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Posts Tagged ‘Starflower’

When I think of blue bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) I think of another spring ephemeral, but they don’t really fit that definition because they blossom after the leaves come out on the trees. They get away with that because their big strap shaped leaves can take in plenty of light even under trees, and they prefer shade. But this is a time of transition, because the forest flowers are finishing up and the sun loving meadow flowers are just beginning. It’s an exciting time for flower lovers because we know that the best is yet to come.

Blue bead lily looks like a miniature Canada lily because it’s a member of the lily family. Each blossom is slightly bigger than a trout lily blossom and there are usually two or three per stalk. Flower parts appear in multiples of three in the lily family and to prove it this blossom has three petals, three sepals, and six stamens.  Its name comes from the beautiful electric blue berries that will appear later on in summer. The berries are said to be toxic but birds and chipmunks snap them right up. Some Native American tribes rubbed the root of this plant on their bear traps because its fragrance attracted bears.

Our native azaleas have just started to bloom. I was worried about the one pictured because a tree fell on it three summers ago. It seemed to be hanging on by a thread for a while but it is getting stronger over time and looks like it will hang on to bloom beautifully again each year. It grows in a shaded part of the forest and is called early azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum,) even though the Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) is earlier. It’s also called roseshell azalea and I often find them by their fragrance, which is a bit spicy and a bit sweet.

The flowers of the early azalea aren’t quite as showy as some other azaleas but I wish you could smell their heavenly scent. It isn’t overpowering but when the temperature and breeze are just right you can follow your nose right to them. Another common name for the early azalea is wooly azalea, and it comes from the many hairs on the outside of the flowers, which you can just see on the bud over on the right. It is these hairs that emit the fragrance, which is said to induce creative imagination.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight and nine petals on flowers, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

This blossom lived up to the 7 theory and had 7 petals. It also has 7 anthers. I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at though, because many I’ve seen have more or fewer and 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves, and this shot took several tries. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years, but I’ve seen these plants bloom well for a few years now. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should never be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

I’m lucky enough to know where there are two or three sizeable colonies of Pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) and this year I found another with 12-14 plants in it. There was a time when these plants were collected nearly into oblivion by people who didn’t know any better. The plant interacts with a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil and this fungus must be present for it to reproduce.  If the plants are dug up and placed in private gardens they will eventually die out if the fungus isn’t present so please, look at them, take a couple of photos, and let them be.

For those who haven’t seen one, a pink lady’s slipper blossom is essentially a pouch called a labellum, which is a modified petal. The pouch has a slit down the middle. Veins on the pouch attract bumblebees, which enter the flower through the slit and then find that to get out they have to leave by one of two openings at the top of the pouch that have pollen masses above them. When they leave they are dusted with pollen and will hopefully carry it to another flower. It takes pink lady’s slippers five years or more from seed to bloom, but they can live for twenty years or more.

When pink lady’s slippers first set their buds they are a kind of off white, almost yellow color and some think they have found a white or yellow one, but they quickly turn pink. The pink Lady’s slipper is New Hampshire’s state wildflower.

When we move out of the forest to their edges we find sun loving plants like hawthorn, which was in full bloom on this day. There are over 100 species of native and cultivated hawthorns in the U.S. and they can be hard to identify. Native Americans used the plant’s long sharp thorns for fish hooks and for sewing. The wood is very hard and was used for tools and weapons.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) blossoms aren’t much in the way of fragrance because of a compound called trimethylamine, which gives the plant a slightly fishy odor, but they’re big on beauty with their plum colored anthers. They are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today.  There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an introduced plant that came from Europe in the 1600s but it doesn’t seem very invasive; the few colonies that I know of hardly seem to spread at all, and that’s possibly because they are biennials. This plant is in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The young leaves of dame’s rocket are rich in vitamin C and oil pressed from its seed is used in perfumes.

Dame’s rocket flowers are sometimes mistaken for phlox, but phlox has 5 petals rather than the 4 petals seen on dame’s rocket. Phlox also has opposite leaves and those on dame’s rocket are alternate. The flowers are very fragrant in the evening and are said to smell like a mixture of cloves and violets.

There just happened to be a phlox plant or two growing among the dame’s rocket and I thought it was ggod chance to show how phlox blossoms have 5 petals. I’m not sure if these plants were wild phlox or garden escapees but I’m guessing they probably came from a nearby garden.

Mouse ear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) is one of those plants that keep the big herbicide companies making billions because they’ve convinced people that “fuzzy green patches don’t belong in their lawn.” They tell us that this “pesky plant loves to wreak havoc on the open spaces in our lawns and gardens,” but what they don’t tell us is how the plant was here long before lawns were even thought of.  A few hundred years ago in cottage gardens turf grasses were pulled as weeds so medicinal or edible plants like dandelion and chickweed could flourish. How times have changed.

One flower that will always say June to me is the Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare,) even though I found this one in May. This is a much loved flower so it is easy to forget that it was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground. Soon our roadsides will be carpeted by them. I like their spiraled centers.

Sweet little blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) has always been one of my favorite wildflowers. It’s in the iris family and isn’t a grass at all, but might have come by the name because of the way its light green leaves resemble grass leaves.  The flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for this plant.

This blue eyed grass had two blossoms on one stem, which is rare in my experience.

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms but its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center. These plants almost always grow in large colonies and often come up in lawns. They’re a good indicator of where the flower lovers among us live because at this time of year you can see many neatly mown lawns with islands of unmown, blossoming fleabanes.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. ~Georgia O’Keefe

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I’ve been wanting to show you something so last Sunday I decided to climb Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey to see if I could see what I had in mind. Usually when I think of climbing a hill to show you something it doesn’t work, but I’ll keep trying. We start by crossing this hay field / meadow.

There were violets in the grass. There were also buttercups but my photos of them aren’t good enough to be shown here. I think this is a dog violet (Viola conspera) but I usually avoid trying to identify violets because there are so many and they all seem to look alike.

The grasses are starting to flower. Many grasses are beautiful and interesting when they flower, but it’s an event that I fear most of us miss.

Once we’re through the meadow and into the woods everything becomes very green, including the light through the new spring leaves.

There were thousands of starflowers (Trientalis borealis) along both sides of the trail. They are a woodland plant that doesn’t mind shade, so the leaves overhead don’t bother them.

I saw my first mushroom of the year but I don’t know its name. Someone wrote in once with a positive identification of this one but I can’t remember the name they told me or the date of the post it appeared in. There are an awful lot of mushrooms on this blog but finding a specific one can be tedious if you don’t have a name to search for.

Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) were growing here and there. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers. These should be flowering in early July.

Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root. Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

I saw a few pink lady’s slippers budded but they usually won’t bloom until June. Some think they’ve found a pale yellow lady’s slipper when they see the buds are at this stage. This native orchid is our state wildflower.

As we get deeper into the forest it gets darker because of the canopy, and there is much less undergrowth.

There is a surprising openness in a dark forest overshadowed by evergreen hemlock and pine branches. I’ve heard that the same is true of jungles, because very little sunlight reaches the forest floor.

I saw a hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) with some young hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on it. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny cap which will come later, and which looks like it has been varnished. You can tell that they’re young because of the white / tan color on their outer edges. As they age they will lose the whitish color and become deep, shiny red. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

This hemlock didn’t have any fungi on it but it must have had insects inside it because the woodpeckers were having their way with it. A while ago I split a log that had thousands of big black carpenter ants in it and for a woodpecker they’re a delicacy.

The bedrock forms ledges here that appear to have risen from the surrounding terrain, creating caves under the overhangs. They aren’t big enough for bears but a porcupine, raccoon or even a bobcat might call them home.

When the trail reaches its steepest you know you’re very near the summit.

I gave a nod and a click of the shutter to Tippin Rock as I passed. The 40 ton erratic gets its name from the way it will “tip” if shoved in the right spot. It actually rocks back and forth very slowly, like a pendulum. I didn’t have time to wrestle it on this day but if you’re interested you can just type “Tippin Rock” in the search box over on the top right and you’ll be taken right to all the posts I’ve done about it.

This is what I wanted to show you; the forest canopy awash in spring greens. With the oaks and hickories finally chiming in all of the trees now have their new leaves. This is why the spring ephemeral wildflowers are done blooming in the forests. From now on it will be mostly meadow and roadside flowers.

We aren’t in the clouds up here but we are in the tree tops. How many shades of green can there be?

The forest seems to go on forever. Sitting alone up here with the breeze and birdsong I often find myself wondering what the early settlers might have thought when they looked out over something so vast and unbroken. I also wonder if I would have had the courage to face it. There were no houses out there, no stores, and no roads. Only what you carried; that and your own ability were all you could really rely on.

I sit with my back against the little toadskin lichen’s (Lasallia papulosa) boulder when I take photos of the views, so of course I have to spend some time with them. Most were surprisingly dry in spite of all the rain but still beautiful nonetheless.

Some plants seem to shine with the light of creation and some lichens are no different. Sometimes you can see entire solar systems on the face of a toadskin lichen.

It looks like Mister Smiley Face is growing a mossy beard. I hope it doesn’t get too out of control. We always smile at each other on my way down.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the spring forest from above.

To see what others cannot…
You must climb the mountain.

~Ron Akers

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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Henry David Thoreau once wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color,” and that’s what this little two foot tall shrub does each spring. The flowers usually appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense,) is a small, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

The rhodora flower looks like an azalea blossom but it’s the color of this one that sets it apart from other azaleas, in my opinion. This plant was brought from Canada to Paris in March 1756 and was introduced to England in 1791. It is said to have been a big hit, but it must have been difficult to grow in English gardens since it likes to grow in standing water and needs very cold winters.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are supposed to be a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but I’ve seen eight petals like the flower on the right in this photo, and I’ve seen many with six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

I have to wonder how many starflowers the person who said that it is a plant based on sevens actually looked at, because like many I’ve seen this one has nine petals and nine stamens.  I’m thinking that the 7 rule should be disregarded because I’ve found by looking at many plants that 7 flower parts seem as random as any other number.

I believe this is purple dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) “Purple Dragon.” Whatever its name it was a beautiful little plant that makes a great choice for shady areas. It is also an excellent source of pollen for bees. Dead nettles are native to Europe and Asia, but though they do spread some they don’t seem to be invasive here. The name dead nettle comes from their not being able sting like a true nettle, which they aren’t related to. I’m guessing the “nettle” part of the name refers to the leaves, which would look a bit like nettle leaves if it weren’t for their variegation, which consists of a cream colored stripe down the center of each leaf. That middle flower looks like it has a chicken popping up out of it.

Dogwood bracts have gone from green to white, but the tiny florets at their center haven’t opened yet. I think this tree is the Japanese Kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa) and not one of our native trees.

Nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum) is a little later than the purple trillium and just ahead of the painted trillium. They’re shy little things with flowers that hide beneath the leaves like the mayapple, and this makes them very hard to see. Even though I knew some plants in this group were blossoming I couldn’t see the flowers at all from above. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland.

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six big purple stamens.

Painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) are the third trillium I look for each spring. Usually as the purple trilliums fade and nodding trilliums have moved from center stage along comes the painted trillium, which is the most beautiful among them in my opinion. This year though, for some reason both nodding and painted trilliums are blooming at the same time. Unlike its two cousins painted trillium’s flowers don’t point down towards the ground but face straight out, 90 degrees to the stem. With 2 inch wide flowers it’s not a big and showy plant, but it is loved. Painted trilliums grow in the cool moist forests north to Ontario and south to northern Georgia. They also travel west to Michigan and east to Nova Scotia.

Each bright white petal of the painted trillium has a reddish “V” at its base that looks painted on, and that’s where the common name comes from. They like boggy, acidic soil and are much harder to find than other varieties. Many states have laws that make it illegal to pick or disturb trilliums but deer love to eat them and they pay no heed to our laws, so we don’t see entire hillsides covered with them. In fact I consider myself very lucky if I find a group of more than three.

I didn’t see it until I looked at the photos I had taken but the painted trillium in the previous photo has a single petal pointed straight down, but in this example it points straight up. Note that the three smaller green sepals behind the petals also changed position. Which is the usual way? I’ve never paid enough attention to be able to answer that question but when you’re this beautiful I don’t suppose it really matters.

A flower that comes with plenty of memories for me is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) My grandmother’s name was Lily and I used to bring her wilting bouquets of them when I was a young boy. She would always smell them before putting them in a jelly jar full of water, all the while exclaiming how beautiful they were. The plant is extremely toxic but, though she didn’t tell me it was poisonous I never once thought of eating it or putting any part of the plant in my mouth. I do remember smelling their wondrous fragrance as I picked them though, and all those memories came back as I knelt to photograph this example. Amazing how memories can be so strongly attached to a fragrance.

Speaking of fragrance, our lilacs are finally blooming. In my April 26th post I showed lilac buds and said lilac blossoms would probably be in my next flower post. So much for prophesying; that was a full month ago and it has taken that long for them to open thanks to the cold and rainy first half of May. Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, which is odd because it isn’t a native. Lilacs were first imported from England to the garden of then New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower.

My mother died when I was very young so I never really knew her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too.

Every time I look closely at blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) I wonder why they didn’t call it yellow eyed grass, but that’s not all that’s wrong with the name because the plant isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Its light blue green leaves do resemble grass leaves though. The beautiful little flowers are often not much bigger than a common aspirin but their color and clumping habit makes them fairly easy to find.

The leaves are on the trees and that means that the spring ephemeral flowers won’t get the sunlight they need, and we’ve already had to say goodbye to spring beauties, purple trillium, and trout lilies. Now it’s time to say goodbye to the sessile leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia.) The plants usually grow in large colonies and seeing the bell shaped flowers on thousands of plants all moving as one in the breeze is quite a sight. Sessile leaved bellwort is in the lily of the valley family and is also called wild oats. Each 6-8 inch tall plant has a single dangling blossom that is about half an inch to sometimes one inch long.

Though I had the new spring shoots of the plant in the last post the club shaped flower heads of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) have already appeared, so it’s a very fast grower. This plant is very easy to confuse with red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but that plant’s flower head is spherical rather than elongated.

The flower head of white baneberry is always taller than it is wide and if pollinated the flowers will become white berries with a single black dot on one end. That’s where the common name doll’s eyes comes from. The berries are very toxic and can be appealing to children but luckily they are very bitter so the chances that anyone would eat one are fairly slim.

Another plant with the same type of flower head is the witch alder (Fothergilla major.) The difference is that witch alder is a native shrub related to witch hazel, and is much bigger than baneberry. Though native to the southeast it does well here in the northeast, but it is almost always seen in gardens rather than in the wild. The fragrant flower heads are bottlebrush shaped and made up of many flowers that have no petals. What little color they have comes from the stamens, which have tiny yellow anthers at the ends of long white filaments. They do very well in gardens but aren’t well known. I’m seeing more of them now than in the past though.

Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) is in the euphorbia family, which contains over 2000 species of plants including poinsettia, cassava, and many popular house plants. It’s a plant native to Europe, thought to have been mistakenly imported when its seed was mixed in with other crop seed. It was first seen in Massachusetts in 1827, and from there it spread as far as North Dakota within about 80 years. It can completely overtake large areas of land and choke out native plants, and for that reason it is classified as an invasive species by the United States Department of Agriculture. I find it growing along roadsides and gravelly waste areas but I haven’t seen extremely large colonies of it. All parts of the plant contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts, or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock.

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

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1-ashuelot-north-of-keene

The fall colors continue to astound even those of us who’ve lived in this corner of the state for years. As this photo taken slightly north of Keene on the Ashuelot River shows, most of the trees have turned now, and by the time this is posted many will have lost their leaves entirely. It’s a brief but colorful few weeks when nature pulls out all the stops, and I hope readers aren’t getting tired of seeing fall in New Hampshire just yet.

2-beaver-lodge

After I climbed Pitcher Mountain in my last post I stopped at nearby Rye Pond in Stoddard. The beaver lodge was still surrounded by water but the pond was very low. The open channels through the grasses told me that beavers had been here recently but I wonder if they’ve moved on.

3-beaver-brook

I didn’t see any signs of beavers in Beaver Brook but there were plenty of colors reflected in the water. Unfortunately there wasn’t much water left to reflect more. Normally all but a handful of the largest stones would be covered by water in this spot.

4-beaver-brook

Many of the leaves that had fallen into Beaver Brook had pooled behind a fallen log.

5-fallen-leaves

I like how our water becomes dark, almost black in the fall. I never know if it’s caused by a trick of the light or some other reason, but it only seems to happen in the fall. It makes the colors of the fallen leaves stand out beautifully, as if it were planned that way.

6-blueberry

The blueberry bushes have been extremely colorful this year, wearing everything from yellow to plum purple, like this example. I just read in the Washington Post that “Studies have suggested that the earliest photosynthetic organisms were plum-colored, because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light.”

7-hillside

Keene sits in a kind of bowl surrounded by hills so views like this one are common in  the fall.  You might think that because views like this are so common we take them for granted but no, you can often see people who have lived here all their lives standing right alongside the tourists, amazed by the colors.

8-fall-foliage

This was the view across a swamp in Hancock; the first time I had seen it. You have to watch out for cars pulling off the road suddenly at this time of year when they come upon colorful views like this one. That’s exactly what I did when I saw it, but at least I checked my rear view mirror first.

9-starflower

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have lost nearly all of their color. This one reminded me of a poinsettia. You can just see the plant’s tiny white seedpod there on the lower left of center. The seedpods look like tiny soccer balls and often stay attached to the stem even after the plant has lost its leaves.

10-ashuelot-in-keene

This was the view along the Ashuelot River in Keene late one afternoon. The setting sun always lights the trees on fire here and it’s one of my favorite fall walks.

11-ashuelot-in-swanzey

This view of the Ashuelot in Swanzey was also colorful. That’s the thing about this time of year; it doesn’t matter what town you’re in or where you look, because the colors are everywhere.

12-maple-close

The sun coming through this maple in my yard caught my eye one day. It’s a beautiful tree, especially at this time of year.

13-mallards

It wasn’t so much the ducks but their colors along with the beautiful colors that pooled around them that had me stunned and staring on a walk along the Ashuelot River one afternoon. The water was on fire and I became lost in the burning beauty of it all for a while. There are times when I wonder how I ever came to be lucky enough to be born in a paradise such as this one. Whatever the reason, I’m very grateful to be here.

14-reflections

I like the cloudy day brilliance but also the softness of the colors in this photo of the forest at Howe reservoir in Dublin. It’s a great place to get photos of reflections and, if you stand in the right spot, photos of the area’s highest peak, Mount Monadnock.

15-burning-bush

The burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey are still turning to their pinkish magenta color. They will keep turning until they become the faintest pastel pink just before their leaves fall. I like to get photos of them at that stage but it’s tricky; I’ve seen the entire swath of what must be hundreds of bushes all lose their leaves overnight. I’ll have to start checking on them every day soon.

16-dogwood

The native dogwoods are also very colorful this year. I think this one is a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) but the birds have eaten all its berries so it was hard to be sure. It might be a silky dogwood (Cornus amomum.) We’re lucky to have so many different dogwoods.

17-surry-mountain

Surry Mountain in Surry looks to have more evergreens than deciduous trees on it but it could be that the beeches and maples hadn’t turned yet when I took this photo. To the right, out of sight in this shot, is Surry Dam, built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1941 to help keep the Ashuelot River from flooding Keene. The reservoir created by the dam is called Surry Mountain Lake but it is actually the Ashuelot River, about 5 times wider than it would have ever gotten naturally.

18-surry-hillside-close

This is a close up of Surry Mountain showing quite a few evergreens, which I’m guessing are mostly white pines (Pinus strobus.)

19-oak-leaves

The oaks are turning quickly now along with the beeches, and they will be the last hurrah of autumn as they are each year. I’ve got to get to the beech / oak forest at Willard Pond in Hancock very soon. Last year it was glorious there.

20-yellow-tree

Sunrise comes later each morning and on the misty morning when this photo was taken both cameras I carried struggled with the low light and produced fuzzy photos of this yellow leaved tree, but I thought this one looked like something Monet would have painted so I decided to include it.

There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

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1. Trail Start

July ended much as we’d expect it to; sunny and hot. But after a month or more of hot rainless days everyone, especially farmers, is hoping for rain. The weather people said that rain showers would pass through last Friday night and we did get a little, so on Saturday morning I decided to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey. I was hoping that a few showers might help some mushrooms grow because it was about this time last year that I saw a beautiful violet coral fungus, easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in nature. The above photo shows the start of the trail between two dry stone walls. If I was a farmer in the 1700s and I wanted my cows to follow a certain path I would have built walls on either side of it too.

2. Hole Under Wall

There was a hole dug recently under one of the walls. It looked plenty big enough for a family of bobcats but I didn’t see any signs of activity.

3. Meadow

There is a meadow here, made when the town decided to clear cut a large swath of forest. I find many wildflowers here that I don’t see anywhere else, like slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia) and Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense.) Two different native lobelias grow here as well, pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) and Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata.) This spot has seen full sun and 90 degree F weather for quite a while now, and only the toughest can take it.

4. Lobelia Blossom

I keep trying to explain in words how small some of the flowers are that appear in these posts but a picture is worth a thousand words, so I took a photo of a lobelia flower sitting on a penny. It is from an Indian tobacco plant, which is one that appeared in my last post. A penny is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

5. Trail

As much as I’d like to I can’t stay in the meadow all day, so up we go.

6. Fairy Stools

There will be stops along the way so I can catch my breath and admire things like these fairy stool mushrooms (Coltricia cinnamomea.) They are very tough, leathery little things that seem to have shrugged off the lack of rain. I like their concentric rings. Their cap is usually very flat and with their central stems they remind me of tiny café tables.

7. Sapsucker Holes

Bark full of tell-tale holes from a yellow bellied sapsucker were about all that was left of a birch log. Many other birds, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.

8. Unknown Fungi

A cluster of young fungi grew on the birch log. I’m not sure of their name but I was surprised to see them. It’s been dry enough to make mushrooms a rare thing this year.

9. Starflower Seed Pod

The starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed and this tiny seed pod was just opening, as you can see by the hole at the top. These chalky white seedpods are so small that this one would have fit inside the lobelia flower that we saw earlier with room to spare. I like how they look like miniature soccer balls.

10. Pixie Cups and British Soldier

Other small things along the way were these red British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing with some trumpet like pixie cups (Cladonia pyxidata). Lichens like water so I was surprised to see that these examples looked so fresh.

11. Trail Top

The trail at the bottom of Mount Caesar starts out as bedrock and that’s also how it ends. This mountain is really just a huge mound of solid granite with a thin coating of soil covering it.

12. View

The views were what I expected them to be; hazy on such a hot, humid day.  I had hoped there would be a cooling breeze up here but hardly a leaf stirred. Not only that but the lack of shade made it feel even hotter than it did down below.

13. Earthworks

Off in the distance on another hill I saw a large sand pit that I’ve never noticed before. Swanzey is built on sand and gravel and digging it up to use elsewhere is thriving business. Surely an operation as big as this one has been there for a while, but I’ve never seen it.

14. Monadnock

Mount Monadnock in Jaffrey could be seen through the haze. At 3, 165 feet its summit rises another 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing. It was much too hot to even think about climbing that one but I’d bet that there was a cool breeze up there.

15. Rocking Stone

Everyone in this area has heard of Tippin rock, the forty ton glacial erratic that sits on the top of Hewe’s hill one mile to the south, but I doubt many have heard of the rocking stone that sits on the top of Mount Caesar. I’ve seen this big stone many times but hadn’t really paid much attention to it until a friend sent me a photo from 1895 with a caption calling it the rocking stone. It’s probably about a quarter the size of tippin rock but I didn’t try to rock it.

16. Mount Caesar

I was surprised to see a building along with the stone in the old photo with a caption calling it “the pavilion.” I wonder how many teams of horses or oxen were needed to get all that lumber to the summit, and I also wonder why a building was even needed up there. It looked old in 1895 so it must have been there a while. There was no air conditioning then so maybe people climbed to the summit hoping to find relief from the heat by sitting in the shade of the pavilion.  Maybe they had picnics up there; picnics were popular then. Or maybe they were tired of getting caught in thunderstorms and built a shelter, I don’t really know. I don’t even know who “they” would have been. I wandered all over the summit, using the shape of the stone as a guide, but I couldn’t find a trace of the building. Not a board, not a nail, nothing. Time has erased it completely.

17. Blueberries

I’m sure that people must have climbed these hills to pick the blueberries in 1895 as they still do, but I hope they had better luck than I did. It’s so dry up here this year they’re turning into hard, withered stones.

18. Toadskin

I couldn’t leave without a visit with my friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa.) Their gray color told how dry and potato chip crisp they were but lichens are nothing if not patient, and they will sit here for eons if need be, waiting for rain. Some show an entire solar system on their faces and how fitting that is.; lichens have been flown into space and have survived more than two weeks in the void, leading many to believe that they are immortal.

19. Toadskin close

Toadskin lichens have warts called pustules and on the back of the lichen there is a corresponding pit for every pustule. The black dots are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) which are tiny black discs with a sunken center that makes them look like a bowl with a thick black rim. The way that they sit on the body (thallus) 0f the lichen makes them look like they’d blow away in a breeze, but they are attached. If I could magnify them enough we’d see clear to brown muriform spores in each apothecia. Muriform means they are “wall like” with internal cross walls that make them look as if they were made of brick and mortar. What strange and fascinating things nature will show us if we just take the time to look a little closer.

20. Fan Clubmoss

 I never did find the beautiful violet coral fungus that I hoped to see but I saw many other things that made this climb worthwhile, including this fan club moss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) that grew into double hearts.

May your dreams be larger than mountains, and may you have the courage to scale their summits. ~Harley King

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1. FleabaneIt’s time to start mowing lawns here in New Hampshire and that means that it’s also time for fleabanes to appear in many of those lawns. You can always tell the flower lovers among us by the islands of unmown fleabane plants left dotted here and there throughout lawns in every town in the region.  The example shown here, Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus,) is the earliest of the fleabanes to bloom in this area. Its inch and a half diameter flowers are larger than many fleabane blossoms and its foot high stalks are shorter. One way to identify this plant is by its basal rosette of very hairy, oval leaves. The stem and stem leaves (cauline) are also hairy. The flowers can be white to pink to lavender and are made up of ray florets surrounding yellow disk florets in the center.

2. Mayapple

Mayapple flowers (Podophyllum peltatum) are hard to get a decent photo of because they nod toward the ground under the plant’s leaves. I’ve read that once a mayapple produces flowers and fruit it reduces its chances of doing so in following years. This plant is also called American mandrake, which is legendary among herbalists for the root that supposedly resembles a man. Native Americans boiled the root and used the water to cure stomach aches but this plant is toxic and should not be eaten. Two anti-cancer treatment drugs, etoposide and teniposide, are made from the Mayapple plant.

3. Mayapple Foliage

This photo of mayapple foliage is for those who have never seen it. The hand size or larger leaves hide the flowers well so you really have to look for them.

4. Redbud

Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) is not native to New Hampshire and I have only seen two of the trees growing in this area. Both are on private property but this one had branches overhanging a sidewalk so I was able to get close to it. The hardiness of this tree can be questionable here unless trees started from northern grown seed are planted. I’m always surprised by how small the pea like purple flowers are but the tree makes up for it by producing plenty of them. They’re very pretty trees.

5. Foamflowers

Heartleaf foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) have just started blossoming near shaded streams and on damp hillsides. They’re easy to spot because of their hairy, maple-like leaves and foot high flower stalks. The leaves are bright green at first and then turn a darker green, sometimes mottled with brown. Many hybrids have been created and foam flowers are now popular in garden centers. They are an excellent, maintenance free choice for shady gardens that get only morning sun.

6. Foamflower

The small, numerous flowers of foamflower have 5 petals and 10 stamens and it is said that the long stamens are what give foamflowers a frothy appearance, along with their common name. Native Americans used the leaves and roots of foamflower medicinally including as a mouthwash for mouth sores.

7. White Lilac

My mother died before I was old enough to retain any memory of her but she planted a white lilac before she died, so now the flowers and their scent have become my memory of her. Whenever I see a white lilac she is there too.

8. Lilac

Though I like white lilacs I think the favorite by far is the common purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris.) It’s also the New Hampshire state flower, even though it isn’t a native. They were first imported from England to the garden of then Governor Benning Wentworth in 1750 and chosen as the state flower in 1919 because they were said to “symbolize that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” Rejected were apple blossoms, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose and buttercup. The pink lady’s slipper is our state native wild flower. I noticed last year for the first time how suede-like the individual blossoms were.

9. Lily of the Valley

Another flower that comes with plenty of memories is the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis.) I can remember bringing my grandmother wilting bouquets of them along with dandelions, violets and anything else I saw when I was just a young boy. I remember that she would always seem delighted with my gift but since I usually picked the flowers from her garden, her delight might be a false memory on my part.

10. Poet's Daffodil

Two of my great loves are history and botany, and they come together in the poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus.) It is such an ancient plant that many believe it is the flower that the legend of Narcissus is based on; it can be found in botanical texts from as early as 371 BC. It is one of the first cultivated daffodils and is hard to mistake for any other, with its red edged, yellow corona and pure white petals. It has naturalized throughout this area and I find it in unmown fields. Its scent is spicy and pleasing but it is said to be so powerfully fragrant that people can get sick from being in an enclosed room with it.

11. Johnny Jump Up

I wonder if Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) got their name from the way they seem to appear overnight. This plant has been known for a very long time and goes by many common names. It’s said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. I think three-faces in a hood is my favorite.  In medieval times it was called heartsease and was used in love potions. Viola tricolor is believed to be the original wild form of all the modern varieties of pansy. I’m lucky enough to have them popping up at the edge of my lawn.

12. Rue

Both Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were said to use common rue (Ruta graveolens) to improve their eyesight and their creativity. Early Romans cooked with its seeds and you wouldn’t think so because it is mildly toxic, but it is still used today as a flavoring agent, in very small amounts. Hippocrates was fond of it for its medicinal uses and Aristotle said that it calmed nervousness. Rue has an unusual bitter odor and the graveolens part of the scientific name is Latin for “having a strong or offensive smell.” The plant is evergreen and I see it growing on roadsides. Originally from Europe, it has naturalized in this area and some say that it can be invasive.

13. Starflowers

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) are a plant based on sevens; seven leaves, seven petals, seven sepals and seven stamens, but just to be different they can occasionally have eight petals like the flower on the left in this photo does, and some can have six petals. These flowers don’t produce nectar so they are pollinated by pollen eating insects like halictid and andrenid bees. There can be one or several flowers on each plant and I always try to find the one with the most flowers. My record is 4 but I’m always watching out for 5.

14. Bearberry-2

Bearberry is a native creeping shrub with clusters of very small bell shaped flowers with petals that are curved at the tips. The flowers on the example shown had pink tipped petals. When pollinated by bumblebees the flowers will become red, berry like drupes that both black and grizzly bears love to eat.  Humans can also eat the berries and they are usually eaten in the form of jams and jellies. Native Americans used the dried leaves in a smoking mixture called kinnikinnick and they also used the plant medicinally. Today over 50 pharmaceutical products in North America contain bearberry. This is the first time bearberry has appeared on this blog.

15. Nodding Trillium

Another first for this blog is the nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum.) I’m guessing that I’ve seen them before but have probably missed seeing the flowers. The way they nod beneath the leaves makes them very hard to see and I tested that by looking at plants that I knew had flowers. Even though I knew they were blossoming I couldn’t see them at all from above. Nodding trillium is the northernmost trillium in North America, reaching far into northern Canada and Newfoundland.

16. Nodding Trillium

When the buds form they are above the leaves but as they grow the flower stem (petiole) lengthens and bends, so when the flower finally opens it is facing the ground. I’ve heard that some plants do this to keep rain from washing the pollen away, but I don’t know how true that is.

17. Nodding Trillium

Nodding trillium is also called whip-poor-will flower because it blooms when the whip-poor-wills return. I’m always a little wary of flower lore but the friend who gave me the tip about where to find the nodding trilliums also has whip-poor-wills near his house, and he said that he heard their calls just as the flowers opened. Coincidently, I heard my first whip-poor-will yesterday morning. Anyhow, this isn’t a bird blog. My favorite thing about the nodding trillium blossom is its six purple stamens. This photo shows a view that you would never see of the nodding flower. To get it I had to hold my camera under the plant and “shoot blind.” Out of many clicks of the shutter only this one was useable. I think it was worth the effort; it’s a pretty little thing and I’m glad I can show it to you.

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower!  It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome.  Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven? ~ A.J. Balfour

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1. Riendeer Lichen

I haven’t had time to do much climbing over the last few months so I thought I’d make up for the lapse by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It’s one of my favorite climbs because there is so much to see there, like this drift of reindeer lichen that looks like a snowy path through the woods even in August.

2. Trail

The uphill climb isn’t steep but it’s steady. Recent logging operations here haven’t helped the trail any, but at least it wasn’t muddy.

3. Bedrock

In some places the granite bedrock is exposed. I like the patterns of minerals in it.

4. Starflower

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) have gone to seed but the tiny white seed pods haven’t opened yet.

5. Starflower Seed Pod

Starflower seed pods look like tiny soccer balls and can be tough to get a good photo of. Putting a penny on a stump to use as a background helped.

6. Cicada

I found a dead cicada on the trail and put him on a stump for a better photo too. I never knew they were so blue.

7. Downy Rattlesnake Plantains

As if to illustrate how you can hike the same trail a hundred times and still not see all there is to see, I found downy rattlesnake plantain orchids growing right beside the trail. I can’t believe that I’ve walked right by them all these years without seeing them.

8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain Flowers

This orchid’s flowers are very small and hard to photograph, so I went back with a piece of black artists foam core board and got this shot so you could see what they look like. They look a lot like the flowers of the checkered rattlesnake plantain that I showed in another recent post and indeed the two plants are thought to cross pollinate naturally. I don’t know what made them appear so sparkly in this photo.

9. Acorns

Acorns were falling all around me but the real surprise was hearing a large tree fall off in the woods. I couldn’t see it and was glad I wasn’t anywhere near it because it made a tremendous crashing sound when it fell. That’s a rare experience for me.

10. Fairy Stool

Cinnamon fairy stools (Coltricia cinnamomea) grew here and there all along the trail. They get their common name from the concentric bands of cinnamon brown coloring on their inch diameter caps. They are a tough, leathery polypore which, if picked when fresh, will hold their color and shape for a long time.

11. Coral fungus

My Mushroom books don’t say much about club shaped fungi but I think this might be Clavaria ornatipes. This fungus is described as spatula or club shaped and greyish to pinkish gray. It grew directly out of the ground.

12. Coral fungus

The reason club and coral fungi grow the way they do is to get their spores, which grow on their tips, up above the soil surface so the wind can disperse them. This example is another of the Clavaria club fungi I think, but I haven’t been able to identify it.

13. View

There are good views to the south from the top of Mount Caesar though on this day it seemed just a bit hazy.

14. Swanzey LakeIt was a very hot and humid day with temperatures approaching 90 degrees and I found myself wishing I was swimming at Swanzey Lake rather than sitting up here in full sun.

15. Monadnock

I couldn’t leave without looking across the hills to Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey. It’s the highest mountain in these parts and is also the second most climbed mountain in the world, and on a day like this there were probably hundreds of people on it.

16. Toadskin Lichen

My friends the toad skin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) were very dry and ashy gray for the most part, but I did find a moist green one here and there. I’ve only seen these lichens growing on the very tops of hills so visiting them comes with a price. They’re beautiful and rarely seen though, so it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

18. Looper Moth

I never would have seen this moth if it hadn’t flown in front of me to land on a tree trunk. Even though I knew where it had landed I had a hard time finding it, so perfect was its camouflage.  I think it might be a looper moth in the family Noctuidae. There are many, including some familiar ones like the cabbage looper and the golden looper. They all seem to be experts in camouflage, just as this one was.

19. Violet Coral Fungus aka Clavaria zollingeri

Easily the most beautiful thing I saw on this day was this violet coral fungus (Clavaria zollingeri.) My daughter had climbed here the day before and told me that she had seen it but this is a big mountain and I had little hope of finding it. Her directions were perfect though and there it was; the most beautiful coral fungus that I’ve ever seen. I knelt before it to admire its beauty and forgot the heat, the mosquitoes, and even myself for a while.

The events of the past day have proven to me that I am wholly alive, and that no matter what transpires from here on in, I have truly lived. ~Anonymous mountain climber

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