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Posts Tagged ‘Swanzey New Hampshire’

Right now wildflowers, both native and non native, seem to bloom on every square foot of available space in some places. The view across this stream showed the yellows of several varieties of goldenrod and St’ John’s wort, purple loosestrife, the whites of asters and boneset, and the dusty rose of Joe Pye weed. Scenes like this are common at this time of year but that doesn’t diminish their beauty.

Native grass leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) grows in the calm water of streams and ponds. There are about 30 species of arrowheads out there and many of them are similar, so I hope you’ll take my identification with a grain of salt. Common to all arrowheads is how they grow in shallow, still waters at pond and stream edges, or in the wet ground of ditches and swamps. Grass leaved arrowhead has flower stalks shorter than the leaves. I took this photo early one morning and this example was very wet with dew.

If you know arrowheads at all then this photo probably surprises you, because this leaf looks nothing like the usually seen common arrowhead leaf. The plant is also called slender arrowhead, and I’m assuming it’s due to the leaf shape.

Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) is also called broadleaf arrowhead and duck potato, because ducks eat its small, potato like roots and seeds. All arrowheads that I’ve seen always have three pure white petals, but I’ve heard that some can be tinged with pink. Flowers are about an inch across. In late fall or early spring, disturbing the mud in which they grow will cause arrowhead’s small tuberous roots to float to the surface. They are said to have the texture of potatoes but taste more like chestnuts. They were an important food for Native Americans, who sliced the roots thinly and dried them and then ground them into a powder that was used much like flour. Ducks, beavers, muskrats and other birds and animals eat the seeds, roots, and leaves.

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a late summer blooming native clematis vine that drapes itself over shrubs so it can get all of the sunshine that it wants. I’ve also seen it climbing into trees, but in this photo it has set its sights considerably lower and grew over a stand of yarrow. As long as it finds the sunshine it needs, it doesn’t matter what it grows on.  An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

Another name for this vine is traveler’s joy, which it is, but its small white flowers are another reminder that fall is near.

Slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifoliais) is a shy little plant that grows in the tall grass at the edge of meadows and I usually find it growing in full sun. It has the unusual habit of dropping all of its opened flowers each afternoon. It opens fresh buds at the start of each day, which means that its flowers don’t even last for a full day, so insects (and photographers) have to be quick. The plants that I find are always 6-8 inches tall but I’ve read that they can reach 2 feet.

Slender Gerardia is also called false foxglove. There might be a faint resemblance but I think it would be hard to confuse the two, especially after a good look at the slender, sword shaped leaves. The blossoms are very hairy and have a long curved protruding pistil and especially from the side look nothing like foxglove to me.

Another reason I doubt that slender gerardia could ever be confused with foxglove is its size. You could fit a few gerardia blossoms in a single foxglove blossom.

I’m seeing a lot of flowers this summer that I’ve never seen before and I thought this was one of them, but my blog tells me that I have seen it once before. There are about 15 different species of agrimony but I think this one is woodland agrimony (Agrimonia striata.) The small, bright yellow flowers grow in long spikes (racemes) on a small, knee high plant. Research shows that the plant is threatened in New York and Maryland and I wonder if it is rare here. I’m surprised that I’ve only seen it twice.  It is also called roadside agrimony, though I’ve never seen it there. Agrimony has been used medicinally for many thousands of years, dating back to at least ancient Egypt but though woodland agrimony is native to the U.S. and Canada I can find no information on how it was used by Native Americans.

I usually stay away from goldenrod identification because there are so many of them that even botanists get confused, but slender fragrant goldenrod (Solidago tenuifolia) is easy because of its long, slender leaves and its fragrance. The only other similar goldenrod is the lance leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) but its leaves are wider and have 3 to 5 veins as opposed to the single vein in a slender fragrant goldenrod leaf.  Still, I always smell them just to be sure.

I wrote about boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) in the last post but since it’s so common at this time of year I thought I’d show it again. At a glance it looks like white Joe Pye weed, but a close look at the foliage shows that it’s a very different plant. This example had a visitor, up there on the right.

The perfoliatum part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the foliage” and that’s how its stem appears to grow; as if the leaves have been perorated by it. The common name comes from the way that the joined leaves looked like broken bones knitting themselves back together. Joe Pye weed leaves have leaf stems (petioles) and look very different. Boneset was a very valuable medicine to Native Americans and they showed early settlers how to use the plant to reduce fever and relieve coughs and congestion. It was also used to ease aches and pains of all kinds.

Here was a nice stand of Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) growing at the edge of the forest. Even from a distance it is easy to see how different the foliage is from boneset. If you’re trying to identify the two plants when they aren’t blooming it helps to know how their foliage is arranged.

Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is considered an invasive species in some areas but I don’t see it that often and when I do it’s in fairly small colonies of up to maybe a hundred plants. These few examples grew next to a cornfield. The plant is from Europe and Asia and has been in this country since it was introduced from Wales as a garden flower by Ranstead, a Welsh Quaker who came to Delaware with William Penn in the late 1600s. It has been used medicinally for centuries, since at least the 1400s, and modern science has shown it to have diuretic and fever-reducing qualities.

Because the flower is nearly closed by its lower lip it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to pry open and pollinate yellow toadflax. When it is grown under cultivation its flowers are often used as cut flowers and are said to be long lasting in a vase. It always reminds me of snapdragons and goes by many common names. “Butter and eggs” is probably one of the best known and “Dead men’s bones” is probably one of the least known.

Big leaf asters (Eurybia macrophylla) need big, light gathering leaves because they grow in the forest under trees. The leaves on this plant are very different from other asters, so it’s a hard plant to misidentify. As is common on many asters the flowers look like they were glued together by a chubby fisted toddler.

The leaves on big leaf aster are heart shaped and about as big as your hand. They are especially impressive when they grow in large colonies. I’ve seen whole hillsides with nothing but these big leaves growing on them, so they must shade out other plants or have something toxic in their makeup that doesn’t allow other plants to grow.

After seeing broad leaved helleborine orchids blooming I knew that it was nearly time for downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens) to bloom, so I visited a small colony I know of. This native orchid has tiny white flowers but I like its mottled silvery foliage as much as its blossoms.  The flowers grow on a relatively long stalk and though I’ve tried hundreds of times I’ve been able to show the flower stalk and basal leaves together clearly in a photo only once. This orchid grows in the woods usually in deep shade, but I find that most plants get at least an hour or two of sunshine no matter where they grow, and I just happened to be there when this one had its moment in the sun.

I’ve learned from many frustrating attempts at photographing this plant to carry a small 8 X 10 inch piece of black foam core board with me because its narrow racemes and tiny flowers are easily lost in the background vegetation.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos of downy rattlesnake plantain orchid flowers but this is the only time I’ve seen any color except white in one. I suppose the yellow color must be nectar, but I don’t know for sure. The tiny flowers look like miniature versions of our native pink lady’s slipper orchid flowers. Each one is so small it could easily hide behind a pea with room to spare. This photo also shows where the “downy” part of the common name comes from. Everything about the flower stalk is hairy.

I was driving along the highway north of Keene when I saw a flash of beautiful blue, so of course I had to go back and see what it was. I was happy to see a large stand of chicory (Cichorium intybus) still blooming while all the other chicory plants I know of finished blooming weeks ago. I love the beautiful blue color of these flowers and if I could have a yard full of them I would.

Narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) blossoms are also a beautiful shade of blue. These flowers appear identical to those of bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but the foliage is quite different. Narrow leaf gentians like moist, calcium rich soil and that’s one reason you don’t see them in this area very often. Another reason is that the flowers never open so insects have to force their way in, and it takes a strong insect like a bumblebee to do so. Third is how its seeds are too small to interest birds and its foliage too bitter to interest herbivores. Put all of that together and it’s a wonder that this plant is seen at all. It’s listed as rare, endangered or vulnerable in many areas. These examples grow in a roadside ditch in Nelson, which is north of Keene.

That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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This is the time of year when our roadsides begin to look like Monet paintings. Purple loosestrife and goldenrod dominated this one, but the pink of Joe Pye weed and the white of asters and boneset often help brighten scenes like these.

There are enough different goldenrods (over a hundred it is said) which look enough alike to convince me that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to identify them all, but some are quite easy to identify.  One of the easiest is gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).  It’s one of the first to bloom and its flower heads always look like they have been in a strong wind that blew them over to one side of the stem. The heavy flower heads also bend the stem so the plant almost always leans at an angle like those shown.

I’ve included this shot of a field full of many kinds of goldenrod for those who haven’t ever seen one. Sights like this were common when I was a boy but are getting harder to find now, mostly because of invasion by purple loosestrife. The Native American Chippewa tribe called goldenrod “sun medicine” and used it to treat fevers, ulcers, and boils. Many other tribes also used it medicinally.

After years of trial and error Thomas Edison found goldenrod to be the best domestic source of natural rubber and bred a plant that grew to twelve feet tall and contained about twelve percent rubber in its leaves. Henry Ford and George Washington Carver developed a process to make rubber from goldenrod on an industrial scale during World War II and the USDA took over the project until synthetic rubber was discovered a short time later.

I’ve been surprised to find over the past couple of years how some of the flowers that I love to see, like the tiny little forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) above, have somehow found their way into my yard. Since I haven’t done anything to encourage it how they get here is a mystery, but the list gets longer each summer. It’s such a pleasure to be able to see them each day without having to go and look for them, and I hope the trend continues.

Eastern forked blue curls have beautiful flowers that might make a half inch across on a good day and the entire plant barely reaches ankle high, so it’s a challenging plant to photograph. One unusual thing about the flower other than its unique beauty, is its four long, arching stamens that dust bees with pollen when they land on its lower lip. This plant is an annual that grows new from seed each year. It seems to like sandy soil and I find it growing along river banks and sometimes roadsides, and now in my own yard.

I know of only one place to find field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) and it is always worth the walk to see them.  The flowers are very beautiful and unusual enough to make you want to sit beside them for a while and study them, and that’s just what I often do. I find them growing in full sun in sandy loam.

On field milkwort flowers what look like petals arranged on a central stem are actually individual flowers packed into a raceme no bigger than the end of an average index finger. Each tiny overlapping flower has two large sepals, three small sepals, and three small petals that form a narrow tube. Several different kinds of bees help pollinate this plant. Its flowers can be white, purple, pink, or green and I’ve noticed that the color can vary considerably from plant to plant.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) can get very tall and often towers over my head. A cluster of small, pencil eraser sized, blue flowers sits at the tip of the long stem. This plant is very similar to the wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) which bears yellow flowers. Both plants were used medicinally by Native Americans but they should only be used by those who know them well, because it is said that they can cause death by cardiac paralysis.

The flowers of tall blue lettuce can be white, deep blue, or ice blue. The deep blue ones are always the hardest to find but also the most beautiful and worth the effort. I haven’t seen a single one this year though.

I have trouble seeing red against green due to colorblindness and that’s why you don’t see much red in these posts, but these bee balm blossoms stood high enough above the surrounding foliage to be clearly visible. The name bee balm comes from the way the juice from its crushed leaves will soothe a bee sting. Our native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) is also called Oswego tea, because the leaves were used to make tea by the Native American Oswego tribe of New York. Early settlers also used the plant for tea when they ran out of the real thing. It’s a beautiful flower that I’m always happy to see. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it too and will come from all over to sip its nectar.

There are 2 or 3 small lobelias with small blue / purple flowers that grow here, but though the flowers look alike the plants themselves have very different growth habits, and that makes them easy to identify. This lobelia is called Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) and the small flowers are about 1/3 of an inch long. It is the only lobelia with calyxes that inflate after the flowers have fallen and to identify it I just look for the inflated seedpods.

Indian tobacco gets its name from the way its inflated seed pods resemble the smoking material pouches that Native Americans carried. The inflata part of its scientific name also comes from these inflated pods. The pods form so quickly that they can usually be found on the lower part of the stem while the upper part is still flowering. Though Native Americans used this and other lobelias to treat asthma and other breathing difficulties they knew how to use what we don’t, and today the plants are considered toxic. They can make you very sick and too much can kill.

Common burdock (Arctium minus) must have come to this country very early, probably tangled in a horse or cow’s tail, because it was noted as being widespread in 1663. In fact it was so common then that some who came later wrote that it was native. Its spread across the country from New England to the Pacific took about 270 years, because the Native Americans of western Washington State said it had been recently introduced there in the 1930s.  Burdock’s tubular purple flowers are densely packed into round prickly flower heads, but though many are familiar with the flower heads few seem to ever notice the flowers. The examples in the above photo had just opened. When fully open long white styles grow from the dark purple anthers. In this flower head only the lower blossom shows the styles.

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible.

It’s easy to see how the plant came by the arrowleaf part of its common name.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late in summer.

Steeple bush (Spirea tomentose) seems more herb than shrub to me but it’s in the spirea family of many shrubs. Sometimes it gets confused with meadowsweet (Spirea alba) but that plant is a very woody shrub with white flowers in flower heads that aren’t as long and pointed as these are. A dense coat of white wooly hairs covers the stem and the leaf undersides of steeple bush, and that’s where the tomentose part of the scientific name comes from. It means “covered with densely matted woolly hairs.” I almost always find this plant at the water’s edge.

Five petaled, pink steeplebush flowers are about 1/16 of an inch wide and loaded with 5 pistils and many stamens, which is what often gives flowers in the spirea family a fuzzy appearance. Many different butterflies love these flowers. Native Americans used the plant medicinally in much the same way that we would use aspirin.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep water at pond edges with the lower stem submerged so it’s hard to see the entire plant, but last year’s drought let me see that each plant had a tiny tuft of sword shaped leaves at the base of the stem. The stem has a twist to it and has 7 ridges, and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort.

The plants grow in the mud and send up a slender stalk that is topped by a quarter inch diameter flower head made up of very tiny white, cottony flowers. For the first time since I’ve been photographing the plant I was able to see what look like black stamens on this example. Eriocaulon, the first part of pipewort’s scientific name, comes from the Greek erion, meaning wool, and kaulos, meaning plant stem. The second part of the scientific name, aquaticum, is Latin for a plant that grows in water, so what you have is a wool-topped stem growing in water, which of course is exactly what pipewort looks like. Pipewort is wind pollinated. It is also called hat pins, for obvious reasons.

Last year swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) started blossoming at the end of June and this year it waited until the end of July, a full month’s difference. Of course I started checking the two plants I know of at the end of June and have been waiting impatiently ever since to see this, in my opinion the most beautiful of all the milkweeds. Certain flowers can absorb me, and this is one of them. It’s one that I can sit and look at without thinking or caring about much of anything else for a time.

Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men and animals. Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright, like the broad-faced sunflower and the hollyhock. ~Henry Ward Beecher

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With all the rain we’ve had mushrooms are sprouting up everywhere now and, though we usually have an orange  / yellow phase followed by a purple phase, this year they all seem to be coming at the same time. I’m not sure if the orange / yellows are late or if the purples are early. Anyhow, butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea) are one of the most photogenic of all mushrooms, in my opinion. They are a pretty, yellow, medium sized mushroom that almost always grows in groups.

In time the cap on butter wax cap mushrooms loses its conical shape and flattens out as if to show off its pretty yellow gills.

Hemlock varnish shelf mushrooms (Ganoderma tsugae) not surprisingly, grow on hemlock trees. This mushroom’s common name comes from its shiny red cap, which looks like it has been varnished. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

I love the colors in this bolete mushroom, which I think is the two colored bolete (Boletus bicolor.) As you can see by the photo, slugs (and maybe a squirrel or two) like it too. From what I’ve read there are several reddish colored boletes but most are small with flesh that stains blue after it has been cut or damaged. There is only one with flesh that stays yellow when damaged and that is the two colored bolete. This example was large, with the diameter of a cantaloupe.

Another pretty mushroom is the purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides.) The caps always look wet but they aren’t-they are slimy, and that’s why they often have leaves, pine needles, and other forest debris stuck to them. This one was surprisingly clean.

Purple corts often lose their sliminess and develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this is a good way to identify them. They always look psychedelic to me at this stage and remind me of the 60s, but I’d never eat one. The taste is said to be very bitter.

Common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum) is a type of puffball that I can’t say is real common here. I see maybe one or two each year. Another name for it is the pigskin poison puffball because it is toxic. It likes to grow on compacted soil like that found on forest trails. They often have a yellow color on their surface and are also called citrine earth balls because of it. I found one last year that was a beautiful lemon yellow.

Black jelly drops (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. Though these fungi are also called poor man’s licorice they aren’t edible and depending on what you read, might be poisonous. I’ve read that in parts of China they are considered a delicacy but it sounds to me like they’re best left alone.

Though they look and feel like gumdrops in a velvet cup black jelly drops are not jelly fungi; they are sac fungi. Their fertile surface is shiny, and the dark brown outsides of the cup look like felt. This mushroom is sometimes used for dying fabric in mostly blacks and browns, purples and grays. It is thought that the Bulgaria part of the scientific name might refer to a leathery skin, like a wine skin.

This is what black jelly fungi look like when they’re young. They’re very small and hard to see because they blend into the color of the surrounding bark so well. They are usually found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up for firewood, and that is exactly where I found these examples. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this fungus.

Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorphaare) are a type of fungi that often look like a human finger. As they age dead man’s finger fungi begin to darken. The lighter areas on them are covered with spores that are produced in early stages of their development. These fungi cause soft rot in the wood they grow on. In the final stages of their life dead man’s finger fungi darken until they turn black, and then they simply fall over and decompose. These examples grew out of the soil but there was probably an unseen log or tree roots that they were actually growing on.

I’m not positive but I think this crust fungus is a young example of the netted crust fungus. Netted crust fungi (Byssomerulius corium) are common and grow on the undersides of branches. The corium part of the scientific name means skin or hide, and refers to the skin-like growth of this fungus. Quite often bracket or shelf like growths will form along its edges. This fungus has tiny net-like ridges in its surface, and that’s how the netted crust comes by its common name.

It’s hard to do a post on fungi without including mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. When mushroom spores grow they produce mycelium, which eventually produces fruit, which is the above ground part that we see. The mycelium in the above photo grew just under last year’s leaves. Mycelium growths can be among the largest living things on earth. A huge honey mushroom (Armillarea ostoyae) mycelium in Oregon’s Blue Mountains covers 2,384 acres and holds the record as the world’s largest known organism. It is thought to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.

Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) grew at the base of a tree. These are some of the biggest mushrooms that I’ve seen and I put a quarter on this one so you could see just how big it was. A quarter is about an inch across.  This large bracket fungus often reaches two feet across. It grows on the roots of hardwood trees and causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

Pine dye polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its velvety feel. These large bracket fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root and heart rot. I usually find them on logs or roots but I found these examples on the trunk of a live tree, and that means its death sentence. This fungus changes color as it ages and can be any one of several different colors. A lot of those I see are a deep, beautiful red/ maroon color. If found when young they can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange color, and older examples will dye wool brown. This mushroom has the odd habit of sprouting “baby mushrooms” from its cap.

Shaggy parasol mushroom (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) has shaggy brown scales on a white background on its cap, but this example is shaggier than any photo I’ve seen of one so this identification has to be taken with a grain of salt. I found this example growing in deep shade by an old stump.

And that reminds me of something that I should say in every mushroom post: It is never a good idea to eat any mushroom you aren’t 100 percent sure of because there are mushrooms that can kill, and people still do die and / or get very sick from eating them each year despite all the warnings. In June of last year 14 people in San Francisco were poisoned by eating death cap mushrooms (amanita phalloides,) one of the deadliest mushrooms known. Three of them needed liver transplants, including an 18-month-old girl. It seems unbelievable to me that there are still people out there who don’t know the dangers of mushroom poisoning but every year I read stories just like this one.

Coral mushrooms come in many colors, sizes, and shapes. This one was as big as a baseball. I think it might be a golden coral (Ramaria aurea) but as my mushroom books say, there are so many similar coral mushrooms that it’s hard to tell them apart without a microscope. I just enjoy seeing them.

Since this coral fungus has sprouted on a stump and not from the ground I think it might be crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.) Crown coral branches end in a tiny little crown, just like what is seen here.

Yellow finger coral fungi (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) look like tiny yellow flames licking up out of the forest floor. Each finger might reach an inch high and grow in tight clusters, while look alikes do not. They are also called spindle corals and like to grow in the hard packed earth along forest trails. It is for that reason that I often find them stepped on and broken, but these examples were in good condition. They are said to have flesh that is very bitter.

Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) look like a mushroom with a stem and a cap but if you look under the cap you won’t see any gills or pores. Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi and their spores are produced on the upper surface of the cap rather than on gill or pore surfaces. The caps might feel smooth, clammy or slimy and can be green, tan, orange or yellow. Stems also vary in color.

Jelly Babies grow on the soil or on well-rotted wood in both hardwood and conifer forests and are very small. This entire group would easily fit on a quarter, which is about an inch in diameter. On a good day a jelly baby might reach 2.5 inches tall, but they’re usually about an inch tall in my experience, with a cap that might grow as large as a pea. Jelly babies are both friend and teacher to me because they showed me an entire Lilliputian world that I never knew existed. One day I sat on a stone and looked down and there they were, the cutest little bunch of fungi I had ever seen, and they made me wonder what other tiny things I’d been missing. Since that day I’ve been paying attention and looking closer, and I’ve seen things that I couldn’t have ever imagined.

I usually come away from mushroom hunting with a few unknowns, and this one fits perfectly into that slot for this post. It’s a pretty little thing that must have won first prize; it looks like the forest elves have given it a blue ribbon.

The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world. ~John Tyler Bonner

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I think since March we’ve had one completely dry week and that was last week. Other than that we’ve had at least one rainy day every week, and sometimes as much as 4 inches of rain has fallen in that one day. Parts of the state have seen flooding and roads have been washed away, but so far in this part of the state we seem to be weathering the storms quite well. All that water means waves in the Ashuelot River though, so I was able to practice my wave photography skills. I try to catch them just as they curl, as this one was.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) blossomed along the Ashuelot. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

All the rain means a great mushroom season is upon us. The American Caesar mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) starts out bright orangey red and then turns to orange or yellow. Its flesh is white and its gills are bright yellow. It is said to be the American version of the European Caesar mushroom (Amanita caesarea,) which got its common name by being a favorite food of early Roman rulers. This mushroom is closely related to the toxic fly agaric and the deadly death cap and destroying angel mushrooms, so great care should be taken with identification before it is eaten.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor,) and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails. I wish I had taken a photo of the undersides of these as well because it is supposed to be a beautiful lilac purple color and that’s something I’ve never noticed before. I see this pretty fungus rarely enough to always forget to peek underneath.

Elderberry flowers have been successfully pollinated and are slowly becoming berries, but at this stage the big flower heads look like star charts.

All the rain, heat and humidity we’ve had means perfect conditions for slime molds. I found this example searching for food on a fallen branch. Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium can be a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this example might be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

Here is another form that shape shifting slime molds can take. I believe this is the plasmodium stage of egg shell slime mold (Leocarpus fragilis.) In one stage of their life cycle these slime molds have a brittle outer shell that cracks and fractures like an eggshell. They will mature and become dry and turn first brown, and then gray. Blackish spores will be produced. Eggshell slime molds like to hang out on pine needles logs, stumps, and sometimes will even appear on living plants.

Spotting slime molds from a distance isn’t that hard if you know what to look for and where to look. It’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist. I look for what look to me like white or colored smudges. The closer you get to the smudge the easier it is to see detail, as this photo from about 3 feet away shows.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. I think it might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.) Most good mushroom books will include a section on slime molds that can help identify some of the most common ones, but uncommon slime molds can be very hard to identify.

A juvenile male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) landed on a grass seed head for a few seconds. I think it’s a juvenile male because the females don’t have white wing markings and adult males have a whitish blue body.  The luctuosa part of the scientific name means sorrowful or mournful and it is thought that it might be because the darker wing markings make them look like they are draped in mourning crepe.

I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly yet this year but I’ve seen a few of the other large butterflies, like this eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  Butterflies can absorb minerals and salts from the soil and I think that’s what this one was doing. It’s called puddling.

This eastern tiger swallowtail found a tasty heal all plant (Prunella vulgaris) to snack on.

I thought that this stunning creature was a butterfly when I first saw it on the grass in a lawn but after some research I found that it was a virgin tiger moth (Grammia virgo.) It is a large, butterfly sized moth and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants, which is apparently why I found it in a lawn. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I’ve been checking milkweed plants for signs of monarch butterflies but so far all I’ve seen are red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus.) These beetles eat milkweed plants and absorb its toxins much like monarch butterflies do and this and their red color keeps predators away. I’ve read that milkweed beetles squeak when they’re feeding on milkweed, but I saw hundreds and didn’t hear a single peep out of any of them. The ancient Greeks called this insect four eyes because of the way their antennae bisect and seem to grow out of their eyes.

Timothy grass was unintentionally brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began to promote cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720, and the grass has been called Timothy ever since. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) flowers from June until September and is noted for its resistance to cold and drought.

Timothy grass is an excellent hay crop for horses but what I like most about it is its flowers. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. This one wasn’t showing the purple stamens so I might have been too early. Quite often the heads look completely purple when they bloom. The example shown does show the tiny, feather like female stigmas. Flowering grasses can be very beautiful and I hope more people will stop and take a look at them.

If you want purple in your grass it’s hard to beat purple top grass (Tridens flavus cupreus.) This is a perennial grass that can get 3-5 feet tall. It likes to grow in disturbed soil and I see it along field and forest edges. I’ve tried for several years to get the camera to see what I see when I look at purple grasses but the photos were never accurate until I discovered the secret just recently, and that is taking the photo just after sunset when the light is still bright but there is no direct sunlight on the grass heads. There is also less wind to blow them around at that time of day as well.

I actually learned the secret of purple grasses last year when I was taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis,) but it didn’t click in my mind until this year. As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

When the tiny green flowers of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) have been pollinated they become fuzzy red berries, but before that they go through a fuzzy purple stage, as can be seen in the above photo. I’ve never seen this before this year, probably because I wasn’t paying attention. Native Americans made a kind of lemonade from these berries and they can also be dried and ground to be used as a lemony flavored spice.

The black willows (Salix nigra) along the Ashuelot River have gone to seed. Willows have been used medicinally for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks made willow bark tea to ease the pain of stiff joints and headaches and to reduce fevers, and Native Americans used the plant in the same way. Willows are so useful for pain relief because they contain a compound called salicylic acid. The acetylsalicylic acid found in aspirin is a synthetic version of it. Willows like wet feet and usually grow on the banks of ponds and rivers.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

What I believe is a male slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) is easily one of the most beautiful dragonflies I’ve seen. Its deep indigo blue color isn’t seen often in nature, but the blue bead lily berries do come close. I actually thought this dragonfly was black when I was taking its photo from several feet away and didn’t realize it had such a beautiful color until I saw the photo.  Nature is full of surprises, and that’s one reason I’m outside as often as possible. I just love seeing things like this that I’ve never seen.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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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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We’ve had some hot weather lately and that always makes me want to be near water, and of course when I’m near water I can’t help noticing the plants that grow there. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are the easiest to see, sometimes towering to 6 or 8 feet tall. They can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing it’s best to just admire this one. This photo is of the last one I saw blooming this year.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly. I know of one small pond that started with 2 or 3 plants a few years ago and now nearly half the pond is being choked out by them.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were tiny flies crawling over most of the blossoms I saw on this day.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Some of the aquatic plants that I like to see up close grow far enough out in the water to have to be photographed from a boat or by swimming out to them with a waterproof camera. If you really want to challenge your photographic skills, try photographing aspirin sized flowers from a kayak that you can’t keep still.

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and grew where I kayaked in great numbers. This rose, like many other plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. I saw a lot of swamp milkweed too, but I couldn’t get close enough for a photo.

One day I saw a couple of Canada goose families eating cherries from cherry trees that had bent low over the water. I didn’t know that they did this.

The adults seemed to be trying to teach the goslings how to get at the cherries but the little birds didn’t have the neck stretch it took to reach the fruit.

What I believe is creeping spike rush (Eleocharis macrostachya) isn’t a rush at all; it’s a sedge, so I’m not sure why it’s called a rush. As sedges go this one is very small; just a spiked stem with a brushy little flower head on top and a couple of basal leaves. It likes to grow in standing water at pond and lake edges, just off shore but I’ve read that it will also grow in ditches, vernal pools, and wet meadows.

The flower head of this sedge is called a spikelet and it is about a half inch long. The cream colored oval parts are the male flowers and the wispy white feathery bits are the female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look nearly identical so I could be wrong about its name. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, the only way to tell them apart is by their tiny fruits, and I doubt that I could even see them.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. Since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

One of the bonuses of looking for aquatics is that you see a lot of dragonflies, like this male common whitetail dragonfly. This dragonfly rests on twigs and grasses near the water, and sometimes on the ground. I haven’t seen one on the ground but I have seen them on stones. This isn’t a very good shot but he only perched long enough for one click of the shutter.

If only narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) would grow at the water’s edge. Instead it grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow and by the time I was finished taking its photo my feet were soaked. How odd it seems that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but we have had a lot of rain. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow whorled loosestrife that I spoke of in my last post. But whorled loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Though they are very hard to see in this example because of the bright light each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking.

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

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Two or three years ago I saw my first pale beauty moth and now I’m seeing them everywhere. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I see them in daylight. Usually in the evening though, so maybe they come out early.

There are a lot of dragonflies about this year and for some reason many of them are on lawns. I’ve walked over lawns and had hundreds of them flying around me. I can’t think of another time I’ve seen this but it must be that they’re finding plenty of food on the lawns. Or something. This example of what I think is a female widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) was near a pond on a cattail leaf, but there are lawns nearby. There were light whitish spots outside the dark spots on the wings but I think the lighting hid them.

 

A black ant was so interested in something it found on a sarsaparilla leaf (Aralia nudicaulis) it let me get the camera very close. I couldn’t see what attracted its attention and can’t tell from the photo either, but it was rapt. I think it was a common black house ant. It didn’t seem big enough to be a carpenter ant.

While I was visiting with the ant a winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) flew down and joined us on the same sarsaparilla leaf. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one seemed happy just being on a leaf. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid, so they must be happy right now. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

On a very windy day what I believe was a male calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) clung to the siding of a building. The light wasn’t right for dragonfly photography but I tried anyway and though it isn’t a great shot you can see most of the wing markings. These dragonflies are used to being blown about on the tips of twigs like a pennant, and that’s where their common name comes from. A fact that I find interesting about this dragonfly is how the males are not territorial and often perch facing away from water, apparently waiting for females as they approach the water. I’m not sure why this one chose a building.

NOTE: Blogging friend Mike Powell has pointed out that this is a female calico pennant dragonfly. If you’re interested in dragonflies or any other natural wonder, you should be reading Mike’s blog. You can find a link right over in the “Favorite Links” section of this blog. Thanks Mike!

I’m lucky enough to work near a pond and as I drive to work, early in the morning on a certain day in June, the snapping turtles begin to lay their eggs. As if someone flipped a switch the sandy shoreline between the pond and the road will be lined with the big turtles, sticking half out of the sand. And they are big; snapping turtles can weigh between 10-35 pounds. Though some snappers have been found as far as a mile from water most will dig their nest closer to it. They’ve been known to nest in lawns, gardens, and even muskrat burrows. Snapping turtles reach maturity at 8 to 10 years and can live up to 40 years or more.

It is said that some turtles weep from the strain of egg laying but this one had dry eyes. In fact she looked like she was smiling. You can see her beak in this photo; it has a rough cutting edge that is used for tearing food. They have powerful jaws and the snapping beak is easily able to snap off a finger or toe, so it isn’t wise to get too close to one. They have a neck that stretches quite a distance and they can lunge at high speed, which is how they catch their food. Snapping turtles eat plants, insects, spiders, worms, fish, frogs, smaller turtles, snakes, birds, crayfish, small mammals, and carrion. Plants make up about a third of their diet.

Snapping turtles lay one clutch of eggs in May or June and unfortunately this photo shows how most of them end up. Out of a nest of 15 to 50 eggs most will be eaten by raccoons, skunks, or crows. Though I’ve looked in the sand near disturbed nests I’ve never seen a paw print, so I can’t say what animal is doing this. It doesn’t take much to harm the turtles; the eggs are very delicate and the turtle embryo can be killed if turned or jarred. As many as 90% of the nests are destroyed each year and as I think about it I wonder if that isn’t part of nature’s plan. If every egg in every nest on this small pond were to hatch it would be overrun by snapping turtles and they would quickly run out of food. It might be better for them to never be born than to slowly die of starvation, but I’m very thankful that it isn’t up to me to make that decision.

Nature has a way of ensuring the continuation of each species and I know that many snapping turtles survive because I see them in ponds and streams everywhere. Egg hatching takes about three months but it varies depending on temperature and weather conditions. If the nest isn’t disturbed the hatchlings dig their way out in August through October and head right for the water. In winter they hibernate in the mud at the pond bottom. I should say that there are laws against disturbing turtle nests in New Hampshire, so they are best left alone.

I’m guessing that this bullfrog was very happy that there were no snapping turtles nearby. Adult female bullfrogs have an eardrum (tympanic membrane) that is about the same size as the eye and on a male it is much larger than the eye, so I’d say this one was a female. Females don’t croak but there was a lot of croaking going on here on this day.

With such a rainy spring I’m surprised that mushrooms aren’t popping up out of the sidewalks, but I’m not seeing that many. I did find some little horsehair mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) growing on a log recently. These are very small things; the biggest one in this photo might be as big as a pea.

Horsehair mushrooms are also called pinwheel mushrooms. Their pleated and scalloped caps always make me think of tiny Lilliputian parachutes. The shiny, hollow black stem lightens as it reaches the cap and is very coarse like horse hair, and that’s where the common name comes from. They grow in small colonies on rotting logs, stumps, and branches. Their spore release depends on plenty of moisture so look for this one after it rains. In dry weather they dehydrate into what looks like a whitish dot at the end of a black stem, but when it rains they rehydrate to release more spores. They can do this for up to three weeks.

The underside of the horsehair mushroom’s cap also looks like a parachute, with gills spaced quite far apart for such a little thing. In the center the gills join to make a collar that encircles the stem.

Swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans) are interesting fungi that grow in water and I find them in seeps where water runs year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of saturated leaves. I’m sorry about the strange angularity of this photo but I was kneeling in mud when I took it, trying not to drop the camera into it.

Another common name for swamp beacons is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. This one had an elongated head on it though and didn’t look very match like. If you want to get shots of this fungus be prepared to get your knees wet. Mine were soaked.

Hot humid weather along with a rainy day or two always makes me want to start looking for slime molds and sure enough after a recent shower, I found some. Slime molds seem to grow on just about anything; there is even a photo online of one engulfing a beer can that was left out on a rock. They almost always grow on the side away from the sun because they don’t want to dry out. A slime mold is an amoeba and that says a lot about how very small they are, but luckily they group together and that makes them easier to see. When I look for them I look for a smudge of color on the shaded sides of logs or on last season’s leaves. The one seen here is in its plasmodial stage and is on the move. I think it might be one called the tapioca slime mold (Brefeldia maxima.)

Slime molds can appear in their single celled amoeba form but when I see them they are almost always massed or massing together as these were. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using “cytoplasmic streaming,” which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Eventually they will shift from the growth to the fruiting stage, when they will release their spores. Slime molds do not like dryness, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain.

Here’s another look at what a slime molds can look like from a distance. This could also be yellow, orange or red. When looking for slime molds it’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. Identifying slime molds can be tricky, but most good mushroom books will include a section on them and there are a few good online resources as well. If you want to photograph slime molds you’d better have a good macro lens because many are almost microscopic in size. What you see in this photo wouldn’t even cover a penny. A good LED light is also helpful. I think this example might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.)

I think all slime molds are beautiful but this one really takes the cake. At least I think it’s a slime mold. I’ve found various examples of it for about three years now and I’ve spent that long trying to identify it with no luck. I haven’t found anything even similar to it online or in a book. I think part of the problem is it starts out looking like the white, blurry, bumpy mass in the lower left corner and then opens into the tiny blue starbursts seen above. What that means is it’s hard to know whether to search for a white or blue slime mold. I’ve tried both many times with no luck, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

As I was walking through the woods one day something told me to look up and when I did I saw a young porcupine sitting on the crook of a branch. It let me get close enough for a couple of quick photos but I didn’t want to disturb it, so I left and let it be. Porcupines are herbivores and eat leaves, twigs, and green plants such as clover. They often climb trees to find leaves for food, and in winter they will eat the bark of some trees. They are shy, gentle creatures but unfortunately I see many of their kind run over on the roadsides. They roam at night a lot and can be very hard to see. This one was quite small; probably smaller than a soccer ball. Many Native American tribes used porcupine quills for decoration on their clothing but women in the Lakota tribe found a way to get the quills without harming the porcupine; they would throw a blanket over it and then pick out the quills that were stuck in the blanket.

I went to the Ashuelot River one recent evening and found it raging because of strong thunder showers we’d had the day before, but a duck had found a calm spot away from the chaos of curling whitecaps. The river was high too; that small island isn’t usually an island.

But the duck didn’t seem to care one way or the other. It splashed and preened and tipped up to eat and smiled serenely while the river raged on around it. There has to be a lesson for us all in there somewhere. After all, nature is full of them.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

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