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Posts Tagged ‘Sugar Maple’

Blooming everywhere in lawns right now is one of our lawn loving wildflowers: bluets (Houstonia caerulea.) These tiny, 3/8 inch diameter flowers make up for size with numbers and huge drifts of them, yards in width and length are common. Though they bloom in early spring and are called a spring ephemeral I’ve seen them bloom all summer long where they weren’t mowed.

I can’t think of much that is cheerier than a colony of bluets in the lawn. They seem to have somehow figured out how to stay just short of the grass height so their flowers don’t get mowed off. Either that or they regrow very quickly. I always try to find the darkest blue flowers in the colony and these got the prize on this day. They can range from deep blue to almost white.

I thought coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) had finished already but I keep running into them. This is one plant that I search high and low for in early spring but can never find, and a little later on it seems to be everywhere. This one had an odd fringe of something under the flower. I don’t know if they were bracts or something else, but I’ve never seen them before. Coltsfoot leaves, for those who don’t know, appear once the flowers have died off so for right now all you see is flowers and no leaves.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) weren’t quite ready for this post but in another week those greenish sterile flowers will be a beautiful bright white and all those buds in the center will be smaller, fertile flowers that are also white. This is one of our most beautiful spring flowering shrubs. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads. Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster.

Bloodroot flowers (Sanguinaria canadensis) are with us for such a short time. This small group hasn’t even been up for a week and already the flowers are shattering. It’s a member of the poppy family, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. None of that family seems to last very long.

Luckily bloodroot colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. I found another small colony that hadn’t bloomed yet so hopefully I can show these flowers the way they deserve to be seen. When they’re at this stage they always look like they have wrapped themselves in a cloak to me. Of course the cloak is the plant’s single leaf. Bloodroot’s common name comes from the reddish orange sap that bleeds from its root when it’s cut. Native Americans used the sap as a dye for baskets, clothing, and as war paint, as well as for an insect repellent.

One of the most unusual flowers to bloom in spring, and one that few people see, is the fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis.) It’s unusual because its flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. The flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

Quite often you’ll find that the pair of fly honeysuckle flowers are themselves part of a pair, dangling at the branch ends.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire. Where I work a large group of squirrels attacks our lone Norway maple each spring, gnawing off every single seed before they can mature. How they know to do this is a mystery to me but we end up with thousands of shriveled seeds and no seedlings under that tree every year.

Squirrels don’t do any real harm to sugar maples, unless it is to nick the bark with their teeth so they can lick up the sweet sap when it bleeds from the wound. They will also eat the buds and flowers but not in enough numbers to keep the trees from producing seeds. And produce they do; millions of seeds can fall in a single acre. The bud shown above had just opened. Sugar maples can live for 400 years and this is how they all get their start.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected for nosegays and when I was a boy they were very hard to find; in fact my grandmother and I never found any, but now I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. They are protected in some states as well, and this helps. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time. Not only that but it robs the rest of us of the pleasure of seeing them. Native Americans used trailing arbutus medicinally and it was considered so valuable it was thought to have divine origins. Its scent is certainly heavenly and my grandmother loved it very much.

I like the little star inside a myrtle blossom. This plant is also called vinca (Vinca minor) and is one of those invasive plants from Europe that have been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship. Vinca was a plant that was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere. But the word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the wiry stems do. They grow thickly together and form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through, and I know of large areas with nothing but vinca growing in them. But all in all it is nowhere near as aggressive as Oriental bittersweet or winged euonymus, so we enjoy it’s beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clam shell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

I saw a back-lit daffodil that was almost perfect but something had been munching on its petals. I didn’t know anything ate them.

It has taken about a month for them to finally give their all but female alder flowers (Alnus incana) are finally fully in bloom. They’re the tiny reddish threads coming out of the cone like structure; easily among the tiniest flowers that I try to photograph; so small that I can’t actually see them when I’m photographing them. All I can see is a reddish haze, and that’s when I have to completely trust the camera.

I visited one of the trout lily colonies (Erythronium americanum) I know of and so far I’ve seen just a single blossom there. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants which eat their rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. They’ve obviously been working very hard with this colony because there are tens of thousands of plants in it.

I like the bronze coloring on the back of the petals. Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering trout lily plants you know it has been there for a while. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food. Black bears love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

Many spring ephemeral flowers are relatively small, but not purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Right now I’m seeing them almost everywhere I go.

Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. This is one of our showiest spring wildflowers. This one was already dropping its white pollen onto the lower petal.

I’ll leave you with a little bit of promise. Lilacs seem to be heavily budded this year and I’m very anxious to smell them again. They remind me of my mother, which might be hard to understand for those who know that she died when I was an infant but she planted white lilacs before she died and I got to smell them and take care of them for many years. I hope everyone knows a plant or two that comes with such fond memories.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

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Last week’s nor’easter sat up north and just spun in one place for days after it buried parts of New England, and clouds and snow showers filled the air all week. And then finally on Sunday the sun came out. The temperature shot up to a relatively balmy 40 degrees F., and I decided to get into the woods. The plan was to climb the High Blue trail in Walpole to see if any of the coltsfoot that live along the trail were blooming, but Walpole got a lot more snow than I did in my yard and everything was snow covered.

I stopped to admire a snow curl on a branch.

The new way of colleting sap is used here. Or at least it was; this tubing wasn’t being used and these maple trees hadn’t been tapped. The black bit on the left at the end of the blue tubing is the part that would be in the tree if it had been tapped.

Normally I would have taken a left turn and followed the high blue trail to the overlook but nobody else had been here and my trail breaking days through a foot of snow are over. I was really surprised that there was no trail though, because this is a popular spot. I had to come up with a plan B.

Plan B was simply bypassing the left turn onto the high blue trail and staying on the old logging road that leads to it. The snow on the old road had been packed down by snowmobiles but it was still slow going. At the pace I usually walk though slow is the norm, so slipping and sliding in the snow wasn’t really a problem.

There were a few paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera) along the trail and some gray and golden birches as well.

A small stream ran alongside the road and bubbled and gurgled as I walked. Even though I couldn’t sense it the rushing water told me the snow was melting fast.

The little stream slowed and opened up into quiet pools every now and then.

I was hoping to find some evidence of amphibian activity like frog eggs, but all I saw were stones.

When two trees grow close enough together like these two sugar maples did the wind can cause them to rub together enough so their outer bark is rubbed off. If the trees are the same species, when the cambium layer just under the bark touches the two trees can grow together. This process is called inosculation and trees naturally grafted together like these two are called “husband and wife” trees or “marriage trees.” Rarely, trees of different species like red and sugar maple can become grafted, but I’ve never seen it.

I hope I never get too busy to admire a beech tree (Fagus americana) caught in a sunbeam. They’re so beautiful at this time of year.

I looked at many beech buds but I didn’t see any signs of bud break. I didn’t really expect to because it’s really too early, but the warm February could have confused some trees as well as shrubs and other plants. Like the striped maple buds I mentioned in my last post, beech buds breaking is an event I look forward to all winter.

The reason I look forward to tree buds opening in spring is because many of them are as beautiful as any flower. I’ll start looking for them in earnest starting in Late April and early May.

One of the theories of why beech trees hold onto their leaves throughout winter says that deer and moose are afraid of the sound of the papery, dry, whispering leaves and wont browse on the buds.  Deer have bottom incisor teeth that meet a hard pad of cartilage on their upper jaw, so they can’t bite through a twig cleanly. Instead they have to tear it, and this torn twig tells me that this beech bud was taken by a deer so papery leaves or not, deer do indeed browse on beech trees.

The trail opened into a large clearing that offered a few choices of where to go. The snowmobile tracks that went off to the left might circle around and go up to the overlook but they might not, and I might do a lot of trudging through the snow for nothing.  There was already a long walk ahead of me to get back out again, so I had to be careful that I didn’t get tired out walking in. While I thought about it I decided to explore the clearing.

The spore bearing fronds of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) told me that the soil here was wet. Sensitive ferns like damp, sunny places like wet meadows and the edges of forests. Fossils that closely resemble sensitive fern have been found dating back to the time of the dinosaurs, so they have been here for a very long time. Early American settlers gave this fern its common name when they noticed how sensitive they were to frost.

Native river grapes (Vitis riparia) grew up and into the sugar maples and judging from the size of the vines they’ve been doing so for a very long time. I see these grapes growing in wet soil quite often so I think it’s safe to say that they also like damp sunny spots.

River grapes don’t seem to have as many tendrils as other grapes but they have enough to help them climb. This vine’s tendril had wrapped around this maple branch long enough ago so the branch had been growing around it. I see this often with tough vines like oriental bittersweet but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a grape vine do this. The tendrils must be a lot stronger than I thought.

The second way out of the clearing involved climbing a steep hill, so I passed on that option.

The third way out also involved a hill. Less steep but still a hill and I had no idea where the trail went, so in the end I decided to turn around and head back down the old road. I knew a lot more about this area than I did when I started and I got to walk in the winter woods on a warm sunny day, so my time certainly wasn’t wasted.

After stopping for a moment to wonder at the mechanics of another snow curl, off I went.

The world is as large as I let it be. Each step I take into the unknown reveals a thousand more steps of possibility. Earth may not be growing but my world certainly does with each step I take. ~Avina Celeste

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

 

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I don’t know why I get an itch to start looking at buds at this time of year but I always have. Maybe it makes me think of spring. Buds do give clues that the ground has thawed by taking up water and swelling, and if you watch a bud every other day or so in spring you can see it happen. I usually watch lilac buds, but nothing says spring like the sugar maple buds (Acer saccharum) in the above photo. Sugar maples have large, pointed, very scaly terminal buds flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples and the buds have several scales. Buds with many scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud.

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like those on sugar maples fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds that are large enough to see without magnification. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all.

You can see the gummy resin that glues some bud scales together on this gray birch (Betula populifolia) bud. Ruffed grouse will eat both the buds and catkins and pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds of gray birch. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

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

If you can’t identify a hawthorn by its buds then its thorns will help. On this example they were about 2 inches long and just as sharp as they look. Native Americans made fences around their settlements with brambles and thorny branches like those from hawthorns. They also made very sharp awls and fish hooks from hawthorn thorns.

The lilac buds (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo are another good example of imbricate buds. Lilac buds are very red and in spring once the plant begins taking up water again they can swell quickly enough to notice, if they’re regularly watched. I’ve watched lilac buds in spring since I was just a small boy and it has always been one of my favorite things to do in the spring. They aren’t swelling yet but it won’t be long before spring is here.

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) buds are also imbricate buds, and also very red. It’s interesting that almost everything about the blueberry is red except for its berry. The new twigs are red, the bud scales are red, and the fall foliage is very red.

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

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts. It has a long history with mankind; its sour red fruit has been eaten for over 7000 years, and the Persians and ancient Romans knew it well.

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming.

Sycamore bud scales (Platanus occidentalis) are also made of a single brown cap which will fall off to reveal the bud only when the weather warms. When buds are covered by a single bud scale they are encircled completely by a bud scale scar when the scale falls off.

The mountain ash bud (Sorbus americana) in this photo looks like it has a single cap like bud scale but it actually has several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. It looks like a squirrel might have been nibbling at this one.

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

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose.

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

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is another native shrub with naked buds. This photo shows that the flower bud in the center and the surrounding leaf buds are clothed more in wool than hair, but there are no scales for protection. Still, they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

Sometimes there is no flower bud at the end of a hobblebush branch so the leaf buds are able to clasp tightly together, and they always remind me of praying hands. I’m not sure what caused the dark spots on these examples. It’s something I’ve never seen before.

The chubby little green and purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are some of my favorites, but I don’t see them often. I find that being able to identify trees and shrubs when they don’t have leaves adds another layer to the enjoyment of nature study, and I hope readers will try to learn a few. If you are interested in studying tree and shrub buds, start with one in your own yard that you are sure of like a maple tree, and then branch out to those you don’t know well. The following information might be helpful:

A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

Imbricate bud: A bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles.
Valvate bud: A bud with two or three scales that do not overlap.
Caplike bud: A bud with a single scale that comes off in the spring.
Naked bud: A bud with no scales.

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. ~Victor Hugo

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1-lilac

I’ve spent many winters watching the buds of trees and bushes, especially those right around my house like the lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo. I check it regularly starting in February for signs of swelling. In winter buds are my connection to spring and I love watching the bud scales finally open to reveal tiny leaves or flowers. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud. The lilac bud above is a good example of an imbricate bud.

2-rhody

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like lilacs fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds. This one was half the length of my thumb.

3-cornelian-cherry

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. I was surprised to see the bud scales on this example opening already. We can still get below zero cold.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

4-nannyberry

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) are also examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. The bottom bud scale was broken on this one. Nannyberry is another of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit. Native Americans ate them fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally.

5-staghorn-sumac

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

6-hobblebush

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is another native shrub with naked buds. This photo shows that the flower bud in the center and the two leaf buds on either side are clothed more in wool than hair, but there are no scales for protection. Still, they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

7-magnolia

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds,” which means that instead of using scales or hairs they use both. The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Meanwhile, the bud stays wrapped protectively in a fur coat.

8-red-oak

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

9-sugar-maple

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) The large, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. In 2016 New Hampshire produced 169,000 gallons of maple syrup but the season only lasted through the month of March due to the warm weather. The average cost per gallon in 2015 was $59.40. I’m guessing it went up in 2016.

10-striped-maple

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have colorful twigs and buds and are among the easiest trees to identify no matter what time of year because of the green and white vertical stripes on their bark. Their terminal buds have two scales and are valvate like the nannyberry buds. Striped maple is very fussy about where it grows and will not stand pollution, heat, or drought. It likes cool, shady places with sandy soil that stays moist. They bloom in June and have very pretty green bell shaped blossoms.

11-striped-maple-bark

Striped maple bark makes the trees very easy to identify when they’re young, but as trees age the bark becomes uniformly gray.

12-beech

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

13-gray-birch

It was about 15 degrees and snowing when this photo was taken and you can see the frozen gummy resin that glues some bud scales together on this gray birch (Betula populifolia) bud and male catkin on the right. Ruffed grouse will eat the buds and catkins and. pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

14-sweet-birch

Black birch buds (Betula lenta) don’t have as many bud scales as gray birch buds and the bark doesn’t look at all like other birches, so it can be hard to identify. Another name for the tree is cherry birch and that’s because its bark looks like cherry bark. It is also called sweet birch because it smells like wintergreen, and I always identify it by chewing a twig. If it tastes like wintergreen then I know it’s a black birch. Trees were once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen. So many were taken that they became hard to find, but they seem to be making a good comeback.

15-catalpa

Everything about the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree is big. It grows to 70-100 feet and has huge heart shaped leaves. Great trusses of large white orchid like flowers blossom appear on them in late spring, and even the seedpods look like giant string beans. But then there are its buds, which are tiny. In this photo the brown leaf bud appears just above the suction cup like leaf scar, which is where last year’s leaf was. Each tiny bud has about six small pointed scales. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew large plantations of them to use as rail ties. It has also been used for telephone poles. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe.

16-catalpa-leaf

Catalpa trees have the biggest leaves of any tree I know of. This shot of my camera sitting on one is from a couple of years ago. It’s amazing that such a big thing can grow from such a tiny bud.

17-white-pine

Clusters of small, sticky buds appear at the ends of white pine branches (Pinus strobus.) They are sticky because they’re coated with pine sap, which we call pine pitch. They aren’t sticky when it’s cold though; the white platy material is frozen pine pitch. Once the weather warms it will go back to being a thick, amber, sticky fluid that doesn’t easily wash off.

I have to apologize for the quality of some of these photos. With it dark before and after work these days photography can only happen on weekends and if it’s dark and cloudy on those days then I have to assume that nature is giving me a lesson in great patience and I just have to do what I can with the camera.

Despite the poor photos I hope this post has shown how interesting and beautiful buds can be, and I hope you’ll have a look at the buds in your own yard or neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you find.

Leaves wither because winter begins; but they also wither because spring is already beginning, because new buds are being made. ~Karel Capek

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1. Horse Chestnut Bud Break

Leaf and flower buds can look very different when they first open compared to when they’re fully grown. The colors alone can make them quite beautiful but sometimes there are other surprises. For instance, when the leaves on this horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) unfurled they revealed the flower bud that they had been protecting. It was as big as my thumb.

2. Beech Buds Breaking

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” but there is often far more to it than that. These beech buds turned a beautiful orangey color and the tension brought on by some cells growing faster than others caused them to curl. Any time now the leaves will begin to unfurl completely and they will look like downy, silvery angel wings for just a very short time.

3. Horsetail

Technically not a bud break but interesting nonetheless, the fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, 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 an infertile stem. Nature can seem very complicated at times but it always comes down to one simple thing: continuation of the species.

4. Bitternut Hickory Buds aka Carya cordiformis

I was walking along an old rail bed and spotted an unbelievable shade of yellow. The strange color belonged to the buds of a bitternut hickory tree (Carya cordiformis), which is something I’ve never seen before. When I see something like this I wonder what the tree gains from having buds this color. It’s possible that it has something to do with keeping animals from browsing on the new shoots, but I don’t know that for sure.  It is said that the nuts from this tree are so bitter that even squirrels won’t eat them, so maybe the buds are too.

5. Box Elder Bud Break

The female flowers of box elder (Acer negundo) have bright green, hairy pistils with sticky stigmas that split in two. The winged seeds that appear after the flowers hang in clusters and will stay on the tree throughout winter, sometimes into spring. Some trees flower before growing leaves and some grow their leaves first and then flower. Box elders fall somewhere in between, with both flowers and leaves on the tree at the same time.

6. Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is a hated plant because of its invasive qualities but in spring it can be very beautiful as it unravels itself from the bud. I’ve heard that these new shoots taste much like rhubarb. Maybe if we stopped fighting it and started eating it we could lick the problem of its being so invasive. Last spring we had a hard, late frost and Japanese knotweed shoots were killed to the ground, but within 3 weeks they had come right back and grew as if it had never happened.

7. New Ginger Leaves

Our native wild ginger (Asarum canadense) takes its time opening its new leaves. I’ve been watching these plants for close to three weeks now, since they first came up, and this photo shows the progress they’ve made in that time. I wonder if the small brown flowers will take as long to appear as the leaves take to unfold.

8. White Baneberry Buds

The opening buds of baneberry always remind me of a hand and it isn’t hard to imagine webbed fingers clawing their way out of the soil. Here they grasp the flower bud which will soon become a globular mass of tiny white flowers. The plant shown here is white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), also called doll’s eyes, and by the end of summer its flowers will have become porcelain white berries with single black dots on their ends. These berries are beautiful and especially attractive to children, but are also very toxic. Fortunately their bitter taste keeps most children from being poisoned by them.

9. Sweetfern Catkins

Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) sometimes hangs onto its old leaves even as it is making mew ones. In this photo last year’s leaves wrap around this year’s male catkins. I always run my hands over the leaves to release the fragrance that it is named for. Some compare it to soap, others to spices or fresh mown hay. It is a very unusual scent that smells clean and a bit spicy to me. Though its leaves resemble fern leaves it is really a deciduous shrub. Crushing a few leaves and rubbing them over your skin will keep mosquitoes and other bugs away.

10. Sweet Fern Female Flower

Further down the stem of the sweet fern not only are new leaves breaking, but the tiny scarlet female flower is waiting for the wind to bring pollen from male catkins. You can just make it out on the left, beside where the new leaves are forming. I think it is even smaller than the female flower of American hazelnut (Corylus Americana,) which means that it’s too small for these aging eyes to see. Getting a photo of it was simple luck.

11. Skunk Cabbage

Some of the biggest buds I know of are those of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus.) As the leaves begin to unfurl they do look a bit like cabbage leaves but if you tried cooking them their odor would soon let you know that you weren’t dealing with cabbage! In this photo not only can you see the new leaves but the spathe and even the flower covered spadix in the broken spathe to the right of center. It’s the first time I’ve been able to get all of the different parts of a skunk cabbage plant in one photo.

 12. Sugar Maple Leaf Bud aka Acer saccharum

The late afternoon sun was doing some strange things to the veins on this emerging sugar maple leaf (Acer saccharum). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new leave’s veins stand out from the body of the leaf in this way. I thought it was a beautiful sight but was surprised that a deer hadn’t eaten it.

When man gives his whole heart to Nature and has no cares outside, it is surprising how observant he becomes, and how curious he is to know the cause of things. ~William Davies

Happy mother’s day tomorrow to all of the moms out there. Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

 

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Swanzey Lake is a place that I visit quite frequently because of the easy accessibility of the surrounding forest. Like most lakes in this area there is a road that goes completely around it. Off this road, near a huge boulder covered with rock tripe lichens, is another road that I’ve wondered about for years. I was able to finally hike it recently.

 1. Class 6 Road Sign

This is a class 6 road which means, unless you know someone who has traveled it, you’re better off walking it than driving it-at least for the first time. I know of another class 6 road with two old timber and plank bridges out and nowhere to comfortably turn around.  I had no idea where this one might lead, but I was determined to find out.

 2. Class 6 Road

It wasn’t long before I was regretting leaving the Yak Tracks behind, but as it turned out the icy spots were relatively easy to avoid. I’m not in a Yak Track frame of mind yet, but I’d better get in one soon. Some of these old roads just end in the forest and others connect with networks of other old, forgotten roads.  There’s really no telling where they lead, and that’s part of the fun. Fun that is, as long as you carefully note any detours onto other roads that you might have to take. In some cases it’s possible to get seriously lost out here if you aren’t paying attention. I haven’t heard of any lost hunters yet but it usually happens every year at about this time.

 3. Ice Needles

I saw the longest ice needles I’ve ever seen along this road. The ones in the photo were at least 6 inches long and had frozen together to form thick ice ribbons.  Since they are extruded from the ground by hydrostatic pressure, they are almost always covered with sand or soil.

 4. Ice Pillars

Instead of curling like they usually do these ice needles grew straight up and brought stones along for the ride. Several of these ice pillars were capped by tiny pebbles.

5. Stone Wall

Stone walls mean this land was cleared once, and somebody lived out here. In 1822 the New Hampshire State Board of Agriculture suggested what farmers should do with all of the stones they found in their fields:  “Almost all farms have stone enough to make a wall for every necessary division and enclosure. Labor used in this way answers a double purpose; it secures the fields from the ravages of stock, and improves them by removing rocks which are not only useless, but inconvenient and injurious in their natural situation. A farmer ought to consider it his proper business, as he has means and opportunity, to secure his lands by stone walls.”  All he needed was a horse, a stone boat, and a strong back. And a couple of sons would have come in handy, too. By 1871 there were an estimated 252,539 miles of stone walls in New England and New York, enough to circle the earth 10 times at the equator. Today it is almost impossible to walk through these woods without finding them.

 6. Hilltop Wood Lot

Somebody is still cutting trees here. None of these are very old and most are hard wood.

7. Hoar Frost Almost every inch of this hemlock twig was covered in ice.

8. Puddle Ice

It must be wind that makes waves on mud puddles-even small ones-this one couldn’t have been a foot long.

 9. Birch Log

Puddles weren’t the only things displaying wave patterns. This fallen birch was as big around as a truck tire and might have made some interesting lumber. Spalting is a caused by fungi growing on dead trees and the wood is prized by woodworkers due to the unique colors and patterns that can form in the log. I was wishing that I could cut a slab or two just to see what the grain pattern would look like. This could be a very valuable log.

10. Sugar Maple

Next to the birch log stood a nice old sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) I don’t know why sugar maples are so often found near roads, but I’m guessing they were planted there so the sap buckets would be easier to get to. A paper titled Relationships between Soil Salinity, Sap-Sugar Concentration, and Health of Declining Roadside Sugar Maples by Graham T Herrick says that scientists all over the country are seeing dying sugar maples along roadsides. Road salt residue in soil inhibits plant water uptake and tips of branches in the crown start dying off. Before long the entire tree is dying. The strangest part of the study shows that the amount of sugar in the sap actually increases as the tree dies. The tree in the photo has probably never seen salt used on this old road, so it has had a chance to live a long, healthy life.

 11. Hemlock Varnished Bracket Fungus aka Ganoderma tsugae

I found several hemlock varnished bracket fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) growing on an old eastern hemlock stump (Tsuga canadensis.) It has a white outer edge and underside when it is young and looks very different than those in the photo. They are annuals that grow new from the mycelium each spring, and these examples were at least a year old, I think. This mushroom is said to be among the most valuable medicinal fungi. The Chinese have used it in their medicine for over 2000 years.

 12. Jelly Fungus

It was cold enough to freeze this orange jelly fungus but the sun must have thawed it out.

 13. Frosty Hole

This hole in the ground was about as big as a quarter-just right for a snake. Judging by the hoar frost around its rim there was plenty of moisture of coming out of it.  At this scale it looks like a cave.

 14. Icy Road

I won’t be leaving those Yak Tracks behind again until March, I guess. Snowmobile and four wheel drive clubs do a great job of keeping these old roads open, but there’s nothing they can do about the ice.

 15. Suburbia at End of Road

Suburbia. Not exactly the wilderness I was hoping for and not what I was expecting to find at the end of a class 6 road, so back I went the way I came. At least now I don’t have to wonder where this road leads and I know where I can go for a short walk that has plenty of interesting things to see.

An old road always looks richer and more beautiful than a new road because old roads have memories. ~ Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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When I take pictures for this blog I don’t usually have a “theme” in mind or any pre conceived notion of what the post will contain. I just take pictures of things that interest me, and that I think might interest you. In this post something different happened and many of the things photographed ended up having something in common. I wonder if you can guess what that is before you get to the end.

 1. Smooth Sumac Berries

Birds like cardinals, bluebirds and robins will eat the berries (drupes) of smooth sumac, but these berries seem to be an emergency food because they can usually still be seen in spring. Smooth sumac berries are covered in small, fine hairs that make them very tart. Cleaned seeds can be ground and used as a spice in place of lemon seasoning, and Native American people used the berries to make a drink similar to lemonade. The dried wood of sumacs will fluoresce under a black light, which is an odd but reliable way to identify them.

2. Sugar Maple Buds

The way to tell if you’re tapping a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is to look at the buds, which are pointed and sharp looking. The two lateral buds on either side of the terminal bud are always directly across from each other.  If you have a good memory you can check the tree in the fall-sugar maple is the only native maple to be dropping seeds in late summer and fall. Above freezing daytime temperatures along with below freezing nights gets tree sap flowing. In New Hampshire this usually happens in February, but I haven’t seen any sap buckets yet.

3. Red Maple Buds

Sap from other maples can be used to make maple syrup but the sugar content isn’t as high, so it means more boiling. Sugar maple has the longest period of sap flow before its buds break, so its sap output is greater than in other trees. The red maple buds (Acer rubrum) pictured are clearly very different than those of the sugar maple in the previous photo. Sap from red, black, and silver maples might cloud the finished syrup, but it is still perfectly edible.

4. American Wintergreen

I was surprised to see that the leaves of this American wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) had turned red. The leaves of this evergreen plant often get a purplish color in cold weather but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them quite this red. This plant is also called teaberry and was once used to make teaberry gum. It was also used as a pain killer in the same way aspirin is by Native Americans.  If you know the taste of American wintergreen you can easily identify the black birch (Betula lenta,) because its young twigs taste the same.

5. Rose Hip 2

I found a rose hip that the birds and animals missed. Rose hips are the fruit of the rose plant. Fresh hips are loaded with vitamin C and make great jams and jellies, and once dried they can be used in tea. The hips should be cut in half and cleaned well before they are dried because they contain seeds and small hairs that shouldn’t be eaten.

 6. Rose Hip Inside

The inside of a rose hip shows the tiny hairs that should never be eaten.  Not only do these hairs cause digestive irritation and upset, but they cause also cause something that Native Americans called “itchy bottom disease.” The French call them “scratch butt. “ I’m sure you get the idea.

Itching powder is made from the hairs in rose hips and when I was a boy you could find ads for it in the backs of comic books, right next to the sea monkeys and genuine monster kits. The ads used to encourage you to “Amuse your friends!” They probably should have said “Lose your friends!” because nobody likes having itching powder dumped down their shirt.

7. Crab Apple

Rose hips are in the same family (Rosaceae) as crabapples and have the same tangy-sweet flavor. To be classified as a crab apple the fruit has to be less than 2 inches in diameter. Anything greater than 2 inches is considered an apple. The fruit pictured is less than half an inch in diameter and is the only fruit on my tree that the birds didn’t eat. It has been hanging there like this all winter. Crabapples are a little too sour to eat raw but they make an excellent jelly. Four species of crabapple are native to North America and have been used by Native Americans for thousands of years.

 8. Puddle Ice Patterns

I stopped at the post office one day and found this amazing ice on a mud puddle there. I don’t know what caused the strange patterns on the ice but I’ve read that the clarity of ice is determined by how much oxygen was in the water when it froze. Oxygen means bubbles and more bubbles mean more imperfections, which in turn mean whiter ice. In fact, the secret to perfectly clear ice cubes involves boiling the water before freezing it, because boiling removes the oxygen. Clarity of ice I can understand, but I don’t know what would have caused all of the little “cells” that are in this puddle ice. I’ve never seen anything like them. I boosted the contrast on this shot so you could see them better.

 9. Birch Catkins at Sundown

The swelling catkins on this birch tree shout spring, in spite of the snow and cold. Birch catkins release their pollen before the leaves appear so the leaves don’t interfere with pollen dispersal.  Leaves limit the distance that the wind can carry the pollen, reducing the chances of successful fertilization between trees. We might be getting blasted by snow and cold, but this tree tells me that spring is coming.

 10. Blackberry Cane

 Were you able to guess what the accidental ‘theme” of this post was? It’s the color red! I didn’t realize until I put it together how much red can be found in the winter landscape. From sumac berries to crab apples to teaberry leaves to the blackberry cane shown in the above photo-they’re all different shades of red. My color finding software that I use to cheat color blindness sees dark red, fire brick red, and even plum in this small section of cane.  I see a nice fat bud that is another sure sign of spring!

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand. ~Neil Armstrong

Thanks for coming by.

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