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Posts Tagged ‘Skunk Cabbage’

In my last post I spoke about climbing Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I took a short detour on the way home that day to see Bailey Brook Falls in Nelson. The brook wasn’t running quite as high as I expected considering the regular rain and all the snowmelt we’ve seen lately. The state says we’re still in a moderate drought because the underground aquifers have been depleted, so hopefully we’ll see our average rainfall this summer. That would help a lot.

This is my favorite view of the falls. Interesting how the brook is always split in two here.

A pileated woodpecker had carved a deep hole out of this white pine (Pinus strobus.) There’s nothing remarkable about that; I see holes like this all the time. It’s what happened afterwards that is worth noting.

The pine tree’s sap had turned a beautiful blue, deeper in color than most I see. I see more blue pine sap in winter than at other times of year so I’ve always assumed that it was the cold that turned it blue, like it does to some lichens, but now that I’m noticing it in warmer weather as well I’m just not sure. Does the cold turn it blue in winter and then it stays that way from then on? I’ve spent many hours searching for the answer and can’t find a single reference to blue pine sap, so I can’t answer the question.

Ninety five percent of the white pine sap I see looks like this; kind of a cloudy tan color, and that’s why blue pine sap is so startling and unusual. Pine sap (resin) has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years to waterproof just about anything that needed it; baskets, pails, and especially canoes. The Chippewa tribe also used pine sap to treat infections and wounds. The treatment was usually successful because pine sap seems to contain several antimicrobials.

I also saw some resin on a black cherry tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. It was clear and amber colored and very different than pine resin. This is the kind of resin that insects got trapped in millions of years ago and which are found occasionally today, preserved forever just as they were when they became stuck in the sticky sap. There were quite large globs of it here and there on this tree and I wish I had taken one to add to my collection of outdoor oddities.

Because of colorblindness I don’t usually try bird identification but I think I’m safe saying that this is a European starling. European starlings were first introduce into New York In the 1890s. Those original 100 birds have now become  over 200 million, and they can be found from Alaska to Mexico. I saw three birds working this lawn for insects; not exactly a flock. The name starling comes from their resemblance to a four pointed star when they fly.

I’ve read that a starling’s spots are more easily seen in winter and all but disappear in summer, but they were very noticeable on all 3 of these birds. They’re a pretty bird but I understand that a lot of people here in the U.S. don’t like them.

Milk white toothed polypore is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of branches the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it.

The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.”

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is one of our earliest to show in spring but this year it was even earlier than I thought so it got ahead of me. These fiddleheads were already about 6 inches tall. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. It likes wet or very moist ground along rivers and streams.

I found a beard lichen (Usnea) still attached to a cut log and it turned out to be the longest one I’ve seen. They’re very common on pines and hemlocks in our area. They attach themselves to the bark but take nothing from the tree, much like a bird perching. 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.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” and I can’t think of a better plant to demonstrate it than rhubarb.

There is a very short time when skunk cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) actually look like cabbage leaves. I’m guessing that with skunk in their name they don’t taste anything like cabbage though, and I hope I’m never hungry enough to be tempted by them. I’ve heard that bears will eat them when they can’t find anything else.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and in many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo from a few years ago shows what the complete ramp looks like. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it has happened.

I think these buds were on a white ash (Fraxinus americana), but it could also be a green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Both are commonly planted along streets and in parking lots and I saw this tree in a store parking lot. One thing that helps identify ash trees are the shape of the leaf scars that appear just below the buds, and I didn’t look at it closely. On the white ash these scars are “C” shaped and on green ash they look like a “D.” White ash leaf scars are also much larger than those on green ash. Ash bears male and female flowers on separate trees.

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. Branches full of them stop me in in my tracks. There is so much beauty out there; I hope all of you are seeing as much of it as you are able to.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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Last Saturday the weather wasn’t cooperating at all. As the above radar image shows there was a thin ribbon of rain from the Midwest to the northeast. In my corner of New Hampshire it was in the mid-30s and we had snow mixed with rain, which translates into a sloppy mess. With the hill climbing trails still covered in snow and ice March continues to be a challenge.

This is what the view out my back door looked like while it snowed.

In spite of a near blinding snow squall this willow’s golden branches lit up this space. Golden willows are one of the earliest signs of spring in this area.

I’m guessing that I won’t be seeing any yellow flowers on the pussy willows (Salix) real soon. Once the snow stopped they had ice on them on this day.

A sedum decided to throw caution to the wind and come up anyway, even if it was snowing. The shoots looked like tiny cabbages.

Buds of American elm (Ulmus americana) are just starting to open. Their flowers are unusual and beautiful and I hope I don’t miss them this year. I know of only two trees with branches low enough to reach.

Last year this magnolia blossomed too early and lost nearly every flower to frost because of it, but this year there is still a single furry bud scale on every bud. They looked a little wet and bedraggled but they’re still protecting the flower buds inside. Soon they’ll fall off and the tree will start to blossom, cold weather or not.

It looked like the bud scales on these box elder buds (Acer negundo) were just starting to open. The buds and young twigs of box elders are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose. Box elder is in the maple family and several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap.

Lichens are at their best in wet weather so I decided to look at a few I hadn’t seen in a while. I can’t speak for the rarity of hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) but I do know that I rarely see it. This lichen gets its common name from the way it looks like its lobes were hammered out of a sheet of steel. This one grows on a tree in a local shopping mall. It’s the only example that I could confidently lead  someone to if they asked to see one.

On the same tree, just a few inches away, grows a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) that produces spores quite regularly. The dark brown apothecia with white rims are fairly easy to see without magnification but there was something else here that I had never seen.

I’ve seen many lichens with apothecia that are cup shaped as this one has but some of these cups were full of water, and that’s something I’ve never seen. I don’t know how or even if this benefits the lichen but I do know that most of them like a lot of water. Star rosette lichen gets its common name from the way its lobes radiate outward like a star.

If you don’t mind getting down on your stomach in the kind of swampy ground that they like to grow in you can sometimes get a peek inside the spathe of a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) to see its flowers. A spathe is just a modified leaf or bract which kind of wraps around itself and protects the flower bud. As the plant matures a gap opens in the spathe to let in the insects which will pollinate the flowers. This one was open far more than they usually are and I wondered if someone had been there before me, taking a peek inside.

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. This example had released a large amount of pollen and it was stuck to the insides of the spathe. In 1749 in what was once the township of Raccoon, New Jersey they called the plant bear’s leaf because bears ate it when they came out of hibernation. Since skunk cabbage was and is the only thing green so early in the spring so if the bears woke up too early they had to eat it or go hungry.

Some of the skunk cabbages came up too early and paid for their mistake by being frozen. Now their spathes are shriveled and black. This one had a new green leaf shooting up beside it but its spathe didn’t look good. The leaf will keep the plant alive but it will have to wait until next year to blossom again. There is a time when they’re young that the leaves do look somewhat cabbage like but they grow quickly and lose any resemblance once they age.

I doubt it would help pollinate a skunk cabbage but I did see what I think is a wasp recently. It seemed sluggish; most likely because of the cold. It did finally rear up on its hind legs when I got the camera too close, but I don’t think it was in any position to sting just yet. It seemed like it could barely stand. After a couple of quick shots I left it alone to contemplate the weather.

Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) are our earliest iris I think, and usually bloom at about the same time as the crocus does, though this year I saw a crocus blossom two weeks ago. This beautiful and tough little plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran.

This one looked more like an iris, even with the ice on it making its petals curl. Reticulated iris are a much tougher plant than I ever realized and I appreciate them and the other early bloomers showing me that spring is indeed here, even though it still feels like winter.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Logging operations at the Keene Dillant Hopkins airport in Swanzey began on February 2nd. The trees being cut are very near Edgewood, one of Keene’s oldest neighborhoods, and residents there filed a court injunction to stop the cutting of trees on a 12.4 acre parcel that’s a small part of a 34 acre parcel called Edgewood Forest. In 1969 the Edgewood Civic Association transferred the 12.4 acres to the city with some restrictions, including that the land basically stay as it was. For residents who don’t want the trees cut it’s more about property values and quality of life than anything else. Though the city hasn’t logged that particular parcel they’re logging around it. I wasn’t surprised the day I saw the skidder in the above photo.

A log skidder gets its name from the way it drags logs out of a forest, or in this case several white pine trees. It can do this by winch and cable but this one had a large claw.

White pines can reach over 180 feet tall and are our tallest native tree. I’ve read that the tallest among them will be cut. They’re being cut because the Federal Aviation Administration ordered Keene to improve visibility and safety for pilots landing their planes on the airport’s main runway. Apparently pilots coming in from certain directions can’t see the runway until they’re very close to it because of the tall trees. That probably doesn’t give them much time for making critical decisions.

I paced off this log pile and it was about 210 feet long and looked to be about 12 feet high at its tallest points.  There were other piles like it.

Very near where the logs are piled in the previous photo native black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) grow. They bloom beautifully in June with long pendulous heads of white pea like blossoms. They are extremely fragrant and I love walking through here when they’re in bloom.

Locusts are in the same family as peas and beans and the flowers show the connection. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well .They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

I worry about the locust trees being damaged because the only beauty bush I’ve ever found in the wild grew right about where that piece of logging equipment is parked. It’s gone now; I couldn’t even find a stump.

Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) originally came from China and is popular as an ornamental, but it has escaped cultivation in this area. I’ve only seen this one outside of a garden so I wouldn’t call it invasive. It gets quite tall-sometimes-8 feet or more-and can get as wide. The one that was cut was young and only about 4 feet tall.

I didn’t take the time to count growth rings on the logs but some were quite big.

They aren’t just cutting trees. They’re cutting everything, including the understory  shrubs. In places it looks like they’re even plowing up grasses and other plants, but since I haven’t seen it happen I can’t claim that this is what is being done. All I know is; the ground here is now bare dirt with a stump here and there.

Or if it isn’t bare it’s covered with wood chips. The plants, shrubs, and trees will all grow back but people my age won’t be here to see it.

This trail winds through the 12.4 acre parcel that the Edgewood resident are trying to protect. This isn’t an old growth forest but it is home to many plants that I don’t see often. There are many threatened species of plants, birds, mammals and amphibians living in the wetlands, which are unseen off to the left in this photo.

One of the plants I’d hate to see disturbed is fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum.) It was once over collected to make Christmas wreaths and for a long time you couldn’t find it anywhere.  It’s finally making a comeback and there is a small colony that lives in these woods.  I’m hoping that it’s too close to the wetland for logging.

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is another plant that grows here that I don’t see too often. Though I’ve heard from readers who say there are large colonies of it in places like Connecticut it doesn’t seem very robust here. I know of three or four small colonies that haven’t grown much in the time I’ve been watching them. I’ve read that they don’t like disturbed ground so logging probably wouldn’t help them any.

In some areas if it wasn’t for the trails winding through the forest most people would have thought that man had hardly touched it, because there was never any trash to be seen. On this day however I saw three or four of these coffee cups near the trail I was on. I’m not saying that the loggers are doing this; I’m just noting the change.

I’m not sure what this was about but it was new too. Just over that rise in the background is a wetland, probably full of ducks right about now.

The loggers seem to have been more selective in this area and have left many trees standing, but notice the lack of understory growth. Why they would spend so much time and effort cutting all the undergrowth is a mystery.

What is bothersome about the previous photo for me is how close the tree cutting is to the place where skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) grow. I can see the now open forest from where I took this photo. Skunk cabbage is a tough plant and I doubt that even a logging skidder running over them would kill them, but if the ground they grow in was all torn up that might finish them. Skidders typically make very deep ruts in soft muddy ground.

Something else that bothered me was seeing that one of two native azaleas (that I know of) that grow here had been cut. The reason it bothers me is because there was no need to cut it. It grew in a spot where there were no trees; nothing but a few understory shrubs grew there. I’m sure that simple ignorance motivated the cutting of it but knowing that isn’t a very soothing balm. From what I see ignorance, apathy, and greed are behind most of the destruction of natural habitats.

The crux of the whole argument about tree cutting in the Edgewood Forest hinges on whether or not a 1983 amendment to the original deed, which said that trees on the property “may be cut or topped in order that they will not constitute an obstruction to air navigation,” is legal and binding. Residents say it isn’t because the parties involved lacked the authority to make such an agreement, and because the Edgewood Civic Association was dissolved in 1977. Though the association’s president signed the amendment in 1983 along with the Keene city manager, residents say that he didn’t have the authority to do so and they had no say in the decision. In the end it will be up to the courts to decide and if nothing else, at least when that happens this ongoing battle will end. No matter the outcome I think most of us will be glad it’s over. I know that I will, because it has been going on for about as long as I can remember.

Note: if you’d like a little historical background on how all of this came about you might take a look at the first post I did on the subject, which you can find by clicking HERE.

Progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life. ~George Monbiot

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1-half-moon-pond

February has shown us what a strange month it can be once again. After snow and cold in the first half of the month the temperatures suddenly shot up into the high sixties for the second half. This photo shows what happens when warm air meets the cold ice of a pond: fog; sometimes very heavy fog, as this was. On Saturday morning February 26th at 7:00 am it was close to sixty degrees and then warm enough to wear just a tee shirt by noon, which is just about unheard of in February in New Hampshire. By 8:00 pm they were saying we might see thunderstorms.

2-thin-ice-sign

The ice at a local skating pond became too thin to skate on but this has really been a problem throughout the state all winter, with many people falling through the ice this year. It never really got cold enough to form the kind of ice that is thick enough for vehicles to drive on and pickup trucks and many snowmobiles have gone through the ice, in some instances with fatal results.

3-icy-trail

Unfortunately not all of the ice was thin enough to melt. The warmth melted most of the snow quickly enough to cause a flood watch to go into effect but as this photo shows, when hard packed snow melts it can turn to ice. This trail was icy in spots and completely bare in others.

4-skunk-cabbage

What a welcome break the record breaking warmth was from the cold winds and deep snow. The skunk cabbages responded by sending up their flower spathes. Skunk cabbages can fool you into thinking they’re growing when you see the green sheath on the left, but it covers the leaf buds and appear in the fall. Only the mottled maroon and yellow flower spathe on the right shows new spring growth.

5-yellow-skunk-cabbage

Some flower spathes can show more yellow than maroon as this one does. Bears that come out of hibernation too soon will sometimes eat skunk cabbage. There is little else for them at this time of year.

6-mud

Why am I showing you mud? Because here in New Hampshire we have an unofficial 5th season called mud season. When the frost is 3 or 4 deep in the ground and the top two feet of a road thaws the melt water is sitting on frozen ground and has nowhere to go, and this results in a car swallowing quagmire that acts almost like quicksand. Those who live on unpaved roads have quite a time of it every year. The mud can sometimes be as much as 12-16 inches deep but I haven’t seen it that bad here yet this year. Quite often the mud gets bad enough to close unpaved roads and the logging and over the road shipping industries virtually grind to a halt until things dry out. Mud season has come early this year, so if you need a load of sand, gravel, loam, building materials or other such things you should be prepared to wait until April or May.

7-dandelion

I’ve seen dandelions blooming in January but that was during an extremely warm winter when the temperature barely fell below freezing. I’ve never seen one bloom this early after a winter like the one we’ve had. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement.

8-cress-blossom

Tiny white flowers bloomed in a lawn. They were so small that three or four of them could have been hidden behind a pea, so I had to kneel in the muddy grass to get a photo of them. I think it belongs to the cress family, which is large with many plants that look alike. It might be spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa,) but I’m really not sure.

9-crocus

These crocus blossoms were a real surprise because I’ve been checking crocus beds and have only seen the leaf tips poking out in all but this bed. I’ve also seen tulips leaves just out of the ground. They might be rushing things a bit.

10-daffodils

Last year these daffodils came up too early and got badly frost bitten. I fear that they’re repeating the same mistake this year, because we’ve gone from the 60s back down to the 30s now.

11-red-maple-buds

Huge swaths of forest bleed with a red haze from red maple buds (Acer rubrum) each spring and it’s starting to happen now.  I’ve tried to get photos of it from above and below, but so far I haven’t had any luck.

12-red-maple-buds

The bud scales on red maple buds can be deep purple in winter, but when it warms up in spring the scales pull back to reveal the tomato red buds they’ve been protecting, and that’s what causes the red haze seen on our forested hillsides. Seeing what must be millions of them together is a spring sight not soon forgotten.

13-pussy-willow-buds

I told myself I was on a fool’s errand the day I went to see if the pussy willow catkins were showing, but there they were. The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) open in late winter to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” and I have to agree.

14-pussy-willow

The Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about the medicinal properties of willow in the fifth century BC, and Native Americans across North America used the plants medicinally for pain relief for many thousands of years. Finally in 1829 scientists discovered that a compound in the bark of willows called salicin was what relieved pain. Chemically, salicin resembles aspirin.

15-witch-hazwl-blossoms

I was surprised to see the spring (Vernal) witch hazel blooming so early. Though we do have a native vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), it doesn’t grow naturally this far north, and since this one is in a park I’m betting it’s one of the cultivated witch hazels, so maybe it has been bred for early blooms. The other American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that is native to New England blooms in the fall and grows in the same park.

The Native American Mohegan tribes are believed to have been the first to show English settlers how to use Y-shaped witch hazel sticks for dowsing, an ancient method of finding underground water. Settlers all across the country used this method to find water and it was successful enough to be exported back to Europe. Its twigs are still used by dowsers in the same way today.

17-witch-hazwl-blossoms-close

The Native American Osage tribe used witch hazel bark to treat skin ulcers and sores and my father always kept a bottle of witch hazel ointment for his hands. Many people have most likely used witch hazel without even realizing it; it’s a chief ingredient of Preparation H. Studies have found active compounds in witch hazel such as flavonoids, tannins (hamamelitannin and proanthocyanidins), and volatile oils that give it astringent action to stop bleeding.

17-witch-hazwl-blossoms-close

Witch hazel blossoms are 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.  I think these blossoms were ready for a visit from them.

18-orange-witch-hazel

I have to say that I’m not a fan of orange witch hazel blossoms because they aren’t as bright and cheery as the yellow ones, but when it comes to fragrance the orange flowers beat the yellow hands down. I know a spot on the local college grounds where several large orange flowered shrubs grow and on this day all I had to do was follow my nose, because their clean spicy fragrance could be detected from two blocks away. Someone said the fragrance was like that of clean laundry just off the line, but I think it’s even better than that, especially after a long winter. One shrub still had a nursery tag still on it that read “Hamamelis vernalis,” so they are our native vernal witch hazels. Odd that they don’t grow naturally this far north. They seem to do well here; these examples must be 10 feet tall. If I were planting witch hazels I’d mix the yellow and orange flowered varieties; one for cheer and one for fragrance.

19-puddle-ice

The paper thin white puddle ice that makes that strange tinkling sound when it’s broken always takes me back to my boyhood. Seeing this ice on puddles after a long winter meant that spring was here and though nights still got cold and icy, the days were warm and muddy. My spirits used to soar at the thought of spring when I was a boy and that’s something I’ve carried with me all of my life. The difference is now I look at the ice instead of breaking it to hear it tinkle, because I can see so much in it. The waves that formed it, bubbles and birds flying, mountains, distant suns, space and time; all are there for the seeing, but few take the time to look.

20-sap-buckets

As I write this last entry the thermometer reads 34 degrees, so our week long flirtation with high spring has ended. The dandelion blossom has probably been frost bitten and the witch hazels have most likely stored away their petals for another warm day, but 34 degrees is above freezing and that’s what maple syrup producers want. Days above freezing and nights below freezing get the tree sap flowing  and the sap buckets have been hung, so there’s no turning back now. True spring must surely be right around the corner.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for coming by. Happy March first!

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1-felled-spruce

There has been quite a flare up of emotions in these parts lately over plans to cut trees near the Keene Dillant Hopkins airport. The airport isn’t in Keene, it’s actually in Swanzey which is south of Keene, and it is near a fine neighborhood called Edgewood. The Federal Aviation Administration says that the trees have to go for safety reasons, but Edgewood residents are concerned about the increased airport noise and lower property values, among other things. The above photo is of an old, large Norway spruce which was cut recently. One of the first of many.

2-sign

This is an old neighborhood; Keene’s first settlers landed very near here and called the place the “Nine Lot Plain.” The town history of Keene says that “On July 3, 1875, the Keene Driving Park Association opened a fair grounds, which included a half-mile horse trotting course and a grandstand that seated 1,500. It was a center for many Keene activities until about 1900. The Park Corporation laid out streets for a development here in 1913.” That development became Edgewood and, as the sign in the above photo attests, the Edgewood Civic Association donated part of the land to the city of Keene. It is forested and is home to many plants, birds and animals that aren’t easily seen in this area. Some are rare and some are endangered.

3-plantation-trees

Oddly Albert Proell, manager of the Keene Forestry Association, was allowed to start a tree plantation here in 1906 on unused land. Trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them. The larger spruce trees in this part of the forest are about 40 years old, but still more poles than trees.

4-nursey

A 1920s look at the tree nursery started in 1906 by Albert Proell, on some of the abandoned agricultural land in the Keene Driving Park. The nursery is thought to be the first and one of the largest of its kind. It was about 5 acres in size.

5-pine-tree

But not all of the trees here were planted. In fact most of them weren’t and some have been here for a very long time, as the white pine (Pinus strobus) in the above photo shows. Mature white pines can be 200–250 years old, and some live to be over 400 years old. According to the Native Tree Society white pines can reach 188 feet tall, but pre-colonial stands were said to have been as tall as 230 feet. In any case they’re our tallest native tree, and I suspect that most of the trees slated to be cut will be white pines. I put a glove on my monopod to give you an idea of the size of this example, which by far isn’t the largest I’ve seen.

6-marked-tree

Marking has begun but this is a Norway spruce that stands in the old plantation, and these trees aren’t supposed to be cut. Maybe the tape means “don’t cut,” I don’t know.  How ironic that the non-native trees that have created what is almost a sterile monoculture are the ones that will be saved.

7-trail

This section of forest still contains a lot of Scot pine but they don’t have any real vigor and many native trees like white pine, birch, maple, oak, and hemlock have moved into what was once part of the old nursery. There are many trails through this forest and walking them is an enjoyable experience for many, including myself. I don’t get too excited about cutting a few trees; in truth responsible management is good for a forest and the wildlife that lives there, but in this case I do worry about the impact that the tree cutting will have on the plants that grow here, the people who live here, and others who use this forest daily. There is something to be said for the quality of life, after all.

8-topo-map

This map shows the two runways of the Keene Dillant Hopkins Airport on the left, and in the upper left corner is the Edgewood forest, marked “Edgewood Civic Association Parcel,” so you can see how close the forest and neighborhood are to the airport. The land that is now the airport was originally purchased in 1942 and the airport opened on in 1943. In 1967 the FAA recommended a 1.8 million dollar series of improvements which included further extending the runways, the construction of a control tower, and improvements to buildings. But before the airport was here, before Edgewood was here, Native American Squakheag tribes lived on this land for many thousands of years.  Archeological digs in the area have found Native sites that date back 10,500 years; some of the oldest in the country.

9-keenes-first-flight

In 1912 Keene’s first airplane took off from the driving park fair grounds and quickly landed in the top of a nearby tree. How’s that for irony?

10-wetland

There are extensive wetlands on the airport property and many threatened and imperiled species live in them, including the grasshopper sparrow, the northern leopard frog, the horned lark, the vesper sparrow, the eastern meadowlark, the northern long-eared bat, and the wood turtle. Some species have a rating of “imperiled at a global and statewide level,” including the spot-winged glider and the marsh wren. All have been spotted within a mile of the airport.  Rare plants include the endangered long-headed windflower (Anemone cylindrica,) and the uncommon swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) which I haven’t found yet.

11-skunk-cabbage

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) also grow in the wetlands here, and though I can’t speak for their rarity this is the only place I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve covered a lot of ground in my time.

12-native-azalea

This forest is one of only two places where I’ve found our beautiful native roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) growing. Luckily, I think it lives in a section where trees won’t be cut. At least I hope so. Plants grow where they do because that’s where they find the optimum levels of light, moisture and nutrients, and cutting the trees above them can cause serious changes in what they’re accustomed to.

13-goldthread

Beautiful little three leaf goldthread (Coptis trifolia) grows in quite a large colony here, but this plant was once nearly collected into oblivion and I’d hate to see them disturbed. Native Americans chewed the roots of goldthread to treat canker sores, which is why the plant is also called canker root. The natives shared the plant with the English settlers and it became such a popular medicine that by 1785 the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for it dried, which meant people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant.

14-ladys-slippers

One of our most beautiful wild orchids, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) also grows here in abundance. It is also New Hampshire’s state wildflower. This plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  Pink lady’s-slippers are listed as “special concern” under the Native Plant Protection Act. I hope there won’t be any tree cutting in this area.

15-downy-rattlesnake-plantain

So far I have found just a single example of another of our beautiful orchids here. I don’t think that downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) could be called rare but it is hard to find and I hope the single example I know of in this forest won’t be run over by a logging skidder.

16-one-flowered-pyrola-side-view

One flowered pyrola (Moneses uniflora) is quite rare; the two plants in this photo are the only examples that I’ve ever seen. This plant is also called one flowered wintergreen and single delight. It is found in dry, cool, undisturbed forests and was used by Native Americans as a cold remedy, and to reduce swelling and ease pain. I found these plants in Edgewood forest in 2014 but then lost them and haven’t been able to find them again since, even though I know the general area they grew in.

17-trailing-arbutus

The fragrant blossoms of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) were once so popular that the plant was collected nearly to the point of extinction in New England by street vendors, who would then sell its flowers in “posies.” In many states it is today protected by law thanks to the efforts of what is now the New England Wildflower Society. There are at least two colonies of this plant in Edgewood forest and I hope they aren’t disturbed because, according to the Virginia Native Plant Society, “trailing arbutus is very intolerant of habitat disturbance in any form, including fire, logging, grazing, and housing development, and serious deer overpopulation is wiping out many old colonies. Many reports say that trailing arbutus does not return following disturbance. Sites are easily destroyed when disturbed by man or livestock and seldom recover.”

18-striped-wintergreen

Another rarity in this forest is striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata.) I’ve found 5 or 6 examples here, all growing in the same general area. Striped wintergreen has a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like our native orchids. It also explains their rarity. I read recently that the plant is considered rare in both New England and Canada. I’ve also read that it won’t grow on land that has been disturbed in the last 100 years.

19-false-morel-mushrooms

False morel mushrooms (Gyromitra esculenta) also grow here, and this is the only place that I’ve ever seen them. I wonder if they have any relationships with the surrounding plants and trees. They grow very close to both trailing arbutus and several hardwood species of tree.

20-beard-lichen

A forest isn’t only about the trees and the plants that grow around them; what about all of the things that grow in the trees, like this beard lichen (Usnea)? This is something I don’t think people who cut trees spend much time thinking about, but cutting a tree affects far more than just the tree.

21-woodpecker-hole

In the end it really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks; the powers that be have spoken and the trees will be cut, but there are different ways to manage tree cutting in a forest. One way is to simply drive a huge log skidder right through it without a thought or care about what is being damaged. That way was used across town on the flanks of Mount Caesar a few years ago and the scars left behind will never fully heal. But there is another way, and that way includes care for the surrounding landscape and consideration for the wildlife and people who are being affected. Nobody wants to see a plane hit a tree, but neither do the people who know this forest intimately want to see it destroyed.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. ~John Muir

All photos of flowering plants were taken previously.

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1-ice-drop

The first time I did one of these looking back posts was last year and I thought I remembered it being fun, but I found this one a little harder than fun. Picking one photo from 80-100 of them for each of the 12 months isn’t easy, but in the end I decided on the ones that best spoke about the month they were from. Last winter we didn’t have a lot of snow but we always have cold in winter, and that’s why I chose this photo of a tear shaped icicle for the month of January. It is said that January is our coldest month but I’ve seen February earn that title a few times in recent years.

2-maple-dust-lichen-on-beech

Along with cold February can sometimes bring enough snow to cover nearly everything, and this is when tree trunks gain a certain appeal. There are almost always lichens and mosses found on them and last February this maple dust lichen answered a question that I had been asking for some time, which was “Do maple dust lichens only grow on maple trees?” This one growing on a beech tree put the question to rest, and I have since seen them on poplars and young oaks as well. This pretty little lichen averages about an inch in diameter I’d guess, and can be identified by the white fringe around its perimeter. Proof that even when there’s six feet of snow on the ground there is still plenty of beauty to be found.

3-skunk-cabbage

March is when things really begin to stir and one of the first plants I see coming up is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus.) As this photo shows, we didn’t have much snow last March but even if we had the skunk cabbages would have simply melted their way up through it. Through a process called thermogenesis, skunk cabbages raise their internal temperature so it’s above the surrounding air temperature, and this melts any ice or snow that might hinder its progress. The dark color of their blotchy spathes attracts sunlight and that means they are also heated by the sun. This makes a nice cozy warming room inside the spathe where early insects can come and hang out and warm up. While they’re inside if they happen to bump into the spadix full of flowers and get pollen all over themselves, so much the better.

4-spring-beauties

April is when flowers begin to appear in great numbers. Spring bulbs bloom, trees bloom, and the first of our wildflowers bloom, including wild ginger, purple trillium, trout lily and the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) shown in this photo.  I’m always so excited when I see their first blooms I drop down to my knees and start taking photos, forgetting that there are often leafless poison ivy vines crawling under last year’s fallen leaves. But itchy knees are worth it when beautiful things like these can be seen. There are few sights as breathtaking as a woodland floor carpeted by thousands of them and I’m very anxious to see them again.

5-new-beech-leaves

In May the leaf buds on many of our trees start breaking and king among them is the beech, in my opinion. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. Once the downy angel wing like leaves begin to show they unfurl quickly, so you have to watch carefully. I check them each day, and it’s always worth the effort to see something so beautiful. It’s too bad that so many people miss such a captivating event.

6-ladys-slippers

In June there are many beautiful wildflowers blooming and I had a very hard time choosing which one to include here. In the end I chose the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) which is New Hampshire’s state wildflower. The wild part of the word is significant, because our official state flower is the lilac, which isn’t native to New Hampshire. In any case the lady’s slipper is a beautiful native orchid and we’re lucky enough to have several different examples of them. Pink are the most common in this area but I’ve heard that there are yellow ones tucked away here and there and I’m always looking out for them.

7-swamp-milkweed

July is when I finally get to see the swamp milkweeds again. In my opinion they are easily one of our most beautiful wildflowers, and one that I’ve lost myself in more than once. If only there were more of them. I know of only two or three smallish clumps and last year one of those was too sick and insect ridden to even blossom, so they’re something I have to search for here, but their rarity and beauty make them worth every minute of searching.

8-cedar-waxwing

August is when the silky dogwood berries ripen and the cedar waxwings appear out of nowhere to eat them up, and isn’t it amazing how nature will teach you such things if you just pay a little closer attention? I love seeing the beautiful blue and white berries that always remind me of Chinese porcelain, and I also love seeing the sleek beautiful birds that feast on them.

9-moldy-mushroom

The fungi and slime molds didn’t do too well this year because of our drought but I saw a few in September, including this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did.

10-reflections

No matter how you slice it October has to be about the fall foliage colors because that’s usually when they’re at their peak in this area and that’s when people from all over the world come to see them. This spot at Howe Reservoir in Dublin is always worth a look because it’s a forest of mostly deciduous trees and it is always colorful in the fall. I love the muted, pastel shades that happened on this cloudy day.

11-frozen-pool

We don’t usually get much snow in November but it does get cold enough for ice to form on puddles and small brooks and streams. I found this frozen pool in the woods on a cool walk one November day and I liked the many colors in and around it. The ice was thin enough so one step would have probably shattered it.

12-split-gill-fungus

There are people who seem to think that once the leaves fall there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but nothing could be further from the truth. I chose this photo of a split gill mushroom (Schizophyllum commune) that I took in December to show that there is still a lot of beauty and interest out there. You just have to look a little more carefully, that’s all.  The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released.

13-purple-fringed-orchid-from-july

I thought I’d make the photo count in this post an even baker’s dozen so I could squeeze in what I thought was an amazing find in July. I walked down an unknown trail through a swamp and found a two foot tall orchid growing right beside it on a mossy hummock. It’s either a purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes) or a greater purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora.) I’m not sure which but it is definitely one of the most beautiful wildflowers that I’ve seen. The chance of finding something like this is what keeps me wandering through these woods. There are beautiful things around every turn in the trail.

To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction is to live twice. ~Khalil Gibran

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe, happy, nature filled New Year!

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