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Posts Tagged ‘Syzygites megalocarpus’

Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, Just like this one. That day a side of nature that  I never knew existed was revealed and from then on I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two year old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the every day one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have  expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature study. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.

  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.

  3. Walk at a toddlers pace. Cross and crisscross your path.

  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.

  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.

  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.

  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.

  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.

  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.

  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

Thanks for stopping in.

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1-ice-drop

The first time I did one of these looking back posts was last year and I thought I remembered it being fun, but I found this one a little harder than fun. Picking one photo from 80-100 of them for each of the 12 months isn’t easy, but in the end I decided on the ones that best spoke about the month they were from. Last winter we didn’t have a lot of snow but we always have cold in winter, and that’s why I chose this photo of a tear shaped icicle for the month of January. It is said that January is our coldest month but I’ve seen February earn that title a few times in recent years.

2-maple-dust-lichen-on-beech

Along with cold February can sometimes bring enough snow to cover nearly everything, and this is when tree trunks gain a certain appeal. There are almost always lichens and mosses found on them and last February this maple dust lichen answered a question that I had been asking for some time, which was “Do maple dust lichens only grow on maple trees?” This one growing on a beech tree put the question to rest, and I have since seen them on poplars and young oaks as well. This pretty little lichen averages about an inch in diameter I’d guess, and can be identified by the white fringe around its perimeter. Proof that even when there’s six feet of snow on the ground there is still plenty of beauty to be found.

3-skunk-cabbage

March is when things really begin to stir and one of the first plants I see coming up is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus.) As this photo shows, we didn’t have much snow last March but even if we had the skunk cabbages would have simply melted their way up through it. Through a process called thermogenesis, skunk cabbages raise their internal temperature so it’s above the surrounding air temperature, and this melts any ice or snow that might hinder its progress. The dark color of their blotchy spathes attracts sunlight and that means they are also heated by the sun. This makes a nice cozy warming room inside the spathe where early insects can come and hang out and warm up. While they’re inside if they happen to bump into the spadix full of flowers and get pollen all over themselves, so much the better.

4-spring-beauties

April is when flowers begin to appear in great numbers. Spring bulbs bloom, trees bloom, and the first of our wildflowers bloom, including wild ginger, purple trillium, trout lily and the beautiful spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) shown in this photo.  I’m always so excited when I see their first blooms I drop down to my knees and start taking photos, forgetting that there are often leafless poison ivy vines crawling under last year’s fallen leaves. But itchy knees are worth it when beautiful things like these can be seen. There are few sights as breathtaking as a woodland floor carpeted by thousands of them and I’m very anxious to see them again.

5-new-beech-leaves

In May the leaf buds on many of our trees start breaking and king among them is the beech, in my opinion. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. Once the downy angel wing like leaves begin to show they unfurl quickly, so you have to watch carefully. I check them each day, and it’s always worth the effort to see something so beautiful. It’s too bad that so many people miss such a captivating event.

6-ladys-slippers

In June there are many beautiful wildflowers blooming and I had a very hard time choosing which one to include here. In the end I chose the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule,) which is New Hampshire’s state wildflower. The wild part of the word is significant, because our official state flower is the lilac, which isn’t native to New Hampshire. In any case the lady’s slipper is a beautiful native orchid and we’re lucky enough to have several different examples of them. Pink are the most common in this area but I’ve heard that there are yellow ones tucked away here and there and I’m always looking out for them.

7-swamp-milkweed

July is when I finally get to see the swamp milkweeds again. In my opinion they are easily one of our most beautiful wildflowers, and one that I’ve lost myself in more than once. If only there were more of them. I know of only two or three smallish clumps and last year one of those was too sick and insect ridden to even blossom, so they’re something I have to search for here, but their rarity and beauty make them worth every minute of searching.

8-cedar-waxwing

August is when the silky dogwood berries ripen and the cedar waxwings appear out of nowhere to eat them up, and isn’t it amazing how nature will teach you such things if you just pay a little closer attention? I love seeing the beautiful blue and white berries that always remind me of Chinese porcelain, and I also love seeing the sleek beautiful birds that feast on them.

9-moldy-mushroom

The fungi and slime molds didn’t do too well this year because of our drought but I saw a few in September, including this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did.

10-reflections

No matter how you slice it October has to be about the fall foliage colors because that’s usually when they’re at their peak in this area and that’s when people from all over the world come to see them. This spot at Howe Reservoir in Dublin is always worth a look because it’s a forest of mostly deciduous trees and it is always colorful in the fall. I love the muted, pastel shades that happened on this cloudy day.

11-frozen-pool

We don’t usually get much snow in November but it does get cold enough for ice to form on puddles and small brooks and streams. I found this frozen pool in the woods on a cool walk one November day and I liked the many colors in and around it. The ice was thin enough so one step would have probably shattered it.

12-split-gill-fungus

There are people who seem to think that once the leaves fall there is nothing left to see outside until spring, but nothing could be further from the truth. I chose this photo of a split gill mushroom (Schizophyllum commune) that I took in December to show that there is still a lot of beauty and interest out there. You just have to look a little more carefully, that’s all.  The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released.

13-purple-fringed-orchid-from-july

I thought I’d make the photo count in this post an even baker’s dozen so I could squeeze in what I thought was an amazing find in July. I walked down an unknown trail through a swamp and found a two foot tall orchid growing right beside it on a mossy hummock. It’s either a purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes) or a greater purple fringed orchid (Platanthera grandiflora.) I’m not sure which but it is definitely one of the most beautiful wildflowers that I’ve seen. The chance of finding something like this is what keeps me wandering through these woods. There are beautiful things around every turn in the trail.

To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction is to live twice. ~Khalil Gibran

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe, happy, nature filled New Year!

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