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Posts Tagged ‘Sweet Fern Fruit’

Last Sunday, the first full day of summer, was another hazy, hot and humid day. By the time I had finished this walk on a rail trail in Swanzey my car thermometer said 98 degrees F. That, coupled with no beneficial rain for several weeks, means that many plants are blooming quickly, with their flowers lasting only a day or two in some cases. I thought I’d see what was blooming in the shady areas along the trail.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is one of the plants that is having a hard time. I saw many of them wilted enough so their flowers and leaves were drooping badly. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s where its name comes from. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It normally grows in dry soil at the edge of forests but as I’ve seen, that soil can be too dry.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) came and went so fast this year I barely had time to see them. All I see now are its tiny seed pods, like the one seen here.

I was surprised to see that there was still a trickle of water running through this old box culvert. Many small streams and ponds have dried up.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is blossoming. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge and I usually find it on the shores of ponds or in wet ditches. The flowers of porcupine sedge are so small they are almost microscopic, but you can see them here. They are the whitish wisps that appear at the ends of the spiky protrusions, which are called perigynia. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds. These were found in the now dry drainage channels along the trail.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have now released their spores and all that remains of that process are the bright red fertile fronds that give the fern its name. Someone once thought it looked like a cinnamon stick.

The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which are tiny spheres where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head and you can see their open halves here. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) looked like it had just finished blooming. 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. I saw many yellow leaves on this day but that isn’t normal for June.

This grass couldn’t have held another flower. I’m not sure what its name is.

I found these hawkweed flowers (Hieracium caespitosum) blooming in the shade, which is odd for a sun lover. Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head is actually a single, complete flower. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Oak apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage.

This apple gall still had a small leaf attached.

A man walking his dog walked by and saw me kneeling at the edge of the trail to get a photo of a flower. “Be careful” he said, “there’s poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) all along here.” He was right and I thanked him for the warning but I know poison ivy well enough not to kneel in it. Usually when I kneel on it it’s early spring before the leaves come out and then I get a rash on my knees from the naked stems, because all parts of the plant are poisonous. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

Sweet ferns (Comptonia peregrine) grew here and there and I saw this one was producing nuts. The part that looks like a burr at the top of the plant is actually a cluster of bracts.

Inside these bracts are 4-6 small brown nuts (seeds) that are about 1/4 inch long and oval in shape. They can be just seen here. These seeds form in place of the female flower, which is red, small, and easily missed. Sweet fern foliage is very fragrant but it isn’t a fern; it’s actually in the bayberry family. Native Americans used the fragrant foliage as incense, putting bundles of them on smudge fires. They also made a tea from the leaves and some people still make tea from them today. I’ve heard that a handful of leaves put in a Mason jar full of cool water and left in the sun will make very good tea. “Sun tea,” it’s called.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail, but it’s a long climb down to it. As I walked along I could see large sandbars in the river, and they told the story of how low the water really was.

Before you know it you’re at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle, which has been refitted for snowmobile travel. We’re lucky enough to find these old trestles still crossing the river on many of our rail trails. It would be costly to replace them but they’re well-built and should last for many years to come.

The great thing about having the rail trails and the trestles is that you can easily get to parts of the river that you would normally never see. I hate to think of how long I’d spend and how much bushwhacking I’d have to do to get to this part of the river without the trail, because the surrounding countryside is about as close to wilderness that you can get.

The water was very low in the river. Only once before have I seen it low enough to expose the fallen trees along the bank like it was this day. It’s hard to get any sense of scale from this photo but some of those trees are mature white pines, which routinely grow to 100 feet or more.

There are lots of silver maples (Acer saccharinum) along the river and some are so close to the trestle you can reach out and touch them, so I plucked a leaf so I could show you the silvery underside, which is what gives the tree its name. A story I’ve heard my whole life is how, when the wind blows and you see the silvery undersides of maple leaves, it means it’s going to rain.

But the clouds obviously haven’t heard the old story of the maple leaves because they haven’t hardly let go a drop of rain in weeks. They say that today and tomorrow we might finally see some rain and everyone seems willing to even give up their weekend outdoors to get it. I know I’ll be happy to see it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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Here are a few more of those things that never seem to fit in other posts.

1. American Hornbeam Fruiting

American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) trees are fruiting. Long, drooping, leafy bracts bear the seeds in pairs of small oval nuts, as seen in the photo. This tree is also called blue beech or water beech. It grows along rivers and streams and likes moist to wet soil. The wood of the tree ripples and looks muscular, so it is also called muscle wood. The wood of this tree is very hard and early settlers used it for spoons, bowls, and tool handles.

 2. Male Cones of Red Pine

I had a little trouble identifying the pine tree that these male, pollen bearing cones were on because I’ve never seen them before. Luckily when it comes to native pines, here in New Hampshire we don’t have a lot of choices-only 4 pines grow here naturally-eastern white pine, jack pine, pitch pine, and red pine. I’m sure that the cones in the photo aren’t eastern white pine, and jack pine and red pine each have 2 needles per bundle. Since this tree has 3 needles per bundle it has to be pitch pine, according to my tree book, so these are the male cones of the pitch pine tree (Pinus rigida.)

 3. White Pine Pollen Bearing Cones

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus.) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire this pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

 4. Black Willow Seed Head

Black willows (Salix nigra) are just starting to release their seeds. Female catkins produce clusters of capsules that split to release the cottony seeds. This is another tree that is common along pond and river banks. The bark of the tree contains salicylic acid, which is very similar to aspirin, and Native Americans once used it to treat headache and fever.

 5. Fringed Sedge Flowers Carex crenita

Many grasses and sedges are also flowering. These droopy fringed sedge Flowers (Carex crinite) make this one easy to identify, even from quite far away. They also make it attractive and this plant is often seen in gardens. It’s another plant that like moist soil and is usually found on riverbanks and wetlands. Native American used sedge leaves to make rope, baskets, mats, and clothing.

 6. finger Gall on Black Cherry Leaf

Finger galls on the leaves of black cherry (Prunus serotina) are caused by a tiny eriophyid mite (Eriophyes cerasicrumena.) Visually these galls aren’t very appealing but they don’t hurt the tree. They are small-maybe as long as a half inch. A blue butterfly called the cherry gall azure (Celastrina  serotina) lays eggs on these finger galls in May, and when they hatch the resulting caterpillars eat the galls-mites and all. The caterpillars also leave behind sweet secretions that attract ants. The ants, in return for the sweets, protect the cherry gall azure caterpillars from wasps and other predators. Imagine-all of this happens on the surface of a single leaf.

7. Orchard Grass

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata ) is still flowering and seems to be going all to pieces. Who could guess that grass could be so interesting and so beautiful?

 8. Poison Ivy Flowers

 I found this poison ivy vine (Toxicodendron radicans) growing up a shagbark hickory near a popular canoe and kayak launching spot on the Ashuelot River. It is very healthy and each one of its flowers, if pollinated, will turn into a white, berry like fruit. (drupe) there are many old sayings designed to warn people of the dangers of this plant and one is “Berries white, run in fright.” You might not have to run in fright but eating any part of this plant would be a very bad idea.

9. Sweetfern Fruit

This is the fruit of the sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine,) which isn’t a fern but a shrub. Sweet ferns are usually found growing in gravel at the edge of roads or in waste areas. They are small-about 3 feet tall-and have a mounding growth habit. The leaves are very aromatic and can be smelled from quite a distance on a hot summer day. It is said that crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin will keep insects away. There is a tiny nut enclosed in the spiky husk shown in the photo. Native Americans made tea from the leaves.

 10. Turtle

It seemed strange to see what I think was a painted turtle in the woods, off to the side of the trail, but there it was. It took off as soon as I approached it, and I didn’t chase it. Chase doesn’t seem the correct word since it moved so slowly. Maybe “followed” works better.

11. Jumping Spider

I was getting up off the ground after getting shots of a flower and saw this guy peeking around a leaf at me. He ran off almost as soon as I pointed the camera at him, apparently upset because my “eye” was bigger than all of his. I’ve learned a lot about spiders and insects by reading Mike Powell’s blog, and I think this might be one of the jumping spiders which, if I remember correctly, don’t build webs. It had yellow slash-like marks on its body. If you’d like to visit Mike’s blog, just click here.

 12. Tiger Swallowtail on Rhodie

Butterflies aren’t landing at my feet any longer but I’m still seeing them everywhere. This eastern tiger swallowtail was on the rhododendron in the front yard-still letting me know that the butterfly drought has ended.

 13. Purple Grass

 There are grasses called “purple top” and “red top” and even one called “purple love grass” but I think this one might be called reed meadow grass (Glyceria grandis.) This grass is common in moist places throughout the country. Its color is nice to see in a sea of green, swaying grasses.

 14. Rattlesnake Weed

I recently re-visited the only rattlesnake weed plant that I’ve ever seen and found that all of the purple color that the leaves had earlier in the spring had drained away, and now they are green with purple veins. I like this plant and wish there were more of them. It is in the hawkweed family but, even though hawkweeds are blooming right now, this is not. If it does I might try to save some of its seed to grow a little closer to home.

Every aspect of Nature reveals a deep mystery and touches our sense of wonder and awe. ~ Carl Sagan

Thanks for coming by.

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