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Posts Tagged ‘Solomon’s Seal Spring Shoots’

One of the things I love most about spring is seeing all the various buds break open so new leaves can emerge. As this maple bud shows, it can be very beautiful. Each year, usually around mid to late April I start watching various buds, but it all depends on the weather. This year they began to swell and it looked as if they’d break early but then we had a cold snap so they just sat and thought about it. Now, they are all coming alive.

New maple leaves are often tomato red and it is thought that the color wards off sunburn. Since so many plants start out with red or purple leaves it makes sense, but I’ve noticed this year that many of the new leaves are starting out green rather than the other colors, so I think the color must be weather dependent. If we have a cloudy spring there is no reason for them to have to protect themselves from sunburn. But how they know what the sun is doing while still encased in the bud scales is a mystery.

The strict definition of bud break is when the tip of a leaf is seen emerging from the bud, but spring isn’t just about new leaves any more than it is just about new flowers, so I’ve taken some liberties and have strayed a bit from that strict definition. After all spring is really about the beauty of it all in my opinion, and what could be more beautiful than this Norway maple flower bud opening?

In fact I think the bud in that previous shot is far more beautiful than the flowers that came out of it.

Striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum), often in velvety shades of pink and orange as these were, grow up out of the bud scales, which are the darker parts seen here. Bud scales offer protection to the bud over winter but as the temperature warms they are no longer needed, so as the bud grows they open to allow it to expand and lengthen. In the case of a striped maple bud, if you watch closely a line will appear on the bud. You can see the whitish lines running up the center of these three buds in the photo.

When the lines appear this is the time to watch the buds closely. I usually visit them each day because the lines signal that the bud is ready to open. When it does it will split open on that line, as can be seen in this photo. It could be that the line is always there but I never notice it until the buds are ready to open so I use it as a signal.

This might surprise people who know striped maples. The big, light gathering, mature leaves on the tree have a flat, matte finish that reflects little light. The only time the leaves shine that I know of is when they have just come out of the bud as these had done. Whether or not that is another strategy to prevent sunburn, I don’t know.

Some native cherry trees will grow flower buds very soon after the leaves appear, and it seems that they put more energy into the flowers than they do their leaves. If you’re all about continuation of the species it makes perfect sense. They’re also among the earliest flowering trees, which also makes sense. Grab the attention of the insects before all the other flowers come out and you have a better chance of being pollinated.

Invasive Japanese honeysuckles are usually the first shrub in the forest to show new leaves. In that way they get a jump on natives and can begin photosynthesizing earlier, and growing faster. This one had a raindrop nestled in its leaves. We have 3 invasive honeysuckles here in New Hampshire and to identify them you can just break a stem. Stems of all three shrubs are hollow while native honeysuckle stems are solid. It is illegal to sell, propagate or plant any of these shrubs in New Hampshire.

I like the way the new spring shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) flow and move. After a shoot comes straight up out of the ground the leaves appear and the shoot nods toward the ground. The height the plant has reached when the leaves begin to appear is the height it will stay at throughout the present year’s growth. Native Americans and early colonists ate these shoots the way we would eat asparagus and they used the plant’s starchy roots in soups and stews. They also dried them to make flour for bread.

I love to see the new spring shoots of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) but I dread trying to get a photo of them because in my experience they’re one of the most difficult of all the spring shoots to get an accurate photo of. I quickly forgot about that though, when I found two plants growing where there had been just one. Even better was how both had plenty of flower buds. I was happy to see that this relatively rare plant was multiplying. This is the only spot I know of to find it.

The wind is caught in blue cohosh, so maybe that’s what makes it so hard to photograph. You might think there was a gale blowing on this day but no, there wasn’t even a breeze. It just wants to fly. Cohosh means “rough” when translated from Native American Algonquin language, and refers to the knobby root. A tincture of the root was said to start childbirth but science has shown the entire plant to be toxic.

Regular readers of this blog will have seen hobblebush flower buds (Viburnum lantanoides) evolve over the past few months from a hard lump with two “rabbit ears” to what looked like a wormy mass, to what it is now; recognizable flower buds with leaves on either side. Soon the shrubs will blossom, with large sterile, pure white flowers surrounding a mass of smaller fertile, white flowers in the center. It’s one of our most beautiful native shrubs and I hope to be able to bring it to you in another post in the very near future.  

Another beautiful flower is that of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea). The buds have broken and the leaves have pulled back to reveal the big, thumb size flower buds. They will become beautiful red, yellow and pink flowers before long. I think the tips of the leaves were frost bitten this year, by the looks.

We had lots of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) where I worked in Hancock but I had to hunt for this one here in Keene, and one was all I found. I hope to find more before they pass on.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores, the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores.

This horsetail was fully open, revealing its tiny spore producing sporangia. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brownish sporangiophore are the sporangia. They look like tiny white bags. Once it has released its spores it will die and be replaced by an infertile stem.

The rhubarb in a friend’s garden was also breaking bud. When I was a boy I could pull a stalk right off the plants in my grandmother’s garden and eat it right there, but I think I’ve lost my taste for it. They tell me when I was just a pup I’d have a dill pickle in one hand and a baby bottle in the other, so I must have been a bit of sourpuss when I was young. Now just writing about it is enough to make my mouth pucker.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be beautiful when it first comes up in the spring, but of course it’s also terribly invasive. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots are tart and juicy and taste much like a cross between asparagus and rhubarb, but I watched a television show about foraging recently and when the two people there tasted the knotweed, they said it didn’t taste like much. Judging by the looks on their faces I’d guess they probably spit it out once the camera looked at something else. The shoots they tasted were quite large though, like the one shown here. I think if you picked the new shoots just as they broke ground, they’d be tender and might be fairly tasty. Developing a taste for them would be a good way to overcome the problem of their being so invasive.

I don’t know if fern fiddleheads fit the description of bud break but I always enjoy seeing them in spring. This is a sensitive fern fiddlehead (Onoclea sensibilis). This fern gets its name from the early settlers, who noticed its sensitivity to frost. Since our last safe frost date is Memorial Day, it was rolling the dice. It’s a beautiful thing with its fur coat and tiny new leaves showing.

Christmas fern fiddleheads (Polystichum acrostichoides) wear hairy, silvery fur coats to protect themselves in spring. This is an evergreen fern so you can often find last year’s green fronds splayed out on the ground with this year’s fiddleheads coming up in the center of the plant. As fiddleheads go these are some of the biggest. This fern gets its name from early settlers, who saw that it was still green on Christmas.

The only fern in this area with fiddleheads that are safe to eat is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered an early spring delicacy but they need to be prepared and cooked correctly. I’ve read that eating too many can make you sick. The easiest way to identify ostrich fern fiddleheads is by the brown papery husk that covers the fiddlehead, and the deep groove in the stem. The groove has been compared to that you find on a stalk of celery and as far as I know, this fern is the only one in this region to have it. The plant itself has the shape of the shuttlecock used in badminton, so another name for it is the shuttlecock fern.

I watched beech buds closely over the last weeks and I saw them arch or curl, however you choose to see it, but then stop and do nothing. They simply waited along with all the other buds for the cold snap to end. The buds curl like this because the cells on the top become excited by the light and warmth generated by the stronger spring sunshine, and grow faster than the cells that grow in the shade on the bottom of the bud.

The difference in cell growth rate creates a tension in the bud, which increases until the bud simply can’t take any more and tears itself open. This releases the new leaves, which are beautifully covered in silver hairs. Sometimes they look more animal than plant.

Once the sunlight reaches the new leaves, they expand like an accordian and quickly lose their silver hairs. Bud break is one of the most beautiful things to happen in a New England Forest in the spring and I do hope that you are able to see it. Once you’ve seen something like this you never forget it.

Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles. ~George Bernard Shaw

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all the moms out there will have a grand and happy Mother’s Day tomorrow!

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We’ve seen cold, rain, snow and mostly cloudy days lately so last Saturday when it was wall to wall sunshine and 65 degrees, it seemed like a great gift. Since it was near time for wild columbines to bloom I set off along the old rail trail up in Westmoreland to the ledges where they grow. I saw all kinds of beautiful and interesting things there and it was hard to leave.

The first thing I saw was a small patch of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara.) It’s hard to believe that it’s almost time to say goodbye to this cheery little spring ephemeral but I’m seeing white in almost all the flowers I look at these days, and white is a good sign that they’re setting seed.

Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) grows beside the trail and it was all ready to bloom. By now it probably has.

Maple buds were breaking; the first I’ve seen this year. New maple leaves are often bright red as these were.

The velvety buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) were seen all along the trail. Sometimes they can be pink, orange, or a combination of the two like this one was.

When I looked at the other side of the bud I saw that it was breaking. The next time I come out here I should see leaves.

There is a lot of groundwater very close to the surface in Westmoreland and it runs from the cracks in the stone. That’s one reason such a variety of plants and mosses grow here.

Algae dripped from the cracks in the stone, or maybe they were washed down the face of the stone by the never ending drip of groundwater. I’ve read that they grow in nutrient rich places. They’re always interesting so I wanted to take a closer look.

The algae were spirogyra, with common names that include water silk and mermaid’s tresses. It is described as a “filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales.” The strange thing that looks like a vacuum cleaner hose is a chloroplast, and its spiral growth habit is what gives these algae their name. There are more than 400 species of Spirogyra in the world, almost always found in fresh water situations. I see it on wet stone fairly regularly. According to what I’ve read, when used medicinally spirogyra are known as an important source of “natural bioactive compounds for antibiotic, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cytotoxic purposes.”

That little black square up ahead is where we’re going, but it won’t be black when we get there.

Our wild cherries should be blooming soon, and the birds will be very happy about the abundance of fruit that will follow.

This is near the area where I saw a huge black bear last year at this time. Since there are high stone ledges and a southern exposure it would stay quite warm here in the winter I would think, and that tells me that it would be a perfect spot for a bear to live. The one I saw here certainly looked like it had been living the high life.

There is even a cave here, way up high in the cliff wall, and it’s plenty big enough for a bear. Thankfully the bear was elsewhere on this day. I carried a can of bear spray but I was very happy that I didn’t have to use it. I’ve been within touching distance of a few wild animals and last year’s encounter is the closest I ever want to be to a bear, but so far they seem to have sensed that I mean them no harm and we’ve gone our separate ways.

This is that black spot we saw in a previous photo and these are the ledges I was interested in visiting. They’re right alongside the trail and all kinds of plants grow here. I believe it’s because the stone is full of lime and the soil is much less acidic than in most other places I visit. Most Southern New Hampshire soil is quite acidic but you do find occasional “sweet spots” like this one.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) seedlings grew at the base of the ledges. I see lots of these in the spring and I’ll see lots of their orange flowers later on.

I come out here to see wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and there are plenty of them growing on the ledges. On this day most had buds but I didn’t see a single flower, so that means another trip out here this weekend. The spring shades of green are always electric here.

Here was a flower bud. Some buds looked to be close to opening but we aren’t getting a lot of sun lately so I wonder if they’ll be fully opened this weekend.

The spring shoots of smooth Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) absolutely glowed, and it looked like someone had dipped a paintbrush in pure light and painted them there on the ledges. How beautiful they were. Native Americans and early colonists ate these shoots the way we would eat asparagus and they used the plant’s starchy roots in soups and stews, and dried them to make flour for bread. The Chippewa tribe sprinkled the dry roots on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to cure headaches.

Though herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) blooms from spring through October I didn’t see any flowers on this day, even though there were many plants growing at the base of the ledges. Native Americans used this plant medicinally for healing wounds, herpes and skin eruptions. The plant’s common name comes from a French monk who lived in 1000 AD, and who is said to have cured many people by using it. For that reason it is also called Saint Robert’s Herb.

There’s a nice clump of purple trillium (Trillium erectum) here at the base of the ledges and it had two or three blossoms on it this year. Last year there was only one.

One of the flowers looked a little torn but it was still beautiful.

Something I’ve been searching for for a long time are the small blue spring shoots of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and this year I found them but I was about a week late and they had grown to about 6 inches high. They had also lost that vivid purplish blue color that they have when they have just come out of the ground. But now I know that next year I need to come a week or so earlier, and I’ll be here.

You can see a little bit of blue on this shoot but I’d bet by this posting the plant has already turned green. The green is kind of a light blueish green. Cohosh means “rough” when translated from Native American Algonquin language, and refers to the knobby root. A tincture of the root was said to start childbirth but science has shown the entire plant to be toxic. It’s shadow over on the right makes me think of an alien creature.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for Stopping in. It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend here, so why not take a walk in the woods? The beauty and solitude you find there will most likely re-charge your batteries and will certainly help you put things into perspective. Stay safe everyone.

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