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Posts Tagged ‘Sulfur Dust Lichen’

I’ve left lichens alone up to this point this year because of the drought. Lichens, to be at their best photogenically at least, need rain and when they don’t get it they can change their appearance sometimes quite dramatically. Some lichens however, like the common goldspeck lichens seen above, seem to change very little no matter what the weather.

Common goldspeck lichens are very pretty and grow on stone. These examples were growing on 200 year old slate headstones in a cemetery, which is a great place to find lichens.

Not surprisingly when you get close enough you find that common goldspeck lichens look like tiny gold specks. This one happened to be producing spores and you can see that by the little round things that look like octopus suckers scattered here and there. They are the lichen’s apothecia and they are very rarely seen on this lichen. If you took a common pin and poked it through a piece of paper and then looked through the hole you’d have a fairly good idea of the size of most of those little specks.

Another rock loving lichen is the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at the sidewalk firedot lichen showed how it is another lichen made up of tiny specks, some of which are its dry fruiting bodies (apothecia).  

I wanted this post to be about showing you how lichens can change their appearance, and one that illustrates this well is the star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris). This is how it might appear when it is very dry, with apothecia that appear very gray. The apothecia of this lichen are actually dark brown but they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. The coating reflects light and protects what it coats from the sun. Depending on the angle of the light these apothecia can appear blue, gray, brown or black. That’s why it pays to visit lichens several times.

Here, in a photo taken previously, the star rosette lichen’s apothecia appear blue-gray and that could be either because of the light or the fact that it had rained recently when this photo was taken.

The only thing that seems to change about this lichen is the amount of apothecia it has. On this very dry day it still had so many you could barely see its body (thallus). I believe it is a Powdery sunburst (Xanthomendoza ulophyllodes) lichen, which is very pretty. Unfortunately it is also relatively rare in this area. I’ve only found it on two or three trees in one location. This one is about 3/4 of an inch across.

Here is the same powdery sunburst lichen that appeared in the previous photo, but this is what it looked like three years ago. It clearly illustrates why, if you’re going to study lichens, you need to visit them several times over a period of time if you would know them well.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) is one that I have seen no changes in whatsoever after several years, This pretty little lichen closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

Scattered rock posy lichen (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body and orange fruiting bodies. This lichen’s orange apothecia can disappear when it is dry so I was surprised to find them this time. This one was growing on stone in full sun. This lichen is fairly common and I find it both on mountain summits and in the lowlands.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. The ones I know grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. This one was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. This was an odd example because it had another foliose lichen growing in its center. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a crustose lichen and crustose lichens are very determined, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Rosy saucer lichens (Ochrolechia trochophore)seem toprefer growing on smooth barked trees but some like this one don’t seem to care and will form themselves to whatever shape the bark they grow on happens to have. I probably see more of this pretty little lichen than any other. It’s apothecia are not subject to cold or dryness, apparently; they are visible in winter or summer.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for.

Here is a closer look at those apothecia. Note the different shades and shapes, all on the same lichen. They wrinkle up a bit when dry.

Dog or pelt lichens will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. The example pictured is I believe,  the scaly pelt lichen (Peltigera praetextata), and I arrived at that identification only with the help of a lichen expert. These lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses provide the moisture that they need. Since there are about 100 species of foliose lichens in the family Peltigeraceae they can be tough to pin down. It is a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined in this case. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

What sounds most plausible to me about the origin of the name “dog lichen” are the white “roots” on the white underside of the lichen body. They are fang like and called rhizines. On some lichens they can be quite bushy, and on others they are narrow and thin. They are one of the identifying characteristics of dog or pelt lichens, so you should always try to get a look at them if you can. Often the edges of the lobes will curl up, revealing them. In this area these are relatively rare. I’ve seen them only in two places.

It originally took me quite a while to figure out what this lichen might be called but its green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia) led me to finally settle on the tufted ramalina lichen. Then my lichen expert friend told me that it is now known as Ramalina americana.  A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I had never seen it. My knowledgeable friend tells me that is because it was nearly wiped out by pollution, and that tells me that our air here in New Hampshire must be very clean. If you see lots of lichens where you live it’s probably fair to assume the same.

Here is a closer look at the Ramalina lichen’s apothecia. They’re very different from most lichens I see.

Leafy (foliose) lichens that look like this can be difficult to identify but I believe this one is the fringed wrinkle lichen (Tuckermanopsis americana). They are one of the easiest to find because they fall from the trees and litter the ground on virtually any trail you follow in this area. They can be difficult to identify because they change color so readily. I’ve seen them even look pure white when very dry. This one was found on a rainy day so I know its colors are true. The brown, roundish bits with dots (pycnidia) around the edges are its apothecia, and they can be very pretty. This could also be the variable wrinkle lichen (Tuckermanopsis orbata), which is a good name for a very pretty but variable lichen.

A lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine. It seems as if this one would rather have water run down the stone to it than have raindrops land directly on it. Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores.

Some lichens, like the script lichen show above, seem to only produce spores when the weather is cold. Though there are apothecia on this lichen you can barely see them; in the summer you can look at trees that are covered with script lichens and see nothing but grayish white spots on the bark.

But in the winter script lichens come to life and will be covered with squiggly “script” which can often be very beautiful. This is why one of my favorite times to go lichen hunting is in the fall and winter months. Lichen study is not a sprint, it’s a marathon that can sometimes take years to run if you want the medal. Once you become interested in lichens, you’ll find interest and pleasure on every rock, tree and fencepost you see for many years to come.

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are one of the most beautiful lichens of all in my opinion, but their beauty is fleeting and it depends on how the light happens to fall on them. If you find one it might not look like this one at all. The pretty golden brown body (thallus) of the lichen is peppered with blue apothecia which are colored by the light due to their waxy coating. Take a look at the next photo to see what a simple change in light can do.

This is the exact same lichen we saw in the previous photo; all that is different is the light, and that’s why if you’re at all interested in lichens you really should visit them at different times of year and in different weather. The previous photo was taken when sunlight was falling on it, and this shot was taken when the lichen was in shade. Not only light but dryness can affect the color of many lichens, so make a note of where you find them and then go back when the weather has changed. I think you’ll be amazed by how much they can change, and also by how beautiful they can be.

Here is a lichen that was a learning experience for both myself and my friend the lichen specialist, who just happens to be writing a book about lichens much like the one you see above. There are many things on this lichen that lead to its identity but what I want you to see are its apothecia, which grow in concentric circles and look like little bumps or hills. That would tell most people that this was a concentric boulder lichen but they’d be fooled, just as I was. This photo was taken just after a rain and this lichen was very wet.

Here is the lichen once it had dried. As you can see it has changed dramatically; those little bumps have become cup shaped, and that’s because when wet they swell up and close, and then open again when they dry out. This was a challenge to even a lichen expert so you shouldn’t feel disappointed if you can’t identify every lichen that you see. Some like this one are hard to identify without expert help. Its name is the dusky map lichen (Rhizocarpon reductum) and it will appear in my friend’s lichen book.

If you find yourself interested in lichens maybe you could start like I did; find a particular lichen and simply watch it; maybe on that tree in your yard, or on your daily walk, or at lunch time. They grow virtually everywhere and are not hard to find. So watch “your” lichen and see how it changes. See how different it appears in sun and shade, and when wet or dry. Think about how all of these changes have been going on right there in plain sight all this time without your knowing. This will make you a better student of nature; a better observer. Ask yourself well, if I have missed this, something so obvious, what else might I have missed? Then you will be amazed at what you begin to see.

It is those insignificant things, the things most of us pay no attention to like lichens, liverworts or mosses, that often tell the most about that part of the planet we live on. Lichens, or lack of them, speak about clean air or air pollution. Liverworts speak about clean water or water pollution and mosses speak about soil conditions. These creatures are like canaries in a coal mine and will give advanced warning of any abrupt changes in climate or increases in pollution. All of things on this earth have voices. Nature speaks, but only to those willing to listen, and you listen by simply being there.

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understanding and our hearts. ~William Hazlett

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Stone walls, it is said by author Robert Thorson, are much easier to explore in January when the leaves are off the trees and bushes. “Like a negative to a photograph,” he says, “walls are most visible when life is most invisible.” I agree, and that’s why I do these stone wall posts in winter. But as you can see by the above photo, this post was made even easier by the lack of snow. Not only did a January thaw melt it all but the huge old pine trees overhead keep much of the snow off this particular wall, even in mid-winter.

Unusual about this spot are the parallel double walls with a space big enough between them for a horse drawn wagon or a cow herd to pass through with ease. None of the trees seen here would have been here when the wall was young. Tree seeds fell into or very near stone walls and grew and few people ever did anything about it.

I’m guessing that there were animals involved in the path through the double walls because holes were drilled into stones and steel rods inserted into them to increase the wall height by about a foot and a half. As the steel ground against the granite over the years the holes were made bigger so cut nails were driven in beside the rods to keep them straight. The cut nails seen here date the steel rods to sometime between 1800 and 1900, but the wall itself has been here since the mid-1700s.

Each steel rod has a flattened tip with a hole in it. The hole most likely had wire passed through it. This would have all been done by the local blacksmith.

If wire was passed through the hole in the rod it could have been used to hold up barbed wire. Barbed wire would have been used to keep animals from jumping the wall and it can be found strung all along it.

You can occasionally find cut stones on this wall. I think this rectangular example is a granite fence post that broke off at ground level and was thrown on top of the wall to get it out of the way. The most common stone walls in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields and boy, did famers get rid of them. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England.

Rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis) look like melted candle wax to me. They are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty. They must like it here because they cover entire lengths of this wall.

In the story books of my childhood the stones in stone walls were all colors including blue, orange and yellow, so I knew right off that whoever wrote the books had never seen anything built of stone because, as everybody knew, stones were gray. As I grew older and started paying closer attention to the world around me I realized once again that I didn’t know what I was talking about because, as whoever illustrated those books knew, stones could indeed come in many colors. Usually in this area only the oldest stone walls are colored in this way, and of course what grows on them depends on exposure, so they may not be as wonderfully colorful as this one.

The yellow color in the previous photo comes from sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s a very soft, pale yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

The white on this tree is caused by a lichen called, appropriately enough, whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This lichen is usually found on the bark of hardwood trees and is fairly common. It makes the tree look as if it has been painted white, and that’s where its common name comes from. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white as this one is.

I saw a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

I saw some pixie cup shapes that were unusual; the one on the left is a double one, with two cups grown together. The one on the right has one cup growing out of another. I don’t know if this is common behavior or not but I haven’t ever seen it.

Here was a large stone covered by a carpet of Hedwigia ciliata moss. This moss is common and is also called white tipped moss.

The white leaf tips drawn out to long, fine points help confirm the identity of Hedwigia ciliata moss. It’s one of those mosses that you almost have to run your hand over.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein (Verbascum thapsus)  like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall. Native Americans used tea made from mullein’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Bristly or swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves usually live under the snow all winter but these exposed examples were beautifully colored purple. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition, and this plant certainly seems to benefit from it. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands, but I’ve seen it growing in dry waste areas many times. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

It was no surprise to find the European Vinca (Vinca minor) growing in the wall, because in the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully off in the middle of nowhere. They grow thickly together and sometimes form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through. It has been here long enough to have erased any memories of it having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship, and people like it. Another name for it is Myrtle.

The beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes (Rubus occidentalis) is always a welcome sight in the winter. The blue color is caused by the way light is reflected off the powdery, waxy white crystals that cover the canes. The crystals are there to protect the young canes from moisture loss and sunburn and many other plants including blueberries, plums, grapes and blue stemmed goldenrod also use the same strategy. The color is often like that of a blue jay.

There are some very old white pine trees (Pinus strobus) here. I’d guess this one had to be approaching 300 years old. It was huge and had deeply furrowed bark. Sometimes I lay my hands against great trees like this one to feel their power. The power of creation just seems to hum through them like an engine.

My grandfather was the town blacksmith for years in Westmoreland, New Hampshire and the old wrought iron hardware I sometimes find in stone walls always makes me think of him. A blacksmith might make a dollar a day in the early 1800s but very little cash changed hands in colonial America, so he most likely would have been paid in food, charcoal for the forge, lumber, or something else he needed. I’d guess my grandfather made more than a colonial blacksmith, but probably not by much. The ring seen here most likely held a chain.

Since history and botany are my favorite subjects it all comes together for me here, and on the historical side of things this chain hook is one of my favorite bits of antique iron work that I find here. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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Since I recently did a post about lichens that grow on trees I thought I’d do one on lichens that grow on stone. Though there are lichens that can grow on wood or stone most of the ones I know seem to prefer one or the other. In fact the ones I know seem very fussy about where they grow, even down to the species of tree or stone. The lichen in this first photo is not that fussy though, so it will even grow on sidewalks, and that’s how the name sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) came about. Though I’ve seen it on concrete once or twice in the past I almost always see it on lime rich stones. It’s a pretty orange color and it can get quite big. This one is as big as a car tire.

Another lichen that can get quite big is the peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) but this example must have just gotten started because it was quite small and had few apothecia. This lichen likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for. The beautiful brown ones in the photo above belong to the peppered rock shield.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) is one of those. Toadskin lichens show color changes when they dry out like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray like the above example. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens.

This is the very same toadskin lichen as the one in the previous photo. You can easily see the dramatic color change between this day when it was wet and when it was dry in the previous shot.

Rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata) is a relative of the toadskin lichen but it doesn’t turn gray when it dries out. Instead it gets brownish and curls up. It is very pliable and rubbery when it’s moist, but once it dries out it becomes crisp like a potato chip. The Umbilicaria part of the scientific name comes from the Latin umbilicus, meaning navel. This is where another common name, navel lichen, comes from and points to how, like the toadskin lichens, they attach themselves to stone with a single attachment point that looks like a navel. It sticks itself to stone by way of this single, navel like attachment point and the rest of the lichen hangs from this central point, much like a rag hanging from a peg.

Here is what rock tripe lichens look like dry. You can see the back of it, which is black and pebble textured. Rock tripe is edible and eating it has saved the lives of people who were lost and starving in the past. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

Rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis.) Look like melted candle wax to me. They are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty.

If you happen to see a stone that looks like it has sprouted gray hairs you might want to take a closer look, because there’s a good chance you’re seeing a Cladonia lichen.

There are many Cladonia lichens including the well-known pixie cups, but I think these were peg lichens (Cladonia sobolescens.) Peg lichens are also a large group, with split pegs, thatched pegs, powdery pegs, etc., but these seem to fit the description of what the book Lichens of North America calls simply peg lichens. The “peg” is called a podetium and it is topped by brown apothecia.

Here is a closer look at the tiny tan / brown apothecia that sit atop the pegs. These are where the lichen’s spores are produced. They are so small that I wasn’t able to see them but luckily the camera could.

This peg lichen is a squamulose lichen, which means it is scaly, but it is also foliose, or leafy. Squamules are the small leafy, lobed growths that are at the base of the tiny peg shaped podetia. A podetium is an upright secondary thallus in Cladonia lichens. It is a hollow stalk extending from the primary thallus. Podetia can be pointed, club like, cupped, or branched in shape and may or may not contain the ascocarp, which is the fruiting body of the lichen. If the asocarp is bowl shaped it is an apothecium. In this peg lichen the podetia are not branched and the leafy squamules are rounded and grayish green to brown, with white undersides. The quality of these photos isn’t great but the various parts of this lichen are very small. I think they do show enough to make a fairly good identification but if I’m wrong I hope someone will let me know.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do. I’ve seen this pretty lichen even on mountain tops.

Here is a closer look at those pretty rock posy apothecia. The ones I’ve seen are never shiny. They always have a kind of matte finish.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone. especially slate. I see it on older gravestones quite often. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, but this one had a few. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. They grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. The one in the photo was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a crustose lichen, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Another lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s a very soft, pale yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Dog lichens (Peltigera) are good example of lichens that will grow on soil, rotting wood, or stone as this one was. Dog lichens are associated with mossy areas because the mosses help provide the moisture that they need. It is very thin and pliable. It is also a foliose lichen because it is lobed, or leaf like. The upper part of the body (Thallus) is undulating or veined on this example. This lichen is large and easy to see. It is also probably quite old.

Here is another look at the dog lichen. They’re much bigger than most other lichens. I’d guess this one is about the size of a 45 RPM record, if anyone can remember those.

The underside of a dog lichen is often bright white as this one was. They also have small hairs called rhizines which help them cling to whatever they’re growing on.

Smokey eye boulder lichen is a favorite lichen of mine. The blue color seen in the above photo is caused by the way light reflects off a waxy coating on the fruiting bodies, which is very similar to the “bloom” found on plums, blueberries, and grapes. In addition to blue it can also appear black or gray depending on which direction the light happens to be coming from.  The greenish-gold background color is the color of the body (thallus) of this crustose lichen. It’s a very beautiful thing and I hope you’ll take the time to look for it and all of the other beautiful lichens out there.

There is no absolute scale of size in nature, and the small may be as important, or more so than the great. ~Oliver Heaviside

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As the leaves fall there is much revealed in the forest that was hidden just a short time ago, and lichens are a big part of that revelation. Lichens are all around us but they’re one of those things that are so easy to miss unless we happen to be looking for them. Most people seeing this photo would probably say “Oh yes, I see lichens all over the stones in the stone wall.” But what about the tree? That’s a shagbark hickory tree and they have gray, not white bark. The white is a lichen called, appropriately enough, whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This lichen is usually found on the bark of hardwood trees and is fairly common. It makes the tree look as if it has been painted white, and that’s where its common name comes from. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white.

But you wouldn’t have been wrong in pointing out the lichens on the stone wall because it is covered with them, among them rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis.) This lichen always looks like melted candle wax to me. It is very common in this area and is another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls like the one pictured in that first photo. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for.

Another lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores, like this example.

If you spend time walking along old stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it and it will probably be the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone looks like granite to me but it is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. It was raining just a short while before I took this photo so it was also still wet. Lichens are at their best when they are wet because that’s when they’ll show their true colors and size, so that’s when serious lichen hunters look for them. A misty or drizzly day is perfect.

I know of an old stump that has more British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing on it than I’ve ever seen in one place. Old rotted logs and stumps are the perfect places to find them and their bright red color makes them relatively easy to spot.

Even I can see this shade of red, and I’m colorblind.

If you see a tree with growths like this on it you really should take a closer look, because there are some amazing things going on here.

One of the things going on in the tree in the previous photo is what is happening on this star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris.) Its apothecia are a good example of how colors can change, even on the same lichen. This lichen has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to the white, waxy, powdery coating on the apothecia. You’ve no doubt seen examples of this waxy “bloom” on blueberries and plums. I’ve noticed by watching lichens that have pruinose apothecia that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue, and sometimes even black. The apothecia on this lichen show a range of colors, from brown to light blue. The way the sunlight strikes it has a lot to do with its colors, so sometimes you have to visit a lichen more than once to understand it.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone, in this case slate. It’s a very artistic lichen and I like the patterns that it makes. I see it on gravestones quite often. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, as this one appeared to be. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. They grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. The bigger one in the photo was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a another crustose lichen, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Bright yellow-orange poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a beautiful lichen with its large disc shaped, sucker like fruiting bodies (apothecia) which are almost always showing. It’s found on tree bark and provides a lot of color in winter when there are no flowers to see. The example shown here was about as big as a penny, or about .75 inches across.

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earth based life form can be.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are very beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish or grayish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

Here’s a closer look at the apothecia on the pink earth lichen. You can also see the stalks that support them.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do. I’ve seen this pretty lichen even on mountain tops.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen is one of those. Toadskin lichens show color changes like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray. This example hadn’t completely dried out but it was on its way, even though it had rained that morning. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them an umbilicate lichen. This toadskin is very special, because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a hill or mountain top. It grows on a boulder at the very water’s edge of a lake and I’m very happy that I found it now that hill climbing is getting more difficult. Now at least I’ll still be able to see these beautiful little things without having to struggle to reach them, if it comes to that.

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are one of the most beautiful in my opinion, but their beauty is fleeting and it depends on how the light happens to fall on them. If you find one it might not look like this one at all. The pretty golden brown body (thallus) of the lichen is peppered with blue apothecia which again, are colored by the light. Take a look at the next photo to see what a simple change in light can do.

This is the exact same lichen we saw in the previous photo; all that is different is the light, and that’s why if you’re at all interested in lichens you really should visit them at different times of year, as I said when we looked at the star rosette lichen. The previous photo was taken when sunlight was falling on it, and this shot was taken when the lichen was in shade. Not only light but dryness can affect the color of many lichens, so make a note of where you find them and then go back when the weather has changed. I think you’ll be amazed by how much they can change, and also by how beautiful they can be.

There is a low mist in the woods—it is a good day to study lichens. ~Henry David Thoreau

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Two of my great loves are history and botany and one of the best ways I know of to get a good dose of both is by following stone walls. This particular wall is in Swanzey, New Hampshire and surrounds what I believe is the oldest cemetery in town. Revolutionary war soldiers are buried here so it certainly has some age.

Right off I spotted some sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores.

There are stone walls called “lace walls” which are built of a stack of stones just one stone wide, and which are full of holes that make them look like lace, but this is a tossed wall sometimes three or four stones wide and it was built to keep animals, probably sheep, out. There were no holes when it was built but there are now, as this photo shows. I can’t explain how it happened but I’ve built enough dry stone walls to know that building a hole like this one into a tossed wall would be close to impossible. In a tossed wall the stones are literally just tossed on top of one another. The object wasn’t to build a pretty wall; it was to get rid of the stones as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think a stone must have fallen or been taken out of the wall to create such a hole.

There are a lot of tree stumps along the wall and some of them, like the one above, are very old. Not only was this one covered with moss and lichens, it also had birch trees growing out of it. Stumps like this are always worth a second look.

The old stump had more British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing on it than I’ve ever seen in one place. Old rotted logs and stumps are the perfect spots to find them.

Even I can see this shade of red, and I’m colorblind.

A large pile of sand at the base of another hollow tree stump meant that something was living under it. Possibly a ground hog, but I didn’t see a single paw print.

This old maple tree was covered on its sunny side by whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This is a tough, crusty lichen that is fairly common on hardwood tree bark. They can cover quite a large area and make the tree look as if it has been painted, hence the common name. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white.

As time passed barbed wire was often added to stone walls to keep animals in or out. Stone walls were usually too low to be effective and cows and other farm animals often jumped right over them, so their height was increased by adding wire or other materials. You had to pay a fine if your animals escaped and were caught roaming free. They were brought to the town pound and the owner had to pay to get them back. This wire grew out of the very center of a pine tree, so it has been here for quite a while. Running their saw into steel wire is one of a wood cutter’s worst nightmares come true but many things have been found inside trees, from axe heads to gravestones to even bicycles.

Every time I see rusty old barbed wire stapled to a tree I think about a book I read by a man who lived in a cabin in the Massachusetts woods. He said that one of his favorite things to do was run through the woods at night. He wouldn’t want to do that here. I wouldn’t even run through these woods in broad daylight because much of what is now forest was once pasture, and there is a lot of barbed wire out there.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) on the other hand, are quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do.

Sometimes it isn’t what is on the stone that interests me, it’s the stone itself. I’m not sure if this pattern was on the stone or part of it but it was very interesting. Also interesting was how it had absolutely nothing growing on it when all of the stones around it had mosses and lichens growing on them.

I never knew my grandfather but I do know that he made his living as the town blacksmith in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, and this old horse hitching ring brought thoughts of him to mind. If he was lucky a blacksmith might make a dollar a day but very little cash changed hands in colonial America so he most likely would have been paid in food, charcoal for the forge, lumber, or something else he needed. In the early 1800s blacksmiths charged anywhere from 2 cents for an axe wedge to $5.50 for all of the ironwork on a new wagon. That would include springs, axles, brakes, and rims for the wheels. I have a photo of my grandfather working on a wagon wheel in his blacksmith shop. The wheel sits on top of a big wooden keg that he probably made the iron hoops for. I hope he was paid more than they were in colonial times.

Some of the stones in this old wall are not natural, meaning they were cut or quarried. There is a large granite outcrop just up the hill from this spot and stone was taken from it using star drills and sledge hammers, I would imagine. The marks of the old hand drills are still easily seen on some of the stones. It’s unusual to see both natural and cut stones together in a wall; usually they’re made of one or the other but the farmer could have been trying to increase the height of his walls.

Some of the quarried granite was used for fence posts. Four posts were put in around certain family plots in the cemetery and chain hooks were added by drilling a hole into the top of each post and hammering a hook into the hole.  I’m not sure if friction alone held the hooks in the holes or if cement was added to hold them, but after over 200 years they are still solid and immovable.

Once chain was added the family plot was enclosed but still visible to anyone trying to find it. This chain looks like it was hand wrought.

Blacksmiths don’t cast iron; they soften it by heating it in a forge and then shaping it with a hammer, and I love how you can see all the hammer blows on this chain hook. I also love how the smith fashioned something as simple as a chain hook into what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to do this; it was extra work that he probably wasn’t paid for, but he was good and would have wanted people to know his work. If I needed ironwork done and I saw this hook and the ones in the previous photos I would have chosen the smith who made this one. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Sometimes these posts wander in unplanned directions and almost write themselves, and this is one of those; l felt as if I were just along for the ride instead of the one doing the writing. It began in the old cemetery and I just tagged along with the camera while the story wrote itself in my mind, so I hope you won’t mind that there is a little more history than botany in this one. Though I expected the post to be full of mosses and lichens for me the history I found was a refreshing diversion while I wait for spring flowers to appear, and thoughts of my hammer wielding grandfather ran all through the day. I wonder if he ever imagined that one of his grandsons would grow up to be a stone wall builder.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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We had a day with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and low heat and humidity so I thought I’d take advantage of such a fine day by climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. The mountain it is said, is named after a freed slave named Caesar Freeman and he is supposed to be buried somewhere on it, but nobody really seems to be able to verify any of the tale. One thing about the mountain is certain; Native Americans used it for a lookout and in the mid-1700s they burned Swanzey to the ground, house by house and mill by mill. The climb to the top starts on a path of solid granite bedrock, as is seen in the photo.

One of my favorite things to see on Mount Caesar is this river of reindeer lichen. Since there are no reindeer or other animals to eat the lichens they thrive here. But they are fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

Just before you enter the forest there is a meadow teeming with wildflowers. On this day most of what was blooming were pale spike lobelias (Lobelia spicata,) which get their common name from the small, pale blue to almost white flowers. Every now and then you can find a plant with deeper blue flowers, but most are pale.

Sometimes if you look carefully you can find dark blue pale spike lobelias, as this one was. These flowers are small; hardly bigger than a standard aspirin. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for lobelia and one of them was as a treatment for asthma, but it has to be used with great care because too much of it can kill.

Stone walls will follow you almost all the way to the summit of Mount Caesar and remind hikers that this land was once completely cleared of trees. I’d guess that sheep once grazed on the mountain’s flanks, as was true of most of the hills in the area. The walls most likely date from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Not old enough to be covered by moss yet but there certainly are plenty of lichens on them. The yellow ones seen in the photo are sulfur dust lichens (Chrysothrix chlorina). This lichen doesn’t like to be rained on so it is usually found hiding under some type of overhang.

I saw many mushrooms on this climb, among them yellow chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius.) I’m not a real mushroom aficionado but I know this edible mushroom is considered choice. I don’t see many but when I do it’s usually about this time of year or a little earlier, and I always see them growing right alongside trails. It is believed by some that the compacted earth of the trail or road may cause the chanterelle mycelium to react by fruiting.

Another mushroom I saw in great abundance was yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) and it is not a choice edible fungus, in fact it is poisonous and should never be eaten. This mushroom is identified by the chrome yellow “warts” on the cap, which are easily brushed off. It prefers growing in hemlock forests, so it is right at home here. It is said to be one of the most common and widespread species of Amanita in eastern North America. It faintly resembles yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) but that mushroom has white warts on its cap.

I’ve seen people go up to the summit and then back down again in the time it took me to reach the half way point but this isn’t a race and I dawdle and wander, looking at this and that all the way up and down the mountain. A 45 minute climb with me can easily take half a day, and that’s why I almost always hike alone. To see the kinds of things that I see you absolutely must walk slowly and from what I’ve seen most people simply aren’t able to do it. Unfortunately most people I’ve seen and spoken with in places like this seem to feel that the end of the trail is far more important than what can be seen along it and race through it. If only they knew that they were missing all of the best that nature has to offer.

Eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens,) bloomed all along the trail. This native wintergreen is in the same family as the blueberry and its flowers show that. Teaberry is also known as checkerberry or American wintergreen and by fall its flowers will have turned into small red berries that taste minty, like Teaberry chewing gum. Many animals, from foxes to chipmunks, and birds including grouse and pheasant rely on the berries to help them get through the winter. Wintergreen oil has been used medicinally for centuries, and the leaves make an excellent, soothing tea. The plant’s fragrance is unmistakable and its oil is used in toothpaste, mouthwash, pain relievers, and many other products.

Before too long the approach to the summit appears as granite bedrock, and that’s when you realize that this mountain is just a huge piece of solid granite with a few inches of soil covering it. I’ve seen several trees that have blown over and their roots were very shallow. They have to be because they can’t penetrate the granite.

I like a few clouds in the sky to give it some interest. A year or two ago we had an entire summer of blue skies with not a cloud to be seen, and it was quite boring if you wanted landscape photos. I like the way the shadows of the clouds pass over the land. It’s something I’ve watched and enjoyed since I was a boy.

The view was hazy in some directions but I usually spend time marveling at how vast this forest really is, so I don’t mind a little haze.

Mount Monadnock could be seen through the haze off to the east but it wasn’t a day for mountain portraits.

You need to watch where you step when you’re taking photos of the mountain because you have to get close to the edge of the cliff if you want the best shot. This is one time when it isn’t wise to step outside of yourself and become totally absorbed by what you see before you. It’s a long way down and for someone who doesn’t like heights it’s a stomach knotter, and I tread very mindfully up here.

I was surprised to see so many old friends up here, like this bristly sarsaparilla. It made me wonder if it has just moved in or if I have been negligent and ignored it on previous climbs. It obviously likes it up here; it was blooming well. It normally grows in dry, sandy soil at road edges and waste areas. Its stems are covered in short, sharp, bristly hairs and that’s where its common name comes from. Technically, though it looks like a perennial plant, it is considered a shrub because the lower part of its stem is woody and persists throughout winter.

Each tiny bristly sarsaparilla flower will become a round black berry if the pollinators do their job and it looked like they were hard at it. I’m not sure what this insect’s name is but it was very small. The entire flower head of the plant in the previous photo is barely bigger than a ping pong ball.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) also grew on the summit. It seems like I’m seeing this little beauty everywhere I go this summer and it makes me wonder if it doesn’t like a lot of rain like we’ve had this year, even though it grows in sandy waste areas.

Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) was a real surprise because it usually grows in wooded areas instead of out in the open.  It has wide leaves and smallish flowers that grow from the leaf axils and at the terminal end of its zigzagging stem.  Zigzag goldenrod grows in the shade and prefers moist soil, so this seems like an odd place to have found it. It grew beside a large stone so maybe the stone keeps it shaded for part of the day.

We had torrential rains the day before I made this climb so I thought my little friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa) would be happy, but most of them weren’t. I don’t know if they just dried out that quickly or if overhanging tree branches kept the rain off them. They grow in just about full sun so I suppose they could have simply dried out. The example in the above photo was close to what I expected but it still wasn’t that deep, pea green color and I could tell that it was drying out. When at their best these lichens are very pliable and feel like an ear lobe, but when dry they feel crisp like a potato chip. This one was somewhere in between.

This one was ashy gray and very dry. You can see the broken edges top and bottom where it has snapped like a brittle chip. I have to say that, though I doubt the lichens enjoy being in such a state, I think they’re at their most beautiful when they look like this. I wish I could see them every day so I could witness all of their changes but I’ve seen them only on the summits, so if you want to visit with them you have to work for the privilege.

To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits. Sir Francis Younghusband

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1. Trail

Last weekend I was itching to see a frozen waterfall so I went up to 40 foot falls in Surry. Unfortunately all the hemlock trees made it so dark that photography was out of the question, so instead I ended up at Porcupine falls in Gilsum. It was a very cold day with a breeze blowing, so it was a brisk hike up the old road.

 2. Stone Wall

A break in the stone wall beside the road reminded me of a Chinese dragon so I had to get a photo of it.

3. Sulfur Dust Lichen

Further down the wall I saw some sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina) growing on the underside of a stone. I don’t know if it is sunlight or rain that this lichen dislikes but I always find it growing under some type of overhang where neither can fall directly on it, as if it were too shy to be seen.

4. Tracks

Somebody crossed and re-crossed the trail many times. I’m guessing it was a field mouse.

 5. White Fungus

I’m also guessing that the same little critter that left all of the tracks in the snow had been eating this mushroom, but I don’t know that for sure. I took this photo because what struck me most was how the mushroom was whiter than the snow.

6. Indian Tobacco Seed Heads

I saw some Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) seed heads poking up out of the snow and they made me wish that I could see the small blue flowers that preceded them. It’ll be a while yet before I see them or any other flowers though. This little lobelia gets its common name from the way its seed pods look like the tobacco pouches that were carried by Native Americans.

7. Frozen Stream

One of the strangest things about this hike was the silence. I wish I could somehow show how very different a walk like this can be between summer and winter. Last fall on my first trip to see this waterfall it was simple; I just followed the roar of the stream, but on this day there was no roar or any other sound except my own huffing and puffing and the squeak of the snow. I had to watch carefully for the turnoff that I knew was somewhere up ahead.

8. Bridge

This bridge crossing the stream marks the place but it’s out in the woods a few yards away from the old road and I passed it even though I was watching for it.  I had to backtrack to find it.

 9. Frozen Falls

The view of the frozen falls from the bridge was a bit anti-climactic, and I decided as I stood here that frozen waterfalls in general aren’t that exciting; at least, from what I’ve seen of them.

 10. Frozen Falls

A side view wasn’t much more spectacular, but the photos don’t really convey the bigness of the thing. I’m guessing the height of the ice is maybe 35-40 feet from top to bottom.

11. Bench

Nobody was sitting on the bench and I wasn’t surprised. It was very cold and I was starting to shiver, so I thought I better get walking.

 12. Yellow Something

I stopped to see what I thought was a yellow slime mold growing on a log the last time I was here but now I see that it is hairy, much like the filamentous Trentepohlia aurea algae I find growing on the rock faces in the deep rail trail cut in Westmoreland. I’ve read that it can be yellow, among other colors, and that it can grow on logs. In China there is a red variant that has carpeted an entire river valley and is so beautiful and unusual that it has become a tourist attraction. The valley has been renamed “Red Stone Valley.”

 13. Mushroom on Birch

I saw a reddish brown mushroom on a birch tree that was frozen as solid as a brick. When I think of mushrooms that grow on birch trees I think of birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus), but this wasn’t one of those because it had gills instead of pores. I have a feeling that this might have been a late fall oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus.) We have seven different varieties of oyster mushroom here in New England and they can be found on a variety of trees in spring through late fall.

14. Mushroom Underside

The mushroom grew on the birch tree at about knee high but I wanted a shot of its gills so I took off my gloves and knelt in the snow, taking and rejecting shot after shot. Occasionally I get so engrossed in the object at hand that I lose myself in it and often have no idea how long I’ve been studying it. That happened on this day and as usual ended with the realization that once again I had been outside of myself. Not only had I lost track of time but I hadn’t felt the cold, and that isn’t wise in January in New Hampshire. Feeling the cold is what helps us keep Jack Frost from stealing our fingers and toes.

15. Orange Soil

There are certain towns, or areas inside of towns, in Cheshire County that have a very strangely colored soil that has always looked orange to me. Since I’m colorblind I’ve always told myself that it was really brown but no, my color finding software sees orange as well. In my last post I found out that oak leaves really can be pink and now we have orange soil.

I should mention that seeing this soil on your property is a bad sign because it is pure silty sand and few plants will grow well in it. If you have this kind of poor soil you should immediately start adding all of the compost and manure that you can get your hands on before trying to grow a garden.

16. Ice Covered Moss

I wanted to take a photo of some moss covered in ice to show how tough mosses really are, but when I saw this photo I was more interested in the ice than the moss because of the strange light that seems to be inside it. It’s as if the light of creation itself was in there, shining out of this tiny drop.  It reminded me of photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and of William Blake holding infinity in the palm of his hand in his poem Auguries of Innocence.

Lose yourself in nature and find peace. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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1. Stone Wall

If there’s one thing we have plenty of here in New Hampshire it is stones, and you can hardly walk a mile even in the deepest woods without seeing a wall built with them. Though there are many types of stone walls the most common in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields and boy, did famers get rid of them. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England. Today these masses of stone collect a lot of heat from the sun and snow melts from them quickly, leaving perfect places to explore in the winter.

2. Sulfur Firedot on Stone

I can remember when I was a young boy reading a book (by Beatrix Potter I think) which showed a painting of a stone house. The stones were all colors including blue, orange and yellow, so I knew right off that whoever wrote this dumb old book had never seen anything built of stone. Why, everybody knew that stones were gray! As I grew older and started paying closer attention to the world around me I realized once again that I didn’t know what I was talking about because, as whoever illustrated that book knew, stones could indeed come in many colors. The orange yellow color in this example comes from sulfur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens.)

3. Sulfur Dust Lichen aka Chrysothrix chlorina

An even brighter yellow is found on stones colored by sulfur dust lichens (Chrysothrix chlorina). This lichen doesn’t like to be rained on so it is usually found hiding under some type of overhang.

4. Hedwigia ciliata  Moss on Stone

Stones can be green when covered by a carpet of moss. This stone was too big for three men to carry and wore the biggest patch of Hedwigia ciliata moss that I’ve seen.

5. Hedwigia ciliata Moss

The white leaf tips drawn out to long, fine points help confirm the identity of Hedwigia ciliata moss.

6. Orange Granite

Sometimes stones don’t need any help from lichens to show their colors as this orange granite shows. Granite comes in many colors, including red, brown, pink, blue-gray, black, and white. Often though, over the years the wall stones will weather to a uniform gray before the lichens move in and lend their colors to the wall.

 7. Hitching Ring

My grandfather was the town blacksmith for years in Westmoreland, New Hampshire so I always look for old wrought iron hardware in stone walls. This photo shows an old iron hitching ring for a horse, which its reins would have been passed through to keep it from running off. Why the landowner wanted to hitch his horse to this exact spot in the wall is a mystery. Maybe it was shaded at one time.

8. Chain Hook

This chain hook was my favorite find during this walk. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to do any of that because this was something that would have hardly ever been seen and it meant more time and effort, but he had the skill and used it and took pride in his work. I also like the Cumberland rock shield lichens growing all over the stone.

9. Cumberland Rock Shield Apothecia aka Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia

Cumberland rock shield lichens (Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia) have cinnamon to dark brown fruiting bodies, called apothecia, where spores are produced. They produce spores quite regularly so it is always worth stopping to get a closer look. The curled margins of the apothecia cups are helpful with identification.

10. Squirrel Leavings

Squirrels and chipmunks choose the flattest stones to have their lunch on, which in this case consisted of white pine (Pinus strobus) seeds.

 11. Gray Lichen on Stone possibly possibly Thelotrema lepadinum

Plain old gray lichens are plentiful and easy to walk by without a second look, but you might be missing something quite fascinating if you do.

12. Gray Lichen on Stone Apothecia possibly Thelotrema lepadinum

This is a close up look at the gray lichen in the previous photo. I think it’s a barnacle lichen (Thelotrema lepadinum.) The darker bits are its apothecia. It looks like some kind of alien landscape.

13. Marginal Wood Fern

Many plants hug stone walls for the winter warmth given off by the stones and protection from mower blades. Everything from lowly mosses to towering trees can be found along these old walls.

 14. Marginal Wood Fern Sori

Many ferns release their spores in the fall and if you want to see how it all works all you need to do is follow a stone wall, because there are sure to be ferns growing along it. This example shows the many sori (clusters of spore producing sporangia) on the underside of a marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis.) Thicker cells on one side of the sourus create tension as it ages and dries out, and causes its cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores. These burst indusia can be seen in several places in this photo. Not all ferns have covered sori; some, like the polypody fern’s (Polypodium vulgare,) are naked.

15. White Pine Stump

In this region white pine trees are common and they (or their stumps) are especially common along stone walls. Old, rotting pine stumps are great places to look for mosses and lichens.

16. British Soldier Lichens on Stump

New Hampshire was nearly 150 years old when the Revolutionary War began and though no battles were fought here we still have our British soldiers- in the form of lichens (Cladonia cristatella). These were found on the base of the old white pine stump in the previous photo.

Like a negative to a photograph, stone walls are most visible when life is most invisible. Typically this occurs in January when snow frames the wall from bottom to top and when the strengthening, crystal-clear sun casts strong shadows. ~Robert M. Thorson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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