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Posts Tagged ‘Smooth Sumac’

It has gotten cold enough now to start freezing up our ponds and rivers.  I’ve seen pancake ice on rivers many times and I’d expect to see it there; it’s the current that constantly moves circles of river foam or slush and makes them bump into each other and form rims, so that they start to look like pancakes. Most are about the size of a honeydew melon but they can be bigger or smaller. From what I’ve read pancake ice is rare outside of the arctic but I see it on the Ashuelot River almost every winter. What is strange about the ice pancakes in the above photo is that they were in a pond, not a river. Normally there is no current in a pond but we had very strong winds and I think they were what made the current that formed the ice pancakes.

In this photo you can see the ice ridge caused by the wind blowing across the pond. It blew all the slushy ice that had formed on part of the pond to this end and then spun some of it into pancakes.

On shore the ice kept piling up into higher ridges. In the arctic these frozen “pancakes” can pile on top of one another and in some areas 60 foot thick ridges of them have formed. In two days after it warmed up a little all of this ice had disappeared.

A milkweed seed was stuck on a very hairy branch of an American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) A good way to tell that you have an American hazelnut and not its cousin the beaked hazelnut is by the very hairy stem seen here. Only American hazelnut has hairy stems.

The male catkins of an American hazelnut are bigger in diameter and longer than those of the beaked hazelnut, from what I’ve seen. In spring they’ll slowly grow even bigger until finally turning golden yellow and bursting with pollen. I wait impatiently for it to happen.

If the male hazelnut pollen reaches a female ovary then there’s a good chance that hazelnuts like those seen here will be the result. In 1995 a large shallow pit in Scotland was found to be full of the remains of thousands of burned hazelnut shells and was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so man has been eating this nut for a very long time. In this country Native Americans used them to flavor soups, and also ground them into flour, most likely for thousands of years as well.

Here is a common sight in winter: milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to do. This is a very common winter fungus that grows on the undersides of limbs. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and then break apart and turn brown as they age.

If you pick up a fallen limb and touch something that feels cold and rubbery, it might be milk white, toothed polypore. They are very tough and can stand all the snow and cold that winter can throw at them. I’ve never seen the interesting patterns that this one displayed.

If two trees or parts of trees like limbs of the same species grow close enough together the wind can make them rub against each other, wearing the outer bark away. Once the outer bark wears away and the cambium or inner bark touches, the trees can become naturally grafted together. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see at least a couple of self or naturally grafted trees each year.

If you thought you saw scratches on the bark of the maples in the previous photo you weren’t imagining it. Squirrels leave claw marks all over smooth barked trees and sometimes if you look closely you can see trails up the tree that they use over and over again. On those kinds of trails the scratches will appear thickly like those in the photo. I’ve known for a longtime that squirrels will nip off buds to make tree branches easier to travel on, but this is another of those bits of nature that I have never understood until just recently.

The beautiful color of a maple branch healing itself held me rapt for a time, and I remembered all of the times I’ve felt down when I walked into a forest, only to return having forgotten what it was that bothered me. The forest is such a loving place; a place full of miracles and one that reveals the secrets of creation, and it pains me to know that some people think it is a dark, forbidding place to be feared. Given a chance it will change you, and even heal you. If you spend enough time there first will come joy, and then a deep sense of gratitude and finally, after a time that might be weeks, months, or even years, a great love will well up inside of you. It is the love of all things; of creation, and at times it is so powerful it can bring tears to your eyes and make you want to kneel; not because someone tells you should but because of the love, gratitude and joy that you feel inside. You’ll begin to understand that you aren’t separate from all of this and you never have been. You are as much a part of nature as the birds that sing overhead and the leaf mold you might one day find yourself kneeling on.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata,) seed pods dry as thin and weightless as a sheet of paper, so though their spines are sharp at this point you can’t throw them at your friends. In the lower right quadrant of this example you can see a bit of the netting that is inside these seed pods. A man wrote to me once and told me that he decorated pens that he makes with that same netting. For me these plants are like a time machine that always takes me back to my boyhood, when we used to throw the soft spined fruits at each other before they dried out.

Wild cucumbers have two large seeds that look like cucumber seeds but they’re at least 10 times bigger. The cavities seen here are where they grew. I’m seeing fewer and fewer of these vines each year and I can’t understand why. When I was a boy they were everywhere but now I have to search, often for days or even weeks, to find them.

Last year I saw a very strange pouch like cocoon on a tree. It wasn’t very big; about the diameter of a pencil or maybe a little bigger. I hadn’t ever seen anything like it and couldn’t find anything that looked like it online so I wrote to a local insect expert who explained that it was a tussock moth cocoon, probably made by the white marked tussock moth. The caterpillar constructed it incorporating its own hairs into the design. Now here was another one, almost exactly a year later.

All of the gypsy moth egg cases I’ve seen have been smooth and hard, like this one. European gypsy moths were first brought to the U.S. in 1869 from Europe to start a silkworm business but they escaped and have been in the wild ever since. In the 1970s and 80s gypsy moth outbreaks caused many millions of dollars of damage across the northeast by defoliating and killing huge swaths of forest. I remember seeing, in just about every yard, black stripes of tar painted around tree trunks or silvery strips of aluminum foil wrapped around trunks. The theory was that when the caterpillars crawled up the trunk of a tree to feed they would either get stuck in the tar or slip on the aluminum foil and fall back to the ground. Today, decades later, you can still see the black stripes of tar around some trees. Another gypsy moth population explosion happened in Massachusetts recently and that’s why foresters say that gypsy moth egg cases should be destroyed whenever they’re found.

This little moth was on the door of the maintenance shop where I work one morning and it stayed there all day. Since it was about 30 degrees that day I thought it was odd behavior, but then I looked it up and found its name is the Winter Moth. It is a European species that was first noticed in Nova Scotia in the 1930s and now is found coast to coast in the U.S. It’s a very destructive insect, especially to apple and blueberry crops because its caterpillars eat the emerging buds in spring just as the bud scales open. They also feed on maple, oak, ash, crabapple, cherry, and many deciduous shrubs. According to the University of Massachusetts “The eggs are green at first, but turn red-orange soon thereafter. In March, prior to hatching, the eggs turn a bright blue and then a very dark blue-black just before hatching.” They sound very pretty but I think I’d rather not find any.  

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) berries are ripe and red. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds supposedly love them but the berries are usually still there in spring until the migratory birds come through.

Staghorn sumac berries, like the rest of the plant, are very hairy. They are said to be an important winter emergency food for many types of birds including Robins, Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers in other parts of the country but like the smooth sumac berries seen in the previous photos, staghorn sumac berries aren’t usually eaten until spring here. That could be because we have so many other native fruits and berries for them to eat. After a thorough soaking and washing, the berries were made into a drink resembling pink lemonade by Native Americans. In the Middle East they are dried and ground into a lemon flavored spice.

Even on a cloudy day the stems of staghorn sumac glow, and they really do resemble deer antlers. (Antlers are not horns, by the way, and a stag has antlers.) If this were a smooth sumac this branch would be as smooth as a maple branch.

Many things in nature will turn blue when it gets cold enough. Ice can be blue and so can the sap of the white pine tree. I’ve also seen the white striations that give striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) its name turn blue. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped like this. 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.

I like the flowers of thimbleweed but I never see many of them. Until recently, anyway; I stumbled into a forest of them and for the first time, saw them going to seed. The plant gets its name from the seed head that grows to look like a thimble and I’ve seen those, but until now I’ve never seen one actually producing seed. The seeds are on the sticky side and before I was through trying to get a photo I was covered with them, so I might find them growing in my own yard one day.  

Here is a beautiful turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) for your Thanksgiving. If you walk off that big meal on a wooded trail you might see some in person. They’ll be far more beautiful there than they are here.

I thought I’d end this post with one of the things I’m thankful for; this view of Mount Monadnock I see every morning on my way to work. If you click on it you’ll see a larger version and then you might be able to see the snow on the summit.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

I hope all of you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving day. Thanks for coming by.

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Fall has slowly been making its presence known here in this part of New Hampshire and Half Moon Pond in Hancock is one of the best places to see it happen, because it always comes here before anywhere else that I know of. I’m not sure what the trees on the other side of the pond are but they always turn very early. The trees on this side of the pond are mostly maples.

And maples are changing too. I found this one in Swanzey.

Not only are leaves changing, they’re dropping as well.

River grapes (Vitis riparia) have ripened and hang in great bunches from the vines. If they aren’t all eaten they will begin to over-ripen and on warm fall days they make the forest smell just like grape jelly. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climb high in the trees to reach as much sunshine as they can. They aren’t noticed for most of the year but when their leaves start to turn they can’t be ignored. Virginia creeper berries are poisonous to humans but many birds and small animals eat them. My mother loved this vine enough to grow it on the side of the house I grew up in. It shaded the porch all summer long.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is another vine that climbs to the top of trees for sunlight but unlike our native vines this one is highly invasive and damages the trees it climbs on. It is the yellow leaved vine in this photo and it is slowly strangling an ash tree.

Black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) are trees that often change early. In June these trees are loaded with white, very fragrant blooms that hang down like wisteria blossoms. Black locusts were prized by colonial Americans for their tough, rot resistant wood. In 1610 colonists found black locust trees planted beside Native American dwellings and thought the Natives were using the tree as an ornamental, so they decided to use it that way as well .They also used the wood for ship building, forts and fence posts while the Natives used it to make bows and blow darts. It was once said to be the toughest wood in all the world and was one of the first North American trees exported to Europe.

The invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River will go from green to red, and then will finally become a soft pastel pink to almost white. Right now they’re in their loud orange / red / yellow stage. It’s too bad they’re so invasive because they really are beautiful, but they dominate the understory and create so much shade nothing else can grow.

A few burning bush leaves had already changed to pastel pink. I’ve seen thousands of these shrubs along the river drop their leaves overnight when the weather is cold enough and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this year so I can show them to you in their pastel pink stage. When hundreds of them are this color it really is a beautiful sight.

I chose a swamp in Swanzey to show you what happens to white pines (Pinus strobus) in the fall. Many evergreens change color in the fall and many lose their needles. The row of pines are the taller trees in the distance in this photo, looking somewhat yellow brown.

These examples of fall color grew right at the edge of the swamp.

Dogwoods also grow in the swamp, and along with blueberries they often make up most of the red you see.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the sunlight and glows in what are usually luminous pink ribbons but every now and then you see patches of deep purple, as this example was. This common grass grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington and is beautiful enough to be grown in many gardens. After a frost it often takes on a darker reddish purple hue, but we haven’t had a frost yet.

It’s the way its seed heads capture and reflect sunlight that makes little bluestem glow like it does.

Here is the same view from a different angle. I’ve learned that if you want to have blue river water in your photos you should photograph it with the sun behind you, and now I’m wondering if the same isn’t true with some grasses.

Virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) light up shady spots at this time of year and sometimes you can see hundreds of them together. Virgin’s bower is a native clematis that has small white flowers in late summer. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

Pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) are beautiful when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Why it is that in a field of thousands of goldenrod plants one or two will turn deep purple while the rest remain green is a question I can’t answer, but that’s often what happens. The plants somehow just decide to stop photosynthesizing earlier than all of their cousins.

We have several different varieties of sumac here and from what I’ve seen all are very colorful in the fall. This is smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) At least I think so; I didn’t pay real close attention when I took the photo. It could also be shining sumac (Rhus copallinum.)

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between. Once fall starts there is no stopping it and soon people from all over the world will come to enjoy it. I’ll do my best show you all of this incredible beauty that I can.

Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Thanks for coming by.

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As soon as I mentioned spring in a blog post winter returned and we’ve had a cold, snowy week. Last Saturday it was cloudy but not too cold at 37 degrees F. when I went to play on the banks of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. I’ve been playing on these river banks my entire lifetime and I’ve seen a lot of trees in the river, but I’ve never seen one actually fall in. That leaning white pine over on the left is going to fall in any time now, I’d guess, but I doubt I’ll see it happen. Once it falls in it might be in this spot for a year or two or maybe more, but eventually the river will flood and off it will go on its journey to the Atlantic. White pines are our tallest trees and I’m guessing that this one is over 100 feet tall.

Ice baubles that would have been more at home on a chandelier hung from the slab of ice that had formed over a stone.

They hung from anything close enough for the river to touch.

Just like a candle dipped in hot wax the waves engulf an icicle again and again, depositing a new layer of ice each time. The excess water runs down its length and pools there, creating the fat bottom just above the water. In this shot the point from where the bauble dangles doesn’t look very strong.

Last Monday the temperatures fell into the single digits F. and the wind roared with 60 mile per hour gusts. After that it was snowy all week and cold enough to keep the snow from melting. Everything that fell stayed right where it landed.

And the snow on tree trunks marked the direction the wind had blown it in from.

I saw lots of beaver activity here. They had sampled this young beech at might have come back and cut it down that night.

Sometimes a beaver will sample a tree and find it not to its liking, and leave it alone.

But usually they know what they’re cutting and they cut down trees and haul them away. They like beech and I’ve seen them cut huge old trees down to get at the upper branches.

The chips the beaver left behind looked like the same things a pileated woodpecker would have left but I didn’t find any woodpecker damage on any of the nearby trees.

I’ve noticed many times that fallen oak limbs have a golden color on their bark. What I don’t know is if this happens when the branch dies or is it there when they’re alive. I’ve cut down and cut up oak trees but I’ve never noticed the color on a fresh limb.

Fallen oak limbs often have jelly fungi on them, especially amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) like that seen here. This one was about the size of a nickel and frozen solid. Once it thaws it will grow on as if nothing ever happened. It’s the only jelly fungus I know of that holds its size when it dries out. Most shrivel down into little chips on the bark.

I love the soft brown color of last year’s oak leaves and the way they curl together as if hugging to keep each other warm.

I think the fungus on this tree was conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) which I’m seeing a lot of this year. It is also called bleeding parchment because of the blood red liquid it exudes when damaged but this example was very dry. The fungus causes heart rot and means a death sentence for a conifer. I’ve seen this fungus in just about every bit of woodland I’ve been in recently and after not seeing it for years, that seems strange. It’s almost like an outbreak.

Milk white toothed polypore was dry enough to be almost unrecognizable but I’ve seen it enough to know what I was looking at. This crust fungus has ragged bits of spore producing tissue that hang down and look like teeth, and that’s where part of its common name comes from. This common fungus can usually be found on the undersides of hardwood branches.

Common ground pine (Lycopodium dendroideum) is a clubmoss and has nothing to do with pines. It also has nothing to do with moss; it’s a vascular plant that produces spores instead of flowers. The spores are produced in the yellowish “clubs” called strobili. In this photo the strobili are still tightly closed. When they open to release the spores they have a kind of ragged look to them. The dried spores they are highly flammable, and they were once used in place of flash bulbs in photography. That’s one reason that clubmosses were so hard to find at one time. People also made Christmas wreaths from them and that also helped to nearly wipe them out. They’ve made a comeback though and I see lots of them.

Snow always melts faster under the evergreens because the branches block so much of it from falling next to the trunk. This gives birds and small animals places to scratch around and find any morsels that might have been missed.

The return of the bluebirds made me think that other migrants might be coming back as well, but the sumac berries still aren’t being eaten. I’ve heard that the fruit is low in fat and not very nourishing but I would think it would at least fill an empty stomach and get them by until they could find something a little more nourishing. These berries are on a smooth sumac (Rhus glabra,) which I’ve never seen growing here.

The birds have eaten all the seeds from the asters, but what they leave behind is still pretty enough to make me think of flowers. It’s hard to imagine birds getting much nourishment from such tiny seeds but I suppose if you happen to be a tiny bird they’re just right.

They say a warm up is coming starting next week so I hope to be able to show you something besides ice and snow soon. I still haven’t seen a sap bucket but I dreamed I was in a sugar bush of huge old trees with hundreds of buckets hanging from them, so I hope to also be able to show you one of those soon. I have seen that plastic tubing they use instead of sap buckets these days, so I know the sap must be flowing.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

Thanks for coming by.

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There is a place that I go to now and then just to see what the plants that live there are doing, and to see if any new ones have moved in. When I was a boy the land was part of a huge cornfield, then it became an industrial park with roads and businesses sprouting up where the corn once grew. Slowly all the lots in the industrial park filled except for one, which has been vacant for years. As I visited the place I realized that every city and town in America must have a place like this; empty, forgotten places that nobody seems to care about. They are wastelands by definition, but this particular wasteland is where many flowers have chosen to grow, so I haven’t forgotten it.

I thought I’d do an inventory of sorts and list the plants that grow here with the thought that if you visited that vacant lot that you might know of, you might find many of the same plants there. In this view there are white ox eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare,) yellow silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea,) and purple maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids.)  The maiden pinks especially seem to love this place. There are so many of them it was hard to take a photo without them in it.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) also does well here. This plant is in the aster family and looks like an aster but it blooms much earlier and the flowers are much smaller; about the size of a dime. Plants reach about 3 feet tall and sway in the breeze. They can also be pink but I see very few pink ones. They do best in fields, along roadsides, and around waste areas ; anywhere with dry soil. Its common name fleabane comes from the dried plants being used to rid a house of fleas. It is native to the U.S. and Canada and has escaped cultivation in Europe. Native Americans made a tea from the leaves that was used for digestive ailments.

Lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea) bloomed among the tall grasses. This plant is originally from Europe and is also called common or grass leaved stitchwort. It like disturbed soil and does well on roadsides, old fields, and meadows. The Stellaria, part of its scientific name means star like, and the common name Stitchwort refers to the plant being used in herbal remedies to cure the pain in the side that we call a stitch.

Keene sits in a kind of bowl surrounded by hills and all of the runoff from the hills can make this a very wet place, especially in a rainy year like this one. Farmers solved the problem many years ago by digging deep, wide drainage ditches around the perimeters of their fields and they are still here today. All manner of water loving plants grow in and along them. There was a lot of pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) growing in this one but they weren’t blooming yet.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) grew along the top of the drainage ditch and were heavily budded. This shrub reaches 10 feet but always seems to lean, which makes it seem shorter. It typically grows in fields, abandoned farmland, clearings and along roadsides. It is very similar to staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) but the young stems of staghorn sumac are very hairy and those of smooth sumac are smooth, and that’s where its common name comes from. The glabra part of the scientific name means “without hairs.” Native Americans used the berries of smooth and staghorn sumac to make a tart lemonade like drink which they sweetened with maple syrup. The roots and shoots were also eaten peeled and raw in spring.

Native arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) also grows along the drainage ditches. This native shrub has a rounded habit and grows to 10 feet high. It’s quite showy and dense, and many people who grow native plants use it for hedges. It attracts butterflies and birds love its showy blueish black berries. In the fall its foliage can be yellow, orange or red. Native Americans used the straight stems of the shrub for arrow shafts, and that’s how it comes by its common name.

When it comes to small yellow flowers in my opinion one lifetime isn’t enough time to identify them all.
I usually admire them and leave them alone but it was hard to not want to know more about this little beauty. I knew its silvery leaves would make it easy to identify so I started with them and found silver leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla anserina.) It comes from Europe and is considered invasive but, though there were quite a few plants here they weren’t choking out other plants and I was happy to see them.

Maybe another reason I stay away from small yellow flowers is because they’re so hard to photograph. Or at least this one was; I had to try 4 different times to get a useable photo. I didn’t say a good photo because this one isn’t, but it does give you a good look at what silver leaved cinquefoil flowers look like.

It’s obvious how silver leaved cinquefoil gets its common name. The undersides of the leaves and the stems are a bright silvery white but they can fool you if you only give them a glance, because they’re deep green on top.

Five heart shaped pale yellow petals on a two foot tall stem mean sulfur cinquefoil. Close to the center packed with 30 stamens and many pistils each petal looks like it was daubed with a bit of deeper yellow. This is a very rough looking, hairy plant that was originally introduced from Europe. It grows in unused pastures and along roadsides and in waste places and it is considered a noxious weed in some areas because it out competes grasses. I think it’s very pretty.

Pollen grains that cause hay fever symptoms are very small and dust like and carried by the wind, and common ragweed pollen (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) fits the bill perfectly. It wasn’t blooming here yet; it will bloom as soon as goldenrod does and will then release its dust like, wind borne, allergy inducing pollen grains. For that it will get a free pass because for centuries people have blamed what they see, goldenrod, for their allergies. But goldenrod couldn’t make us sneeze even if it wanted to; the pollen grains of goldenrod are very large, sticky, and comparatively heavy and can only be carried by insects. Even if you put your nose directly into a goldenrod blossom, it is doubtful that you would inhale any pollen.

Golden clover (Trifolium campestre) is another imported clover originally from Europe and Asia. It is also known as large trefoil and large hop clover. The plant was imported through Philadelphia in 1800 to be used as a pasture crop and now appears in most states on the east and west coasts and much of Canada, but it is not generally considered aggressively invasive. Each pretty yellow flower head is packed with golden yellow pea-like flowers. I see the plant growing along roadsides and in sandy waste areas like this one.

Milkweed does well in waste areas and I saw a few plants here. The buds were just starting to show color so I’d guess another week or two before we see many blossoms. I’m hoping we see a lot of monarch butterflies visiting them; for the last two or three years I’ve been able to count the numbers I’ve seen on one hand.

I knew that I’d run into a plant or two that I hadn’t paid attention to in the past and sure enough here was an unknown sedge. It was a pretty little thing (with the emphasis on little) and I think it might be little green sedge (Carex viridula.) Sedges can be difficult to identify though, so don’t bet the farm on my results. I didn’t find it in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown, but I’ve seen many similar examples online. This sedge grows to about a foot and a half tall. Sedges are often found near water and this one grew near a drainage ditch. Many different birds eat the seeds of sedges, including ducks and Canada geese.

I always find native blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) growing in hot sandy waste areas and along roadsides so I wasn’t surprised to see it here. Toadflax has a long blooming period and I often see it later on in fall. The wind was blowing ferociously on this day and each tiny blossom shows it; not a single one was still.

I thought I’d find yarrow in this sandy, sunny place and I wasn’t disappointed. As I said in my last post, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was considered a valuable healing herb for thousands of years; one of the nine “holy herbs,” and was traded throughout the world since before recorded time. I always feel like I’m seeing far into the past when I look at its tiny flowers. Neanderthals were buried with it. I can’t think of another living thing that I can say that about, and it just boggles my mind to think that they saw what I’m seeing..

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working spirally towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else. English plantain is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

Lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa) looks a lot like its cousin nodding smartweed, but instead of growing near water this one will be found growing at forest edges, roadsides and waste places. The plant gets its common name from the dark spot that appears on each leaf. Legend has it that a lady with a dirty thumb (apparently) left the smudge-like mark on a leaf and it has been there ever since. Lady’s thumb is originally from Europe and has spread to nearly every state since 1843.

You’ve seen many of the flowers shown here in recent posts and I hope you don’t feel cheated, but I wanted to show once again how easy it is to immerse yourself in nature. Something I’ve pointed out almost since I started this blog is how you don’t need to drive anywhere and you don’t need any fancy equipment. All you really need to do is walk outside and look, that’s all. Even in forgotten wastelands like this one nature is very busy. Something I couldn’t show is all the bees and other insects that were buzzing around what really is a huge amount of flowers, or all the birds that were singing in the trees and shrubs. Though we’ve forgotten these places nature most certainly has not, so I hope you’ll visit your local vacant lot or other wasteland soon. Don’t let beauty like this go to waste.

The place to observe nature is where you are. ~John Burroughs

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1. Blue Dragonfly

The beautiful blue of this dragonfly dazzled me for a few moments one recent day. I’m not sure but I think it might be a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis.) Its color reminded me of the blue stemmed goldenrod, which appears at this time of year.

NOTE: A reader says that this looks like a slaty skimmer. Any thoughts on that?

2. Blue Jay Feather

The blue of the blue jay feather matched that of the dragonfly. This shade of blue seems to appear in unexpected places in nature, like on smoky eye boulder lichens, cobalt crust fungi and first year black raspberry canes.

3. Turtles

There were two painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) on a log one day and the big one looked to be scratching the little one’s back. Or maybe he was trying to push the little one off the log, I don’t know.  They looked like happy turtles, whatever they were doing.

4. White Caterpillar

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

5. Salamander

New Hampshire has eight native salamanders including the red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens.) I found this one under a log and I think it must be a juvenile red-spotted newt, which is called a red eft. It was bigger than many adults I’ve seen of that species but it was bright red as red efts are supposed to be.

NOTE: A reader has confirmed this salamander as an erythristic red-back salamander. Erythristic means that it has more red pigment, like a red headed person. Red back salamanders are the most common salamander in the northeast and usually found under logs, so everything fits this example.

6. Salamander

The salamander was cooperative and let me take several photos until finally quickly ducking under a leaf.

7. Hemlock Growing out of Stump

I saw that a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) seed had fallen onto a rotten hemlock stump that was apparently dirt like enough to let the seed grow. And grow it did, until its roots encircled the rotten stump and reached the ground. When the young tree is grown and the stump has rotted away this hemlock will look as if it’s standing on stilts.

8. Fern

Before they go dormant for the winter some ferns turn white, and if you catch them at just the right time they can be very beautiful.

9. Fern Shadow

Other ferns command my attention for different reasons.

10. Smooth Sumac Berries

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) berries are ripe and red. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds love them.

11. Staghorn Sumac Berries

Staghorn sumac berries, like the rest of the plant, are very hairy. They are an important winter emergency food for many types of birds including Robins, Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers. After a thorough soaking and washing, the berries were made into a drink resembling pink lemonade by Native Americans. In the Middle East they are dried and ground into a lemon flavored spice.

12. Sumac Pouch Gall

Since I’m speaking of sumacs I might as well give you an update on the sumac pouch galls that the Smithsonian Institution is coming to harvest. They’re looking for winged adult sumac gall aphids (Melaphis rhois) so they asked me to cut a gall open. These galls turn tomato red as they age but as the photo shows this example looked more like a blushing potato.

13. Sumac Pouch Gall Inside

All I found inside were green aphid larva. They need to grow a bit but since I don’t know much about their life cycle I’ll let the Smithsonian people decide when to come. They’re researching the coevolution of Rhus gall aphids and their host plants. Science has found that this relationship between the aphids and the sumac has been going on for at least 48 million years, with no signs of stopping. The galls are surprisingly light; they are really just bags of air.

14. False Solomon's Seal

When false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe they will be bright red, but I like them speckled like they are at this stage too. I’ve read that soil pH can affect fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

15. Solomon's Seal Berries

Dark blueish purple true Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) berries dangle under the leaves and look like grapes-quite different than the false Solomon’s seal berries in the previous photo. The berries and leaves of this plant are poisonous and should not be eaten. Solomon’s seal and its variants are great plants for a shaded woodland garden.

16. Burning Bush

Most burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are still green but every now and then just one branch will turn this orchid color, as if it can’t wait to announce summer’s passing. Though they are very invasive they can also be beautiful. They have taken over the understory of a strip of forest along the Ashuelot River and when the hundreds of shrubs all turn this color it becomes a breathtakingly beautiful sight.

One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity. ~ Edward de Bono

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Here are a few more of those odd and unusual things that I see that won’t fit into other posts.

1. Big Bluestem Grass aka Andropogon gerardii

I like discovering grass flowers and this one is a beauty. The flowers of native big bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardii) grow in pairs of yellowish male anthers and feathery, light purple female stigmas. This grass gets its name from its blue green stems. It is the dominant grass of the tall grass prairie in the U.S.  Before Europeans arrived this grass had a quite a range; from Maine to the Rocky Mountains and from Quebec to Mexico. At one time it fed thousands of buffalo. Because of its large root system, early settlers found it was an excellent choice for the “bricks” of sod houses.

 2. Club Coral Fungi Clavariadelphus truncatus

Some coral fungi come to a blunt, rather than pointed end and are called club shaped corals. I thought these might be Clavariadelphus truncatus but that mushroom has wrinkles down its length and these are smooth, so I’m not sure what they are. More often than not I find these growing in the hard packed earth near trails and they have usually been stepped on. The broken one in the photo shows that these are hollow. They were no more than an inch tall.

 3. Curly Dock Seeds aka Rumex crispus

The seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus,) when the sun is shining just right, look like tiny stained glass windows.

4. Silky Dogwood Berries aka Cornus amomum

The berries of silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) start out porcelain white and slowly change to dark blue. The birds love these berries so they don’t decorate the shrubs for long. This is a large shrub that grows in part shade near rivers and ponds. It gets its common name from the soft, silky hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans smoked the bark like tobacco. They also twisted the bark into rope and made fish traps from the branches.  I wonder if the idea for blue and white porcelain dishes first made in ancient China came from berries like these.

 5. Sumac Red Pouch Galls caused by Melaphis rhois

Red pouch galls on stag horn sumac (Rhus typhina) are caused by the sumac gall aphid (Melaphis rhois.) These galls look like some kind of fruit but they are actually hollow inside and teeming with thousands of aphids. They average about golf ball size and change from light yellow to pinkish red as they age. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. The galls can also be found on smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) They remind me of potatoes.

 6. Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

At a glance wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) might fool you into thinking it was just another brownish puffball but, if you try to make it “puff,” you’ll be in for a surprise. The diameter of the one in the photo is about the same as a pea.

 7. Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

This is the surprise you get when you try to make wolf’s milk slime mold’s “puff ball” puff-you find that it is a fruiting body full of plasmodial orange slime. This is also called toothpaste slime mold but on this day the liquid inside the sphere was nowhere near that consistency. It was more like chocolate syrup. This slime mold is found on rotting hardwood logs and is one of the fastest moving slime molds, clocked at 1.35 millimeters per second.

John Tyler Bonner, a slime mold expert, says slime molds are a “bag of amoebae encased in a thin slime sheath, yet they manage to have various behaviors that are equal to those of animals who possess muscles and nerves with ganglia–that is, simple brains.”

 8. Puffball

Here is a real puffball-at the size of an egg many hundreds, if not thousands of times bigger than the wolf’s milk slime mold. I think this example might be a pigskin puffball (Scleroderma,) which is poisonous.

 9. Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa Slime Mold

The honeycombed domes of the Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa variety porioides slime mold make it one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. Unfortunately it’s also one of the smallest, which makes getting a good photo of it almost impossible. After many attempts, this was the best I could do. The little black bug on one of the fruiting bodies is so very small that I didn’t see it until I saw this photo.

 10. Purple Cort Mushroom

Here in New Hampshire white and brown mushrooms can be found at almost any time, but the really colorful mushrooms usually start in about mid-July with yellows and oranges. There can also be occasional red ones but orange dominates the forest until the purples appear. Once the purple ones appear there are fewer and fewer orange ones seen.  I’ve watched this for 2 years now and it shows that mushrooms have “bloom times” just like flowers do. In the case of mushrooms, it’s actually fruiting time. I think this one is a purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides.)

 11. False Solomon's Seal Foliage

The berries have formed on false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum ) so the leaves aren’t needed anymore. Fall begins at the forest floor.

 12. Pokeweed Berry

The rounded, five lobed, purple calyx on the back of a pokeweed berry (Phytolacca americana) reveals what the flower once looked like. The berries and all parts of this plant are toxic, but many birds and animals eat the berries. Native Americans used their red juice to decorate their horses and early colonial settlers dyed cloth with it.

 13. White Baneberry Plants

One rainy afternoon I drove by these plants that were loaded with white berries and had to turn around to see what they were. They turned out to be white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) but I’ve never seen that plant have as many berries as these did. These black and white berries are highly toxic but fortunately they also reportedly taste terrible and are said to be very acrid.

 14. White Baneberry Berries

Another name for this plant is ‘doll’s eyes” and it’s easy to see why. The black dot is what is left of the flower’s stigma. The black and white berries with pink stems are very appealing to children and it is thought that only their terrible taste prevents more poisonings than there are.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.  ~Lao Tzu

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When I take pictures for this blog I don’t usually have a “theme” in mind or any pre conceived notion of what the post will contain. I just take pictures of things that interest me, and that I think might interest you. In this post something different happened and many of the things photographed ended up having something in common. I wonder if you can guess what that is before you get to the end.

 1. Smooth Sumac Berries

Birds like cardinals, bluebirds and robins will eat the berries (drupes) of smooth sumac, but these berries seem to be an emergency food because they can usually still be seen in spring. Smooth sumac berries are covered in small, fine hairs that make them very tart. Cleaned seeds can be ground and used as a spice in place of lemon seasoning, and Native American people used the berries to make a drink similar to lemonade. The dried wood of sumacs will fluoresce under a black light, which is an odd but reliable way to identify them.

2. Sugar Maple Buds

The way to tell if you’re tapping a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is to look at the buds, which are pointed and sharp looking. The two lateral buds on either side of the terminal bud are always directly across from each other.  If you have a good memory you can check the tree in the fall-sugar maple is the only native maple to be dropping seeds in late summer and fall. Above freezing daytime temperatures along with below freezing nights gets tree sap flowing. In New Hampshire this usually happens in February, but I haven’t seen any sap buckets yet.

3. Red Maple Buds

Sap from other maples can be used to make maple syrup but the sugar content isn’t as high, so it means more boiling. Sugar maple has the longest period of sap flow before its buds break, so its sap output is greater than in other trees. The red maple buds (Acer rubrum) pictured are clearly very different than those of the sugar maple in the previous photo. Sap from red, black, and silver maples might cloud the finished syrup, but it is still perfectly edible.

4. American Wintergreen

I was surprised to see that the leaves of this American wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) had turned red. The leaves of this evergreen plant often get a purplish color in cold weather but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them quite this red. This plant is also called teaberry and was once used to make teaberry gum. It was also used as a pain killer in the same way aspirin is by Native Americans.  If you know the taste of American wintergreen you can easily identify the black birch (Betula lenta,) because its young twigs taste the same.

5. Rose Hip 2

I found a rose hip that the birds and animals missed. Rose hips are the fruit of the rose plant. Fresh hips are loaded with vitamin C and make great jams and jellies, and once dried they can be used in tea. The hips should be cut in half and cleaned well before they are dried because they contain seeds and small hairs that shouldn’t be eaten.

 6. Rose Hip Inside

The inside of a rose hip shows the tiny hairs that should never be eaten.  Not only do these hairs cause digestive irritation and upset, but they cause also cause something that Native Americans called “itchy bottom disease.” The French call them “scratch butt. “ I’m sure you get the idea.

Itching powder is made from the hairs in rose hips and when I was a boy you could find ads for it in the backs of comic books, right next to the sea monkeys and genuine monster kits. The ads used to encourage you to “Amuse your friends!” They probably should have said “Lose your friends!” because nobody likes having itching powder dumped down their shirt.

7. Crab Apple

Rose hips are in the same family (Rosaceae) as crabapples and have the same tangy-sweet flavor. To be classified as a crab apple the fruit has to be less than 2 inches in diameter. Anything greater than 2 inches is considered an apple. The fruit pictured is less than half an inch in diameter and is the only fruit on my tree that the birds didn’t eat. It has been hanging there like this all winter. Crabapples are a little too sour to eat raw but they make an excellent jelly. Four species of crabapple are native to North America and have been used by Native Americans for thousands of years.

 8. Puddle Ice Patterns

I stopped at the post office one day and found this amazing ice on a mud puddle there. I don’t know what caused the strange patterns on the ice but I’ve read that the clarity of ice is determined by how much oxygen was in the water when it froze. Oxygen means bubbles and more bubbles mean more imperfections, which in turn mean whiter ice. In fact, the secret to perfectly clear ice cubes involves boiling the water before freezing it, because boiling removes the oxygen. Clarity of ice I can understand, but I don’t know what would have caused all of the little “cells” that are in this puddle ice. I’ve never seen anything like them. I boosted the contrast on this shot so you could see them better.

 9. Birch Catkins at Sundown

The swelling catkins on this birch tree shout spring, in spite of the snow and cold. Birch catkins release their pollen before the leaves appear so the leaves don’t interfere with pollen dispersal.  Leaves limit the distance that the wind can carry the pollen, reducing the chances of successful fertilization between trees. We might be getting blasted by snow and cold, but this tree tells me that spring is coming.

 10. Blackberry Cane

 Were you able to guess what the accidental ‘theme” of this post was? It’s the color red! I didn’t realize until I put it together how much red can be found in the winter landscape. From sumac berries to crab apples to teaberry leaves to the blackberry cane shown in the above photo-they’re all different shades of red. My color finding software that I use to cheat color blindness sees dark red, fire brick red, and even plum in this small section of cane.  I see a nice fat bud that is another sure sign of spring!

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand. ~Neil Armstrong

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