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Posts Tagged ‘Spring in New Hampshire’

For this post I’m going to try to take you through February, starting with the photo of puddle ice above. February was a cold and icy month but beautiful too. The average February temperature usually runs between 16.5°F (-8.6°C) and 31.5°F (-0.3°C) so ice doesn’t come as a surprise.

February was also a snowy month with storm after storm coming through. According to state records in Concord, the state capital, on average snow falls for 10.2 days in February and typically adds up to about 7.36 inches. We’ve had all of that, as the waist high snowbanks on the side of the road I travel to work on show.

The snow and ice might have built up but the finger of open water in Half Moon Pond reached further out into the pond each day. In February days have the least amount sunshine with an average of only about 4 hours per day, so things like this take time. The clouds seen in this shot are typical on an average February day.

But the sun does shine and slowly, the days get longer.

I’ve read that the reflection of sunlight from snow can nearly double the intensity of the Sun’s UV radiation. This photo of a fertile sensitive fern frond was taken in natural light that was reflecting off the snow and it looks like I used a flash.  

Here is another sensitive fern fertile frond which has released its spores. This was another attempt at catching sunlight on snow. It isn’t easy to do because it’s so very bright. If you stare at it too long you can experience snow blindness, which thankfully is usually only temporary. Still, bright sunlight on snow isn’t good for the eyes especially if you have glaucoma, so I try to always wear sunglasses.

Animals like turkeys, deer and squirrels have been digging up the snow looking for acorns.

And then one day the sunshine was different; it felt like a warm breath, and the melting began in earnest. That’s how spring always begins, but it is something that can never be proven to those who don’t believe. It doesn’t matter if it is February, March or April, spring always begins with that sense; the knowing that something has changed. You feel it and you know it but you can’t explain it, even though you know that from this point on there will be other, more visible signs.

Anything dark colored like this white cedar branch absorbed warmth from the sun and melted down into the snow.

Here a basswood tree limb was doing the same.

At this time of year each tree in the forest may have a melt ring around it as the basswood in the above shot does. A study done by Emeritus Professor of Botany Lawrence J. Winship of Hampshire College, where he used an infrared thermometer to measure heat radiated by tree trunks, found that the sunny side of a red oak was 54 degrees F. while the shaded side was just 29 degrees F. And the ground temperature was also 29 degrees, which means it was frozen. This shows that trees really absorb a lot of heat from the sun and it must be that when the heat is radiated back into the surroundings it melts the snow. The professor found that the same was true on fence posts and stumps so the subject being alive had nothing to do with it, even though a living tree should have much more heat absorbing water in it.

As the snow melts things that fell on it months ago reappear, like these basswood berries (actually nutlets). That bract is a modified leaf, called a tongue by some, which helps the berries fly on the winds. These didn’t make it very far from the tree however. Native Americans used many parts of the basswood tree, including the berries, as food and also boiled its sweet sap. The fibers found in the tree’s bark were used to make twine and cordage used for everything from sewing to snowshoes. In fact the word “bass” is a mispronunciation of the Native word “bast”, which is their word for one of the types of fiber made from the tree.

No longer moistened by snow melt, this moss growing on a stone was looking quite dry. From here on out it will have to depend on rain.

As the sun warms stones many times you’ll see the frost coming out of them. That’s what the white was in this shot. It doesn’t usually last long so it’s one of those being in the right place at the right time things.

Maple syrup makers hung their sap buckets about the third week of February as usual. Nobody knows when or where sap gathering started but most agree that it was learned from Native Americans. They used to cut a V notch into the bark of a tree and then put a wedge at the bottom of the cut. The sap would drip from the wedge into buckets made of bark or woven reeds, or sometimes into wooden bowls. They would then boil it down until it thickened and became syrup. Since it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup sap gathering was and still is a lot of work.

Winter dark fireflies (Ellychnia corrusca) have appeared on trees. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, and this one was happy to do so on an old oak. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid but they weren’t getting much of either on this February day. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

Buoyed by sap flow and insect activity I thought I’d visit the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow and see if they were up yet.

They were up and that tells me the hazelnuts will most likely be flowering before long. Inside the skunk cabbage’s mottled spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. I’d say it’ll be another week or so before I see them. The spathes seem extremely red this year. They’re usually a deep maroon color. Alder catkins, which are also a maroon / purple color, are also red this year, from here to Scotland. I can’t even guess why.

Of course I had to check the bulb beds, and there were indeed shoots up out of the soil. I’m not positive but I think these were crocus. Since I don’t own the bulb bed I can never be 100 percent sure.

Reticulated irises are usually the first bulb to bloom and they were up and looking good, but no buds yet.

In one bed daffodils seemed to be rushing up out of the ground.

These daffodils were about four inches tall, I’d guess. They looked a little blanched from coming up under the snow but they’ll be fine. They won’t bloom for a while though.

The willows are showing their silvery catkins so it won’t be long before the bushes are full of beautiful yellow flowers.

I hoped I’d be able to show you flowers at the end of this post and the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) came through. I was beside myself with joy when I turned a corner and saw them blooming. We might see cold and we might see more snow but there is no turning back now. Spring, my favorite season, has begun in this part of the world. I might have to tie myself to a rock to keep from floating away.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

Thanks for coming by.

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Last weekend (before our latest snowstorm) I decided to look for signs of spring. What follows is some of what I found.

 1. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I started my search in a low, swampy area where hundreds of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) plants grow. The plant smells just like its name suggests and I could smell them as I tiptoed through the snow, trying not to step on them.

 2. Skunk Cabbage

I saw signs of life. Skunk cabbages are one of the earliest spring plants, and through a process called thermogenesis are able to generate temperatures far higher than the surrounding air. You can often see evidence of skunk cabbage having melted its way through several inches of solid ice.

 3. Skunk Cabbage

The maroon thing with yellow-green splotches that looks like a tongue in the lower right corner is this year’s skunk cabbage flower (spathe), just starting to poke up out of the soil.

 4. Script Lichen aka Graphis alboscripta 

Script lichen (Graphis scripta) doesn’t have anything to do with spring except to remind me that soon it will be much harder to find lichens because of foliage.  Script lichen grows on tree bark and is seems to be quite rare here. I’ve only seen two examples in my lifetime, but a lot of that could be because I forget to look for them.  The dark lines that look like some type of strange cuneiform writing are the apothecia, or fruiting bodies of this crustose lichen. These were much larger on this example than on the other one that I found.

 5. Shagbark Hickory Bud 

The terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) are quite large and can fool you into thinking that they are swelling because of spring sap flow but no, they are this way all winter. We have to have several sunny days above freezing to trigger sap flow, so it’ll be awhile yet before buds really start to swell.

6. Hazelnut

I loved all the movement and texture in these American hazelnut seed pods. Hazelnuts (Corylus Americana) are usually snapped up quickly by bears, squirrels and other animals but in this spot I could have collected pockets full of them. It makes me wonder why the animals aren’t eating them.

 7. Hazelnuts

The tasty hazelnuts are also called filberts. Each one is about as big in diameter as an M&M candy. It’s strange to see them this late in the year.

 8. Marginal Wood Fern Sori

Native evergreen marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) gets its common name from the way its spore cases or fruit dots (sori) grow on the margins of the leaflets (pinnules). These ferns grow new sori on fertile fronds each spring and release their spores in July and August. The sori are no bigger than a match head.

9. Marginal Wood Fern Sori Closeup

On marginal wood fern the sporangia inside the spore cases are covered by a membranous cover called an indusium or fruit cover. When the sporangia are ripe they push this cover off so the tiny, dust like spores can be released.  This only happens on a dry day when there is a dry breeze so the spores might be carried as far from the parent plant as possible. Some ferns, like polypody (Polypodium vulgare), lack indusia and have naked spore cases.  The fiddleheads of this fern are covered with golden brown scales and are among the first to appear in spring.

 10. Tinder Fungus aka Fomes fomentarius

This example of a tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius), also called horse hoof fungus, looked ancient but probably isn’t that old. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).

11. Frullania Liverwort

If you see a tree with what looks like fine, lacy, brown or purplish spots all over its trunk a closer look might show the spots to be Frullania eboracensis liverworts. This is the only liverwort in this region that can stand a dry environment. It is considered a northern species and is quite common here. I find it on maples and oaks. Though the one in the photo is dime sized they can get to the size of a grapefruit.

12. Frullania Liverwort

Frullania eboracensis liverworts are considered leafy liverworts. The above photo shows how the almost microscopic, zipper like, zig zagging leaves overlap. Not seen are the sac like lobes on their undersides. The leaves radiate outward from a central point and become very dark in winter, lightening as the air temperature warms. Quite a few lighter colored ones can be seen here, so maybe they feel spring in the air.

13. Willow Catkins

Last time I visited this willow it had one catkin showing, but on this day there were many. I haven’t been able to figure out which willow it is yet, but its catkins are quite small. Male catkins appear much earlier than female catkins, so there’s a good chance that these are male.

Spring might seem like it’s far off but if you go by nature rather than the calendar, you can see it happening right now.

Even in the winter, in the midst of the storm, the sun is still there.  Somewhere above the clouds, it still shines and warms and pulls at the life buried deep inside the brown branches and frozen earth. ~Gloria Gaither

Thanks for stopping in.

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