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Posts Tagged ‘Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen’

I saw hobblebushes blooming in the woods along the roadsides so I knew it was time to visit the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. It’s a place where I know I can get close to the hobblebushes and many other plants. I start off by following the old abandoned road that used to be the route to Concord, which is the state capitol, from Keene. The road was abandoned in the 1970s when the new Route 9 north was built, and nature has been doing its best to reclaim it ever since.

The old road is full of cracks, which are filled in immediately by green, growing life. This of course makes the cracks even wider so more plants can move in. Its a slow but inexorable process that will go on until the forest takes back what was carved out of it.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) unfurled by one of the vernal pools found along the old road.

Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew near another pool. These pretty white flowered plants like wet feet so when you kneel for a photo you usually get wet knees. They have hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks, and small, bright white flowers. Their leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown.

The “Foam” part of the name comes from the many stamens on the flowers, which give large colonies a kind of frothy look. Each flower has 5 white petals, 5 white sepals, and 10 stamens. Foam flowers are popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their foliage as the flowers. Native Americans used the leaves and roots medicinally as a mouthwash for mouth sores. The plant is also called “cool wort” because the leaves were once used on scalds and burns to relieve the pain.

New maple leaves are still wearing their bright colors.

I’ve seen this spot when all the green you see to the right was underwater, but the brook was tame on this day. Maybe a little higher than average but not too bad.

I’m surprised flooding hadn’t washed all of this away, or maybe it was flooding that carried it here. This is just upstream from where I was in the previous shot.

There were an amazing number of trees in the brook so it will take quite a flood to wash them downstream. I’d cut them up if I was in charge because “downstream” from here means right through the heart of Keene. There must be a thousand places further on where a mess like this could get hung up. Waiting until high summer when the water was at its lowest and then having two men wade in with a battery-operated chainsaw would be the way to go.

But I was glad I wasn’t in charge because clearing that log jam will be worse than pulling apart a beaver dam by a longshot. How lucky I was; all I had to do was keep walking and enjoying a beautiful day.

I stopped to see the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) that live here. It always looks like someone has spilled jewels on the stone.

Not too far up the old road from the smoky eye boulder lichens are the hobblebushes, and that’s the amazing thing about this place; just walk a few steps and there is another beautiful thing to stop and see. This is why, though it is less than a mile’s walk to Beaver Brook Falls, it often takes me two hours or more. I don’t come here for exercise, I come for the beauty of the place.

And there is little that is more beautiful than the flowers of our native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides). The large, sterile flowers around the perimeter are there just to attract insects to the smaller, fertile flowers. The outer flowers are delicate, and a strong wind or heavy rain can strip them from the flower head.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) were bright yellow among last year’s leaves. They like wet, sunny meadows and open woodlands and there are a lot of them here.

There were no flowers on them yet though, just buds. The plant is said to be important to a number of short-tongued insects that are able to easily reach the nectar in the small yellow flowers. Each flower will be only about an eighth of an inch long with five sepals, five petals, and five stamens.

There were lots of blue marsh violets (Viola cucullata) (I think) blooming along the roadsides on this day. The long flower stems held the flowers high above the leaves and I believe the blue marsh violet is the only one that does this.

Jack in the pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) still hadn’t unfurled their leaves but they had nice color on their spathes.

The old road goes uphill the entire way but it’s an easy climb and there are many interesting things to see along with all the plants and trees, like the old guard posts still guarding against accidents that will never happen. The electric lines seen here run through the area on their way to elsewhere. There are no houses along the road.

The disappearing stream that runs down the hillside had done just that. It was too bad because it can be beautiful in spring.

Here it was in March while there was still ice melting. The stream ran then.

There aren’t many places where you can get right down to the brook but there are two or three and this is one of them. All the stone along the embankment was put there to prevent washouts and it’s hard to walk on, so you have to be careful.

The stone didn’t prevent all washouts. This old culvert washed into the brook years ago. The brook slowly eats away at the road and in the end it will most likely win.

All the walking and hiking I’ve been doing has improved my legs and lungs so much I thought I could just skip down the embankment to see Beaver Brook Falls. It didn’t work out quite that way but I made it without breaking my neck. The amount of water going over the falls was perfect. There’s a huge stone that juts out right in the middle and when there is too little water it splits the falls in two, so the scene isn’t quite as photogenic in my opinion.

The only trouble was, I took the wrong trail down to the brook so I was even further away from the falls than this. I was glad I had a zoom lens. There used to be just one trail down to the brook but now somehow there are three, all looking equally worn. Since I took this one, I would have had to wade in the brook to get any closer. I wasn’t interested in getting wet but it could have been done. People used to swim here all the time, rocks and all.

This shot shows the climb back to the road, or half of it anyway. About half way up I leaned my back against a tree and took a photo to show what you’re up against if you decide to do this. The small trees kept me from getting too much forward momentum on the way down, and then they helped me climb back up. That big rock will slide right down the hill if you put too much weight on it but the others were pretty firm.

Just to the right, out of camera range in that previous photo, there was a colony of what must have been twenty trilliums or more. I saw them along the road all the way up and saw those I had missed on the way down. In fact I saw more trilliums here than I’ve ever seen in one place before, so if you live in the area and it is wildflowers you want to see, this is a great place to start looking. Those I’ve shown in this post are really just a small part of what can be found here.

There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations. ~Washington Irving.

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You might have read in the last post that I have bought a new camera. I had a couple of quick photos I took with it that I added to that post but I always like to put a camera through its paces and see what it can do before I start using it for day-to-day blogging, and that’s what this post is about. I was happy to see what it can do with window frost in microscope mode. This is one of the best shots of frost I’ve ever taken. I love seeing things like this that are right there in plain sight but are rarely seen. How something so flat can look so 3 dimensional I don’t know, but it was beautiful.

These frost crystals were on the mirror of a truck. I’ve never seen them grow curved like this. The detail was so fine It was as if they had been etched into the glass.

To think that something so beautiful could live on the mirror of a truck. It’s a good example of why I always try to be aware of my surroundings and look closely at whatever is near. You never know what you might see. Life life has put beauty in our path at every turn but if we don’t see it, we have only ourselves to blame. Because this was a mirror you can see the reflection of the camera lens behind the crystals in some of these shots. It’s a bit distracting but there wasn’t any way to hide or camouflage it.

Here was another curvy frost crystal on a mirror. They’re very beautiful but also delicate; one warm breath or a ray of sunlight and you’ve lost your subject.

This shot is of sunlight coming through a frozen jelly fungus, which is always a hard shot. I should have tried for better depth of field. If you ask it to, this camera will use photo stacking to improve depth of field, and I’ve heard that it is amazing. I’m going to have to try it.

This small icicle was full of bubbles and it was also smaller in diameter than a pencil. This camera really excels at macro photography and since that’s what I bought it for, that was what I was most interested in.

This is the midrib of a feather.

Here was the seedhead of a purple coneflower. Birds, I’d guess finches, had been eating the seeds and revealed the beautiful spirals hidden inside.

I saw a cocoon of some sort on an old door where I work. It was cottony and full of holes, and as big around as my finger and maybe an inch and a half long. I saw what looked like tiny flies on it. If you know what insect made it, I’d like to know.

Whatever they were they were too small to get a good shot of, even in microscope mode. I don’t know if they came from this cocoon or were just stuck in its wooliness. In any event they were no longer alive.

I’ve been trying to get this shot looking down a beech leaf off and on since last fall and the new camera pulled it off with ease, though the depth of field could have been better.

The last Olympus camera I had, the Stylus TG-870, wasn’t worth much when it came to landscapes, at least in my opinion, so I wanted to test its zoom capabilities. This oak leaf frozen in the ice was shot at full zoom in auto mode. I thought the camera did a fair job of it.

This shot of dry rot on a standing dead tree was shot in microscope mode from about 4 inches away. I was surprised because I thought you had to be closer to the subject to use microscope mode. This camera hs two macro modes and three microscope modes and you can get as close as 1 cm. The missing piece of wood was about as big as an average postage stamp and for microscope mode that’s huge, so I probably didn’t need to use it.

I found a tree full of lichens. This is where I would need microscope mode again.

My first choice was a beautiful star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris.) It was maybe three quarters of an inch across. It was cold at about 20 degrees F. and this lichen was in the shade. Now that I see the photo it looks like there was frost on the apothecia.

I think this was the Eastern speckled shield lichen (Punctelia bolliana.) According to what I’ve read it grows on the bark of deciduous trees, has a bluish gray body with large brown apothecia, and has brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the surface of the body. I think this one checks all of those boxes.

I would call this color bright red but the Eastern speckled shield lichen’s description says the apothecia should be brown, and my color finding software sees rosy brown, so I can’t argue. What you see here averages about .08 to .12 inches across. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get this close to a lichen and I don’t know of a DSLR lens that could.

This shot of a smoky eye boulder lichen is another example of what microscope mode will do. I never knew this lichen’s apothecia sat on top of the body (thallus) in that way. I’m going to have a lot of fun using this camera but I should take a little more time and use a tripod. I also want to try stacking in microscope mode. It will stack as many as 7 shots together for amazing depth of field.

These are the bracts that the flower petals come out of on a witch hazel. They are tiny little cups that I could barely see, but the camera found them. I hope to see petals on the spring blooming witch hazels soon.

This camera’s lens is an F 2.0, which is considered a “fast” lens. That means it has good light gathering capabilities due to a larger aperture, so I tested it one recent early morning at this stream. I’ve had to lighten the photo just a bit but at full zoom in what was barely dawn, it did fairly well for a point and shoot camera that is smaller than a 3 X 5 card. All in all so far, I’m really happy with it and I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. The fact that it will do landscapes is a pleasant surprise. In case you missed it in the last post, the camera is an Olympus TG-6. It is a field camera that many scientists use in the field because it is so tough. It is water, dust and shock resistant, heat and cold resistant, and it takes incredible photos, either on land or under water. If you’re interested in macro photography this is a relatively inexpensive camera that will take you anywhere you’d care to go.

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. ~Dorothea Lange

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Every year at this time I like to go and see 40 foot falls up in Surry. It’s a very dark place because of the tree canopy, but once the leaves fall it opens up enough to take photos. It’s the only place I know of with a waterfall that you can get close to. We’d had quite a bit of rain the day before so on this day it was roaring.

This trip comes with a price and that is the climb. It can be a little dicey, especially on wet oak leaves, but if you’re careful it isn’t too bad. I found a nice straight and stout tree branch to use as a walking stick.

Years ago I read somewhere that you should slow down water in a photo to show movement. Now, I’m fairly certain that anyone who reads this blog knows that falling water has motion but just in case someone comes by who doesn’t, here it is in full slow motion. I’ve always thought that it was really done so a photographer could show off their camera skills, but that’s just my opinion and I should probably keep it to myself.

I prefer the real myself, and this is as real as it gets. By the way, that boulder over there wouldn’t fit in a pickup truck. Not only does this water have motion, it has great force as well. You’ll most likely note all the downed trees in these shots. They aren’t saplings; they’re mature trees. Or they were, anyway. When this brook floods people tremble. Severe flooding in August of 2003 washed away large parts of the road that the brook parallels, and flooded houses. I’ve read enough about it to know that I don’t want to be anywhere near here if it happens again.

What I believe were late fall oyster mushrooms (Panellus serotinus) grew on on a log. Oyster mushrooms exude “extracellular toxins” that stun fungi eating nematodes, and once the nematode has been stunned mycelium invades its body through its orifices. The mushrooms also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein, and all of this means that oyster mushrooms are a truly carnivorous mushroom.

Here is a look at the underside of one of those oyster mushrooms. I’ve read that the late fall variety are chewy and nearly tasteless, but I’ve never tried them.

A large number of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) grew on a boulder. Their fruiting bodies (apothecia) were beautifully blue and the bodies (Thallus) were golden just like they are at Beaver Brook. I think this is the first time I’ve seen them looking like this outside of the Beaver Brook Natural Area. This is a very beautiful lichen and is one of my favorites so I was happy to find them. It’s like finding jewels sprinkled on the rock.

There are three waterfalls along this section of the brook. We’ve seen the lower falls and this is the middle falls. I think this one is the most photogenic.

There used to be a snowmobile trail up here with a bridge that crossed the brook but flooding tore it apart. This steel cable is all that’s left and it’s slowly being engulfed by trees.

Other miscellaneous pieces like this steel strap can be found here and there.

An old culvert once ran under the trail but the soil of the trail has been washed away.

A tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) grew on a dead tree. The Fomes part of the scientific name means “tinder” and the fomentarius part means “used for tinder.” They are called tinder fungi because of their age-old use as tinder to start fires. The Cree tribe of Native Americans used these fungi to carry coals from one place to another. Tinder polypores produce huge amounts of spores; measurements in the field have shown that they release as many as 800 million spores per hour in the spring and summer. They grow on dead deciduous trees and logs. This one was quite pretty, I thought.

This is the first place I ever saw beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga) and unfortunately it is still here. Excessive feeding by this scale insect causes two different fungi, Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, to produce annual cankers or blisters on the bark of the tree. The continuous formation of lesions around the tree eventually girdles it, resulting in canopy death. It has killed many trees.

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew in a small colony that I’ve never noticed here before. They’re one of our prettiest late spring flowers and are easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. Native plants have leaves that are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with maroon or brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers and are grown in gardens as much for their striking foliage as the flowers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

Now we’re up above the middle falls, and we’re done climbing.

Because you don’t climb that. I can’t guess how deep this canyon is but I do know that I wouldn’t want to be up there on the rim.

The stream bed is course gravel, made up of stones that have presumably fallen or have been washed from the canyon walls.

The boulder against that tree wasn’t there the last time I was here. You can see how all of the bark has been scoured from the base of the trees, most likely from stones hitting them. Losing their bark kills them and then the brook then just tears them out by the roots and washes them downstream.

After all the roar and white water the upper falls are a bit anti climactic. I don’t know where the name “40 foot falls” comes from because the upper falls don’t look 40 feet high and the brook is far more than 40 feet long in this section of falls. I’ve tried many times to find the origin of the name but have had no luck. As I was writing this post, I found a website that claimed the falls and brook are on private land and are posted no trespassing, but that isn’t true. I’ve never seen a no trespassing sign in this area and since I don’t ignore them, this post would never have appeared if I had. I have no idea who actually owns the land but I would thank them for allowing people on it if I did.

Now comes the trip down. Parts of it are so steep and slippery with leaves I have to sit and slowly slide down, so if you come here you might want to wear sturdy pants as well as sturdy, waterproof shoes.

I saw that some mushrooms had hidden themselves inside a hollow tree stump. More late fall oysters, I’d guess.

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) grew in a sunny spot. I always tell myself that I’ll come back in the spring to see the flowers but by then I’ve usually forgotten that I’ve seen them.

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) were dotted here and there on the forest floor. They are one of 5 or 6 evergreen ferns found in these woods, and their common name is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations. Native Americans used the Christmas fern to treat chest ailments like pneumonia and to relieve flu symptoms.

If you look closely you can see that each Christmas fern leaf has a tiny “toe,” which makes it look like a Christmas stocking. Another unusual thing about Christmas fern is the shape of its fronds, which start off narrow at the base, widen in the middle, and then get narrow again at the tip. Most ferns have fronds that taper gradually; widest at the base and narrower towards the tip.

It is clear that nature rules here and maybe that’s why I come. There are few places left in this area where you can find the kind of untamed wildness found here. It makes you feel small, and everybody should feel small now and then. It keeps us humble and helps us keep life in perspective. In fact studies have shown that people who often feel a sense of awe and amazement at the vastness of nature and creation were more likely to be compassionate toward others, and more ethical when making decisions. So there is another reason to get into the woods.

Explore often. Only then will you know how small you are and how big the world is. ~ Pradeepa Pandiyan

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Last Saturday more showers and thunderstorms were in the forecast so I didn’t want to be exploring any mountaintops. Instead I went to Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene, where I knew there would be plenty of interesting things to see.

Beaver Brook itself was high. With hurricane Henri supposed to pay us a visit over the coming days I was hoping to see lower water levels, because we had so much rain through July there simply isn’t anyplace left for the water to go. I met an old timer up here once who said he had seen the water come up over the road years ago, but I’m hoping I never see that. Keene would be in real trouble if this brook got that high now.

NOTE: Henri came and went while I was putting this post together and though there was rain, thankfully there was no serious flooding in this region.  

I thought I might see blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) blooming but no, it’s going to wait a while, apparently. Its stems usually grow vertically until the flowers begin to open and then they fall over into a more horizontal position, but these had already fallen. Its yellow blooms grow in tufts all along the stem so it’s an unusual goldenrod. It isn’t considered rare but I know of only one or two places where it grows. It is also called wreath goldenrod.

There are also lots of white wood asters (Aster divaricatus) here. They are fairly common at this time of year but they start blooming in August, so by first frost most of them have already finished.

Lots of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grows here too, all along the old road, and most of the plants were blooming heavily. This plant had flowers in pairs, which I don’t usually see.

This one had its legs crossed, and that’s something I’ve never seen before. How strange. It’s as if it wanted to close off the access to its nectar. This plant typically blossoms right up until a frost but as day length shortens the plants will produce smaller, closed flowers with no petals and no nectar. They self-pollinate and their sole purpose is to produce plenty of seeds.

Smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) is one of the most beautiful lichens that I’ve seen and it does well here on the ledges. The beautiful blue / turquoise spore producing apothecia against the golden color of the body (thallus) are very striking. But light has everything to do with it; the way it reflects off the waxy coating on the apothecia are what turns them blue. Come here when the lichen is in the shade and they’ll be a smoky gray.

I don’t visit the lichens and mosses that grow on these ledges quite as freely as I once did, and this is why. This ledge collapsed a couple of years ago but more stone has fallen since. The trees above are being undercut now so they’ll fall one day as well. All along this old road if you look carefully, you’ll see seams of fractured and crumbling soft stone which is usually feldspar, running through the ledge faces. I stay away from them now for the most part. Any fallen stone in this photo is easily big enough to crush a person. It must have been a mighty roar.

One of the best examples of a frost crack I know of is on a golden birch that lives next to the brook here, and I wanted to get a photo of it. Much to my surprise the spot where I used to stand to get photos of it is now in the brook, so I was teetering on the edge when I took this one. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree and the cells just under the bark expand. If nighttime temperatures are cold enough the bark will cool and contract rapidly, quicker than the wood underneath, and this stress on the bark can cause it to crack. I like this one because of the difference in color between the bark of the tree and the healing crack. It stands out beautifully and if you happen to be trying to explain frost cracks, that’s what you want.

I tried not to look down while I was hanging onto a tree with one arm and taking photos of the frost crack with the other, but since I had the camera out anyway…

While most other maples have dropped their seeds, mountain maple seeds (Acer spicatum) haven’t ripened yet. There are quite a few of these trees here but this is one of only two places I’ve seen them. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves (Acer pensylvanicum.)

The sky was all sun and clouds and it was beautiful here. The no passing lines still on the abandoned road always seem kind of ironic to me because the only thing passing here now is time. To think my father and I used to drive through here when I was a boy. Of course the trees and undergrowth didn’t come right up to the road edge then though, so it must have seemed a much wider corridor. I can’t really remember much about it. Some people say the road was abandoned when the new Route 9 was built in the 60s and some say it was in the very early 70s but I’ve never been able to get a solid date, even from the highway department.

I was finally able to get both the leaves and flowers of big leaf aster in the same shot. The flower stalks rise about 2 feet above the leaves so you have to know a little about depth of field for a shot like this. I’m noticing more and more that these flowers are purple, when just a few years ago almost all of them I saw were white.

I’m not seeing the number of blackberries that I used to, and what I do see seem smaller now. This one looked more like a black raspberry though the canes I saw certainly were blackberry. In a tangle like this maybe there was a cane or two of black raspberry here. Maybe the birds are getting to the berries before I see them.

The strangest thing I saw here on this day was a bunch of what I think are hoverflies swarming all over a white avens (Geum canadense) flower. According to Wikipedia these small flies are also called flower flies and the adults of many species feed on nectar and pollen. They looked to be going for the anthers, which would mean pollen.

This pretty view reminded me of my father, who loved to fish for brook trout. He tried to get me interested but I cared more about exploring the woods than fishing when I was a boy. I don’t think there were too many father and son fishing trips before he realized that he could fish or he could chase after me, but he couldn’t do both. At least, not at the same time. It worked out though; I got to roam the woods nearer home and he got to fish in peace.

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) covered a log. It’s a beautiful fungus that is bright enough to be seen from quite a distance. It loves moisture but dries out within a day or two after a rain.

Artist’s conks (Ganoderma applanatum) grew on another log. This bracket fungus gets its name from its smooth white underside, which is perfect for drawing on. Any scratch made on the pure white surface becomes brown and will last for many years. I drew a farm scene on one a long time ago and I still have it. Artist’s conks are perennial fungi that get bigger each year. Older examples can be up to two feet across but these were young and not very big.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) grew on a rotten birch log that was absolutely saturated with rain water, and that’s just the kind of wet wood environment that they like. This fungus gets its common name from the eyelash like hairs that grow around its rim. They can be hard to see so you have to look closely. Sometimes the “lashes” curl inward toward the center as you can see happening on the example to the right of the largest one, so another common name is Molly eye-winker. As fungi go, they are quite small. None of these examples had reached pea size.

From the road these Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) looked bright red to me but when I got closer, I saw they hadn’t ripened yet. That’s part of being colorblind, but it was okay because these berries are what led me to the log with the eyelash fungi on it. They’re so small I never would have seen them from the road.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) weren’t ripe yet either. Once they turn fully red they’ll disappear very quickly, and that’s why you rarely see ripe ones on this blog. I’ve heard they taste like treacle but I’ve never tried them. Actually I’ve never tasted treacle either, which in this country is called blackstrap molasses.

The place that gets the most sunlight here is the clear space over the road, so of course all the trees and plants lean toward that light. It doesn’t help that they also grow on hillsides as well along much of the roadway. That’s why I see fallen trees almost every time I come here. They often fall on the electric lines that you might have seen in some of these photos.

I finally made it to Beaver Brook Falls but all I can give you is a side view because I didn’t dare climb down the steep, slippery embankment. I say “finally” made it because, though the walk to the falls from the start of the trail is just 7 tenths of mile it usually takes me two hours or more, and that’s because there is so much nature packed into what is really a relatively small space. For someone who likes to study and truly learn from nature, it doesn’t get any better than this amazing place.

One of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life, and one that many persons never learn, is to see the divine, the celestial, the pure, in the common, the near at hand – to see that heaven lies about us here in this world. ~John Burroughs

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Last Sunday I went to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard for a climb but it was still far too icy for me so I turned around and instead went to Beaver Brook, which is something I haven’t done since January. There was ice there too, but I didn’t have to climb on it. There was also abundant springtime sunshine, as you can see.

The plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) that grows there was looking good and it won’t be long before it blossoms. This is the largest sedge I know of and this is the only place I’ve seen it. I like its crepe paper like leaves.

I brushed the leaves carefully away from where the Solomon’s seal plants (Polygonatum biflorum) grow and sure enough, there were pink shoots up out of the soil. By the time the purple trilliums bloom these shoots will be 6-8 inches tall and just starting to leaf out.

The pink buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are swelling and elongating. It happens fast and it won’t be long before bud break in April.

Native hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) blooms in May bud its buds don’t show any signs of movement yet. This plant’s buds have no bud scales so they’re considered naked buds. Instead of bud scales they use thick, wooly hair for protection.

The buds of mountain maple (Acer spicatum) are much smaller than those of striped maple, and very red and hairy. Striped maple buds are smooth. Those red bud scales will open in April to reveal a bright orange bud.

I was glad I wore my micros spikes. There was ice here and there on the road and it would have been nearly impossible to walk on without spikes. I’ve fallen on ice twice since December so I won’t be sorry to see it all melt away.

A branch fell from an oak before its acorns had time to mature so they were no bigger than your shirt buttons. The cap forms first, as we can see here.

I’ve discovered an app called “Google Lens” on my phone that I didn’t know it had. According to the blurb “Google Lens is an image recognition technology developed by Google, designed to bring up relevant information related to objects it identifies using visual analysis based on a neural network. In other words it will help you identify plants and other things. I thought I’d put it through its paces and see what it could do, and I started with stairstep moss (Hylocomium splendens), which it correctly identified. I was impressed; this is the only example of this moss that I’ve ever seen.

It did not identify delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) correctly. It thought it was more stairstep moss.

Google lens identified this dog lichen as the membranous dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea), which I believe is incorrect. If I remember correctly an expert told me it was the scaly pelt lichen (Peltigera praetextata.) Still, the fact that it knew it was a dog lichen is impressive. Dog or pelt lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was.

There is a huge boulder fall just above where the dog lichen lives so I didn’t want to dilly dally. This is the kind of place where you find yourself hoping there won’t be an earthquake. We do have them here in New Hampshire.

The Google lens couldn’t identify the smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) but it did know it was a lichen after a misstep or two. Though I tried several times it kept saying that it was a Lecanora lichen. I think the blue color of the apothecia led it astray because once it thought it was seeing a cobalt crust fungus.

The Google lens was right on the mark with script lichen (Graphis scripta) but it’s a relatively easy lichen to identify.

There was a large ice fall in the woods on the other side of the brook. It’s hard to tell in a photo but that would be quite a climb.

It’s interesting to note how the brook on the right is always in the shade while the hillside to the left is always in full sun. That’s why all the ice is over on the right and there isn’t any to be seen on the left hillside. Not surprisingly, all the spring ephemeral flowers that grow here are found over on the left. Where the snow and ice melt first, that’s where to look for the earliest spring flowers, but you have to study a place to know that. That’s one reason I visit the same places over and over.

There were still fingers of ice in the brook. Most of the ice that covered the brook this year looked to be about a foot thick; less than half what it usually is. Since it rarely sees sunshine the brook can be so covered by ice you can’t hear it any longer. It’s quite an eerie thing to walk here when that happens.

I admired the exposed roots of a golden birch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that it had fallen before long.

Both Google lens and I failed to identify this strange, hard button on a log. It was obviously some type of fungus. The lens said it was a birch polypore which, since it was growing on an oak log and the wrong form, was incorrect. I think it was the button stage of some other kind of bracket fungus.

There were two of them on the log and you could see old bracket fungi between them but there wasn’t much there to help with identification. In the end on this day Google Lens was right about 50% of the time but I had given it the hardest things to identify that I could find, so I have to be fair and say that I think it has great potential, especially with flowers. I’m anxious to try it on spring ephemerals.

I saw another huge icefall even bigger than the first. It was very impressive, but it will be gone soon.

Last time I was here in January I told myself I wouldn’t climb down the steep embankment to the falls but I did. This time I told myself I might but I didn’t. I was able to see them through the trees though, and I could certainly hear their roar.

Nature is light, and by looking at Nature in her own light we will understand her. Visible Nature can be seen in her visible light; invisible Nature will become visible if we acquire the power to perceive her inner light. ~Paracelsus

Thanks for stopping in.

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I’ve heard stories about a deep cut rail trail up in Hancock New Hampshire for a couple of years now so last Saturday I decide to see what it was about. This railroad was different than the ones that I’m familiar with because it went out of business before the second world war and all of the steel, including the rails, bridges and trestles were sold off during the second world war to help the war effort. The original railroad, built in 1878, was called the Manchester and Keene Railroad. It was taken over by the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1893 and used until flooding damaged many of the trestles. Since replacing the trestles would have been extremely costly, the line was simply abandoned.

What I thought was a drainage channel was actually a stream. It was nice to have its music with me as I walked along.

The water was crystal clear.

Just as I was thinking that it was strange that the stream wasn’t frozen I ran into ice on the trail. I had my micro spikes on so I wasn’t worried about ice.

I like looking at the patterns in ice.

Ice can do amazing things and it can also be very beautiful.

I saw some unusual things out here and this was one of them. This wall is not holding back anything so it isn’t a retaining wall. It looks more like a loading dock but it’s too far away from where the rail cars would have been, so it’s original use is a mystery. Someone went through a lot of time and effort to build it though so it had some importance in its day.

Ice needles grew here and there by the thousands.

I saw the seed heads of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) so I know there are flowers out here. Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt. There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of heal all; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

I saw the tracks of wild turkeys that had come out of the woods. Turkeys have a “toe” at the rear of their foot that leaves a little dot in the snow and though it’s hard to see in this photo, they are there.

There are whitetail deer out here as well.

The land sloped away on my right and an old stone wall marked what was once pastureland. Many of what are today forests were cleared pasture lands in the past. Most stone walls dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Many farmers went off to work in factories in the mid-1800s after the industrial revolution and gave up farming and their pastures slowly returned to forest, but I have a feeling this land was still being used for pasture when the railroad came through in 1878.

The original stock fencing, so common along these old railbeds, wouldn’t have been needed if the land wasn’t being used to keep animals on. You didn’t want animals on the tracks so many miles of this fencing was strung up along the railways.

And then there was this; a tunnel under the railbed. I doubted it was a culvert because there wasn’t a stream nearby so I think it was a passage for animals. A way to get them from one side of the tracks to the other without them having to cross the tracks.

It was all concrete. Concrete has been around since Roman times so it wasn’t a clue to age but I’d guess it had to have been built while the original railbed was being built. The roof wasn’t high enough to let a horse, cow or tractor through but it was plenty high enough for sheep. Sheep farming was very big in New Hampshire’s rocky ground in the 1800s so a passage under the railbed would make perfect sense. You wouldn’t want your flock on the tracks when a train was coming.

And here was the deep cut, snowier than I had hoped. I like to see what grows on these old exposed walls and that isn’t an easy thing to do when they’re snow covered.

It was easy to see what they did with all the stone from the cut. There are several of these big piles in the woods.

I wondered if they had blasted the stone and sure enough, there were the marks of a steam drill. The railroad workers cut through solid rock by drilling holes into the stone and then blasting. Holes like these were often drilled by steam power and are evidence that black powder rather than dynamite was used. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it. Dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force before that. Since this railroad was built in 1878 they might have used dynamite but I doubt it. It would have been far more expensive and harder to get than black powder. After the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of stone, and that’s how all the stone piles came to be in the woods.

There were signs of groundwater seeping through the stone and the staining on the snow pointed to minerals in the groundwater.

All in all though I didn’t see that this would be a good location for great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) because of the lack of water. They like to grow on stone that hangs over water. That way they get plenty of the humidity that they need.

But there were liverworts here; or at least I think so. I believe this example might be ciliated fringewort (Ptilidium ciliare). Wikipedia says the Ptilidium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word ptilidion, meaning “small feather”. According to what I’ve read it is widespread in Canada, Alaska, the northeastern United States, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Europe. I’ve never seen it before, so if you know that I’ve given it an incorrect identification I hope you’ll let me know. I suppose it could be a very dry moss but I don’t get a moss feeling from it.

NOTE: A lichenologist friend told me that this liverwort is actually called  grove earwort or (Scapania nemorosa) . It’s great to have helpers.

I also saw an old friend; a single smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens), and the light was just right to show off some of its beautiful blue spore producing apothecia. Like jewels sprinkled on the stone; that’s what they always remind me of.

Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) peeked out from under the ice.

I was surprised to find a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) out here. These shrubs are on the rare side in this area so I hope nobody cuts it. From its purple buds in winter to its pretty white flowers in spring to its bright red berries in fall this is a beautiful native shrub. We had a beautiful well shaped example where I work until someone who thought they knew what they were doing hacked at it. Now there is a lot of dead wood on it and I’m not sure it is going to make it.

It looked like a mouse or chipmunk had done some house cleaning. Acorns keep a lot of birds and animals alive in these cold winters.

No matter how much fun you’re having it can’t last forever so I finally headed back down the trail, promising myself that I’d come back in the spring. I have a feeling this might be a good place to find some spring wildflowers. Because of all the deciduous trees a lot of sunlight must reach the ground in early spring and that’s what they like.

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

Thanks for coming by.

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When I thought about the title of this post I wondered if anyone would really want to look back at the last year, but then I thought that these “looking back” posts are as much about looking forward as they are looking back, because in nature it’s a pretty fair bet that what happened last year will happen this year. To a point anyway; I hope the drought will ease this year so I can see mushrooms and slime molds again. The above shot is from last January, when I was stunned by the beauty of fresh snow.

I was also stunned by pussy willows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in January before.

In February the first skunk cabbages appeared from under the snow. A welcome sign of spring in February, which can sometimes be the coldest and snowiest month of all.

It was in February that I also saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Very small but beautiful, and with a fragrance that you can smell from two blocks away.

In March I saw the first of the American hazelnut blossoms; truly the first wildflowers of the year.

Things start happening in gardens in March as well. That’s usually when reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) appear. They are one of the earliest bulbs to show growth. They’re very cheery after a long winter without flowers.

April is when our spring ephemerals start to appear, and one of the largest and showiest is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum).These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. 

With so many flowers appearing in spring it’s very hard to choose the ones to put into these posts but one I felt I had to choose for April is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and I chose it because most people never see it. They aren’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. They will for the most part bloom only when the sun shines on them but you can occasionally find them on a cloudy day. Their common name comes from the bright red or orange sap in their roots.

One of my personal favorites among the spring ephemerals is the spring beauty (Claytonia carolinana.) Though they sometimes appear in April, May seems to be the month I can really count on seeing them. I know where a colony of many thousands of plants grow and I have happily knelt in last year’s leaf litter taking photos of them for years now. I love their aspirin size, pink striped blossoms.  

Around the end of May is when I start seeing the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia). Their color and the fact that they sometimes grow beside violets make them easy to miss so you have to pay attention. The small 3 inch tall by inch and a half wide plants usually bloom in quite large colonies but not always. They are in the milkwort family and are also sometimes called flowering wintergreen and / or gaywings. Once you’ve found some you can go back to see them year after year. They seem quite long lived.

June is when our most well known orchid, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) blooms. Once collected into near oblivion by people who thought they could just dig them up and plant them in their gardens, they have made a strong comeback and I see quite a few now. They’re beautiful and unusual, and should be left alone so we can all admire them. If transplanted they will not live long.

June was also when I found some larch flowers (Larix laricina). These tiny but beautiful things are so small all I can see is their color. I have to point the camera at the color and “shoot blind” until I get a shot. They can appear in mid May but I usually expect them in late May to early June. If you know a larch tree you might want to have a look. These tiny things will become the cones that hold the tree’s seeds, so if you look for the cones first that will give you an idea of which branches the flowers are most likely to appear on.  

Around the end of June and the first week of July I start looking for one of the most beautiful wildflowers I’ve seen; the purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The big, two foot tall plant looks like a bush full of purple butterflies. They are quite rare in this area and that’s most likely because they grow in swamps. I can usually expect to have wet ankles after taking photos of this one.

Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) blossoms right at the same time every year; just in time for the 4th of July, and its flowerheads just happen to look like fireworks. Flowers on both male and female plants lack petals and have only anthers (male) or pistils (female). These are male flowers in this photo.

One of our prettiest and smallest wildflowers bloom in early August. Forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) get barely ankle tall and like to grow in sandy soil in full sun. One unusual thing about the flower, other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. You can see the tiny white pollen grains at the end of the anthers on this example.

In my last post I described how colorblindness prevented my ever seeing a cardinal. It works the same way for cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) unfortunately, so I was elated last August when a coworker and I stumbled upon a group of them. I knew what they looked like, and once I was right on top of them I could see their color, which was beautiful. Note how this much larger flower with its arching stamens uses the same strategy as the tiny forked blue curl we saw previously. The chief difference is, these stamens dust hummingbirds with pollen instead of bees.

It wouldn’t be September without New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and this one just happens to be my favorite color aster. Unfortunately it’s also the hardest color to find so each year I have to go hunting for them. I can’t complain though; hunting for flowers is a pleasure, not a chore.

I could have shown a fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) in any month following May but this is the only photo from last year that showed the center of the flower, where a golden flame burns. I remember standing on the shore of a pond full of hundreds of these beautiful flowers last summer and being able to smell their glorious scent on the breeze. It was one the most amazing things, and I suspect that it wall last in my memory until I no longer have one.

I did see things other than flowers last year; things like this beautiful cedar waxwing I saw eating the berries of silky dogwoods at the river one September evening.

In October I went to see if the old stone staircase was still standing; all that’s left of Madame Sherri’s “castle” in Chesterfield. The castle was actually more of a chalet but it had quite a lot of elaborate stonework. It also had trees growing through the roof. How they kept the rain out is a mystery. Though I didn’t mention it in the original post I walked to the spot I had chosen and promptly tripped over a tree root and fell flat on my face in front of about 15 people who were all jostling to get a shot of the stairway. The camera was unscathed and I got my shot. The fall foliage was beautiful that day and the weather was perfect but the stairway was in need of some immediate help from a mason.

I also went to Willard Pond in October and walked through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests I’ve ever seen.

In November witch hazels bloomed. Also in December, but I doubt I’ll see any in January.

Also in November I was looking at lichens, including the smoky eye boulder lichen seen here. It’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion and I’ve put it here as an answer to the question “What is there to see in winter?” There is as much beauty to be seen in winter as there is at any other time of year. You just have to look a little closer, that’s all.

What could be more beautiful that this mossy hillside? It was like a green carpet covering the earth. What I like most about the colder months is how you can see the bones of the forest. There is no foliage to block your view in December.

One thing I’ll remember about the past year is how it was too dry for fungi. I saw very few until December, when I saw these mock oyster mushrooms (Phyllotopsis nidulans). They were big and beautiful, and looked as if they had been covered in orange velvet. They were well worth the wait but I hope to see more in 2021.

I hope this look back at 2020 wasn’t as bad as what you might have imagined. I’d rather have this blog be an island of calm in a sea of chaos than a running commentary on current events. Current events come and go like the tides and have no permanence, so about all you’re ever going to find here is nature, which is timeless. I do hope that’s why you come.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you’ll all have a happy, heathy new year.

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I’ve left lichens alone up to this point this year because of the drought. Lichens, to be at their best photogenically at least, need rain and when they don’t get it they can change their appearance sometimes quite dramatically. Some lichens however, like the common goldspeck lichens seen above, seem to change very little no matter what the weather.

Common goldspeck lichens are very pretty and grow on stone. These examples were growing on 200 year old slate headstones in a cemetery, which is a great place to find lichens.

Not surprisingly when you get close enough you find that common goldspeck lichens look like tiny gold specks. This one happened to be producing spores and you can see that by the little round things that look like octopus suckers scattered here and there. They are the lichen’s apothecia and they are very rarely seen on this lichen. If you took a common pin and poked it through a piece of paper and then looked through the hole you’d have a fairly good idea of the size of most of those little specks.

Another rock loving lichen is the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at the sidewalk firedot lichen showed how it is another lichen made up of tiny specks, some of which are its dry fruiting bodies (apothecia).  

I wanted this post to be about showing you how lichens can change their appearance, and one that illustrates this well is the star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris). This is how it might appear when it is very dry, with apothecia that appear very gray. The apothecia of this lichen are actually dark brown but they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. The coating reflects light and protects what it coats from the sun. Depending on the angle of the light these apothecia can appear blue, gray, brown or black. That’s why it pays to visit lichens several times.

Here, in a photo taken previously, the star rosette lichen’s apothecia appear blue-gray and that could be either because of the light or the fact that it had rained recently when this photo was taken.

The only thing that seems to change about this lichen is the amount of apothecia it has. On this very dry day it still had so many you could barely see its body (thallus). I believe it is a Powdery sunburst (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) lichen, which is very pretty. Unfortunately it is also relatively rare in this area. I’ve only found it on two or three trees in one location. This one is about 3/4 of an inch across.

Here is the same powdery sunburst lichen that appeared in the previous photo, but this is what it looked like three years ago. It clearly illustrates why, if you’re going to study lichens, you need to visit them several times over a period of time if you would know them well.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) is one that I have seen no changes in whatsoever after several years, This pretty little lichen closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body and orange fruiting bodies. This lichen’s orange apothecia can disappear when it is dry so I was surprised to find them this time. This one was growing on stone in full sun. This lichen is fairly common and I find it both on mountain summits and in the lowlands.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. The ones I know grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. This one was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. This was an odd example because it had another foliose lichen growing in its center. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a crustose lichen and crustose lichens are very determined, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Rosy saucer lichens (Ochrolechia trochophore)seem toprefer growing on smooth barked trees but some like this one don’t seem to care and will form themselves to whatever shape the bark they grow on happens to have. I probably see more of this pretty little lichen than any other. It’s apothecia are not subject to cold or dryness, apparently; they are visible in winter or summer.

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

Here is a closer look at those apothecia. Note the different shades and shapes, all on the same lichen. They wrinkle up a bit when dry.

Dog or pelt lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. The example pictured is I believe,  the scaly pelt lichen (Peltigera praetextata), and I arrived at that identification only with the help of a lichen expert. These lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses provide the moisture that they need. Since there are about 100 species of foliose lichens in the family Peltigeraceae they can be tough to pin down. It is a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined in this case. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

What sounds most plausible to me about the origin of the name “dog lichen” are the white “roots” on the white underside of the lichen body. They are fang like and called rhizines. On some lichens they can be quite bushy, and on others they are narrow and thin. They are one of the identifying characteristics of dog or pelt lichens, so you should always try to get a look at them if you can. Often the edges of the lobes will curl up, revealing them. In this area these are relatively rare. I’ve seen them only in two places.

It originally took me quite a while to figure out what this lichen might be called but its green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia) led me to finally settle on the tufted ramalina lichen. Then my lichen expert friend told me that it is now known as Ramalina americana.  A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I had never seen it. My knowledgeable friend tells me that is because it was nearly wiped out by pollution, and that tells me that our air here in New Hampshire must be very clean. If you see lots of lichens where you live it’s probably fair to assume the same.

Here is a closer look at the Ramalina lichen’s apothecia. They’re very different from most lichens I see.

Leafy (foliose) lichens that look like this can be difficult to identify but I believe this one is the fringed wrinkle lichen (Tuckermanopsis americana). They are one of the easiest to find because they fall from the trees and litter the ground on virtually any trail you follow in this area. They can be difficult to identify because they change color so readily. I’ve seen them even look pure white when very dry. This one was found on a rainy day so I know its colors are true. The brown, roundish bits with dots (pycnidia) around the edges are its apothecia, and they can be very pretty. This could also be the variable wrinkle lichen (Tuckermanopsis orbata), which is a good name for a very pretty but variable lichen.

A lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine. It seems as if this one would rather have water run down the stone to it than have raindrops land directly on it. Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores.

NOTE: My lichenologist friend has pointed out that the correct scientific name for this lichen should be Psilolechia lucida, which is also called sulfur dust lichen. Apparently Chrysothrix chlorina is quite rare in this area.

Some lichens, like the script lichen show above, seem to only produce spores when the weather is cold. Though there are apothecia on this lichen you can barely see them; in the summer you can look at trees that are covered with script lichens and see nothing but grayish white spots on the bark.

But in the winter script lichens come to life and will be covered with squiggly “script” which can often be very beautiful. This is why one of my favorite times to go lichen hunting is in the fall and winter months. Lichen study is not a sprint, it’s a marathon that can sometimes take years to run if you want the medal. Once you become interested in lichens, you’ll find interest and pleasure on every rock, tree and fencepost you see for many years to come.

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are one of the most beautiful lichens of all in my opinion, but their beauty is fleeting and it depends on how the light happens to fall on them. If you find one it might not look like this one at all. The pretty golden brown body (thallus) of the lichen is peppered with blue apothecia which are colored by the light due to their waxy coating. Take a look at the next photo to see what a simple change in light can do.

This is the exact same lichen we saw in the previous photo; all that is different is the light, and that’s why if you’re at all interested in lichens you really should visit them at different times of year and in different weather. The previous photo was taken when sunlight was falling on it, and this shot was taken when the lichen was in shade. Not only light but dryness can affect the color of many lichens, so make a note of where you find them and then go back when the weather has changed. I think you’ll be amazed by how much they can change, and also by how beautiful they can be.

Here is a lichen that was a learning experience for both myself and my friend the lichen specialist, who just happens to be writing a book about lichens much like the one you see above. There are many things on this lichen that lead to its identity but what I want you to see are its apothecia, which grow in concentric circles and look like little bumps or hills. That would tell most people that this was a concentric boulder lichen but they’d be fooled, just as I was. This photo was taken just after a rain and this lichen was very wet.

Here is the lichen once it had dried. As you can see it has changed dramatically; those little bumps have become cup shaped, and that’s because when wet they swell up and close, and then open again when they dry out. This was a challenge to even a lichen expert so you shouldn’t feel disappointed if you can’t identify every lichen that you see. Some like this one are hard to identify without expert help. Its name is the dusky map lichen (Rhizocarpon reductum) and it will appear in my friend’s lichen book.

If you find yourself interested in lichens maybe you could start like I did; find a particular lichen and simply watch it; maybe on that tree in your yard, or on your daily walk, or at lunch time. They grow virtually everywhere and are not hard to find. So watch “your” lichen and see how it changes. See how different it appears in sun and shade, and when wet or dry. Think about how all of these changes have been going on right there in plain sight all this time without your knowing. This will make you a better student of nature; a better observer. Ask yourself well, if I have missed this, something so obvious, what else might I have missed? Then you will be amazed at what you begin to see.

It is those insignificant things, the things most of us pay no attention to like lichens, liverworts or mosses, that often tell the most about that part of the planet we live on. Lichens, or lack of them, speak about clean air or air pollution. Liverworts speak about clean water or water pollution and mosses speak about soil conditions. These creatures are like canaries in a coal mine and will give advanced warning of any abrupt changes in climate or increases in pollution. All of things on this earth have voices. Nature speaks, but only to those willing to listen, and you listen by simply being there.

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understanding and our hearts. ~William Hazlett

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Last Saturday I planned to climb Pitcher mountain in Stoddard but the weather people said we’d have showers in the afternoon so instead I went up to the Beaver Brook Natural area in Keene to walk the old abandoned road. Since it is one of my favorite places to explore it had been calling to me, especially since I hadn’t been there since April.

Fall is in full swing and though the old double yellow no passing lines are still on the road you couldn’t see them because of all the leaves.

Beaver Brook had as much stone as water in its bed. Since we’re still in a drought that was no surprise. Our streams and rivers tend to be very rocky.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bloomed along the brook. Witch hazel is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, but I was surprised to see these blossoms this early. Some Native American tribes steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in their sweat lodges to soothe aching muscles and others made tea from it to treat coughs. As is often the case Natives had a use for virtually every part of the plant and witch hazel is still in use today. It can be found as a lotion in almost any drugstore. Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths, but this year the moths may have help from several other insects I’ve seen still flying. The “hama” part of witch hazel’s scientific name means “at the same time” and is used because you can see leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on the same plant.

Striped maples lit up the dark spots with their hand size, green turning to white leaves. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped with green and white vertical stripes. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

It was a beautiful fall day and it was easy to get lost in the kaleidoscope of colors.

Many of our roads are lined yellow because that’s the color native sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) turns in the fall. The roots of the plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla strangely contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There are some fairly large ledges out here and lots of stone falls from them so I only go near the ones that I’m fairly sure are stable.

The reason I go near the ledges at all is to see things like the dog lichens (Peltigera) that grow here. They are as big as a dinner plate, so I think they’ve grown here for a long time. Dog lichens are good examples of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example.

I also find smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) on the ledges here. The blue color 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. In addition to blue it 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. It’s a very beautiful thing.

This was the only New England aster I saw here.

Blue stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) bloomed all along the old road. I never knew until now that so much of it was here.

A bald faced hornet worked the goldenrod blossoms and was quite docile as I got close with my camera. That was unusual behavior because these wasps can be aggressive. I opened a shed door at work this past summer and was immediately stung on the face by one of them. They really pack a punch and their sting hurts more than a bee or other wasps I’ve had run-ins with.

False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum  or Smilacina racemosa) had lost all its berries to critters but it had some fall color.

I was surprised to see “true” Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) growing beside the false. It’s berries were also gone. This plant has blue berries that dangle under its leaves and false Solomon’s seal has red berries at the end of its stem. Native Americans sprinkled dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but that’s assuming you know how to prepare the roots and young shoots correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant useable.

This was the first time I had seen Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) growing out here. I noticed that it had the bright crimson splotch on its upper tier of leaves that I first noticed just a few weeks ago. I’ve read that scientists believe that the red color attracts certain birds like turkeys to the plant’s berries.

Though there are no houses out here the electric company still uses the cleared space of the old road to run its electric lines to houses further up the line.  

And there is a tree on the lines almost every time I come here. You’d think they’d get tired of removing them.

Oyster mushrooms are pure white and seem to always grow in overlapping clusters but in this case there were only two or three. They have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap. Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not  oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

White wood asters (Aster divaricatus) still bloomed here under the trees but in most places they’re all done.

I stopped to chatter with a little friend who had been following me and telling all the other forest creatures I was coming.

But I couldn’t visit with the chipmunk long because dark clouds were moving in fast. They changed my mind about sliding down the embankment to get a shot of Beaver Brook falls.

The weather people had been correct this time and I was glad not to be mountain climbing in the rain. Though this view looks perfectly calm and sun filled the dark clouds were right behind me all the way back and by the time I reached my car it had just started to rain.

The days may not be so bright and balmy—yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

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In the spring walking along Beaver Brook in Keene is one of my favorite things to do because there are so many interesting and rare plants growing there. Last Sunday was a beautiful spring day of warm temps and a mix of sun and clouds, so off I went to see what was growing.

The walk is an easy one on the old abandoned road that follows alongside the brook. Slightly uphill but as trails go it’s really no work at all.

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

The flower stalks (culms) on plantain leaved sedge are about 4 inches tall and when they bloom they’ll have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” I can’t speak for the rarity of this plant but this is the only one I’ve ever seen and it isn’t listed in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high.

The sedge grows on a stone that’s covered by delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which is a very pretty moss. I like how it changes color to lime green in cold weather. Because I’m colorblind it often looks orange to me and an orange moss commands attention.

I knew that red trilliums (Trillium erectum) grew near the plantain leaved sedge but I didn’t expect to see any on this day. But there they were, and already budded, so they’re going to bloom maybe just a little early, I’d guess. They usually bloom in mid to late April. They are one of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers and are also called purple trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent.

Bud break is one of the most exciting times in a forest in my opinion, and one of the earliest trees to open their bud scales so the buds can grow is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum.) The large velvety buds of striped maple in shades of pink and orange are very beautiful and worth looking for. Bud break can go on for quite some time among various species; striped and sugar maples follow cherry, and birch and beech will follow them, and shagbark hickory will follow birch and beech. Oaks are usually one of the last to show leaves. That’s just a small sampling that doesn’t include shrubs like lilac and forest floor plants that also have beautiful buds breaking.

This is how striped maple comes by its common name. Striped maple bark is often dark enough to be almost black, especially on its branches. This tree never seems to get very big so it isn’t used much for lumber like other maples. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one bigger than my wrist, and even that might be stretching it. It could be that it stays small because it usually gets very little direct sunlight. The green / white stripes on its bark allow it to photosynthesize in early spring before other trees leaf out but it’s still the most shade tolerant of all the maples, and in the shade is usually where it’s found. It is said that Native Americans made arrow shafts from its straight grained wood.

I found a mountain maple (Acer spicatum) growing here a few years ago and realized on this day that I had never paid attention to its buds. I was surprised how even though I’m colorblind I could see how bright red the bud scales were. And then the bud is orange. I can’t think of another tree that has such a splashy color scheme. Something else unique is how all other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

Someday I’ve got to poke around more in this old boulder fall, because there are some quite rare plants growing among the stones. I believe a lot of these stones are lime rich, due to the plants that grow among them.

One beautiful thing that grows on the tumbled stones of the boulder fall 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.

The two toned buds of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are poking up everywhere now. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but Native Americans knew how to prepare them correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant medically useful.

One of my favorite things to see here is the disappearing stream on the other side of the brook. It runs when we’ve had rain and disappears when we don’t, but the beautiful mossy stones are always there. You can’t see it here but there was still ice up in there in places.

Another reason I wanted to come here on this day was to witness the buds breaking on the red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) that grow here. They are handsome at this stage but the whitish, cone shaped flowers that will follow are not very showy. The leaves, bark and roots are toxic enough to make you sick, so this shrub shouldn’t be confused with common elderberry (Sambucus nigra) which is the shrub that elderberry wine comes from.

The spring leaves of the red elderberry  look like fingers as they pull themselves from the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers soon, and they’ll be followed by bright red berries that birds snap right up. The berries are said to be edible if correctly cooked but since the rest of the plant is toxic I think I’ll pass. Some Native Americans used the hollow stems to make toys. According to the U.S. Forest Service the Alaskan Dena’ina tribe made popguns from the hollow stems, using a shelf fungus (Polyporus betulinus) for ammunition. The Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia made toy blowguns from red elderberry stems.

I was surprised to find wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) leaves. This plant is a ground hugger, easily hidden by any plant that is ankle high or more, so I have to hunt for it and though I can’t say if it is rare here, I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grows in a wet area by the brook. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger. This is the first time I’ve noticed the hairs on its leaves.

I wasn’t sure if these were early spring mushrooms or if they were leftovers from last fall. Little brown mushrooms, or LBMs as mycologists call them, can be very hard to identify even for those more experienced than I, so they always go into my too hard basket. There just isn’t enough time to try to figure them all out.

It looks like people are geocaching again. I used to find them here quite often, though I never looked for them. According to Wikipedia “Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.” Someone tried to put this one under a golden birch but it wasn’t hidden very well.

I hoped to see some fern fiddleheads while I was here but I had no luck. I did see some polypody ferns though. 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 yellow and orange flowers but these had gone past ripened and in fact most had fallen off the leaf, leaving a tiny indentation behind.

We’ve had enough rain to get Beaver Brook Falls roaring. I toyed with the idea of going down to the brook to get a face on view of them but I’m getting a little creaky in the knees and you slide more than walk down the steep embankment, and then you have to nearly crawl back up again on your hands and knees. Since I was the only one here I didn’t think any of that was a good idea, so a side view is all we get.

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 the special light found here they glow different shades of blue and are as beautiful as jewels on the golden colored ledge they grow on. Beaver Brook is one of only two places I’ve ever seen them this beautiful, and they’re just one of many beautiful reasons I love to spend time here.

We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. ~C.S. Lewis

At Beaver Brook I did indeed bathe in beauty. Thanks for stopping in, and take care.

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