Posts Tagged ‘White Birch’

These days, at least where I work, you don’t actually rake leaves very often. We have leaf vacuums and leaf blowers that take care of what by the end of the season is a huge mountain of leaves. If I were to do it all with a rake I’d still be raking when the leaves started falling next year but there are always little corners and such where only a rake will do, and this post is about one of those. I had one little corner left to do to finish the season but when I started to rake I saw the plant shoots seen above, so I put down the rake and raked with my fingers, gently. I believe the shoots are from the Stella d’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis) that grows here, but snowdrops grow here as well so they could be those. 

This seed pod is definitely from the daylily and it has been eaten by an unknown insect. Stella d’ Oro daylilies are popular because it was one of the first “ever blooming” day lilies. The dwarf plant has flowers that only last a day like any daylily but there are so many of them that it blooms for months and will often be the latest blooming daylily in a flower bed. This plant was developed in 1975 and is still seen all along city streets and in commercial parking lots.

Pulling the leaves away also revealed a tiny fern fiddlehead, no bigger in diameter than a pencil eraser. I believe it was a sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Several of them grow in this spot because it is shaded and damp.

The spore casings (sori) of the sensitive fern are unmistakable so you don’t need leaves to identify it. It’s leaves had long since gone because, as the early settlers who gave its common name noticed, it is extremely sensitive to frost. I’ve read that turkeys will peck at and eat the sori, and that is why sometimes you find the fern’s spores lying on the snow around the plant.

I found a tiny seedling under the leaves, hardly bigger than a pea. It might pay for its hurry to grow.

Beside where I was working false dandelions (Hypochaeris radicata) grew. This plant gets its name from its resemblance to the dandelion, but it would be hard to mistake one for the other. The flowers are about half the size of a true dandelion and they bob around on long, wiry stems. At a glance you might think you were seeing a hawkweed flower when you look at a false dandelion flower because they’re close to the same size. One look at the leaves however, will show you that you’re seeing something entirely different because they resemble those of the dandelion more than hawkweed foliage. Hawkweed and false dandelion also bloom at different times, which helps when trying to identify them.

Once I had raked all the leaves I had to wander a bit and see what I could see. A blackberry grew nearby and it had leaves that started to show their purple / red fall color. At least that’s how I see them; my color finding software sees only gray, green and a bit of orange, which seems odd.

Mouse ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) does well here and there are literally thousands of plants blooming in June and July. Their yellow flowers resemble those of false dandelion but that plant has longer, more wiry flower stems. The basal rosettes of leaves on this plant often turn very deep purple in the fall.

It isn’t hard to see where the name mouse ear came from.

I’m not sure what they’re finding to eat but there are large flocks of yellow shafted flickers here. I find their feathers all the time.

They’re very pretty feathers that you don’t often recognize when they’re still on the bird.

There is a small stream near where I was working so of course I had to explore it. That’s something I’ve never bothered to do in all the time I’ve worked here but on this day nature was calling to me louder than usual.

A gray birch had fallen and the rectangular tear in its bark reminded me of the rectangular hole in a cloud I had seen earlier in the week.

For the first time ever I saw a lichen growing on the bark of a white birch. Lichens normally don’t seem to like white birch but they will grow on the branches of gray birch. This was a beard lichen and it grew on the side of the tree towards the stream. Lichens like lots of humidity and I’d bet that it gets it here.

River grapes grew by the stream. I like to look at grape tendrils because they always seem to remind me of something. In this one I could see the strand-like hypha of a fungus. Two or more hypha are hyphae, and two or more hyphae are mycelium, and mycelium are like the “roots” of a fungus and the above ground parts are the “fruit.” Mycelia are always searching, either for food or for other mycelia. I might have seen all of this in this tendril because I happen to be reading one of the best books on fungi I’ve ever read. It’s called Entangled Life and is written by Merlin Sheldrake. If you know someone with a fungal fascination, they would love this book.

Most of the leaves I was raking were oak and thanks to decomposers like fungi and bacteria many were already on their way to becoming humus. I’ve often wondered what the forest would be like without the decomposers. I  think we’d be up to our eyeballs in sticks, logs, leaves and all the other litter that gathers on the forest floor.

I admired the color and intricacies of yarrow leaves.

I found a log by the stream that was covered by brocade moss (Hypnum imponens). This is a moss I don’t see that often. Brocade moss gets its common name from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

I saw the reddest alder catkins I’ve ever seen along the stream. They’re often purple, but not usually red in my experience.

Tongue gall licked at the female alder cones, which are called strobiles. These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host.  I wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

Here was a leaf I didn’t recognize. It was big at about a foot long, and very wrinkled. I’d guess dock, simply because it grows nearby.

But then suddenly, there was no longer any reason to think about leaves. The day after I took the photos you’ve seen here it snowed, so the decision has been made; leaf raking season is over. At least for now. Now leaf removal will turn to snow removal, and before long I’ll be cutting grass again.

A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye. ~Anonymous

Thanks for stopping in.

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Last Sunday dawned sunny and relatively warm (in the 40s,) so I decided to visit a rail trail that I’d never been on. Of course as soon as I reached it the clouds returned and that was the end of the sunshine for the day. As the photo shows this trail is paved; one of just a handful that are. It was a pleasure to not have to slip on ice or trudge through snow for a change, but I really prefer unpaved trails.

I don’t expect you to read these signs but they do contain interesting historical information so I’ve put them here for those who may be interested.

Poplar trees (Populus) are in the willow family and their hairy catkins remind me of spring pussy willows. North American poplars are divided into three main groups: the cottonwoods, the aspens, and the balsam poplars. If the buds aren’t sticky then the tree belongs in the aspen group. Those shown here weren’t. Aspen buds begin to swell during the first warm period in spring, when minimum temperatures are still below freezing. Air temperature rather than day length determines when their buds will break, so it can vary from year to year. I think this year they misjudged and opened early. These examples were very wet from the rain and snow that fell the day before.

Crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa) grew on a tree trunk. This moss is very common on tree trunks in these parts and I see it all the time. When dry its leaves tighten and curl tightly, and that’s where the “crispy” part of its common name comes from. This clump was about an inch across. Most of them I see are quite small. This one seemed to have a bright inner light and it called me off the trail to enjoy its great beauty. Mosses are overlooked by many and that’s too bad because they can be remarkably beautiful. They are also everywhere, and very easy to find.

This beech tree was as big around as my leg and its twisted shape showed that it had been strangled by oriental bittersweet  (Celastrus orbiculatus.) Luckily for the tree someone had cut the wire like vine away, but it will always be twisted.

Male hazel catkins (Corylus americana) are just starting to release their pollen. It pays to watch them develop because once they’ve started releasing pollen the tiny and rarely noticed female flowers will soon begin to blossom. During early to middle spring, the drooping catkins begin to swell and become longer and larger in diameter. Each male flower has two tiny bracts and 4 stamens. You can just see the yellowish stamens beginning to show on these examples.

The female hazel flowers open at the same time as the male flowers, or sometimes even a little sooner. As this poor photo shows, several of the hair like female flower stigmas can grow and bloom out of each small swollen bud. They are very small and always a photographic challenge. When pollinated by the wind each female blossom with become a small, sweet nut. The nuts were used by Native Americans to flavor soups, and other parts of the shrub were used medicinally.

I keep hoping that I’ll be able to show you what female speckled alder blossoms (Alnus incana) look like but this year the lingering cold is making them wary, as if they are afraid to bloom. You can just see hints of the tiny female stigmas as they poke out from under the bracts of the catkin, but at this point there should be enough to make them look quite shaggy. These flowers are even smaller than the female hazel blossoms in the previous photo; in fact I think they’re the smallest flower that I’ve ever taken a photo of.

This pedestrian bridge crosses over Beaver Brook and replaced the original railroad bridge that stood here. I used to see a side view of it every day, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it from this angle.

Another sign tells of railroad and industry history in the area.

The reason I used to see the previous bridge from the side every day was because I used to stand on this one, which is slightly down stream. This is a private bridge which was once owned by the Kingsbury Corporation, a machine tool developer and builder. I worked here for a decade or so as a mechanical engineer and often stood on that bridge at break times. It’s hard to tell from the photo but Beaver Brook actually passes underneath the building, and when it floods so does the building.

Up there where the red brick stripes contrast with the concrete block was the engineering department. It had 50 seats and they were all full, night and day. The bottom fell out of the engineering and machine tool trades in this part of New England though, and now the land and buildings are up for sale.

Though I enjoyed my time at Kingsbury Corporation I sometimes wondered if the barbed wire was meant to keep people out or keep us in. It seemed to go both ways.

This tree looked to be trying very hard to escape…

…while this one just stood and watched.

Kingsbury started life as a small toy company in the 1800s and Kingsbury toys are prized by collectors today. As it evolved it grew to employ over 1,100 people in the U.S. and Canada. This chimney on the property is a familiar landmark in this part of town but it looks like it’s having a few problems.

One of the steel bands that help hold the chimney together has come loose, and I wonder if anyone knows. It’s on private property and nobody should be near it but there are plenty of ways in and I wouldn’t be surprised if teenagers and others walked right under this. Even if it isn’t repaired it should at least be taken down safely.

There were some nice birch groves along the trail. I don’t know if they were natural or planted by the city but they were very pretty. Most were paper birch (Betula papyrifera) but there were a few gray birch (Betula populifolia) mixed in. Not only did Native Americans use paper birch bark for canoes and wigwams but they also made hunting and fishing implements, along with buckets and other containers used for carrying, storage, and even for cooking food in. They were an essential part of native life and many tribes considered birch trees a sacred gift.

I’ve been looking for colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) all year and here they were the whole time. Turkey tails grow in nearly every state in the country and throughout Europe, Asia. and Russia. Their colors are described as buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown, but “versicolor” means “having many colors” and I’ve seen purple, blue, orange and even pink. Turkey tail fungi have been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years. Fueled by grants from the National Institute of Health, here in the U.S. scientists are researching its usefulness in breast and bone cancer therapy.

There was another grove of birches over across Water Street but I didn’t follow that section of the trail because from here it’s just a short walk to downtown Keene. As I turned around I found myself wishing that I had walked this rail trail years ago when I worked for Kingsbury. I saw many things that I didn’t know were here and the things I knew were here I saw from a different perspective. It was an enjoyable walk.

One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for stopping in. Happy April!


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1. Rail Trail

I decided to visit an old familiar place recently, just to see if it had changed any since my last visit. Now a rail trail, when I was a boy the big Boston and Maine diesels used to roll though here and I spent enough time walking the tracks to know the place as well as I knew my own yard. The view down the trail reminded me of learning how to draw perspective in art class and how easily the concept came to me. I walked here almost daily and the idea of a vanishing point was right there in front of me every time. Way down there where those two steel rails used to look like they came together; that was the vanishing point, and that was where I was going on this day.

 2. Broken Birch

The birches have had a tough time of it this year; that heavy foot of snow we had on Thanksgiving eve was more than some of them could bear. This one broke right in half about half way up its length, and some of the others still haven’t stood back up completely.

 3. Cherry Burl

I saw a burl as big as a soccer ball on a black cherry branch (Prunus serotina.) Seeing something like this would have gotten me excited when I was younger and I would have been off to the library to read all I could about it. If a place can give a gift, then curiosity is the gift that this place gave to me. The things in nature that I saw in here made me curious enough to want to learn about them, and that’s something that’s still with me today.

Burl, for those who don’t know, is an abnormal growth 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 make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, and I know what they are because of this place.

4. Grafted Elm

Before it died of Dutch elm disease this American elm grafted itself together in two places, both above and below where you can see daylight through the trunks. Natural grafts can’t really be called rare, but this is the first double one I’ve ever seen. The wind blows the trees and they rub together enough to rub off their bark down to the cambium layer, which can then grow together if the two trees are the same species.

 5. Hawthorn Thorn

Years ago the hawthorn trees (Crataegus) I saw here made me want to know why some trees had thorns and others didn’t, so I got ahold of a used 1858 copy of Asa Gray’s How Plants Grow to see if he knew. Gray was a hero of mine but he sure did write some awfully dry books, and if I hadn’t been so interested in plants I don’t think I could have made it through many of them. I learned a lot about the various ways plants defend themselves from his books though, including using thorns, spines and prickles.

6. Snow Depth

Because snowmobiles pack it down so much it’s very hard to judge how deep the snow is along these trails, so I was surprised when I came to a slushy spot and saw that it wasn’t more than an inch deep. It’s still pretty tough getting into the woods but spring is coming.

7. Woods

What are woods here now used to be all cornfields when I was a boy and it seems strange knowing that I’m older than the trees. When I think about it though, I suppose even the youngsters among us are older than at least some of the trees. Maybe it’s getting to meet the trees that I know are younger than me that makes it feel so strange. I like the way these woods have grown up to have a light and airy, uncrowded feel. These trees are mostly red maple and they don’t mind the occasional spring floods that happen here.

8. Winged Euonymus

I was dismayed but not really surprised to see some very invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) growing here. These open woodlands are just the kind of place these shade tolerant shrubs love to grow in. Their shallow root systems and the shade they cast mean that native plants can’t get a start, so before long you have a monoculture made up of invasives. The plant is also called winged euonymus because, as the above photo shows, they have corky ridges or “wings” that grow along their stems.

9. Euonymus Pod

There were only 3 or 4 burning bushes here but they were big and had grown thousands of berries. Unfortunately the birds had eaten every single one of them and all that was left were the once purple pods.

10. Side Rails on Trestle

This old trestle marks the vanishing point that we saw in the first photo. Of course you can’t ever reach it because it moves with you (see-there is another one way down there) but it was a great thing for a young school boy to spend time thinking about. If you walk from vanishing point to vanishing point before you know it you’re in Swanzey with very tired feet, unless you cross country ski it like I used to. That’s another thing I learned how to do here.

11. Beard Lichen

Snowmobile clubs have put wooden safety railings all along these old trestles and there was a great example of a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) growing on the weathered wood of this one. There are many lichens that prefer growing on wood, but it doesn’t always have to be in tree form.

12. Trestle Rivet

I’ve always wondered how these old steel trestles were built but I never have been able to find out. I don’t know if they were built in factories and shipped to the site to be assembled or if they were built right in place. Either way I’m sure there was an awful lot of rivet hammering going on. I do know that the stones for the granite abutments that these trestles rest on were taken from boulders and outcroppings in the immediate area, but I think they must have had to ship them from somewhere else in this case because there is little granite of any size to be found here.

13. Trestle Rivets

I’ve always been a lover of solitude and when I was young this is the place I came when I wanted to be alone, because back then you could sit on this old trestle all day without seeing another soul. It was a good place to just sit and think or watch the many birds and animals that came to drink from the river. I don’t come here very often these days because solitude is easier to come by now and the place seems to bring on an ache that’s hard to understand. Maybe it’s an ache for another shot at boyhood or maybe it’s just simple nostalgia, but it always seems to end with the feeling that there’s an empty place somewhere inside of me. Maybe that’s why I only visit about once each year.

 14. Brook View

Hurricane brook starts up in the northern part of Keene near a place called Stearns Hill. Then it becomes White Brook for a while before emptying into Black Brook. Black Brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp and the outflow from the swamp becomes Ash Swamp Brook. Finally it all meets the Ashuelot River right at this spot. Confused? Me too; it has taken me about 50 years to figure all of that out. Why so many name changes? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the settlers in the northern part of Keene and the settlers here in the southern part didn’t realize that they were both looking at the same brook. I wonder if anyone has ever followed it from here to its source. It would be quite a hike.


This bluff where the brook meets the river is where bank swallows used to nest. They are social birds and nest together in large colonies that sometimes number in the thousands. What I find fascinating is how the male birds dig nest holes using their feet, wings, and tiny beaks, and these holes can be 2 feet deep. They nest near water and eat insects, and that explains why there were never any mosquitos here. The swallows are a good example of how this place has taught me so much over the years; I didn’t know exactly what kind of birds they were and I had to look them up. After all these years I still learn something when I come here, and it could be that the most important lesson I’ve learned is, as author Thomas Wolfe said, that you can’t go home again.

The past is for learning from and letting go. You can’t revisit it. It vanishes. ~Adele Parks

Thanks for coming by.


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