Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Staghorn Sumac’

If there was ever a plant so beautiful that it made me want to kneel before it it is the greater purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora.) Like a two foot tall bush full of beautiful butterflies it hides away in a swamp, burning with the light of creation, seen by only a very few lucky souls.

What can I say about something so beautiful? Orchids are the most highly evolved of all the flowering plants and they are also among the most beautiful. This one leaves me speechless, because I know I’m in the presense of something very special. That’s why I feel that I should do nothing to disturb it. I take a few photos and leave it until next year when hopefully, it will reappear. I’m very happy that I can show you such a rare and beautiful thing.

Some flowers seem to just refuse to cooperate when a camera is pointed at them and enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis) is one of those. I usually have to try again and again to get a good photo of it and this year was no different. Luckily this shade lover grows in my own yard so I have plenty of opportunities to take its photo. This isn’t one of the best I’ve taken but it shows what I’d like you to see. Each tiny 1/8 inch wide flower consists of 2 white petals that are split deeply enough to look like 4, 2 green sepals, 2 stamens, and a tiny central style. At the base of each flower there is a 2 celled ovary that is green and covered with stiff hooked hairs, and this becomes the plant’s bur like seed pod, which sticks to just about anything. When a plant’s seed pods have evolved to be spread about by sticking to the feathers and fur of birds and animals the process is called epizoochory. The burs on burdock plants are probably the best known examples of epizoochory.

Here is a tiny enchanter’s nightshade blossom on a penny that I took previously. They’re among the smallest flowers that I try to photograph for this blog. Enchanter’s nightshade gets its scientific name Circaea from Circe, an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey with a fondness for turning men into swine. There are similar plants native to Europe and Asia.

A bee had filled its little pollen sacs quickly in a patch of brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea,) which had just started blooming. I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this plant is also from Europe and according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name. The flowers seem to be very darkly colored this year, or maybe that’s because they had just opened.

At a glance motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) might resemble one of the nettle family but the square stems show it to be in the mint family. The tiny flowers grow in a whorl around the stem in the leaf axils. This plant, originally from Asia, is considered an invasive weed but I don’t see it that often and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 2 or 3 plants growing together.  It was brought to this country because of its long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. The ancient Greeks and Romans used motherwort medicinally and it is still used today to decrease nervous irritability and quiet the nervous system. There is supposed to be no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and it is sold in powdered and liquid form. The tiny flowers of motherwort are very hairy and look like a microscopic orchid. They’re also very hard to get a good shot of because of both their size and color.

Another wort is black swallow wort (Cynanchum louiseae.)  The word wort by the way, was generally used to indicate that a plant had some medicinal value and it was often attached to the word for the body part that it was believed to help. That doesn’t seem to fit in the case of swallow wort however, unless it was used to help one swallow. The plant is in the milkweed family and like other milkweeds its flowers become small green pods that will eventually turn brown and split open to release their seeds to the wind. This plant also has a sharp, hard to describe odor that is noticed when any part of it is bruised. It originally came from Europe and in 1867 Gray’s Manual of Botany reported it as “a weed escaping from gardens in the Cambridge Massachusetts area.” In Canada it’s called the dog strangler vine, because its twinning stems are like wire.

Many plants that can take a lot of shade have large, light gathering leaves and the shade tolerant purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) shows that very well. This plant is in the rose family and the 2 inch wide flowers might look like a rose at a glance. It has no thorns like roses or raspberries however. The fruit looks like a large raspberry but is on the tart, dry side. Native Americans had over 100 uses for this plant, both as food and medicine.

This view shows the newer darker flowers of flowering raspberry as well as the older, lighter colored flowers. Flowering raspberry once got me a job as a gardener, so it holds a special place in my heart. A man called me to his house and asked me a few plant related questions and finally said that if I could tell him what the plants in his hedge were, he’d hire me.  I told him they were flowering raspberry and he hired me right there on the spot, and I worked for him for many years afterwards. This native shrub makes a great landscape specimen, especially in shade gardens, and it’s too bad that more people don’t use it. It attracts both birds and butterflies and can take anything that a New England winter can throw at it.

I thought I’d show you a rose so you could see how different it looks from the flowering raspberry. We have three native wild roses here in the U.S., the Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana,) the prairie rose (Rosa arkansana) and the wild rose (Rosa acicularis.) We also have roses that appear to be wild but which have escaped cultivation. None are truly invasive here and I think it’s safe to say that all are welcome. I found this beautifully scented example on the edge of a forest.

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) gets its common name from the fringe of hairs on its leafstalks, but sometimes the flower petals are also fringed. It’s a cheery, pretty plant that often gets overlooked because there is just so much in bloom at this time of year. The flowers of fringed loosestrife are unusual because of the way they offer oils instead of nectar to insects. The oils are called elaiosomes and are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. They are rich in lipids and proteins. Many plants have elaiosomes that attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed them to their larvae. Trout lily is another plant with elaiosomes. Native Americans used all of our yellow loosestrifes medicinally for various ailments, usually in the form of tea.

I was surprised to see how darkly colored the tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) flowers are this year. These flowers are usually a lighter ice blue but sometimes they can be quite dark. They grow in a cluster at the very top of the sometimes six foot tall plant. Tall blue lettuce is easily confused with tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) when it isn’t blossoming, but tall blue lettuce has hairy leaves and tall lettuce doesn’t. Native Americans had medicinal uses for both of the plants.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has just started blooming here and I’ve already seen a few monarch butterflies in the area. I keep hoping they’ll make a comeback and we’ll once again see them in the numbers we did when I was a boy. Several times I’ve meant to write about how complicated milkweed flowers are to pollinate but the process is so complicated the task always ends up in my too hard basket. Instead I’ll just ask that you trust me when I say that it’s nearly a miracle that these flowers get pollinated at all. I’ll enjoy their beauty and their wonderful scent while trusting that nature will see to it that they’re pollinated, just as they have been for millennia.

The common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) doesn’t have Lilium in its scientific name because daylilies aren’t a true lily. It’s a plant you’ll find growing near old stone cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere and along old New England roads. It is also found in cemeteries, often planted beside the oldest graves. It is one of those plants that were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread quickly because of it. These days it is one of those plants that new homeowners go out and dig up when they can’t afford to buy plants for their gardens. It is both loved for being so easy to grow and hated for being so common. It was introduced into the United States from Asia in the late 1800s as an ornamental and plant breeders have now registered over 40,000 cultivars, all of which have “ditch lily” genes and all of which have the potential to spread just like the original has. If you find yourself doing battle with a particularly weedy daylily, no matter the color, there’s a very good chance that the common orange is one of its parents. I know people who mow it after it flowers and it comes right back the following year.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and have 5 petal-like, rounded sepals. In the center of the flower are green carpels that come together and will form the purple black berry. It happens quickly and you can find both flowers and fruit in all stages of growth on a single flower head (Raceme.) Pokeweed was called pocon by Native Americans. The Delaware tribe used the plant as a heart stimulant and other tribes made a salve from it and used it as a cure for rheumatism. If it isn’t used correctly pokeweed can be toxic.

Native Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina ) has just started flowering. Before long these flower clusters will be bright red berries from which a good substitute for lemonade can be made. This plant is much more common in this area than smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) Smooth sumac has very shiny, smooth leaves and does not have hairy stems. 

Staghorn sumac is another flower that most of us, myself included, pass by without a glance. It’s another of those flowers that won’t win any prizes but insects must love them, judging by how each flower head becomes a cluster of bright red, fuzzy berries. Each greenish yellow flower is about 1/4 inch across and has 5 curved petals, a 5 lobed calyx, 5 stamens, and a central pistil, all of which are so tiny I can’t even see them by eye alone.

I know of only one spot to find Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) and it’s worth going to see it. From what I’ve read it is not a true nettle, but instead is a member of the nightshade family. The flowers have five petals and are usually white or purple with yellow centers. There is a blue variant that resembles the tomato flower, which makes sense since tomatoes are also in the nightshade family. The flowers have no scent but the foliage has a certain odor that I find disagreeable. The fruits resemble tomatoes and are sometimes called devil’s tomatoes. Unripe fruit is dark green with light green stripes, turning yellow and wrinkled as it ripens. Each fruit contains around 60 seeds but the plant spreads successfully by underground stems (rhizomes.)  

Horse nettle’s stem and undersides of larger leaf veins are covered with spines and I can attest to their sharpness. It’s hard to grab it anywhere, even for a photo. This plant is native to our southern states, so why it is growing here is a mystery. It seems to like where it grows and I find more plants growing there each year. I can see its spreading becoming a real problem. Native Americans used the plant as an antispasmodic and sedative, and I’ve also read that it is used to treat epilepsy but all parts of the plant are poisonous and eating it, especially the fruit, can cause death. Pheasant, Bobwhite, Turkeys and Skunks are said to eat the fruit.

If you see a flat topped flower cluster like this one on a native dogwood it’s either a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) or red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea.) If the flower cluster is slightly mounded it is most likely a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa.) 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. This silky Dogwood  will have berries that start out blue and white and then turn fully blue.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this huge patch of goldenrod blooming at the end of June. I like goldenrod enough to actually grow it but I think these plants were pushing it a bit. It’s a late summer, early fall flower after all. Still, it’s hard not to love it. Just look at that color.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday I needed to see something new, so I decided on the rail trail that heads south out of Keene to Swanzey, Troy, Fitzwilliam, and eventually the Massachusetts border. I’ve done the northern and southern legs of the trail but never this middle section. I started my hike on this amazing stone arch bridge. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of the stones. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

The bridge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means it earned a little money for upkeep. Part of the upkeep involved upgrading the drainage and laying a new bed of pea stone where the trains would have run. It seems to be still as solid as the day it was built.

Here is a postcard view of the bridge, probably from the early 1900s. The view and landscape is very different today of course. These postcards were usually actual photos colored by hand but I think this one was a drawing.

The white building in the postcard view is no longer there. This view from the top of the bridge looks west towards Vermont. It was a partly cloudy, very windy day and the gusts felt like they might blow me right off the bridge so I didn’t hang around up here for very long. We’ve had at least some wind nearly every day for over a month now.

I saw some very symmetrical horsetails. This is one plant you do not want in your garden because once you have them you’ll never be rid of them. When I had my gardening business I tried just about everything I could think of including covering them with black plastic for a full year. They loved it and grew on as if nothing had happened.

I also saw some very red new leaves on the staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina.

The trail is wide and dry for the most part because the drainage channels that the railroad built 150 years ago are still working.

Skunk currants (Ribes glandulosum) grew in patches here and there along the trail. I’ve read that the plant gets its common name from the odor given off by its ripe dark red berries, which doesn’t sound too appealing but they are said to be very tasty. If you can get past the smell, I assume. This is a very hairy plant; even its fruit has hairs. The Native Ojibwa people used the root of skunk currant to ease back pain but it is not a favorite of foresters or timber harvesters because it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.

Skunk currant flowers are quite small at about 1/4 inch across. They are saucer shaped with 5 petals and 5 purple stamens.

Unfortunately I also saw a lot of garlic mustard out here. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant once used as an edible pot herb. This plant forms large colonies and chokes out natives by poisoning the soil with compounds called glucosinolates that leach into the soil and kill off many soil fungi that native species depend on to survive. It grows from 1-4 feet tall and has a strong but pleasant garlic / onion odor when the leaves are crushed. It spreads quickly and prefers growing in shaded forests. It isn’t uncommon to find areas where no growing thing can be seen on the forest floor but this plant. It is considered one of the worst invasive species because of its ability to spread rapidly and is found in all but 14 U.S. states, including Alaska and large parts of Canada. Maybe if we all decided to eat it, it would prove to be less of a problem. According to what I’ve read, the young spring plants are delicious.

The sunshine seemed to always be just up around the next bend. Until I got to the next bend, that is. By then it had disappeared.

This is a typical New Hampshire mixed forest with mostly pine, hemlock, cherry, beech, oak, maple and white and gray birch. Also this single beautiful golden birch.

I saw a small bird’s nest in a cherry sapling. It was about 5-6 inches across so a small bird must have made it.

Violets bloomed all along the trail. I thought this might be an early blue violet but since my color finding software sees mostly purple, I’ll just call it a violet. It had long above ground rhizomes that I’ve never seen on a violet.

Sessile leaved bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) grew along the drainage channels in groups. I’ve seen them carpet large areas of forest floor so I had the feeling that they must have just gotten started here. They’re in the lily of the valley family, which can also form large colonies.

This signal post looked new, and that’s because someone had painted it. I’m not sure why anyone would but there it was, looking like it had just been installed yesterday.

I was very surprised to see skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) growing on a wet hillside. I’ve read that eating the leaves can cause burning and inflammation but something had eaten many of the leaves. Often animals don’t have the same reaction to plants that we do. Birds even eat poison ivy berries.

This is a photo of the fruit of a skunk cabbage which is a rare sight, even for those of us who look for such things.

I saw just two red trilliums (Trillium erectum) out here. I also saw Jack in the pulpit, starflowers, and lots of fern fiddleheads. The trilliums and our other spring ephemerals will probably be done by the time this post is read. Leaves on the trees and warmer weather finish their short bloom periods quickly.

I saw lots of wild sarsaparilla plants (Aralia nudicaulis) just unfurling their leaves. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves. One way to tell the two apart is by the stem. Poison ivy usually has an older, woody stem while sarsaparilla has a fresh, tender stem. The roots of this plant were once used to make root beer but the drink that was called sarsaparilla contained no part of the plant. It was made from birch oil and sassafras root.

There were already flower buds on some sarsaparilla plants. They’ll bloom in late May, with ping pong ball size flowerheads made up of tiny individual flowers.

I thought these new oak leaves were beautiful, both in color and shape. They were soft like velvet, and there were flower buds as well.

A broken whistle post told me that a road was coming up. What looks like an M is really an upside down W. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post, because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle.

There was indeed a road; route 12 south out of Keene parallels the rail trail and I had walked to the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey. Only 2.2 miles by car from where I started, so I’d guess it was a two mile walk.

And that meant that it was two miles back, but on such a sweet spring day with birds singing in the trees two miles didn’t seem like anything, really. It was one of those days that gets inside you and lets you see how wonderful this life really is, and there was no hurry to get anywhere or to do anything. I felt doubly blessed.

Some journeys take you farther from where you come from, but closer to where you belong. ~Ron Franscell

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone is able to find some outdoor time.

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday I decided to skip climbing and walk a familiar rail trail instead. Though it had been a warm week it was a cold enough weekend to have ice on the trails and I left my micro spikes at work, so climbing was out. I was still happy to be on this trail though because I’ve walked here since I was just a boy. At that time trains ran through here though, so it’s always a different feel. 

Right off I saw the beautiful blue of black raspberry canes. I think I must have been 12 or 13 before I got serious enough about plants to begin reading botany books but before that I read anything by Henry David Thoreau because I loved how he was so interested in nature. I suppose I loved that about him because I was interested in the same things, and it was here along this trail that I began to wonder about the things I saw, just like he did in Concord, Massachusetts. I wondered for instance, why these canes were blue, and I found that they had a waxy coating that protected them from getting too much sunlight. You could wipe it right off the cane, and like any wax it would melt and disappear in the summer heat. That’s why this beautiful color is seen more in winter than in summer. It’s my favorite shade of blue.

The wind roars over the hills to the west and blows through here with what is sometimes quite a strong wind and these virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) were blowing all around when I took their photo. Of course this is just what the plant wants, because it grows those long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. This is a common but pretty native clematis that drapes itself over shrubs and climbs into trees all along this trail.

Bright yellow fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa) grew on an old black cherry. People worry that lichens will hurt a tree but they simply use tree bark as a roosting place much like a bird would, and don’t harm the tree in any way. A tree’s bark will often grow in ways that allow the tree to shed any rain water quickly in what I think of as vertical streams, and you’ll often find lichens growing right alongside these streams, as these were. This particular lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good.

Some of the trees that might have been saplings when I first came through here 50+ years ago are already dying. I’d guess they’re American elms, which are still falling to Dutch elm disease. Keene was once called the “Elm City” but no more. There are very few left.

There are grape vines in the trees everywhere out here and this was the first place that I ever noticed how much the forest smelled like grape jelly on warm fall days, thanks to the overripe fruit. There were lots of different kinds of native fruit out here and I suppose that was why I used to see so many Baltimore orioles.

I checked the hazelnuts (Corylus americana) to see how spring was affecting the catkins. They’re taking on a more golden color, as these show. You can also see the edges of bud scales, and that means they’re starting to open. Before long we’ll see strings of golden male hazel flowers everywhere. Then I’ll start looking for the tiny female flowers. A male hazelnut catkin more or less, is a string of flowers which will open in a spiral pattern around a central stem. The pollen these flowers produce will be carried by the wind to the sticky female flowers and we’ll have another crop of hazelnuts.

I’m seeing maples hanging onto their leaves more these days than I have in the past. At least it seems that way.

I don’t remember ever seeing smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) growing here when I was a boy but they’re here now, though not in the same numbers as staghorn sumac. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds supposedly love them but the berries are usually still there in spring until the migratory birds come through.

I was going to say the same thing about staghorn sumac berries (Rhus typhina) not being eaten but I happened upon a flock of robins that were gobbling them up. You can see one sitting on a sumac in the center of this photo. My camera doesn’t have enough reach to do birds the right way, so you might have to hunt a bit. Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers also eat these berries.

The seed eaters haven’t hardly touched the black-eyed Susan seeds (Rudbeckia hirta,) which seems odd. In my yard they go fast.

The tiny, seed-pearl like seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) were going fast. This little bit was all that was left on a three foot tall plant. Once these seeds mature they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw or cooked. The plant’s common name comes from their curly edges.

I’m seeing lots of pussy willows now. I found a new spot where there were lots of bushes.

But I haven’t seen any of the yellow willow flowers coming yet. Maybe this weekend.

 Willows often have pine cone galls on them, caused by a gall midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides). The midge lays an egg in the terminal leaf bud of a willow in early spring and the larva releases a chemical that tricks the willow into creating this gall instead of leaves. The midge spends winter inside the gall and emerges in the following spring, so the entire cycle takes a full year. It is fascinating things like this, found all along these railroad tracks, which kept me interested in nature when I was a boy. I saw something new almost every time I went out, and I still do.

Here was an icy spot on the trail but most of it was easy walking.

This is just an abstract shot of puddle ice that I saw. I was fascinated by the perfectly round “jewel” that grew in the ice.

Last year’s grasses were on ice and I liked their stained glass look.

Mosses were glowing in the sunshine. We think of mosses as shade lovers but everything needs sunlight, even if it’s only an hour each day.

I wanted to walk on this trail not only for the memories but also to see the Frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia) that lives here. I looked and looked for a dime size white spot on a maple tree but I couldn’t find it. It’s a beautiful thing and this photo taken previously shows the only example of it I’ve ever seen. I’ve found it twice, but today wasn’t the day. The only other lichen I know of with blue fruiting bodies is the smoky eye boulder lichen and that one has blue apothecia only in a certain light. The spherical fruiting bodies on this lichen, called ascomata, are blue in any light and they don’t change color when they dry out. They are also very small; each blue dot is hardly bigger than a period made by a pencil on a piece of paper, so lichen hunters need to carry a good loupe or a camera that is macro capable.

Instead of the beauty of the lichen I settled for the more stark beauty of the moon. In made me remember how, in the summer of 1969 I ran outside after we had landed on it. I thought I might see the lunar orbiter going around and around it, but I never did.

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness. ~Michelangelo

Thanks for stopping in. Stay safe, everyone.

Read Full Post »

On Sunday, February 2nd Punxsutawney Phil, King of the weather predicting Groundhogs, didn’t see his shadow when he was removed from his burrow. Some might think that this simply meant that Phil woke under a cloudy sky, but it meant far more than that to The King; he immediately declared that we would see an early spring.  So, bolstered by Phil’s decree, I went off in search of spring. As you can see by the above photo, I didn’t find it; at least not right away. In fact all it has done is snow since Phil made his announcement.

This is what it looked like one morning on my way to work. Yes, it was cold too. Since Phil’s decree we reached 8 below zero F. one night; the coldest it’s been all winter. I’m voting we leave Phil in his burrow next year and let him sleep until he wants to wake up.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” the old saying goes, so this beautiful evening sky gave me hope that the weather would turn.

As of this writing we’re still getting a storm each week but they’ve carried little snow. What you see here amounts to maybe 4 inches at most. After every storm it warms up and melts a lot of the snow that fell. I read recently that scientists studying our dwindling snow cover have found that trees are suffering, because when the insulating qualities of snow are gone the soil can freeze deeper, and this can kill a tree’s feeder roots. Instead of expending energy of growing new leaves and branches trees have to divert their energy to re-growing their roots. Without the life giving energy from photosynthesis that more leaves provide a tree can weaken, and that increases the possibility of attacks from insects and fungi.

When you plow even 4 inches into a pile it looks like a lot more.

But it’s melting in the woods, as this patch of American wintergreen shows. All those plants and I couldn’t find a single berry. When I was a boy my grandmother often took me walking through the woods to teach me what she knew about wild plants. One of the first plants I remember getting to know is the Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen. My grandmother and I would pick the small red berries from the plant she always called checkerberry until we each had a handful, and then we would have a refreshing, spicy feast in the forest. Chewing the leaves can also be refreshing when hiking on a hot day. In the past, the leaves were also chewed by Native Americans to relieve pain.

Lilac buds showed no signs of opening but they did look like they might be swelling some. We dug a hole where I work and found that the frost is only 5 inches down in the ground. It’s usually much deeper and can reach nearly 4 feet in very cold winters. That’s why all of our water pipes have to be buried at least 4 feet deep, otherwise they could freeze and burst.  

I always start checking American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) bushes early for signs of life. So far the male catkins aren’t doing much and I haven’t seen any of the tiny female flowers either, but it won’t be too long. I have a feeling they’ll be early this year. When the catkins open there will be a single bright, yellow-green, male flower peeking out from under each of those diamond shaped bud scales. They grow and bloom in a spiral down the length of the catkin.

I’ve always assumed that migrating birds ate the staghorn sumac berries because nothing touches them until spring. There are thousand of berries in this one photo and not one of them has been eaten, even though I heard robins nearby. I also saw black capped chickadees and dark eyed juncos.

Nothing had been eating the wild grapes hanging from this pine tree either. I was surprised because grapes usually do get eaten quickly.

I wanted to just sit by the river and think one day-I was in that kind of mood-but every stone was covered with ice and snow so there was no dry place to sit. This is what the shoreline looked like; a half inch of ice covered everything.

But the river itself remains unfrozen. So far it hasn’t frozen over in any of the usual places this winter.

Sometimes in spring the river fills itself from bank to bank but so far this year it’s shallow enough to walk across. You’d think it was August by this photo but since we’ve had so little snow to fill it with snowmelt I wasn’t surprised.

The trees in this photo are tipped with gold and that’s a sure sign that things are changing. I think they were poplars but I couldn’t get close enough to find out for sure. Poplar buds swell early and some species have catkins that look like pussy willows.

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 like those seen here. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins and when they start to open a tomato red color can be seen between the scales. 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.

Crocus leaves poked up out of the ice.

And daffodils poked up out of the soil in a raised bed. They were a surprise.

But the biggest surprise of all came in the form of spring blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) blossoming. Until now the earliest I’ve ever seen them bloom was February 23rd but these bloomed a full week earlier. Their strap like petals can curl up into the bud if it gets cold and then unfurl again on warm days, so you don’t see too many that have been frost bitten.

There was a large building between me and the witch hazels but I could still smell their wonderful, clean fragrance. It’s so good to see them again; I was ready for spring a month ago so I’m glad the groundhog got it right.  

It starts with a gentle southerly breeze; a soft, warm breath. The sun grows stronger and its warmth penetrates the soil a little deeper each day, and as the soil warms the yearly miracle will begin. Once started it won’t be stopped; sap is starting to flow and soon buds will swell to bursting. An indescribable beauty will cover the earth and as usual I will be here, trying to describe the indescribable. I do hope you’ll be able to get out there and see it for yourself. It’s so much better than reading about it.

Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush.  ~Doug Larson

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many things in nature will turn blue when it gets cold enough. Ice can be blue and so can the sap of the white pine tree. I’ve also seen the white striations that give striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) its name turn blue. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped like this. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Santa brought me some Kahtoola Micro Spikes for Christmas this year, so of course I had to try them. On the day after Christmas I decided that climbing Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard would be as good a trial as any and as luck would have it the trail was covered in snow and ice. I’ve heard a lot of good things about micro spikes and I have to say that I won’t be without them from now on. I purposely walked over ice with them on and didn’t slip or skid at all.

I found this photo online for those who haven’t seen micro spikes. They really grip.

The message was a good one but was a little late, I thought. Or maybe it was me who saw it too late.

There was quite a pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree, so I looked up.

Sure enough a pileated woodpecker had been looking for lunch. Pileated woodpeckers are our largest woodpecker and you can tell their holes by the more or less rectangular shape. The unusual thing about this was the perfectly round holes made by a smaller woodpecker inside the pileated woodpecker holes. I’ve never seen this before. The smaller bird was smart to let the bigger bird do most of the work. If there are carpenter ants inside they’re usually in the heartwood of the tree.

Before you know it you’re at the meadow where Scottish Highland cattle sometimes graze. I didn’t see any on this day though.

The trail takes a sharp left at the meadow and gets a little steeper. So far legs, lungs and micro spikes were all working well but the snow had melted on this leg of the trail.

The crunchy, frozen soil told me I was walking on ice needles and there were plenty of them to see. A lot has to happen for these to form but I’ve explained it many times, so I’ll spare you this time. It has to be cold for them to form, with the temperature right at 32 degrees at the soil surface. Air temperature was about 22 degrees F. when I started.

Hoar frost grew around the mouths of chipmunk and snake holes in the soil. The earth’s warm breath meeting the cold air of winter.

Stone walls made me think of the Pitcher family, who settled here in the 1700s and most likely built this wall. They gave their name to this mountain.

One of my favorite places marks the second sharp left turn along the trail. After essentially living in a forest all of my life wide open places like this one seem almost other worldly. It’s just you, the earth and the sky. Minimalism at its finest.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I doubt that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well, but they haven’t melted into the soil. I think the ground must have heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. I saw that this had happened in several places along the trail.

The inner bark of staghorn sumac is sometimes brightly colored like the thin strip at the top of this piece, which my color finding software tells me is coral and salmon pink along with a little orange. I saw that colorful strip and peeled the section of bark it was on. I was surprised to see that the inner bark still attached to the wood was Indian red, dark salmon pink, and a lot of sienna. Why this bark colors like this when the tree dies, I don’t know.

When bark is removed from a tree, as long as the tree isn’t girdled it will live and try to heal itself, but I’ve been watching this young staghorn sumac for a few years and it hasn’t healed at all. I think that’s because deer are using it to rub their antlers on, because the wound on the tree is always fresh. Male white tail deer, called bucks, rub their antlers on trees for different reasons, but it seems fitting that they would choose a staghorn sumac. Staghorn sumacs get that name because of the hairs all along their stems that resemble the velvet on a stag’s antlers. Maybe this deer thought he was fencing with another deer.

You can get a glimpse of the fire tower through the trees in some spots. The sunshine was glaring off the windows on this day.

The old ranger cabin is having a relatively easy winter so far but I’m sure it has seen winters up here when the snow almost buried it. The concrete piers and blocks it rests on have all shifted and I wonder how much longer it will be able to resist the pull of gravity. I wouldn’t be surprised to climb up here one day and find that it had tumbled down the mountainside.

The fire tower must be manned at some point during the year but I’ve only seen people in it once out of all the times I’ve been up here. There were a lot of people up here that day and they all wanted to get into the tower, so I passed on it.

It can be very windy up here so the tower is tied down to the bedrock by steel cables. The tie down shown was used for the original tower, which burned in 1940 in one of the worst forest fires this state has ever seen. 27,000 acres burned, including all the trees on this summit.

The views weren’t too bad but it was windy and that made it feel colder so I didn’t stay long.

I liked this view because you could see how snowy the distant hills were.

There was ice on the summit but I didn’t worry about slipping with the micros spikes on. They even seem to make walking on uneven stones easier.

A close look at the bedrock on the summit shows that it is almost entirely covered by lichens.

One of my favorite lichens that grow here is the common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina.) This pretty lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and it was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. How they ever got it off the stones, I don’t know.

Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have. ~Ken Ilgunas

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Read Full Post »

As I said in my last post, it rained here every day for a week. The mushrooms are almost jumping up out of the ground and I hope to find enough for a full fungus post in the near future. Meanwhile here is what I think are yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) but since my fungi identifying skills aren’t what they should be I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Yellow patches gets its common name from the yellow bits of universal veil on its cap. You can just see them on the smaller example. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As it grows it eventually breaks the veil and pieces of it are left on the cap. Rain can wash them off and I’m guessing that’s what happened on the larger example. The rains have been torrential.

Without any human intervention trees get wounded in the forest. It can happen when one tree falls and hits another or sometimes when a large branch falls. Squirrels chew bark, woodpeckers drill holes. In any event a wounded tree is not that unusual, even when it is black and weeping like the wound on this oak was, but what caught my eye were those tiny yellow-orange dots in the upper center of this photo.

I was very surprised to find that the tiny dots were eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata.) This is only the third time I’ve seen them and I don’t know much about them, but I thought they only lived on dead wood. Very well soaked dead wood, in fact; the two previous examples I saw were growing on twigs lying in the standing water of a seep. Eyelash fungi are in the cup fungus family. The hairs on them can move and curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body.

I walked through a field of milkweed looking for monarch butterflies or their caterpillars. I never did see the monarchs but I saw an amazing amount of other insects, including hundreds of bumblebees.

An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was on a milkweed plant but flew off to a Queen Anne’s lace blossom before I could get a photo. These butterflies have been skittish all summer and have hardly sat still at all for me, so I was a bit befuddled when this one finally let me take as many shots as I wanted.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify what I thought was a common butterfly. It was a small one; much smaller than a swallowtail, maybe about the size of a cabbage white. It liked hawkweed and flew from blossom to blossom in a patch of panicled hawkweed. I think it was a silvery checker spot; at least, that’s the closest I could come by looking at similar examples. It was a pretty little thing, whatever its name.

A Japanese beetle looked like a shiny jewel on a milkweed leaf. These beetles do a lot of damage here but this year they don’t seem to have the staggering numbers they’ve had in the past.

Red spotted milkweed beetles hid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The scientific name of this beetle, Tetraopes, means “four eyes” in Greek. This longhorn beetle is unusual because of the way the base of its long antennae bisect its eyes. The antennae actually splits each eye in two, so they do indeed have four eyes. It is thought that these beetles ingest toxins from milkweed plants to protect them from predators, just like monarch butterflies do. The red and black colors are also there to warn predators.

I thought a milkweed leaf had a tiny gall on it, but when I tapped on it with my fingernail it started to move.

And it moved pretty fast. That’s because it was a snail and not a gall. I’ve never seen snails on milkweed before but we’ve had snail-ish weather this summer with very high humidity, so maybe that has something to do with it. I believe these are called blunt amber snails. They were almost translucent and quite small.

A fly was on the same milkweed plant that the snails were on and it agreed to sit for a photo shoot. I think it was a tachinid fly. From what I’ve read there are over 1300 species of tachinid fly, so I’m not even going to try to come up with an identification. It reminded me of that movie The Fly with Vincent Price.

What I think was a slaty skimmer dragonfly showed signs of age with pieces missing from its wings, but it was still a beautiful blue. It let me get just one shot before it flew off.  I’ve read that mature males are dark blue with black heads, so I’d guess that this is an example of a mature male.

A beautiful blue river of pickerel weed flowed through a ditch next to a cornfield. When I see things like this I have no choice; I have to stop and admire them because they are so unexpected. It’s as if they were put there specifically to be admired. These are the things that can take you outside of yourself and let you walk in a higher place for a time. As Amit Ray once said: Beauty is the moment when time vanishes.

A great blue heron wanted to be a statue in its own hidden patch of pickerel weed, and it made a good one. I didn’t have time to wait for it to move; that can sometimes take quite a while.

A yellow bellied sapsucker left its neat rows of holes in a hawthorn. Many other birds, bats, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.  But why does the pattern have to be so neat? I wonder.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time before becoming brilliant red. The plant is called treacle berry because the fruit is said to taste like bitter molasses, which is also known as treacle. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy. They have also been known to act as a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas and also inhaled the fumes from burning roots to treat headaches and body pain.

Though I don’t see a banner year for blueberries this year the crop doesn’t look too bad. I think there will be enough to keep both bears and humans happy. One of the best places to pick blueberries that I’ve seen is from a boat, canoe or kayak, because blueberries grow on the shores of our lakes and ponds in great profusion and the bushes often hang out over the water. You can fill a small bucket in no time.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

The seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) start out looking like tiny seed pearls before ripening to the pretty things seen here. Curly dock is in the rhubarb family and is originally from Europe. The small seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C and were used by many as a green vegetable during the depression. Its common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

What does all this ripening mean? I don’t want to be the one to say it but I shouldn’t have to; just looking around will tell the story.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remains the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Our hot dry weather continues, and the more visible stones there are in the Ashuelot River the lower the water. This is normal in the in late July and August, but it has been this way since May, and that isn’t normal. Or maybe it’s the new normal.

Despite the low water levels I’m seeing a lot of dragonflies, like this 12 spotted skimmer.  Males are sometimes called 10 spotted skimmers, but apparently it depends on whether you count the white spots or brown spots. Only males have white spots between the brown. I’ve read that mature males seldom perch, but this one returned to its twig again and again.

I’m not sure about the identity of this dragonfly, but it might be a dusky club tail. There is a similar dragonfly called the ashy club tail though, and I’ve read that care needs to be taken in identification of the two. Since I have no field guides that are very helpful for dragonflies I’ll leave it up to those more knowledgeable than I to make an identification, if they care to. Males of both species have blue gray eyes and very similar markings and colorblindness keeps me from seeing any obvious differences.

The widow skimmer is another common dragonfly with brown and white wing patches, but only males have the white markings. One day it seemed like hundreds of them flew at a local pond and that is a good thing, because they eat mosquitoes.

I’m not sure what was going on here; either an ant and a spider were fighting or an ant was carrying a big striped egg. Whatever was going on it was all taking place on a Queen Anne’s lace flower head.

There have been times when butterflies literally landed at my feet on various trails but so far this year I can’t get near them. This one did sit still for more than a few seconds though, so I was able to get a poor shot of it. I think it’s a white admiral.

I saw these strange little pencil eraser size brown things on a log recently. They were small enough so I had to use my camera to see the details and when I did I realized they were the chocolate tube slime mold (Stemenitis) that I had been hoping to see for a very long time.

Chocolate tube slime molds get their common name from their long brown sporangia, which stand at the top of thin black, horsehair like stalks. They typically grow in clusters on rotting wood and are found on every continent on earth except Antarctica. They are also called “pipe cleaner slime molds” or “tree hair.” There are thought to be about 18 species which can only be accurately identified with a microscope. Some can be quite long and look like sea anemones, but these examples were short; about a half inch long. They start life as a white plasmodial mass before becoming a cluster of small yellow bumps, and they in turn grow into what you see here.

Once its spores have been released the chocolate tube slime mold kind of melts away, and this is what is left.

I saw a good example of scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica) on another log. This common slime mold grows in full sun on logs, wood mulch or wood chips and is easily seen because it can get quite large. It also produces the largest spore producing structure of any known slime mold. At the stage shown the slime mold has formed a crust and before long it will darken in color and begin to release its spores.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is blossoming. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge and I usually find it on the shores of ponds or in wet ditches.

The flowers of porcupine sedge are so small they are almost microscopic, but you can see them here. They are the whitish wisps that appear at the ends of the spiky protrusions, which are called perigynia. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds.

Another sedge that was flowering recently was this bladder sedge (Carex intumescens.) The wispy white flowers look like those on porcupine sedge but these are larger and easier to see. This is another sedge I find on pond edges and wet places.  I thinks it’s one of the prettier sedges.

I think anyone who has spent much time on a riverbank or pond shore has seen brown wooly sedge (Scirpus cyperinus,) but I can’t remember ever seeing it flowering before like it’s doing here. It is also called cotton grass bulrush, I’d guess because of the cottony look of its many white flowers. This is a big, clumping sedge with three foot tall flower spikes but the flowers are so small I couldn’t even get a useable photo of them. In time these tiny flowers become even fuzzier and look more cottony than they do in this photo.

I hope everyone takes the time to look at grasses because some can be quite beautiful when they flower. The latest one I saw blossoming was this Timothy grass (Phleum pretense.) This well-known grass was brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began promoting cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720 and the grass has carried his name ever since.

Timothy grass flowers from June until September and is noted for its cold and drought resistance. It’s an excellent hay crop for horses. Each tall flower head is filled with tiny florets, each one with three purple stamens and two wispy white stigmas. The flower heads often look purple when they are flowering.

An oak tree came up in deep shade and decided it didn’t need to photosynthesize, since it never saw any sunshine. It might grow on but I doubt it will last long unless an older tree falls and opens up a hole in the canopy.

You see lots of photos of the fuzzy red berries of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) but you never see the flowers that the berries come from, so I like to show them now and then. The big green flower heads were just coming into bloom when I took this photo.

The small, yellow-green, five petaled, fuzzy flowers will never win any prizes at a flower show but they’re interesting and always remind me of poison ivy flowers, even though they aren’t poisonous.

Many people forage for and eat (or drink) the fuzzy red berries of staghorn sumac just as Native Americans did. This year there will be plenty because, as this photo shows, the birds have hardly touched them. I’ve read that the berries “yield a fine claret colored spice that is deliciously tart and clean tasting.” I’ve heard they taste like lemon, and I know that a drink that could easily pass for lemonade can be made with them. They are said to be very high in vitamins C and A. In Europe a different sumac, Rhus coriraria, is used in much the same way. Why the birds don’t eat the berries like they do in other parts of the country is a mystery to me.

Sarsaparilla plants are interesting at all times of year. In spring their leaves appear in threes at the top of  thin stalks and quickly turn to shiny bronze. In summer they display patterns made by leaf miners, and in late summer when I don’t want to think about fall yet they are among the first leaves in the understory to turn yellow. I have a hard time imagining  an insect so small it can eat its way between the top and bottom surfaces of a leaf but the patterns they make can be interesting.

I was mowing one afternoon quite far from any shelter when these clouds decided that a 20 minute, torrential downpour would be fun. Luckily I found a place where I could stay relatively dry and when the storm broke mare’s tail clouds formed as I watched. Mare’s tails are a type of cirrus cloud known as cirrus uncinus, which means “curly hooks” in Latin. When they appear with altocumulus clouds they often mean that a storm is brewing. I should have been paying attention to their message before the rainstorm.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

The word “Ashuelot” is pronounced Ash-will-ot if you’re from this area or Ash-wee-lot if you’re from away. The word is a Native American one meaning “collection of many waters.” For years I read that the word meant “the place between” but that didn’t make a lot of sense. “A collection of many waters” makes much more sense because that’s exactly what the river is. Wandering the banks of the Ashuelot is something I’ve done since I was too young to even retain the memory of doing so, and I do it often. On this day I was happy to see that the ice shelves had melted and the sandy / stony shoreline was back. The river has been very high for over a month and it’s good to see it finally ready to absorb the next big rain storm, which should come sometime in April unless that month has gone haywire too.

I stopped to admire some ice formations and take some photos so I wouldn’t have to try and explain how cold it was. Actually it wasn’t bad in the sunshine when the wind wasn’t blowing but it was blowing almost constantly along this stretch of river, so it was a day to be wrapped up like you would be in January.

The ice had formed discs on every twig that was in the water and this was remarkable only because the ever splashing water usually forms icy tear drop shapes on the twigs. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen these disc shapes here before.

Here is what I’m more used to seeing. Ice baubles I call them, but there weren’t many to be seen. They happen because of the way the current makes the water constantly rise and fall along the shoreline, so one second the twig is in the cold air and the next it’s under water. The runoff freezes and layer by layer and an ice bauble is made. It reminds me of dipping a wick in melted wax over and over again to make a candle.

This is where I come to practice my wave catching skills but there were none to catch on this day because the water was too low. It has to be at just the right height for good waves to form. Too low or too high and there are no waves. I took some photos anyway though, because the water looked like satin as it poured over the unseen stones that cause the waves.

Oak leaves huddled together as if to warm each other in the chilly breeze. I love the warm, orangey brown color of last year’s oak leaves, but I won’t be sorry to see them finally fall.

The oak buds seemed to be swelling a bit but it was hard to know. Oaks are one of our latest trees to leaf out in spring.

I saw a chubby little bird in a bush which looked like it was hoping I wouldn’t see it. I think it was a dark eyed junco but I’m not 100% sure of that. I see these small dark colored birds feeding in flocks along roadsides where the snow has melted away from the pavement , exposing the soil and grass. I’ve read that dark eyed juncos come here as winter sets in and leave in spring, so they must like the cold. There are said to be about 630 million of them from Alaska to Mexico, and all across the U.S. from coast to coast.

I wondered if the juncos were eating the sumac seeds so I had to look it up. Apparently they eat smaller seeds like those of grasses, lamb’s quarters and the like, and in warmer months they also eat insects. Robins, blue jays, grosbeaks, ruffed grouse, cardinals and other larger birds eat the sumac fruit, but it never disappears here until spring.

I went to visit the Ashuelot Falls on West Street in Keene. I used to fish here quite often when I was a boy but back then the river wasn’t as clean as it is now so I didn’t catch that many fish. An occasional perch or dace was about it but that was fine, because my being here really didn’t have much to do with catching fish anyway. I’d let a forked stick hold my pole while I explored the river bank. Now they catch trout here, I’m told.

I wouldn’t have been surprised to see ice pancakes in January but this was March, so I was surprised.

Ice pancakes form when the river foam stirred up by falls or other turbulence comes together into a misshapen lump. As the current moves the misshapen lumps they bump and jostle each other until all the rough edges are shaved off and they’ve become round like a pancake. Then they begin to freeze and their edges build up into rims.

Here is what an ice pancake looks like when it starts life, before its friends smooth out all those angles.

Canada geese waded in the shallows. More and more of them are returning to nest and raise their young in the reed beds along the river. There is always one lookout standing tall while the others preen, sleep, or eat and they count on their lookout to sound the alarm. I wondered if most of these birds even knew I was there.

My pointing the camera at them was too much for one or two of the geese and they swam off quickly.

Normally a river gets deeper as you go toward its middle but a sandbar has grown here, so the water in the middle is quite shallow. Not good for navigation but the geese know they can stand here rather than swim and they take advantage of being able to rest while still in the water. The shading from dark to lighter brown in this photo shows where the sandbar is.

A maple tree had been pecked full of holes by an unseen woodpecker.

I didn’t have to see this woodpecker to know it was a pileated woodpecker, which is our biggest. Its holes are large and almost always rectangular. All of the holes in the previous photo would fit inside this one with plenty of room to spare.

The hole in this old red maple (Acer rubrum) was the biggest of all but I doubt very much that it was made by a bird or an animal. I think the river has washed the soil out from under it.

The hole was plenty big and roomy enough for me to comfortably sit in, almost like a hobbit.

I knew the old tree was a red maple by its buds. The bud scales in many of these examples had pulled back to reveal the many pinkish flowers inside. Those over on the left were even protruding a bit from the bud, but it was still too early to tell if they were male or female blossoms. It’s a good thing they hadn’t fully opened because the temperature fell to zero degrees on this night. The cold isn’t going to leave quickly this year but today is the first full day of spring, even if it doesn’t seem it.

I was born upon thy bank, river,
My blood flows in thy stream,
And thou meanderest forever,
At the bottom of my dream.
~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »