Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Turkey Tails’

 

I’d been almost everywhere I knew of where coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) grow and hadn’t seen a single one, so last Sunday I decided to visit the last place I knew of to find them; the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland. I don’t like going there at this time of year because this is when all the ice that has accumulated through winter starts melting, and when it starts melting it starts falling, and this can be a dangerous place to be when tree size pieces of ice come crashing down.

There was a lot more ice than I expected and it was rotten, which means it has probably released its hold on the stone and could come down at any time.

3. Falling Water

Melt water ran off the stone walls in gushing streams.

4. Trail

I decided to get out of the deepest, northern part of the canyon and head south where the coltsfoot plants grow.

5. Columbine Seedlings

This rail trail includes the ledges where the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) grow, so I thought I’d see what was happening there as well. I saw lots of columbine seedlings but still no blue cohosh shoots.

6. Red Elderberry Buds

I also got to see some red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) opening. They always open with tiny purple fingers like those seen here. It won’t be long before this plant is covered with bright red berries. The birds love them so much and eat them so fast it’s almost impossible to get a photo of them. I think I’ve gotten just one photo of red elderberry fruit in the 8 years I’ve done this blog.

7. Turkey Tail

I saw a turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) wearing colors that I don’t often see. I’ve been seeing a lot of blue ones this year so this one was a pleasant surprise.

8. Unknown

I also found this chunk of blue something. It’s light and feels like plastic but it also crumbles so I doubt it is. I don’t know what it is or where it came from but I love its color; almost the same as the blue of cohosh fruit.

9. Unknown Stems

And then I saw these strange little trumpet shaped stems. They easily pulled right out of the wet soil and had a tap root.

10. Unknown Stem

The stems were thin and hollow and felt like paper. I don’t know what plant they’re from but there is a huge selection of plants growing here. I’ll have to see if I can figure it out in the summer when they’re growing.

11. Drainage Ditch

The drainage ditches had so much water in them in places it looked like they would wash up over the trail. I moved some bunches of wet leaves that were holding back the flow in a couple of places.

12. Fallen Ice

And this is where I had to stop. If you look closely you can see ice columns that have fallen completely across the trail. These columns are huge, easily as big as trees, and if one ever fell on you it wouldn’t be good.

13. Fallen Ice

This “small piece” was about two feet square. I can’t imagine what it must have weighed but I wouldn’t want to feel it falling on me.

14. Green Ice

The ice here is often colored, I think because of the various minerals in the groundwater, and there was some green ice left. It was very rotten and I didn’t get near it. Rotten ice has a matte, opaque “sick” look and the dull thud it makes when you tap it gives it away. It should sound like a sharp crack. Ice becomes rotten when air and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and it becomes honeycombed and loses its strength.

15. Great Scented Liverwort

The beautiful great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) made it through the winter just fine despite many of them being completely encased in ice. They like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water but of course in winter that means ice. They show that the groundwater here is very clean and most likely drinkable.

16. Great Scented Liverwort

This is the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful plant and they are one of the things that make this place so very special. Their amazing scent is where their common name comes from; if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle. I didn’t have my rubber boots with me to walk through the drainage ditches so I had to take this shot from about 6 feet away, but at least you can see the pores and air chambers outlined on the many leaf surfaces. It makes them look very reptilian and leads to the name snakeskin liverwort.

17. Algae

The green algae called Trentepohlia aurea looks to be spreading some. Though it is called green algae the same pigment that colors carrots orange makes it orange as well. It’s also very hairy, but I couldn’t get close enough to show you. Algae produce millions of spores and colored rain has fallen all over the world because of the wind taking the spores up into the sky. If you ever hear of red rain chances are it’s algae spores coloring it.

18. Mosses

It was so nice to see so much green for a change. It was also nice and warm here, which was a surprise with all the ice.

19. Ostrich Fern Frond

I was surprised to find the fertile frond of an ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) because I’ve never seen one growing here. Now I want to come back to get photos of the fiddleheads, which are pretty and very hard to find in this area. There are thousands of ostrich ferns growing along the Connecticut River but most of the land along it is privately owned.

20. Unknown Leaf

Well, in the end I never did find coltsfoot plants in bloom but I certainly found lots of mysteries along the trail on this day. Here’s another one that maybe one of you can solve. I know I’ve seen this plant and I should know its name, but I can’t think of it. The leaves are large at about an inch and a half across, and I think the bronze color is just what they do in winter. They sprawl on the ground in all directions from a central crown like a violet, but the leaves are too big to be a violet. It’s a pretty thing but without flowers it’s hard to identify.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life. ~Lewis Mumford

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Spring is happening, but ever so slowly this year. April showers have come along right on schedule and though they’ll take care of the remaining snow they’ll also enhance mud season, which has already been a bear. The ground froze deeply this year and the deeper the freeze the worse the mud. None of this has anything to do with the above photo of juniper berries but I love their color and I was surprised that the birds hadn’t eaten them yet.

From a distance I saw what looked like a patch of small yellow flowers. I couldn’t even guess what yellow flowers besides maybe coltsfoot or dandelions, would be blooming in March.

But they weren’t flowers at all. They were the fruit of horse nettle plants, hundreds of them. Carolina horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) isn’t a true nettle but instead is in the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and potatoes and many toxic plants. This plant is also toxic, enough so to be named devil’s tomato. It contains alkaloids that can make you very sick and which have caused death. There are also spines on the leaves which can break off and embed themselves in the skin. Skunks, pheasant, and turkeys are said to eat the fruit but it didn’t look to me like a single one had been touched. Nothing seems to eat the stems or foliage.

I saw these pretty buds on a small ornamental tree in a local park. It had a weeping habit and couldn’t have been more than six feet tall with many weeping branches. I thought it might be some type of elm but elm buds are flattened, not round, so in the end I’m not sure what they were.

This shows what happens when a sap spigot, actually called a spile, isn’t removed from the tree after sap season. The tree has almost grown completely over this one and has squeezed what should be round into a teardrop shape. The crushing power of the wood must be incredible.

This photo that appeared in a previous blog post shows what a spile looks like when the tree hasn’t grown over it. Things like this inside trees are a woodcutter’s nightmare. Spiles started out as simple wooden pegs which were hammered into a hole in the tree to direct the sap into the buckets which were hung from them but these days they are made from galvanized steel.

I found this mullein plant (Verbascum thapsus) growing up through the pavement in an old abandoned parking area. It’s in the process of shedding its large old, outer leaves from last year to make room for the its new leaves. This plant stays green all winter long under the snow and starts growing quickly in spring as soon as it melts. Another name for this plant is flannel leaf because of its large soft, fuzzy leaves. Pliny the elder of ancient Rome used the warmed leaves as poultices for arthritis and Roman legionnaires dipped the long stalks in tallow and used them as torches. The plant is originally from Europe and is considered invasive.

I see this plant in a flower bed every time I go looking for spring bulbs blooming at the local college, but I’ve never seen it bloom. I think it’s a hollyhock but I’m not sure, whatever it is it’s very tough and stays green all winter long. I like the pebbly texture of its leaves.

I’ve written about Edgewood Forest in past posts. It lies near the Keene airport and there always seems to be a controversy boiling over the trees there. The Federal Aviation Administration says the trees are tall enough to pose a hazard to planes, but the original documents that deeded the land to the city says that the land should be left as is, with no cutting of trees. What this has amounted to is trees being cut all around the deeded parcel called Edgewood Forest, leaving it a kind of forested island. The place shown in the above photo was forested until not too long ago but then all the trees were cut, all the stumps pulled and this-whatever it is- was built. Picnic tables were placed here and there. Apparently the higher powers thought that people would flock there and love it enough to even want to picnic there, but I’ve been by it hundreds of times and have never seen a soul there, picnicking or otherwise. Since there are hundreds of trees that are taller very nearby this seems like a total waste of effort and money to me.

This kind of thing is happening all over and town governments can’t seem to get the fact that people go to these places to enjoy nature. They stand and scratch their heads, wondering why the people don’t still flock to the same places after they’ve been “improved” like this one. Instead of attracting people they are driving them away, and I’m sure the income from tourist dollars is going to start reflecting that, if it hasn’t already. Meanwhile we’ll have monuments like this one to shake our heads at as we pass by in search of places that are more open and welcoming to nature lovers.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) is one of the plants that grew in that forest before it was turned into a lawn. Luckily I know where there are more of them. Native Americans showed the early settlers how to use goldthread to relieve the pain of canker sores and it became an extremely popular medicine. At one point in the 1800s more of it was sold on the docks of Boston than any other plant and that meant that it was severely over collected. Now, 200 years or so later It has made a good comeback and it will always be with us if we stop turning forests into lawns. It gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. It will bloom in late April with a pretty little white flower. I love its leaves, which look like they were hammered out of sheet metal.

When a sunbeam picks out something specific in nature I usually pay close attention, thinking that maybe I’m supposed to see that thing for whatever reason. On this day a sunbeam picked out this beech leaf, which was perfect and unblemished. It was a beautiful thing, as the things picked out by sunbeams almost always are. A sunbeam showed me how incredibly beautiful a red clover blossom was once and completely changed my opinion of what I always considered an ugly, unwanted weed.

A sunbeam also fell on this single turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) and its dominant blue color just happened to be my favorite. Turkey tails can vary greatly in color and I think I’ve seen them wearing just about every shade this year.

I’m hoping this is the last of this winter’s ice I’ll have to show here. Both day and nighttime temperatures are rising and ever so slowly the white is disappearing.


If you’ve never looked through a knothole this photo is for you. Knotholes like these happen when branches die and their wood shrinks faster than the surrounding wood of the tree. Eventually they fall off the tree, leaving a hole behind. The part of the tree that protrudes and surrounds the branch is called the branch collar and it should always be left intact when pruning. As can be seen, the tree leaves it behind naturally.

Other “improvements” I’ve seen lately involved cutting all the alders and other native shrubs from the banks of a small local pond, but since this pond is used as a water source in case of fire I can understand the thinking behind wanting to keep the brush cut back. I thought this stump, cause by two young alders growing together, looked like the face of an owl.

I had the face of this barred owl to compare the stump to. A few years ago I met a barred owl sitting in the middle of a trail. It just sat there, staring directly into my eyes while I walked to within 5 feet of it. I stood for several minutes, feeling as if I was being drawn into those big brown eyes that were much like my own, until I finally turned and left. The last time I saw that owl it still sat on the ground, which is a very odd thing for an owl to be doing. It was a strange experience and seeing this owl reminded me of it. This owl was much bigger than that one but sat quietly in the same way, letting me take as many photos as I wanted. The photos would have been much better had it been a sunny day but you can’t have everything, and being able to look into the eyes of an owl should be enough.

If you’d like to see what it’s like to stare into the eyes of an owl, look at the beautiful photo of a saw-whet owl that Montucky recently posted on his blog. You can see it by clicking on the word HERE. Its eyes are yellow instead of brown like a barred owl, but the effect is the same.

Just a note: This post is the first I’ve done on my new computer and I’m having trouble getting photos to look right on the new monitor, so if things look a little stranger than usual that might be why. It’s a nice big monitor that’s easy to see but it’s also very bright so photos look like they were overexposed. I hope you’ll bear with me.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

All week long the weather people said last Saturday, January 5th would be rainy and Sunday the 6th would be sunny. It did indeed rain Saturday and even dusted the landscape with snow overnight but there was very little sunshine on Sunday. The sun did break out eventually and I decided to follow a small stream that meanders through my neighborhood. It weaves its way through a small slice of true wilderness where nobody ever goes; just the kind of place you would have found me when I was a boy.

A deer had come this way not too long ago.

I could see where they crossed the stream.

There is a small tributary on the far side and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had walked right down it.

The stream bed is gravel and the water is very clean.

But this stream can fool you and I remember having to carry my son across it once as it came up and over the road in a flood. Since then it has flooded a few times and is scary enough for me to know that I don’t want to be anywhere near it when it does. The Christmas fern with its fronds all pointing in the same direction told of recent high water.

There is a beautiful burl here that I’ve been watching for years. It isn’t very big; about the size of a baseball, and if it’s growing it’s doing so very slowly. If it was bigger it would make a beautiful bowl.

There on the bank of the stream was a clump of something I wanted to see.

I like to visit my friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides) every now and then but I think it has been a year or more since I saw them last. They are cheery mosses that look like little palm trees, and they always glow with a beautiful inner light. This is the only spot I’ve ever found them so they aren’t common in this area, but I was happy to see that they’re spreading here along the little stream. They must not mind being under water for a time because it’s getting so the stream floods once or twice a year now. When I moved here it flooded once each decade.

It was dark in the forest because the sun had gone.

And it had started to rain again.

The oddest thing I saw was a free standing river grape vine (Vitis riparia.) This is odd because the top of the vine was in the trees and grapes need something to climb on. The stems are too weak to support themselves and without something to climb they’ll sprawl on the ground. I’m guessing that the tree it originally grew on had died a long time ago; so long ago that all traces of it had disappeared.

I’ve seen some magical things in grape tendrils. This one reminded me of someone sitting cross legged. Maybe it was the beautiful Hindu dancer I saw in another tendril a few years ago.

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside the stream in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally.

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) grew at the base of a tree. Whoever named this moss couldn’t have known it well, because it is far from delicate. This example has been under the water of a fast moving stream many times but you’d never know it. Orchid growers use this moss in commercial orchid cultivation.

Papery beech leaves whispered in the breeze. I hadn’t thought about beech trees having such a strong presence in the forest until recently. All year long they are there, from the time of their beautiful buds breaking in May until the pale white leaves fall from their branches the following spring, a continual woodland companion, always welcome.

I’ve been seeing turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) in various shades of brown and orange but I haven’t seen many in blues and purples, which are my favorites. The scientific names of this fungus mean thin (Trametes) and many colored (versicolor) and that’s exactly what they are. Someday I hope to learn what determines their color.

This large fungus looked like it was trying to form brackets or shelves but it wasn’t having much luck and looked more like a misshapen blob than anything else and I couldn’t identify it. I don’t feel too bad about not being able to identify mushrooms though, because there are an estimated 3.8 million different fungi on earth and about 90% of them haven’t been identified. Science has found that mushrooms are closer to animals than plants because they contain chemicals that are also found in lobsters and crabs.

Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) have become rarer than other jelly fungi over the years and that’s why I don’t show them here very often. I saw some good examples this day though, and they were nice and plumped up because of the rain. When this fungus dries out it loses about 90% of its volume and shrinks down to tiny black specks of the bark of what it grows on. These pillow shaped, shiny black fungi grow mostly on alders in this area.

I thought I might see some witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in bloom but all I saw were the little cup like bracts that the strap shaped yellow petals come out of.

The most beautiful things I saw on this day were the witch hazel’s orange brown leaves. It’s a pretty color that warms you even on a winter day, and I was happy to see them.

To sit in solitude, to think in solitude with only the music of the stream and the cedar to break the flow of silence, there lies the value of wilderness. ~ John Muir

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Our presents from nature were temperatures in the mid-30s F. and plenty of sunshine but we’ve also had some cold, as this frozen view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. We have no snow in my corner of the state though, because it seems to warm up ahead of every storm and we see rain instead of snow. That’s a good thing because just one storm last week would have dropped over two feet of snow.

Pressure cracks in ice are caused by stress, which is caused by fluctuating temperatures in the ice, wind, or waves. Some are contraction cracks, caused by the top surface of the ice sheet shrinking quickly. I think that’s what this crack on the pond ice in the previous photo might be. There are also wet and dry cracks. Dry cracks obviously have no water in them like this one. Ice can make some very strange, eerie sounds as it changes and sometimes this pond sounds like a Star Wars movie. This crack went all the way across the pond.

There seems to be plenty of seeds and other food for the smaller birds this year, especially since the asters seen here along with goldenrods and so many other late blooming plants grow many millions of seeds each year. All of these seeds are what help small birds and small animals through winter.

And they do get eaten, as this aster seed head shows.

Though the smaller birds seem to have plenty to eat things might be a bit difficult for larger birds like turkeys. Last year was a mast year and millions of acorns and white pine cones fell; easily more than I’ve ever seen, and turkeys, deer, squirrels and other animals had a bountiful year. But as is often the case when trees grow so much fruit, they need time to recover. In the following few years the harvest can be meager, and that’s what has happened this year. Last year I saw more acorns fall than I ever have and this year I’ve seen fewer fall than I ever have, and turkeys and larger animals are now paying the price.  Add to that a layer of snow like that seen here in Hancock, and there could be a serious thinning of the flocks and herds.

Technically a group of turkeys is called a “rafter” rather than a flock but I doubt they care. This one had to come over and see what I was up to. Here in New Hampshire we see turkeys chasing people on the news fairly regularly. They also have a habit of standing in roads. Why, I don’t know.

The way some of these photos show a snow pack and others show none you might think they were taken in different seasons but no, it’s just a matter of a few miles between snow and none at all. In fact looking at this colony of heartleaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) one might be fooled into thinking it was spring, but they’re an evergreen plant and look like this even under snow. Come mid-May they’ll be covered in small white flowers with long stamens, and it is these “foamy” flower stamens that give the plant its common name. It’s so nice to see green plants in December.

Mosses like this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) are non-vascular plants and most if not all are evergreen. I love seeing them at all times of year but especially in winter when there is so little green showing. This moss changes color from deep green to bright lime green when it starts getting cold and it always looks orange to me in the fall, but I’m colorblind so I’m sure it’s just me.

Last year I found this odd, sprawling little plant that I had never seen before. I showed it on a blog post and helpful readers told me it was a spikemoss, which I hadn’t heard of. I went back to see it this year and it really hadn’t changed but I tried to look it over a little more carefully and I did some reading about it. I believe this example is meadow spikemoss (Selaginella apoda.) Spikemosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however.

I didn’t look closely at this fern but I think it might be an eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which is also called marginal wood fern because of how its spore bearing clusters are placed in relation to its pinnule (leaf division) margins. We have a few evergreen ferns and like the mosses they add much to the winter landscape. They might look delicate but I’ve seen them grow on even after being encased in ice.

Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) is another of our evergreen ferns but it doesn’t look delicate at all. In fact if you run your hand over its fronds you’ll find that it feels tough and leathery. This fern is also called rock polypody or rock cap fern  because it is almost always found growing on stones. They are one of just a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying out, much like mosses do.

The sori of the polypody fern are considered naked because they don’t have the thin tissue covering, called an insidium, which many other ferns have. I think the little clusters of sporangium look like baskets of flowers. Though small they can be seen with the naked eye. The druids thought this fern had special powers because they found it growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbals and botanical texts.

Milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to do. This is a very common winter fungus that grows on the undersides of limbs. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and then break apart and turn brown as they age. This example was very young and  shows what look more like pores than teeth at this stage. If you pick up a fallen limb and touch something that feels cold and rubbery, it might be one of these. They are very tough and can stand all the snow and cold that winter can throw at them.

Another tough fungus is the turkey tail (Trametes versicolor,) but this one feels leathery rather than rubbery. This is a common fungus that can be found just about anywhere but the beautiful blue, purple, and orange ones are rare in this area. It seems to depend on the year I’ve noticed; sometimes most of them are shades of brown but in some years many will lean towards blues, purples and oranges. I have no idea what determines their color and apparently science doesn’t either, because I’ve never been able to find a single word about what colors them in print.

I’ve seen several trees with these markings on them and I think it might be the start of a bright yellow crust fungus called conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum.) This fungus is also called bleeding parchment because of the blood red liquid it exudes when it is damaged. It causes heart rot in conifers and is a death sentence for the tree. It seems to be very widespread because I’ve seen it in almost every bit of woodland I’ve been in.

A single terminal bud and two lateral buds in red or sometimes pink help identify striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum.) In late April or early May the bud scales on these buds will open to reveal the beautiful pink and orange buds, which are some of the most beautiful the things one can see in the spring forest.

Many things in nature will turn blue when it gets cold enough. Ice can be blue and so can the sap of the white pine tree. I’ve also seen the white striations that give striped maple its name turn blue. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped like this. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars. This one grew on a maple and was quite large.

Bunch gall is another plant deformity that appears on Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) at the very tip of the stem. A gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) lays its egg in a leaf bud and when the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leaves in a “bunch” like that seen here. Since the midge only lays its eggs on Canada goldenrod it makes this plant easy to identify.

I was working one day and this spider crawled up to me and watched for a while. After letting me take a couple of photos it walked off to wherever it was going. It was about as big as a quarter (3/4”) from leg tip to leg tip. I don’t know its name but it could move very fast when it wanted to.

This is how the sky often looks as I drive to work at 7:00 am at this time of year. It’s a great gift that costs nothing but my being there to see it. I hope all of you received similar gifts this year.

A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect. ~Johnathan Lockwood Huie

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday was a beautiful day for a change, with bright sunshine and relatively warm temperatures for November, so I thought I’d hike a rail trail I know of up in Westmoreland. This is the one I travel in May when I want to see the wild columbines in bloom, but I don’t know if I’ve ever come out here in the fall. That’s a shame; I’ve missed a lot of beauty.

I was a little dismayed but not surprised to see water on the trail. We’ve had a deluge of rain over the past few months and there is water everywhere. Usually though, you don’t find it on rail trails because the railroad built drainage ditches along the sides of the rail bed. They never would have put up with seeing this much water here. It’s possible the drainage ditches have failed because of fallen debris in them, but I don’t know for sure.

The forest that the rail trail goes through is mostly hardwoods like beech, oak and maple with few evergreens.

It’s hard to tell from this photo but these ledges are way up on the top of the hillside we saw in that previous shot. With all that stone warmed by the sun it looks like a great place for animals to den up.

Speaking of animals, this is a known bear area. I’m not sure if these marks were done by a bear but they were as big as my hand and they were on several trees.

The glimpses of sunlit beeches were enough to make me just stop and admire them for a while. Beeches are such beautiful trees, from bud break in spring until their leaves finally fall the following spring, they are year round friends.

There is an unusual box culvert out here that had a lot of water running through it due to heavy rain the previous day. I’ve been out here many times but this is the first time I’ve seen this much water here; usually there isn’t any. The box culvert is unusual because its joints are mortared. Almost every other one I’ve seen was laid up dry with no mortar.  The mortar could have been used in a repair years after it was built though, which is what I suspect. You don’t find much mortar in railroad stonework.

I saw some nicely colored turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) decorating a log. There were hundreds of them. I think my favorites are the ones with blue or purple colors in them.

Of course there were stone walls; there are always stone walls in New Hampshire. Property owners almost always built them along railroads to mark the place where their land ended and railroad right of ways began. The walls here are unusual because they were built largely of railroad cast off stone that had been blasted out of the ledges. If the railroad didn’t use it to build with they often simply dumped it in large piles throughout the woods and landowners picked from them. You can tell by the way there is hardly a round corner to be found in a wall.  The stones have square and angular corners and flat faces, though the section in this photo does have more rounded fieldstones than most of the wall did.

If you look closely you can see the hand of man in the stones. These finger size grooves were made by hand with a star drill or possibly a steam drill. You drilled your holes and then tapped small tools called feathers and wedges into them. The pressure exerted by the wedges would break the stone, leaving a flat face with finger shaped grooves. It was a huge amount of work but once the stone was cut the stone masons used it to build culverts, bridges, tunnels, walls and anything else they needed to get the tracks down and moving forward.

And they’re still building walls out here. They recently logged this land and the loggers built a road to where they had to be. The stones are used as a retaining wall to hold the road up and they’re big. They also have that “new” clean look that tells you they haven’t been there long.

We’re almost there. What looks like a dark tunnel up ahead isn’t a tunnel and it isn’t that dark, and that’s where we’re going.

I saw quite a few maple seedlings still hanging on to their colorful leaves.

I think the seedlings were red maples (Acer rubrum) and I think that because larger maples showed target canker which, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, only attacks red maples. It is caused by a fungus which kills the tree’s healthy bark and the patterns of platy bark seen in this photo are the tree’s response to the fungus. It grows new bark each year in the circular patterns seen here to contain the fungus. Usually the fungus will not kill the tree.

More signs of the railroad; a tie plate with a bent spike still in it was beside the trail. You can find a lot of railroad artifacts by walking rail trails.

And here we are at the ledges where the columbines grow, looking back the way we just came. The stone here is very dark but I have a feeling these ledges have limestone in them because of the lime loving plants that live here.

There isn’t much soil on the stones but there is enough to grow columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and in some cases even trees. I was wishing I could have seen some of the beautiful red and yellow flowers but I’ll have to wait until next May for that.

I did see some asters scattered along the trail, and though I don’t know their name they were a welcome sight. Any flower is welcome in November.

I wasn’t expecting to find columbines blooming out here but I was hoping to find blue cohosh berries (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and there they were. I found this plant when I came out here in May to get photos of the columbines and a chance to see the beautiful blue “berries” is what brought me back on this day. The berries are actually brown seeds with a fleshy blue coating that protects them, and the seeds are what are considered the plant’s true fruit, so the plant is a bit unusual. Now that I’ve seen the foliage, flowers and fruit I need to come here in the spring, in April I’d guess, to see the beautiful dark blue spring shoots. They look like tiny blue hands reaching out of the soil.

Blue cohosh fruit is actually darkly colored like a blueberry and like a blueberry the “bloom” made up of waxy white crystals that cover the berries reflect the light in a way that makes them appear lighter colored. Some describe them as “blueberries dipped in confectioner’s sugar.” This plant is very rare in this area so I’m hoping these fruits will grow new plants, but deer love eating the plant so the odds are against it. I should mention that, though Native Americans used the roots of the plant medicinally and herbalists still use it today, science says that it has “poisonous properties” and the “berries” can make you quite sick.

Here is a photo of a blue cohosh flower that I took on May 12th of this year, so it’s an early bloomer. Each of the yellow green striped sepals of the flower contains a nectar gland to attract insects.  6 yellow stamens form a ring around the center ovary and the true petals are the shiny green parts that ring the center between the sepals and the stamens. The word cohosh is believed to be Native Algonquin name used for several different plants with different color fruit so in this case the blue refers to the fruit color, even though all parts of the plant including the leaves and stems have a bluish cast to them in the spring.

The trail went on, north to Walpole before crossing into Vermont, but I did not. I turned around, happy that I had now seen such a rare plant in three stages of growth. This is only the second time I’ve seen it and the first time all I saw were the blue fruits, so the hike was well worth the effort. I’m really anxious to see the dark blue shoots in spring, and that probably means that winter will pass slowly. But then I suppose that it always does.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. ~Eleanora Duse

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

 1. High Blue Sign

Last week we had one sunny afternoon when the temperature climbed to almost freezing. A walk at lunchtime convinced me that I needed to take some time to rid myself of the cabin fever I could feel coming on, so off I went to Walpole to climb the High Blue Trail in Warner Forest.

2. High Blue Trail

I told myself after I climbed Mount Caesar in Swanzey last winter that I’d never climb in winter again but, even though the trail leads uphill it is an easy, gentle climb and there are plenty of interesting things to see on the way. Many feet had passed this way before mine so the trail was well packed but not icy.

3. Hay Field

There are some large hayfields along the way that make great wintering places for white tailed deer. There is strong sunshine, plenty of browse, and plenty of forest to hide in.

It’s hard to imagine it now but 100 years ago most of the hillsides in this region would have been cleared of trees, and would have looked just like this hay field. Farming the thin, rocky soil was a hard way to make a living though, so in the mid-1800s when textile and furniture mills started offering better pay for easier work, many farms were abandoned and reverted back to forest.  Now New Hampshire is the second most forested state in the nation with 4.8 million acres-nearly 85 % of the total acreage forested. Only the state of Maine has more trees. This is why, for those of us who live here, a pasture like the one in the photo is a rare and welcome sight.

4. Deer Browse

Deer put on as much as 30 pounds of fat in the fall and though they browse on twigs like that in the photo, winter food is usually not very nutritious and they burn the extra fat. If everything goes according to plan they will be much thinner but still healthy in spring.

5. Deer Print

Deer prints were everywhere.

6. High Blue Game Trail

This is a game trail. Not a single print in the photo is human, so a lot of deer and other animals follow it. Trails like this crisscross the woods in every direction.

 7. Pileated Woodpecker Stump

I saw a stump that got into a fight with a pileated woodpecker and lost. This happened before the latest snowfall, otherwise there would be shredded tree all over the top of the snow.

8. Smoky polypore aka Bjerkandera adusta or White Rot Fungus

These bracket fungi were very dark and I suspected that they weren’t turkey tails (Trametes versicolor). After looking through my mushroom books I think they might be smoky polypores (Bjerkandera adusta). I didn’t want to kneel in the snow so I broke one of my own rules and didn’t look at the undersides.  The adust part of the scientific name means “scorched” or “appearing burned” and a peek at the burnt looking, dark gray, pore bearing surface would have helped confirm my suspicions.

9. Turkey Tails

There was no doubt that these were turkey tails (Trametes versicolor). The good thing about looking for the identity of things in books is, you only have to do it once or twice for each new thing you find. After a while as you learn what things are, the books become less necessary.

 10. Stone Foundation Ruins

I always try to visit this stonework when I come here. I used to build dry stone walls and it’s always fun to try to understand what the builder might have been thinking as he chose the stones. Flat stones with at least one square corner don’t just roll out of the forest and stop at your feet. I’m sure many of these were plowed up in the fields that were here.

 11. View From High Blue

The view from the granite ledge overlook is always very blue just as the name implies, but it can also be very hazy as it was this day. I could just make out the ski trails on Stratton Mountain, off across the Connecticut River valley in Vermont. In winter the wind out of the North West makes you pay for this view, so I didn’t stay long.

12. High Blue Sign

I always take a shot of this sign, just for the record.

 13. Rock Tripe

There are places in these woods where large outcrops of granite are covered with rock tripe lichens (Umbilicaria mammulata). The Umbilicaria part of the scientific name comes from the Latin umbilicus, meaning navel. This is where another common name, navel lichen, comes from and points to how these lichens attach themselves to stone with a single attachment point that looks like a navel.  The puckered area in the center of the lichen in the photo shows its attachment point. These lichens can grow as big as lettuce leaves and Native Americans taught early settlers how to prepare and eat them to keep from starving. George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe while trying to survive the winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1777.

14. Barbed Wire

I read a book recently, written by a man in Massachusetts who said he took great delight in running through the woods without following any trails. I wouldn’t advise doing that here. Since these woods used to be pasture land there are still miles of barbed wire running through them and it’s often hard to see.

15. Monadnock From High Blue Trail

As you come back down the trail and re-enter the hayfield there is a good view of Mount Monadnock directly ahead of you. This view is almost completely covered by foliage in the summer so it’s another thing that makes coming up here in winter worthwhile.

He who would study nature in its wildness and variety, must plunge into the forest, must explore the glen, must stem the torrent, and dare the precipice. ~ Washington Irving

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »