Posts Tagged ‘Scattered Rock Posy Lichen’

Two of my great loves are history and botany and one of the best ways I know of to get a good dose of both is by following stone walls. This particular wall is in Swanzey, New Hampshire and surrounds what I believe is the oldest cemetery in town. Revolutionary war soldiers are buried here so it certainly has some age.

Right off I spotted some sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores.

There are stone walls called “lace walls” which are built of a stack of stones just one stone wide, and which are full of holes that make them look like lace, but this is a tossed wall sometimes three or four stones wide and it was built to keep animals, probably sheep, out. There were no holes when it was built but there are now, as this photo shows. I can’t explain how it happened but I’ve built enough dry stone walls to know that building a hole like this one into a tossed wall would be close to impossible. In a tossed wall the stones are literally just tossed on top of one another. The object wasn’t to build a pretty wall; it was to get rid of the stones as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think a stone must have fallen or been taken out of the wall to create such a hole.

There are a lot of tree stumps along the wall and some of them, like the one above, are very old. Not only was this one covered with moss and lichens, it also had birch trees growing out of it. Stumps like this are always worth a second look.

The old stump had more British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing on it than I’ve ever seen in one place. Old rotted logs and stumps are the perfect spots to find them.

Even I can see this shade of red, and I’m colorblind.

A large pile of sand at the base of another hollow tree stump meant that something was living under it. Possibly a ground hog, but I didn’t see a single paw print.

This old maple tree was covered on its sunny side by whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This is a tough, crusty lichen that is fairly common on hardwood tree bark. They can cover quite a large area and make the tree look as if it has been painted, hence the common name. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white.

As time passed barbed wire was often added to stone walls to keep animals in or out. Stone walls were usually too low to be effective and cows and other farm animals often jumped right over them, so their height was increased by adding wire or other materials. You had to pay a fine if your animals escaped and were caught roaming free. They were brought to the town pound and the owner had to pay to get them back. This wire grew out of the very center of a pine tree, so it has been here for quite a while. Running their saw into steel wire is one of a wood cutter’s worst nightmares come true but many things have been found inside trees, from axe heads to gravestones to even bicycles.

Every time I see rusty old barbed wire stapled to a tree I think about a book I read by a man who lived in a cabin in the Massachusetts woods. He said that one of his favorite things to do was run through the woods at night. He wouldn’t want to do that here. I wouldn’t even run through these woods in broad daylight because much of what is now forest was once pasture, and there is a lot of barbed wire out there.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) on the other hand, are quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

Sometimes it isn’t what is on the stone that interests me, it’s the stone itself. I’m not sure if this pattern was on the stone or part of it but it was very interesting. Also interesting was how it had absolutely nothing growing on it when all of the stones around it had mosses and lichens growing on them.

I never knew my grandfather but I do know that he made his living as the town blacksmith in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, and this old horse hitching ring brought thoughts of him to mind. If he was lucky a blacksmith might make a dollar a day but very little cash changed hands in colonial America so he most likely would have been paid in food, charcoal for the forge, lumber, or something else he needed. In the early 1800s blacksmiths charged anywhere from 2 cents for an axe wedge to $5.50 for all of the ironwork on a new wagon. That would include springs, axles, brakes, and rims for the wheels. I have a photo of my grandfather working on a wagon wheel in his blacksmith shop. The wheel sits on top of a big wooden keg that he probably made the iron hoops for. I hope he was paid more than they were in colonial times.

Some of the stones in this old wall are not natural, meaning they were cut or quarried. There is a large granite outcrop just up the hill from this spot and stone was taken from it using star drills and sledge hammers, I would imagine. The marks of the old hand drills are still easily seen on some of the stones. It’s unusual to see both natural and cut stones together in a wall; usually they’re made of one or the other but the farmer could have been trying to increase the height of his walls.

Some of the quarried granite was used for fence posts. Four posts were put in around certain family plots in the cemetery and chain hooks were added by drilling a hole into the top of each post and hammering a hook into the hole.  I’m not sure if friction alone held the hooks in the holes or if cement was added to hold them, but after over 200 years they are still solid and immovable.

Once chain was added the family plot was enclosed but still visible to anyone trying to find it. This chain looks like it was hand wrought.

Blacksmiths don’t cast iron; they soften it by heating it in a forge and then shaping it with a hammer, and I love how you can see all the hammer blows on this chain hook. I also love how the smith fashioned something as simple as a chain hook into what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to do this; it was extra work that he probably wasn’t paid for, but he was good and would have wanted people to know his work. If I needed ironwork done and I saw this hook and the ones in the previous photos I would have chosen the smith who made this one. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Sometimes these posts wander in unplanned directions and almost write themselves, and this is one of those; l felt as if I were just along for the ride instead of the one doing the writing. It began in the old cemetery and I just tagged along with the camera while the story wrote itself in my mind, so I hope you won’t mind that there is a little more history than botany in this one. Though I expected the post to be full of mosses and lichens for me the history I found was a refreshing diversion while I wait for spring flowers to appear, and thoughts of my hammer wielding grandfather ran all through the day. I wonder if he ever imagined that one of his grandsons would grow up to be a stone wall builder.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Unfortunately there are people who think that once the leaves have fallen there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Lichens for instance, are there year round and unless you live in a place with poor air quality they are everywhere; on trees, on stones, on the ground, and even on buildings, roofs, windows, and sidewalks. They are like small jewels that have been sprinkled throughout nature and one of my favorites is the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown above. The blue dots are called apothecia and are where its spores are produced. They are blue because of the way the light reflects off the thin wax coating that they are covered by. In this case the body of the lichen, called the thallus, is a brownish gold color. The thallus can also be gray and the apothecia gray to black. One of the things that can make lichen identification difficult is the ability of some lichens to change color in different light, and this is one that does. It can look very different just a few feet away.

The apothecia on this star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), is a good example of how colors can change, even on the same lichen. This lichen has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to the white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on the smoky eye boulder lichen in the previous photo. You’ve no doubt seen examples of this waxy “bloom” on blueberries and plums. I’ve noticed by watching lichens that have pruinose apothecia that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue, and sometimes even black. The apothecia on this lichen show a range of colors, from brown to light blue. The way the sunlight strikes it has a lot to do with its colors.

I used my magic gravity defying penny so we could get an even better idea of the scale of some of these lichens. For those of you not familiar with the size of a penny, they are 3/4 of an inch (19.05mm) in diameter. The powdery sunburst lichen just above it is almost the same size. The lichens below, right and left of the penny are star rosette lichens like the one we just saw in the previous photo. That penny could use a good cleaning.

This is the powdery sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) we saw above the dirty penny in the previous photo. This foliose lichen is easy to see even when it’s small, because of its bright orange yellow color. This lichen really likes moisture and is often found growing near channels that carry water on stone or bark. A foliose lichen has a lobed, leafy look.

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) like to grow on damp wood like rotted stumps and logs, but I’ve found them on buildings, fence posts, and built up forest litter on boulders. At this time of year I don’t pass too many mossy old tree stumps without having a glance for British soldiers. Their bright red apothecia make them easy to see, even if you’re colorblind.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are very beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

I find pebbled pixie cup lichens ((Cladonia pyxidata)) growing on soil or rotting stumps and logs, and occasionally on stone. Pixie cups look like tiny golf tees or trumpets. They are squamulose lichens, and the golf tee shapes arise from leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (thallus,) and  squamulose lichens have small, leafy lobes.

Though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. This example shows some almost microscopic dots around the rim, which are its apothecia. Finally, frucitose means a lichen has a bushy, vertical growth. Since this example has squamules even growing inside the tiny cups it must be a pebbled pixie cup lichen.

A single raindrop was caught in the cup of this pixie cup and it illustrates how the cups are meant to do exactly this; they are splash cups and when a raindrop lands in them the water splashes the spores out and away from the lichen to hopefully colonize new ground. Pixie Cups and other Cladonia species like reindeer lichen contain didymic acid, and they were once used by herbalists to treat tuberculosis.

Dog lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. The example pictured is I believe, a membranous dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea.) Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses provide the moisture that they need. It is known as membranous lichen because it is thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

One theory behind the name “dog lichen” says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the fang like rhizines look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire lichen body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. I’ve never seen this one produce fruiting bodies so I can’t verify that last one and it doesn’t really look like a dog to me, so I can’t verify the second one either.

What sounds most plausible to me about the origin of the name “dog lichen” are the white “roots” on the white underside of the lichen body. They are fang like and called rhizines. On some lichens they can be quite bushy, but on Peltigera membranacea they are narrow and thin. They are one of the identifying characteristics of this lichen along with its thin, flexible, undulating thallus.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. It’s a very artistic lichen and I like the patterns that it makes. I see it on gravestones quite often.

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describe the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, as this one appeared to be.

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body and orange fruiting bodies. This one was growing on stone in full sun. There was a time when I knew of only one example but now I see them everywhere, even on mountain tops. This example was about as big as a penny.

If you spend time walking along old stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it and it will probably be the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. It was raining at the time so it was also very wet. Lichens are at their best when they are wet because that’s when they’ll show their true colors and size, so that’s when serious lichen hunters look for them. A misty or drizzly day is perfect.

One thing you learn quickly when you decide to study lichens is that your pockets will be as full of unknowns as they are knowns, and this lichen shows why. You’ll see why in the next photo, so try to remember how it looks here.

Not only do lichens change color but shape as well. It’s hard to believe that this is the same kind of lichen that we saw in the previous photo but it is, and it is the apothecia in full “bloom” that makes it look so different from photo to photo. This is why it has taken me as long as three years to identify some lichens. I’m not completely comfortable with my identification of this one but I think it might be the brown eyed rim lichen (Lecanora epibyron.) Brown eyed rim lichen is described as a “white to very pale brown crustose lichen with many red-brown apothecia with a white margin.” It seems to fit, but if you know this lichen and know that my identification is wrong I hope you’ll let me know.  I found it growing on ash tree bark.

As its name implies maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) grows on the bark of maple trees, but I’ve also seen it on beech, oak, and basswood. One of the easiest ways to identify this lichen is to look for the white fringe around its perimeter. This is one of those lichens that I never saw until I stumbled across it one day, and now I see it everywhere. This beautiful example was about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, or about the size of a penny.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen is one of those. Toadskin lichens are another one that shows color changes. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray. This example hadn’t completely dried out but it was well on its way. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them an umbilicate lichen. This toadskin is very special, because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a hill or mountain top. It grows on a boulder at the very water’s edge of a lake and now I know, if the day comes when I can no longer climb, I’ll still be able to see these beautiful little things.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a few of the lichens I know and I hope you’ll look for them in your area. Just look closely anywhere you happen to be; they’ll be there too.

Oh what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind when it has once seized on it like a lichen on a rock. ~Mary Shelly

Thanks for coming by.



Read Full Post »


I visited the otter pond recently, trying to figure out how he would come and go. This small stream feeds into the pond but it’s too shallow and narrow for an otter to swim in. It had some beautiful patterns in its ice though.


The reason I wondered about the otter is because its pond is completely frozen over with no holes like there were the last time I saw it in December. Where do otters go when this happens, I wonder?


All of the thawing and re-freezing has left the ice as smooth as glass, but the warm weather has made it too thin to skate on. The two dark spots show little to no thickness and there were thin ice signs where people skate. I’m sure there are a few dozen frustrated skaters it town because of it.


I saw some burdocks and remembered how Swiss engineer George de Mestral got the idea for Velcro from the sticky burrs lodged in his dog’s coat. I wondered why I didn’t think of such things.


This is where the hook part of the “hook and loop” Velcro fasteners came from. I’ve never seen it happen but I’ve heard that small birds can get caught in burdocks and then can’t escape. That could be why there were no seeds missing from these examples; maybe the birds have learned to stay away. According to John Josselyn, a visitor from England in 1672, the burdock came to this country as burrs tangled in cow’s tails, but if that is true then how did Native Americans know the plant so well? They used the entire plant as food or medicine and made a candy-like treat from burdock roots by slicing them and boiling them in maple syrup. They stored much of it for winter.


Birds aren’t staying away from coneflower seeds. I always let coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) go to seed. Goldfinches, cardinal, blue jays and other birds love to eat them. I’ve never seen a bird on them but the seeds disappear and there is often a pair of blue jays in the yard.  Many butterflies and bees also love its flowers, so if you’re looking to attract the birds and bees, this is one plant that will do it. The Echinacea part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word echinos, which means hedgehog, and refers to the spiny seed head.


An old pine stump was red with British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella.) This lichen also grows on bark or soil and is often seen where people live because it is extremely tolerant of pollution. Because of that and its bright red color it is said to be the best known lichen in the eastern United States. I’ve even seen it growing on buildings.


The spore bearing apothecia of the British Soldier is very red with a matte rather than shiny surface. The biggest among this grouping could have easily hidden under a pea.


If you spend time walking along stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it. This is the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it.


A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. I think this is the first time I’ve seen it do so.


I had to visit my old friend the scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) that I’ve been watching grow for several years now. It has gone from penny to quarter size (0.75-0.95 in) and is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) I always find them growing on stone in full sun. This is a lichen that never seems to stop producing spores; its orange pad like apothecia are always there.


If you’re stuck in the winter doldrums and feel the need for some color, just find a blueberry bush; everything about them is red, except the berries. Part of the reason the earliest English settlers survived New England winters in Plymouth was because the Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe showed them how to dry blueberries for winter use. Natives used the dried berries in soups and stews and as a rub for meat. They also made tea from the dried leaves. More than 35 species of blueberries are native to the U.S.


Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) have started to appear on downed trees and limbs. You can’t tell from this photo because these examples were frozen solid but this fungus has a shiny side and a matte finish side. The spores are produced on the shiny side and if I understand what I’ve read correctly, this is true of most jelly fungi. This one has the color of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi can absorb up to 60 times their weight in water, so if a weakened branch is covered with them as this oak limb was, it doesn’t take much of a wind to bring the heavily weighted branch and the jelly fungi to the ground. Jelly fungi are a signal that the tree’s health isn’t good.


Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) seed pods look like beautiful carved wooden flowers that have been stuck into the snow. Most have split open by now into 5 separate parts to release tens of thousands of seeds to the wind. Each individual seed is only ten cells thick. Indian pipes are parasitic on certain fungi, which in turn are often parasitic on the roots of trees so in a roundabout way they get their food from trees.


Tinder polypores (Fomes fomentarius), also called horse hoof fungus, grew on a fallen log, but didn’t grow on the tree while it was standing. I know this because their spore bearing surfaces pointed towards the ground. If they had grown before the tree fell then their spore bearing surfaces would appear perpendicular rather than parallel to the ground. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).


I’ve searched and searched for the answer to why some trees twist when they grow and the short answer seems to be; nobody really knows. What is known is that the wood is often weaker and boards cut from spiral grained trees often twist as they dry, yet while the tree is standing it is more limber than a straight grained tree and is better able to withstand high winds. Scientists have also found that spiral growth can be left or right handed and both can sometimes appear on the same tree. Though spiral growth appears in the trunk, limbs and roots of some trees you often can’t see it until the bark comes off.


It’s easy to believe that a fallen tree is just an old dead thing that is slowly rotting away but as the icicles on this example show, there is life in it yet.


It’s always a pleasure to see the beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes in winter. The color is caused by a powdery wax which can protect the plant from sunburn, prevent moisture loss, or help shed excess water. In botanical terms, a plant part that looks like this is said to be glaucous, which describes the whitish blue color.


The blue of this blue jay feather rivaled that of the black raspberry cane. I don’t see many blue feathers so I was happy to see this one.


I was even happier when I looked a little closer. Seeing it up close revealed many things about blue jay feathers that I didn’t know. Chief among them was how very beautiful they are.

To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »


Each year at this time I start thinking that if I could just get up above the trees the colors would be better or brighter somehow, but they never seem to be and I’ve never been really happy with any photo that I’ve taken that way. But maybe this time would be different, I hoped. The weatherman told me that we were at the peak of our fall colors, so last Saturday I decided to climb Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard to try again.


I kept seeing dark spots on the fading, pale orange striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum) so I had to take a closer look. The quarter size spots were made up of many smaller specks.


I haven’t found a reference to anything similar so I can’t say what they are at this point. They looked like hardened drops of a liquid but I doubt the leaves would weep in such concentrated areas and not all over. If you know what they are I’d love to hear from you.


Something ate these little brown mushrooms and tore the stems when they did so. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what animal would do it. There is everything from chipmunks to moose to bears in these woods so without tracks or other clues it’s hard to know. I do know that many kinds of little brown mushrooms can make a person very sick, and some can kill.


A pasture appears on the right side of the trail and I always stop here for a breather. The farm that owns this land raises Scottish highland cattle and my hopes of seeing them were raised by the regular snapping of an electric fence at just about knee and waist level, but the cattle never showed up. I had to pay attention so I didn’t get tangled in that fence with my metal monopod, so maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t.


The trail takes a sharp 90 degree left turn and parallels the pasture for a time. It also becomes quite rocky in this stretch. Not far after the turn, maybe a hundred feet or so, there is a break in the trees and brush to the right. If you follow this short path after just a few steps you come to a good view of Mount Monadnock on the right. And the electric fence in front of you.


The reason I chose Pitcher Mountain is because it has a full 360 degrees of viewing area on its summit. If the light is harsh in one direction as it was in this shot of Mount Monadnock from the trail, it often isn’t quite so harsh in a different direction. At least that’s what I was hoping. Finding correct exposure settings can be tough with some colors in such bright light.


Beech trees are starting to turn and they seem to be right on schedule. Though they are among the last to turn along with the oaks, most had turned fully by Halloween last year.


Before too long the fire tower glimpsed through the trees tells you that you’re very near the summit.


The old fire warden’s cabin might be in for a rough ride this winter if nature decides to make up the 15 inch rain deficit with snow. Though I’ve climbed up here in the winter several times if that happens I probably won’t be up here to see it.


You can turn and look back just above the warden’s cabin to see the pasture from above, along with Mount Monadnock in the background. The view from the summit to Monadnock would be almost directly south.


The fire tower is the second one to stand on this peak. Ironically the first wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940 in a fire which destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit. It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history. Stout cables keep this one from blowing off the mountain but there is still little to protect it from a large fire.


If you’re standing where I was in the previous photo looking at the tower and walk around to the left side of it, what I call the near hill seems to be close enough to touch. I don’t know its name or if it even has one.


It was hard to pay attention to far off colors when colors like this were so close by on the summit.


Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) added to the orange colors of fall. I was thinking one day about how we rarely see orange in nature for most of the year but then all of the sudden we are saturated with it in the fall. The orange pad like parts of this lichen are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) and the grayish, brain like part is the body (thallus.)


Black and white crater lichens seemed to stare back at me from the stones. I think they are Diploschistes scruposus, simply called crater lichen after their cup shaped black fruiting bodies (apothecia,) which are surrounded by a stark white or gray body (thallus.) They grow on exposed rock all over the earth, even in the Polar Regions.


Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries, and they turn a beautiful red in the fall. They supply most of the red that can be seen in the near distance in many of these photos.


There were a surprising amount of berries that the birds and pickers had missed, but they were shriveled.


As far as the eye could see the trees were turning. I’m surprised to see how many more deciduous trees than evergreens there are in this photo.


I’m not sure what the name of the mountain in the distance is but it seemed to be higher than the one I was standing on and it wasn’t Mount Monadnock. It was quite far away but unfortunately I didn’t pay any attention to what direction it was in.


This birch tree was almost leafless but its comrades more than made up for its lack of color. It seemed a kind of exclamation point, as if colors like these needed to be emphasized.


I think this photo is my personal favorite from that day because it has all of the colors I saw in it. It also shows the incredible beauty that can be found up here.


It seemed strange to see the natural birdbath full of water in the middle of a drought; it must have rained recently. I’m sure the many birds that I heard are very grateful.

I’m sorry that this post was so photo heavy but our autumn “season” is really very short and we’re lucky if we see three weeks of the kind of colors that I saw on this day, so I went a bit overboard. Though I don’t usually climb strictly for the views on this day that’s what I came for and they were very good, with little haze.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.
~Ron Akers

Thanks for stopping in.



Read Full Post »


As flowers start to fade and leaves begin to fall my thoughts often turn to lichens, mosses and all of the other beautiful things you can still find in nature in the winter. We’ve had two or three days of drizzle; nothing drought busting but enough to perk up the lichens. Lichens like plenty of moisture, and when it doesn’t rain they will simply dry up and wait. Many change color and shape when they dry out and this can cause problems with identification, so serious lichen hunters wait until after a soaking rain to find them. This is when they show their true color and form. The pink fruiting bodies of the pink earth lichen in the above photo for example, might have been shriveled and pale before the rain.


Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichen than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are very beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants.


Bright orange poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a beautiful lichen with its large disc shaped, sucker like fruiting bodies (apothecia) which are almost always showing. It’s found on tree bark and provides a lot of color in winter when there are no flowers to see.

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 earth based life form can be.


British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) like to grow on damp wood like rotted stumps and logs, but I’ve found them on buildings, fence posts, and built up forest litter on boulders. At this time of year I don’t pass too many mossy old tree stumps without having a glance for British soldiers.


Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) This one was growing on stone in full sun. It is about as big as a quarter now, but when I first met it years ago it was about the size of a penny.


Lichen identification can sometimes be tricky. Though it resembles scattered rock posy I think this is rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora.) It was growing on stone, but even though the book Lichens of North America says that it grows on tree bark a little further research on the website Images of British Lichens shows that it grows on tree bark or stone. Based on that information and the fact that I can’t find a similar saucer lichen that grows in New England, I’m going with rosy saucer lichen. Even though it has rosy in its name its apothecia can range from pink to orange, according to what I’ve read.


It didn’t work out very well but I put a nickel behind these pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) to give you an idea of how small they are. The photo came out looking like golf tees in front of a full moon. A nickel is .83 inches in diameter and the round cup of the golf tee shaped pixie cup might be .12 inches on a good day. You wouldn’t fit an average pea in the cup, but a BB from an air rifle might sit in one.


I had to really push my camera to get this shot so I could show you the inside of the cup of a pixie cup lichen. The nearly microscopic red dots on the rim of the cup are this lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) The tan colored scales are leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (Thallus,) and some lichens are squamulose, meaning they’re made up of small, leafy lobes. I’m not sure what the objects in the cup are, but they’re extremely small.


Powdery sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) was growing on a stone. This foliose lichen is easy to see, even when it’s small, because of its bright orange yellow color. This lichen really likes moisture and is often found growing near channels that carry water on stone or bark. This one was about the size of an average aspirin. Lichens are a good indicator of air quality, so if you aren’t seeing them you might want to check into your local air quality.


Lichens like the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) in the above photo are here year round for us to enjoy, and once the leaves fall many lichens become even easier to see. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.


As its name implies maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) grows on the bark of maple trees, but also on beech, oak, and basswood. One of the easiest ways to identify this lichen is to look for the white fringe around its perimeter. This is one of those lichens that I never saw until I stumbled across it one day, and now I see it everywhere. This example was about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, or about the size of a penny.


Cumberland rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) likes to grow on boulders and that’s where I found this one. The body (Thallus) is described as being “yellow-green to sometimes bluish green” and the fruiting discs (Apothecia) are “cinnamon to dark brown.” The body of this lichen always looks like someone dripped candle wax on the stone to me.


This is a close up of the apothecia on a Cumberland rock shield lichen. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for.


Beard lichens are common enough; they even fall from the trees on windy days, but this beard lichen is growing on stone and that’s very uncommon, in my experience. I think this example must be bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta,) which can grow on wood or stone, but I must see a hundred growing on wood for each one growing on stone.


There are many different kinds of beard lichens and the differences can be subtle, but the fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) stands apart because of its resemblance to the backbone of a fish. This lichen seems to prefer growing on spruce but I’ve seen it on other trees as well. Though it isn’t rare I don’t see it often. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.


There are places in these woods where reindeer lichens drift like snow, and in colder climates they lie under the snow for months. As their name implies they are an important food source for reindeer, and they paw through the snow to find and eat them. Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. There are two types in this photo; the green star tipped reindeer lichen (Cladonia stellaris,) and the gray reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina.)


Gray reindeer lichen in this area is silver gray, almost white, with a main stem and branches much like a tiny tree. Each branch tip is a brownish color with a globe or pear shaped fruiting body called a pycnidium. The Native American Ojibwa tribe were known to bathe newborns in water in which this lichen had been boiled, and other tribes drank tea made from it. It has also been eaten, but if you plan on eating lichens correct preparation is everything, because some can cause serious stomach problems.


It’s easy to see how star tipped reindeer lichen comes by its common name; each branch tip ends in a star shaped cluster of four or five branches surrounding a center hole. This lichen seems to be a favorite of reindeer; they will often leave the gray reindeer lichen until last and eat this one first. In Europe this lichen is used in the pharmaceutical industry as an ingredient in antibiotic ointments.


One of the most beautiful lichens that I find growing on stone is the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) with its blue apothecia. The blue color seen in the above photo is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. It’s as if pieces of the sky had been sprinkled on the stones when the light is right, but the apothecia can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from. The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen.

I hope this post has shown how beautiful and interesting lichens are, and how easy they are to find. Lichens grow virtually everywhere including on building facades, sidewalks and rooftops, so they can even be found in cities. Many are quite small though, so you have to walk slowly and look closely to find them. Once you’ve seen a few you’ll start seeing them almost everywhere you go.

If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Thanks for stopping in.


Read Full Post »

1. Sign

We had a week of wonderfully warm temperatures that I thought had probably melted all the trail ice so last Sunday I thought I’d give Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard a try. There was something I wanted to see.

2. Trail

Thankfully the trail was ice free because this one would have been tough with ice on it. There was mud in spots but that was far easier to get through than ice.

3. Witch's Broom on Blueberry Roots

I saw some witch’s broom on a blueberry. Though there is nothing odd or surprising about that this witch’s broom was growing on the blueberry plant’s roots, and that’s something I’ve never seen.

4. Witch's Broom on Blueberry Branch

This photo shows witch’s broom on the branch, which is where you’d expect to see it. Witch’s broom is a deformity described as a “dense mass of shoots growing from a single point, with the resulting structure resembling a broom or a bird’s nest.” The two examples shown were found on highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and were caused by a fungus (Pucciniastrum goeppertianum). This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea). When it releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, it becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on blueberry bushes and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees and the cycle will begin again. In my experience witch’s broom doesn’t affect fruit production.

5. Stone Wall

The stone walls and what’s left of the apple orchard near the summit are all that is here to remind climbers of the Pitcher family, who forever gave their name to this mountain that they farmed in the 1700s.

6. Meadow View-2

When you’ve been surrounded by trees for your entire life and then come into a place like this there’s really no way to describe how it makes you feel. If there was an accompanying sound it would be a great rushing whoosh.

7. Monadnock

When I reach the meadow I always turn to look back, and there is Mount Monadnock just over my shoulder as it has always been. It’s as if it were a big brother, always watching over me.

8. First Glimpse of Tower

Pitcher Mountain isn’t a long or strenuous climb so before you know it you get your first glimpse of the fire tower through the undergrowth.

9. Window Washer

But on this day there was something different; someone was washing the windows and that could only mean that the tower was open. It wasn’t that surprising because the forest fire danger is very high right now due to the lack of snow this winter. I could have gone up for a visit but there was a family with children here and I wanted the kids to have a chance to see the views. I wouldn’t stand in the way of anything that might get them interested in nature. I was happy enough to see that there was someone watching out for fires because when you live in a 4.8 million acre forest you think about such things occasionally, especially in spring. In April of 1940 a fire destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit.  It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history.

10. Cabin

The old fire warden’s cabin speaks of an earlier time when they actually lived up here when the fire danger was high. I think they must rotate in and out on shifts these days because the cabin doesn’t seem to get any use. I’m always surprised that it has made it through another winter.

11. Meadows from Above

I always look at the meadows from up here to see if I can see where the Scottish Highland cattle that are raised here are, but I’ve never seen them.

12. Scattered Rock Posy

There are hundreds of scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) living on the stones on the summit but only a few were showing their orange, pad like fruiting bodies (apothecia.) When I see them I’m always surprised things like this that sometimes seem so fragile can survive with no protection from the elements.

13. Tower

I thought I’d try to get a shot of the fire tower looking up one of the guy cables that keep it from blowing off the top of the mountain. The highest wind ever was recorded was here in New Hampshire but that was on Mount Washington, not Pitcher Mountain. That wind reached 231 miles per hour and was recorded April 12, 1934 by the Mount Washington observatory staff. On that mountain there are heavy chains holding the buildings down.

14. Turnbuckle

Here on Pitcher Mountain the wires are fastened to the mountain by turnbuckles attached to steel eye bolts that have been screwed into the rock.

15. Birdbaths

The natural depressions in the rock collect rain water and make very good bird baths when nobody is watching, I would imagine. They were an unbelievable shade of blue; much darker than the sky above them.

16. Ski Area

I saw several mountains over in Vermont with snow still on the ski trails but I can’t give you their names. I keep telling myself that I’ll look at a topographical map and learn their names but it never seems to happen.

17. Lake

Unfortunately I don’t know the names of the lakes either.

18. Lake

There are several lakes that can be seen from the summit and I’m guessing that one of them must be Granite Lake in Munsonville, but I don’t know which one it is. This one looked like it might still have a little ice on the shoreline.

19. View

I don’t usually come here for any particular reason but the red maples are starting to flower down in the lowlands of Keene and I thought I’d see if they were doing the same up here. When the thousands of trees on the surrounding hills all blossom at once there is a red haze that colors the hillsides and I wanted to see if I could catch it in a photo, which is much harder than it sounds. I thought this photo showed it just a little in the lower half but since I’m colorblind I’m easily fooled.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for coming by.


Read Full Post »

1. Thistle Seed Head

I wondered during our recent severe cold snap how the birds and animals were getting on. There still seems to be plenty of food for them but they use it up fast in weather that is so cold.  A group of bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) had been picked over but still had seeds in the seed heads. This European native is considered invasive here but many birds eat its seeds and a group of plants is a good place to see goldfinches and juncos. When in flower hummingbirds and bees do a lot to pollinate the plant and ensure there will be another seed crop.

2. Thistle Prickles

The leaves of the bull thistle might have passed but the many sharp spines live on. Prickles on the leaf surface are a good identifying feature of this thistle. It is also called spear thistle, for good reason.

3. Aster Seed Heads

What I think were aster seed heads had been picked clean of seeds but the bracts remained. We call them dead at this stage, but to me they are as beautiful now as they are when they’re blossoming. Goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees, evening grosbeaks, finches, titmice and other birds and small animals eat aster seeds. Native American tribes burned the flowers and leaves and used the smoke in sweat lodge ceremonies. They also had many medicinal uses for the plant and included parts of it in a smoking mixture they called kinnickkinnick.

4. Cedar Seed Cones

I’ve known about the woody seed cones on the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for a long time but I didn’t know which birds ate them until recently. Robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds and many small birds use the tree to hide in. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought it was sacred because of its many uses, and maybe it was. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of this tree and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. Cedar Seed Cone

Each individual seed cone on the northern white cedar looks as if it was carved out of wood and then polished to a satiny shine. Of course to have fruit on a plant, which is what a cone is, you first have to have a flower. This tree flowers in late May to Early June and the small green, egg shaped female flowers have blue tips on their overlapping scales. They grow in clusters and are easy to find.

6. Cattail Seeds

I solved a year old mystery when I pulled a small tuft of cattail seeds from a seed head and took a photo of it against the black of my glove. I first noticed a long white angle hair like filament with a seed on the end last year. The wind had blown it onto a lichen that grew on tree bark and at the time I thought it was a dandelion seed. Now I know it was a cattail seed. In spring after the male red winged blackbird finds a mate he will line the nest he builds from dried cattail leaves with the plant’s soft seed down.  Man must have learned something by watching the bird because the fluffy seed down was used to stuff mattresses for centuries.

7. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

I thought I’d go and visit a couple of lichen friends recently. This poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana) grows on a tree at a local shopping mall and is a favorite of mine. I’ve never seen it growing anywhere else. The odd thing about it this year is how few spore bearing apothecia it had. The apothecia are the little cup shaped objects that look like the suckers on an octopus arm and they are usually much bigger and more numerous than what are seen in this photo. Even so it’s still a very beautiful lichen.

8. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy is another beautiful lichen that I can thank for showing me how fast lichens can grow. When I met this example it could have sat on a dime (.70 inches) but now, about 5 years later, it would take up most of the real estate of a quarter (.95 inches.) Following what I’ve seen in this example I’m guessing that it gains about an inch in diameter every 20 years, so if you found one that was five inches in diameter it would be about 100 years old. Its frilly orange pads are its apothecia, where its spores are produced. The body (thallus) of this lichen is grayish and brain like. It tends to grow in a mound.

9. Orange Wood

The two orange lichens I showed previously aren’t the only orange things I’m seeing this winter; I’m even seeing orange wood. I’m guessing this might be birch, which can sometimes have yellowish wood and reddish heartwood. What made the wood pictured so orange is a mystery. Brazilian satinwood, also called yellow heart, is orange colored but I doubt very much that pieces of it would be lying around in a New Hampshire forest.

10. Oak Leaves

And then there are orange oak leaves, but I think that they’re caused by the sun shining brightly on their normally brownish surface. I’ve also seen pink oak leaves, but I don’t think that their color has anything to do with light. I think pink is a normal for certain oaks.

11. Gouty Oak Gall

While I was admiring oak leaves I saw this gouty oak gall. I wish I’d gotten a better photo of it but at least this one shows the structure fairly well. 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.

12. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

13. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

This close-up of the willow pine cone gall shows its overlapping scales, which remind me of shingles. Even original ideas come from somewhere and I wonder if mankind didn’t come up with the idea for shingles by studying something like this.

14. Crab Apples

I saw a crab apple tree that was loaded with crab apples that were about an inch in diameter. I think they were probably too big for a bird to eat but I was surprised that deer and other animals hadn’t eaten them. They had hung on the tree for so long they were turning purple. Though we think the apples we’re eating are native, crab apples are really the only apples native to North America. The apples we know originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. Apples are thought to be the first cultivated tree and have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. North American apple cultivation began 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Settlers had come prepared with seeds, cuttings, and small plants from the best European stock and the trees grew well here; by the end of the 19th century 14,000 apple varieties were being grown. Many were inferior varieties and for one reason or another fell out of favor and have been lost to the ages. Today 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. and 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide.

Thank you to Tim Hensley and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the article A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America, for some of the information used here.

15. Frost Crystals

It is the light that makes frost crystals appear so three dimensional even though they grow flat on glass, so if I were to try to paint them I’d  have to start with a dark canvas. Artists know that there can be no light without darkness, and wise artists know that the same is true in life.

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

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »