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Posts Tagged ‘Sycamore’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 1. Keene State Plaque

Recently a little birdie told me that some of the students in a certain biology class at a certain college were saying that it was “too cold” and that they “couldn’t walk in the snow.” And how were they supposed to find anything anyway when there’s “snow everywhere?”

Just for fun I decided to return to college myself just to see how valid these complaints were.

 2. Keene State Parker Hall

This was my chosen starting point on the campus of Keene State College. The great thing about nature study is it doesn’t matter which path you take. Nature will have something interesting to show you no matter where you go. With a willingness to participate and a little extra attentiveness you will learn things that you’ve never even imagined.

Oh-you will notice that the snow isn’t “everywhere.”

 3. Boston Ivy Berries

My first stop was the ivy covered walls of Parker Hall shown in the above photo. This photo is of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), which lends its name to the “ivy league” schools. The odd thing about Boston ivy is its name, because it isn’t from Boston and it isn’t an ivy; it’s a member of the grape family and comes from China and Japan. This vine attaches to just about any vertical surface with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils.  It secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to “glue” the pads to the surface it wants to climb. The glue can to hold up to 260 times its own weight.

4. Crabapples

If you are a biology student reading this blog then this photo should have you asking questions like why haven’t the birds eaten these crabapples?  You can see the hundreds of them in the background on the snow even though many birds, including robins and cedar waxwings, love crabapples. In a winter as harsh as this one you would think they would be gobbling them as fast as they could, so why aren’t they? Science has shown that birds will leave fruits that are lower in fat for last but are crabapples low in fat? The answers are simple; many crab apples are ornamental cultivars that birds just don’t like. Some other cultivars have fruit that birds will eat only after it has frozen and thawed several times.  If you want to attract fruit eating birds with crab apples (Malus) the choice of cultivar requires some research.

 5. Lilac Buds 

One of the ways to identify trees and shrubs in winter is by their buds. The size and placement of buds as well as the number of bud scales can all help with identification. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some just one scale called a cap, and some buds have none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate and have scales that overlap like shingles. The lilac buds in the above photo are good examples of imbricate buds.

 6. Cornelian Cherry  Bud  aka Cornus mas

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud.

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

 7.  Powdery Goldspeck Lichen aka Candelariella efflorescens 

Powdery goldspeck lichens ( Candelariella efflorescens) grow on tree bark of all kinds. The round, flattened, yellow patches are very small but grow in large colonies that make them easier to see.  Winter is the perfect time to look for lichens because they aren’t hidden by foliage. I saw plenty on this campus.

Lichens are great indicators of air quality because they refuse to grow where the air is polluted. There was a famous study done by schoolchildren in the United Kingdom in the 1960s. They produced a “mucky air map” that showed the absence of lichens from areas polluted by coal burning. Such a study (on a much smaller scale) done on a college campus might be a real eye opener. The lichens wouldn’t even have to be identified; simply recording their presence is enough. The absence of lichens is not a good thing.

 8. Lenticels in Bark

The Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica) is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch. It is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance. Lenticels are corky pores that allow gases like oxygen to reach the living cells of the bark. Without enough oxygen, bark can die.

9. Sweet Gum Pod

I was surprised when I finally realized that these were sweet gum seed pods, because Massachusetts is the northernmost point that sweet gum grows naturally in the U.S. and, though it is native to the east coast, it is considered a “southern tree.” But, there is an old (often risky) trick that landscape designers will sometimes use if a client is determined to have a certain plant that isn’t hardy-they use masonry. If a plant that isn’t reliably hardy is planted near masonry it will often survive lower temperatures than it would otherwise because the masonry absorbs heat from the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, keeping the plant warm enough to survive. There were several of these sweet gum trees near a massive wall of brick, and they were protected from wind by other buildings.

10. Sycamore Fruit

I’ve never heard of a dwarf sycamore tree but this is an empty sycamore seed head that I plucked from a tree with very mottled sycamore bark that stood no more than 7 feet tall. There are a large number of ornamental trees on this campus and I’m not sure how I would identify them all without occasionally asking the head gardener.

 11. White Rot Fungus aka Fomitiporia punctata

White rot fungus (Fomitiporia punctata) covered this fallen oak limb. There are many species of white rot fungi and they play a major part in wood decomposition. Scientists have discovered that they will also biodegrade environmental pollutants and certain chemical wastes. Researching that might be very interesting.

 12. Amber jelly Fungus

Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) were on the same fallen oak limb, but frozen solid by the looks. This is the first time I’ve seen these growing on oak. I usually find them on alder. Some jelly fungi are also good at helping wood rot. This one fruits in late fall and winter and is a true winter fungus. I’ve always wondered why certain fungi only fruit in winter.

13. Barberry Berries

I was surprised to see this very invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ) growing as a hedge but as I think about it I shouldn’t have been. I’ve planted barberry hedges myself back when we didn’t realize how invasive it was.  I also saw burning bushes used in a hedge. Also called winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), they are also very invasive and until recently were widely used. The final invasive that I found was oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). These were growing near a chain like fence-right where a bird might sit for a while after eating its berries.

Exploring their campus for invasive species would be a good project for a biology class and could be done at any time of year. The results might be surprising for those in charge of such things since, in this instance, this is a state college and the state has banned selling or importing these invasives.

 14. Daffodils 

The most satisfying thing I found on this campus was the little taste of spring provided by these inch high daffodil shoots. I was surprised since we had just seen a temperature of 7 below zero the night before.

So, if anyone reading this happens to be a student attending a certain biology class in a certain college, this post is for you. All of these photos and at least twice as many more were taken in less than an hour while meandering around the Keene State College campus and I didn’t once have to step in snow deeper than the soles of my hiking boots. It was cold but I dressed for it. That’s what we have to do to keep warm in a New England winter.  I hope this post has shown how easy it is to find things in nature with very little effort.

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.  ~Henri Poincaré

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It has been cold here this week with below zero nights and below zero wind chills during the day. My days of being outside “enjoying” that kind of weather are over for the most part, so these pictures were taken just before this latest cold snap.

1. Bog in January

Our days are still dim, with feeble sunshine even at noon when this was taken.  We’ve had more snow but barley more than dustings compared to what we’ve seen in years past. One snowfall seems to melt before we get more, so there haven’t been more than 5 or 6 inches on the ground at any one time. Certainly not snowshoe weather!

2. Witch Hazel Leaf

Any spot of color is welcome at this time of year and this orange witch hazel leaf (Hamamelis virginiana) really caught my eye.

 3. Goldenrod Gall

A tiny hole at the base of this goldenrod gall means that the goldenrod gall fly that once lived here has moved on. It is thought that the insect’s saliva causes the plant stem to grow into a gall. A larger hole at the top of the gall can mean that a bird has pecked its way in to eat the fly larva, which can survive being frozen almost completely solid in the winter.

 4. Winter Moss

I’ve ordered a moss identification book but it hasn’t come in yet so I’m not sure what kind this is, but its green color seemed cheery against the white snow. I think it might be one of the sphagnums. The moss book, if you’re interested, has a tedious title: Outstanding Mosses and Liverworts of Pennsylvania and Nearby States by Susan Munch. Readers of this blog often ask me what books I use for identification and I don’t look forward to answering that question for mosses and liverworts!

5. Foliose Lichen on Pine

I think this might be hooded tube lichen (Hypogymnia physodes) but I’m not 100 percent certain because I can’t find it in my lichen book. I found it growing on a white pine branch (Pinus strobus.) It looked plump and happy but lichens can and do change color as they dry out.

6. Dried Carrion Flower Fruit

I’m fairly certain that these are the mummified berries of the carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea.) These blue berries are a favorite of birds, so I was surprised to see them in this state. This plant is easy to identify even in winter because it is a vine. It gets its name from the strong odor of its flowers.

7. Ice Covered Pebbles

We had some freezing rain one day so it was a good idea to wear the Yaktrax. I’ve already taken several minor spills this winter.

 8. January Turkey Tails

These turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have been covered by light snow several times, and when the snow melts they always look the same. I’m not sure my theory that cold intensifies their color is going to hold water.

9. Toothed Fungi with Lichen and Moss

This tree had a virtual garden full of mosses, fungi and lichens on it, even though this was taken after our first blast of below zero weather. The small bracket fungi were toothed on the underside. I’ve seen these before but couldn’t identify them then, and still haven’t been able to now. I think the lichen is called Parmotrema tinctorum. I can’t find a common name for it.

 10 Sycamore Leaf

This sycamore leaf (Platanus occidentalis ) was almost as big as a dinner plate. I put a quarter on it so you would have something to compare it to.

11. Icy Brook

We’ve had snow, cold, and even below zero nights but also enough warmth to keep our lakes, rivers and streams from freezing over. Open water at the end of January makes this an unusual winter.

It is not easy to walk alone in the country without musing upon something. ~Charles Dickens

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This post is another of those that contain those interesting things I see that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

Forked blue curl (Trichostema dichotomum) seed pods show four round, dimpled seeds. These are so small that it’s hard to see them without magnification. This plant in the mint family is an annual and depends on its seeds growing into new plants the following season. The beautiful blue flowers appear quite late in the season. 

It had to have been the light, but these Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) looked just as blue in the woods as they do in this photo. I can’t find any reference to blue Indian pipes, either in books or online. Even my color finder software sees blue. I wonder if anyone else has ever seen this. We don’t pay much attention to this plant once the flowers go by, but Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) has quite showy fruit. The plant’s common name comes from the flavor of its small root. The spiky seed pod on this jimsonweed plant (Datura stramonium) might be trying to tell us that its seeds can be very dangerous if eaten. It’s no wonder the plant is also called thorn apple.

I love the colors found on a sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis.) If you walk around to the backside of this tree where it never gets any sun, it looks totally different-nowhere near as colorful. Whenever I start to think that I understand nature I run into something like this tree, which reminds me that I really know very little. Is this tree’s bark a light color so it reflects, rather than absorbs heat from the sun? That’s just one of the questions I have about sycamores.

I’m glad I didn’t accidentally grab the branch this tussock moth caterpillar (Lymantriidae) was on. Many caterpillars in this family have hairs called urticating hairs that are very similar to those found on stinging nettles. It is said that their sting can be quite painful and last for several days. These caterpillars are supposed to be voracious eaters and can cause quite a lot of damage to crops. 

This turtle was really craning his neck to see what I was up to, so I took a couple of shots and left him alone. Turtles spend winter buried in the mud of the pond they live in. They also sleep there, and can breathe as well as absorb oxygen through their skin. I think it might be a painted turtle.

This great Blue Heron had his back to me and didn’t seem to care what I was doing. He flew off shortly after I took this photo though. I’ve seen this bird here many times and he always seems to be waiting for the sun to come up because when it does he flies off.

This great black Cormorant fishes at a local pond and another one-or maybe it’s the same one-fishes in a river near here. The sun was dropping fast and I had to almost shoot into it, so I really didn’t think I’d get a picture of this bird. It’s not the sharpest picture I’ve ever taken, but it is the only one of a great cormorant that I have. The feathers on this bird’s belly and leading wing edge look more like scales than feathers, and it has big webbed feet so it can really move quickly when chasing fish under water. They can also hold their breath for quite a while under water.

The partridge berries (Mitchella repens) are ripe. This one shows the two dimples left by the twin flowers whose ovaries fuse to form one berry. This small trailing vine can form colonies that are several feet across under the right conditions.

This mushroom had released its spores, making it look as if someone had spray painted the pine needles. Mushroom spores should never be inhaled. There are documented instances of spores actually growing in human lungs. 

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is also called arrow wood. Its beautiful white flowers turn into blue-black berries, which aren’t often seen. This plant’s fall foliage is some of the most colorful in the forest and I always look for it. The shrub is called arrow wood because its branches grow very straight and some believe that Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. 

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) really lights up dark spaces in the fall.

If you have ever tried to get one of these spiky seed pods out of your dog’s fur you have a good idea of one reason rough cockleburr (Xanthium strumarium) is considered a noxious weed. The hooked spines on the seed pods get caught on just about anything and are why this plant has spread far and wide. I found this one growing on a riverbank, but they will grow just about anywhere.

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper ~Eden Phillpotts

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Camouflaged

I like to think that I’m as aware of my surroundings as the next person, but sometimes I’ll see something that makes me wonder if I haven’t been walking through life with my eyes completely closed.  That happened recently with the pale looking tree in the photo below.

 I’ve been driving by this tree literally for decades, but only recently saw it. From the road I thought it was the bleached out corpse of a tree that had died. I could tell that it wasn’t a birch, (which is what you would expect a white tree to be in New Hampshire) but I wasn’t sure what it was. One day my curiosity got the better of me and I stopped to explore the ghost tree. 

As I got closer I could see that its wound was even bigger than I first thought, but still couldn’t tell what it was until saw the bark close up.

 Only one tree I know of has bark like this; sycamore. Sycamore? But sycamores don’t grow in New Hampshire, do they? I began looking on the ground for seed heads. Sure enough, the ground was littered with them. I brought one home and took pictures.

 Up in the tree there were a few more. These give the tree one of its common names: Buttonwood

 There was no doubt that it was a sycamore. As if to confirm this, just down the road there was another one with bark that was even more mottled than the first. I think I have since found a third, but it is on private property and I haven’t been able to get close enough to it to confirm it. How I’ve lived in this state for over 50 years without seeing one before, I don’t know.

As it turns out, parts of New Hampshire and southern Maine are the north eastern limit for the American Sycamore (Platanusoccidentalis), which is the largest hardwood tree east of the Mississippi River. Or at least they can be-the ones that I found weren’t that big.

They are also called American Plane trees, and I’ve read that they are common in the flood plains of the Ashuelot River north of Surry Mountain Lake in Walpole, NH, along Great Brook, also in Walpole, and along the North River in Lee, NH. There are also quite large stands of American Hornbeam, or muscle wood in these same flood plains. One day soon I’ll be headed north to see them. I don’t know if they are rare in New Hampshire, but I’ve never seen one until recently and I don’t remember ever hearing the old timers speak of sycamores.

Anyone who would like to see these trees in Keene can find them on route 101 from Marlborough just after the small pond on the right that is a short distance before the Optical Ave. turnoff.

Since my son just graduated Air Force basic training yesterday and is now an Airman, I thought this post about the “camouflage tree” would be appropriate.

 

 

 

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