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Posts Tagged ‘Trailing Arbutus’

Last Saturday was a beautiful spring day so I decided to walk a rail trail in Winchester, which is south of Keene. This particular section of trail has an abundance of wildflowers and native flowering shrubs all along it and I wanted to see what was blooming. Out and back the hike I usually do through here is 6 miles but on this day I cheated and only did about three miles. It was enough to see plenty of flowers.

The trail follows along the southern stretch of the Ashuelot River after it leaves Keene. In this area the river is at its widest. Not too far from where this photo was taken, in Hinsdale New Hampshire it meets up with the Connecticut River, and from there it will flow south to the Atlantic.

The railroad engineers had to hack their way through some serious ledges out here but nothing too deep, so plenty of light gets in. I think that must be why so many flowers grow here.

One of the first flowers I saw were these very small white violets and I wondered if they could be northern white violets (Viola pallens.) From what I’ve read it’s an early white violet that prefers damp woodlands, and it is certainly damp here.

The flowers sat atop long stems but they were half the size of the violets that I usually see. In fact they were so small that I couldn’t even tell they were violets from five feet away. They’re pretty little things and there were lots of them.

I think every shade of green I’ve ever seen was represented here on this day. The forest was amazingly beautiful and I felt like I was being bathed in chlorophyll.

Some trees like this cherry couldn’t have fit another blossom on its limbs.

Oaks were in the business of flowering too, but this one’s buds hadn’t opened yet. I think this was a northern red oak (Quercus rubra.) We have other oak species but red oaks are the most common in this part of the state.

I thought that these tiny oak leaves, just opened and velvety soft, were very beautiful.

I saw the first Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) plants of the year and I was surprised to see them blooming. This plant is also called cemetery weed because it’s often found in them. It was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. Of course, it immediately escaped the gardens of the day and is now seen in just about any vacant lot or other area with poor, dry soil. This plant forms explosive seed pods that can fling its seeds several feet.

All parts of spurge plants contain a toxic milky white sap which may cause a rash when the sap on the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact the sap is considered carcinogenic if handled enough. Medicinally the sap is used externally on warts or internally as a purgative, but large doses can kill. Foraging on the plant has proven deadly to livestock. Cypress spurge has very unusual flowers. There were tiny insects flying all over this group of plants but I couldn’t tell what they were.

I was hoping the hobblebushes would be blooming and wow, were they ever. Winter must have been kind to these native shrubs because I’ve never seen them bloom as heavily as they are this year. Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is one of our most beautiful native shrubs in my opinion, and they have just started blooming. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads.

Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to bright red before ripening to a deep purple color. The outer infertile flowers are about three quarters of an inch across and a single fertile flower could hide behind a pea. All flowers in a hobblebush flower head have 5 petals, whether fertile or infertile.

These beautiful shrubs bloom all along this trail and when they’re finished native azaleas will take their place. The azaleas will be followed by native mountain laurels, so this place will be blooming for quite some time.

For the first time I decided to get off the rail trail and follow this old road, which leads to the site of a ruined factory which stood out here years ago. Undergrowth and trees grew close to the road, making it narrow and hard to see what was going on very far up ahead. I talked to a man a few years ago who told me that a black bear had followed him and his wife when they were hiking out here once, so this closed in place made me want to be super aware of every sound. I heard lots of beautiful birdsong and what sounded like a fawn calling for its mother, but I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a bear. I’d guess this place must be a bear’s dream come true though, because all these flowers will eventually become fruit. Rose-hips, hobblebush berries, blueberries, apples, crab apples, grapes, raspberries and blackberries are just a small sampling of what could be on a bear’s menu here. When all that fruit ripens it could literally eat its way over six miles of trail.

Rubble piles are all that’s left of the factory, which I believe was a paper mill. I think someone told me that it burned down quite a few years ago. There were a lot of bricks but little wood, so it seems plausible.

You can’t see it because of all of the growth on the far side of the river but there is a road behind the trees. At one time a bridge crossed the river here and led directly to this factory from that road. This pier in the middle of the river is all that’s left of the bridge, which was probably taken by a flood.

! was surprised to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) blooming out here because I’ve been here several times and have never noticed it, but a colony like this one has obviously been here for years. It grew almost vertically on moss covered stone.

This will probably be the last time I see these flowers this year. The brown spots on them is a good sign that they’re just about done.

There was a Boston and Maine railroad siding near my grandmother’s house and there were always boxcars parked there so I used to climb all over them when I was a boy. These tired old boxcars are slowly sinking into the ground they sit on but I like to come and see them. They bring back some happy memories.

These cars were originally from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont. Why they were put out here I don’t know, but I’m sure they must have once served the paper mills in the area.

I saw quite a few forget-me-nots near the old boxcars. They weren’t really a surprise because I’ve seen them along this rail trail before. Only Myosotis scorpioides, native to Europe and Asia, is called the true forget me not. The plant was introduced into North America, most likely by early European settlers, and now grows in 40 of the lower 48 states. In some states it is considered a noxious weed though I can’t understand why. I hardly ever see it.

The big surprise on this day was seeing white forget-me-nots. I’ve never seen them before and didn’t know they came in white. They were pretty enough but I think I like the blue ones more.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts. ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone is seeing plenty of spring wonders!

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Blooming everywhere in lawns right now is one of our lawn loving wildflowers: bluets (Houstonia caerulea.) These tiny, 3/8 inch diameter flowers make up for size with numbers and huge drifts of them, yards in width and length are common. Though they bloom in early spring and are called a spring ephemeral I’ve seen them bloom all summer long where they weren’t mowed.

I can’t think of much that is cheerier than a colony of bluets in the lawn. They seem to have somehow figured out how to stay just short of the grass height so their flowers don’t get mowed off. Either that or they regrow very quickly. I always try to find the darkest blue flowers in the colony and these got the prize on this day. They can range from deep blue to almost white.

I thought coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) had finished already but I keep running into them. This is one plant that I search high and low for in early spring but can never find, and a little later on it seems to be everywhere. This one had an odd fringe of something under the flower. I don’t know if they were bracts or something else, but I’ve never seen them before. Coltsfoot leaves, for those who don’t know, appear once the flowers have died off so for right now all you see is flowers and no leaves.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) weren’t quite ready for this post but in another week those greenish sterile flowers will be a beautiful bright white and all those buds in the center will be smaller, fertile flowers that are also white. This is one of our most beautiful spring flowering shrubs. The large white, flat flower heads are very noticeable as they bloom on hillsides along our roads. Botanically speaking the flower head is called a corymb, which is a flat topped disc shaped flower cluster.

Bloodroot flowers (Sanguinaria canadensis) are with us for such a short time. This small group hasn’t even been up for a week and already the flowers are shattering. It’s a member of the poppy family, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. None of that family seems to last very long.

Luckily bloodroot colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. I found another small colony that hadn’t bloomed yet so hopefully I can show these flowers the way they deserve to be seen. When they’re at this stage they always look like they have wrapped themselves in a cloak to me. Of course the cloak is the plant’s single leaf. Bloodroot’s common name comes from the reddish orange sap that bleeds from its root when it’s cut. Native Americans used the sap as a dye for baskets, clothing, and as war paint, as well as for an insect repellent.

One of the most unusual flowers to bloom in spring, and one that few people see, is the fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis.) It’s unusual because its flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. The flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

Quite often you’ll find that the pair of fly honeysuckle flowers are themselves part of a pair, dangling at the branch ends.

The flowers of Norway maples (Acer platanoides) usually appear well after those of red maples. These trees are native to Europe and are considered an invasive species. White sap in the leaf stem (petiole) is one way to tell Norway maples from sugar maples, which have clear sap. Their brightly colored flower clusters appear before the leaves and this makes them very easy to see from a distance. Once you get to know them you realize that they are everywhere, because they were once used extensively as a landscape specimen. Norway maple is recognized as an invasive species in at least 20 states because it has escaped into the forests and is crowding out native sugar maples. It is against the law to sell or plant it in New Hampshire. Where I work a large group of squirrels attacks our lone Norway maple each spring, gnawing off every single seed before they can mature. How they know to do this is a mystery to me but we end up with thousands of shriveled seeds and no seedlings under that tree every year.

Squirrels don’t do any real harm to sugar maples, unless it is to nick the bark with their teeth so they can lick up the sweet sap when it bleeds from the wound. They will also eat the buds and flowers but not in enough numbers to keep the trees from producing seeds. And produce they do; millions of seeds can fall in a single acre. The bud shown above had just opened. Sugar maples can live for 400 years and this is how they all get their start.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected for nosegays and when I was a boy they were very hard to find; in fact my grandmother and I never found any, but now I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. They are protected in some states as well, and this helps. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time. Not only that but it robs the rest of us of the pleasure of seeing them. Native Americans used trailing arbutus medicinally and it was considered so valuable it was thought to have divine origins. Its scent is certainly heavenly and my grandmother loved it very much.

I like the little star inside a myrtle blossom. This plant is also called vinca (Vinca minor) and is one of those invasive plants from Europe that have been here long enough to have erased any memories of them having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship. Vinca was a plant that was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three blooming beautifully near old cellar holes off in the middle of nowhere. But the word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the wiry stems do. They grow thickly together and form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through, and I know of large areas with nothing but vinca growing in them. But all in all it is nowhere near as aggressive as Oriental bittersweet or winged euonymus, so we enjoy it’s beautiful violet purple flowers and coexist.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clam shell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

I saw a back-lit daffodil that was almost perfect but something had been munching on its petals. I didn’t know anything ate them.

It has taken about a month for them to finally give their all but female alder flowers (Alnus incana) are finally fully in bloom. They’re the tiny reddish threads coming out of the cone like structure; easily among the tiniest flowers that I try to photograph; so small that I can’t actually see them when I’m photographing them. All I can see is a reddish haze, and that’s when I have to completely trust the camera.

I visited one of the trout lily colonies (Erythronium americanum) I know of and so far I’ve seen just a single blossom there. Trout lilies are in the lily family and it’s easy to see why; they look just like a miniature Canada lily. The six stamens in the blossom start out bright yellow but quickly turn brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect stigmata will catch any pollen that visiting insects might bring. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and attracts several kinds of bees. The plant will produce a light green, oval, three part seed capsule 6-8 weeks after blooming if pollination has been successful. The seeds of trout lilies are dispersed by ants which eat their rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds to grow into bulbs. They’ve obviously been working very hard with this colony because there are tens of thousands of plants in it.

I like the bronze coloring on the back of the petals. Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take 7-10 years to produce a flower, so if you see a large colony of flowering trout lily plants you know it has been there for a while. I’ve read that some large colonies can be as much as 300 years old. Another name for the plant is fawn lily, because the mottled leaves reminded someone of a whitetail deer fawn. Native Americans cooked the small bulbs or dried them for winter food. Black bears love them and deer and moose eat the seed pods.

Many spring ephemeral flowers are relatively small, but not purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Right now I’m seeing them almost everywhere I go.

Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. This is one of our showiest spring wildflowers. This one was already dropping its white pollen onto the lower petal.

I’ll leave you with a little bit of promise. Lilacs seem to be heavily budded this year and I’m very anxious to smell them again. They remind me of my mother, which might be hard to understand for those who know that she died when I was an infant but she planted white lilacs before she died and I got to smell them and take care of them for many years. I hope everyone knows a plant or two that comes with such fond memories.

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring- these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ~ John Burroughs

Thanks for stopping in.

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With daytime temperatures above freezing the snow is melting more each day. The woods in this photo have a southern exposure so the snow melts quickly. In fact I drove by them again yesterday and saw that all the snow had melted before I could even get this post posted. Soon there will be trout lilies blooming here. False hellebore, Pennsylvania sedges and ramps also grow here and this is one of my favorite places to visit each spring.

There is still a lot of snow left to melt in places though. This pile was about ten feet high and three times that long. It’s best for it to melt slowly so it doesn’t cause any flooding so daytime temperatures in the upper 40s F. and lower 50s are best, and that’s just what we’ve been getting.

Of course all the melting makes mud and we have plenty of it this year. I’ve already come close to getting stuck in it two or three times. We call this time of year mud season, when the upper foot or two of soil thaws but anything under that stays frozen. Water can’t penetrate the frozen soil so it sits on top of it, mixing with the thawed soil and making dirt roads a muddy quagmire. It’s like quicksand and it’s hellish trying to drive through it because you’re usually stuck in it before you realize how deep it is.

As this photo shows mud season has been with us for a long time. If you Google “Mud season” you’ll see cars, trucks, school buses and just about any other vehicle you can name stuck in the mud, just like this one. Some towns in the region have already closed roads because of it. This old tin Lizzie had chains on its wheels but it still got stuck.

One of the things I enjoy most at this time of year is walking through the woods to see what the melting snow has uncovered, like the purple leaves of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) seen here. Though the plant is an evergreen it doesn’t photosynthesize in winter so it doesn’t need green leaves. In fact many evergreen plants have purple leaves in winter but they’ll be greening up soon. This plant is also called teaberry and checkerberry because of its minty, bright red berries.

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) also has purple leaves in winter. This is a trailing vine with white flowers and black berries that look much like blackberries. Though it acts like a prickly vine botanically it is considered a shrub. It is also called bristly blackberry but I’ve heard that the blackberry like fruit is very sour. Native Americans used the roots of this plant medicinally to treat coughs and other ailments.

It isn’t always plants that appear from under the snow. I love seeing these curled fern leaves from last year.

Puddles get very big at this time of year and some, like the one seen here on a mowed lawn, could almost be called small ponds. It had a thin layer of ice on it on this cold morning.

Trail ice unfortunately is some of the last to melt. I’m guessing it’s because it has been so packed down and has become dense. It’s very hard to walk on without ice spikes.

Did this tree look like that when it fell or has the yellow conifer parchment fungus been growing under the snow all winter? Whatever the answer, the tree was covered with it.

Conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum) causes brown heart rot in trees, which is a reddish brown discoloration in the wood of conifers. It is also called bleeding parchment fungus because of the red juice they exude when damaged, but so far all of the examples I’ve seen were very dry and hard, and fairly impossible to damage.

Conifer parchment fungus is beginning to concern me because I’m seeing so much of it, virtually everywhere I go. If it’s on a standing tree like this one it means a death sentence for the tree. Nature will have to run its course and find a balance; I doubt there is very much we can do to stop it.

There were mallards on the Ashuelot River but the river wasn’t quite at bank full despite all the melting going on.

Regular readers know that I like to try to catch cresting river waves with my camera, but the water level has to be just right for good waves. If the river is too high or too low the waves will be small or nonexistent. This one was small but I still wouldn’t want to be hit by it.

Instead of the usual teardrop shape ice baubles along the river took on more of a flattened disc shape this day. They look like coins on sticks in this photo.

This one looked more like an orb but it was a disc. These may be the last ice baubles I get to see this year but that’s okay. They’ll be a happy memory and I’ll be warmer.

Fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) is one of my favorite clubmosses but I don’t see it too often because it has been so over collected for Christmas wreaths and other things. A single plant can take 20 years from spore to maturity so they shouldn’t ever be disturbed. This plant gets its name from the way its branches fan out at the top of the stem.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has made it through the winter just fine. This plant is also called Mayflower because that’s when its small, very fragrant white or pink flowers appear. It was one of my grandmother’s favorites and seeing it always makes me think of her. Even ice won’t hurt its tough, leathery leaves.

So what I hope I’ve shown in this post are all the beautiful and interesting things that are buried under the snow in winter; things like the turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) above. This is the time, before plants start growing new leaves and hiding them, that is the best time to find things like this.

These are some of the most beautiful turkey tails I’ve seen and there they were, in a spot I’ve visited many times, but I’ve never seen them. I hope you’ll see something as beautiful when the snow melts where you are.

Like the seeds dreaming beneath the snow, your heart dreams of spring. Kahlil Gibran

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Last Saturday morning it was cold at about 3 degrees F. so I had to wait for it to warm up a bit before going out. My camera doesn’t perform well at anything below 10 degrees and neither do I, so I waited until the thermometer read 20 degrees before visiting a local swamp. I was hoping to show you the flock of mallards that swam here seconds before I clicked the shutter but apparently they thought my collapsible monopod was a gun, because as soon as I went to extend it off they flew. I was at the crest of the hill shown here and they were far below, but they still saw my every move.

So instead of the wildlife I concentrated on the plants that grow here, like these winterberries. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant in the holly family and is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly so I only saw a handful of rather puckered fruit. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

I come to this swamp specifically because it is the only place I know of to find skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is usually our first flower to appear in spring. But as the above photo of its shoots shows the plants are there all winter, just waiting for the sign that it is warm enough to begin growing again. That date is usually in early March and the plant, through a process called thermogenesis, will grow through any amount of ice and snow to bloom. It can do that because it produces heat and can raise its temperature as much as 60 degrees F. above the surrounding air temperature. The splotchy maroon and yellow spathes are always a treat to see because they mean that spring is here, no matter what the calendar says.

Another sign of spring I watch for is when the catkins of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) start to turn golden yellow. This is a sign that they are producing pollen and that means that the tiny scarlet threads that are the female flowers must also be showing. The bud on the right is a female bud and the tiny female flowers will grow from it in early to mid-April. A good way to tell that you have an American hazelnut and not its cousin the beaked hazelnut is by the very hairy stem seen here. Only American hazelnut has hairy stems.

The forest was nearly free of snow but the trail through it had a light coating. That’s probably because it was well packed and icy.

It hasn’t been easy to find much snow in this part of the state this year and I’m not complaining about that at all. The weather people are hinting that a stormier pattern will crop up towards the end of the week.

There was one spot in the forest that had a measurable amount of snow and I wondered why only this spot had so much.

That was because there weren’t many evergreens overhead. Evergreen trees keep an amazing amount of snow from reaching the ground.

The shiny evergreen leaves of pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) poked up out of the snow. This plant is one of our native wintergreens and it likes to grow in undisturbed, sandy woodland soil that is on the dry side. It was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its common name comes from the Native American Cree tribe, who used it medicinally to treat kidney stones. It was thought to break them up into pieces. Even though pipsissewa photosynthesizes it supplements its diet by taking certain nutrients from fungi, and for that reason it is considered partially parasitic.

The pretty little seedpods of pipsissewa persist through the winter and poke up out of the snow. They are woody and split open into 5 parts to release the tiny seeds. Each capsule is about a quarter inch across. They remind me of the seedpods of the Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora,) in some ways.

When I finally got my driver’s license at 16 I would give my grandmother rides to the cemetery to visit the family graves. Near there was a wooded area and we would walk through the woods looking for checkerberries, which we had done since I was just a small boy. I can remember her always hoping we’d find some mayflowers so she could show me what they looked like, but we never did see any. That’s because their very fragrant flowers were collected for nosegays to such an extent the plant became almost impossible to find. Another name for mayflowers is trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) and my grandmother would be happy to know that I’ve found several large colonies. Many plants come with memories attached and for me this one comes with some strong ones.

I saw a very large witches’ broom on a blueberry bush. This deformation is caused by a fungus and causes a very dense cluster of branches to form. Though they might look unsightly they don’t seem to harm the plant. I picked berries for many years from a bush that had a large witches’ broom on it.

One part of the swamp had frozen into a pebbled, textured pattern.

We had a small ice storm that coated the trees with ice. The sun came out but the temperature dropped so as the sun melted the ice on the trees it fell into water that was freezing below, and that’s what made these patterns in the ice. I know that because the same thing happened where I work and, since I spend a lot of time outside, I watched (and felt) it happen. Millions of pieces of ice fell from the trees, rattling and tinkling as they fell. If they hit you in the face, they hurt.

Clubmosses grew up out of the ice. These little evergreen plants are vascular so they aren’t mosses at all, but someone must have thought so at one time. They are also called princess pine, ground pine and ground cedar but they have no relationship to those trees either. Clubmosses are considered fern allies, which are vascular plants that produce spores. Horsetails and Spikemosses are also in the same family. Clubmosses were used in a medicinal tea by Native Americans and the dried spores were once used to produce the flash in photography. They are very flammable when dry.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

I finally saw some more blue / purple turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They can be beautiful at times; like little painted fans.

The small stream that brings water from the upper part of the swamp to the lower was strangely colored orangey brown on this day. I wondered if it was some type of algae that colored it this way; I’ve never seen this here before.

Maybe it was all of the leaves in the stream that gave it its odd color, I don’t know.

A spruce tree had quite a large wound on it and a lot of resin around it. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

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Anemones have now joined trout lilies, spring beauties, and coltsfoot in carpeting the forest floor and they’re putting on a beautiful display this year. I’m looking at the abundance of blooms as nature balancing out what was a long cold winter.

Wood anemones (Anemone quinquefolia) seem to close whenever they feel like it but especially on cloudy days, so I was lucky to find them open. This native plant is said to be closely related to the European wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa.) Because they tremble in a breeze they have also been called windflowers. Not only do the flowers pass quickly but so do the plants. There will be no sign of them by midsummer. Though these plants are in the buttercup family and are toxic Native Americans made an anemone infused tea to relieve many different ailments, including lung congestion and eye disorders.

I thought the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) were  a little late this year so I looked back to when I found them blooming last year. Last year they bloomed on April 23rd, so they are indeed a little late.

These blossoms hadn’t been open long and you can tell that by the yellow male stamens in the center. As the blossoms age the 6 stamens quickly turn red and then brown and start shedding pollen. Three erect female stigma will catch any pollen an insect brings by. Nectar is produced at the base of the petals and sepals (tepals) as it is in all members of the lily family, and it attracts several kinds of bees. If pollination is successful a 3 part seed capsule will appear. The seeds are dispersed by ants, which eat the rich, fatty seed coat and leave the seeds behind to grow into bulbs.

Each trout lily plant grows from a single bulb and can take from 7-10 years to produce flowers from seeds, so if you see a large colony of blooming trout lilies you know it has been there for a while. This colony has tens of thousands of plants in it and I’ve read that colonies of that size can be as much as 300 years old. The first settlers of Keene could have very well admired these same plants, just as I do today.

A reader wrote in to say that she had spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) in her lawn and they were mowed once they were done flowering. I had never seen them in a lawn until I saw these on this day. I hope whoever mows the lawn will wait for them to finish blooming. I couldn’t mow down something so beautiful.

Goldthread usually waits until other spring ephemerals have finished before its flowers appear above the evergreen leaves but the weather has a few plants confused this spring. Goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It likes to grow in moist undisturbed soil in part shade. Native Americans used the plant to treat canker sores and told early settlers of its medicinal qualities, and this led to its being over collected into near oblivion. At one time more goldthread, then called “canker root,” was sold in Boston than any other native plant. Luckily it has made a strong comeback. I see quite a bit of it.

There’s a lot going on in a little goldthread flower. The white petal like sepals last only for a very short time before falling off. The actual petals of the flower are the tiny golden club like parts just above the white sepals. These are cup shaped and hold nectar for what must be very small insects, because the whole flower could hide behind an aspirin. My favorite parts are the yellow green, curved styles, which always remind me of tiny flamingos.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is an invasive plant from Europe, but it was brought over so long ago that many people think it’s a native. In the 1800s it was given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies and I’ve found all three still blooming beautifully around old cellar holes out in the middle of nowhere. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do. They grow quickly into an impenetrable wiry mat that other plants can’t grow through and I’ve seen large areas of nothing but vinca in the woods. Still, it is nowhere near as aggressive as many other invasive plants and people enjoy seeing its beautiful violet flowers in spring. Another name for it is Myrtle.

Wild ginger is a plant you have to watch closely if you want to see its flowers, because it can produce leaves and flowers in just days. In fact, everything seen in this photo appeared in 3 days from what was a mass of roots (rhizomes) under last year’s leaves.

Because they grow so close to the ground and bloom so early scientists thought that wild ginger flowers must be pollinated by flies or fungus gnats, but we now know that they self-pollinate. The flowers have no petals; they are made up of 3 triangular calyx lobes that are fused into a cup and curl backwards. Though flies do visit the flowers it is thought that they do so simply to get warm. Native Americans used wild ginger roots as a seasoning, much like we would ginger, but science has shown that the plant contains carcinogenic compounds that can cause kidney damage.

The full moon in the month of June was known to Native Americans as the strawberry moon because that was when most strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) began to ripen. The small but delicious berries were picked, dried and stored for winter use, or added to soups, pemmican and breads.  Strawberries were so plentiful that early settlers didn’t even think of cultivating them until the early 1800s. They grow thickly in my yard and my kids used to love looking for and eating the small, sweet berries.

At a glance you might mistake leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) for a blueberry but this plant will grow in standing water and blooms earlier. The plant gets its common name from its tough, leathery leaves, which are lighter and scaly on their undersides. Florists use sprays of leatherleaf leaves as filler in bouquets. The flower type must be very successful because it is used by many other plants, from blueberries to heather. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to reduce inflammation and to treat fevers, headaches and sprains.

Little Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) have done just that. This wild form of the modern pansy has been known and loved for a very long time. It is said to have 60 names in English and 200 more in other languages. In medieval times it was called heart’s ease and was used in love potions. Stranger names include “three faces in a hood.” Whatever it’s called I like seeing it appear at the edge of my lawn in spring. I always try to encourage it by letting it go to seed but it never seems to spread.

Like other spring ephemeral flowers bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) isn’t with us long but luckily colonies in different places bloom at different times, and in that way their bloom time can be extended. Still, with the summer heat coming on so early I’m guessing that it’s probably time to say goodbye to this little beauty for another year.

But just as it becomes time to say goodbye to one spring blossom it becomes time to say hello to another, and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just come into bloom. These small but fragrant flowers were once over collected for nosegays and when I was a boy they were very hard to find, but now I know of several large colonies so they seem to be making a comeback. They are protected in some states as well, and this helps. People need to understand that the plants are closely associated with fungi in the soil and unless the fungi are present these plants will not live, so digging them up to put in gardens is a waste of time.

I didn’t notice at the time but a tiny piece of lichen had fallen on the blossom over on the left. Native Americans used trailing arbutus medicinally and it was considered so valuable it was thought to have divine origins. Its scent is certainly heavenly and my grandmother loved it very much. I spent many hours as a boy trying to find the flowers for her but back then they were almost impossible to find. Thankfully that has changed.

One of the most unusual flowers to bloom in spring, and one that few people see, is the fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis.) It’s unusual because its flowers are joined in pairs and if pollinated they become small, red orange, oval, pointed end berries that are also joined in pairs. The flowers form on branch ends of small shrubs and many songbirds love the berries, so it would be a great addition to a wildlife garden. Look for the flowers at the end of April on the shaded edges of woods.

So far all of the flowers we’ve seen are relatively small, but not purple trillium (Trillium erectum.) These flowers are often an inch and a half or more across and very visible because of their color. Trilliums are all about the number three, with three red petals and three green sepals. In fact the name trillium comes from the Latin tres, which means three. The three leaves are actually bracts which the flowers nod under for a short time before finally facing outward. Inside the flowers are six stamens and three stigmas, and if pollinated they will become a red, three chambered berry. This is one of our showiest spring wildflowers.

Imagine my surprise when, while driving down a road that I had driven thousands of times, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that I had never seen. I’ve searched for marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) for many years and have never found a single one but on this day there it was, growing in a roadside ditch. I pulled over, threw the car in reverse, and jumped out to see if I could believe my eyes. It grew in water so I couldn’t get close enough for a close up of the flowers but there is no doubt that it was a marsh marigold. How or when it got there is anyone’s guess, but they are rare here in my experience and I was very happy to finally see one. I can now cross it off my still very long list of plants I hope to see one day.

Flowers construct the most charming geometries: circles like the sun, ovals, cones, curlicues and a variety of triangular eccentricities, which when viewed with the eye of a magnifying glass seem a Lilliputian frieze of psychedelic silhouettes. ~Duane Michaels

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Quite often I get an irresistible urge to be in the woods and, since I’m lucky enough to be able to find woods in any direction I travel, getting there is no work at all. The thought hit me the other day that I hadn’t been to Goose Pond in Keene since last year, so that’s where I went last Sunday. I also wanted to see how deep the snow was in the woods and since this is a five hundred acre wilderness area I would certainly be able to see plenty of woods. As the above photo of the trail to the pond shows, there was no snow in this area.  Odd since Goose Pond isn’t that far from Beaver Brook, where I saw plenty of snow in the woods just the day before.

The pond was still mostly frozen over. It’s interesting how ponds and lakes start melting at the shore and work toward the middle, and rivers start in the middle and work toward the shore.

Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869 but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s. The deciduous trees over on the left shoreline are red maples. You can just see some red in the branches from the opening flowers.

Even in the winter the trail darkens quickly due to all of the pines and hemlocks.

There are stone walls here and there along the trail around the pond. They tell the history of the place. It’s hard to believe that much of this land was cleared for sheep pasture by the early 1800s, but it was. These walls have most likely been here for over 200 years.

I’m reading the book The Hidden Life of Trees and in it author Peter Wohlleben speaks of how much strain a tree that is bent like the one in the above photo is under. As he explains it a curved trunk has trouble simply standing upright because “The enormous weight of the crown isn’t evenly divided over the diameter of the trunk but weighs more heavily on the wood on one side.” He also explains that “Evenly formed trees absorb the shock of buffeting forces, using their shape to direct and divide these forces evenly throughout their structure.” If you are interested at all in trees, this is the book for you.

I saw lots of trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) along the trail. This creeping evergreen is also called Mayflower, though it often blooms earlier. It was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers.

Some of the trailing arbutus plants were well budded. These small white flowers are extremely fragrant and were once collected nearly into oblivion for nosegays. It is one of those plants that has a close relationship with fungal hyphae in the soil and will not grow unless the fungus is present, so digging it up to transplant somewhere else is a waste of time. It’s also illegal in some areas.

There are many streams flowing down off the surrounding hills to the pond and in two spots there are bridges, but in many places you have to cross by hopping from stone to stone or simply walking through the water. I always wear good water proof hiking boots when I come here. On this day I saw some college age people going down the trail wearing bright white sneakers. I can guarantee that they weren’t white when they came out of the woods, and they probably weren’t dry either.

This bridge was chained to a nearby tree, not against theft but flooding. There has been severe flooding here in the past. It would be an awful lot of work hand carrying enough lumber to build a bridge all the way out here so I don’t blame them for not wanting to have it washed away and smashed on the rocks.

I could have sat here all day just listening to the chuckling and giggling of the stream and the joyous, excited birdsong but it wasn’t warm on this day and there was a stiff wind coming off that ice, so I had to move on after too short a time.

I saw the pine tree that was hit by lightning last year. The bolt blew the bark right off the trunk in strips, and pieces of the strips still lay by its roots. It also followed a large root right into the ground, leaving the same trace on it.

A birch polypore (Formitopsis betulina) was coated with ice. Someday I’m going to try drying one of these mushrooms and sharpening a knife with it because another name for it is the razor strop fungus. Even more useful than its ability to sharpen a knife though, is its antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains betulinic acid, which is a compound that has shown to also promote the death of cancer cells. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years.

Soon the island will be surrounded by water again instead of ice. I’d love to be able to explore it to find out what kind of plants grow there. I’m guessing that they aren’t much different than those that grow here on shore, but you never know.

Great long ice crystals grew in the cold night and were melting now. That’s how this entire winter has been; cold enough to snow one day and then warm enough to melt it all over the next few days. Then comes another storm, but that cycle seems to have finally been broken now.

There are many side trails here and some are very easy to get onto without realizing it, but it would still be hard to get lost if you pay attention and stay on the trail that circles the pond. If the pond is on your right when you start it should be on your right all the way along the trail until it ends, because you have just walked in a circle. Maybe it took you a while to do it but it’s still just a big circle. Even so I have met people here that seemed to have no idea where they were or which way to go. It just goes to show that what seems simple to some of us might not be so simple to others. I’ve been lost in the woods before too, and it can be unsettling, to say the least.

I knew right off what the small black lumps all over this beech stump were.

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungus forms hard black lumps on beech bark. The fruiting bodies seen here are “cushion like round or flask shaped masses of fungal tissue with nipple or pustule shaped pores.” Each body is very small; less than half the diameter of a pea. They usually grow on fallen beech logs but these were on a standing stump. It originally took me three years to identify them.

The trail had ice on it here and there but this is mostly level ground so it wasn’t bad. Next winter I’ll have micro spikes, hoping all the while that I don’t need them.

I saw the unnatural stone that lives in the middle of the trail, toward the end if you go clockwise around the pond. Of course I can’t prove it isn’t natural but I’ve worked with a lot of stone and I’ve never seen such a perfect 90 degree angle and such smooth faces on a natural stone. I can’t imagine how it got way out here or why.

This is a special place for several reasons. First is because it’s the only place I know of where you can actually get a photo of the woods while you are in them. An old pine fell and opened a hole in the canopy and that lets in enough light for a shot of something I am rarely able to get on film. Taking a photo of a forest while you’re in it is a lot harder than you might think, because of all the trees. Another reason this spot is special is because the only example of a northern club spur orchid I know of grows here. I found it about 4 years ago and hope to see it bloom again in July. The final reason this place is special to me is because it’s so beautiful and peaceful here. If you feel the need to just sit and “soak” in the woods this is the place to do it. I hope you have a place like it.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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There is nothing special about this photo of a swamp, other than to mark the place where I heard the first red winged blackbird of this year. I haven’t seen any but I’ve heard them and that’s another sign of spring.

I hope the red winged blackbirds know what they’re doing because this frozen pond is right across the road from the thawed swamp in the previous photo. Our nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing but I hear the birds each morning.

Half Moon Pond in Hancock certainly didn’t look very spring like after one of our many recent nor’easters. Before this cold came in March it looked like the ice would be gone in less than another week.

The wind blows strongly off Half Moon Pond almost all of the time, and this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) shows the direction. This sedge grows in large colonies near lakes, ponds, and wetlands and is native to Canada and the northern U.S. It is a pleasant shade of green in summer and can sometimes be the dominant plant along shorelines and in swamps. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

When I saw a mullein seedling (Verbascum thapsus) I realized that I had never seen another one, most likely because I wasn’t paying attention. It was every bit as wooly as its adult counterparts and ready to start photosynthesizing. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. This one was about the size of a baseball, or just over 9 inches.

I went to see my old friends the striped wintergreens (Chimaphila maculata) to see how they came through the winter and I was happy to see that they looked good and healthy. This is a plant I don’t see that often and I only know of three or four small colonies. Hopefully they will bloom and set seed in mid-July.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) grows near the striped wintergreens and also came through the winter looking well. This plant always reminds me of my grandmother because it was one of her favorites. The plant is also called mayflower and was once nearly collected into oblivion so the very fragrant blossoms could be used in nosegays, but it is now protected in many states. It relies heavily on a relationship with certain fungi mycelium in the soil and it absolutely refuses to grow anywhere that the mycelium isn’t present. Native Americans used to use the plant medicinally to break up kidney stones. It was so valuable to them that it was thought to have divine origins.

The basal leaves of hawkweed (and many other plants) often turn deep purple in winter. Many trees and other plants conserve a lot of energy if they don’t have to make  chlorophyll so in the fall many stop making it. When that happens other colors which were there all along start to show. Carotenoids make leaves orange and yellow and anthocyanins make them red, pink or purple. Anthocyanins can also protect leaves from getting sunburned in winter if they are evergreen.

Beaked willow gall is caused by a tiny midge laying its egg in a willow bud. The reddish galls usually form at branch tips in the fall and will house the fly larva all winter. It will eat the tissue in the gall until spring, when it will pupate and an adult midge will emerge. Winter is a great time to look for galls, which are often hidden behind leaves at other times of year.

I’m always amazed by how much red there is in highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and nothing shows it better than the witch’s brooms that are so common on these shrubs. On blueberries witch’s brooms are cause by a fungus that deforms branches or roots and causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. In my experience they don’t really harm the plant and can even be quite pretty with snow on them.

An old trick that gardeners sometimes use when they want to grow plants that aren’t hardy in their area is to plant the sensitive plats near a stone or brick wall. The mass of masonry absorbs the warmth of the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, protecting the plants from frost damage. Sweet gum trees grow near such a sunlit wall at the local college and the above photo is of one of their seed pods (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Seeing these pods here seems very strange because sweet gum is thought of as a “southern tree,” and Massachusetts is the northern most point that it grows naturally. I never saw the seed pods as a boy but I wish I had because they’re interesting and hold their shape well when dried. They would have made a great addition to my collection of natural oddities.

The base of this eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) was covered by what I think must be yellow green algae (Pleurococcus vulgaris.) These algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, on soil, stones and even on walls. Their closest relatives are said to grow in lakes and rivers, but these species can withstand some dryness. Fossil evidence shows that algae have existed for at least 540 million years.

A saw another hemlock that had a deep crack in its bark that ran straight and true from the ground to about 15 feet up. At first I thought it must be a frost crack but I’ve never seen one so long, so I’m guessing it must have been a lightning strike. Since it was an older wound there were no pieces of bark that might have been blown off lying around. I came upon a tree once that had been recently struck by lightning and there were strips of bark all over the ground. No matter how the crack was made I’m sure it made quite a loud noise when it happened.  On cold winter nights you can sometimes hear stressed trees cracking in the forest. It is sudden and sounds like a rifle shot.

The bud scales on many of the male alder catkins have gone from their deep winter purple to shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Soon the bud scales will open to reveal the yellow green flowers that will release the pollen to the wind. They become very beautiful at this time of year and sometimes when the light is right it looks like someone has strung ropes of multicolored jewels on all the bushes.

Boxwood (Buxus) is called man’s oldest garden ornamental because it has been used for hedges and specimen plantings for centuries. The early settlers thought so highly of it they brought it with them in the mid-1600s. The first plants were brought over from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. These examples I found in a local park were budded. They’ll bloom In late April or early May but so will many other flowers, so these small but pretty ones will probably be overlooked.

The willows seem to be in a holding pattern. They’ve had their fuzzy gray catkins for two weeks now but there are no signs of the bright yellow flowers yet. Maybe I’ll see some later today.

I was flabbergasted when I saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) still blossoming. They’ve been through three nor’easters and zero degree cold but there are at least five bushes still full of flowers, so I’d say they were well worth what it cost to buy them. I wish you could smell them. I’ve heard their scent compared to laundry taken in fresh from the line but another description I just read says a hint of citrus-maybe lemon-is there as well. They seem a bit spicy to me but it’s a very pleasant scent that you can smell from quite a distance.

It’s always nice to see budded daffodils in spring. These were coming along well in spite of the zero degree cold we’ve had. They grow near the brick wall of a building and I think the heat radiating off the wall keeps them warm at night, just like the sweet gum trees we heard about earlier.

Not all the daffodils were lucky enough to have a brick wall, and this is what happened to many of those that didn’t. This is the second year in a row that this has happened to these bulbs and I’m not sure if they’ll make it now. A bulb needs leaves to photosynthesize and build up the strength it needs to blossom the following year. With their first spring leaves dying off for two years now I doubt they have much strength left. If they were mine I’d dig and replace them with later blossoming bulbs. They’re a bit overanxious I think.

Sometimes sunlight on moss is really all I need. I pity those who spend their lives chasing after riches, all the while missing the incredible richness all around them.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. ~Anton Chekhov

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