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Posts Tagged ‘Script Lichen’

1-road-start

When it snows enough to make hiking a little more work I like to follow Beaver Brook in Keene. It’s a popular spot with both nature lovers and dog walkers and it’s rare that someone hasn’t made a path for you to follow. Since the old road that is now a trail essentially ends at a waterfall it’s easy to guess where the trodden snow path will lead.

2-ledges

One of the other reasons I like to come here in winter is because of the easy access to the ledges that are close beside the old road. There are many mosses and lichens that grow on thede ledges and I hoped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that grow here, but unfortunately on this day snow covered them all.

3-blue-lichen

Though I didn’t see any smoky eye boulder lichens I did see one of the lichens that taught me that lichens can change color. This lichen is normally an ashy gray color in summer but as it gets colder it becomes darker and darker blue. This is the darkest I’ve ever seen it and I wonder if that’s because of the below zero nights we’ve had. I haven’t been able to identify it but it’s very granular and scattered, with no definite shape.

4-stairstep-moss

The stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens) that I only find in this place is very delicate looking but it can take a lot of winter ice and snow and grows as far north as the arctic tundra. It is also called glittering wood moss and sparkles when the light is right. It grows on stone here and seems to like places when it can hang over an edge.

5-beaver-brook

Another reason I like coming here in winter is to see the often spectacular ice formations that grow along the brook, but this year it has frozen from bank to bank early and the only ice seen was flat and shapeless. Beaver Brook itself had been all but silenced except for a giggle heard here and there where there were small openings in the ice. It’s very strange to walk in a place where you know there is always the sound of running water and then suddenly not hear it. Only ice can silence a stream or river.

6-ice

There wasn’t even that much ice on the ledges, and I finally realized that the ice that grows here must grow from snow melt rather than seeping ground water. If it’s too cold for the snow to melt as it has been recently, ice doesn’t grow. If the ice came from seeping groundwater it would keep growing no matter how cold it got.

7-ice-on-stone

The dribbles of ice on this stone looked ancient, as if they had been here forever.

8-patterns-in-stone

Even without ice on them the stones here are fascinating and speak of the countless eons of tremendous pressure that stretched and folded these hills into what we see today. The stones here were once a mineral stew and today many blood red garnets can be found.

9-fern

Evergreen ferns grow under the ledge overhangs and wait patiently for spring, when this year’s green fronds will finally turn brown and new shoots will appear. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring, which gives them a head start over the competition.

10-large-boulder

Off in the woods across the brook stands a huge glacial erratic boulder. If it could be hollowed out two people could easily fit inside it with plenty of room to spare. One day an old timer I met here told me that there are people who cross the brook to climb it, but I’ve never seen them do so. He’s the same old timer who told me that he had seen the brook flood and cross the road, which is a very scary thing to think about because not too far from here is downtown Keene.

11-lichens-and-liverworts

There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. As it gets colder these liverwort turn color until they become a dark purple; almost black, so they are much more noticeable in winter than in summer when they’re green. Some can get fairly large but this example was smaller than a tennis ball.

12-frullania-liverwort

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but though I finally membered to smell a few they didn’t seem to have any scent at all. This liverwort can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) has been seen in loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with it on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs with liverworts on them.

13-script-lichens

Script lichens (Graphis) grow on tree bark all along this old road. The dark “script” characters are the lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. This photo shows the clear separation between three species. Though the dark fruiting bodies are all horizontal in these examples, their size and spacing is quite different. Script lichens are another lichen that seems to produce spores only in cold weather. In summer they appear as whitish or grayish splotches on tree bark.

14-script-lichens

I got excited when I saw this script lichen because I thought I had found the rare and beautiful asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata) that I’ve been searching for, but I think the two fruiting bodies that look like asterisks were just an anomaly in what is a common script lichen (Graphis scripta.)  In a true asterisk lichen all of the fruiting bodies would be star shaped.

15-golden-birch

Many of the trees looked like they wore capes of ermine. Speaking of ermines, I searched for the otter slides that I’ve seen here in the past, but didn’t see any. The old road has steep hillsides along its length and otters come here to slide down them in winter.

16-guard-post

This road was laid out in the 1700s and was abandoned in the early 70s when a new highway was built-literally right across the existing road. Since then nature has slowly been reclaiming the area. Some of the old guard rails still stand but many have been swallowed up by the brook, which over time has eaten away the edge of the road.

17-big-snowball

From a distance I thought that a boulder had rolled down off the hillside and landed in the road but it turned out to be a huge snowball that someone had rolled. It was chest high and must have taken considerable effort to move.

18-fungus

Fall oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on the trunk of a maple but were now frozen solid. These fungi cause white rot and are not a good thing to see on living trees. Oyster mushrooms are also carnivorous. Scientists discovered in 1986 that they “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

19-moss-on-tree

We’ve all seen the deep channels in tree bark but what I didn’t know until I started researching mosses and lichens for this blog is how rainwater runs in these channels. They’re like small vertical streams and a frozen one can be seen over on the left in this shot. Mosses and lichens and even some fungi take advantage of these streams and grow beside them on the tree’s bark. By doing so they probably get a little extra water when it rains.

20-oak-leaf

An oak leaf had fallen on the snow. Its dark color will attract sunlight and that will heat it enough to melt the snow, and it will gradually sink in until it eventually disappears under it. Oak leaves are among the most water resistant leaves but being under the snow all winter is enough to waterlog even them.

21-approaching-falls

I made it to the falls which are over on the right out of the photo but I didn’t bother climbing down the embankment to take photos of them because they were frozen and hardly making a sound. It would have been a slippery climb for a shot of a big lump of ice and once I get down in there I’m never sure if I’ll get back out because it’s very steep.

The stripped and shapely maple grieves
The ghosts of her departed leaves.
The ground is hard, as hard as stone.
The year is old, the birds are flown.
~John Updike

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1-pond

Every now and then I get discombobulated and run out of ideas for blog posts. Inspiration is a funny thing that seems to come and go as it pleases, and though it has left me only three or four times since I started this blog it is always a bit disconcerting when it happens. It is almost as if my mind has gone completely blank as far as ideas are concerned but I’ve learned that this can be a special time, because when it happens I simply walk into the forest and let nature lead me where it will. On this day I decided to visit a local pond.

2-leaves-on-water

There were many leaves on the water surface, most of them oak.

3-oak

But not all of them had fallen. Oak leaves are still beautiful, even when they’re finished photosynthesizing.

4-low-water

The 8 foot strip of sand where there usually isn’t any showed how the drought has affected this pond.

5-alder-tongue-gall

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity and are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams. There are many alders along the shores of this pond.

6-false-dandelion

The big surprise of the day was this false dandelion blossom (Hypochaeris radicata.) The flowers of false dandelion look much the same as those of true dandelions in a photo, but in the field they are much smaller and stand on 6-8 inch long, wiry stems. They’re obviously very hardy.

7-trail

All of the previous photos were taken before I had even set foot on the nice wide trail that follows along one side of the pond. That’s how much there is to see here.

8-fern-on-stone

The boulder that you can see on the right in the previous photo had a crack in it and one of our evergreen ferns decided to call it home. I’ve known this fern for several years now and I’ve never seen it get much bigger than an orange.

9-beech-leaves

I was grumbling to myself about the harsh sunlight and how difficult it was to take a decent photo in conditions like these, and then I saw this and stopped grumbling. The sunlight coming through the beech leaves made a beautiful picture and I sat down on a stone to take a photo and admire the scene. That’s when nature decided to show me a few more things.

10-bark-beetle-markings

I looked down and saw a pine limb that had been attacked by bark beetles. There’s nothing unusual about that but what was unusual were the channels that looked as if they had saw teeth. They’re usually smooth sided and I’ve never seen any like them and haven’t been able to find anything like them on line. They reminded me of ancient hieroglyphs. I’d like to know more about them if anyone is familiar with them.

11-squirrels-lunch

To my right on a log was what remained of a squirrel’s lunch. It looked like there was plenty of acorn meat left and I wondered if I had scared it away. Squirrels in this neck of the woods like to sit up on a log or stone or even a picnic table to eat; virtually anywhere off the ground. An adult gray squirrel can eat up to two pounds of acorns each week. Since there are 60-80 acorns in a pound a gray squirrel eats a lot of them each week. At the high end that’s 23 acorns per day. This year there are enough to support a lot of squirrels.

12-smoky-eye-boulder-lichen

A rock near the one I sat on was covered with beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) The blue bits are the spore bearing apothecial disks of the lichen. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and which makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body (Thallus) of the lichen even though each one is smaller than a baby pea.

13-mycelium

I rolled a log aside to see if there were any cobalt blue crust fungi on it but instead I saw this where the log had been. The mycelium of an unknown fungus was there in the leaves, reminding me of a distant nebula where stars are born, or a streak of lightning flashing in the evening sky, or a woman in the wind with her hair and dress blowing all about her. I love these beautiful bits of nature that can capture your mind and let you step outside of yourself for a time, oblivious to everything except the beauty before you. If somebody were to ask me right now why I spend so much time in the woods and why I do this blog I’d have to show them this photo. And then hope they understood that it’s all about the beauty of this life.

14-frosted-fungi

I saw a few bracket fungi on a nearby tree but they were past their prime. Our mushroom season is about over now except for a handful of the so called winter mushrooms.

15-witch-hazel

The fragrance of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) was with me all along the path. Witch hazel is our last wildflower to bloom and is pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. These moths raise their body temperature by shivering. Their temperature can rise as much as 50 degrees and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.  It must work well because our witch hazels are always loaded with seed pods.

16-script-lichen

Many script lichens decorated the tree trunks. I always find myself looking for words in photos like this one. I never find them but I do see random letters. The light colored background is the body of the lichen and the darker “script” is where it releases its spores. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world, and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia. I’ve seen examples that have apothecia that all run horizontally or vertically, but most seem random like those in the photo. The script lichen I want to see most of all is the asterisk script lichen, with apothecia that look like tiny stars.

17-frullania-asagrayana-liverwort-2

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. It can look very lacy and fern like at times. Sometimes it reminds me of the beautiful fan corals found on distant coral reefs, as the above example does.

18-frullania-asagrayana-liverwort

The very small leaves of the Frullania liverwort are strung together like beads. Some Frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but I keep forgetting to smell them. That probably happens because a close shot of them is always very hard for me to get and takes quite a lot of concentration.

19-quartz-vein-in-granite

In geology a vein is not tubular but is, according to Wikipedia  “a sheet like body of crystallized minerals within a rock. Veins form when mineral constituents carried by an aqueous solution within the rock mass are deposited through precipitation. The hydraulic flow involved is usually due to hydrothermal circulation.” Veins can also be beautiful, as this vein of milky quartz in a granite stone shows. If I remember my geology lessons correctly if the quartz were in a tubular form it would be called an intrusion.

So, that’s what nature showed me when I walked into the woods with a blank mind. The answer to what to write a blog post about came when I wasn’t thinking about the question. Just walking into the forest and looking around was all I needed to do.

Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things. ~Edward Steichen

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1-naturally-grafted-maples

Since I live in a forest and work in a forest and spend most of my free time in forests, I see a lot of trees. But I don’t see many like these two. If two trees or parts of trees like limbs or roots of the same species grow close enough together the wind can make them rub against each other, wearing the outer bark away. Once the outer bark wears away and the cambium or inner bark touches, the trees can become naturally grafted together. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see at least a couple of self or naturally grafted trees each year. From what I can tell these two maples had limbs that rubbed together and finally grew together years ago.

2-natural-graft-on-maplws

Trees that are naturally grafted together or conjoined are sometimes called “husband and wife” trees, or “marriage trees.” These two young red maples (Acer rubrum) were in the early stages of becoming grafted; it’s easy to see where they rubbed together. This can happen to most species of trees and can sometimes even happen to two trees of different families, like a red maple and a sugar maple.

Man can also graft trees and has been doing so for as long as anyone can remember. Fruit trees, especially apples, are often grafted. Many other plants like roses and grapes are also grafted onto the stronger rootstock of another in the family.

3-entwined-striped-maples

These young striped maples were entwined but not yet conjoined. Though it looks like there are three trees here there are only two. The ones on the right and left come from one stump and the middle tree comes from a separate stump. Why they grew this way is anyone’s guess but I’d say it’s a fair bet that they will all eventually become one tree. You can see how the bark has puckered on the lower part of the tree on the far right, and that’s a sign that they have been rubbing together.

4-lichens-on-tree

Trees support a lot of life on their limbs and bark, like the many lichens pictured here. Since people see lichens growing on the dead branches of trees they think the lichens killed the branch but lichens simply sit on the bark and take nothing from the tree. They are opportunists that like a lot of sunshine though, and the best place to find the most sunshine is on a branch with no leaves on it.

5-script-lichen

I always like to look at trees like the one in the previous photo because the spots on their bark can turn out to be quite beautiful, like the script lichen pictured here. Script lichen looks just like its name suggests but it is a very ancient script, like long forgotten runes. The dark “script” characters are its fruiting bodies that produce its spores. There are many script lichen species and each seems to prefer a certain species of tree. I think this example is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta) which prefers smooth barked trees like maple and beech.

6-maple-dust-lichen

Other spots on trees might turn out to be beautiful maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora.) I don’t have time to look at every tree with lichens on its bark, but I wish I did because when I don’t look closely I feel as if I’m missing something beautiful.

7-target-canker-on-red-maple

Target canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” Apparently the fungal attacker gives up after a while, because as the tree ages the patterns disappear and the tree seems fine.

8-burl-on-maple-2

Burl is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tree tissues. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize them highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, but this example was on an old maple. It was as big as a basketball.

9-chaga

Trees of course are very beneficial to mankind in many ways, even medicinally. Chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that grows on birch and other trees. Though many think that the area that looks like burnt charcoal is the fruiting part of the fungus it is actually the “roots” or mycelium. It is black because it contains large amounts of melanin, which is a naturally occurring  dark brown to black pigment in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is also responsible for the tanning of skin exposed to sunlight. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

10-bootstrap-fungus

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

11-pine-tree-foam

For years I’ve noticed that a soapy foam at the base of certain white pine trees (Pinus strobus) when it rains. Sometimes it is in just a spot or two and at other times it nearly circles the entire tree.  This happens because when there is a drought or dry spell salts, acids and other particles from the air can coat the bark. Soap is essentially made from salts and acids and when it rains, these natural salts and acids mix with the water and begin to froth. The froth (foam) is from the natural agitation of the mixture when it finds its way around bark plates as it flows toward the ground.

12-frost-rib

This hemlock tree had a healed frost crack, called a frost rib. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo.

13-frost-rib

Another example of a frost rib, this time on yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis.) Frost cracks and frost ribs are fairly common.

14-bittersweet-on-elm

Many things can damage a tree. This oriental bittersweet vine was about the same diameter as my little finger and was already strangling a young elm that was wrist size. Anyone who has ever tried to cut or split elm knows that it’s one of the toughest woods, so the bittersweet must be very tough indeed. It’s hard to know which will win this battle; I’ve seen trees with bittersweet vine grooves in their bark live on, and I’ve seen live bittersweet vines on dead trees.

15-bittersweet-berries-2

Oriental bittersweet is all about continuation of the species, so it climbs up trees so it can sit in the crown and gather up all the sunlight so it can flower well. Each pollinated flower means a berry that a bird will come along and eat, and that’s how it multiplies. The young vines are shade tolerant, so when a bird sits in a tree and drops a seed to the ground beneath it the plant can germinate and live on while searching for the best path to the light at the top of the tree. Other vines like our native Virginia creeper, grapes and virgin’s bower also seek light at the tops of trees but they aren’t nearly as aggressive and don’t hurt them.

16-fence-in-woods

One of the strangest things I’ve seen in the woods recently is this old piece of fence connected to a tree. It has been there so long the tree has started to grow over it and if it continues the tree will eventually has a substantial piece of fencing embedded in its wood for its lifetime. Trees seem to shrug this kind of thing off and just keep on growing, no matter what the obstacle might be. The process is known as “compartmentalization of decay in trees,” where the tree uses scar tissue to compartmentalize the section with a foreign object in it. They do the same thing when fighting decay.

17-fence-grown-into-tree

Though trees might easily shrug things like this off,  woodcutters don’t. There’s nothing worse than running into a piece of metal with a chainsaw. Not only does it ruin the chain, it’s also very dangerous. Many things have been found in trees, including screws and nails, signs, pipes, fencing, cannonballs, bullets, beer bottles, hammers, hand saws, horse shoes, chains, ropes, stones, and one arborist even found a Chevy Corvette rim.  It seems that a tree will grow around just about anything.

18-zig-zag-scar

Sometimes scars on trees aren’t easy to explain. I’ve shown this zig zag scar on this old hemlock a few times on this blog and the consensus seems to be that it was made by lightning, but I wonder if we aren’t thinking that simply because both lightning and the scar are zig zagged. In any event I don’t suppose we’ll ever know for sure but it’s fun to guess at its origin. It comes directly out of the ground, straight for about half its length, then it zig zags for the other half. Its total length is about 4 feet.

19-zig-zag-scar

This is a close look at the zig zag scar in the previous photo. It doesn’t look like it was made by a boy with a new pocket knife either. If you’ve ever seen anything like it or know what might have caused it there are several of us who would love to hear from you.

20-beech

I can’t understand how someone can walk out of a forest and say they didn’t see anything, but I’ve heard people say it a few times. “For gosh sakes,” I always want to ask, “what about the trees!?” You don’t need to know anything about burls or frost cracks or inosculation or even what kind of tree you’re looking at to just enjoy their astounding beauty. That’s what I spend a lot of my time in the woods doing, and I hope you will too. I’ve put this post together with the thought that it might make your next journey through the woods a little more interesting.

I did not want to think about people. I wanted the trees, the scents and colors, the shifting shadows of the wood, which spoke a language I understood. ~ Patricia A. McKillip

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Moon Set

The full moon was setting over Half Moon Pond in Hancock early one morning so I took a photo of it with my cell phone. The muted pastel colors were beautiful I thought, but the cell phone’s camera overexposed the moon. Its gray cratered surface was much more visible than is seen here.  A lone ice fisherman’s hut stood on the ice, even though thin ice warnings have been repeated time and again this winter.

2. Red Elderberry Buds

This is the time of year that I start wondering about bud growth and what the trees are doing. I saw some red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) recently that were quite a beautiful sight on a winter day. Though they didn’t have as much purple on the scales as I’ve seen in the past they reminded me of spring.

3. Sap Lines

One reason I’m interested in what buds are doing so early is due to my seeing a photo captioned “The Weird Season” in the local newspaper. It showed two tree tappers tapping trees in a sugar bush, and they said that the sap is running because December was so warm. Though the photo was recent last week we didn’t see 32 degrees or above for a single day, so I doubt the sap ran for long. I suppose though when you have 6000 trees to tap you’re anxious to get started. The above photo shows how tapping is done these days; with a plastic tube running from tree to tree and then to a collection tank or the sugar shack. A vacuum pump helps gravity make sure the sap flows as it should. It’s quicker and easier for the syrup makers and is also more sanitary but I prefer seeing the old steel buckets hanging on the trees.

4. Tap Hole in Maple

There are insects that can make a perfectly round hole in a tree but the above photo shows a tap hole in a maple, drilled last year. It’s about a half inch in diameter and the tree is most likely working to heal it.

5. Rose Hip

The hips of the Alberta wild rose (Rosa acicularis) and the soft downy-rose (Rosa mollis) are the only ones I’ve heard of that have prickles. I’ve never seen them on rugosa rose hips. I’m not sure which these are but the birds haven’t touched a single one of them.

6. Brook Ice

I took a walk along Beaver Brook in Keene to see if there were any ice formations. There were and they had grown quickly.  From the water to the top of the ice was about 3 feet, I’d guess, so this would not be a good hole to fall into.

7. Brook Ice

It’s amazing to think that a river or stream can stop itself with ice. Beaver Brook wasn’t dammed up but I could see how it might easily happen. Last year the brook had so much ice on it that hardly a trickle of water could be heard in places where it is usually quite noticeable. It was if it had frozen solid, right down to its gravel bed.

8. Ice Crystals

For the third time this winter I’ve found very long, sharply pointed ice crystals. Temperature and humidity are said to determine the forms that crystals take but I don’t know why the temperature and humidity this winter would be telling the ice to grow so long and pointed. Humidity seems low but the temperature is 4 degrees above average for the month. This makes 3 months in a row with temperatures above average, and maybe it’s having an effect on the ice. Lake, pond and river ice all seem normal.

9. Frost Crack on Birch

While I was at the brook I saw a yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) with a healed frost crack. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo.

10. Frullania Liverwort

When it gets cold dark purple, almost black spots appear on the bark of some trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a reddish color and not quite so noticeable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

11. Frullania Liverwort

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. It can look very lacy and fern like at times. Sometimes it reminds me of the beautiful fan corals found on distant coral reefs, as the above example does.

12. Frullania Liverwort 2

The very small leaves of the Frullania liverwort were strung together like beads. Some Frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant so I’ll have to smell some and see.

13. Candle Flame Lichen

This crabapple tree was encrusted with fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa.) This lichen seems to be trying to tell me that certain lichens prefer certain trees. So far I’ve seen it only on crabapple trees.

14. Candle Flame Lichen 2

Fringed candle flame lichen is extremely small and looks like a tiny pile of scrambled eggs as you get closer. From a distance it can look like a yellow powder on the tree’s bark.

15. Script Lichen

It seems that script lichen is another lichen that produces spores in winter; at least that’s when I see their squiggly spore bearing bodies (Apothecia) appear.

16. Script Lichen

A close look shows that the apothecia sit on the grayish body (Thallus) of this lichen, making them look as if they were beautifully painted on rather than etched into the surface. I think this example is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta.) There is another script lichen called the asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata) that I’ve always wanted to see. It has apothecia that look just like asterisks.

17. Lily Pad

Someone found a water lily leaf in the river and put it on a stone as if it were a beautiful sculpture on a plinth. I loved it for its veins and its rich red-brown color and its missing pieces, and I left it not knowing or caring how long I’d sat beside it. Where does the time go?

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

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1. Ashurlot Wave

Something I like to do every now and then is watch the waves on the Ashuelot River, but we’ve been in a drought most of the summer so there haven’t been any to watch. Finally last week 4 1/2 inches of rain fell in a day and there were some serious waves after that. The river has a rhythm and its waves form at fairly regularly spaced intervals and I find it challenging to see if I can get shots of the waves as they form. It’s not as easy as it sounds but it can be done if you can tune out everything but yourself and the river.

2. 40 Foot Falls

Of course since I saw the Ashuelot River at bank full I thought waterfalls would be roaring but as 40 foot falls in this photo shows, I was wrong. The beaver pond that feeds this stream must have been low enough to absorb all the rainfall without having much effect on the outflow.

3. Hole in Boulder

I find a lot of blasting holes drilled through boulders. There is nothing unusual about drilling and blasting stone here in the granite state but I often find these boulders out in the woods where you wouldn’t expect a steam or air powered drill would be able to go, and that’s odd. This example was out in the middle of nowhere but was too perfect to have been drilled by hand with a sledge hammer and star drill, so it had to have been machine made. If I’d had a golf ball in my pocket I could have rolled it right through this hole.

4. Chipmunk

I interrupted this chipmunk as he ran about busily looking for seeds to stuff his cheeks with and he was clearly not happy about that, so I took a quick couple of photos and let him get on with his work. Chipmunks will watch you pretty closely in the woods and will often follow along beside you, making a chipping or chucking sound to tell the other animals and birds that you’re in the neighborhood. Chickadees do the same thing.

5. Concentric Boulder Lichen

I found a single example of a concentric boulder lichen (Porpidia crustulata) a few years ago and hadn’t seen one since until recently. Though it’s very hard to find it’s easy to identify; the body (thallus) of the lichen is always ashy gray and its black spore bearing bodies (Apothecia) grow in concentric rings around the lichen’s center. It’s not one of the prettiest lichens but it is one of the rarest in this area and I was happy to see it.

6. Dog Lichen

Dog lichens aren’t rare but they are unusually big for a lichen; I’ve seen hand size examples. Lichens like water and can often be found growing beside or even among water retaining mosses as this one has. Because it’s been so dry it’s been a rough summer for water loving mosses and lichens but they are very patient and simply sit and wait for rain. The 4 1/2 inches of rain we had last week has perked them right up and this dog lichen was pliable once again instead of crisp. If you want to know what one feels like just pinch your earlobe. The lichen is thinner but it feels much the same.

7. Script Lichen

Some trees have beautiful ancient runes scribbled on their bark in the form of script lichens. The light colored part is the body of the lichen and the darker “script” is where it releases its spores. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world, and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia. I’ve seen examples that have apothecia that all run horizontally or vertically, but most seem random like those in the photo. I think it would take the better part of a lifetime just to identify the 39 species in North America. This photo has been enlarged so everything seen here would fit behind a dime with room to spare.

8. Rose Moss

Mosses appreciated the rain. This beautiful rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) was very dry and brown the last time I saw it. It grows on a limestone boulder so it must get the heat that the stone absorbs from the sun as well as from the sun itself. I know of only one place to find this moss.

9. Rose Moss

Rose moss gets its common name from the way that each plant looks like a tiny rose blossom. At this magnification some of the leaves look as if they’ve been sprinkled with gold dust. Spore production takes place in the center of each small “blossom.”

10. Stairstep Moss

Another moss that I can find in only one place is stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) In the right kind of light its leaves are somewhat shiny and that leads to another common name: glittering wood moss. It is also called splendid feather moss and I’m sure I don’t have to explain how it came by that name. This is a tough moss that grows in boreal forests into the Arctic. It is considered an indicator of undisturbed, stable soil though I find it growing in soil that has built up on the top of a stone.

11. Stairstep Moss

You can see a bit of the glitter in stair step moss leaves in this photo. The name stair step moss comes from the way each new branch steps up from the middle of the older branch. It is said that this moss grows a new branch each year and its age can be revealed by counting the branches. If true that would mean that this example was at least 4 years old.

12. Polypody Fern Sporangia

Polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) are producing spores and each of its spore producing sporangia looks like a tiny basket full of flowers. This is the time of year to be looking at the undersides of ferns fronds. How and where the sporangia grow are important parts of an accurate identification for some.

13. Possible Common Earthball aka Scleroderma citrinum

I think this puffball is an example of the common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum,) but I’m not certain of that. It’s one that I’ve never seen before and I can’t come up with an exact match for it, either in my mushroom books or online. It was bigger than many puffballs I see; maybe 5 inches long by 3 wide.

14. Possible Common Earthball aka Scleroderma citrinum 3

Whatever its name is this puffball was a beautiful thing, and studying it took me out of myself for a time. As I look at it now it reminds me of an aerial view of a village.  With yellow roads.

15. Wolf's Milk

But when is a puffball not a puffball?

16. Wolf's Milk

Answer: When it is a slime mold. Wolf’s milk slime mold is also called toothpaste slime because of the consistency of its inner plasmodial material. It’s usually pink but this example was orange. I’ve only found one example where the plasmodium was pasty like toothpaste. It’s usually more liquid like the above example. As it ages it will turn into grayish powdery spores.

17. Slime Mold

There are other slime molds to be seen at this time of year as well, like this beautiful orange example which I believe is Hemitrichia calyculata. It has gone from its moving plasmodial feeding stage to the production of fruiting bodies called sporangium, which are seen in this photo. Each tiny sphere sits atop a whitish stalk and there it will stay, possibly changing color as it ages and begins spore production. These examples grew on an old fallen hemlock.

18. Geese

I thought I’d have a nice shot of Canada geese flying south in a V formation for you but by the time I was done fumbling around with my camera they had turned and all I saw was a line.

19. Geese 2

These two didn’t seem to want any part of flying south, or anywhere else for that matter. After all it was 72 degrees and the colors were mesmerizing.

20. Dish

No, you didn’t accidentally flip over to the NASA website. This 260 ton, 82 foot diameter dish antenna lives here in the woods of New Hampshire. It is one of the antennas that make up the Very Long Baseline Array, which is made up of 10 antennas that stretch across the country from New Hampshire west to Hawaii and south to the Virgin Islands. All 10 antennas function as a single giant antenna some 5000 miles wide and produce high resolution images of galaxies and quasars billions of light years away. The array is so sensitive it can measure details equivalent to being able to see a football on the surface of the moon.

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

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1. Road View

I’ve agreed to help a group of youngsters called Pathfinders in their quest to find good examples of mosses, lichens and liverworts. I know of 2 places where they could find all three of them without too much trouble and decided that the old abandoned road along Beaver Brook would probably be the safest. From what I can tell Pathfinders are anywhere from 10-15 years old and get merit badges and other awards each time they meet certain goals, much like the Boy Scouts.

2. Beaver Brook

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows that if you stand me up in front of a group of people and ask me to speak I immediately forget everything I’ve ever known, but this should be very different. By reading other nature blogs I know that people who lead excursions like these usually go off on the hunt alone before they lead a group, so that’s what I did. Beaver Brook was almost completely iced over with just a narrow ribbon of water glistening in the sunshine. It was sunny but it was cold and the snow where it hadn’t been walked on was quite deep. Since I made this trip we’ve gotten over a foot of new snow, so I hope the Pathfinders have already earned their winter survival badges.

 3. Ledge Ice

I chose this place because of the easily accessible ledges and trees. Since vertical ledges and trees don’t accumulate much snow the lichens, mosses and liverworts that grow on them are easy to find all winter long. We’ll have to pay close attention to ice though; we don’t want anyone standing under that. Since this trip is planned towards the end of the month the ice could be rotten and falling by then.

4. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Beautiful smokey eye boulder lichens(Porpidia albocaerulescens) grow on the stone of the ledges along with many other lichens and mosses. I’m hoping that each Pathfinder has his or her own loupe or magnifying glass so they can see details like the beautiful sky blue fruiting bodies (Apothecia) on this lichen. Part of this lichen in the top center of the photo was under ice, and what a difference it made in its appearance.

5. Quartz Crystal Formations

While I was looking for lichens I found a pocket of milky quartz crystals that I’ve never seen here before. It seems like every time I come here I see something new and on this day, between lichens and quartz crystals, I found three things that I had never seen here. That’s why it pays to follow the same trails over and over; you think you’ve seen all there is to see but you find that you haven’t even come close.

6. Hole in the Snow

There was a quarter sized hole in the snow that must have had warm water vapor rising up through it, because its edges were decorated with delicate, feather like frost crystals.

7. Yellow Feather Moss

Yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) always looks pale and sickly but it is perfectly healthy, as its spore capsule production shows. This moss is rare here and this small clump is the only example I know of, so maybe it will earn the Pathfinders some extra points.

8. Yellow Feather Moss Spore Capsule

I won’t tell you how many shots of this yellow feather moss spore capsule I had to take before I got a useable one, but it was a lot. This example still has its tiny, pointy, red cap-like lid (operculum), meaning it hasn’t released its spores yet.

9. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is another beautiful moss that I’ve seen nowhere but here. It’s looking a little dry at the moment but it will snap back as soon as it warms up and we get some rain. This moss gets its common name from the way new leaves “step up” from the backs of older leaves.

10. Possible Fused Rim Lichen aka Lecanora symmicta

I found a crustose lichen that I’ve never seen before. It grew on tree bark and I think that it might be a fused rim lichen (Lecanora symmicta.) Fused rim lichens get their name from the way the tan colored fruiting bodies (Apothecia) sometimes fuse together. I don’t know if this is a rare lichen or if I’ve just never noticed it before because it fruits in winter, but it’s something else that might earn the Pathfinders extra points.

11. Blue Lichen

I’ve known for a long time that lichens change color when they dry out but I didn’t know that cold affected them. Then I started seeing blue lichens in places where I was sure there were none before and I realized that some of the lichens that I saw in the summer were turning blue in winter. That isn’t much help when it comes to identifying them though, so now I have to go back when it’s warmer and see if I can figure out what they are. Once I’ve identified them I can see what the books say about them turning blue.

12. Greater Whipwort Liverwort

The Pathfinders need to find 5 mosses, 5 lichens, and 1 liverwort and the greater whipworts (Bazzania trilobata) that grow on the ledges here will take care of the liverwort requirement. They’ve shriveled a bit because of the cold and dryness but it’s still obvious that they aren’t a moss. I always find these liverworts growing on stones near streams, so they must like high humidity.

13. Script Lichen

Script lichens (Graphis) are another candidate for a hand lens but well worth the effort. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia, which look like ancient script written on tree bark.  I counted at least five different species on this day in just this small area, but I think you could probably spend a lifetime trying to identify script lichens. If I was still a teenager I might take on such a challenge.

14. Yellow Crust Fungus

I’m sure that the Pathfinders will find all that they’re looking for and plenty more besides. I even found a bright yellow fungus that I think might be a crowded parchment (Stereum complicatum), even though they are usually orange. Color like this is always a welcome sight in winter and I hope I can remember where it was so I can show it to them.

15. Brook View

The only thing I can’t be sure of is how much snow we’ll have by the day of our trip. I’ve already had to start wearing gaiters, but if we keep getting two or three snowstorms each week like we have been lately we might all need snowshoes.

I’m glad that I made this solo journey because now I know that the kids won’t be disappointed. There is plenty here to see and I hope they will come away from this place with an urge to see more and learn more. I also hope the knowledge that they can see beauty virtually anywhere as long as they are willing to look for it will stay with them for a good long time.

Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.  ~ Ritu Ghatourey

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1. Stream

There’s a stream near my house that I follow occasionally. It’s not big enough to row a boat up or down, gently or otherwise, but life is often dreamlike when I walk its banks.

2. Ice on a Log

It was a warm, rainy day that was more like fall than winter but ice had formed on the logs overnight and remained there in shadier places. I tried to catch all the colors of the rainbow that the sun made in the ice but once again I was less than successful.

3. Gravel

When the glaciers retreated they left behind huge amounts of sand and gravel in this area and most stream and river beds flow through it. Many animals drink from this stream and the sand bars dotted here and there along its length are great places to look for their tracks, but on this day the rain had been heavy enough to wash them away.

4. Sensitive Fern

It’s easy to see why sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is also called bead fern when you look closely at the shiny black spore cases on its fertile fronds. This fern gets its name from its sensitivity to frost because it’s usually one of the first to brown in the fall. It also likes growing in damp soil and does well along the stream.

 5. Tree Apron Moss  Closeup

It’s not hard to imagine tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) creeping across the bark of its host tree, looking very worm like.

6. Jelly Fungus

This jelly fungus was the color of Vaseline when I saw it on its limb but somehow the color has changed into a kind of yellow-green-orange in the photos. I was all prepared to tell you I’d never seen it before but now it looks like the common witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica.) It’s also called yellow brain, golden jelly fungus, and yellow trembler, and is very common in winter.

7. Script Lichen

I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find script lichens (Graphis) at certain times of year and then I finally realized that they only fruit in late fall and winter in this region, so at other times of year they look like a whitish gray splotch on tree bark. The dark rune like figures are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) and the lighter gray is the body (thallus) of the lichen. There are many different varieties of script lichen, each determined by the shape of its apothecia.

Someday I’m going to find out how releasing their spores at this time of year benefits some lichens. So far I haven’t had much luck.

8. Bitter Wart Lichen

I’ve only seen bitter wart lichen (Pertusaria amara) once before so I was very happy to find this one growing near the stream on an American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) limb. The body (thallus) of this lichen is whitish to greenish gray and its fruiting bodies (apothecia) are the whitish “warts” from which it takes part of its common name. The other part of its common name comes from the fact that it is extremely bitter tasting. It seems to prefer the bark of hornbeams because that’s where it was growing both times I’ve seen it. This lichen seems to have a hard time producing spores, which might help account for its rarity.

9. Foamflower Foliage

Foamflowers are native plants that hold their hairy leaves through winter and like growing in damp shaded soil along streams and rivers. Quite often after it gets cold the leaves will turn a reddish color but this year they’ve stayed green.

10. River Grape Vine

Many wild grapevines grow along this stream and their fermenting fruit perfumes the air heavily each fall. Their tiny flowers are also very fragrant and can be detected from quite a distance. Grapevines are easy to identify because of the way their bark peels in long strips. These grapes are one of our native vines and are called riverbank grapes (Vitis riparia) because that is where they like to grow. They have been known to survive temperatures as low as -70°F and are used as rootstock for several less hardy commercial varieties.  The vine in the photo is an old one, nearly as big around as my leg.

11. Whitewash Lichen

Something made strange marks in this whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena). This lichen is crusty and tough when dry but softens with rain and is easily damaged. I can’t think of any bug, bird or animal that would have made these marks. They were too thin and shallow for a bear and too high on the tree for a bobcat to have made them. Maybe a falling branch made them on its way to the ground.

12. Foam on Pine bark

For years I’ve seen foam at the base of certain white pine trees (Pinus strobus) when it rains. Sometimes it is in just a spot or two and at other times it nearly circles the entire tree. I’ve tried to find out what might cause it for a long time and finally had some luck at the Walter Reeves website recently. The most plausible explanation says that the “foam is caused by the formation of a crude soap on the bark. During drought there is an accumulation of salts, acids and other particles from the air that coat the bark surface (soap is essentially salts and acids). When it rains, these mix with the water and go into solution. The froth (foam) is from the agitation of the mixture when it encounters a barrier (bark plates) during its flow toward the ground.” That makes sense to me.

13. Bark Beetle Damage

If I understand what I’ve read correctly, the deeper channels or galleries seen on this white pine limb were made by the male pine engraver beetle (Ips) and the shallower ones by his harem of females. Eggs are deposited in these shallower galleries and once the larva hatch they create even more galleries. It all ends up looking like some form of ancient script and sometimes I catch myself trying to read it.

Luckily these beetles attack trees that are already damaged or weakened by stress and kill very few healthy trees but still, if you happen to own forested land and have seen evidence of these beetles you would do well to contact a qualified professional forester.  A healthy forest is the best defense against bark beetles and many other pests.

14. Tree Moss aka Climacium dendroides 2

Tree moss grew along the stream embankment close enough to the water to be submerged if it rises very much. I’ve seen it flood here several times, high enough to wash over the road. Apparently the mosses and other plants can take it.

15. Tree Moss aka Climacium dendroides

From the side the tree moss looked even more beautiful and full of life, as if it was glowing with an inner light. Some plants seem to just throb with the excitement of living, and this is one of them. They’re a true joy to behold.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

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