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Posts Tagged ‘Sensitive Fern Fiddleheads’

One of the things I love most about spring is seeing all the various buds break open so new leaves can emerge. As this maple bud shows, it can be very beautiful. Each year, usually around mid to late April I start watching various buds, but it all depends on the weather. This year they began to swell and it looked as if they’d break early but then we had a cold snap so they just sat and thought about it. Now, they are all coming alive.

New maple leaves are often tomato red and it is thought that the color wards off sunburn. Since so many plants start out with red or purple leaves it makes sense, but I’ve noticed this year that many of the new leaves are starting out green rather than the other colors, so I think the color must be weather dependent. If we have a cloudy spring there is no reason for them to have to protect themselves from sunburn. But how they know what the sun is doing while still encased in the bud scales is a mystery.

The strict definition of bud break is when the tip of a leaf is seen emerging from the bud, but spring isn’t just about new leaves any more than it is just about new flowers, so I’ve taken some liberties and have strayed a bit from that strict definition. After all spring is really about the beauty of it all in my opinion, and what could be more beautiful than this Norway maple flower bud opening?

In fact I think the bud in that previous shot is far more beautiful than the flowers that came out of it.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum), often in velvety shades of pink and orange as these were, grow up out of the bud scales, which are the darker parts seen here. Bud scales offer protection to the bud over winter but as the temperature warms they are no longer needed, so as the bud grows they open to allow it to expand and lengthen. In the case of a striped maple bud, if you watch closely a line will appear on the bud. You can see the whitish lines running up the center of these three buds in the photo.

When the lines appear this is the time to watch the buds closely. I usually visit them each day because the lines signal that the bud is ready to open. When it does it will split open on that line, as can be seen in this photo. It could be that the line is always there but I never notice it until the buds are ready to open so I use it as a signal.

This might surprise people who know striped maples. The big, light gathering, mature leaves on the tree have a flat, matte finish that reflects little light. The only time the leaves shine that I know of is when they have just come out of the bud as these had done. Whether or not that is another strategy to prevent sunburn, I don’t know.

Some native cherry trees will grow flower buds very soon after the leaves appear, and it seems that they put more energy into the flowers than they do their leaves. If you’re all about continuation of the species it makes perfect sense. They’re also among the earliest flowering trees, which also makes sense. Grab the attention of the insects before all the other flowers come out and you have a better chance of being pollinated.

Invasive Japanese honeysuckles are usually the first shrub in the forest to show new leaves. In that way they get a jump on natives and can begin photosynthesizing earlier, and growing faster. This one had a raindrop nestled in its leaves. We have 3 invasive honeysuckles here in New Hampshire and to identify them you can just break a stem. Stems of all three shrubs are hollow while native honeysuckle stems are solid. It is illegal to sell, propagate or plant any of these shrubs in New Hampshire.

I like the way the new spring shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) flow and move. After a shoot comes straight up out of the ground the leaves appear and the shoot nods toward the ground. The height the plant has reached when the leaves begin to appear is the height it will stay at throughout the present year’s growth. Native Americans and early colonists ate these shoots the way we would eat asparagus and they used the plant’s starchy roots in soups and stews. They also dried them to make flour for bread.

I love to see the new spring shoots of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) but I dread trying to get a photo of them because in my experience they’re one of the most difficult of all the spring shoots to get an accurate photo of. I quickly forgot about that though, when I found two plants growing where there had been just one. Even better was how both had plenty of flower buds. I was happy to see that this relatively rare plant was multiplying. This is the only spot I know of to find it.

The wind is caught in blue cohosh, so maybe that’s what makes it so hard to photograph. You might think there was a gale blowing on this day but no, there wasn’t even a breeze. It just wants to fly. Cohosh means “rough” when translated from Native American Algonquin language, and refers to the knobby root. A tincture of the root was said to start childbirth but science has shown the entire plant to be toxic.

Regular readers of this blog will have seen hobblebush flower buds (Viburnum lantanoides) evolve over the past few months from a hard lump with two “rabbit ears” to what looked like a wormy mass, to what it is now; recognizable flower buds with leaves on either side. Soon the shrubs will blossom, with large sterile, pure white flowers surrounding a mass of smaller fertile, white flowers in the center. It’s one of our most beautiful native shrubs and I hope to be able to bring it to you in another post in the very near future.  

Another beautiful flower is that of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea). The buds have broken and the leaves have pulled back to reveal the big, thumb size flower buds. They will become beautiful red, yellow and pink flowers before long. I think the tips of the leaves were frost bitten this year, by the looks.

We had lots of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) where I worked in Hancock but I had to hunt for this one here in Keene, and one was all I found. I hope to find more before they pass on.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores, the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores.

This horsetail was fully open, revealing its tiny spore producing sporangia. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brownish sporangiophore are the sporangia. They look like tiny white bags. Once it has released its spores it will die and be replaced by an infertile stem.

The rhubarb in a friend’s garden was also breaking bud. When I was a boy I could pull a stalk right off the plants in my grandmother’s garden and eat it right there, but I think I’ve lost my taste for it. They tell me when I was just a pup I’d have a dill pickle in one hand and a baby bottle in the other, so I must have been a bit of sourpuss when I was young. Now just writing about it is enough to make my mouth pucker.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be beautiful when it first comes up in the spring, but of course it’s also terribly invasive. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots are tart and juicy and taste much like a cross between asparagus and rhubarb, but I watched a television show about foraging recently and when the two people there tasted the knotweed, they said it didn’t taste like much. Judging by the looks on their faces I’d guess they probably spit it out once the camera looked at something else. The shoots they tasted were quite large though, like the one shown here. I think if you picked the new shoots just as they broke ground, they’d be tender and might be fairly tasty. Developing a taste for them would be a good way to overcome the problem of their being so invasive.

I don’t know if fern fiddleheads fit the description of bud break but I always enjoy seeing them in spring. This is a sensitive fern fiddlehead (Onoclea sensibilis). This fern gets its name from the early settlers, who noticed its sensitivity to frost. Since our last safe frost date is Memorial Day, it was rolling the dice. It’s a beautiful thing with its fur coat and tiny new leaves showing.

Christmas fern fiddleheads (Polystichum acrostichoides) wear hairy, silvery fur coats to protect themselves in spring. This is an evergreen fern so you can often find last year’s green fronds splayed out on the ground with this year’s fiddleheads coming up in the center of the plant. As fiddleheads go these are some of the biggest. This fern gets its name from early settlers, who saw that it was still green on Christmas.

The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly. I’ve read that eating too many can make you sick. The easiest way to identify ostrich fern fiddleheads is by the brown papery husk that covers the fiddlehead, and the deep groove in the stem. The groove has been compared to that you find on a stalk of celery and as far as I know, this fern is the only one in this region to have it. The plant itself has the shape of the shuttlecock used in badminton, so another name for it is the shuttlecock fern.

I watched beech buds closely over the last weeks and I saw them arch or curl, however you choose to see it, but then stop and do nothing. They simply waited along with all the other buds for the cold snap to end. The buds curl like this because the cells on the top become excited by the light and warmth generated by the stronger spring sunshine, and grow faster than the cells that grow in the shade on the bottom of the bud.

The difference in cell growth rate creates a tension in the bud, which increases until the bud simply can’t take any more and tears itself open. This releases the new leaves, which are beautifully covered in silver hairs. Sometimes they look more animal than plant.

Once the sunlight reaches the new leaves, they expand like an accordian and quickly lose their silver hairs. Bud break is one of the most beautiful things to happen in a New England Forest in the spring and I do hope that you are able to see it. Once you’ve seen something like this you never forget it.

Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles. ~George Bernard Shaw

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all the moms out there will have a grand and happy Mother’s Day tomorrow!

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These days, at least where I work, you don’t actually rake leaves very often. We have leaf vacuums and leaf blowers that take care of what by the end of the season is a huge mountain of leaves. If I were to do it all with a rake I’d still be raking when the leaves started falling next year but there are always little corners and such where only a rake will do, and this post is about one of those. I had one little corner left to do to finish the season but when I started to rake I saw the plant shoots seen above, so I put down the rake and raked with my fingers, gently. I believe the shoots are from the Stella d’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis) that grows here, but snowdrops grow here as well so they could be those. 

This seed pod is definitely from the daylily and it has been eaten by an unknown insect. Stella d’ Oro daylilies are popular because it was one of the first “ever blooming” day lilies. The dwarf plant has flowers that only last a day like any daylily but there are so many of them that it blooms for months and will often be the latest blooming daylily in a flower bed. This plant was developed in 1975 and is still seen all along city streets and in commercial parking lots.

Pulling the leaves away also revealed a tiny fern fiddlehead, no bigger in diameter than a pencil eraser. I believe it was a sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Several of them grow in this spot because it is shaded and damp.

The spore casings (sori) of the sensitive fern are unmistakable so you don’t need leaves to identify it. It’s leaves had long since gone because, as the early settlers who gave its common name noticed, it is extremely sensitive to frost. I’ve read that turkeys will peck at and eat the sori, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

I found a tiny seedling under the leaves, hardly bigger than a pea. It might pay for its hurry to grow.

Beside where I was working false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) grew. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Once I had raked all the leaves I had to wander a bit and see what I could see. A blackberry grew nearby and it had leaves that started to show their purple / red fall color. At least that’s how I see them; my color finding software sees only gray, green and a bit of orange, which seems odd.

Mouse ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) does well here and there are literally thousands of plants blooming in June and July. Their yellow flowers resemble those of false dandelion but that plant has longer, more wiry flower stems. The basal rosettes of leaves on this plant often turn very deep purple in the fall.

It isn’t hard to see where the name mouse ear came from.

I’m not sure what they’re finding to eat but there are large flocks of yellow shafted flickers here. I find their feathers all the time.

They’re very pretty feathers that you don’t often recognize when they’re still on the bird.

There is a small stream near where I was working so of course I had to explore it. That’s something I’ve never bothered to do in all the time I’ve worked here but on this day nature was calling to me louder than usual.

A gray birch had fallen and the rectangular tear in its bark reminded me of the rectangular hole in a cloud I had seen earlier in the week.

For the first time ever I saw a lichen growing on the bark of a white birch. Lichens normally don’t seem to like white birch but they will grow on the branches of gray birch. This was a beard lichen and it grew on the side of the tree towards the stream. Lichens like lots of humidity and I’d bet that it gets it here.

River grapes grew by the stream. I like to look at grape tendrils because they always seem to remind me of something. In this one I could see the strand-like hypha of a fungus. Two or more hypha are hyphae, and two or more hyphae are mycelium, and mycelium are like the “roots” of a fungus and the above ground parts are the “fruit.” Mycelia are always searching, either for food or for other mycelia. I might have seen all of this in this tendril because I happen to be reading one of the best books on fungi I’ve ever read. It’s called Entangled Life and is written by Merlin Sheldrake. If you know someone with a fungal fascination, they would love this book.

Most of the leaves I was raking were oak and thanks to decomposers like fungi and bacteria many were already on their way to becoming humus. I’ve often wondered what the forest would be like without the decomposers. I  think we’d be up to our eyeballs in sticks, logs, leaves and all the other litter that gathers on the forest floor.

I admired the color and intricacies of yarrow leaves.

I found a log by the stream that was covered by brocade moss (Hypnum imponens). This is a moss I don’t see that often. Brocade moss gets its common name from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

I saw the reddest alder catkins I’ve ever seen along the stream. They’re often purple, but not usually red in my experience.

Tongue gall licked at the female alder cones, which are called strobiles. These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host.  I wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

Here was a leaf I didn’t recognize. It was big at about a foot long, and very wrinkled. I’d guess dock, simply because it grows nearby.

But then suddenly, there was no longer any reason to think about leaves. The day after I took the photos you’ve seen here it snowed, so the decision has been made; leaf raking season is over. At least for now. Now leaf removal will turn to snow removal, and before long I’ll be cutting grass again.

A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye. ~Anonymous

Thanks for stopping in.

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