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Posts Tagged ‘Stair Step Moss’

It was a nice warm sunny Saturday when I set out for the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene and the weather people said it would be sunny all day, but as soon as I got there clouds moved in and decided to stay for a while. Actually the clouds stayed the entire time I was there and the sun didn’t show itself again until I left.

This was the only blue sky I saw the entire time I was there.

But the trail was well packed down and not really as icy as it looks here.

Beaver Brook was roaring. In the summer it giggles and chuckles along beside you but in the winter it roars, and that’s all you hear. Unless it’s covered by ice; when it’s iced over it whispers and is quieter than at any other time.

The brook hasn’t been completely iced over this winter that I’ve seen, but huge ice shelves had formed here and there. You can see how there is nothing under the shelf but air, so it walking out on it would be a foolish thing to do.

The ice shelves had teeth.

I have a lot of old friends living here along the brook, like this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) I see this lichen just about everywhere I go but nowhere else are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) so blue or its body (thallus) so golden. The gold color comes from the minerals in the stone I think, and the blue color comes from the way the light falls on the waxy coating that covers the apothecia. Whatever it is that causes the colors in this particular place, this lichen is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and this is the only place I’ve ever seen it look like this.

I also stopped to visit the only example I’ve ever seen of stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) This is a boreal moss that grows quite far north into the arctic and I’ve seen it here covered with ice, but it isn’t as delicate as it looks and it always comes through winter unscathed. When it’s dry it has a shiny sheen and that’s most likely why another common name for it is glittering wood moss. New growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth and that’s where the “stair step” name comes from. It’s a beautiful moss and I wish I’d see more of it.

The rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) came through winter looking fine and I was glad of that because this is the only example of it I know of. I did find another small patch on a stone in Swanzey once, but I can’t remember where. It’s nice to know there are more of them out there but I’d still have to call this moss rare. I love its little aspirin size rosettes of leaves that someone thought looked like roses. They look more like dahlias or chrysanthemums to me, but they’re beautiful no matter what we choose to call them.

There were some impressive ice formations on the ledges and I was surprised, because they don’t usually grow so big here. With the up and down weather we’ve had this year though, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by anything weather related.

Last time I came here the brook was flooding in places and it was a downright scary thing to see. The water mark on the far embankment showed just how high the water had been, and I’d guess that it was a good 6 feet higher than it was on this day. I met an old timer up here one day who told me that he had once seen the water over the old road. That’s something I hope I never see.

In places the snow had melted and revealed that there really wasn’t that much covering the road. Since we’re supposed to have warm days all week there’s a good chance that the road will be snow free this weekend.

Where the snow had melted you could see part of the old double yellow no passing lines.

Off on the side of the road a branch had fallen, and it was covered by what I thought at first was milk white, toothed polypores.

But the spore bearing surface of this fungus was more maze like than toothed, so that had me confused until I got home and was able to see the photos. After some searching I came up with what I think is a crust fungus called the common mazegill polypore (Datronia mollis.) It may be common in some places but I think this is only the second time I’ve seen it.

A little further up the road I found another fallen branch that was covered with inch in diameter, colorful crust fungi which I think were young wrinkled crust fungi (Phlebia radiata.)  These are winter mushrooms and that’s the only time I ever see them. They aren’t common; I’ve only found them three or four times. As they age the center of the fungus becomes very wrinkled, and that’s where their common name comes from.

There isn’t anything odd or rare about tinder fungi (Fomes fomentarius,) but a closer look at this one revealed something that was both odd and rare, at least in my experience.

There were squirrel teeth marks ( I think) all over one of the colored bands on it. Recently I’ve seen the same thing on a few lichens and have found that squirrels do indeed eat lichens, and I’ve seen them eating mushrooms but I’ve never seen them do this. It made me wonder if it was algae they were after, because algae grow on both lichens and fungi. I can’t imagine what else they’d get out of scraping their teeth over this fungus unless it was to keep their ever growing teeth in check. Tinder fungi are very tough and woody, so maybe the animal was simply trying to wear down its teeth.

Another fallen branch displayed what I thought from a distance were shield lichens but once I got closer I realized they weren’t anything I had ever seen.

They were obviously not lichens at all, but instead some type of hairy fungi.

They grew like bracket fungi and their spore bearing surfaces were maze like and faced outward. Each flower like cluster like the one shown above couldn’t have been more than three inches across, so they weren’t very big. They were pliable and rubbery to the touch, and felt much like an ear lobe. They look very pink to me but my color finding software tells me they’re mostly tan with some peach puff and dark salmon here and there.

They didn’t have to be big to be beautiful and I thought they were very beautiful things, but after looking through 4 mushroom books and spending several hours online I can’t find anything that even looks close to them, so they’ll have to remain a mystery for now. Maybe one of you knows their name. If so I’d love to hear from you.

A path well-traveled may still yield secrets that only one person may discover. ~Anthony T. Hincks

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Abandoned Road

The weather man said that Easter Sunday would be sunny and in the mid-50s so I planned to climb one of our local hills, but instead of sun we had clouds that were low and thick enough to keep the temperature in the low 30s. I quickly changed my plans and decided to hike up to Beaver Brook Falls. Actually it’s more of a walk than a hike because you have an old abandoned road under your feet the whole way.

2. Beaver Brook

The old road was built to access a sawmill in 1736 and follows Beaver Brook to the north of Keene. The brook was relatively placid this day but it hasn’t always been so in the past.

3. Plantain Leaved Sedge

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

4. Road

The old road isn’t travelled by car anymore but there were many years that it was. We had relatives living north of Keene when I was a boy so I’m sure I travelled the road many times with my father. I don’t really remember a single instance though; in those days I was far more interested in what was at the end of the road than the journey along it, and I probably couldn’t wait to see my cousins. These days I care more about what I see along the roadsides and don’t think much about when or where they might end. It’s funny how your perspective can change so easily, without any real effort at all.

5. Lines

I don’t suppose the no passing lines will ever wear away now since there has been no traffic on this road since the 1970s.

6. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) gets its name from the way the new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s branch.  Each year a new branch grows from the old and this growth habit allows stair step moss to grow up and over other mosses. You can tell the age of the moss by counting these steps. It’s a very tough moss that even grows on the Arctic tundra. It has a certain sparkle to it when it’s dry and is also called glittering wood moss because of it. According to the Islandwood outdoor classroom in Seattle, Washington, stair step moss was once used to chink the logs in log cabins. Wet moss was pressed into the cracks between logs and when it dried it stayed compressed and green for the life of the cabin.

7. Beech Fungus

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. It has no common name apparently, and I had a very hard time identifying it; it took three years before I finally found its scientific name.

8. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Other things I come here to see are the smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens,) not because I can’t find them anywhere else but because of the way the light reflects off their spore bearing apothecial disks here. They look beautifully sky blue in this light, much like the whitish bloom on plums and blueberries make them look blue in the right light and it’s all due to a powdery waxy coating that the lichens and fruits have. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body of the lichen, which can be the golden brown seen here or grayish white. The disks are barely bigger than a written period on paper. This is a really beautiful lichen that’s relatively common on stones and ledges.

9. Washed Out Culvert

The old road is washing away along the brook in more and more places each year. I talked to an old timer up here once who told me that he had seen water up over the road a few times in the past. Chances are one day far in the future there won’t be a road here at all.

10. Guard Rail

Many of the old wooden guard posts that hold the guard wires have rotted off at ground level and hang from the wires but this one was still solid. It’s probably been close to 50 years since they last saw any maintenance. Even the triangular concrete posts used to replace the wooden posts are breaking up and washing downstream.

11. Waterfall

There are a few things that can get me to climb over the guard wires and one of them is this view across the brook of a waterfall that appears sometimes when it rains. I like the mossy rocks and wish I could get over there with dry feet, but the only way I see is by walking through the brook. This photo also illustrates the kind of steep hillsides found on both sides of the road. Together they make this place a canyon that it would be very hard to climb out of.

12. Dog Lichen

The biggest dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea) that I’ve seen grows here. It’s about 9-10 inches across and grows happily surrounded by mosses. The mosses soak up water like a sponge and that keeps the lichen moist as well. When moist it is pliable and feels much like your earlobe but when it dries out it feels more like a potato chip. The grayish / whitish areas show where it’s starting to dry out.

I’ve heard about four different theories behind the name “dog lichen.”  One says that the name refers to the large, lobed body of the lichen looking like dog ears. It sounds plausible, but so do the other three theories I’ve heard. One says the lichen’s fang like rhizines that anchor it to the substrate look like dog’s teeth, another says the entire body looks like a dog, and yet another says that the apothecia, or fruiting bodies, look like dog ears. There’s not a single part of it that reminds me of a dog.

13. Apple Moss

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) gets its common name from its spherical spore capsules that some say look like tiny green apples. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. When the warmer rains of spring arrive the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny green globes.

14. Path to Brook

The path down to the brook near the falls is steep and getting steeper all the time because it’s slowly washing away. Each time I stand here I ask myself if I’m not getting too old for this but each time if it isn’t icy, down I go. It’s a kind of half slide/ half climb situation going down so coming back up is always easier.

15. Beaver Brook Falls

The reason I climb down to the brook is of course to see an unobstructed view of the falls, which people who stay up on the road don’t get to see. It was really too shady to be down here on this day but I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m guessing the falls are about 40 feet high but I’ve also heard all kinds of other guesses about its height. I don’t think anyone really knows, but I’m inclined to believe the old timers. It’s high enough so I know I wouldn’t want to ride down it.

16. Above the Falls

I’ve shown this place many times on this blog but I’ve never shown this view of Beaver Brook from above the falls. It’s a bit hard to see because of all the trees but it was the best I could do. When I took the previous photo of the falls I was down there at water level. You don’t really understand what that means until you see it from up here.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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1. Ashurlot Wave

Something I like to do every now and then is watch the waves on the Ashuelot River, but we’ve been in a drought most of the summer so there haven’t been any to watch. Finally last week 4 1/2 inches of rain fell in a day and there were some serious waves after that. The river has a rhythm and its waves form at fairly regularly spaced intervals and I find it challenging to see if I can get shots of the waves as they form. It’s not as easy as it sounds but it can be done if you can tune out everything but yourself and the river.

2. 40 Foot Falls

Of course since I saw the Ashuelot River at bank full I thought waterfalls would be roaring but as 40 foot falls in this photo shows, I was wrong. The beaver pond that feeds this stream must have been low enough to absorb all the rainfall without having much effect on the outflow.

3. Hole in Boulder

I find a lot of blasting holes drilled through boulders. There is nothing unusual about drilling and blasting stone here in the granite state but I often find these boulders out in the woods where you wouldn’t expect a steam or air powered drill would be able to go, and that’s odd. This example was out in the middle of nowhere but was too perfect to have been drilled by hand with a sledge hammer and star drill, so it had to have been machine made. If I’d had a golf ball in my pocket I could have rolled it right through this hole.

4. Chipmunk

I interrupted this chipmunk as he ran about busily looking for seeds to stuff his cheeks with and he was clearly not happy about that, so I took a quick couple of photos and let him get on with his work. Chipmunks will watch you pretty closely in the woods and will often follow along beside you, making a chipping or chucking sound to tell the other animals and birds that you’re in the neighborhood. Chickadees do the same thing.

5. Concentric Boulder Lichen

I found a single example of a concentric boulder lichen (Porpidia crustulata) a few years ago and hadn’t seen one since until recently. Though it’s very hard to find it’s easy to identify; the body (thallus) of the lichen is always ashy gray and its black spore bearing bodies (Apothecia) grow in concentric rings around the lichen’s center. It’s not one of the prettiest lichens but it is one of the rarest in this area and I was happy to see it.

6. Dog Lichen

Dog lichens aren’t rare but they are unusually big for a lichen; I’ve seen hand size examples. Lichens like water and can often be found growing beside or even among water retaining mosses as this one has. Because it’s been so dry it’s been a rough summer for water loving mosses and lichens but they are very patient and simply sit and wait for rain. The 4 1/2 inches of rain we had last week has perked them right up and this dog lichen was pliable once again instead of crisp. If you want to know what one feels like just pinch your earlobe. The lichen is thinner but it feels much the same.

7. Script Lichen

Some trees have beautiful ancient runes scribbled on their bark in the form of script lichens. The light colored part is the body of the lichen and the darker “script” is where it releases its spores. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world, and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia. I’ve seen examples that have apothecia that all run horizontally or vertically, but most seem random like those in the photo. I think it would take the better part of a lifetime just to identify the 39 species in North America. This photo has been enlarged so everything seen here would fit behind a dime with room to spare.

8. Rose Moss

Mosses appreciated the rain. This beautiful rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) was very dry and brown the last time I saw it. It grows on a limestone boulder so it must get the heat that the stone absorbs from the sun as well as from the sun itself. I know of only one place to find this moss.

9. Rose Moss

Rose moss gets its common name from the way that each plant looks like a tiny rose blossom. At this magnification some of the leaves look as if they’ve been sprinkled with gold dust. Spore production takes place in the center of each small “blossom.”

10. Stairstep Moss

Another moss that I can find in only one place is stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens.) In the right kind of light its leaves are somewhat shiny and that leads to another common name: glittering wood moss. It is also called splendid feather moss and I’m sure I don’t have to explain how it came by that name. This is a tough moss that grows in boreal forests into the Arctic. It is considered an indicator of undisturbed, stable soil though I find it growing in soil that has built up on the top of a stone.

11. Stairstep Moss

You can see a bit of the glitter in stair step moss leaves in this photo. The name stair step moss comes from the way each new branch steps up from the middle of the older branch. It is said that this moss grows a new branch each year and its age can be revealed by counting the branches. If true that would mean that this example was at least 4 years old.

12. Polypody Fern Sporangia

Polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) are producing spores and each of its spore producing sporangia looks like a tiny basket full of flowers. This is the time of year to be looking at the undersides of ferns fronds. How and where the sporangia grow are important parts of an accurate identification for some.

13. Possible Common Earthball aka Scleroderma citrinum

I think this puffball is an example of the common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum,) but I’m not certain of that. It’s one that I’ve never seen before and I can’t come up with an exact match for it, either in my mushroom books or online. It was bigger than many puffballs I see; maybe 5 inches long by 3 wide.

14. Possible Common Earthball aka Scleroderma citrinum 3

Whatever its name is this puffball was a beautiful thing, and studying it took me out of myself for a time. As I look at it now it reminds me of an aerial view of a village.  With yellow roads.

15. Wolf's Milk

But when is a puffball not a puffball?

16. Wolf's Milk

Answer: When it is a slime mold. Wolf’s milk slime mold is also called toothpaste slime because of the consistency of its inner plasmodial material. It’s usually pink but this example was orange. I’ve only found one example where the plasmodium was pasty like toothpaste. It’s usually more liquid like the above example. As it ages it will turn into grayish powdery spores.

17. Slime Mold

There are other slime molds to be seen at this time of year as well, like this beautiful orange example which I believe is Hemitrichia calyculata. It has gone from its moving plasmodial feeding stage to the production of fruiting bodies called sporangium, which are seen in this photo. Each tiny sphere sits atop a whitish stalk and there it will stay, possibly changing color as it ages and begins spore production. These examples grew on an old fallen hemlock.

18. Geese

I thought I’d have a nice shot of Canada geese flying south in a V formation for you but by the time I was done fumbling around with my camera they had turned and all I saw was a line.

19. Geese 2

These two didn’t seem to want any part of flying south, or anywhere else for that matter. After all it was 72 degrees and the colors were mesmerizing.

20. Dish

No, you didn’t accidentally flip over to the NASA website. This 260 ton, 82 foot diameter dish antenna lives here in the woods of New Hampshire. It is one of the antennas that make up the Very Long Baseline Array, which is made up of 10 antennas that stretch across the country from New Hampshire west to Hawaii and south to the Virgin Islands. All 10 antennas function as a single giant antenna some 5000 miles wide and produce high resolution images of galaxies and quasars billions of light years away. The array is so sensitive it can measure details equivalent to being able to see a football on the surface of the moon.

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

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1. Road View

I’ve agreed to help a group of youngsters called Pathfinders in their quest to find good examples of mosses, lichens and liverworts. I know of 2 places where they could find all three of them without too much trouble and decided that the old abandoned road along Beaver Brook would probably be the safest. From what I can tell Pathfinders are anywhere from 10-15 years old and get merit badges and other awards each time they meet certain goals, much like the Boy Scouts.

2. Beaver Brook

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows that if you stand me up in front of a group of people and ask me to speak I immediately forget everything I’ve ever known, but this should be very different. By reading other nature blogs I know that people who lead excursions like these usually go off on the hunt alone before they lead a group, so that’s what I did. Beaver Brook was almost completely iced over with just a narrow ribbon of water glistening in the sunshine. It was sunny but it was cold and the snow where it hadn’t been walked on was quite deep. Since I made this trip we’ve gotten over a foot of new snow, so I hope the Pathfinders have already earned their winter survival badges.

 3. Ledge Ice

I chose this place because of the easily accessible ledges and trees. Since vertical ledges and trees don’t accumulate much snow the lichens, mosses and liverworts that grow on them are easy to find all winter long. We’ll have to pay close attention to ice though; we don’t want anyone standing under that. Since this trip is planned towards the end of the month the ice could be rotten and falling by then.

4. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen

Beautiful smokey eye boulder lichens(Porpidia albocaerulescens) grow on the stone of the ledges along with many other lichens and mosses. I’m hoping that each Pathfinder has his or her own loupe or magnifying glass so they can see details like the beautiful sky blue fruiting bodies (Apothecia) on this lichen. Part of this lichen in the top center of the photo was under ice, and what a difference it made in its appearance.

5. Quartz Crystal Formations

While I was looking for lichens I found a pocket of milky quartz crystals that I’ve never seen here before. It seems like every time I come here I see something new and on this day, between lichens and quartz crystals, I found three things that I had never seen here. That’s why it pays to follow the same trails over and over; you think you’ve seen all there is to see but you find that you haven’t even come close.

6. Hole in the Snow

There was a quarter sized hole in the snow that must have had warm water vapor rising up through it, because its edges were decorated with delicate, feather like frost crystals.

7. Yellow Feather Moss

Yellow feather moss (Homalothecium lutescens) always looks pale and sickly but it is perfectly healthy, as its spore capsule production shows. This moss is rare here and this small clump is the only example I know of, so maybe it will earn the Pathfinders some extra points.

8. Yellow Feather Moss Spore Capsule

I won’t tell you how many shots of this yellow feather moss spore capsule I had to take before I got a useable one, but it was a lot. This example still has its tiny, pointy, red cap-like lid (operculum), meaning it hasn’t released its spores yet.

9. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) is another beautiful moss that I’ve seen nowhere but here. It’s looking a little dry at the moment but it will snap back as soon as it warms up and we get some rain. This moss gets its common name from the way new leaves “step up” from the backs of older leaves.

10. Possible Fused Rim Lichen aka Lecanora symmicta

I found a crustose lichen that I’ve never seen before. It grew on tree bark and I think that it might be a fused rim lichen (Lecanora symmicta.) Fused rim lichens get their name from the way the tan colored fruiting bodies (Apothecia) sometimes fuse together. I don’t know if this is a rare lichen or if I’ve just never noticed it before because it fruits in winter, but it’s something else that might earn the Pathfinders extra points.

11. Blue Lichen

I’ve known for a long time that lichens change color when they dry out but I didn’t know that cold affected them. Then I started seeing blue lichens in places where I was sure there were none before and I realized that some of the lichens that I saw in the summer were turning blue in winter. That isn’t much help when it comes to identifying them though, so now I have to go back when it’s warmer and see if I can figure out what they are. Once I’ve identified them I can see what the books say about them turning blue.

12. Greater Whipwort Liverwort

The Pathfinders need to find 5 mosses, 5 lichens, and 1 liverwort and the greater whipworts (Bazzania trilobata) that grow on the ledges here will take care of the liverwort requirement. They’ve shriveled a bit because of the cold and dryness but it’s still obvious that they aren’t a moss. I always find these liverworts growing on stones near streams, so they must like high humidity.

13. Script Lichen

Script lichens (Graphis) are another candidate for a hand lens but well worth the effort. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia, which look like ancient script written on tree bark.  I counted at least five different species on this day in just this small area, but I think you could probably spend a lifetime trying to identify script lichens. If I was still a teenager I might take on such a challenge.

14. Yellow Crust Fungus

I’m sure that the Pathfinders will find all that they’re looking for and plenty more besides. I even found a bright yellow fungus that I think might be a crowded parchment (Stereum complicatum), even though they are usually orange. Color like this is always a welcome sight in winter and I hope I can remember where it was so I can show it to them.

15. Brook View

The only thing I can’t be sure of is how much snow we’ll have by the day of our trip. I’ve already had to start wearing gaiters, but if we keep getting two or three snowstorms each week like we have been lately we might all need snowshoes.

I’m glad that I made this solo journey because now I know that the kids won’t be disappointed. There is plenty here to see and I hope they will come away from this place with an urge to see more and learn more. I also hope the knowledge that they can see beauty virtually anywhere as long as they are willing to look for it will stay with them for a good long time.

Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.  ~ Ritu Ghatourey

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1. Grape Tendril

I thought I saw a beautiful Hindu dancer in this grape tendril.

2. Feather

I see a lot of feathers in the woods. This white one had landed on a hemlock twig.

 3. Stream Ice

Red wing blackbirds have returned and there are buds on the daffodils but after the third coldest March in 140 years, there is still a lot of ice left to melt in the woods.

4. Ashuelot Ice

Where the river sees sunshine the ice is melting at a faster pace.

5. Orange Crust Fungus aka Stereum complicatum

This orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) was so bright on a rainy day that I could see it from quite far away, like a beacon guiding me into the forest.

 6. Slender Rosette Lichen aka Physcia subtilis

Gray rosette lichens are common enough so we often pass them by without a nod but some, like this slender rosette lichen (Physcia subtilis), are worth stopping to admire.

7. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen 3

I don’t know what it is with smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) this year but the wax coatings on their fruiting discs are bluer than I’ve ever seen them. It’s like someone sprinkled candy over the stones.

8. Beard Lichen

Beard lichens (Usnea sp.) always remind me of ancient, sun bleached bones. This one grew on a gray birch limb.

 9. Alder Catkins

Soon these alder (Alnus) catkins will to turn yellow-green and start to release pollen. If you look closely at the catkin on the far right you can see it just beginning to happen.

 10. Stair Step Moss

I’ve been looking for stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens) and I think I might have found it. This moss gets its common name from the way the new branches step up from the backs of the old.

11. Stairstep Moss

Stair step moss is feathery and delicate and quite beautiful.

At some point in life, the world’s beauty becomes enough. ~ Toni Morrison

Thanks for stopping in.

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