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Posts Tagged ‘Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen’

It was a nice warm sunny Saturday when I set out for the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene and the weather people said it would be sunny all day, but as soon as I got there clouds moved in and decided to stay for a while. Actually the clouds stayed the entire time I was there and the sun didn’t show itself again until I left.

This was the only blue sky I saw the entire time I was there.

But the trail was well packed down and not really as icy as it looks here.

Beaver Brook was roaring. In the summer it giggles and chuckles along beside you but in the winter it roars, and that’s all you hear. Unless it’s covered by ice; when it’s iced over it whispers and is quieter than at any other time.

The brook hasn’t been completely iced over this winter that I’ve seen, but huge ice shelves had formed here and there. You can see how there is nothing under the shelf but air, so it walking out on it would be a foolish thing to do.

The ice shelves had teeth.

I have a lot of old friends living here along the brook, like this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) I see this lichen just about everywhere I go but nowhere else are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) so blue or its body (thallus) so golden. The gold color comes from the minerals in the stone I think, and the blue color comes from the way the light falls on the waxy coating that covers the apothecia. Whatever it is that causes the colors in this particular place, this lichen is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it look like this.

I also stopped to visit the only example I’ve ever seen of stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) This is a boreal moss that grows quite far north into the arctic and I’ve seen it here covered with ice, but it isn’t as delicate as it looks and it always comes through winter unscathed. When it’s dry it has a shiny sheen and that’s most likely why another common name for it is glittering wood moss. New growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth and that’s where the “stair step” name comes from. It’s a beautiful moss and I wish I’d see more of it.

The rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) came through winter looking fine and I was glad of that because this is the only example of it I know of. I did find another small patch on a stone in Swanzey once, but I can’t remember where. It’s nice to know there are more of them out there but I’d still have to call this moss rare. I love its little aspirin size rosettes of leaves that someone thought looked like roses. They look more like dahlias or chrysanthemums to me, but they’re beautiful no matter what we choose to call them.

There were some impressive ice formations on the ledges and I was surprised, because they don’t usually grow so big here. With the up and down weather we’ve had this year though, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by anything weather related.

Last time I came here the brook was flooding in places and it was a downright scary thing to see. The water mark on the far embankment showed just how high the water had been, and I’d guess that it was a good 6 feet higher than it was on this day. I met an old timer up here one day who told me that he had once seen the water over the old road. That’s something I hope I never see.

In places the snow had melted and revealed that there really wasn’t that much covering the road. Since we’re supposed to have warm days all week there’s a good chance that the road will be snow free this weekend.

Where the snow had melted you could see part of the old double yellow no passing lines.

Off on the side of the road a branch had fallen, and it was covered by what I thought at first was milk white, toothed polypores.

But the spore bearing surface of this fungus was more maze like than toothed, so that had me confused until I got home and was able to see the photos. After some searching I came up with what I think is a crust fungus called the common mazegill polypore (Datronia mollis.) It may be common in some places but I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it.

A little further up the road I found another fallen branch that was covered with inch in diameter, colorful crust fungi which I think were young wrinkled crust fungi (Phlebia radiata.)  These are winter mushrooms and that’s the only time I ever see them. They aren’t common; I’ve only found them three or four times. As they age the center of the fungus becomes very wrinkled, and that’s where their common name comes from.

There isn’t anything odd or rare about tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius,) but a closer look at this one revealed something that was both odd and rare, at least in my experience.

There were squirrel teeth marks ( I think) all over one of the colored bands on it. Recently I’ve seen the same thing on a few lichens and have found that squirrels do indeed eat lichens, and I’ve seen them eating mushrooms but I’ve never seen them do this. It made me wonder if it was algae they were after, because algae grow on both lichens and fungi. I can’t imagine what else they’d get out of scraping their teeth over this fungus unless it was to keep their ever growing teeth in check. Tinder fungi are very tough and woody, so maybe the animal was simply trying to wear down its teeth.

Another fallen branch displayed what I thought from a distance were shield lichens but once I got closer I realized they weren’t anything I had ever seen.

They were obviously not lichens at all, but instead some type of hairy fungi.

They grew like bracket fungi and their spore bearing surfaces were maze like and faced outward. Each flower like cluster like the one shown above couldn’t have been more than three inches across, so they weren’t very big. They were pliable and rubbery to the touch, and felt much like an ear lobe. They look very pink to me but my color finding software tells me they’re mostly tan with some peach puff and dark salmon here and there.

They didn’t have to be big to be beautiful and I thought they were very beautiful things, but after looking through 4 mushroom books and spending several hours online I can’t find anything that even looks close to them, so they’ll have to remain a mystery for now. Maybe one of you knows their name. If so I’d love to hear from you.

A path well-traveled may still yield secrets that only one person may discover. ~Anthony T. Hincks

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I haven’t been to the Beaver Brook natural area in Keene for a while so last weekend I decided take a walk up the old abandoned road. This road was gated when a new highway was built in the 1970s, but my father and I used to drive over it to visit relatives when I was a boy.  Back then the road went all the way to the state capital in Concord and beyond, but the new highway blocked it off and it has been a dead end ever since. At what is now the end of the road is a waterfall called Beaver Brook Falls and I thought I’d go see how much water was flowing over it. We’ve had a lot of a rain this year.

The old road follows along beside Beaver Brook and was originally built to access a sawmill which was built on the brook in 1736. In 1735 100 acres of “middling good land” and 25 pounds cash was offered to anyone who could build a sawmill capable of furnishing lumber to the settlement of Upper Ashuelot, which is now called Keene. Without a sawmill you lived in a log cabin, so they were often built before anything else in early New England settlements. The headwaters of Beaver Brook are in Gilsum, New Hampshire, north of Keene.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) grows prolifically here and is one of the first plants I notice at this time of year because it towers above everything else. The one growing up past the top of this photo must have been 8 feet tall. These plants usually end up with powdery mildew by the end of summer and this year they all seem to have it here. I was a bit surprised to see it though because this summer hasn’t been all that humid. It could be that the closeness of Beaver Brook makes the air slightly more humid. It is also usually very still here, with little wind.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, fall starts at the forest floor and lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) tells me that fall is in the air. This is the only fern that I know of with fronds that turn white in the fall.

If you aren’t sure that you have a lady fern by its fall color you can always look at its sporangia, which are where its spores are produced. They are found on the undersides of the leaves and look like rows of tiny black eggs. The little clusters are usually tear drop shaped.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, was also whispering of fall.

Hobblebush berries start out green then turn to red before finally becoming deep purple black, so they’re at their middle stage right now.

A hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) crawled on a goldenrod leaf. This black and white caterpillar can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

When Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) turn their nodding flowers to the sky it means they’ve been pollinated and are ready to set seed. The plants will turn brown and become hard like wood, and finally the seed pods will split open and release the tiny seeds. They are dust like and are borne on the wind.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) grew on the underside of a fallen branch. This small fungus has a smooth whitish underside with no pores. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself” and the above photo shows these examples just starting to fold. It also likes to grow on the logs of deciduous trees. It can be seen from quite a distance because of its bright color.

Ledges show how the road was blasted through the solid bedrock in the 1700s. The holes were all drilled by hand using star drills and there are still five sided holes to be seen in some of the boulders. Once the hole was drilled they filled it with black powder, lit the fuse and I would imagine ran as fast as they could run. There are interesting things to see here among these ledges, including blood red garnets, milky quartz crystals, many different lichens and mosses, and veins of feldspar.

It’s worth taking a close look at the ledges. In the right light the spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) turn a beautiful blue. It happens because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in this light they glow different shades of blue and are as beautiful as jewels.

Another beautiful thing that grows on stone here is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever found it.

One of the reasons I came here on this day was to get photos of purple flowering raspberry fruit (Rubus odoratus,) but I was surprised to see several plants still blooming. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at first glance, but one look at its large, maple like leaves will show that it isn’t. Flowering raspberry has no thorns like roses or raspberries but Japanese beetles love it just as much as roses and it’s common to see the large leaves looking like they’ve been shot full of holes. The plants are a little fussy about where they grow but they will thrive under the right conditions, as they once did here.

The fruit of purple flowering raspberry looks like a large raspberry. The plant is closely related to thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) and gets its common name from its fruit. I’ve never eaten one but some say that they’re close to tasteless and others say they taste like dried raspberries. The plant is unreliable as a source of berries though; I’ve seen many clusters with no fruit at all and others that had 5 or 6 flowers bearing only a single berry. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

Chances are you don’t see anything wrong with this view of the old road but I was appalled when I saw it. Thousands of wildflowers used to grow right over the road almost to the yellow lines on each side. There was a narrow, 2 person wide path through here last time I came, but now the city workers have come in and plowed all of the plants away. Without even having to think about it I could list over a hundred different species of plants that grew here and were plowed up.

Here is the view from where they finally stopped plowing up the plants. You can see how far they grew into the road in this spot but this doesn’t accurately show how it used to be because this is pretty much the end of the road just above Beaver brook falls, and few ever walked here. The plants didn’t grow quite so far out toward the yellow lines where people regularly walked.

And here is what is left of the plants; decades of growth just rolled off to the side like so much worn out carpet. Just think; many of the growing things at the beginning of this post and hundreds more like them just kicked off to the side. You would think before doing something like this that they would call in a botanist or a naturalist, or at the very least buy a wildflower guide so they knew what they were destroying but instead they just hack away, most likely thinking all the while what a wonderful thing they’re doing, cleaning up such a mess.

They’ve peeled the road right back to the white fog line at the edge of the pavement. This is what happens when those who don’t know are put in charge of those who don’t care; nature suffers every single time. What these people don’t seem to realize is that they’ve just plowed away the whole reason that most people came here. I’ve talked to many people while I’ve been here and most came to see what happens when nature is allowed to take back something that we had abandoned. You marveled at the history before you; the charm of the place was in the grasses and wildflowers growing out of the cracks in the pavement, not a road scoured down to just built condition. New Hampshire Public Radio even did a story about the place precisely because it was untouched. The very thing that drew so many people to the place has now been destroyed, and it will be decades before it ever gets back to the way it was. I certainly won’t be here to see it.

A lot of people also come here to see Beaver Brook Falls, but to get a clear view of them you have to climb/ slide / fall down a very steep embankment and then climb over large boulders. It’s becoming more dangerous all the time and now younger people are about the only ones who dare do it. If you broke an ankle or leg down here it would take some serious work and several strong men to get you out, but Instead of cutting the brush that blocks the view of the falls from the road so people don’t have to make such a dangerous climb down to the brook to see the falls, the city would rather spend their money plowing up all the wildflowers.

This is the view as you’re leaving. Where the road is narrower is where they left a few yards of growth at the start of the road, but I wouldn’t count on it being this way the next time I come here. You might say “Big deal, who cares about a few old weeds?” But what grows in those unplowed strips of vegetation includes blue stemmed goldenrod; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. White wood sorrel; I’ve seen it in one other place. Field horsetails; I’ve seen them in one other place. Plantain leaved sedge; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Yellow feather moss; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Thimbleweed; I’ve never seen it anywhere else. After wandering through the destruction for as long as I could stand it I had to go into the woods for a while because, as author David Mitchell said: Trees are always a relief, after people.

Lord, what fools these mortals be! ~William Shakespeare

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After the last snowstorm, which lasted all day Friday and Saturday, I decided to visit Beaver Brook in Keene. The storm was long in duration but it was warm enough so much of the snow that fell melted, and there wasn’t much more than 3 or 4 slushy inches on the old abandoned road on Sunday.

Though I’ve done several posts about Beaver Brook I’ve never shown this old box culvert. Upstream a ways is a channel that diverts part of the brook along a large stone wall and through this culvert. It’s very well built; I’ve seen water roaring over the top of it a few times when the brook was high and it never moved.

This is where the diversion channel leaves the brook. I wonder if the farmer who first owned this land diverted the brook purposely to water his stock or his gardens.

The water is relatively shallow here; probably about knee deep, but with the rain and snow melt that happened yesterday it’s probably quite a lot deeper right now.

The snow hung on in shaded areas along the brook, which was starting to run at a fairly good clip. I’m sure it must really be raging by now, after a 50 degree day and a day of rain. There have been flood watches posted in parts of the state but I haven’t seen any flooding here.

This is a favorite spot of dog walkers but I didn’t see any on this day.

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 on a cold 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 repeated healing and cracking happens in the same place on the tree over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen on the yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) in the above photo.

I like to look at the undersides of fern leaves to see what’s happening under there. Luckily we have several evergreen ferns that let me do this in winter. The spore cases seen here were on the underside of a polypody fern leaf (Polypodium virginianum.)

Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but I see very few of them, so I was surprised to find a sapling growing here. The Norway Maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the Sugar Maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. According to Wikipedia Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

Beaver brook flows at the bottom of a kind of natural canyon with sides that are very steep in places, as this photo shows.

In places the hillside comes right down to the water’s edge. This makes following the brook on the far side difficult.

The bottom of the canyon is wide enough for the brook and the road, and not much else. The road was hacked out of the hillside in the 1700s and goes steadily but gently uphill. Normally it isn’t a difficult walk but the wet slushy snow on this day made it feel as if I was sliding back a step for every two I took. I stopped and took this photo at this spot because I was getting winded and this is where I was going to turn around, but after catching my breath I decided to go on instead.

The road was covered in enough snow so somebody new to the place might not realize they were walking on a road at all if it wasn’t for the old guard rails along the side nearest the brook.

A seep is a moist or wet place where groundwater reaches the surface from an underground source such as an aquifer, and there are many along this old road. Springs usually come from a single point while seeps don’t usually have a definite point of origin. Seeps don’t flow. They are more like a puddle that never dries up and, in the case of the example shown, rarely freezes. Seeps support a lot of small wildlife, birds, butterflies, and unusual plants and fungi. I’ve found swamp beacons and eyelash fungi in seeps in the past so I always look them over carefully when I see one. Orchids grow near this one.

There are ledges along this old road and they have many lichens growing on them. Crustose rock disk lichens (Lecidella stigmatea) are very common on rocks of all kinds and usually grow in full sun. Crustose lichens form a crust that clings to the substrate so strongly that it becomes impossible to remove them without destroying what they grow on.

Rock disk look a lot like tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate,) but tile lichens have black fruiting bodies that are sunken, or concave, and rock disk lichens have black fruiting bodies that are raised or flat. This photo shows how the black apothecia stand slightly proud of the body (Thallus) of the lichen. This is an important identifying characteristic when looking at gray or tan lichens with black apothecia, so you need to get in close with a good loupe or macro lens.

It isn’t the rarity of the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that make me take photos of them each time I come here, it is the way the light falls on them. In the right light their spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) turn a beautiful blue, and it’s all because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in this light they glow different shades of blue and are very beautiful. I hope readers will look for them. It’s always worth the small amount of effort it takes to find them.

I made it all the way to  Beaver Brook Fall but there is a steep embankment you have to climb down and if you get top heavy and get going too fast you could end up in the brook. Having that threat added to climbing back up in the slippery slush meant that I decided not to do the climb.

Here is the shot of the falls from the road that I should have gotten, but on this day my camera decided it wanted to focus on the brush instead of the falls so I’ve substituted a photo from last year. To get an unobstructed view you have to climb down the treacherous path to the water’s edge because for some reason the town won’t cut the brush that blocks the view. The falls are about 30 to 40 feet high.

I’ve done many posts about this place but I keep coming here because I always see something I’ve never seen before and I get to see old friends like the hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides,) which is one of our most beautiful native viburnums. At this time of year its naked, furry buds are growing bigger and its leaf buds look like praying hands. Later on it will have large, beautiful white flower heads followed by bright red berries which will ripen to purple black. I’m guessing this one was praying for spring like the rest of us.

The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it. ~Chinese philosopher

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There are spring haters out there. I know there are because I’ve talked to some of them. They complain of dirty snowbanks, brown grass, bare trees, wind and cold, and just the blah-ness of it all. No color, they say. Well, this post is designed to show them how wrong they are. Spring shouldn’t be about seeing tulips and daffodils out of the car window as you drive past. It should be about walking slowly, looking closely, and marveling at what is in my opinion the most beautiful season of all. It should be about seeing the incredible beauty of nature, and witnessing the miracles that happen each and every day. It’s hard to deny the beauty of red maple blossoms (Acer rubrum) for instance, as we see in this photo. Though this shot is from last year they have started blooming now. The blooming period doesn’t last long, so now is the time to look for them. You won’t have to look hard though, because these trees are everywhere.

Silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum) look a lot like those of red maples, but the fruits (samaras) of silver maple are far more beautiful, in my opinion. You can find these in mid-May here and no, you don’t need to be able to tell a silver maple from a red maple; all you need to do is look closely, regularly.  These samaras look like this for only a day or two.

American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) have also just started to bloom. These beautiful, rarely seen things are very small, so if your eyes are as old as mine you might want to carry a loupe or macro lens. Or, there are also free magnifying glass apps that you can get for a cell phone. I have one and it works well. I took this photo at just about this time last year. Hazelnut shrubs grow along rail trails, roadways, and in waste places.

Other tiny flowers are those of the speckled alder (Alnus incana.) The cylindrical flower clusters are long and thin and often appear in groups at the ends of branches. They are called catkins or aments. Each flower cluster has many crimson, thread-like female stigmas just poking out. Don’t be afraid to grab a branch of a tree or shrub and pull it toward you so you can see better; you won’t hurt the plant at all. This photo was taken on March 26th of last year and I’ve already seen hints of them this year, so the time to look is now in this area. Alders get little hard black cones called strobiles on their branch ends and usually grow near water.

If you can’t find anything to marvel at on shrubs or trees check the stones. They’re often covered with lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown here. Unless the stones are covered with snow there are always lichens to see and they can be very beautiful.

If there aren’t any stones look in the bushes. You might be astonished by what you find. These robin eggs hatched in May two years ago.

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) look like tiny fingers as they pull themselves away from their protective covering of the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub; this photo was taken in mid-April of 20105. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers, followed by bright red berries. One of life’s simple pleasures is watching buds like these open and it costs nothing but a few minutes of time each day.

On every stone, on every branch and in every puddle, the beauty of spring can be found. Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid-May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them in this photo from May 17th of 2014. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

Leaves can also be beautiful, as this photo of the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebores (Veratrum viride) from mid-May of 2015 shows. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants we have here, so you’re probably better off just admiring rather than touching this one. They like low, moist areas along streams and rivers.

The point of all this is to learn to see rather than to simply look. There is a difference; one day I met two college age girls on a woodland trail. They complained that they hadn’t seen a single wildflower, though the area was known for them. When I walked the same trail I saw flowers everywhere. They were small yes, but they were there. So how can this be? I’m guessing that they probably walked too fast and thought more about the end of the trail than what they might see along it. A toddler’s pace and a willingness to look a little closer would have let them see beautiful things that they probably hadn’t even imagined were there. Beautiful little Pennsylvania sedge flowers like those shown here are barely 4 inches tall, so you have to look the ground over carefully for them. They’ll appear along woodland edges and roadsides in mid-April, coming up out of what look like little tufts of course grass.

Orangey pink striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) are a good example of why, when a bud or flower catches your eye in the spring, you should watch it every day because changes come quickly. In a day or two your beautifully colored bud might have become leaves. The tree or shrub you happen to be looking at wants food, and food means leaves that can photosynthesize. There is no benefit to keeping its leaves tightly wrapped in the bud unless it is to protect the tender new growth from cold. If it is warm they’ll open quickly.

Box elder (Acer negundo) is in the maple family but it’s a “soft maple” and in this area is considered a weed tree because of how they come up everywhere. A box elder was the first tree I ever planted when I was a boy though, so they’re special to me. I think they’re at their most beautiful in April when they flower. The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers seen in this photo appear along with the tree’s leaves, just a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike a lot of other maples. The earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Fern fiddleheads just out of the ground are some of the most beautiful things to see in spring. One of my favorites is the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina.) Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams.

If you’re in a moist, loamy area looking for lady ferns you might as well look for some horsetails too. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. 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. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. I find these at around the end of April.

I know what the big buds of shagbark hickory look like when they open but even so, they’re so beautiful they always stop me in my tracks and make me stand there with my mouth hanging open. They are easily one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and I start watching for them in mid-May. I usually find them growing near water; along river banks or near lakes and ponds.

So why  should you bother looking for all this stuff in spring? Well, why should you bother going to an art gallery, or listen to music, or read a book? We do these things to enrich our lives, to help renew and rejuvenate our minds and spirits; to make ourselves more comfortable with the unknown; more at peace, and more creative. Nature will do all of this for us and more. Nature, from my own experience, is very healing. If you face a rough spot in life try just walking alone on a favorite woodland path each day. In no time at all your problems will seem to have been solved with very little effort. I would never tell you this if it wasn’t true; it has happened in my own life again and again. I think it’s because nature study makes us meditate quite naturally, so we don’t even realize we’re doing so. It’s hard to worry and fret when something captivates your attention so just look at all that’s happening in the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) shoot above. Just up out of the soil and it’s already amazing. When I see it I want to draw it, and I think I could sit and look at it all day.

A large part of why I spend every free minute in nature is because of the incredible beauty I see. It’s amazing to think that so much beauty has been in plain sight all along. For a large part of my life I never took the time to see it and I hope you won’t make the same mistake. Everyone knows where there is a beech tree. Just start watching the branch tips around the first week in May. You’ll see the long, pointed buds begin to curl quite severely and then a day or so later miracles will happen; it will look like a host of angles has swooped down and shed their downy wings. Even the gloomiest among us will feel their pulse quicken and magically, a smile will appear on their face. If they spend time with nature it will be there for a while, so they’d better get used to it.

So here we are at the end of this post and until now we haven’t seen a flower with petals on it, so if you’re one of those people who think the beauty of spring means tulips and daffodils I hope I’ve changed your mind. But, if it is still flowers you want try a woodland walk in mid-April. If you’re lucky you might just find some spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) like those in this photo. All of what you’ve seen here and so very much more is just starting to happen, so I hope very much that you’ll get out there and see it for yourself.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

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1-beaver-brook

It has cooled off now but “cool” compared to the near 70 degrees of last week means 40s and 50s this week, and that’s still warm for March first. That means a lot of snow has melted and that has turned our normally placid streams into raging rapids, as this shot of Beaver brook shows. No beaver in its right mind would be swimming in that.

2-beaver-tree

But they do eat trees all winter long if the ice of their pond doesn’t freeze completely. This beech tree was still being visited each night well into February. The hole in the ice must have closed up because they haven’t been here for a while.

3-beaver-tree

A beaver’s teeth grow continuously so they have to be chewing on something all the time. In this instance a beech tree was chosen, but they’ll chew on just about any species of tree. I’ve even seen them tackle  elms, which is one of the toughest woods I know of. Their incisor teeth wear away faster on the rear surface than the front, so a chisel edge is created by the uneven wear.

4-beaver-tree

The chisel edged teeth of a beaver can leave a sapling looking like it has been cut by steel loppers. Native Americans called beavers “Little People,” and are said to have greatly respected them. They used beavers for food, medicine and clothing and Native children of some tribes would offer any teeth that they had lost to the beavers for good luck.

5-rose-moss

I decided to pay a visit to the one small patch of rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) that I know of. Rose moss is a very beautiful moss; each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience.

6-smoky-eye-boulder-lichen

Not rare at all but still very beautiful are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that I find growing on stone. The golden body of the lichen studded with blue apothecia could almost pass for a piece of jewelry. The blue color is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies (Apothecia,) which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. It’s as if pieces of the sky had been sprinkled on the stones when the light is right, but the apothecia can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.

7-spider

One morning as I was getting ready for work I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. It was a tiny spider with big eyes. It sat very still, watching me as I fumbled with my camera, trying to turn on the on board LED light. I finally got it and that’s what caused the shadows in this photo.

8-spider

It was a furry little thing. And it was little; it could have easily hidden behind a pea. It wasn’t frightened by the camera and remained still, seemingly very interested in what I was doing. It had plenty of eyes to watch me with. (They have 8 of them.)

9-platycryptus-undatus-female-tan-jumping-spider

I got a blurry photo of its back as it scurried away, and the markings lead me to believe that this was a female tan jumping spider called Platycryptus undatus. I’ve read that they live on vertical surfaces like tree trunks, fence posts, and outer walls so what she was doing on my horizontal table is a mystery. I’ve also read that they are very curious about people and can be quite friendly when they’re handled gently. I didn’t see this one jump but they do, up to 5 times their own body length. Which isn’t far when you consider that this one was half the size of a pea. I haven’t seen her since that morning.

10-bittersweet-berry-2

There are still quite a few oriental bittersweet berries that the birds haven’t eaten and that’s a good thing, because birds help this very invasive alien plant get around. This example didn’t look very tasty.

11-bittersweet-on-tree

Oriental bittersweet isn’t well liked by those who know it, and the above photo shows one reason why. The vines are as strong as wire and when one wraps itself around a tree it will not break or give, so as the tree grows the vine cuts into it and strangles it. The tendrils on the left are from another vine; a grape.

12-oak-leaf-surface

A stick figure walked across an oak leaf.

13-winter-firefly

I’ve never seen a firefly light up in winter but I have seen the winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca.) It is commonly seen on snow and tree trunks  according to Bugguide.net, and can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like sap and will drink from wounds in trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one was looking for a crevice in the bark of an oak to hide in. It looked at several before it found one that was to its liking.

14-gypsy-moth-egg-case

I saw this gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) egg case on a tree. Gypsy moths were first introduced from Europe to Massachusetts in 1869, to breed with the silkworm moth to produce a tougher silkworm. Naturally, it escaped and has become one of the chief defoliators of deciduous trees and conifers in the eastern United States. Each egg mass can contain 100-1000 eggs and should be destroyed when found. It looked like a bird had been at this egg case.

15-beard-lichens

I see beard lichens (Usnea) almost always growing on tree branches but occasionally they grow on tree trunks; especially white pines (Pinus strobus.) Even rarer are those that grow on stone. I see maybe 1 out of 100 growing on stone. If you see beard lichens in your area rejoice, because they are very fussy about pollutants and will only grow where the air is clean and of high quality. The air here must be very good because I see these bushy little lichens everywhere, even growing on wooden fences. 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.

16-unknown-lichen

I’ve spent years trying to identify some lichens and I might have to wait that long before I know this one’s name. I’ve searched lichen books and online and can’t find any lichens that look like it. Blue and yellow doesn’t seem to be a very common color combination among lichens. This example grew on maple tree bark.

17-mealy-rim-lichen

The book Lichens of North America says the fruiting bodies (apothecia) of the mealy rim-lichen (Lecanora strobilina) are flat to convex and a waxy yellowish color. These look more orange but I’m sure they must vary some. They grow on bark and wood of many kinds in full sunlight and the apothecia are very small at about .03 inches.  I think this is one of those lichens that prefers winter for producing spores. I’m suddenly seeing it everywhere.

18-disc-lichen

I know disc lichens because of rock disc lichens (Buellia geophila) but the problem was the example in the above phot was growing on tree bark. For that reason I think it must be a cousin of the rock disc called simply disc lichen (Buellia erubescens.) The body of the disc lichen is gray, grayish white to ivory, dull, and smooth. Its fruiting bodies are convex and black, and are called discs. It grows on the bark of oaks, pines, and junipers, or other trees with bark of low pH. I found this example growing on an oak.

19-feather

This is just a small feather in the mud but it was pristine and very downy, like it came from a bird’s breast.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Leisure is a form of silence, not noiselessness. It is the silence of contemplation such as occurs when we let our minds rest on a rosebud, a child at play, a Divine mystery, or a waterfall. ~Fulton J. Sheen

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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-pink-earth-lichens

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

2-pink-earth-lichens

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

3-poplar-sunburst-lichen

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

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earth based life form can be.

4-british-soldier-lichens

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

5-rock-posy

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

6-rosy-saucer-lichen

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

7-pixie-cups

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

8-pixie-cup-close

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

9-powdery-sunburst-lichen-xanthomendoza-ulophyllodes

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

10-common-goldspeck-lichen

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

11-maple-dust-lichen

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

12-cumberland-rock-shield-lichen

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

13-cumberland-rock-shield-lichen

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

14-bristly-beard-lichens-on-stone

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

15-fishbone-beard-lichen

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

16-reindeer-lichens

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

17-gray-reindeer-lichen

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

18-star-tipped-reindeer-lichen

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

19-smokey-eye-boulder-lichen

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

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

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

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