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Posts Tagged ‘Vernal Witch hazel’

I started doing these “looking back” posts for two reasons; I thought it would be fun to see the different seasons pass all in one post and I also thought they would be easy, because I wouldn’t have to take any photos. I was right and wrong, because they are fun but they aren’t easy. Picking a few photos out of a choice of hundreds of them can be tough, so I decided to choose the best examples of the what the month at hand brings. January for instance is a month most people in New Hampshire expect to be cold, and that’s what the above photo shows. It was a cold month; I wrote that record breaking, dangerous cold had settled in and lasted for a week. It was -16 °F the morning I wrote that post, too cold to even go out and take photos.

But even cold weather has its beauty, as this January photo of ice shows.

There was no thaw in February, as this beech leaf frozen in ice shows.

But February had its moments and it did warm up enough to snow.  This storm dropped about 7 inches of powder that blew around on the wind.

March is when the earth awakens here in New England and it is the month when you can find the first flowers blooming, if you’re willing to look for them. Sometimes it’s too cold for all but the hardiest blooms like skunk cabbage, but last March the vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) was blossoming.

Crocus also bloomed in March. This strange one looked as if it had been cut in half lengthwise.

April is when nature really comes alive and flowers in bloom get easier to find. I saw these female American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americanus) blooming on the 18th.

By the end of April there are so many flowers in the woods you really have to watch where you step. I found these spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) part of a huge colony, on April 25th. Trout lilies, coltsfoot, violets, dandelions, and many other flowers first show themselves in April. I’m very anxious to see them all again.

Though we see flowers in March and April it doesn’t usually truly warm up until May, and that’s when some of the more fragile flowers like these beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) appear. Bluets, lily of the valley, honeysuckles, blue eyed grass, starflowers, wild azaleas, lilacs, trilliums, wild columbine and many other flowers also often appear in May.

Flowers aren’t the only things that appear in spring; some of the most beautiful things in the forest go completely unnoticed, like breaking tree buds. As this just opened bud of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shows, opening buds can be every bit as beautiful as flowers. Many other buds like beech, oak, maple, and elm also open in May and are just as beautiful. I hope you’ll look for them this spring.

One of our most beautiful aquatic flowers, the fragrant white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata,) comes along in June. These plants bloom in still, shallow waters of ponds and along rivers. Each blossom lasts only three days but the plants will bloom well into September. Some say the blossoms smell like ripe honeydew melons and others say more spicy, like anise. It’s their beauty rather than their fragrance that attracts me and that’s probably a good thing because they’re a hard flower to get close to.

June is also when a lot of trees like oak, ash, willow, hickory, and others release their pollen to the wind and it ends up coating just about everything, including the surface of ponds, which is what this photo shows. The white petals are from a nearby black locust tree which had finished blossoming.

In July I saw a fly that was willing to pose. By the time the heat of July arrives insects like black flies and mosquitoes aren’t as bothersome as they were in the cooler months, but ticks are still a problem. Other insects of interest are monarch butterflies which often start to appear in July. I’ve seen more of them each year for the last two or three.

One of the things I most look forward to in July is the blooming of the greater purple fringed bog orchids (Platanthera grandifolia) I found growing in a swamp a few years ago. It is easily one of the most beautiful flowering plants I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a few. At one time there were so many of these plants Native Americans made tea from their roots, but I’ve only seen two plants in my lifetime and those grow almost beside each other, so I’d say they are very rare in this area.

Many mushrooms usually appear in spring and then there is a bit of a lull before they start in again in late summer, but spring of 2018 brought a moderate drought so I had to wait until August to find beauties like this reddening lepiota (Leucoagaricus americanus.) This is a big mushroom with a cap that must have been 4 inches across. It is said to turn red wherever it is touched.

August is also when our roadsides start to turn into Monet paintings. The larger wildflowers like goldenrod, purple loosestrife, Joe Pye weed and boneset all bloom at once and put on quite a show.

Though fall can start in the understory as early as July when plants like wild sarsaparilla begin turning color it doesn’t usually happen with our trees until September. That was when I saw these maples along the Ashuelot River.

September is also when the New England asters begin to bloom. They’re one of our largest and most beautiful wildflowers and though my favorites are the dark purple ones seen in this photo, they come in many shades of pink and purple.

Fall foliage colors peak in mid-October in this part of the country and that’s when I saw these young birch trees clinging to stone ledges in Surry. The blue color came from the sky reflecting on the wet stone, and it made the scene very beautiful.

You can still see plenty of beautiful roadside wildflowers in October but this is the month that usually brings the first real freeze, so by the end of the month all but the toughest will be gone.

But there is still plenty of beauty to be seen, even in November. Very early in the month is the best time to see the beeches and oaks at Willard Pond in Hancock. This is easily one of the most beautiful spectacles of fall foliage color that I’ve seen and I highly recommend a visit, if you can.

We don’t usually see much snow in November but in 2018 we hadn’t even gotten all the leaves raked when winter came barreling in. We had three snowstorms, one right after another, and that made leaf raking out of the question for this year. There is going to be a lot of cleaning up to do in spring.

December started out cold but it didn’t last, and all the ice this ice climber was climbing was gone just a week later. They (ice climbers) call this deep cut railbed “The icebox” but this year maybe not. I’ll re-visit it sometime this month and see.

As of right now, 40 degree daytime temperatures are common and the witch hazel still blooms, so this is my kind of winter.

The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come. ~Mick Kremling

I hope everyone has a very healthy and happy 2019. Thanks for coming by.

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We had an inch or two more snow yesterday so spring seems to be unfolding excruciatingly slowly this year but I’ve discovered that it’s really my own impatience that is making it seem that way, because according to last year’s blog posts I saw my first daffodil blossom on April 15, 2017. I saw this one, the first of 2018, on April 14.

There is a bed of hyacinths that I’ve been visiting and last time I was there one plant had a bud that was much further along than all the others. Some weren’t even showing buds, but on this day every single one was blooming, just like this example. How they all suddenly caught up to each other I don’t know, but I wish you could have smelled them.

Crocuses drifted across a flower bed at the local college.

Plant breeders have been having fun with crocuses but does it make any difference to the bees, I wondered. I didn’t see a single bee on any of these. In fact I haven’t seen one yet this spring.

If you’re serious about nature study you have to get used to seeing death because it’s part of the cycle of life. All things eventually die but at times you might be surprised to find that some things are as beautiful in death as they were in life. This crocus blossom for example was dying, but I chose it as my favorite flower of the day because as the petals curled they became even more beautiful. Its death contractions gave it movement, and made this little crocus as beautiful as a parrot tulip.

I don’t know snowdrops well because nobody in my family ever grew them when I was young and later when I was gardening professionally not a single client grew them either. That could be because they don’t seem to do that well here, but I’ve discovered something about them that everyone might already know; sunlight has nothing to do with when they bloom. I’ve watched them closely this year and noticed that they don’t open on cold sunny days, but they will on warm, cloudy days. This tells me that it is temperature and not the amount of light that they go by. I wonder if anyone else has seen this.

I don’t think I’ve ever waited for a flower to bloom as long as I’ve waited for the Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas.) I think the buds started showing color more than a month ago and I’ve been checking on them ever since. This small tree in the dogwood family gets its name from its small, tart red fruits, which have been eaten by man since the Neanderthals walked this earth.

Striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica) are blooming and since blue is my favorite color I’m very happy to see them. But I don’t see many; they border on rare here and I hardly ever see them. The flowers on this spring flowering bulb are about the same size as the scilla (Scilla siberica) flowers I think most of us are familiar with. They’re beautiful little things and I’d happily devote large parts of my yard to them if I could.

Though catalogs will tell you that the blue stripes are found only on the inside of the blossom they actually go through each petal and show on the outside as well as the inside, as the unopened buds in this photo show. I think it must be their simplicity that makes them so beautiful.

I was surprised to see this uncared for Forsythia blooming because just a few feet away a cared for, trimmed plant wasn’t blooming. In fact I haven’t seen another Forsythia blooming anywhere I’ve gone. Forsythia is said to forecast the weather because as the old saying goes “Three snows after the Forsythia shows.” Since I saw one blooming in February we might be okay. But I heard spring peepers singing on the same day I saw these flowers and it is also said that “Frogs will look through ice twice,” so we might not be done with the cold nights just yet.

In spite of the predictions Forsythia blossoms might bring forth nothing seems to shout spring as loudly as Forsythia, and that might be because they are on virtually every street that you travel at this time of year. They may be ho-hum common but spring would be a much duller season without their cheery blooms.

And still the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) bloom. I’ve never seen them bloom so long before. It must be six weeks of flowers so far this year and the only thing I can think of that is different is the prolonged cold; all through March and now April. It must be warmth that signals them to stop blooming.

I loved how wild this dandelion looked. It’s flying off in every direction at once and making itself even more beautiful in the process.

Coltsfoot flowers on the other hand, looked all neat and trim and buttoned up for spring. In fact the only similarities between coltsfoot and dandelion flowers that I can think of are the color and the fact that they often bloom at the same time. Coltsfoot has a scaly stem, a flat flower head and leaves that don’t appear until it is done flowering. Dandelions have smooth stems, mounded flower heads, and the leaves appear before the blossoms.

Last week I checked for signs of yellow trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) and there wasn’t a sign of them. This week the leaves are up everywhere and next week I expect to see at least flower buds if not flowers. Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) grow in the same place, so I hope to be able to show you both in the next flower post. Their time here is brief; they’ll be gone by mid-May, but they’re beautiful enough to make me want to visit them regularly while they’re here.

The only time a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) leaf resembles a cabbage leaf is right now, just as they start to unfurl. They are one of the earliest leaves to unfurl in spring and hungry bears will sometimes eat them when they can’t find anything else. I think their smell probably keeps most people from eating them.

Tiny little American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) are all over the bushes now so it looks like we’ll have a good crop of hazelnuts this year. Native Americans used the nuts to flavor soups and also ground them into flour. In Scotland in 1995 a large shallow pit full of burned hazelnut shells was discovered. It was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so we’ve been eating these nuts for a very long time.

Male and female red maple (Acer rubrum) flowers often grow on the same tree but I’ve never seen them grow out of the same bud cluster as these were doing. A single bud over on the left at about 10 o’clock has male flowers while all of the others have female flowers, and many other bud clusters on this tree were doing the same. Just when you think you have nature all figured out it throws you a curve ball.

Many of the willows (Salix) are in all stages of bloom now.  I’ve seen many that are fully open and some still in the gray furry catkin stage, so they should be blooming for a while yet. Though a hot spell could finish them quickly it doesn’t look like we’ll have one of those right away. The male blossoms of this particular variety of willow are slightly larger and more vibrant than the female blossoms, and easier to see from a distance. I think of them as being louder, because they seem to shout at me from a distance.

Female willow blossoms are quieter, more subdued and orderly, and their yellow green color is less intense. I always wonder why wind pollinated flowers have evolved to be so colorful. It isn’t to attract insects; even grass flowers can be beautifully colored. It’s another one of those mysteries of nature that I don’t suppose will ever be explained.

Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment. Ellis Peters

Thanks for coming by.

 

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The weather people are saying we’re in a “very active pattern” right now. The rest of us are saying “enough.” It wasn’t that long ago when the ground was bare except for plowed up snow piles, but then winter decided it wasn’t finished and we’ve had one nor’easter after another ever since. The first was rain, the second was snow, and the third is snow. Snow at this time of year doesn’t usually stay long but the cooler temperatures of late mean that it’s melting slower than many of us would like.

Despite the storms spring is definitely close at hand. Canada geese have returned and have taken up residence in the Ashuelot River. Soon they’ll be choosing nesting sites.

Willows are shouting spring. I love how they take on this golden color in the spring. It seems unusual that a tree’s branches rather than its foliage would change color, but there they are. Forsythia bushes sometimes do the same thing.

The willow in the previous photo isn’t a “pussy willow” but I did go and visit some. The fuzzy catkins hadn’t changed much since last week but they can grow into yellow flowers quickly. It happened so fast last year that I never did get a good photo of a willow flower. This year I’ll be keeping an eye on them.

The vernal witch hazels have just about bloomed themselves out I think, after blooming for two or three weeks now with storm after storm thrown at them.

It isn’t the cold or snow that will finish their blooming though, it is simply time. You can see in this photo how almost all the petals are brown on their tips. If the winter moths have done their job and pollinated them there will be plenty of seed pods next year. After a year on the bush witch hazel seed pods open with explosive force and can hurl the seeds for many yards. It is said that you can hear them snapping open but it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time, and so far I haven’t been.

Hollyhocks were a surprise. At least I think they’re hollyhocks. I don’t remember them coming along so early, and I used to work for people who grew them. Now I wonder if they aren’t evergreen.

I’ve remembered that the extremely early tulips I’ve been telling you about are actually hyacinths. I remembered their wonderful scent from last year as I was taking their photo. There will be deep blue and pink blossoms here before too long.

Maple syrup makers won’t want to hear this but the red maple flower clusters (Acer rubrum) have opened. You can just see the first flowers peeking out on the right in this poor photo. It’ll still be a while before the flowers unfurl, but they’re on the way and they’re beautiful to see in spring. There are so many red maple trees that the forest comes alive with a red haze when they all bloom together.

I also checked on striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) but didn’t see any signs of bud break. This is one of those tree buds I most look forward to seeing open, because the pink and orange buds are beautiful when they first open.

Here’s a preview of what those striped maple buds will look like in late April or early May. A tree full of them is really something to see.

I found this mountain of snow when I went to visit the skunk cabbages. It will be a while before it and what was added to it yesterday disappears.

The swamp where the skunk cabbages grow is also home to thousands of spring peepers. On a warm spring day you can often find this part of their swamp filled with floating, chirping frogs, but this was not a warm day and in any event I haven’t heard the frogs singing at night yet. I also still haven’t heard red winged blackbirds or seen any turtles, but spring is moving forward so it shouldn’t be long.

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) were melting their way through the snow. I’ve seen a surprising number of insects flying around on warmer days so if the plants can stay uncovered they have a good chance of being pollinated.

I went to see how the alders were doing and got this shot of both male and female catkins on the same branch. This doesn’t happen often so I was happy to finally get them both in the same frame. The longer lower ones are the male catkins and the smaller ones at the top are the female catkins. When they’ve been pollinated the female catkins will become the small cone shaped seed bearing strobiles that I think most of us are probably familiar with. I was hoping to see pollen on the male catkins, but not quite yet.

While I was poking around looking at alders I noticed a bird’s nest. I wondered if it was a used red winged blackbird’s nest, because they vigorously defend this area when they’re here.

I checked the female buds of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana,) but I didn’t see any flowers yet. Last year they bloomed near March first but this year the weather must be holding them back. Any time now though the tiny scarlet threads that are the female stigmas will appear.

The daffodils still hang on even though winter has thrown everything it has at them. Last year they came up too early and their leaves turned to mush, so it’ll be interesting to see if they have enough strength left to bloom this year. I haven’t seen any flower buds yet.

The daylilies also made it through the last storm, but I wonder if they’ll make it all the way.

Crocuses are coming up and trying to bloom where the snow is thin. Unfortunately it isn’t thin in many places at the moment.

The biggest surprise on this day was a blooming dandelion. It wouldn’t win a prize in a flower show but it was a flower, and the plant had many buds. No matter what the calendar says this dandelion says spring is here. That along with the fact that we now have an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day is enough to bring on a good case of spring fever.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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I’m sure everyone has heard about the great nor’easter of 2017 that hit us last week. This photo was taken in my back yard after I got home from work. It was snowing heavily.

Getting home was difficult and took me twice as long as usual. We didn’t have true blizzard conditions here but I hope I never have to drive through a storm like that one again because the wind was blowing the snow around so much it was hard to see where I was going. Some parts of the state were hit very hard and lost power for nearly a week. This photo could have been taken in January but unfortunately it was taken on March 15th. I took one in January at this same spot that looked almost identical.

At my house I had just over 10 inches of snow when I got home, and another 2 or 3 fell that night. Some places had twice what I had here.

After a week of temperatures in the high 60s F. and bare ground during the last week of February this storm and the bitter cold afterwards were disappointing. It was almost as if winter had been rewound somehow and was starting all over again, but the sun came back out as it always does and it’s getting gradually warmer, in fits and starts. Temps are back in the high 40s and the snow is melting again.

This shot of Half Moon Pond was taken before the storm. It was frozen over at this point but the ice was melting quickly and by the time the storm hit open water could be seen. Once the storm came it froze over quickly, and so it’s now covered in snow again.

If there is one thing I’ll remember most about this winter it is the ice. It has been terrible and is everywhere, including on all of the trails that I visit. Getting around has been difficult, to say the least.

Because of all the ice we’ve had to use many thousands of tons of salt and sand on the roads and walkways. This photo shows what our roads and walks look like now; stained by salt.

Spring is still on the march but you have to look for it because many of the signs are subtle, like when last year’s beech and oak leaves finally start to fall.

Also subtle is the swelling of buds; these lilac buds are a perfect illustration of how it happens. The dark red colors on the bud scales once met, so when you saw the buds they looked completely red. But then they began swelling and the red parts pulled apart, revealing an orange stripe. When you see this you know the buds are getting bigger. Before long the scales will pull back completely, revealing the tiny flower bud cluster inside. It’s a great thing to watch happen.

A single pea size bud of a Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) illustrates how, when water taken up by the roots swells the bud, the bud scales open to reveal the flowers inside. This doesn’t happen on all plants; magnolias for instance have only a single furry bud scale that simply falls off.

In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do.

I was worried that the red maples (Acer rubrum) had misjudged the weather when I saw some flowers dangling on a few trees. Chances are good that the blossoms that appeared early are dead but as this photo shows, there are still plenty tucked into their bud scales.

These daffodils weren’t so lucky and these leaves are finished. They’ll probably still bloom but without leaves they can’t photosynthesize to make food, so they probably won’t bloom next year.

Some daffodils still looked good and I think what made the difference was the snow depth. Snow is a good insulator so it probably protected these budded plants from the cold, while the ones in the previous photo probably had no protection.

Once again I was amazed to see this vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) blooming after a foot of snow and temperatures barely above zero. It’s a very tough plant and one I’d like to have.

A chipmunk peeked out of his tree to see if it was spring yet. I knew just how he felt, so for an instant we probably both thought as one.

One day you stepped in snow, the next in mud, water soaked in your boots and froze them at night, it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry, it was weather that wouldn’t let you settle. ~E.L. Doctorow

Monday the first day of spring  marked the start of my seventh year of blogging, so a big thank you to all the regular readers for putting up with it for so long. I hope I’ll be able to show you many new things this year.

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1-half-moon-pond

February has shown us what a strange month it can be once again. After snow and cold in the first half of the month the temperatures suddenly shot up into the high sixties for the second half. This photo shows what happens when warm air meets the cold ice of a pond: fog; sometimes very heavy fog, as this was. On Saturday morning February 26th at 7:00 am it was close to sixty degrees and then warm enough to wear just a tee shirt by noon, which is just about unheard of in February in New Hampshire. By 8:00 pm they were saying we might see thunderstorms.

2-thin-ice-sign

The ice at a local skating pond became too thin to skate on but this has really been a problem throughout the state all winter, with many people falling through the ice this year. It never really got cold enough to form the kind of ice that is thick enough for vehicles to drive on and pickup trucks and many snowmobiles have gone through the ice, in some instances with fatal results.

3-icy-trail

Unfortunately not all of the ice was thin enough to melt. The warmth melted most of the snow quickly enough to cause a flood watch to go into effect but as this photo shows, when hard packed snow melts it can turn to ice. This trail was icy in spots and completely bare in others.

4-skunk-cabbage

What a welcome break the record breaking warmth was from the cold winds and deep snow. The skunk cabbages responded by sending up their flower spathes. Skunk cabbages can fool you into thinking they’re growing when you see the green sheath on the left, but it covers the leaf buds and appear in the fall. Only the mottled maroon and yellow flower spathe on the right shows new spring growth.

5-yellow-skunk-cabbage

Some flower spathes can show more yellow than maroon as this one does. Bears that come out of hibernation too soon will sometimes eat skunk cabbage. There is little else for them at this time of year.

6-mud

Why am I showing you mud? Because here in New Hampshire we have an unofficial 5th season called mud season. When the frost is 3 or 4 deep in the ground and the top two feet of a road thaws the melt water is sitting on frozen ground and has nowhere to go, and this results in a car swallowing quagmire that acts almost like quicksand. Those who live on unpaved roads have quite a time of it every year. The mud can sometimes be as much as 12-16 inches deep but I haven’t seen it that bad here yet this year. Quite often the mud gets bad enough to close unpaved roads and the logging and over the road shipping industries virtually grind to a halt until things dry out. Mud season has come early this year, so if you need a load of sand, gravel, loam, building materials or other such things you should be prepared to wait until April or May.

7-dandelion

I’ve seen dandelions blooming in January but that was during an extremely warm winter when the temperature barely fell below freezing. I’ve never seen one bloom this early after a winter like the one we’ve had. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement.

8-cress-blossom

Tiny white flowers bloomed in a lawn. They were so small that three or four of them could have been hidden behind a pea, so I had to kneel in the muddy grass to get a photo of them. I think it belongs to the cress family, which is large with many plants that look alike. It might be spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa,) but I’m really not sure.

9-crocus

These crocus blossoms were a real surprise because I’ve been checking crocus beds and have only seen the leaf tips poking out in all but this bed. I’ve also seen tulips leaves just out of the ground. They might be rushing things a bit.

10-daffodils

Last year these daffodils came up too early and got badly frost bitten. I fear that they’re repeating the same mistake this year, because we’ve gone from the 60s back down to the 30s now.

11-red-maple-buds

Huge swaths of forest bleed with a red haze from red maple buds (Acer rubrum) each spring and it’s starting to happen now.  I’ve tried to get photos of it from above and below, but so far I haven’t had any luck.

12-red-maple-buds

The bud scales on red maple buds can be deep purple in winter, but when it warms up in spring the scales pull back to reveal the tomato red buds they’ve been protecting, and that’s what causes the red haze seen on our forested hillsides. Seeing what must be millions of them together is a spring sight not soon forgotten.

13-pussy-willow-buds

I told myself I was on a fool’s errand the day I went to see if the pussy willow catkins were showing, but there they were. The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) open in late winter to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” and I have to agree.

14-pussy-willow

The Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about the medicinal properties of willow in the fifth century BC, and Native Americans across North America used the plants medicinally for pain relief for many thousands of years. Finally in 1829 scientists discovered that a compound in the bark of willows called salicin was what relieved pain. Chemically, salicin resembles aspirin.

15-witch-hazwl-blossoms

I was surprised to see the spring (Vernal) witch hazel blooming so early. Though we do have a native vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), it doesn’t grow naturally this far north, and since this one is in a park I’m betting it’s one of the cultivated witch hazels, so maybe it has been bred for early blooms. The other American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that is native to New England blooms in the fall and grows in the same park.

The Native American Mohegan tribes are believed to have been the first to show English settlers how to use Y-shaped witch hazel sticks for dowsing, an ancient method of finding underground water. Settlers all across the country used this method to find water and it was successful enough to be exported back to Europe. Its twigs are still used by dowsers in the same way today.

17-witch-hazwl-blossoms-close

The Native American Osage tribe used witch hazel bark to treat skin ulcers and sores and my father always kept a bottle of witch hazel ointment for his hands. Many people have most likely used witch hazel without even realizing it; it’s a chief ingredient of Preparation H. Studies have found active compounds in witch hazel such as flavonoids, tannins (hamamelitannin and proanthocyanidins), and volatile oils that give it astringent action to stop bleeding.

17-witch-hazwl-blossoms-close

Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. These moths raise their body temperature by shivering. Their temperature can rise as much as 50 degrees and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.  I think these blossoms were ready for a visit from them.

18-orange-witch-hazel

I have to say that I’m not a fan of orange witch hazel blossoms because they aren’t as bright and cheery as the yellow ones, but when it comes to fragrance the orange flowers beat the yellow hands down. I know a spot on the local college grounds where several large orange flowered shrubs grow and on this day all I had to do was follow my nose, because their clean spicy fragrance could be detected from two blocks away. Someone said the fragrance was like that of clean laundry just off the line, but I think it’s even better than that, especially after a long winter. One shrub still had a nursery tag still on it that read “Hamamelis vernalis,” so they are our native vernal witch hazels. Odd that they don’t grow naturally this far north. They seem to do well here; these examples must be 10 feet tall. If I were planting witch hazels I’d mix the yellow and orange flowered varieties; one for cheer and one for fragrance.

19-puddle-ice

The paper thin white puddle ice that makes that strange tinkling sound when it’s broken always takes me back to my boyhood. Seeing this ice on puddles after a long winter meant that spring was here and though nights still got cold and icy, the days were warm and muddy. My spirits used to soar at the thought of spring when I was a boy and that’s something I’ve carried with me all of my life. The difference is now I look at the ice instead of breaking it to hear it tinkle, because I can see so much in it. The waves that formed it, bubbles and birds flying, mountains, distant suns, space and time; all are there for the seeing, but few take the time to look.

20-sap-buckets

As I write this last entry the thermometer reads 34 degrees, so our week long flirtation with high spring has ended. The dandelion blossom has probably been frost bitten and the witch hazels have most likely stored away their petals for another warm day, but 34 degrees is above freezing and that’s what maple syrup producers want. Days above freezing and nights below freezing get the tree sap flowing  and the sap buckets have been hung, so there’s no turning back now. True spring must surely be right around the corner.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for coming by. Happy March first!

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1. Stream IceWinter made a strong comeback last week with daytime temperatures barely reaching the 20s and nights near zero, so everything froze up again. The weather can often change dramatically and quickly in New England and this winter has certainly done its best to prove it; today we might see 70 degrees.

2. Stuck Log

A tree got stuck on the Ashuelot River dam and the spray grew into long icicles.

3. Canada Geese

The Canada geese drew me over to the river with their loud honking. Several of them seemed to be looking for something and honked back and forth as they swam and walked the shore. Could they be looking for nesting sites, I wonder? I’ve also seen many flocks flying overhead lately.

4. Canada Geese Flying

I must have spooked them because all of the sudden several of them flew up river, letting me get the first fuzzy shot of a bird in flight to ever appear on this blog.

5. Ice in Bushes

Ice high on the branches of the bushes told the story of the drop in water level. I’d guess it must have been at least 5 feet from the surface of the water.

6. Witch Hazel

The yellow vernal witch hazel that grows in the park by the river was blooming heavily. What a change from the last time I was here when there wasn’t a flower to be seen on it.

7. Witch Hazel

If there is a color combination more pleasing than yellow and blue, I can’t think of what it would be. When I see this shade of yellow I think of daffodil, dandelion, and Forsythia blossoms.

8. Cornelian Cherry

Since Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) doesn’t bloom until mid-April I was surprised to see that its bud scales had opened to reveal a glimpse of its yellow buds. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do. The small yellow flowers will produce fruit that resembles a red olive and which will mature in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C and has been used for at least 7000 years for both food and medicine. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included Cornelian cherry, and the Persians and early Romans also knew it well.

9. Box Buds

Box shrubs (Buxus) were showing white flower buds in their leaf axils. They will open into small greenish yellow flowers soon. The flowers are very fragrant and attract a lot of bees. These small leaved, easy to trim shrubs are usually used ornamentally, often in hedges. Only the European and some Asian species are frost hardy and evergreen, so any examples seen here in New Hampshire are from those parts of the world. Box is another plant that has been used by man since ancient times; it was used for hedges in Egypt as early as 4000 BC.  Some species of box can live as long as 600 years.

10. Swamp

I made my way to a beaver pond to see if the beavers were awake yet, but the only sign of activity was a woodpecker drumming on a distant tree.

11. Beaver Lodge

Skunks have come out of hibernation and chipmunks are once again scampering along the stone walls so I’m sure the beavers must be awake, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their lodge. They might have abandoned this area.

12. Heron Nest

We had some ferocious winds one day that blew to near 50 miles per hour but the great blue heron nest stayed in the dead tree in the beaver swamp. It looks like it might need some tidying up, but it held.

13. Hole Under Tree

I found what was left of a wild turkey here last year and I wondered if a bobcat had gotten it. I didn’t see this hole under a tree then, but it looked to be the perfect place for a bobcat den. That could explain the lack of chipmunks in this place. Bobcats are doing well in New Hampshire and there is now a debate raging here about whether or not there should be a bobcat hunting season. They do a lot of good in the way of rodent population control and I say let them be. Though they can rarely reach 60 pounds in weight most aren’t a lot bigger than a house cat and are rarely seen. After having a few run ins with feral house cats over the years I know that I wouldn’t want to tangle with a bobcat, no matter what it weighed.

14. Stilted Golden Birch

Sometimes if a stump or log has decayed enough tree seeds can grow on them. In this photo a golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) grew on a log that has since mostly rotted away, leaving the birch to look as if it’s standing on stilts. From what I’ve seen any type of tree will do this.

15. Hellebore Buds

The pale shoots of hellebore (Helleborus) were nestled under last season’s leaves. Once they grow up into the sun they’ll become deep green but for now they are blanched white. A common name for hellebore is Lenten rose because it blooms very early; often during lent. This year lent ends on March 24th, so this plant has some fast growing to do if it’s going to live up to the name.

16. Skunk Cabbage

The curvy, splotchy spathes of the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowers have come up fully now but the foliage shoots are just sitting and waiting for the right time. Once they’ve started they will grow quickly and the leaves will hide what we see here.

17. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

The swamp where the skunk cabbages grow looked like it was frozen solid but with all the thin ice warnings this winter I didn’t want to try my luck. There’s nothing quite like a boot full of ice water.

18. Pussy Willow

The pussy willows have gotten bigger since the last time I saw them. I love their beautiful bright yellow flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon. They’re among the earliest to bloom.

19. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) protect their buds with as many as four pairs of rounded, hairy edged bud scales. The scales are often plum purple and the bud inside tomato red. If you see more red than purple on the buds that’s a sign that they’ve began to swell. Red maple is one of the first of our native trees to blossom in spring and also one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. Each small bud holds as many as 6-8 red blossoms. Red maple trees can be strictly male or female, or can have both male and female blossoms on a single tree. They bloom before the leaves appear and large groves of them can color the landscape with a brilliant red haze.

20. Maple Sap

The drop of maple sap on the end of the spile shows that the trees are coming out of dormancy and growing again. A spile is the metal or wooden peg which is hammered into the hole made in the tree and it directs the sap into the sap bucket that hangs from it. Flowing sap means that the tree is taking up water through its roots and that means that the ground has thawed, so it won’t be long now.

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men. ~Chinese Proverb

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Ashuelot

Last Saturday we were blessed with wall to wall sunshine and a warm breeze out of the southwest that nudged the thermometer up towards 50 degrees. Even though it isn’t spring it was the perfect spring day, so I went off to see if nature was stirring. A week ago we had below zero cold and this stretch of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey had frozen nearly from bank to bank. As I stood looking out at the river on this day with a warm breeze in my face I wondered if I had dreamed the ice and dangerous cold of just seven days ago, so amazing was the difference.

2. Ice

There were still some slabs of ice on the river but they were melting quickly in the warn sunshine.

3. Frozen Stream

Even in the shade of the forest ice was melting, and how the birds did sing!

4. Maple with Sunglasses

Even the trees seemed to be in a spring time frame of mind.

5. Daffodils

I stopped by a local park and saw daffodils out of the ground everywhere I looked.

6. Orange Witch Hazel

I also saw some orange vernal witch hazel that was in full bloom. I’m not sure of its name but it was very fragrant and you could smell its fresh clean scent on the breeze. Someone once described witch hazel as smelling like clean laundry that has just been taken down from the clothesline, and I’d say that’s a fair description. After a long winter such a scent can seem like a small piece of heaven, right here on earth.

7. Yellow Witch Hazel

I hoped to see some yellow witch hazel flowers and I did see some color, but like a swimmer dipping his toe into a cold pond it hesitated, and just couldn’t seem to make up its mind.

8. Island

Speaking of cold ponds; there was still ice on Wilson Pond in Swanzey but it too was melting fast. This is the first winter I can remember when ice fisherman’s huts didn’t dot our lakes and ponds, but this year the ice just never grew thick enough to be safe. If we still lived in the days before refrigeration when ice was harvested from ponds for ice houses and ice boxes, we’d be seeing a meager harvest indeed. Food preservation would be on everyone’s mind right about now, I would think.

9. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I also visited one of my favorite places to explore in the spring, and that’s the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow.

10. Skunk Cabbage

It seems like I always have to re-train my eyes in spring so it took me a while to find any skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus.) I finally saw this small blue-gray finger poking up out of the snow, which told me that the plants were up. I also stepped on a couple of plants that I didn’t see and they released their scent so I’d know what I had done. It isn’t as overpowering as actual skunk spray but it runs a close second.

11. Skunk Cabbage

The soil of the swamp felt frozen to walk on but even so before long I started seeing skunk cabbages everywhere. They don’t mind frozen soil because they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, and can melt their way even through solid ice. Skunk cabbage is in the arum family and like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. You can just get a glimpse of them in this photo in the darkest area of the spathe. This is the spathe’s slit-like opening and is the way flies get to the flower’s pollen. The pointed green shoot on the left will become the plant’s foliage.

12. Barberry Berries

I didn’t have any trouble finding the invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) because it was snagging my pants and poking its sharp spines into my legs every now and then. In 1875 seeds of Japanese barberry were sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1896 plants were planted at the New York Botanic Garden and the plant was promoted as a good substitute for European barberry (Berberis vulgaris,) which was a host for the black stem rust of wheat. These days it’s everywhere, including in our forests, where it tolerates shade and crowds out our much more valuable native plants.

13. Birch Polypore

I saw an interesting television program recently about Ötzi the 5000 year old iceman whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. Among the many things he carried were birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus,) a fungus that is so common even I rarely write about it. But I’d heard years ago that he carried them when he was found and I assumed that he used them to sharpen tools (They are also called razor strops and their ability to hone a steel edge is well known.) but apparently Ötzi carried them for other purposes; scientists have recently found that Ötzi had several heath issues, among them whipworm, which is an intestinal parasite (Trichuris trichura,) and birch polypores are poisonous to them. The fungus also has antiseptic properties and can be used to heal small wounds, which I’m sure were common 5000 years ago.

14. Birch Polypore Underside

Well, now I’ve done it. While looking into the connection between the 5000 year old iceman and birch polypores I read that as they age both the fungi and the wood they grow on begin to take on an odor similar to green apples, so if you happen to see someone out there with his nose to a birch tree, it’ll be me. The photo above shows the many pores found on the underside of the birch polypore. This is where its spores are produced.

15. LBMs

Ötzi the iceman probably knew the name and medicinal value of every mushroom he saw but I don’t, especially when it comes to the little brown ones, because there are many that look alike. I was surprised to find these examples growing on a log in February. I thought they were probably frozen solid but they were perfectly pliable and felt as tough as shoe leather. I wondered if they had been there all winter or if they had grown recently. Whatever the answer they must have great cold tolerance.

16. Turkey Tails

The snow had melted away from the trunk of this tree revealing turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) that have waited patiently for spring. These fungi are wood degrading and cause white rot, so this rather small tree won’t see old age. Turkey tails have been found on over 70 species of hardwood trees and a few conifers as well. They grow in every state in the U.S. and in most other countries.

17. Turkey Tails

These small turkey tails on a stump looked to be just starting to grow, but what a strange time of year to be doing so.

18. Fern

A fern frond had what looked like flower petals on it, but whatever they were didn’t fall off when the wind blew. I’m guessing that they must have been some kind of insect cocoons but they were very flat and thin.  I can’t remember ever seeing anything like them.

19. Oak Buds

These oak buds appeared to be quite swollen, but that might have been wishful thinking on my part. Still, maple sap is running so the same must be happening to other trees.

20. Pussy Willows

The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) have suddenly opened to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins, but I shouldn’t be surprised because they almost always appear in late winter before the leaves. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” but I don’t need to study them.  I just enjoy seeing their early flowers because they tell me that nature is stirring and spring is very near.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

Thanks for coming by.

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