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Posts Tagged ‘Spring’

I didn’t think I was going to see our native blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) this year because every plant I visited had no flower stalks or buds, but then I saw this beauty growing in a roadside ditch. The name “flag” comes from the Middle English flagge, which means rush or reed and which I assume applies to the plant’s cattail like leaves. In this instance they were growing right in the water of the ditch, which shows that they don’t mind wet roots.

Beautiful blue flag irises always say June to me and here they are, right on schedule. There is also a southern blue flag (Iris virginica.) Though Native Americans used native irises medicinally their roots are considered dangerously toxic.

Dogwoods (Cornus) have just come into bloom and I caught up with this one on a recent rainy day. Dogwood blossoms have 4 large white bracts surrounding the actual small greenish flowers in the center. The dogwood family is well represented in this area, with many native species easily found.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is in the dogwood family and just like the tree dogwood blossom we saw previously 4 large white bracts surround the small greenish flowers in the center. Bunchberry is often found growing on and through tree trunks, stumps, and fallen logs but exactly why isn’t fully understood. It’s thought that it must get nutrients from the decaying wood, and because of its association with wood it’s a very difficult plant to establish in a garden. Native plants that are dug up will soon die off unless the natural growing conditions can be accurately reproduced, so it’s best to just admire it and let it be.

Bunchberry is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. The entire flower cluster with bracts and all is often no bigger than an inch and a half across. Later on the flowers will become a bunch of bright red berries, which give it its common name. That little starflower in the lower part of the photo jumped in just as I clicked the shutter.

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) blossoms also have 4 larger white bracts surrounding the actual flowers in the center but everything is so small it’s hard to see. Gray dogwood flower clusters are sort of mounded as is seen here, while silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) are flatter. All three shrubs bloom at about the same time and have similar leaves and individual white, four petaled flowers in a cluster and it’s very easy to mix them up. Sometimes silky dogwood will have red stems like red osier, which can make dogwood identification even more difficult. Both gray and red osier dogwoods have white berries. The silky dogwood will have berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

Now that the common lilacs are done blooming the dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri) take over. They are fragrant but have a different scent than a common lilac. Each year at this time I visit a a park where dwarf lilacs, fringe trees, and black locusts, all very fragrant flowers, all bloom at once and it is unbelievable. Though called Korean lilac the original plant was found in a garden near Beijing, China by Frank Meyer in 1909. It has never been seen in the wild so its origin is unknown. If you love lilacs but don’t have a lot of room this one’s for you. They are a no maintenance plant that is very easy to grow.

Bearded irises seem to be doing quite well this year. I’m seeing them everywhere I go.

Beautiful Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the native fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms, while its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns, especially in cemeteries, it seems. This year I learned another name for them: wandering fleabane. That’s a good one because this plant gets around.

Another plant I often see in cemeteries is the old fashioned bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia). When I was gardening professionally every yard seemed to have at least one and I liked them because they’re a low to no maintenance shrub that really asked for nothing. You could prune it for shape if you wanted but you didn’t need to. The 6-8 foot shrubs are loaded with beautiful flowers right now but I suppose they’re considered old fashioned because I seem to see fewer of them each year.

In Greek the word spirea means wreath, but the plant comes from China and Korea. Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune originally found it in a garden in China in the 1800s but it grows naturally on rocky hillsides, where its long branches full of white flowers spill down like floral waterfalls.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) was so highly valued that it was brought over from England by the colonists in the 1600s. They used it as an ornamental back then and it has been with us ever since. Though it is considered invasive most of us don’t really mind because it’s beautiful. This plant forms clumps much like phlox and can get 5 feet tall under the right conditions. It is very fragrant in the evening.

The easiest way to tell whether you’re seeing Dame’s rocket or phlox is to count the flower petals. Dame’s rocket has 4 petals and phlox has 5. If there are no flowers look at the leaves; phlox leaves are opposite while Dames rocket has alternate leaves. Even easier is to simply not care, and just enjoy their beauty.

This wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) grew right beside the Dame’s rocket and showed the differences very well. A close look shows that the flowers really don’t look anything like those of Dame’s rocket.

I know of only one red horse chestnut tree and it grows in a local park. The red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea,) is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

The old fashioned Dutchman’s pipe vine has very large, heart shaped leaves and has historically been used as a privacy screen or for shade on porches and arbors. You can still see it used that way today in fact, but I’m guessing that there’s a good chance that most people have never seen the small, pipe shaped flowers of a Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia durior) because you have to move the vine’s large leaves aside and peek into the center of the plant to see them. They’re mottled yellowish-green and brownish purple with a long yellow tube, and are visited by the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and other insects.

The surface of the pipevine flower is roughly pebbled, presumably to make it easier for the butterfly to hang onto. Though it was used by Native Americans to treat pain and infections the plant contains a compound called aristolochic acid which can cause permanent kidney failure, so it should never be taken internally. Dutchman’s pipe is native to some southeastern hardwood forests and has been cultivated in other parts of the country and Canada since the 1700s. If you have a view you’d like to screen off just for the summer months this plant might be for you, but you’ll need a sturdy trellis.

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is a plant that is not doing well this year. I’m seeing plenty of leaves but this is the only flower I found. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, so maybe that is why. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

A mayapple colony is made up of plants with large leaves that grow close together, so to find the flowers you have to move the leaves a bit.

Red sandspurry (Spergularia rubra) is a beautiful but tiny thing. I can usually only see a bit of color and  have to let the camera see the flower but on this day I was able to see the actual flowers, and there were many of them. Red sandspurry was originally introduced from Europe in the 1800s but it could hardly be called invasive. It is such a tiny plant that it would take many hundreds of them just to fill a coffee cup.

Here is shot of a blossom overhanging a penny that I took a few years ago. Because it isn’t touching the penny perspective makes it look a bit bigger than it is. it’s really about the size of Lincoln’s ear.

It’s honeysuckle time and Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is one of the prettiest, in my opinion. Unfortunately it is also invasive, originally from Siberia and other parts of eastern Asia. In fall its pretty flowers become bright red berries. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre, according to the Forest Service. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, and the land around these colonies is often barren.

Morrow’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) is another invasive honeysuckle. It was imported in the 1800s for use as an ornamental, for wildlife food, and for erosion control. It has pretty white flowers that turn yellow with age. As is true with most honeysuckles the flowers are very sweetly fragrant. Unfortunately it spreads by its berries like Tatarian honeysuckle and it can form dense thickets and outcompete native shrubs. It seems more aggressive than Tatarian honeysuckle; I see it far more often.

While I was looking to see if the nodding trilliums were blooming I stumbled upon what I knew was a honeysuckle, but it was one I had never seen. After a couple of weeks of waiting for its buds to open I finally found that I had discovered a very pretty native wild honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica.) The plant is also called limber honeysuckle or glaucous honeysuckle and though I can’t speak of its rarity I can say that this is the first time I’ve seen it, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time outdoors.

Wild honeysuckle is a low shrub with vining characteristics, meaning that it will loosely twine around other shrubs that might be growing nearby, trying to reach more sunlight. One inch long red or sometimes yellow tubular flowers with bright yellow stamens appear at the ends of the branches. Their throats are hairy and like other native honeysuckles the stigma is dome or mushroom shaped. The leaves are white on the underside and you can just see that on the left in this photo.

I took this shot to show you the urn or egg shaped ovaries at the base of the flower tubes. Each tubular flower has a small bump at its base, just before the ovary. I’ve read that this honeysuckle likes sandy, wet places at high elevations in mixed hard and soft wood forests, but I found it just a few feet from a road. I’m hoping it will like it there and spread some.

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
~James Wright 

Thanks for coming by.

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This post will be, more than anything else, about some of the beautiful things in nature that you may have been passing by without noticing, like the immature Colorado blue spruce seed cones in this photo. The color only lasts for a week or two on these cones and science doesn’t see that the color serves any useful purpose. Since evergreens are wind pollinated they don’t need color to attract insects, so maybe it’s there simply to attract our attention. They certainly caught my eye.

There are beautiful things happening all around us right now and bud break is one of them. There isn’t much in the spring forest that is more beautiful than the appearance of new beech leaves, in my opinion. Delicate as angel wings they dangle from the branches in the state you see here for just a very short time.

Each spring the miracle of life unfolds all around you. Just stop for a moment and see. Don’t just look; see. There is a difference.

“Unfolding” is a good description for what happens. You can see it in this oak; bud break has happened and now all of the current years’ leaves and branches unfold themselves from what was a tiny bud. Actually uncurling might be an even better term; you can see how they spiral out of the bud.

They start out in a spiral when just out of the bud and you can watch that twist straighten out as they grow.

Once they’ve straightened themselves they begin to look more like what we’re used to seeing, but if we wait to catch up to them until they’ve reached this stage, we’ve missed a lot.

Fern fronds start life wound like a spring and this process has a name: circinate vernation. They are curled into what look like the carved head of a violin and the growing tip of the frond and all of its leaflets are within the coil. In this photo you can see this particular fern frond just beginning to unfurl. The scientific term describes the process; circinate means circling or spiraling and vernation comes from the word vernal, which means spring.

All the fiddleheads that make up a fern plant spring from a root which might be 100 years old in some cases. These were some of the darkest fiddleheads I’ve seen. Lady fern, I believe.

Once again you can see the uncoiling of all that will be a single fern frond. Everything that will become a frond possibly three feet tall comes from a coil that might be a half inch across.

Solomon’s seal is another plant that spirals out of the bud and you can see that in this plant. The spirals are all about leaf placement, so each leaf can get the optimum amount of sunshine. Scientifically it’s all about ratios and Fibonacci numbers and other things that I don’t have the time or the knowledge to talk  about but I will say this: spirals work and they have for many millions of years. That’s why they’re found in everything from our inner ear to nautilus shells to spiral galaxies many light years across.

This mountain ash tree reminded me of the child’s game where you clench your fist and the child pries open your fingers one by one until they find that there is nothing there, but when the fist is a mountain ash bud there is something there; flower buds. The leaves open to reveal flower buds, already there.

Some native dogwoods have the same secret as mountain ash; the leaves unfurl to reveal flower buds.

Sugar maple buds are very beautiful with their pink bud scales and I’m always grateful to have seen them in spring when they’re at their best. And there is that spiral again.

Some maple leaves are quicker than others, even when they grow on the same branch.

I thought these new red maple leaves with the sun shining on them were very beautiful. The scene only lasted a few moments but that was enough. It stayed with me all day.

The fuzzy pink and orange bud scales of a striped maple pull back and what happens thereafter happens quickly, so you’ve got to be aware of what the plant is doing and what stage it is in. This is why, once bud break begins to happen, I check them regularly.

Because I wouldn’t want to miss the unusual strings of bell shaped flowers that appear on striped maples. Some trees have hundreds of them, and just the slightest breeze gets them all swaying back and forth up over your head.

Here was a Norway maple (Crimson king) with everything showing; open bud scales, new purple leaves, flowers. and even seeds. Invasive yes, but beautiful as well.

This is what poison ivy looks like when it first appears in spring; beautifully red. I know the plant well and would never intentionally touch it but I got into it when I was taking this photo and I just finally stopped itching. You can get the rash even from the leafless stems and that’s usually where I get it.

Poison ivy can be beautiful enough so you want to touch it, but if you do you’re liable to be sorry. I’m not super allergic to it but I get a rash from it every year and itch for a week or two. Luckily with me it stays on the body part that touched it and doesn’t spread, but I’ve known people who became covered by its rash and had to be hospitalized. Admire it from a distance.

I wondered and wondered what kind of tree this was until I finally noticed a tag on it. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I scanned the tag and learned that it was a dawn redwood, which is an ancient, once endangered species of tree from China. It was once so rare that in 1941 it was declared extinct but then two small groves were discovered in a valley in central China. Before that there were only fossils from the Mesozoic Era which were 150 million or more years old. So what is a beautiful dawn redwood doing in Keene, New Hampshire of all places? Seeds from living trees were distributed all over the world and now you can actually buy a dawn redwood from a nursery for your front yard if you’d like. Chances are you’ll be the only ones on the street to have one. Mankind does do things right every now and then.

So here we are in the middle of May, a flowery month if there ever was one, and we’ve seen all of this beauty without hardly seeing a single flower. I remember how surprised I was when I saw my first shagbark hickory bud opening, like the one in the above photo. I couldn’t believe that something as simple and everyday as a tree bud could be so beautiful. It helped open my eyes to the fact that all of life is beautiful, everywhere I looked and in any season of the year. I hope you’ll go out and see it for yourself if you are able. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere. ~Vincent van Gogh

Thanks for stopping in. I hope all of your days will be beauty filled.

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It seems like every flower I see comes with memories and lilacs remind me of carrying huge bunches of them to my grandmother when I was a boy. Lilacs, apple blossoms and anything else that had a fragrance found its way into my hands and up her stairs.

If the lilacs hadn’t bloomed yet I picked lily of the valley and violets for my grandmother and I can remember more than once carrying a fist full of wilted flowers up to her, even dandelions. Her name was Lilly and she loved all flowers, even the weeds.

I don’t remember seeing dog violets (Viola labradorica) back then but she would have loved their pale blue color, I’m sure. But she would have had a surprise when she smelled them because the name “dog violet” means a violet without a scent, as opposed to sweet scented violets. I don’t see many of these but I’d like to see more because they’re very pretty.

I can’t explain how they did it but these bluets (Houstonia caerulea) came up in a strangely circular pattern.

I’ve seen lots of ajuga (Ajuga reptans) and have spent a lot of time weeding it out of lawns but I can’t ever remember seeing flowers this pretty on it, so I’m not sure if this is a cultivar or not. It did not have the deep bronze / purple leaves I’m used to seeing on ajuga.  Ajuga is a groundcover originally from Europe and it can be very invasive. It is also called “bugle weed” and in times past it was called “carpenter’s herb” for its supposed ability to stop bleeding.

From the very common to the very rare; dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) is one of those plants you have to look for because it doesn’t like disturbed ground and so will only grow in soil that has been untended for many years. It is very small and hard to see; the plant in the photo could have fit in a tea cup with room to spare. This is not the ginseng used in herbal medicine and it should never be picked. I only know of two places to find it and between the two there are probably only a dozen plants growing.

Individual dwarf ginseng flowers are about 1/8″ across and have 5 white petals, a short white calyx, and 5 white stamens. The flowers might last three weeks, and if pollinated are followed by tiny yellow fruits. Little seems to be known about which insects might visit the plant.

Our native hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) have now fully opened and they are blossoming beautifully this year. Easily one of our most beautiful native shrubs, they can be seen along roadways and rail trails, and even mountainsides.

The larger, sterile flowers around the outer edge of the hobblebush flower heads (corymbs) opened earlier and the small fertile flowers in the center have just opened and can now be pollinated. Hobblebush gets its name from the long wiry branches that are often under the leaves. They can trip you up or “hobble” you as was once said, and I’ve fallen a few times while walking through a colony of them.

There are thought to be over 200 species of viburnum and one of the most fragrant is the mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii,) named after the mayflower or trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) because of its scent. It is an old fashioned, much loved shrub that is also called Korean spicebush. The flower heads are on the small size, maybe as big as a small tangerine, but the scent from one shrub full of them can be detected from a long way off.

Red currant (Ribes rubrum or Ribes sativum) bushes were once grown on farms all over the United States but the plant was found to harbor white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola,) so in the early 1900s, the federal and state governments outlawed the growing of currants and gooseberries to prevent the spread of the disease. The fungus attacks both currants and white pines (Pinus strobus,) which must live near each other for the blister rust fungus to complete its life cycle. Black currants (Ribes nigrum) are especially susceptible. The federal ban was lifted in 1966 but some states still ban the sale of currants and gooseberries.

The plant’s flowers might not win a blue ribbon for beauty but that’s okay because currants are grown for their berries. Fruits range in color from dark red to pink, yellow, white and beige, and they continue to sweeten on the bush even after they seem to be fully ripe. Though often called “wild currant” red currant is native to Europe and has escaped. I found these examples on land that was once farmland.

Peach trees are blooming. I don’t know the name of this one but its fruit only reaches the size of a walnut before dropping off each year. I think it gets too late a start here to fully develop its fruit.

This phlox has had me scratching my head for years, wondering what it was. Google lens says it is the native wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) but I don’t think that is correct. Wild blue phlox isn’t native to New Hampshire but since it’s in a local park it could be. It’s a beautiful plant that stands about two feet tall and has five petaled, fragrant flowers that are the palest blue. (Or maybe lavender) The petals are fused at the base and form a tube. If you happen to recognize it I’d love to hear from you.

Note: A reader agrees that this is indeed wild blue phlox, so hooray for Google lens.

I also find spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) growing in a local park. It’s a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to.

The small flowers are quite pretty. Like orchids, in a way.

Tulips are still blooming by the hundreds. The hot temperatures in April brought them along early and they’ve enjoyed the cool weather since, so it seems like they’ve gone on and on.

These lily flowered ones caught my eye but they don’t really remind me of lilies. Instead they reminded me of a lady I once worked for who had me plant hundreds of tulip bulbs each fall so she could cut the flowers and bring them inside in the spring. Once all the flowers had all been cut I had to dig all the bulbs from the garden and plant annuals. It was a lot of work even though the bulbs weren’t saved from year to year.

Even daffodils are still blooming.

I’ve been going to see the wild ginger (Asarum canadense) for a couple of weeks now and finally found it in bloom. Its heart shaped leaves are quite hairy and I can’t think of another plant it could be easily confused with. I’d guess that it’s blooming about a week or two later than usual this year. I think the cool weather held it back some despite all of its hairiness.

The flower buds are also very hairy.

A wild ginger flower has no petals; it is made up of 3 triangular shaped calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. You might think, because of its meat-like color, that flies would happily visit this flower and they do occasionally, but they have little to nothing to do with the plant’s pollination. It is thought they crawl into the flower simply to get warm. Several scientific studies have shown that they are self-pollinated. The long rhizomes of wild ginger were used by Native Americans as a seasoning. It has similar aromatic properties as true ginger but the plant has been found to contain aristolochic acid, which is a carcinogenic compound that can cause kidney damage. Native Americans also used the plant medicinally for a large variety of ailments.

It’s hard to believe but the tree leaves have come along already so our forest dwelling spring ephemerals like red trilliums (Trillium erectum) are all but done for another year. Their time is brief but they bring much joy while they’re here with us.

Beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) are the hardest of all the spring ephemerals to say goodbye to for me. They come early in spring and gladden the heart for a month or so and then disappear until the following spring. I visit them regularly while they’re here and miss seeing them the rest of the time, but I know they’ll be back. There is nothing quite like finding them blooming in the dead leaves on a cold, windy March day. All thoughts of winter are instantly erased from the mind.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change. ~Buddha

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I’m opening this post with an old fashioned shrub that many of you may not know, even though it’s hard to mistake a Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) for any other shrub. Its pinkish orange blooms appear on thorny branches long before its leaves. The plant is in the apple family and has edible fruit that is said to make excellent jelly. It is also the toughest shrub I know of. If you have a sunny spot where nothing will grow just plant a quince there and your problem will be solved. It is indestructible and 100% maintenance free, unless you feel the need to trim it. In the 1800s this plant was often called simply Japonica.

If you don’t like the orange pink color of the quince flowers in these photos there are also red, pink and white flowered cultivars.

I knew I was too far away from this shadbush to get a good shot but I’m showing it here so you can see how shadbushes grow naturally and so you can see the painterly quality that is sometimes found in photos. If I was still painting I’d be all over this because I think it shows the beauty of spring.

Here is a closer look at what was so impressionistically out of focus in the previous photo; the beautiful blossoms of the shadbush, named after the shad fish that once swam in our rivers in numbers so great they couldn’t be counted. And if you want names this one has many; shadblow, serviceberry, June berry, and Saskatoon among them. Its Sunday go to meeting name is Amelanchier canadensis, and there are many cultivars that have been developed for gardens. In nature it tends to be a bit tall, narrow and lanky and bends into the sun, so hybridizers have come up with smaller trees that are bushier and more compact. Native Americans made arrows from its wood and used its fruit for food, often in pemmican. Its fruit is said to taste better than even blueberries, and that’s high praise in New England.

New Hampshire has four native cherry trees: black cherry (Prunus serotina), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), and wild American plum (Prunus americana). The blossoms in the above photo are pin cherry blossoms, which are very early. Choke cherries come along soon after.

The bell shaped dangling flowers of sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) are so humble and unassuming you could walk by a forest full of them and not know it. And that’s where they like to grow; on the forest floor. In botanical terms the word sessile describes how one part of a plant joins another. In sessile leaved bellwort the leaves are sessile against the stem, meaning they lie flat against the stem with no stalk, and you can see that in the photo. New plants, before the flowers appear, can resemble Solomon’s seal at a glance. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats.

You’ll see one or two strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) each day for a week or so and then all of the sudden you’ll see them everywhere. I found this one along the shores of the river but I have a small sunny embankment in my yard that becomes covered with wild strawberry blossoms each year at this time. The soil there is very sandy and dry so I’m always surprised to see such large amounts of blossoms. The fruits are very tasty but also very small so it takes quite a bit of picking for even a handful. My daughter and son used to love them when they were small.

I saw the first highbush blueberry blossom (Vaccinium corymbosum) of the year. If all goes well and we don’t have a late frost we should have a good crop this year. Blueberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America. The other two are cranberries and concord grapes, but then I wonder about crabapples, which are also native fruits. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used the plant medicinally, spiritually, and of course as a food. One of their favorites was a pudding made with dried blueberries and cornmeal.

Crabapples have just come into bloom and we have many, both cultivated and wild. This one grows in a field near an old abandoned factory. I like its deep color. The crab apple is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The nine herbs charm was used for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The other eight were mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, plantain, mayweed, nettle, thyme and fennel.

Apple blossoms are one of those flowers that always make me think of my grandmother, because she loved them and I loved bringing them to her.

The hand size flower heads on hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) were spaced evenly all along a branch. They’re blossoming beautifully this year and I’ve never seen so many; they grow alongside many of our roads and are easily seen. The large sterile flowers have opened but the tiny fertile flowers in the center are holding back. Moose and deer will eat the shrub right back to the ground, and ruffed grouse, brown thrasher, Swainson’s thrush, cedar waxwings, red-eyed vireos, and pine grosbeaks eat the berries. They are one of our most beautiful native shrubs; George Washington thought so highly of them he planted two at Mt. Vernon.

The flowers on two of the three eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis) that I know of were killed by frost and that’s really too bad, but the hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. Even though these trees were sheltered by buildings the cold still found them.

Common blue violets (Viola sororia) have just appeared and though I’m happy to see them I doubt many flower gardeners are. Though pretty, these little plants can over take a garden in no time at all if left to their own devices.

Violets are known for their prolific seed production. They have petal-less flowers called cleistogamous flowers which fling their seeds out of the 3 part seed capsules with force. They do this in summer when we think they aren’t blooming. Personally I tired of fighting them a long time ago and now I just enjoy them. They’re very pretty little things and their leaves and flowers are even edible. Though called “blue” they’re usually a shade of purple. We colorblind people don’t mind.

White violets seem shyer than the blue / purple ones.  I see one white for every hundred purple. I think they are the white wood violet (Viola sororia albiflora.) Note how the blue lines in its throat guide an insect to where the prize is found.

I was surprised to find a small group of yellow violets blooming. I think this is only the third time I’ve seen yellow violets, and I think they must be on the rare side here. I think these were either the round leaved yellow violet (Viola rotundifolia) which likes to grow in rich woods. Or the downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens,) which likes the same conditions. Native Americans had many uses for violets. They made blue dye from them to dye their arrows with and also soaked corn seed in an infusion made from the roots before it was planted to keep insect pests from eating the seeds. The Inuktitut Eskimo people placed stems and flowers among their clothes to give them a sweet fragrance, and almost all tribes ate the leaves and flowers.

One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen was a large field of dandelions and violets blooming together. Nature brings the two plants together naturally, as this small grouping reminded me the other day. In my opinion it’s the perfect combination.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) have just started blooming but they are sun lovers so there’s a good chance they won’t be blooming much longer with the trees leafing out.

Wood anemone is very similar to false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum.) Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) which is also similar, also grows in New Hampshire, which complicates being able to identify these plants. While false rue anemone is native to the eastern U.S., the USDA and other sources say that it doesn’t grow in New England, so that leaves wood anemone and rue anemone. False rue anemone always has 5 white sepals, while wood anemone and true rue anemone can have more.

I first saw this very pretty little plant for the first time last year. It stands maybe a foot tall and the pretty flowers cover the plant. It is called the perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus vernus) and this example grows in a local park.

Bradford pear blossoms (Pyrus calleryana) have pretty plum colored anthers but that’s about all this tree has going for it. Originally from central Asia and the Middle East the tree was introduced by the USDA in  1966 as a near perfect ornamental urban landscape tree, loaded with pretty white blossoms in spring and shiny green leaves the rest of the time. But problems quickly became evident; the tree has weak wood and loses branches regularly, and birds love the tiny pears it produces, which means that it is quite invasive. In the wild it forms nearly impenetrable thickets and out competes native trees. And the pretty flowers? Their scent has been compared to everything from rotting fish to an open trash bin, so whatever you do don’t plant a Bradford pear.

I found an old ornamental cherry in bloom where I work. Since there are over one thousand varieties of cherry in the U.S. it’s doubtful that I’ll ever be able to tell you its name but its beauty was welcome on a cool spring day.

This bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) grows in a local park. It gets its common name from its pretty, heart shaped blossoms. Each blossom, if looked at from the right angle, appears to have a drop of “blood” dripping from it, and that’s where the name comes from.

A few trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have finally come into bloom, quite later than usual. Their flowers remind me of small versions of Canada lilies because except for their leaves, that’s just what they look like. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked their small bulbs or dried them for winter food.  Black bears also love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

My favorite part of a trout lily blossom is its back, because of the very beautiful markings. Of course beauty as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, so why not just take a little time and behold?

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

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We’ve had a colder week with daytime temps in the 40s and nighttime temps in the 20s and though it has slowed a lot of flowers down it hasn’t stopped them, as this new red trillium (Trillium erectum) blossom shows. Red (or purple) trilliums are our earliest, followed by nodding and then painted trilliums. Red trilliums are also one of our largest spring ephemeral flowers. Everything about them is in threes.

From one of the largest spring ephemerals to one of the smallest; goldthread plants have just started blooming. The shiny, three part leaves and small, aspirin size flowers are sure signs that you’ve found goldthread.

There’s a lot going on in a goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) blossom, despite its small size. The tiny styles curve like long necked birds and the even smaller white tipped stamens fill the center of a goldthread blossom. The white, petal like sepals last only a short time and will fall off, leaving the tiny golden yellow club-like true petals behind. The ends of the petals are cup shaped and hold nectar.

I was dismayed to find that, as I was crawling around trying to get a photo of goldthread, my foot inadvertently pulled up a plant. Well, I thought, at least we’ll be able to see the golden root, and here it is in the photo above. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. I can tell you that many tens of thousands of plants would have had to have been destroyed to make up a pound of roots, because this one weighed next to nothing. Dry, it would have weighed even less. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) blossomed in a sunny spot on a lawn. Ground ivy was introduced into North America as an ornamental and medicinal plant as early as the 1800s, when it immediately began taking over the continent. But nobody seems to mind. The purple flowers have a very light minty scent that isn’t at all overpowering unless you mow down a large patch that has taken over the lawn. This is one of those flowers that takes me back to my childhood, because it grew everywhere that I did.

I don’t remember ever seeing henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) when I was a boy but it must have been here. It was reported in New York’s Hudson valley in 1751. It is another annual in the mint family and is edible.

I’ve read that small birds love the seeds of henbit and hummingbirds love their nectar. They always seem a bit clownish to me; like a cartoonist had drawn them.

If only you could smell these magnolia flowers. If the afterlife is scented surely one of those scents will come from magnolias. To sit outside on a warm spring evening with their scent in the air is something you just never forget.

As you can imagine you see a certain amount of death when you spend a lot of time in nature. Every now and then I stumble upon something that is as beautiful in death as it was in life; insects, mushrooms, and this magnolia blossom that looked as if it had been carved out of wood. I hope you too can appreciate its beauty.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is a trailing plant from Europe. It is also invasive but has been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship though. In the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere, as the plants you see here do. it is nowhere near as aggressive as many non-natives so we enjoy its beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

Another name for vinca is Myrtle and that’s what I’ve always called it. It has a flower of sixes, double that of trillium.

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria officinalis ) has just started blooming. Other than spring bulbs, this perennial is one of the earliest to bloom in spring. It prefers shady places so it is valuable in gardens that get little sun. During the middle ages in Europe lungwort, which is another name for the plant, was considered dangerous because the grey spots on its leaves were associated with an infected lung. Later, it was used to treat lung disorders. The scientific name Pulmonaria comes from the Latin pulmo, meaning lung.

Dandelions are having a great year so far. I’ve never seen them bloom so profusely.

Just look at all of those seed heads in waiting.

I’m seeing more and more trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) each year and that’s a good thing, because it was once over collected almost to the point of oblivion. My grandmother always called this, her favorite flower, mayflower. She always wanted to show it to me but back then it was so scarce we could never find any.

Violas are loving the cool weather. All plants in the pansy family can take a lot of cold and that’s why they’re an early spring staple for window boxes and flower pots. They chase away the winter blues that so many seem to suffer from.

Here is another look at the beautiful bulb bed that I showed in the last flower post. It’s just about done now.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) has just come into bloom and before long it will be in bloom everywhere I go. Creeping phlox is native to the forests of North America. Another plant called creeping phlox is Phlox stolonifera, native to the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

One way to tell Phlox subulata from stolonifera is to look for the darker band of color around the center of each flower; only Phlox subulata has it. Creeping phlox is also called moss phlox or moss pinks.

Hellebores are another plant that can stand a lot of cold. Pliny said that if an eagle saw you digging up a hellebore it (the eagle) would cause your death. He also said that you should draw a circle around the plant, face east and offer a prayer before digging it up. Apparently doing so would appease the eagle. I can’t even guess how such a belief would have gotten started.

This is a fine example of why I can sometimes kneel in front of a flower and have no idea how long I’ve been there.

My grandmother taught me that it was best to cut lilacs and bring them to her when the flowers just started to open. In that way all the  other buds would open inside so she could enjoy their fragrance longer. I would watch them closely and when just a few blossoms showed I’d bring them in to her. They seem to be doing well this year. In fact many plants are doing better than they have in a long time.

It’s time to say goodbye to the vernal witch hazels. What joy they’ve brought to spring,

A redbud tree (Cercis Canadensis) showed me how it got its name. Eastern redbud  is not native to New Hampshire but I do find them here and there. Do to the cold weather this one has refused to go beyond bud. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted.

I hoped to show you some trout lily blossoms in this post but they’re being stubborn so instead I’ll show you the spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) that grow with them. They’re with us just a very short time so I hope you won’t get tired of seeing them.

This is what a forest floor covered by spring beauties looks like. It’s a rare sight, and is one I’ve been wanting to show you for years. It isn’t a great shot but it gives you an idea of what forest flowers look like. Once the leaves come out on the trees, their short lives are over. And I will miss them.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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Have you ever gone outside on a spring morning and found the day so beautiful you wanted to throw out your arms and shout thank you? That’s what this day started like, with a beautiful blue sky and wall to wall sunshine. And with all of the red maples so full of red buds; I knew I had to go and find some flowers.

But it was still a little cool and I was afraid most flowers wouldn’t have opened yet, so I went to the river. I found ice baubles had grown over night on the shrubs that line the riverbank, so it had gotten colder than I thought.

The ice baubles form when river water splashes onto a twig or anything else and freezes. Slowly, splash by splash often a round ice ball will form. They’re usually as clear as crystal but these seemed to have a lot of bubbles in them.

There were waves on the river so I thought I’d practice catching one with my camera. I don’t use burst mode; when each wave comes I click the shutter, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds because there can be three or four small waves between big ones, so you have to sync yourself to the rhythm of the river. Sometimes you get a miss like this shot was. Just a bit too early for a really good curl but I love the colors.

And sometimes you’re a little too late. I find that there are times when I can “give myself” to the river and get shot after shot of breaking waves. I can’t really describe what giving myself to the river is, but your mind clears and you shoot each wave almost without really trying. I sometimes call it stepping out of myself or losing myself, and it’s always wonderful when it happens. You find that you can do things you didn’t know you could do, like reading waves.

As I was leaving the river I saw a bit of ice in a depression in a boulder. It looked like it had a face in it. Was it an elf? It was wearing a stocking cap, whatever it was.

Wildflowers are coming along and I saw my first dandelion. Since I found one blooming in February last year I’ve now seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year. Believe it or not I have more trouble finding them in summer these days than I do in the colder months. I know many people think of dandelions as weeds but to me all flowers are beautiful and there’s nothing cheerier than a field of dandelion blossoms in March. In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen was a field of dandelions and violets all blooming together. My grandmother used to cook dandelion greens like spinach for me, so I suppose they’re part of me.

I also saw henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) blooming. Henbit gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means “clasping” and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. It’s from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I rarely see it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Here is what the foliage of henbit looks like for those who have never seen it. I find growing along with ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which the foliage resembles in shape but not in habit. Henbit stands taller than ground ivy and the leaves are a different shade of green in early spring. Those of ground ivy lean more toward dark purple in early spring.

I also saw what I think were some very crinkly hollyhock leaves. I don’t know if they appear very early or if they live under the snow all winter.

We who live in New England have a fifth season called “mud season” and it is upon us now. Sometimes it can really be brutal; in the old days schools were often closed for a month because of it.

Here is a view, courtesy of the Cheshire County Historical Society, of what mud season can do. This was taken in Westmoreland, New Hampshire sometime in the 1940s. Gravel roads become a sea of mud and very little in the way of motorized transport can get through it. It begins when the upper foot or two of soil thaws but anything under that stays frozen. Water can’t penetrate the frozen soil so it sits on top of it, mixing with the thawed soil and making dirt roads a muddy quagmire. It’s like quicksand and it’s hellish trying to drive through it because you’re usually stuck in it before you realize how deep it is.

Snowdrops were living up to their name up in Hancock where there is still snow. When I was gardening professionally not a single client grew snowdrops and as far as I know nobody in my family did either, so I don’t know them well. I do know that they’re scarce in this area; I see small clumps of 4 or 5 flowers here and there every spring but not the huge drifts of them that I’ve seen online. They simply don’t seem to like it here and that could be because they aren’t used to our kind of below zero cold. I’ve read that they’re in the amaryllis family so maybe that’s why.  

I went to see the budded daffodils that I saw last week. I was sure they’d be blooming but not yet. We’ve had a coolish week so maybe they’re waiting for that silent signal. I have a feeling these will be white daffodils because of the bud shape. Of course they might not open at all; I once worked for an English lady who complained about bud blast in her white daffodils. Most springs they would start to open and then, just as they were showing a little color they would die off. Either a freeze or a hot spell can cause it and these have been through both. White varieties appear to be much more susceptible to bud blast than the yellows.

Tulips are growing fast. These had doubled in size in a week.

One of my favorite spring bulbs, the reticulated iris, doesn’t seem to be doing well this year. Or maybe they’re just Petering out. I’ve never grown any myself but I’ve heard they just fade out after awhile.

I went to see if the skunk cabbages were showing any foliage growth yet but didn’t see a single leaf. The ground had thawed in their swamp so rather than kneel down it wet mud I sat on a hummock beside them to get this shot with my phone. I thought about that silent signal as I sat there; the one that calls the red winged blackbirds back and makes the spring peepers peep and the turtles come up out of the mud. It’s doubtful that the signal is heard by the critters, I thought, so it must be felt. But if that is so, why can’t I feel it? But then I thought about how I wanted to throw out my arms and shout my joy that morning and wondered if maybe I did feel it and just didn’t know it. The things that come to mind when you’re sitting on a hummock in a swamp.

I would have bet breakfast that the willows would be in bloom but they held back like the daffodils. In fact many things are holding back but this week is supposed to be in the 50s and 60s, so that should coax all the plants that haven’t dared to dip their toes into spring to finally jump in with a splash.

The violas were still blooming just the way they were a week previous, so the weather doesn’t bother them at all. The pansy family is made up of cool weather lovers anyhow, so I wasn’t surprised.

The witch hazels were still going strong too. What a glorious fragrance!

Crocuses certainly aren’t holding back. Blue (purple?) ones have joined the yellows I saw last week. The gardener is going to wish he’d raked those leaves before the flowers came up. Now he or she is going to have to hand pick them.

This one is certainly purple, and very beautiful as well. The first crocuses of the year just do something to you. They let you know that yes, spring really is here despite the forecast.

These crocuses grow under redbud trees and don’t see sunlight until the afternoon so they hadn’t opened yet. I was disappointed until I saw how beautiful the unopened blossoms were, and then I didn’t care. How lucky we are to have such beauty in our lives. And everywhere you look, too. It really is a wonder we can get anything done.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

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After a warmer than average week in which records were broken, plants are responding. These red maple buds (Acer rubrum) were in the process of opening when I went to see them, and I knew that by the way the bud scales were no longer tightly clasping the buds. Sap flow to the buds causes them to swell up and this forces the bud scales open. It’s a beautiful thing if you happen to be a lover of spring.

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) on the other hand, showed little signs of movement. They usually open a week or so after red maples, so I wasn’t surprised.

This particular box elder still had seeds from last year. They are bigger than the seeds of other trees in the maple family and a single tree can produce many thousands of them.  

The alder catkin (Alnus incana) over on the right looked like it was showing a little green. That’s what they do before they start to open; become multi-colored for a short time.

I went to see if I could find some female American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) again but all I saw were last year’s hazelnuts.

Big, shiny, and sometimes sticky poplar buds have released their fuzzy catkins. At this stage they resemble willow catkins somewhat but they will stay gray and will lengthen to sometimes 5 or 6 inches. These bud scales were not sticky and that tells me this was a quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), because that is the only member of the poplar family with catkins like these that doesn’t have sticky bud scales. Balsam poplar catkins (Populus balsamifera) look much the same but their brown bud scales are very sticky to the touch.

The willows (Salix) are now fully out and just about to flower.

If you look closely at a willow catkin and blow gently on the gray hairs you can see the structure of the flowers inside. I’d guess, depending on the weather, that these will be flowering next weekend.

Most of the snow has melted now and it has all run into the Ashuelot River. The forecast for the coming week is for more average temps in the 40s F., so any further melting will be gentle. There is still ice on the trails but it won’t be there for much longer.

The tiny white flowers of what I think are hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) have opened. These flowers are so tiny you could hide this entire bouquet behind a pea. I spent a while on my knees and elbows with my nose almost in the dirt getting this shot.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw buds on these daffodils. They must be an early variety.

Hyacinths are budded up and ready to go.

Tulips are gathering sunshine with their leaves but I haven’t seen any buds yet.

I did see crocus buds, and this one was very beautiful. It will open pure white inside.

There were also crocus flowers.

Lots of crocus flowers.

Johnny jump ups were adding their special sweetness to spring.

They’re such pretty little things. It’s no wonder some call them “heart’s ease”. Kneeling there beside them certainly did my heart good.

And I finally saw a reticulated iris blossom. They’re late this year; they usually blossom about a week before the crocuses do. I’ve even taken photos of them covered in snow.

As I thought they would be the spring blooming witch hazels were in nearly full bloom. I wish you could smell them. Their fragrance can be detected a block away and it’s wonderful. Someone once described them as smelling like clean laundry that had just been taken off the line but it’s a little spicier than that, I think.

In any event they’re a beautiful thing to find on a blustery March day.

I thought I’d give you a bee’s eye view, even though it may not be bees that pollinate these flowers. Owlet moths pollinate fall blooming witch hazels.

This one was over the top. With its long, bright yellow petals it was just a joy to see.

Witch hazel is one of only a handful of plants that have flowers, buds and seed pods all showing at the same time. In fact the name Hamamelis comes from the Greek words “hama” which means “at same time” and “mêlon”, meaning “fruit”.

I checked a flower bed the day before and saw three yellow crocus buds. On this day I found many clusters just like this one. Hundreds of blossoms had appeared in less than 24 hours. When spring is determined to happen It can happen quickly.

And spring will be beautiful; we can always count on that.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

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Last Sunday I decided to go looking for the tiny female flowers of the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), and I could think of no better place to find them than a rail trail. They usually grow all along rail trails and I knew I wouldn’t have to look very hard to find them on this trail in Keene.

Part of the trail was muddy, I was surprised to see.

But other parts were icy. Packed down snow from lots of foot traffic turns to ice quickly.

But luckily I had my micro spikes on. I once slid down an icy hillside with Yaktrax on, so I switched to micro spikes at a friend’s prodding. You don’t slip with these on, so if you’re a winter hiker you might want to look into them.

I found the hazelnuts easily. Some of the male catkins were deformed like these, which seems common, but they had taken on a look of more yellow than green and were getting pliable, so I was encouraged that they knew spring was happening.

I looked at hazelnut branches until my eyes crossed but I couldn’t find a single bud with female blossoms. This photo from a previous year shows the female flowers in relation to a paperclip so you can see how small they really are. I’m not sure why they aren’t blooming yet. I’ve seen skunk cabbages flowering and that’s usually a sign that the hazels are too. Oh well, when they’re ready I’ll find them. I’m sure they know what they’re doing better than I do.

Small white, downy feathers fluttered in the breeze on one of the hazel stems.

Hazels will quite often hang onto their leaves well into winter but this was the only one I saw on this day. It was a warm, orangey brown but it didn’t do much to warm me in the wind that always seems to blow along this trail. It comes out of the west and it howls sometimes.

I looked off to the west and saw, miles away, that there was still snow on the hillsides. The wind comes roaring over these hills sometimes so maybe that’s why the wind I was in felt cold. I’m not sure why this photo came out so strangely colored. Maybe there was a haze I couldn’t see.

I saw three large animal burrows that had been freshly dug but this was the only one I could get close to. Judging by the large mound of soil this one was deep.

The side view shows the soil mound a little better. I was surprised to see that it was really nothing but sand; I wouldn’t have thought the railroad would have used sand as a rail bed. These holes were big enough to be woodchuck holes. Since woodchucks are burrowing animals and are common here I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. I tried to find tracks but saw none.

The other two burrows were well protected by multiflora rose canes so I couldn’t get near them without shredding my clothes.

One of our Covid vaccination sites is near this trail and I saw this big army truck over across the way, so the shots are probably being administered by National Guard volunteers. It seemed to be parked so it would block the road. My turn comes soon so I’ll find out.

Last year I came out here and was surprised to find hundreds of willows, so I thought I’d check them for catkins. Though many of our willows are golden yellow these were very red.

Willows play host to many galls and if you like galls this is the time of year to look for them. This one was caused by a tiny midge called the willow beaked gall midge (Rabdophaga rididae). The gall started life as a bud until the midge caused the tissues to form a hard gall instead. These galls often come to a point which looks like a beak, hence the name. This one shows how red this particular species of willow is.

Here was another pretty gall that forms on the very tip of willow branches. It’s called a terminal rosette gall, which is also known as a camellia or rose gall. It is caused by another midge (Rabdophaga rosaria) which turns the terminal bud into what looks like a beautiful flower. This midge will choose any of at least 6 different species of willow so it’s hard to identify the willow by the gall. In fact willows are notoriously hard to identify because they cross breed so readily. As Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.”

Gray, furry willow pine cone galls appear on the very tips of willow branches, because that’s where a midge called (Rabdophaga strobiloides) lays its egg. Once the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into the branch tip and the willow reacts by forming a gall around them. These galls are about as big as the tip of your thumb. Galls might seem unsightly but they do not harm the plant.

I saw two or three small bird’s nests in the willows. I would think the birds would eat the midges that cause the galls but I don’t suppose they can catch them all. This nest appeared to be made mostly of grasses.

Young poplars were glowing in the sunshine and dancing in the wind. The poplars and the willows will be forever young because the power company cuts them to the ground every few years.

Soon these willow catkins will be bright yellow flowers. Since last Sunday when I took these photos we’ve had a week of record breaking warmth so they may even be blooming today. I’ll have to go and see. I hope you’ll see flowers in your travels too; I think we all need some flowers.

The snow in winter, the flowers in spring. There is no deeper reality. ~Marty Rubin

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In typical March fashion the first week of the month was cold and very windy, so it came in like a lion. Everyone I know is hoping it goes out like a lamb but meanwhile the snow is still melting, and with sixty degree temperatures expected in the near future I’d guess that this scene will be snow free by the weekend. I’ve been itching to climb again but with all the ice that came with February I haven’t done it.  Instead last weekend I went wandering, just to see what I could see.

I wondered if the red winged blackbirds had returned so I went to a place I knew they’d be if they had, but I didn’t hear them. I did see that ice had re-formed on the stream though.

There are plenty of cattails for them to build nests with when they do come back. There is a pond I go to where I can walk right along the edge, just where the cattails grow, and I often scare the female red winged blackbirds when I do, so I know that the nests are tucked down in the stems, quite close to the water. I’ve seen females picking large grubs out of the previous year’s decomposing stems as well, so nature has provided everything they need in a cattail stand; both food and nesting material. They’ll be back before long.

 I saw a group of mallards and as usual they were rushing away as fast as they could go. Usually when I get shots of mallards I see more tailfeathers than anything else. They’re very skittish in these parts.

I believe these were willows but they grew on the far side of another stream so I couldn’t get close to them, but many of the willows that grow here have yellow or yellowish branches in spring. I thought their color was very spring like and beautiful whatever they were, so I was happy to see them. They made an impressionistic scene, I thought. Or maybe post-impressionistic; I can see Van Gogh painting it.

I went to the river thinking I might see some interesting ice formations but I think the water was too high for them. Instead I admired the beautiful texture and colors of the water. It really is amazing how the appearance of river water changes. It’s very dependent on the quality of the light.

Closer to shore the sunlit ripples were hypnotizing.

A fallen tree had washed downriver and become stuck on the rocks, and it showed just how cold it was.

This ice is so clear it can’t be seen, but those bubbles were trapped under it.

This ice was anything but clear. I couldn’t tell if the patterns I saw were part of the ice itself or what was under it, but I liked them.

Much like beech and oak leaves do, black locust seed pods (Robinia pseudoacacia) often fall in spring and this one had landed in an icy footprint. You often see these pods with one side gone and the seeds open to the elements, just as these were.

The tiny brown seeds of a black locust look like miniature beans and that’s because they are in the same legume family. Their coating is very tough and they can remain viable for many years. They’re also very toxic and should never be eaten.

There is a stone in a local park that has what appear to be paw prints in it. Not on it; they’re actually depressions in the stone. They’re small like a housecat’s paw and I can’t imagine what might have made them or even if they really are animal prints, but seeing them always gets me wondering. Maybe they were just gas bubbles that popped as the magma that the stone came from was cooling, or maybe they’re impressions from ancient leaves that fell in mud that hardened. I didn’t bother to try to figure out if the stone was sedimentary or igneous but maybe one day.

Speaking of stones, here is a well made stone wall to contrast all the “thrown” and “tossed” walls I’ve shown on this blog. This is just the kind of wall I used to build; a puzzle made of stone, and I miss being able to do it.

I saw a beech tree, large and fairly old, with buds on it that are quite different from our native beech buds. Instead of thin, long and pointed like a native beech it was short and more round, so I think it must be a European beech (Fagus sylvatica). I’ve read that they can escape cultivation but this one lives on the grounds of the local college, so I can’t say it has done that. I’ll have to get a look at its leaves later on.

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) with their two bud scales are good examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. Nannyberry is another of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit. Native Americans ate them fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally.

While I was thinking of buds I thought I’d check on the red maple buds (Acer rubrum). I didn’t see any open yet but the outer bud scales are definitely pulling back.

I saw a skunk cabbage spathe (Symplocarpus foetidus) that had opened so of course I had to look inside at the spadix.

There were plenty of flowers on the spadix and they were releasing pollen already. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects.

Lots of animals have been waiting all winter for anything green so I’m sure they’ll be happy to see green grass again. I’ve seen both porcupines and muskrats eating dead grass in winter.

I went back to see how the cold had affected the spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) and found that all of the petals had rolled themselves back into the wooly buds so they didn’t get damaged. With 60 degrees right around the corner I’m guessing that they’ll be in full bloom by the weekend.

The thing that surprised me most was finding crocuses showing color. Though this flower bed isn’t in my yard I know it well enough to know that it has quite a few reticulated irises in it and they have always bloomed before the crocuses. Maybe the gardener pulled up all the irises? I don’t know.

Wandering souls discover sleepless dreams. ~Paul Sachudhanandam

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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

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