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Posts Tagged ‘White Pine’

Last Sunday I decided to follow a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew had a trestle on it. History and botany are two of my favorite things and I knew I’d find a lot of both here. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and hiking just about anywhere would have been pleasant.

Sometimes the sap of white pines will turn blue in very cold weather but it was warm on this day and the sap was still blue. I wonder if it stays blue once it changes.

I’ve never heard of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) being evergreen but there were several plants along the trail, all wearing their winter purple / bronze color. If this plant looks familiar it’s probably because it is the smallest of our native dogwoods and the 4 leaves look like miniature versions of dogwood tree leaves. Bunchberry gets its common name from its bunches of bright red berries. It is also called creeping dogwood and bunchberry dogwood. Native Americans used the berries as food and made a tea from the ground root to treat colic in infants. The Cree tribe called the berry “kawiskowimin,” meaning “itchy chin berry” because rubbing the berries against your skin can cause a reaction that will make you itch.

Something unusual I saw this day was a Canada yew (Taxus canadensis.) It is native from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Iowa, but in this region I rarely see it. Though all parts of the yew plant are poisonous several Native American tribes made tea from the needles to ease everything from numbness to scurvy. A man in England died not too long ago from eating yew, so I wouldn’t advise trying to make tea from it. Natives knew how to treat poisonous plants in ways that made them beneficial to humans, but much of that knowledge has been lost.

A yew branch looks very flat and once you get to know what they look like you’ll never mistake it for any other evergreen.

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative. Tell tales are rarely seen these days; the above photo shows the only example I know of.

The Ashuelot River was full in places.

And over full in others. This happens regularly throughout this area and the trees survive it just fine. Many are silver (Acer saccharinum) and red maples (Acer rubrum.)  Another name for them is swamp maple because they often grow in the lowlands along rivers that flood regularly.

The large crimson bud clusters make the maples easy to spot at this time of year but I couldn’t tell if these examples were flowering or not. Many are, now that we’ve had some warmth.

There isn’t a lot of ledge in this section of trail but there is some and it shows the marks of a steam drill.  The railroad workers cut through the solid rock by drilling deep holes into the stone using steam powered drills and then poring black powder into them. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it, but dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force. Trains first rolled through here in the mid-1850s.

Maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) are beautiful and are definitely worth looking for. I’ve found them growing on maple, oak, beech, and poplars. They are usually quite a different green but the camera didn’t seem to be seeing green very well this day.

You can tell that it’s a maple dust lichen by the tiny fringe around its outer edge.

The trail goes on for many miles and it is wide, flat, and sometimes busy as it was on this day. I saw several people while I was here and I was happy to see them out enjoying nature. I hope they saw as many interesting things as I did.

There was snow for anyone who might want it. I didn’t.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud break begins when the normally straight buds start to curl, as in the above photo. The curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud. Beech bud break doesn’t usually start until mid-May, so I think the example in this photo is a fluke caused by early warmth. Others I saw had not curled yet.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers are fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. Native Americans ate the berries and made them into a jelly, which was eaten in case of fevers. Partridgeberry is still used in folk medicine today to treat muscle spasms and as a nerve tonic.

Apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) grows along the sides of the trail and its thousands of tiny spore capsules were shining in the sun. Reproduction begins in the late fall for this moss and immature spore capsules (sporophytes) appear by late winter. In the spring the straight, toothpick like sporophytes swell at their tips and form tiny globes that always look like pearls to me, but someone thought they looked like apples and the name stuck.  Sometimes the capsules do turn red as they age, so I suppose the name makes sense.

Most of these spore capsules were not quite spherical and that means that they were still immature. When they become spherical the spores will begin to ripen and prepare for the wind to disperse them.

Human history and natural history are visible from rail trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town by bicycle on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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We were finally able to say good bye (and good riddance) to March last weekend, and this photo sums up why I was happy to see it go. It has been a strange and seemingly backwards  winter, with above average temperatures in January and February bookended by bitter cold and snowstorms in December and March. And ice; most of the trails have been ice covered all winter, which sure takes a lot of the fun out of being in the woods.

In spite of all the snow and ice spring still happens. I saw several reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) blooming in the snow as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.  I’ve read that the plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran but I know little about what winters are like in such places. They must be very cold.

This one was almost completely buried by snow, but still it bloomed.

American elm buds (Ulmus americana) started to open but then thought better of it and have been at this stage for weeks now. I’m hoping to see its flowers soon. They say we might see 70 degrees next week.

 

A hornet’s nest had fallen out of a tree and it made me wonder what hornets do in the winter. After a little research I found that all but the young queens die and the nests are abandoned in winter. The new, young queens (and their eggs) spend the winter under tree bark or inside warm human habitations. In the spring the queen builds a new nest. That explains the wasp I saw a week or so ago in the shop where I work.

The paper of the hornet’s nest reminded me of natural, undyed wool. They make it by chewing wood into a papery pulp.

I’ve been listening to hear if red winged blackbirds have returned but so far there have been no signs of them in the swamp near where I live. There are plenty of cattails that have gone to seed for the females to line their nests with. This example looked to be soaking wet, but it will dry out.  Native Americans used the roots of cattails to make flour and also wove the leaves into matting. Cattails produce more edible starch per acre than potatoes, rice, taros or yams, and during World War II plans were being made to feed American soldiers with that starch in the form of cattail flour. Studies showed that an acre of cattails would produce an average of 6,475 pounds of flour per year, but thankfully the war ended before the flour making could begin.

Beech leaves still provide a flash of color here and there even though many are falling now. Soon their opening buds will be one of the most beautiful things in the forest. Beech was an important tree to Native Americans. The Iroquois tribe boiled the leaves and used them to heal burns. They also mixed the oil from beechnuts with bear grease and used it as a mosquito repellent. Though the nuts are mildly toxic the Chippewa tribe searched for caches of them hidden by chipmunks. The chipmunks gathered and shucked the nuts and saved the people a lot of work. The Chippewa saw that chipmunks never stored bad nuts, and that’s why they searched for their caches. Rather than make flour from the nuts as they did other species, Natives seem to mostly have used beech nuts medicinally.

The male speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) are still opening slowly but I haven’t seen any signs of them releasing their dusty pollen. The brown and purple scales on the catkin are on short stalks and there are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen. The flower parts are clearly visible here but there is nothing that looks like pollen. It could be because they were very wet.

I finally got a photo of almost fully opened female speckled alder flowers but they’re so small I couldn’t see them when I was taking the photo, so more of them appear in the background than the foreground. The tiny female (pistillate) catkins of speckled alder consist of scales that cover two flowers, each having a pistil and a scarlet style. Since speckled alders are wind pollinated the flowers have no petals because petals would hinder the process and keep male pollen grains from landing on the sticky female flowers. These female catkins will eventually become the cone-like, seed bearing structures (strobiles) that are so noticeable on alders.

I never knew that willow catkins were so water resistant. I was hoping to see them blooming with their yellow flowers but like the elms, they’re waiting for warmth. This week is warmer but with lots of rain. If we ever have a day with both sunshine and warmth I think I might just fall over.

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) is common and I find it on oak and poplar limbs. They have the color of jellied cranberry sauce and the best time to look for them is after it rains or snows, because they can absorb great amounts of water and grow several times bigger than they are when dry. I often find them on branches that have fallen on top of the snow as the oak branch pictured had.

If you look at a jelly fungus carefully you’ll notice that they have a shiny side and a matte finish side. The spores are produced on the shiny side and from what I’ve seen most of their spore production happens in winter. I suppose it could be that they’re simply easier to see in winter because of the lack of foliage, but I rarely see them at other times of year so I think of them as “winter fungi.”

I’ve known that the perfectly round holes I see in pine logs were made by some type of borer but I have never seen the insect, though I’ve even looked into the holes with a flashlight. These chip marks made by a woodpecker most likely explain why.

A branch collar forms where a branch meets the trunk of a tree, and often appears as a bulge at the base of the branch. It is made up of interlocking layers of cells of the branch and the trunk which will grow to help seal off wounds when branches are broken or cut off.  This white pine (Pinus strobus) had a completely intact branch collar on it, which is something I’ve never seen. I can’t imagine what happened to the branch. Pines lose branches regularly but they usually break off and leave a stub on the trunk.

I’ve never seen a bicolored lichen before but here is one. It was very small but I thought I saw a smudge of color on it and sure enough the photo shows a bit of lavender in its upper half. I don’t think I ever come away from studying lichens without being surprised by their variability. I didn’t bother trying to find this one’s name; I just admired it.

I lost myself in the beauty of these fir needles for a time. Though I know they’re fir (Abies) I’m not sure which species. I think it might be a Canaan fir, which is said to display the characteristics of both Fraser and balsam firs.

I’ve been waiting all winter to get a shot of Mount Monadnock with snow on it and after a few wasted trips to Perkins Pond in Troy I finally got one. I think the mountain is at its most beautiful with a snowy cap, especially when seen from Keene in this view that I grew up with. How lucky I was to grow up being able to see every day something that people from all over the world come to see.

Stop every now and then.  Just stop and enjoy.  Take a deep breath.  Relax and take in the abundance of life. ~Anonymous

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1-crab-apple

Since I often tell readers of this blog that they don’t even have to leave their yards to enjoy nature I like to practice what I preach every now and then and restrict my wandering to my own yard.  This time I found that the birds had eaten every crabapple from my tree except one. Things like this always make me wonder what it is about that one crabapple that turned them away. It also makes me wonder how they knew that it was different from all the others.

2-rudbeckia-seedhead

The seed eaters haven’t touched the black-eyed Susan seeds (Rudbeckia hirta). That’s odd because the birds planted them; one year a few plants appeared and I just left them where they grew.

3-coneflower-seedhead

The birds seem to have gone for the coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) first, as just about every seed head has been at least partially stripped. I planted one plant years ago but now there are several scattered here and there in the yard and like the black eyed Susans I let them grow where the birds have planted them.  If that makes my gardening abilities seem lax, so be it. The last thing I wanted to do after gardening professionally for 10-12 hours each day was to come home and spend more time gardening, so the plants in this yard had to be tough enough to take care of themselves. I simply didn’t have the time or the inclination to fuss over them, and still don’t.

4-hemlock-cone

The plants in this yard also have to be able to withstand a certain amount of shade, because they’re surrounded by forest.  Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are numerous and so are white pines (Pinus strobus) and both soar into the sky on three sides of the property. Black capped chickadees flock here to eat the seeds from the hemlock cones like the one pictured above. The 1/2 inch long eastern hemlock cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments.

5-hemlock-needles

The white stripes on the undersides of the flat hemlock needles come from four rows of breathing pores (stomata) which are far too small to be seen without extreme magnification. The stripes make the tree very easy to identify.

6-the-forest

This view of the forest just outside of my yard shows what messy trees hemlocks are, but it is a forest so I don’t worry about it. It’s too bad that so many are afraid to go into the forest; I grew up in the woods and they have kept me completely fascinated for over a half century. There are dangers there yes, but so can cities be dangerous. Personally I’d sooner take my chances in a forest than a city.

7-hazel-catkins

I found that an American hazelnut had decided to grow on the property line between my neighbor’s yard and mine and I was happy to see it. Now I can practice getting photos of the tiny scarlet, thread like female blossoms that appear in spring. For now though the male catkins will have to do. As I was admiring them I saw a black something clinging to one of them.

8-hazel-catkins-close

I thought the black thing on the hazel catkin was an insect of some kind but it appears to be just part of an insect. I can’t imagine where the other half went. Maybe a bird ate it? I looked up insects that are partial to hazelnuts but none of them had parts that looked like this.

9-cedar

The color blue appears in some surprising places in nature, and one of the most surprising is on the egg shaped female flower tips of the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis.) There were three examples of this native tree in the yard when I moved here and I’ve watched them grow big enough to provide welcome shade from the hot summer sun over the years. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many uses, and maybe they were. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with its leaves and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and that’s how Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

10-cedar-seed-cone

There are many seed pods on the cedars and robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds. Many small birds use the trees to hide in and robins nest in them each spring. The open seed pods always look like beautiful carved wooden flowers to me.

11-rhodie

When the rhododendron buds look like they’re wearing choir robes you know that they’re singing Baby It’s Cold Outside, and it was cold on this day but at least the sun was shining. That hasn’t happened that much on weekends lately. These rhododendrons were grown from seed and started their life in this yard as a small sprig of a plant. Now some are taller than I am. It is thought that their leaves curl and droop in this way to protect their tender undersides from the cold.

12-quartz-crystals

I built a stone wall in my yard years ago and, since I collected rocks and minerals for a time, many of the stones in the wall have surprises in them. This one is studded with quartz crystals. Others have beryl crystals, mica, tourmaline and other minerals in them.

13-crispy-tuft-moss

It took several years before I could confidently identify the tiny tufts of moss I sometimes saw growing on tree trunks but I eventually found out that its name was crispy tuft moss (Ulota crispa.) Now I see it everywhere, including on the maple trees in my own yard. This one was less than an inch across.

14-fringed-candleflame-lichen

I was happy to find a tiny bit of bright yellow fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa) on one of my maple trees. Lichens simply use tree bark as a roosting place and don’t harm the tree in any way. This lichen is said to be very sensitive to air pollution, so seeing it is a good sign that our air quality is good. I hope it grows and spreads to other trees. As of now it’s the most colorful lichen in the yard.

15-amber-jelly-fungus

I found an oak twig in the yard that had fallen from a neighbor’s oak tree. I saw that it had tiny, hard flakes of amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) on it. Luckily though this is a wood rotting fungus it only grows on dead wood so it won’t hurt the tree.  Since the twig was barely bigger than a pencil I decided to try an expiriment and brought it inside.

16-amber-jelly-fungus-3

This is what the hard little flakes in the previous photo turned into after I soaked the twig in a pan of water for just 15 minutes. What were small hard lumps had swollen to I’d guess about 40-50 percent larger than their original dry size,  and instead of being hard now felt much like your earlobe. In fact they looked and behaved much like the cranberry jelly served at Thanksgiving. These fungi have a shiny surface and a matte surface, and the shiny side is where their microscopic spores are produced.

17-black-knot-on-cherry

I found another twig, this time from a black cherry (Prunus serotina.) It showed that the tree had black knot disease, which is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa, which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring. Since this tree is a fully grown black cherry and lives in the forest there is little that can be done for it.

18-sedum-seedhead

I don’t know if any birds eat the seeds of the Russian stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum) in my yard but I always let them go to seed because the shape of the open seedpods mimics exactly the shape of their bright yellow flowers. It spreads but couldn’t be called invasive. It is a tough little groundcover that can stand drought or flood. I haven’t done a thing to it since I planted it about 30 years ago.

19-white-pine

The tallest and straightest tree in my yard is a white pine (Pinus strobus.) I put my camera on its trunk and clicked the shutter, and this is the result. It doesn’t show much except that it was a sunny day and they have been rare here lately. White pine needles contain five times the amount of the vitamin C of lemons and were used by Native Americans to make tea. This knowledge saved many early settlers who were dying of scurvy, but instead of using the tree for food and medicine as the Natives did the colonists cut them down and used the wood for paneling, floors and furniture. When square riggers roamed the seas the tallest white pines in the Thirteen Colonies were known as mast pines. They were marked with a broad arrow and were reserved for the Royal Navy, and if you had any sense you didn’t get caught cutting one down. This practice of The King taking the best trees led to the Pine Tree Riot in 1772, which was an open act of rebellion. Colonists cut down and hauled off many marked mast pines in what was just a taste of what would come later on in the American Revolution. I think this tree, so tall and straight, would surely have been selected as a mast pine.

Even in the familiar there can be surprise and wonder. ~Tierney Gearon

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1-lilac

I’ve spent many winters watching the buds of trees and bushes, especially those right around my house like the lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo. I check it regularly starting in February for signs of swelling. In winter buds are my connection to spring and I love watching the bud scales finally open to reveal tiny leaves or flowers. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate with scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud. The lilac bud above is a good example of an imbricate bud.

2-rhody

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like lilacs fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds. This one was half the length of my thumb.

3-cornelian-cherry

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. I was surprised to see the bud scales on this example opening already. We can still get below zero cold.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

4-nannyberry

Native nannyberry buds (Viburnum lentago) are also examples of valvate buds. These buds always remind me of great blue herons or cranes. The bottom bud scale was broken on this one. Nannyberry is another of our native viburnums but unlike many of them this shrub produces edible fruit. Native Americans ate them fresh or dried and used the bark and leaves medicinally.

5-staghorn-sumac

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) have no bud scales so their naked buds are hairy and the hairs protect the bud. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what its branches feel like. Native Americans made a drink from this tree’s berries that tasted just like lemonade, and grinding the berries produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice.

6-hobblebush

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is another native shrub with naked buds. This photo shows that the flower bud in the center and the two leaf buds on either side are clothed more in wool than hair, but there are no scales for protection. Still, they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

7-magnolia

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds,” which means that instead of using scales or hairs they use both. The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Meanwhile, the bud stays wrapped protectively in a fur coat.

8-red-oak

Red oak (Quercus rubra) buds usually appear in a cluster and are conical and reddish brown. I like the chevron like pattern that the bud scales make. Red oak is one of our most common trees in New England but in the past many thousands were lost to gypsy moth infestations. It is an important source of lumber, flooring and fire wood. The USDA says that red oaks can live to be 500 years old.

9-sugar-maple

Terminal buds appear on the end or terminus of a branch and nothing illustrates that better than the sugar maple (Acer saccharum.) The large, pointed, very scaly bud is flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples. In 2016 New Hampshire produced 169,000 gallons of maple syrup but the season only lasted through the month of March due to the warm weather. The average cost per gallon in 2015 was $59.40. I’m guessing it went up in 2016.

10-striped-maple

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have colorful twigs and buds and are among the easiest trees to identify no matter what time of year because of the green and white vertical stripes on their bark. Their terminal buds have two scales and are valvate like the nannyberry buds. Striped maple is very fussy about where it grows and will not stand pollution, heat, or drought. It likes cool, shady places with sandy soil that stays moist. They bloom in June and have very pretty green bell shaped blossoms.

11-striped-maple-bark

Striped maple bark makes the trees very easy to identify when they’re young, but as trees age the bark becomes uniformly gray.

12-beech

The bud I’m probably most looking forward to seeing open in spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.”

13-gray-birch

It was about 15 degrees and snowing when this photo was taken and you can see the frozen gummy resin that glues some bud scales together on this gray birch (Betula populifolia) bud and male catkin on the right. Ruffed grouse will eat the buds and catkins and. pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

14-sweet-birch

Black birch buds (Betula lenta) don’t have as many bud scales as gray birch buds and the bark doesn’t look at all like other birches, so it can be hard to identify. Another name for the tree is cherry birch and that’s because its bark looks like cherry bark. It is also called sweet birch because it smells like wintergreen, and I always identify it by chewing a twig. If it tastes like wintergreen then I know it’s a black birch. Trees were once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen. So many were taken that they became hard to find, but they seem to be making a good comeback.

15-catalpa

Everything about the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree is big. It grows to 70-100 feet and has huge heart shaped leaves. Great trusses of large white orchid like flowers blossom appear on them in late spring, and even the seedpods look like giant string beans. But then there are its buds, which are tiny. In this photo the brown leaf bud appears just above the suction cup like leaf scar, which is where last year’s leaf was. Each tiny bud has about six small pointed scales. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew large plantations of them to use as rail ties. It has also been used for telephone poles. The word catalpa comes from the Native American Cherokee tribe.

16-catalpa-leaf

Catalpa trees have the biggest leaves of any tree I know of. This shot of my camera sitting on one is from a couple of years ago. It’s amazing that such a big thing can grow from such a tiny bud.

17-white-pine

Clusters of small, sticky buds appear at the ends of white pine branches (Pinus strobus.) They are sticky because they’re coated with pine sap, which we call pine pitch. They aren’t sticky when it’s cold though; the white platy material is frozen pine pitch. Once the weather warms it will go back to being a thick, amber, sticky fluid that doesn’t easily wash off.

I have to apologize for the quality of some of these photos. With it dark before and after work these days photography can only happen on weekends and if it’s dark and cloudy on those days then I have to assume that nature is giving me a lesson in great patience and I just have to do what I can with the camera.

Despite the poor photos I hope this post has shown how interesting and beautiful buds can be, and I hope you’ll have a look at the buds in your own yard or neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you find.

Leaves wither because winter begins; but they also wither because spring is already beginning, because new buds are being made. ~Karel Capek

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1-trail-start

Ever since a friend of mine and I tipped Tippin Rock back in August something has been nagging at me. I’ve lived long enough to know that ignoring something that is nagging at you isn’t going to make it go away, so I decided to confront it head on. To do that I had to climb Mount Caesar in Swanzey, which is a huge mound of granite with a thin covering of soil. The above photo shows the start of the trail, which is bedrock. I’m not sure if shoe soles or the weather has removed what little soil there was there.

2-reindeer-lichen

Mount Caesar has the biggest drifts of reindeer lichens (Cladonia rangiferina) of anyplace I’ve seen.  I’ve read that they grow very slowly, so the colonies here are most likely hundreds of years old.  It is said that Mount Caesar was used as a lookout by Native Americans when settlers began moving in, and both settlers and natives probably saw these very same lichens. If damaged they can take decades to restore themselves, so I hope they’ll be treated kindly.

3-looped-white-pine

A young white pine (Pinus strobus) grew itself into a corkscrew. Trees often grow into strange shapes when another tree falls on them and makes them lean or pins them to the ground. That would explain this tree’s strange shape, but where is the tree that fell on it? There wasn’t a fallen tree anywhere near it.

4-trail

The trail goes steadily uphill and is bordered by stone walls for most of its length.

5-jelly-fungi

I’m seeing a lot of jelly fungi this year. This fallen tree was covered with them.

6-red-maple

I’ve seen a lot of target canker on red maples but this tree was covered almost top to bottom with it, and it was very pronounced.  Target canker doesn’t usually harm the tree but in this case I had to wonder if maybe the maple wasn’t losing the battle. Target canker is caused by a fungus which kills the healthy bark and the patterns of platy bark seen here are the tree’s response to the fungus; it grows new bark each year.

7-turkey-tails

I’ve been waiting all summer to find some turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) that had some colors other than shades of brown, and here they were the whole time. Hundreds of them crowded a fallen log.

8-turkey-tail

These turkey tails grew on a nearby stump. I also saw many bracket fungi that looked like turkey tails but their gills gave them away as impostors. Turkey tails always have tiny round holes called pores on their undersides, never gills.  If I find bracket fungi with gills I start looking up gilled polypores to try to identify them.

9-trail-end

Though you walk on soil for much of its length the trail ends just as it began; on solid granite.

10-view

The views were what I would expect on a cloudy day, but at least the clouds were high enough to be able to see the surrounding hills.

11-view

And the miles and miles of forest; 4.8 million acres in New Hampshire alone. It is why many of us still carry maps and compasses.

12-monadnock

To the east the clouds parted long enough for a good look at Mount Monadnock, which is the highest point in these parts; 2,203 feet higher than where I was standing on top of Mount Caesar.

13-monadnock

It must have been very cold up there but I could still see people on the summit. Unfortunately none of the shots showing them up close came out good enough to show. When he climbed it in 1860 Henry David Thoreau complained about the number of people on the summit of Monadnock. Nothing has changed since, and that’s one reason that I don’t climb it. Thoreau also said ”Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it, but to look at it.” I feel the same way he did. It’s very beautiful when seen from a distance.

14-erratic

The glacial erratic called “the rocking stone” in a photo from 1895 was the object of this climb. I wanted to see if it rocked like Tippin Rock over on Hewe’s Hill did. I pushed on it from every side and watched the stone carefully to see any movement but I couldn’t get it to budge. You always have to wonder about these old stories, but the one about Tippin Rock proved true so this one probably is too. Maybe the next time my friend Dave flies in from California I’ll have him take a crack at it since he was able to rock Tippin Rock.

15-old-stump

An old weathered stump is all that remains of a tree that once grew on the summit. I’m guessing it was an eastern hemlock since they’re the only tree that I know of with stumps that decay from the inside out.

16-old-stump

Can you see the face? I’ll have to remember this when I do the next Halloween post.

17-blueberry

The blueberry bushes were beautifully colored. Since we’ve had several freezes I was surprised to see leaves still on them, but the temperature in the valleys is not always the same as it is on the hilltops. Cold air will flow down hillsides and pool in the valleys, just like water.

18-goldenrod

Even more of a surprise than the blueberry leaves was this blooming goldenrod. It was only about as big as my thumb but any flowers blooming at the end of November are special and I was happy to see them.

19-going-down

Going down a mountain always seems harder than going up but this time it was tough. Oak leaves are slippery anyway, but this time they had thousands of acorns under them, so I had to pick my way down the steepest parts very carefully. My calf muscles reminded me of the climb for a few days after.

It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape. ~Ruskin Bond

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1. Christmas Fern Fiddlehead

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) have just come up and this is one of the spring fiddleheads that I must have never paid attention to, because I was surprised to see it covered with silver hairs. I think its spiral shape is beautiful but it’s also common; spirals are used over and over in nature. Prehistoric people carved spirals into the walls of their caves and we have tiny spirals in our ears. Snail shells grow in spirals, millipedes curl into spirals, sunflower florets, grape tendrils and even entire galaxies are spirals. And no one knows why.

2. Spotted Salamander

Spotted salamanders are burrowing creatures that spend much of their lives in burrows or under leaf litter, coming out only to eat and mate. I happened to be doing some digging at work and uncovered the salamander in the above photo. They like rainy weather in the spring, so they must be very pleased with this month so far. I left this one alone and it burrowed right back into the soil after a few moments.

3. Chipmunk

It’s nice to see the chipmunks again. They’re very curious little creatures and will often follow along as you walk wooded trails. They live in stone walls when they can and when they hear you they’ll often come out of their burrows to see what you’re doing. That’s just what this one was doing when I took his photo. He sat there until I started walking and then hopped from rock to rock following me.

4. False Morel

Fungi have started to make an appearance and the first I’ve seen is this brain fungus (Gyromitra esculenta) which is a false morel that often grows very near true morels. This is a problem because false morels can be toxic and true morels are not, so if you are a mushroom forager you’ll want to know each one well. An easy way to tell them apart is by the way the cap attaches to the stem. The brain fungus cap attaches only at the top of the stem, and a morel’s cap attaches to the stem over its full length. Cutting one in half lengthwise will tell the story. The brain fungus gets its common name from its reddish brown cap that resembles a brain.

5. White Pine

White pines (Pinus strobus) seem to be doing well this year, showing plenty of new growth. The buds seen in this photo are called candles and will grow on to become new branches and needles. White pines are very common native trees here in New Hampshire. There are records of early colonial settlements being entirely wiped out by scurvy before Native Americans showed the settlers how to make tea from white pine needles. They are one of the richest sources of vitamin C found in nature. Native Americans used all parts of the tree and were said to value pines above any other plant.

6. Ash Flowers

Flowers usually appear just as leaf buds break but before the leaves fully develop on green ash trees (Fraxinus pennsylvanica.)  I think the ones shown here are male, because they are typically shorter and less showy than the female flowers. They have a tubular calyx and 2 stamens and are often purple tipped as those in the photo. Ash trees are sensitive to pollution, so seeing them is a good sign of clean air.

7. Female Box Elder Flowers-2

I’ve already shown photos of female box elder (Acer negundo) flowers recently but I turned a corner and there they were, hanging at eye level. I didn’t mind because I think the sticky lime green pistils are beautiful. One of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen was a box elder growing on the banks of the Connecticut River and that was odd because they’re considered a relatively short lived tree.

8. Unknown Sedge Flowers

As I become more familiar with sedges I’m seeing more and more of them. I found the one in the above photo near a local pond. The male flowers are the creamy yellow parts at the top and the female flowers are the wispy white filaments along the bottom. The female flowers bloom first to catch pollen from other plants and then a few days later the male flowers start to shed pollen so the wind can take it to another plant. This ensures cross pollination and guards against self-fertilization. Sedges look like course tufts of grass but the flower stalks are triangular instead of round, and this leads to the old saying “sedges have edges.” They are gaining popularity as garden plants and some even use them in place of a lawn. I haven’t been able to identify this one yet.

9. Tent Caterpillars

Tent caterpillars were just leaving their nest when I happened along. The moth that laid the eggs on this tree was a species of moth in the family Lasiocampidae, which lays its eggs almost always on plants in the rose family, like cherry and apple trees. The eggs hatch just as the new buds appear on the tree and the caterpillars feed three times each day, just before dawn, at midafternoon, and in the evening after sunset. Cherry leaves contain toxic compounds that the caterpillars absorb so most birds won’t touch them, and that’s the reason for their great success. They can defoliate a tree and this will weaken it, because without leaves it can’t make the food it needs. Most trees will recover, but they won’t look too good while they do.  People often confuse tent caterpillars with fall webworms, but fall webworms don’t cause any real damage because the trees they appear on have usually stopped photosynthesizing and no longer needs the leaves that the caterpillars eat.

10. Ladybug

I noticed that this ladybug on a beech bud had a large black spot on the rear of its shell that looked like damage. I tried to find information on ladybug diseases but didn’t have much luck.

11. Ladybug

Here’s another look at the damaged ladybug. Not only did its shell have a black spot, it looked like it had been dented as well. Ladybugs eat many insects that can damage plants so I hope there aren’t any diseases spreading among them. Maybe a bird caused the damage. Whatever it was didn’t seem to hinder its movement; it crawled along the beech bud as if the wind were at its back. When it reached the very tip it turned and went back just as quickly, and I wondered if what was damaged was its sense of direction.

12. New Beech Leaves

The reason I found the ladybug was because I was in the woods looking for one of the most beautiful signs of spring. Angel wings are what newly unfurled beech leaves (Fagus grandifolia) remind me of, with their fringe of soft silvery, downy hairs. Each spring I check the buds once or twice a week to see if the typically arrow straight buds are curling, because that’s the sign that they’ll open before long.  After they’ve started to curl they’ll also start to swell up, and that’s when I start checking them every other day. This beauty happens quickly and is easily missed.

13. New Beech Leaves

Beech (and other tree) bud curling is caused by the cells on the sunny side of the bud growing faster than those on the shaded side. This creates a tension that curls the bud and eventually causes the bud scales to pull apart so the leaves can emerge. At the bud’s location on the tree branch an entire year’s new leaves and stems will often grow from a single bud, as can be seen in the above photo. It’s incredible to think that all of that growth came from a single bud in just a matter of days.

14. New Oak Leaves

Oak leaves are usually one of the last to appear, so I was surprised to see these new leaves. The weather is fooling us all I think, but it’s a great opportunity to see what in nature is triggered by warmth and what is triggered by day length.

15. Maple Leaf

The woods are full of beautiful things that you’ve never seen and won’t ever imagine and I hope you’ll have a chance to go and see them for yourself.  As I’ve said here before; I can’t tell you what you’ll see but I can guarantee that you’ll never regret seeing it.

Some of the best advice you will ever hear will come from the forest. ~Dacha Avelin

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1. Frost Crystals

The plan was to get out early last Saturday and hike a rail trail since I skipped it last week in favor of a pond, but nature had other plans. We got about 5 inches of snow on Friday and the temperature at 7:00 am on Saturday was barely 17 degrees F. I thought I’d wait for the sun to warm it up a bit and took photos of frost crystals while I waited. They were very feathery.

2. Trail

Eventually I did get out there and found a beautiful warm and sunny day.  Warm was 35 degrees but since last February saw below zero temperatures nearly all month long 35 degrees seemed like a gift.

3. Tire Track

I saw that a bike with balloon tires had gone through the snow. I’ve heard that the tires on them are underinflated, and that these bikes can go just about anywhere. It seems as if it has taken a good part of my lifetime for bikes to get back to where they were when I was a boy. I can remember them with fat balloon tires that always seemed to be underinflated back then, but we just rode them on the streets.

4. Little Bluestem Grass

There is a pasture for horses that runs for a short way along one side of the trail and on the far side of it what I think was little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) glowed beautifully in the sunshine. I love the golden color that some grasses have when they’re “dead.”

5. Poison Ivy Berries

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can grow as a shrub or a vine. In this case it grew as a vine on a tree trunk and its white berries gave away its identity, even in winter. I’m glad I saw the berries before I touched the tree trunk. You can catch a good case of poison ivy rash even when the plants have no leaves on them and as general rule I try not to touch plants with white berries. Poison ivy hasn’t ever bothered me much but there is always a first time. Some people get it so badly they have to be hospitalized. Over 60 species of birds are known to eat poison ivy berries, so the toxic part of the plant must have no effect on them.

6. Oak Gall

A gall wasp made a perfectly round escape hole in its near perfectly spherical oak gall. It is said that oaks carry more galls than any other tree. This example is a marble gall.

7. Pine Sap

White pines (Pinus strobus) have shown me that I can use their sap as a kind of thermometer in the winter because the colder it gets, the bluer it becomes. This example was sort of a medium blue which kind of parallels our almost cold winter. I’ll have to look at some if the temperature plunges next weekend as forecast.

8. Trestle

Snowmobile clubs have built wooden guardrails along the sides of all of the train trestles in the area to make sure that nobody goes over the side and into the river. That wouldn’t be good, especially if there was ice on the river. Snowmobile clubs work very hard to maintain these trails and all of us who use them owe them a great debt of gratitude, because without their hard work the trails would most likely be overgrown and impassable. I know part of one trail that hasn’t seen any maintenance and it’s like a jungle, so I hope you’ll consider making a small donation to your local club as a thank you.

9. Warning Wires

Years ago before air brakes came along, brakemen had to climb to the top of moving boxcars to manually set each car’s brakes. The job of brakeman was considered one of the most dangerous in the railroad industry because many died from being knocked from the train when it entered a trestle or tunnel. This led to the invention seen in the above photo, called a “tell-tale.” Soft wires about the diameter of a pencil hung from a cross brace, so when the brakeman on top of the train was hit by the wires he knew that he had only seconds to duck down to avoid running into the top of a tunnel, trestle, or other obstruction. Getting hit by the wires at even 10 miles per hour must have hurt some, but I’m sure it was better than the alternative.

I’ve spent over 50 years wondering what these wires were called and was able to find out just recently. I also discovered that though tell-tales were once seen on each side of every trestle and tunnel, today they are rarely seen. The above photo shows the only example I know of and I chose to walk this particular section of rail trail because of it.

10. Ashuelot

There is a nice view of the Ashuelot River from the trestle. It’s very placid here but its banks seem wild and untamed, and it’s easy to imagine that this is what it looked like before colonists came here.

11. Rivets

Though there is surface rust on the ironwork of the trestle they were built to last and I wouldn’t be surprised if it looks the same as it does now after standing for another 150 years. You can see in this photo that the rust is just a very thin coating on the heads of the rivets.

12. Stone Wall

Stone walls marked the property line between landowner and railroad. I’ve tried to find out how wide railroad rights of way are but it seems to vary considerably. I’ve read that the average setback on each side is 25 feet from the center of the nearest rail. Add 10 feet or so for engine width and you have a 60 foot wide rail trail right of way, which seems about right in this region of the country.

13. Snowshoer

On my way back I was passed by a lady on snowshoes who asked me what I was taking photos of. “Anything and everything,” I told her, but I really wasn’t planning on taking her photo until I realized that she might give the place a sense of scale. This photo shows how, though the right of way might be 60 feet wide the sides aren’t often flat, so this might leave an actual trail width of only 20 feet.

14. Lowbush Blueberry

Railroad tracks have always been a great place to go berry picking. Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries can all be found in great abundance along most trails. In this section lowbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium angustifolium) looked spidery against the snow.

15. Maple Dust Lichen on Beech

On this trip something I had been wondering about for a few years was finally put to rest, and that was the question do maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) only grow on maple trees? The one pictured was growing on a beech tree, so the answer is no. So why are they called maple dust lichens? That question I don’t have an answer for.

16. Amber Jelly

I saw the biggest amber jelly (Exidia recisa) fungus I’ve ever seen out here. It was as big as a toddler’s ear and felt just like an ear lobe. As usual it reminded me of cranberry jelly, which isn’t amber colored at all.

17. Sweet Fern

I saw the sun lighting up the orange brown leaves of this sweet fern from quite a distance away. Sweet fern is a small shrub with incredibly aromatic leaves which release their fragrance on warm summer days. They can be smelled from quite a distance and are part of the summer experience for me.  Though they aren’t ferns their leaves look similar to fern leaves. They are actually a member of the bayberry family and the leaves make a good tasting tea. Native Americans made a kind of spring tonic from them and also used them as an insect repellant. On this day I just admired their beauty, glowing there in the sun.

18. Fungi on a Branch

A fallen branch poked up out of the snow as if it had been waiting for me to come along. It showed off what looked from a distance like little orange flowers, but I knew that couldn’t be.

19. Fungi on a Branch

They weren’t flowers but they might as well have been because they were just as beautiful. I’m not sure but I think they were older examples of milk white toothed polypores, which are known to brown with age. These hadn’t reached the brown stage but they were very orange and very interesting.

Each living thing gives its life to the beauty of all life, and that gift is its prayer. ~Douglas Wood

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