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Posts Tagged ‘Striped maple’

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.

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The highpoint of my fall foliage viewing comes at Willard Pond in Hancock. I usually visit the pond just before Halloween but this year the trees in lower elevations told me I might want to visit a little earlier. Beeches and oaks predominate here and they seemed to be changing earlier in the low places. If I was to go by the road to the pond I had made a good decision, and it was likely to be a very beautiful afternoon.

Willard Pond is a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the New Hampshire Audubon Society and it is unusual because of the loons that nest here. There are also bears, moose and deer living here, as well as many bird species, including bald eagles. I’ve never seen a loon here but on this day I heard their haunting cries from clear across the pond. There are no motorboats allowed here so it’s always very quiet. All you hear is the wind and if you’re very lucky, a loon or two.

That’s where we’re going; along the shoreline at the base of that hill.

Here’s a closer look at the hill. The oaks and beeches looked to be in peak color.

I had a little friend join me on the trail. Chipmunks often follow along with people, hopping along from rock to log, chipping the whole way. If I was a hunter I wouldn’t like that because they alert all the other forest creatures that you’re coming. We have billions of acorns falling this year so these little guys won’t have to work quite as hard. Maybe that’s why he had time to follow along with me.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in red and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) in yellow made for a pretty scene along the trail.

Speaking of the trail; in most places along its length it is one person wide because the hillside comes right down to the water. It can be wet at times and is always very rough and rocky, so good hiking boots are a must. You can’t see it very well in this photo, but it’s there.

In places huge boulders seem ready to tumble down the hillside, but they have probably rested in the same spot since the last ice age. This one is easily as big as a one car garage. These huge stones are one reason the trail has to be so narrow; no machine I know of could ever move one. Sometimes you have to weave your way through them to move down the trail.

Last year I was a little late and many of the leaves had fallen but this year even the maples still had leaves and the forest couldn’t have been more beautiful. It’s the kind of place you wish you could spend a week in.

Boardwalks are well placed so your feet stay dry but this year it has been so dry not a trickle came down from the hillside.

The trail I follow is on one side of a U shaped bay so you can look across and see another hillside, just as beautiful as the one you’re on. I don’t know if there is a trail on that side but I’d like to find out one day.

There were kayakers on the pond but they were quiet for the most part. A place like this makes you want to speak in whispers, so I wasn’t surprised.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) still bloomed along the pond edges, warmed by the water I would imagine.

Sometimes the trail leads you to just a few feet from the water’s edge.

Leaves were falling by the hundreds but the trees didn’t seem at all bare.

They certainly weren’t bare on the hill across the bay.

I took far too many photos while I was here but it’s hard to stop. Around every bend in the trail there is more of this.

This burnt looking area on a yellow birch was a chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) that has been here for years. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

I saw some brightly colored turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) on a log. They were a little dry but pretty nonetheless.

A last look at the amazing colors found in this beautiful place.

The old wooden bench has seen better days but I sat here for quite  a while, listening to the breeze and the loons and the gentle lapping of the water. You can step outside of yourself here without even realizing it because you become totally immersed in the beauty of the place. I find that time often seems to stand still here, and what I think was an hour was often really two or three. That was the case on this day and I got back much later than I thought I would, but that was fine.  

Being in the forest can change everything and it can heal a lot of ills. I hope all of you will have a chance to experience the great joy and serenity found in places like this. 

Time doesn’t seem to pass here: it just is. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

Thanks for stopping in.

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Flowers take center stage in spring but they aren’t the only things out there to see because spring is busting out all over. I always love watching for fern fiddleheads like these examples to suddenly appear. Sometimes it seems like they grow inches overnight so you have to watch carefully each day.

Hairy fiddleheads like these belong to either cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) or interrupted fern (Osmundastrum claytoniana.) Both are beautiful right up until fall, when they turn pumpkin orange.

Lady fern fiddleheads (Athyrium filix-femina) are also up. Lady fern is the only fern I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers. They don’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

I was walking the shores of Half Moon Pond up in Hancock when I saw a curious shrub that I hadn’t ever seen before. It grew almost in the water and leaned quite far out over it. It also had what looked like orange catkins all over it.

Once I got home with the photos it didn’t take long to identify the shrub as sweet gale (Myrica gale,) which is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. The catkins shown above are the male catkins. Now I’ve got to go back and look for the beautiful female catkins, which remind me of hazel catkins but look much larger in the photos I’ve seen. I’ll let you know what I find.

We’ve had a lot of rain over the last few weeks so one day I went to see how Beaver Brook was doing. It wasn’t full on this day but it wasn’t exactly placid either.

I went back two days later and Beaver Brook was raging, and there were streams of water pouring off the hillside into it. It’s amazing how this can happen in two short days, but we had about an inch and a half of rain which fell on already soggy ground.

It poured off the hillside in a torrent, making waterfalls where I’ve never seen any.

All of our brooks and streams in this area eventually empty into the Ashuelot River, and if the streams are raging it’s a pretty fair bet that the river is as well. It certainly was on this day, and I saw a beautiful wave form right in front of me.

I should say here that this and several other photos in this post were taken with a new camera. My trusty Canon Powershot SX-40 has given up the ghost, I think. I couldn’t seem to get a sharp photo out of it anymore no matter what I did and with glaucoma I need a camera I can count on, so I bought a Canon EOS T6. I really didn’t want a digital SLR because I didn’t want to have to carry a bunch of lenses around but at $300.00 off it was hard to say no. I think it’s the 6th or 7th camera I’ve used for this blog because they have a tough life in the woods, and simply wear out. I can only hope this new camera does as well as the old Powershot, which was a great camera that took many thousands of photos and more than a few hard knocks. I hope you’ll bear with me while I learn how to wade through its seemingly endless menus. The technical aspect of photography is my least favorite part so it might take a while.

Macro photos like this one of a maple bud will still be taken with my trusty Olympus Stylus TG-870. It is called the “war camera” with good reason. If you’re looking for a camera that can take good macro photos even after it has been dropped and rained on several times, it’s the one you want. It did well to show the beautiful veining on this small bud.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. This one makes me think of someone contemplating a handful of pearls, which of course are actually its flower buds. Soon it will have a club shaped head of small white flowers. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes. The berries especially are very toxic.

We have field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) where I work and I was finally able to confirm that yes, they really do come up overnight. I watched this spot each day and they weren’t there and then, one day they were. This is a very interesting plant so I was happy to see them. Thankfully they don’t grow near a garden. If they did I wouldn’t have been quite so happy to see them because they’re close to impossible to get out of a garden.

The fertile spore bearing stem of a common or field horsetail ends in a cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by the gritty green infertile stems that most of us are probably familiar with. Horsetails were used as medicine by the ancient Romans and Greeks to treat a variety of ailments.

What I can’t explain about this particular horsetail strobilus are the tiny lozenge shaped bits seen here and there in this photo. I’ve never seen them before but a guess would be that they’re part of the reproductive system, possibly a zygote, which is a fertilized egg cell that results from the union of a female gamete (egg, or ovum) with a male gamete (sperm). If you know what they are I’d love for you to let me (us) know.

More people are probably familiar with the infertile stems of horsetail, shown here. They grow from the same roots as the fertile spore bearing shoots in the previous photos and they do all the photosynthesizing. Horsetails spread quickly and can be very aggressive. If they ever appear in your garden you should remove them as soon as possible, because large colonies are nearly impossible to eradicate.

I looked up at the sun shining through newly opened horse chestnut leaves. I was hoping to see its beautiful flowers but I was too early, so the new spring leaves were beautiful enough.

Silver maples have given up on flowers and now all their energy is being put into seed and leaf production. What I find interesting is how the leaves come last in the process, which means that stored energy from the previous season must be used to produce this season’s flowers and seeds, since there is no photosynthesis going on at the moment. This samara will quickly lose its red color and become green, and the white hairs will disappear.

Japanese knotweed can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb but I’ve never tried them.

The flowers stalks (culms) of Pennsylvania sedge are about 4 inches tall and have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” They’re pretty little things that I think most people miss seeing.

I thought that this unfurling shoot of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) was very beautiful. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and I wouldn’t be surprised to see others with flower buds already. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous but sometimes the preparation method is what makes a toxic plant usable.

The buds have split open on some striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum,) revealing the leaves within. It always amazes me how such large leaves can come out of such relatively small buds. They’re often bigger than my hand.

In my last post I told of how American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. This photo shows a bud being opened by that tension. Soon the new leaves will emerge, covered in silvery downy hairs that make them look like tiny angel wings. They are one of the most beautiful sights in a New England spring forest.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Thanks for coming by. Happy Mayday.

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I hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Our presents from nature were temperatures in the mid-30s F. and plenty of sunshine but we’ve also had some cold, as this frozen view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. We have no snow in my corner of the state though, because it seems to warm up ahead of every storm and we see rain instead of snow. That’s a good thing because just one storm last week would have dropped over two feet of snow.

Pressure cracks in ice are caused by stress, which is caused by fluctuating temperatures in the ice, wind, or waves. Some are contraction cracks, caused by the top surface of the ice sheet shrinking quickly. I think that’s what this crack on the pond ice in the previous photo might be. There are also wet and dry cracks. Dry cracks obviously have no water in them like this one. Ice can make some very strange, eerie sounds as it changes and sometimes this pond sounds like a Star Wars movie. This crack went all the way across the pond.

There seems to be plenty of seeds and other food for the smaller birds this year, especially since the asters seen here along with goldenrods and so many other late blooming plants grow many millions of seeds each year. All of these seeds are what help small birds and small animals through winter.

And they do get eaten, as this aster seed head shows.

Though the smaller birds seem to have plenty to eat things might be a bit difficult for larger birds like turkeys. Last year was a mast year and millions of acorns and white pine cones fell; easily more than I’ve ever seen, and turkeys, deer, squirrels and other animals had a bountiful year. But as is often the case when trees grow so much fruit, they need time to recover. In the following few years the harvest can be meager, and that’s what has happened this year. Last year I saw more acorns fall than I ever have and this year I’ve seen fewer fall than I ever have, and turkeys and larger animals are now paying the price.  Add to that a layer of snow like that seen here in Hancock, and there could be a serious thinning of the flocks and herds.

Technically a group of turkeys is called a “rafter” rather than a flock but I doubt they care. This one had to come over and see what I was up to. Here in New Hampshire we see turkeys chasing people on the news fairly regularly. They also have a habit of standing in roads. Why, I don’t know.

The way some of these photos show a snow pack and others show none you might think they were taken in different seasons but no, it’s just a matter of a few miles between snow and none at all. In fact looking at this colony of heartleaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) one might be fooled into thinking it was spring, but they’re an evergreen plant and look like this even under snow. Come mid-May they’ll be covered in small white flowers with long stamens, and it is these “foamy” flower stamens that give the plant its common name. It’s so nice to see green plants in December.

Mosses like this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) are non-vascular plants and most if not all are evergreen. I love seeing them at all times of year but especially in winter when there is so little green showing. This moss changes color from deep green to bright lime green when it starts getting cold and it always looks orange to me in the fall, but I’m colorblind so I’m sure it’s just me.

Last year I found this odd, sprawling little plant that I had never seen before. I showed it on a blog post and helpful readers told me it was a spikemoss, which I hadn’t heard of. I went back to see it this year and it really hadn’t changed but I tried to look it over a little more carefully and I did some reading about it. I believe this example is meadow spikemoss (Selaginella apoda.) Spikemosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however.

I didn’t look closely at this fern but I think it might be an eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which is also called marginal wood fern because of how its spore bearing clusters are placed in relation to its pinnule (leaf division) margins. We have a few evergreen ferns and like the mosses they add much to the winter landscape. They might look delicate but I’ve seen them grow on even after being encased in ice.

Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) is another of our evergreen ferns but it doesn’t look delicate at all. In fact if you run your hand over its fronds you’ll find that it feels tough and leathery. This fern is also called rock polypody or rock cap fern  because it is almost always found growing on stones. They are one of just a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying out, much like mosses do.

The sori of the polypody fern are considered naked because they don’t have the thin tissue covering, called an insidium, which many other ferns have. I think the little clusters of sporangium look like baskets of flowers. Though small they can be seen with the naked eye. The druids thought this fern had special powers because they found it growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbals and botanical texts.

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. This example was very young and  shows what look more like pores than teeth at this stage. If you pick up a fallen limb and touch something that feels cold and rubbery, it might be one of these. They are very tough and can stand all the snow and cold that winter can throw at them.

Another tough fungus is the turkey tail (Trametes versicolor,) but this one feels leathery rather than rubbery. This is a common fungus that can be found just about anywhere but the beautiful blue, purple, and orange ones are rare in this area. It seems to depend on the year I’ve noticed; sometimes most of them are shades of brown but in some years many will lean towards blues, purples and oranges. I have no idea what determines their color and apparently science doesn’t either, because I’ve never been able to find a single word about what colors them in print.

I’ve seen several trees with these markings on them and I think it might be the start of a bright yellow crust fungus called conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum.) This fungus is also called bleeding parchment because of the blood red liquid it exudes when it is damaged. It causes heart rot in conifers and is a death sentence for the tree. It seems to be very widespread because I’ve seen it in almost every bit of woodland I’ve been in.

A single terminal bud and two lateral buds in red or sometimes pink help identify striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum.) In late April or early May the bud scales on these buds will open to reveal the beautiful pink and orange buds, which are some of the most beautiful the things one can see in the spring forest.

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 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.

A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars. This one grew on a maple and was quite large.

Bunch gall is another plant deformity that appears on Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) at the very tip of the stem. A gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) lays its egg in a leaf bud and when the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leaves in a “bunch” like that seen here. Since the midge only lays its eggs on Canada goldenrod it makes this plant easy to identify.

I was working one day and this spider crawled up to me and watched for a while. After letting me take a couple of photos it walked off to wherever it was going. It was about as big as a quarter (3/4”) from leg tip to leg tip. I don’t know its name but it could move very fast when it wanted to.

This is how the sky often looks as I drive to work at 7:00 am at this time of year. It’s a great gift that costs nothing but my being there to see it. I hope all of you received similar gifts this year.

A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect. ~Johnathan Lockwood Huie

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

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Seeing the purple trilliums bloom told me that it was time to walk down an old rail trail in Westmoreland to see the wild columbines bloom. But purple trilliums aren’t the only sign and I almost turned back when I saw that the red elderberry at the start of the trail wasn’t blooming yet. So far every time I’ve seen the columbines in bloom the red elderberry was blooming as well.

There has been a lot of logging going on up here over the past few years and you can now see deep into the forest, which is or was mostly beech, maple and oak. I was glad I could see so far because this is known bear country up here. I had a can of bear spray with me but I’m hoping I never have to use it. If I saw a bear way off in the distance I’d sooner leave the woods to it rather than spray it.

It was a little disorienting to see the plants so far along here. Here were ferns in leaf while in Keene they were barely out of the ground.

I was just taking photos of striped maple buds (Acer pennsylvanicum) breaking the day before and here they were in leaf.

I hadn’t seen any sign of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) in Keene but here it was in its strange, clasping pose. This is how it looks just before its leaves unfurl.

Some plants had even leafed out already. At this stage many people confuse wild sarsaparilla with poison ivy, which also comes up at the same time and has glossy green leaves.

What looks like a dark tunnel is where we’re going. Once you get there you find that it isn’t dark and it isn’t a tunnel.

But what was that up ahead?

Beech bud break; one of my favorite things to see in the spring forest. They are this beautiful for a very short time; less than a day before leafing out completely. It usually starts when the buds begin to curl in mid-May, so these were early. At this point I hadn’t seen any sign of bud break in Keene.

I don’t know how long I stood there admiring the new leaves and taking photos but it was a good while. This only happens on one or two days each year and I usually lose myself in the beauty of it for a while. In what seems like no time at all the new leaves will lose their silver fringe and become completely green for the summer. If I’d seen no more of nature for the rest of the day I still would have been very happy. I do hope readers of this blog will look for new leaves in spring. They can be astoundingly beautiful and they’re so easy to find.

Here we are already. These ledges were made when the railroad cut its way through in the mid-1800s. It is part of the same rail trail that the Westmoreland deep cut is on, which I’ve posted about regularly over the years. The major difference in the two cuts is how this wall of this cut is bathed in sunshine for much of the day. It means that a lot of different species of wildflowers can grow here. I have a feeling that this ledge is lime rich because wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers a slightly alkaline soil.

There they were and I was surprised, because though every other plant I had seen here was ahead of its cousins to the south the columbines were not. They were heavily budded though and I won’t mind another walk out here to see the blossoms. Most of the columbines grow over my head on the ledges so getting good photos of them can be difficult. I tried climbing up to them once and slipped on the oak leaves, landing in a very undignified heap at the foot of the ledge.

This bud was within reach and had a few stamens poking out. It also had what looks like a tiny insect egg on it, there on the left. I’m guessing that it would have been about the size of a single letter in any word of this sentence as they appear here; so very small I didn’t even see it until I looked at the photo.

The flower buds on this Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) were clearly visible but I haven’t seen this plant anywhere near this far along in Keene. It must be the bright sunshine up here, or the fact that cold air runs downhill like water and pools in the valleys like the one Keene is in. This must be some type of microclimate.

Jack in the pulpit plants (Arisaema triphyllum) were blooming on the ledges. I always lift the hood of the spathe to see “Jack,” which is the spadix, and to see the beautiful dark stripes. Another name for this plant is tcika-tape, which translates to “bad sick” in certain Native American tribal language. But they didn’t get sick on the poisonous roots because they knew how to cook them to remove the calcium oxalate crystals that make them toxic. That leads to another common name: Indian turnip.

I’ve always thought of the spadix in a Jack in the pulpit as being black, but the bright sunshine shows it to actually be more plum colored. If you’re looking for Jack in the pulpit yet another name for it is bog onion, and that should tell you that it likes low, damp places. But it will also grow on stone as it does here, as long as there is dripping groundwater to keep it good and moist.

There is a large clump of purple trillium (Trillium erectum) here as well.

I know I just showed a purple trillium in my last post but who can resist something as beautiful as this? They’ll be gone before we know it.

In my last post I told about finding marsh marigold, which is a plant I’d never seen, and here was another one I’d never seen: blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides.) Cohosh is believed to be an Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit and in this case the blue refers to the berries. The stems and leaves also have a blueish cast. I think this must have been this plant’s first year here. It stood knee high right next to the trail and was quite bushy, so I surely would have seen it last year. It is said to be long lived when it grows in a place that it likes.

Each of the 6 yellow green petal-like sepals of the blue cohosh flower contains a nectar gland to attract spring insects. The flowers are small at about 1/2 inch across. 6 yellow stamens form a ring around the green center ovary. The true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. Though both Native Americans and early settlers used the plant medicinally to treat a variety of ailments including childbirth, it contains alkaloids and all parts of it should be considered toxic.

Though the flower buds showed some blue the name blue cohosh actually comes from the blue fruit, which looks much like a blueberry but isn’t really a berry at all. They are actually brown seeds with a dark blue fleshy seed coat that protects them. The naked seeds are considered the plant’s fruit but are poisonous. I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing the “berries” when they ripen in summer. It also has beautiful dark blue shoots as it comes out of the ground in spring, so of course I’ll have to be here next year to see that as well. I certainly haven’t seen every plant there is to see but I’ve seen many, so finding two plants I’ve never seen before in one day really amazed me. I think I had a great week. Tomorrow I’ll go back to see those columbines in bloom.

My relationship to plants becomes closer and closer. They make me quiet; I like to be in their company. ~Peter Zumthor

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there!

 

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The weather people are saying we’re in a “very active pattern” right now. The rest of us are saying “enough.” It wasn’t that long ago when the ground was bare except for plowed up snow piles, but then winter decided it wasn’t finished and we’ve had one nor’easter after another ever since. The first was rain, the second was snow, and the third is snow. Snow at this time of year doesn’t usually stay long but the cooler temperatures of late mean that it’s melting slower than many of us would like.

Despite the storms spring is definitely close at hand. Canada geese have returned and have taken up residence in the Ashuelot River. Soon they’ll be choosing nesting sites.

Willows are shouting spring. I love how they take on this golden color in the spring. It seems unusual that a tree’s branches rather than its foliage would change color, but there they are. Forsythia bushes sometimes do the same thing.

The willow in the previous photo isn’t a “pussy willow” but I did go and visit some. The fuzzy catkins hadn’t changed much since last week but they can grow into yellow flowers quickly. It happened so fast last year that I never did get a good photo of a willow flower. This year I’ll be keeping an eye on them.

The vernal witch hazels have just about bloomed themselves out I think, after blooming for two or three weeks now with storm after storm thrown at them.

It isn’t the cold or snow that will finish their blooming though, it is simply time. You can see in this photo how almost all the petals are brown on their tips. If the winter moths have done their job and pollinated them there will be plenty of seed pods next year. After a year on the bush witch hazel seed pods open with explosive force and can hurl the seeds for many yards. It is said that you can hear them snapping open but it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time, and so far I haven’t been.

Hollyhocks were a surprise. At least I think they’re hollyhocks. I don’t remember them coming along so early, and I used to work for people who grew them. Now I wonder if they aren’t evergreen.

I’ve remembered that the extremely early tulips I’ve been telling you about are actually hyacinths. I remembered their wonderful scent from last year as I was taking their photo. There will be deep blue and pink blossoms here before too long.

Maple syrup makers won’t want to hear this but the red maple flower clusters (Acer rubrum) have opened. You can just see the first flowers peeking out on the right in this poor photo. It’ll still be a while before the flowers unfurl, but they’re on the way and they’re beautiful to see in spring. There are so many red maple trees that the forest comes alive with a red haze when they all bloom together.

I also checked on striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) but didn’t see any signs of bud break. This is one of those tree buds I most look forward to seeing open, because the pink and orange buds are beautiful when they first open.

Here’s a preview of what those striped maple buds will look like in late April or early May. A tree full of them is really something to see.

I found this mountain of snow when I went to visit the skunk cabbages. It will be a while before it and what was added to it yesterday disappears.

The swamp where the skunk cabbages grow is also home to thousands of spring peepers. On a warm spring day you can often find this part of their swamp filled with floating, chirping frogs, but this was not a warm day and in any event I haven’t heard the frogs singing at night yet. I also still haven’t heard red winged blackbirds or seen any turtles, but spring is moving forward so it shouldn’t be long.

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) were melting their way through the snow. I’ve seen a surprising number of insects flying around on warmer days so if the plants can stay uncovered they have a good chance of being pollinated.

I went to see how the alders were doing and got this shot of both male and female catkins on the same branch. This doesn’t happen often so I was happy to finally get them both in the same frame. The longer lower ones are the male catkins and the smaller ones at the top are the female catkins. When they’ve been pollinated the female catkins will become the small cone shaped seed bearing strobiles that I think most of us are probably familiar with. I was hoping to see pollen on the male catkins, but not quite yet.

While I was poking around looking at alders I noticed a bird’s nest. I wondered if it was a used red winged blackbird’s nest, because they vigorously defend this area when they’re here.

I checked the female buds of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana,) but I didn’t see any flowers yet. Last year they bloomed near March first but this year the weather must be holding them back. Any time now though the tiny scarlet threads that are the female stigmas will appear.

The daffodils still hang on even though winter has thrown everything it has at them. Last year they came up too early and their leaves turned to mush, so it’ll be interesting to see if they have enough strength left to bloom this year. I haven’t seen any flower buds yet.

The daylilies also made it through the last storm, but I wonder if they’ll make it all the way.

Crocuses are coming up and trying to bloom where the snow is thin. Unfortunately it isn’t thin in many places at the moment.

The biggest surprise on this day was a blooming dandelion. It wouldn’t win a prize in a flower show but it was a flower, and the plant had many buds. No matter what the calendar says this dandelion says spring is here. That along with the fact that we now have an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day is enough to bring on a good case of spring fever.

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

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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It was a beautiful sunny, spring like 40 degree day last Saturday when I set off down a favorite leg of the Ashuelot Rail Trail in Swanzey. Every time I come here I discover something I haven’t seen here before and today was no different. In fact I saw many things that I’ve walked right by on previous trips. That’s why John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday,” and that’s why I follow the same trails again and again. Though I’ve traveled them many times I know that I haven’t seen half what is on them.

There were lots of beech trees along this section of trail and their dry leaves shivered and whispered softly in the light breeze. Soon they will begin to fall and make room for new leaves.

These berries had me scratching my head for a minute until I realized that the large shrub they grew on was privet. A homeowner who lived along the rail trail had long ago planted a privet hedge and then never trimmed it so the hedge grew to about ten feet tall, and it was covered with berries that the birds weren’t eating. That’s a good thing because privet is considered invasive. This is one of those things that I’ve walked by fifty times but haven’t seen.

One of my reasons to come here was to see the old trestle that crosses the Ashuelot River. There has been a lot of talk about ice jams and I wanted to see what the ice looked like out here in a place you can’t drive to.

Dark purple-brown frullania liverworts decorated a young oak tree. This liverwort is an epiphytic plant, which means it takes nothing from the trees that it grows on. I think of them being like a bird; they simply perch on trees in spots where they get the moisture and light that they need. They are easiest to see in winter when the cold darkens them.

There are about 800 species of this liverwort so identification can be difficult but this is the one that I most often see, with tiny leaves that are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but I keep forgetting to smell them.

A heavily fruiting lichen grew right next to the liverwort on the oak tree. I see this lichen quite often but I’ve never been satisfied with any identification I’ve come up with so far. I thought it might be rosy saucer lichen until my color finding software told me that its many apothecia were brown instead of rosy. For those who don’t know lichens, the apothecia are the round, rimmed fruiting bodies where this lichen’s spores are produced.

An old railroad marker had slowly tilted until it had fallen almost all the way over but its “W” was still visible, highlighted in snow. 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. There is a crossing very nearby where the railbed crosses a road, and 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. I was surprised that I couldn’t remember seeing the post here before, but I’m sure it had to have been.

I scuffed my boot in the snow to find that there were only about two inches over very firm ice. The ice remains even though it rained more than a week ago, but maybe a day or two of this warmth will have melted it.

When the sap (called pitch) of white pines turns blue and / or purple you know it has been cold. The only time I see it do this is in the winter. In summer it is either a matte finish, tannish color or a very clear honey / amber color, depending on when it oozed from the tree. Sometimes in winter it can be a very beautiful deep blue.

The biggest surprise on this hike was how many balsam fir trees (Abies balsamea) I saw. This is thought of as a more northern tree so I don’t expect to them here in the southern part of the state but I must have easily seen 20 of them that I hadn’t seen the last time I came this way. It’s hard to believe but maybe it is cold enough here these days to keep them happy. A lot of Christmases came rushing back when I smelled a few of its crushed needles.

The red buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) were a welcome sight but I was surprised again because I’ve never seen them growing here. Toward the end of April the fuzzy buds will be showing pink and orange hues. They’re one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and well worth the effort to see.

The chubby, thumb size buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) were no surprise because these trees grow quite abundantly in the river bottom section of Swanzey. This is another bud which, when it breaks in early June, will easily be one of the most beautiful things in the forest. The insides of the bud scales are orange, pink and yellow and make these tress look like they are full of beautiful flowers.

Shagbark hickory gets its name, not surprisingly, from its shaggy bark. The wood is very hard and tough but flexible and shock resistant, so it is prized for use in tool handles. It was also once used to make wheels and spokes for wagons and early autos. Northeastern Native American tribes used the wood to make bows and stone axe handles. Hickory is also one of the hottest burning woods.

Native Americans used the nuts of shagbark hickory for food and the word “hickory” comes from the Native Algonquin “pawchiccora,” which was their word for the oily nutmeat. If a mother’s milk wasn’t available infants were fed hickory milk, which was made by boiling crushed hickory nuts. Today the nuts are eaten mostly by squirrels, chipmunks, foxes and turkeys.

As if often the case what should have been a short walk turned into a long one because there was so much to see along the way, but I finally made it to the trestle. Wooden decks and railings were added to most of the old, unused trestles in this area by snowmobile clubs, and all who use these trails really owe them a debt of gratitude for maintaining them. When I was a boy you had to step from railroad tie to tie, with a gap between that it was easy to catch a leg or an ankle in if you weren’t careful. I was so used to crossing trestles by the time I was ten I could cross them in the dark but I know people who got their leg down between the ties and one who even fell from a trestle into the river below.

I wouldn’t recommend falling into this river in January. There was something going on up river but I couldn’t tell if it was an ice jam or just ice that had formed around a submerged tree. There are a lot of submerged trees in this river and that’s why you only see kayaks or canoes when the water is high, usually in spring. You can see in this photo how the trees lean out over the water as they grow, trying to gather up as much sunlight as possible.

Slabs of ice in the trees told me how high the water had been a while ago. I’m guessing that the water level had dropped 4 or 5 feet since that ice formed.

Another reason I come here is to see the only “tell tales” left to see in this area. Tell tales are thin, pencil size pieces of wire suspended from a cross brace that hangs out over the railroad tracks. They were put in place to warn anyone walking on top of a boxcar that a tunnel or bridge was ahead so they could duck down and avoid a nasty collision with an immoveable object. Being hit in the face by these hanging wires couldn’t have been pleasant but it was certainly better than the alternative. They used to hang on either end of every trestle but now these ones are the only ones I see.

Of all the times I’ve come here I’ve never noticed that the upright that holds the tell tales out over the rail bed is actually a piece of track stood vertically and buried in the soil. It tells me that these tell tales might have been fashioned in place rather than made ahead of time and shipped to the site.

Where I grew up the Boston and Maine Railroad crossed the Ashuelot River just a few yards from my house and there was a trestle there just like this one, so I wouldn’t be lying if I said I grew up on this river and on these railroad tracks, and I guess that each are as much a part of me as anything can be. I think that’s why I come back to them again and again; to check on their health and to see that they’re doing well, and I’m happy to say that both the river and the rail trails are doing much better now than they were then. The Ashuelot was very polluted back then and the trains kept many people off the tracks, but now you can come and sit on a trestle like this all day and admire a near pristine river where bald eagles once again fish for trout. It makes me want to say just look what we can do when we really want to.

When I came here I had nothing but a camera and curiosity but I left satisfied with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. It struck me on this walk that if people could find happiness in simple things like a walk outside on a warm January day, or seeing sunshine falling on last year’s grasses, they might find that they were happy most of the time. I find that I’m pretty happy most days, and that has happened quite by accident, just by spending most of my free time in nature. It really is amazing what an abundance of joy simply being outside can bring to you. I hope you’ll try it and see.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

Thanks for coming by.

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