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Posts Tagged ‘Staghorn Sumac Bud’

We had a good string of 50-degree weather last week but of course on the weekend it dropped back down into the 20s F. and even snowed, just enough to slick up the roads and be a nuisance. That’s why we call them nuisance storms. Anyhow I’d had glimpses here and there of what looked like the Ashuelot River flooding and I wanted to see if what I thought I saw was actually happening, so I chose a section of rail trail in Keene that more or less follows the river. This was not a day for photography; all 3 cameras I carried had a hard time but I can’t tell you why. It was as if there was a mist in the air that only the cameras could see, so we’ll just have to pretend we’re walking into an impressionist painting.

The first thing I noticed was a flock of robins in the trees but I couldn’t tell what they were eating until I saw this photo, which tells me their food was the berries of the invasive Oriental Bittersweet. Unfortunately it doesn’t show the entire bird but it shows enough. It looked like he’d eaten enough berries to last for a week, but I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends, so I didn’t say anything. Maybe he had just puffed himself up.

Further down the trail I saw a nest from last year that would have been the right size for a robin, so I think a lot of them live out here. There’s plenty for them to eat. When I was a boy, this area was filled with Baltimore orioles but I haven’t seen one here in years, and I think it’s because the type of fruit they ate no longer grows out here. I don’t see many wild grapes, for instance.

There were a lot of invasive burning bush berries but thankfully the birds were leaving them alone.

They had eaten all the native staghorn sumac berries so that was a good thing. Since I couldn’t get a shot of any sumac fruit I settled for a bud instead. It looked as much animal as vegetable but these buds are naked with no bud scales, so they use hairs to keep from freezing.

You have to really know hazelnut catkins to tell, but they are losing their green color and starting to turn just a little golden colored. They’re also lengthening and becoming pliable rather than stiff, as they’ve been all winter. These are all signs that the shrubs are switching from winter to spring mode and are getting ready to produce pollen. It won’t be that long before I have to start watching for the tiny scarlet threads of the female blossoms.

The catkins hold the male flowers, which are all arranged in a spiral around a central stalk. Each tiny group of hairs seen here is on the edge of a bud scale, and soon these scales will lift to reveal the golden pollen bearing male flowers underneath. It’s an event I’m looking forward to, very much.

Here was a sign that made me happy but I wish the deep cut trail in Westmoreland had been included. The drainage ditches have completely failed up there.

Before I decided to walk this trail, I got out of the car and walked a short way to make sure there wasn’t any ice. All I found was gravel but right after the sign in the previous shot there it was, and someone had slipped on it. There’s nothing worse than light snow on ice. It’s very slippery and now I was going to have to walk over half the trail on it. I knew I should have worn spikes. I hope the person who slipped didn’t fall and get hurt. I see quite a lot of older folks out here.

Some were even riding bikes out here. I’m not sure I’d do that on ice but maybe the tires had spikes.

I saw a very unusual oak gall, at least in my experience. It looked like this on one side….

….and it looked like this on the other side. Usually they are smooth and very hard. These galls form when an insect called a rough bullet gall wasp lays its eggs on part of the tree, be it leaves or twigs. They are of course called bullet galls and are maybe twice the diameter of a pea. They will often grow in large clusters of many galls but though this tree had many on it they all grew singly.

Here was something I had been wondering about for years and I thought maybe the new camera could show me what I couldn’t see. I’m talking about all those dark “pits” on the underside of beech leaves.

The new camera did a fine job of showing me that they weren’t pits at all. They looked like some type of gall. I looked them up and found that they are called “Erineum patches.” They are created by eriophyid mites and they don’t really hurt the tree unless there are very large numbers of them. Each patch is made up of tiny hairs that grow from the tissue of the leaf but you would need at least 40X magnification to see them or the mites that create them. The new camera is good but not quite that good, so we’ll just have to imagine creatures so small they can’t be seen.

This is what you see on the upper surface of the leaf; what look like pock marks. I see these all the time so I’m glad to finally know what they’re all about. Thanks goes to Ohio State University Extension Service for help in solving this riddle.

I had to say “wow” when I saw that the whole forest had flooded, even though the river was running very fast. Apparently, there is nowhere for all the water to go down to the south of town, so it’s backing up.

I went down the embankment as far as I dared to see if I could get shots that weren’t looking through brush. The noises from the ice cracking, hissing and groaning, were amazing. It might be as flat as a dance floor but it’s very alive and it lets you know it. Life is always flowing, even when it appears still.

Almost all of the trees here are red or silver maples and they can stand this kind of treatment but still, it was amzing to see. I used to play here as a boy and I used to see the river flood, but I can’t remember ever seeing it quite like this. The reflections must be beautiful under a blue sky.

Here was the trestle. I hoped to get a good view of the ice from there.

And there was what was supposed to be Ash Brook. It had grown many times over its normal width.

I can’t even guess what made that pattern in the ice. It looked like foam had frozen into it but where the foam came from, I don’t know.

The dark area shows where the channel of Ash Brook would normally be. I was flabbergasted by the extent of the flooding, and I left hoping no homes along the river had flooded. We lived just feet away from the river when I was a boy and each spring the river would rise just to the top of its banks but not spill over on our side. I hope that’s still true. The street I lived on isn’t far from here.

The blue sap on this white pine told me how cold it was but I didn’t really need its help because after being surrounded by all this ice I was chilled just about to the bone. I made it back to the car without slipping on the ice and the thermometer read only 27 degrees, so there would be no melting on this day. The next day, Monday was supposed to reach 50, so we’re on the spring roller coaster as far as temperatures go.

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. ~Loren Eiseley

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Ever since I was a boy I’ve gotten an itch to start looking at buds at this time of year and I’ve learned a lot from them. They can tell you a lot about the plant they grow on; just counting the bud scales, for instance, will help identify a tree or shrub even in the dead of winter. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

Buds that have several scales like the gray birch bud seen here are called imbricate buds, with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof, and it can be seen on this bud. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud.

Gray birch fruit appears as 2 inch long cylindrical clusters of winged nutlets growing at the branch tips. Birds eat them all winter long, and when all the nutlets are gone the stick like core is all that remains. One of those can be seen in the upper left. Ruffed grouse will eat both the buds and catkins and pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds of gray birch. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) with their two scales are another example of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. Nannyberry is one of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit.

Native Americans ate nannyberry fruit fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally. They also used the berries in jam with wild grapes. According to the book The Origins of English Words nanny berry is also called sheep berry and that name comes from its fruit, which is said to resemble sheep droppings. The nanny part of the name comes from the nanny goat. Squirrels and birds are said to eat the fruit but I see huge numbers of them still on the bushes well into winter.

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) buds are ovoid with a short stalk and have 4 overlapping dark purple scales, so they are imbricate. This is one of our prettiest native viburnums, from its white flowers in may to its incredibly colored leaves in fall. Its leaves can be pink, purple, yellow, orange or even white and sometimes a combination of 2 or 3 colors.

Maple leaved viburnum’s dark blue berry like fruits are called drupes. Botanically speaking a drupe is a fleshy fruit which contains a single seed with a hard outer shell, like a peach or a cherry. Birds and small animals gobble them up so it isn’t often you see them in spring. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the imbricate bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) The large, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. Due to a cold spring New Hampshire only produced 148,000 gallons of syrup in 2019, which was average to below average, according to producers.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but they’ve been used for years as landscape trees so the genie has been let out of the bottle and now there is no stopping them. The Norway maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the sugar maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

One of the smallest buds I know belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. Hawthorn berries are called haws and are said to have medicinal value. Native Americans mixed the dried haws and other fruits with dried venison and fat to make pemmican.  The dried flowers, leaves, and haws can be used to make a tea to soothe sore throats, and hawthorn also shows promise for treating heart disease.

I could look at a calendar to see when spring begins but I prefer watching the plants in the forest, because they’re rarely wrong. The terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shown in the above photo are quite large and can fool you into thinking that they are swelling because of spring sap flow but no, they’re this way all winter.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open in spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

I’ve never paid much attention to the buds of basswood (Tilia americana) but the way the terminal bud grows at an angle from the twig reminds me of blueberry buds. It was red and resin covered and had only two bud scales which overlapped. I’ve read that they can sometimes have just one bud scale as well. I can’t explain why this twig was so withered. Basswood is native to New England and the Midwest. Its lightweight wood is often the choice of wood carvers, much like balsa wood, and its tough inner bark was used for rope and mats by Native Americans.

This bud is from a speckled alder (Alnus incana,) and it has two bud scales so it is valvate. They and the twigs are also covered in fine velvet.  Speckled alder is a bit unusual because its branches can have three kinds of buds; leaf buds, male catkins, and female catkins. Catkins are essentially long strings of flower buds growing spirally (usually) around a central stem. I love to watch alder catkins in spring for signs of them opening. When they begin to open the catkins lengthen and their reddish color becomes speckled with golden pollen. They’re quite beautiful.

Witch hazel buds (Hamamelis virginiana) are light, yellow brown and they are hairy, with no bud scales. That means they are naked buds and the hairs protect them instead of bud scales. These buds, as do most of the buds seen here, form in the fall and spend the winter resting and waiting for spring, so they have a long period when the buds must be protected.

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) also have no bud scales so their naked buds are also hairy. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what its branches feel like. Native Americans made a drink from this tree’s berries that tasted just like lemonade, and grinding the berries produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

I’ve spent many winters watching the buds of trees and bushes, especially those right around my house like the lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo. I check it regularly starting in February for signs of swelling. In winter buds are my connection to spring and I love watching the bud scales finally open to reveal tiny leaves or flowers. The lilac bud above is a good example of an imbricate bud.

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like lilacs fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds. This one was half the length of my thumb. Buds found on known plants around the yard are a good place to start studying them, if you’d like to learn more.

If you are open to being taught by nature, go listen to the trees. ~Kenneth Meadows

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