. It isn’t the biggest I’ve seen but it was big. I leaned my monopod against it to give an idea of its size. A small sign nearby said that its age is estimated to be 300 years, and that it probably was never cut because it grew on a stone wall. Stone walls are boundary markers here in New Hampshire and it is illegal to remove stones from them or alter them in any way unless they are on your land. I can picture the farmers on either side of the wall not cutting the tree because their neighbor might have claimed ownership. That’s the way we do things here-not wanting to bother our neighbor, instead of asking we wait and see, sometimes for 300 years.

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. ~Carl Sagan

Thanks for coming by.

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Here are a few more of those non flowery things I’ve seen that don’t seem to fit in other posts. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum,) which is sometimes called brake, is easily identified by its shiny triangular fronds. What makes identification easier still is the fact that it is the only fern that has side branches. No other fern in the country has these branches, so it’s almost impossible to confuse it with others. Though I usually find this fern about knee high, I’ve seen it reach chest height under optimum conditions.I wish lichens were as easy to identify as bracken fern. This beard lichen doesn’t seem to have grown a whit since last winter, but since I don’t know how fast lichens grow I can’t be sure. I just realized that I’m not even sure how to tell if they are still alive so clearly, I’m going to have to study lichens a bit more. Leaf lichens don’t seem to grow very fast either.  This one is on a trail I visit regularly, so I see it often. It doesn’t seem to change much. I visited this red (orange?) jelly fungus off and on for about two weeks and saw very little change going on, and then it was gone. I don’t know if a critter ate it or if it just dropped off the branch it was on. Maybe it’s the old “watched pot never boils” thing with lichens and fungi. If I ignore them for the summer and re-visit them in the fall maybe they will have noticeable growth. These turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) look the same as the last time I saw them too. This poplar (left) and white pine were getting quite friendly there in the woods. They had grown so close together that if they had been the same species they would have grafted themselves together. As they get bigger something is going to have to give. I’m betting on the pine because they grow faster. When a fallen tree begins to break down into compost and return to the soil quite often seeds will fall on it and grow. When this happens the dead tree is then called a nurse log, because it “nurses” the seedlings into adulthood. I’ve seen one or two but they were impossible to get a clear picture of, so instead I’ve got this picture of what I call a nurse stump. The stump has obviously rotted to the point where seeds can germinate. I didn’t bother identifying the new growth but the way they are growing in a tight cluster seems to point to a squirrel or chipmunk hiding a cheek full of seeds. There wasn’t anything but moss growing on this stump but I had to stop and wonder what catastrophe might have caused such tortured looking growth, and what kind of power it must have taken to split it open. I love the bronze / maroon color, the wrinkled texture, and shine of these new leaves of the Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) vine.  When it becomes heavy with small, white, star shaped flowers it will be a sign that autumn is nearly upon us. New Stag horn sumac leaves are also bronze colored in the spring. Many plants have new leaves that are colored differently than their mature leaves. The female Gray’s sedge (Carex grayii) have grown their spiky, battle mace-like flowers. The male plant has a single spike rather than the cluster seen here. This plant is usually found near water and ducks and other waterfowl eat the seeds.Meadow foxtail grass (Alopecurus pratensis) will look ragged for just a short time while the flower stamens wait for the wind to blow their pollen to wherever. It is one of the earliest flowering grasses and is sometimes confused with timothy grass, which blooms in July and August. Grasses are wind pollinated and most have both male (stamens) and female (pistils) parts. When the wind blows the pollen from the stamens of one plant to the pistils of another, fertilization is complete and the plant will set seed. This grass was brought from Europe by early settlers to use as a hay crop, and it is still used that way today. This photo shows why you have to be careful where you put your hands. In the lower right corner, with three leaves to a stem, is poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) The rest of the picture is taken up by Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia,) which is a native vine that has 5 leaves per stem in this picture.  When it first comes up the leaves of Virginia creeper are red just like new poison ivy leaves. Each stem usually starts out with 3 leaves like poison ivy, but can have as many as seven when fully grown. Poison ivy can grow as a vine, just like Virginia creeper, so it can be difficult to tell them apart.  If the old saying “leaves of three, let it be” is paid attention to most people probably won’t get poison ivy. Still, if you spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to study poison ivy until you know it well. I’ve seen more poison ivy this year than I ever have. This is the fruit of the sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine) plant, the flower of which I showed in a post on April 14 called Forest Beauties. The part that looks like a burr is actually a cluster of bracts. Inside these bracts are 4-6 small brown nuts (seeds) that are about 1/4 inch long and oval in shape. These seeds form in place of the female flower, which is red, small, and easily missed. Sweet fern foliage is very fragrant.These immature acorns were found on a red oak tree. It is estimated that a mature oak tree can produce as many as 5000 acorns.  From what I’ve seen oaks are going to have a bumper crop this year. An acorn can take 6 months in the case of white oaks, to 2 years for northern red oaks to fully develop. An acorn is “ripe” when the cap removes easily. Very heavy acorn production takes a lot of energy, and a tree might produce only a few acorns for 4 to 10 years after a season of heavy production. A tree called the Major Oak in the heart of Sherwood Forest; Nottinghamshire, England is between 800 to 1000 years old and has a circumference of 33 feet. Legend says that it was where Robin Hood’s and his merry men slept.

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts ~ William Hazlitt

Next time we’ll see some more wildflowers, so I hope you can stop in. Thanks for coming by.

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