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Posts Tagged ‘Smooth Carrion Flower Fruit’

This photo of Half Moon Pond in Hancock only tells half the story because there is still plenty of snow out there, but one day we had a lot of rain that immediately froze into ice and now it’s hard to get into the woods without Yaktrax or some other non-slip grippers on your boots. Where there is still snow there is a thick, icy, and very slippery crust on it. I’ve wanted to climb a hill but I’m a bit put off by the ice. If I was a skater I think I’d be very happy right about now.

I saw this curious lens like formation in some puddle ice. I can’t even imagine how it would have formed.

You can see all kinds of things in ice and I found an owl in this section of puddle ice. It’s on the right, tilted slightly to the left.

Here is a closer look at the owl. There is blue around its eyes and a V shape between them. You can see some amazing things in puddle ice, from distant solar systems to frozen currents, and I always stop and give it a close look. In fact I’ve been known to get down on my hands and knees for a closer look but I found that I was disrupting traffic when I did that, so now I can only do it in the woods. “What is that nut doing kneeling on the side of the road?” I imagined the people wondering as they slowed to see. “Why, he’s taking pictures of a mud puddle!!” It takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

I found this strange ice formation on the river’s shore. I don’t know how it formed but I’m guessing that those branches had something to do with it. It reminded me of the Roman temple ruins I’ve seen photos of. Ice is an amazing thing that surprises me almost every time I look closely at it.

But enough with the ice; it’s giving me a chill. I found a grape vine hanging on for dear life, but it has nothing to worry about. River grapes (Vitis riparia) are also called frost grapes and they’ve been known to survive temperatures as low as -57 degrees F, so our paltry 20 below zero readings this year hardly bothered them at all. Their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties. If you grow grapes there’s a good chance that your vines were grafted onto river grape rootstock. I looked for some leftover grapes on this vine but the birds have taken every single one this year. I wouldn’t wonder; the poor things have had to suffer through two weeks of below zero weather this winter.

We have a bird here in North America called the acorn woodpecker and it makes its living stashing acorns in holes it has drilled into trees, utility poles, house siding, or any other wooden object. But they are a western bird and we don’t have them here in the east, so what bird put this acorn into this hole in a birch tree? After a little reading on the subject I found that many woodpeckers do this, though not on the same grand scale as the acorn woodpecker, apparently. In fact jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes but they can’t drill the holes like a woodpecker can, as far as I know. In the end I can’t say which bird put this acorn in the hole. Maybe a woodpecker drilled the hole and another bird hid the acorn. In any event if I ever see an oak growing out of a birch I’ll know what happened.

I’ve always loved seeing birds but I knew early on that I could never really study them because of colorblindness. Still, I’ve learned an awful lot about them by blogging, and one of the things I’ve discovered is that the same birds in different parts of the country have different habits. In the Midwest for instance, birds will quickly eat all the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries they can find, but here in New Hampshire they pretty much leave them alone until spring and it’s common to see sumac seed heads still full of seeds even in April. I’ve read that sumac berries are very low in fat and that’s why birds shun them, but that doesn’t fully explain it. Sumac berries in the Midwest have the same amount of fat that those in New Hampshire do, so it must be something else. Maybe it’s the super abundance of other foods we have here. It could be that the birds simply don’t need to eat the berries until the supply of other foods runs out.

A television naturalist noted that a half a loaf of bread provided all the food a large troop of baboons needed for an entire day. They could steal and eat a loaf of bread in a half hour and play for the rest of the day, or they could forage for natural foods all day and not have time for anything else. “Which would you do?” the naturalist asked, and that got me wondering about invasive plants like the Japanese barberry in the above photo. These plants form huge thickets and are loaded with berries, so why would a bird expend energy flying from tree to tree all day foraging for food when it could simply sit in a barberry thicket and eat its fill in an hour? That’s a big part of the reason invasive plants are so successful, I think.

Though American basswood (Tilia americana) trees are native to the eastern U.S. I never find them in the forest in this area so I really don’t know that much about them. I never realized that their seeds were so hairy and I didn’t know until I did some research that chipmunks, mice, and squirrels eat them. Birds apparently, do not. Virtually every basswood tree that I know is used as an ornamental shade tree and that might be because they are one of the hardest trees to propagate by seed. Only 30% of their seeds are said to be viable, and that might account for their scarceness. Surprisingly, the foliage and flowers are both edible and many people eat them. Native Americans used the tree’s pliable inner bark to make ropes, baskets, mats and nets. Bees love the fragrant flowers and basswood honey is said to be of the highest quality.

The smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) vine can reach 8 feet long, with golf ball size flower heads all along it. The female flower clusters when pollinated become globular clusters of dark blue fruit. The berries are said to be a favorite of song and game birds so I was surprised to find several clusters of them. Raccoons and black bears also eat the fruit, so maybe the bears will get some when they wake up in spring. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries of the vine but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of it. Their strong odor resembles that of decaying meat.

How do you show the wind in a photograph? I thought this downy feather stuck on the tip of a branch would show how windy it was on this day but I had the settings on my camera set to stop even a feather being blown about by the wind, so I guess you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was very windy. Wind is often the nature photographer’s enemy, but you can sometimes find ways around it.

It seems odd that a tree like the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) would have such tiny buds, because everything else about the tree is big. It even has big leaf scars, and that’s what this photo shows. But the bud that appears just at the top of the leaf scar is so small you can barely find it. The tree has huge heart shaped leaves that are the biggest I’ve seen, and great trusses of large flowers which become string bean like seed pods that can be two feet long. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew great plantations of them to be used as railroad ties. They are still used for utility poles today.  Midwestern Native American tribes hollowed out the trunks of catalpa trees and used them as canoes, and the name Catalpa comes from the Cherokee tribe’s word for the tree. Natives made tea from the bark and used it as an antiseptic and sedative. Parts of the tree are said to be mildly narcotic.

Where I work we’ve seen hundreds of what we thought were stink bugs. They started coming indoors when it got cold and got into smoke detectors, light fixtures and heating ducts. Once I had this photo I was able to look them up and I found that they weren’t stink bugs at all, even though they do have an odor if they’re crushed. Instead this is the western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis.) This insect sucks the sap from the developing cones of many species of conifer. It is native to North America west of the Rocky Mountains but has expanded its range and is most likely here to stay. Though they are a minor pest when it comes to conifers they can be a major pest indoors, because they can pierce PEX tubing with their mouth parts and cause leaks. If your house happens to be plumbed with PEX tubing you might want to vacuum up as many of these insects as you can find when they come indoors in the fall. They can’t bite but they can spray a bitter, stinky liquid when they’re threatened.

Split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) are winter fungi that appear in late fall. They are covered by what looks like a wooly fur coat. Because they are so hairy they are very easy to identify. They are usually about the size of a penny and I find them on dead branches. They are very tough and leathery.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. I’ve never seen one that was this furry on its underside. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have isolated a compound from it that is said to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

This is the only clear shot I’ve ever gotten of the open split in the underside tissue of a split gill fungus. Though called gills they really aren’t. It’s just this mushrooms way of increasing its spore bearing surface and thereby increasing its spore production. It’s always about the continuation of the species, whether we talk about fungi, fig trees, fish, falcons or fireflies.

The spidery twigs of lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) make them very easy to identify in winter. They had a fantastic crop last year, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do this year. Quite often when a plant produces a bumper crop one year it has to rest for a while in following years. It can take as long as 5 years for some plants to recover.

It’s hard to believe that anything could live on tiny tree buds but deer can, and they do. Of course, that isn’t all they eat but buds are part of their diet. Winter forage isn’t very nutritious though and deer burn considerable amounts of the fat that they put on in the fall. They can add as much as 30 pounds of fat in a good year but then burn it all just getting through winter. In a winter as harsh as this one has been many may not make it through. You can tell that a deer has been at this twig by the way it is roughly torn. Deer have incisor teeth only on their bottom jaw and these teeth meet a hard pad of cartilage on the front part of their upper jaw, so they can’t bite cleanly like we do. Instead they pull and tear. They also have top and bottom molars but they are quite far back in the mouth and are used for chewing rather than biting.

We’ve had days warm enough to send me off looking for witch hazel blossoms but I didn’t see any. Instead I saw a lilac bud that was as green as it should be in spring and which seemed to be thinking about opening. I hope it changed its mind because we could still have plenty of winter ahead of us. Traditionally February is said to be our snowiest month, so this little bud might have made a mistake. On the bright side it’s time to say goodbye, and possibly good riddance, to January.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1. Snowy Road

All of the sudden we’re seeing more sunny days but it’s still cold enough to keep the snow from melting very fast. The word is we’re going to see warmer days next week. A few days above freezing will get the sap flowing in these maples.

 2. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

In spite of the snow the poplar sunburst lichens (Xanthoria hasseana) are looking good. This one has grown quite a bit since the last time I visited it and is now about an inch in diameter. The round fruiting cups, called apothecia, are where this lichen’s spores are produced. This lichen never seems to be affected by the weather.

 3. Foliose Lichen Comparison

These photos are of the same lichen but the photo on the left was taken when it was moist from rain and snow and the photo on the right was taken after it had dried out. This is a good example of why serious lichen hunters look for them after it rains. The color change due to weather conditions can be dramatic.

 4. White Lichen Possibly Diploicia canescens

I thought this white shield lichen was very beautiful, but is it really white or has it changed color because it has dried out? That is the dilemma facing people who enjoy finding lichens. The only example of a white shield lichen I can find is called pleated white lichen (Diploicia canescens), which can be white, bluish white, or grayish white. I don’t know whether or not the one in the photo is that lichen.

 5. Black Jelly Fungus

Jelly fungi also go through drastic changes due to weather conditions. On the left side of the photo are black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) when very dry and on the right side are the same fungi after a good rain. The difference is pretty amazing. When dry they look like black crust fungi and when wet like small black pillows. I find them mostly on alder bark.

 6. Carrion Flower Berries aka Smilax herbacea 

The berries on this smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) vine haven’t been touched by either bird or animal.  This plant gets its common name from the way the flowers smell like decaying meat but even so, it is said that song and game birds, along with raccoons and black bears, eat the berries. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries-all said to be odorless- but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of this plant.

 7. Cedar Waxwings

I drove by a spot that had several crab apple trees planted in a row and each tree was full of cedar waxwings. This soft, not quite sharp photo was the best I could do out of the window. I thought I probably didn’t have much time and sure enough, just after I came to a stop and took a couple of quick shots they all flew off.

 8. West Street Dam

The cedar waxwings reminded me of last year when I visited this waterfall and inadvertently got between a cedar waxwing and the silky dogwood berries he wanted. He kept flying directly at my face, pulling up at only the last minute.  Some readers suggested that he might have gotten drunk on the fermented berries. There is a lot more ice built up on the rocks at the base of the fall now than there was then!

9. Tire Track

This is a tire print from a large front end loader that was used to move snow. I liked the tread pattern.

10. Horse Chestnut Buds

The buds of the horse chestnut are some that can fool you into thinking that they’re swelling from sap flow, but they stay this way all winter. This tree lives in a local park so I don’t know its name but it has beautiful pink flowers each June.

 11. Tulip Tree Bracts

Across from the horse chestnut is a native yellow, or tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). This photo shows what is left of the seed head once most of the seeds have fallen.

 13. Woodpecker Sawdust

Finding sawdust (bill dust?) like this on the snow can only mean one thing-a woodpecker was here.

 13. Woodpecker Hole

This hole is small and round rather than large and rectangular, and the sawdust on the snow is made up of fine particles rather than large, torn shreds, so I know this wasn’t a pileated woodpecker. One of the smaller ones made this hole and even excavated a chamber that leads down into the heart of this dead tree. Woodpeckers mate from March through May, so this might be an important bit of wood work.

 14. Milk White Toothed Polypore aka Irpex lacteus

This milk white, toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) looked fresh in spite of the snow and below zero temperatures. According to Mushroom Expert.com this is a resupinate mushroom. Resupinate means upside down, but in the case of mushrooms, according to The Journal of Wild Mushrooming, it means it is a “fertile surface with its back attached to or intergrown with the substrate.”  In other words it looks like a crust fungus with teeth.

 15. Milk White Toothed Polypore aka Irpex lacteus Closeup

This is a closer view of the teeth on the milk white, toothed polypore.  I think they were frozen solid. The Irpex part of the scientific name means “a large rake with iron teeth” and lacteus means “milky.”

Commonly we stride through the out-of-doors too swiftly to see more than the most obvious and prominent things. For observing nature, the best pace is a snail’s pace. ~Edward Way Teale

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