Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Sweet Fern’

1. Frost Crystals

The plan was to get out early last Saturday and hike a rail trail since I skipped it last week in favor of a pond, but nature had other plans. We got about 5 inches of snow on Friday and the temperature at 7:00 am on Saturday was barely 17 degrees F. I thought I’d wait for the sun to warm it up a bit and took photos of frost crystals while I waited. They were very feathery.

2. Trail

Eventually I did get out there and found a beautiful warm and sunny day.  Warm was 35 degrees but since last February saw below zero temperatures nearly all month long 35 degrees seemed like a gift.

3. Tire Track

I saw that a bike with balloon tires had gone through the snow. I’ve heard that the tires on them are underinflated, and that these bikes can go just about anywhere. It seems as if it has taken a good part of my lifetime for bikes to get back to where they were when I was a boy. I can remember them with fat balloon tires that always seemed to be underinflated back then, but we just rode them on the streets.

4. Little Bluestem Grass

There is a pasture for horses that runs for a short way along one side of the trail and on the far side of it what I think was little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) glowed beautifully in the sunshine. I love the golden color that some grasses have when they’re “dead.”

5. Poison Ivy Berries

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can grow as a shrub or a vine. In this case it grew as a vine on a tree trunk and its white berries gave away its identity, even in winter. I’m glad I saw the berries before I touched the tree trunk. You can catch a good case of poison ivy rash even when the plants have no leaves on them and as general rule I try not to touch plants with white berries. Poison ivy hasn’t ever bothered me much but there is always a first time. Some people get it so badly they have to be hospitalized. Over 60 species of birds are known to eat poison ivy berries, so the toxic part of the plant must have no effect on them.

6. Oak Gall

A gall wasp made a perfectly round escape hole in its near perfectly spherical oak gall. It is said that oaks carry more galls than any other tree. This example is a marble gall.

7. Pine Sap

White pines (Pinus strobus) have shown me that I can use their sap as a kind of thermometer in the winter because the colder it gets, the bluer it becomes. This example was sort of a medium blue which kind of parallels our almost cold winter. I’ll have to look at some if the temperature plunges next weekend as forecast.

8. Trestle

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I know part of one trail that hasn’t seen any maintenance and it’s like a jungle, so I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

9. Warning Wires

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative.

I’ve spent over 50 years wondering what these wires were called and was able to find out just recently. I also discovered that though tell-tales were once seen on each side of every trestle and tunnel, today they are rarely seen. The above photo shows the only example I know of and I chose to walk this particular section of rail trail because of it.

10. Ashuelot

There is a nice view of the Ashuelot River from the trestle. It’s very placid here but its banks seem wild and untamed, and it’s easy to imagine that this is what it looked like before colonists came here.

11. Rivets

Though there is surface rust on the ironwork of the trestle they were built to last and I wouldn’t be surprised if it looks the same as it does now after standing for another 150 years. You can see in this photo that the rust is just a very thin coating on the heads of the rivets.

12. Stone Wall

Stone walls marked the property line between landowner and railroad. I’ve tried to find out how wide railroad rights of way are but it seems to vary considerably. I’ve read that the average setback on each side is 25 feet from the center of the nearest rail. Add 10 feet or so for engine width and you have a 60 foot wide rail trail right of way, which seems about right in this region of the country.

13. Snowshoer

On my way back I was passed by a lady on snowshoes who asked me what I was taking photos of. “Anything and everything,” I told her, but I really wasn’t planning on taking her photo until I realized that she might give the place a sense of scale. This photo shows how, though the right of way might be 60 feet wide the sides aren’t often flat, so this might leave an actual trail width of only 20 feet.

14. Lowbush Blueberry

Railroad tracks have always been a great place to go berry picking. Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries can all be found in great abundance along most trails. In this section lowbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium angustifolium) looked spidery against the snow.

15. Maple Dust Lichen on Beech

On this trip something I had been wondering about for a few years was finally put to rest, and that was the question do maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) only grow on maple trees? The one pictured was growing on a beech tree, so the answer is no. So why are they called maple dust lichens? That question I don’t have an answer for.

16. Amber Jelly

I saw the biggest amber jelly (Exidia recisa) fungus I’ve ever seen out here. It was as big as a toddler’s ear and felt just like an ear lobe. As usual it reminded me of cranberry jelly, which isn’t amber colored at all.

17. Sweet Fern

I saw the sun lighting up the orange brown leaves of this sweet fern from quite a distance away. Sweet fern is a small shrub with incredibly aromatic leaves which release their fragrance on warm summer days. They can be smelled from quite a distance and are part of the summer experience for me.  Though they aren’t ferns their leaves look similar to fern leaves. They are actually a member of the bayberry family and the leaves make a good tasting tea. Native Americans made a kind of spring tonic from them and also used them as an insect repellant. On this day I just admired their beauty, glowing there in the sun.

18. Fungi on a Branch

A fallen branch poked up out of the snow as if it had been waiting for me to come along. It showed off what looked from a distance like little orange flowers, but I knew that couldn’t be.

19. Fungi on a Branch

They weren’t flowers but they might as well have been because they were just as beautiful. I’m not sure but I think they were older examples of milk white toothed polypores, which are known to brown with age. These hadn’t reached the brown stage but they were very orange and very interesting.

Each living thing gives its life to the beauty of all life, and that gift is its prayer. ~Douglas Wood

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Here are a few more of those non flowery things I’ve seen that don’t seem to fit in other posts. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum,) which is sometimes called brake, is easily identified by its shiny triangular fronds. What makes identification easier still is the fact that it is the only fern that has side branches. No other fern in the country has these branches, so it’s almost impossible to confuse it with others. Though I usually find this fern about knee high, I’ve seen it reach chest height under optimum conditions.I wish lichens were as easy to identify as bracken fern. This beard lichen doesn’t seem to have grown a whit since last winter, but since I don’t know how fast lichens grow I can’t be sure. I just realized that I’m not even sure how to tell if they are still alive so clearly, I’m going to have to study lichens a bit more. Leaf lichens don’t seem to grow very fast either.  This one is on a trail I visit regularly, so I see it often. It doesn’t seem to change much. I visited this red (orange?) jelly fungus off and on for about two weeks and saw very little change going on, and then it was gone. I don’t know if a critter ate it or if it just dropped off the branch it was on. Maybe it’s the old “watched pot never boils” thing with lichens and fungi. If I ignore them for the summer and re-visit them in the fall maybe they will have noticeable growth. These turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) look the same as the last time I saw them too. This poplar (left) and white pine were getting quite friendly there in the woods. They had grown so close together that if they had been the same species they would have grafted themselves together. As they get bigger something is going to have to give. I’m betting on the pine because they grow faster. When a fallen tree begins to break down into compost and return to the soil quite often seeds will fall on it and grow. When this happens the dead tree is then called a nurse log, because it “nurses” the seedlings into adulthood. I’ve seen one or two but they were impossible to get a clear picture of, so instead I’ve got this picture of what I call a nurse stump. The stump has obviously rotted to the point where seeds can germinate. I didn’t bother identifying the new growth but the way they are growing in a tight cluster seems to point to a squirrel or chipmunk hiding a cheek full of seeds. There wasn’t anything but moss growing on this stump but I had to stop and wonder what catastrophe might have caused such tortured looking growth, and what kind of power it must have taken to split it open. I love the bronze / maroon color, the wrinkled texture, and shine of these new leaves of the Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) vine.  When it becomes heavy with small, white, star shaped flowers it will be a sign that autumn is nearly upon us. New Stag horn sumac leaves are also bronze colored in the spring. Many plants have new leaves that are colored differently than their mature leaves. The female Gray’s sedge (Carex grayii) have grown their spiky, battle mace-like flowers. The male plant has a single spike rather than the cluster seen here. This plant is usually found near water and ducks and other waterfowl eat the seeds.Meadow foxtail grass (Alopecurus pratensis) will look ragged for just a short time while the flower stamens wait for the wind to blow their pollen to wherever. It is one of the earliest flowering grasses and is sometimes confused with timothy grass, which blooms in July and August. Grasses are wind pollinated and most have both male (stamens) and female (pistils) parts. When the wind blows the pollen from the stamens of one plant to the pistils of another, fertilization is complete and the plant will set seed. This grass was brought from Europe by early settlers to use as a hay crop, and it is still used that way today. This photo shows why you have to be careful where you put your hands. In the lower right corner, with three leaves to a stem, is poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) The rest of the picture is taken up by Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia,) which is a native vine that has 5 leaves per stem in this picture.  When it first comes up the leaves of Virginia creeper are red just like new poison ivy leaves. Each stem usually starts out with 3 leaves like poison ivy, but can have as many as seven when fully grown. Poison ivy can grow as a vine, just like Virginia creeper, so it can be difficult to tell them apart.  If the old saying “leaves of three, let it be” is paid attention to most people probably won’t get poison ivy. Still, if you spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to study poison ivy until you know it well. I’ve seen more poison ivy this year than I ever have. This is the fruit of the sweet fern (Comptonia peregrine) plant, the flower of which I showed in a post on April 14 called Forest Beauties. The part that looks like a burr 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. These seeds form in place of the female flower, which is red, small, and easily missed. Sweet fern foliage is very fragrant.These immature acorns were found on a red oak tree. It is estimated that a mature oak tree can produce as many as 5000 acorns.  From what I’ve seen oaks are going to have a bumper crop this year. An acorn can take 6 months in the case of white oaks, to 2 years for northern red oaks to fully develop. An acorn is “ripe” when the cap removes easily. Very heavy acorn production takes a lot of energy, and a tree might produce only a few acorns for 4 to 10 years after a season of heavy production. A tree called the Major Oak in the heart of Sherwood Forest; Nottinghamshire, England is between 800 to 1000 years old and has a circumference of 33 feet. Legend says that it was where Robin Hood’s and his merry men slept.

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts ~ William Hazlitt

Next time we’ll see some more wildflowers, so I hope you can stop in. Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »