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Posts Tagged ‘Whitewash Lichen’

Stone walls, it is said by author Robert Thorson, are much easier to explore in January when the leaves are off the trees and bushes. “Like a negative to a photograph,” he says, “walls are most visible when life is most invisible.” I agree, and that’s why I do these stone wall posts in winter. But as you can see by the above photo, this post was made even easier by the lack of snow. Not only did a January thaw melt it all but the huge old pine trees overhead keep much of the snow off this particular wall, even in mid-winter.

Unusual about this spot are the parallel double walls with a space big enough between them for a horse drawn wagon or a cow herd to pass through with ease. None of the trees seen here would have been here when the wall was young. Tree seeds fell into or very near stone walls and grew and few people ever did anything about it.

I’m guessing that there were animals involved in the path through the double walls because holes were drilled into stones and steel rods inserted into them to increase the wall height by about a foot and a half. As the steel ground against the granite over the years the holes were made bigger so cut nails were driven in beside the rods to keep them straight. The cut nails seen here date the steel rods to sometime between 1800 and 1900, but the wall itself has been here since the mid-1700s.

Each steel rod has a flattened tip with a hole in it. The hole most likely had wire passed through it. This would have all been done by the local blacksmith.

If wire was passed through the hole in the rod it could have been used to hold up barbed wire. Barbed wire would have been used to keep animals from jumping the wall and it can be found strung all along it.

You can occasionally find cut stones on this wall. I think this rectangular example is a granite fence post that broke off at ground level and was thrown on top of the wall to get it out of the way. The most common stone walls in this area are “tossed walls.” Farmers worked from dawn to dusk in Colonial New England and tossed walls required the least amount of time and effort because smaller stones were literally tossed or thrown on top of one another. In the early years getting rid of the plentiful stones quickly and efficiently was more important than enclosing the fields and boy, did famers get rid of them. In 1872 there were an estimated 270,000 miles of stone walls in New England.

Rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis) look like melted candle wax to me. They are very common in this area and are another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register, but when you take the time to look closer you find that they are quite pretty. They must like it here because they cover entire lengths of this wall.

In the story books of my childhood the stones in stone walls were all colors including blue, orange and yellow, so I knew right off that whoever wrote the books had never seen anything built of stone because, as everybody knew, stones were gray. As I grew older and started paying closer attention to the world around me I realized once again that I didn’t know what I was talking about because, as whoever illustrated those books knew, stones could indeed come in many colors. Usually in this area only the oldest stone walls are colored in this way, and of course what grows on them depends on exposure, so they may not be as wonderfully colorful as this one.

The yellow color in the previous photo comes from sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s a very soft, pale yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

The white on this tree is caused by a lichen called, appropriately enough, whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This lichen is usually found on the bark of hardwood trees and is fairly common. It makes the tree look as if it has been painted white, and that’s where its common name comes from. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white as this one is.

I saw a stone with a forest of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia asahinae) on it. The tiny little golf tee shaped parts are the fruiting bodies of this lichen. Spores produced in them will be splashed out of the cup by raindrops.  Pixie cups almost always produce large groups of fruiting bodies like these.

I saw some pixie cup shapes that were unusual; the one on the left is a double one, with two cups grown together. The one on the right has one cup growing out of another. I don’t know if this is common behavior or not but I haven’t ever seen it.

Here was a large stone covered by a carpet of Hedwigia ciliata moss. This moss is common and is also called white tipped moss.

The white leaf tips drawn out to long, fine points help confirm the identity of Hedwigia ciliata moss. It’s one of those mosses that you almost have to run your hand over.

Because it’s so warm near stone walls in the winter many plants like this mullein (Verbascum thapsus)  like to grow along them. In fact there is an amazing variety of plants growing on or near this wall. Native Americans used tea made from mullein’s large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

Bristly or swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves usually live under the snow all winter but these exposed examples were beautifully colored purple. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition, and this plant certainly seems to benefit from it. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands, but I’ve seen it growing in dry waste areas many times. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

It was no surprise to find the European Vinca (Vinca minor) growing in the wall, because in the 1800s Vinca was a plant given by one neighbor to another along with lilacs and peonies, and I’ve seen all three still blooming beautifully off in the middle of nowhere. They grow thickly together and sometimes form an impenetrable mat that other plants can’t grow through. It has been here long enough to have erased any memories of it having once crossed the Atlantic on the deck of a wooden ship, and people like it. Another name for it is Myrtle.

The beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes (Rubus occidentalis) is always a welcome sight in the winter. The blue color is caused by the way light is reflected off the powdery, waxy white crystals that cover the canes. The crystals are there to protect the young canes from moisture loss and sunburn and many other plants including blueberries, plums, grapes and blue stemmed goldenrod also use the same strategy. The color is often like that of a blue jay.

There are some very old white pine trees (Pinus strobus) here. I’d guess this one had to be approaching 300 years old. It was huge and had deeply furrowed bark. Sometimes I lay my hands against great trees like this one to feel their power. The power of creation just seems to hum through them like an engine.

My grandfather was the town blacksmith for years in Westmoreland, New Hampshire and the old wrought iron hardware I sometimes find in stone walls always makes me think of him. A blacksmith might make a dollar a day in the early 1800s but very little cash changed hands in colonial America, so he most likely would have been paid in food, charcoal for the forge, lumber, or something else he needed. I’d guess my grandfather made more than a colonial blacksmith, but probably not by much. The ring seen here most likely held a chain.

Since history and botany are my favorite subjects it all comes together for me here, and on the historical side of things this chain hook is one of my favorite bits of antique iron work that I find here. A link from a chain would have been hooked over it and then another link hooked over a similar hook a certain distance away. Chains were (and are) often hung across roads or driveways as a way to say “no admittance.”  What I like about this example is the way the blacksmith tapered the hook over its length and finally ended it in what looks like a dragon’s tail. He didn’t have to make such a utilitarian object as beautiful as a dragon’s tail, but he did. It’s a beautiful thing which, if I owned it, would be considered a work of art.

Stones are all about time—time to find them, to move them, to place them, and time, occasionally, to chisel and shape them. And above all, time to see them, experience them, and fall under their spell. ~Charles McRaven

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As the leaves fall there is much revealed in the forest that was hidden just a short time ago, and lichens are a big part of that revelation. Lichens are all around us but they’re one of those things that are so easy to miss unless we happen to be looking for them. Most people seeing this photo would probably say “Oh yes, I see lichens all over the stones in the stone wall.” But what about the tree? That’s a shagbark hickory tree and they have gray, not white bark. The white is a lichen called, appropriately enough, whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.) This lichen is usually found on the bark of hardwood trees and is fairly common. It makes the tree look as if it has been painted white, and that’s where its common name comes from. They can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white.

But you wouldn’t have been wrong in pointing out the lichens on the stone wall because it is covered with them, among them rock greenshield lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis.) This lichen always looks like melted candle wax to me. It is very common in this area and is another of those bits of nature that you see so often they no longer register.

Peppered rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) likes to grow on stone in full sun and I find a lot of them on stone walls like the one pictured in that first photo. They’re a good introduction to lichen study because their brown apothecia, where their spores are produced, are large and easy to see without aid. Lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. Technically apothecia are “fungal reproductive structures, in which the fungus reproduces itself through the production of spores” This is not the only way that lichens reproduce, but it is common and the apothecia are often beautiful and well worth watching for.

Another lichen common to stone walls is the sulfur dust lichen (Chrysothrix chlorina.) It’s very yellow and hides under overhangs so it doesn’t get rained on. At least I think that’s why I always find it tucked away like this, but this is odd behavior for a lichen because they usually like a lot of rain and sunshine.

Sulfur dust lichens are kind of granular in texture. If you’re lucky you can sometimes find them with fruiting bodies (apothecia) but more often than not I see them when they aren’t producing spores, like this example.

If you spend time walking along old stone walls eventually you’ll see a stone with a splash of bright orange on it and it will probably be the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima,) so called because it is a lime lover and grows on concrete sidewalks, which have lime in them. When you see it in a stone wall it’s a fair bet that the stone it grows on has limestone in it too. This stone looks like granite to me but it is almost completely covered by it.

A closer look at this example of the sidewalk firedot lichen showed it was made up of mostly irregularly shaped fruiting bodies, so it was making plenty of spores. It was raining just a short while before I took this photo so it was also still wet. Lichens are at their best when they are wet because that’s when they’ll show their true colors and size, so that’s when serious lichen hunters look for them. A misty or drizzly day is perfect.

I know of an old stump that has more British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) growing on it than I’ve ever seen in one place. Old rotted logs and stumps are the perfect places to find them and their bright red color makes them relatively easy to spot.

Even I can see this shade of red, and I’m colorblind.

If you see a tree with growths like this on it you really should take a closer look, because there are some amazing things going on here.

One of the things going on in the tree in the previous photo is what is happening on this star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris.) Its apothecia are a good example of how colors can change, even on the same lichen. This lichen has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to the white, waxy, powdery coating on the apothecia. You’ve no doubt seen examples of this waxy “bloom” on blueberries and plums. I’ve noticed by watching lichens that have pruinose apothecia that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue, and sometimes even black. The apothecia on this lichen show a range of colors, from brown to light blue. The way the sunlight strikes it has a lot to do with its colors, so sometimes you have to visit a lichen more than once to understand it.

Common goldspeck lichens (Candelariella vitellina) are uncommonly beautiful. Look for this bright yellow crustose lichen on stone, in this case slate. It’s a very artistic lichen and I like the patterns that it makes. I see it on gravestones quite often. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that, at high magnification, the body of the common goldspeck lichen looks like it’s made up of tiny golden specks. The book Lichens of North America describes the body of this lichen as “little cushions of flattened granules.” This lichen is sometimes sterile, with no fruiting bodies present, as this one appeared to be. Crustose lichens form crusts that tightly adhere to the substrate that they grow on and usually can’t be removed without damaging it.

The golden moonglow lichens (Dimelaena oreina) that I see are usually about an inch across but they can get much bigger. They grow in full sun on granite and don’t seem to change color when they dry out like many other lichens do. The bigger one in the photo was producing spores and that’s something I don’t see this lichen do very often. If you spend much time in cemeteries you have probably seen this pretty lichen, because it seems to like growing on smooth, polished stone, especially granite. It is a another crustose lichen, so removing it from a gravestone would be a challenge. When lichens grow on glass the acids in them can actually etch the glass and this is a problem in the big European cathedrals, especially. I would think the same would be true for polished stone.

Bright yellow-orange poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a beautiful lichen with its large disc shaped, sucker like fruiting bodies (apothecia) which are almost always showing. It’s found on tree bark and provides a lot of color in winter when there are no flowers to see. The example shown here was about as big as a penny, or about .75 inches across.

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earth based life form can be.

Pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) closely resembles bubblegum lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum.) One of the differences between the two is the length of the stalks that the plump pink apothecia sit on. They are longer on bubblegum lichens than they are on pink earth lichens. Both are very beautiful things that are rarely seen in this area. The whitish or grayish thallus, or body of the lichen, grows on soil; usually on dry acidic soil near blueberry and sweet fern plants. It can sometimes have a bluish cast as well.

Here’s a closer look at the apothecia on the pink earth lichen. You can also see the stalks that support them.

Scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) can be quite small and difficult to see without magnification, but it’s worth looking for them because they almost always have their bright orange apothecia showing. They like to grow on stone, especially granite, in full sun. They don’t seem to change their color when they dry out like many other lichens do. I’ve seen this pretty lichen even on mountain tops.

Some lichens are very easy to identify because there aren’t many others that look like them, and the toadskin lichen is one of those. Toadskin lichens show color changes like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray. This example hadn’t completely dried out but it was on its way, even though it had rained that morning. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them an umbilicate lichen. This toadskin is very special, because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a hill or mountain top. It grows on a boulder at the very water’s edge of a lake and I’m very happy that I found it now that hill climbing is getting more difficult. Now at least I’ll still be able to see these beautiful little things without having to struggle to reach them, if it comes to that.

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are one of the most beautiful in my opinion, but their beauty is fleeting and it depends on how the light happens to fall on them. If you find one it might not look like this one at all. The pretty golden brown body (thallus) of the lichen is peppered with blue apothecia which again, are colored by the light. Take a look at the next photo to see what a simple change in light can do.

This is the exact same lichen we saw in the previous photo; all that is different is the light, and that’s why if you’re at all interested in lichens you really should visit them at different times of year, as I said when we looked at the star rosette lichen. The previous photo was taken when sunlight was falling on it, and this shot was taken when the lichen was in shade. Not only light but dryness can affect the color of many lichens, so make a note of where you find them and then go back when the weather has changed. I think you’ll be amazed by how much they can change, and also by how beautiful they can be.

There is a low mist in the woods—it is a good day to study lichens. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1. Stream

There’s a stream near my house that I follow occasionally. It’s not big enough to row a boat up or down, gently or otherwise, but life is often dreamlike when I walk its banks.

2. Ice on a Log

It was a warm, rainy day that was more like fall than winter but ice had formed on the logs overnight and remained there in shadier places. I tried to catch all the colors of the rainbow that the sun made in the ice but once again I was less than successful.

3. Gravel

When the glaciers retreated they left behind huge amounts of sand and gravel in this area and most stream and river beds flow through it. Many animals drink from this stream and the sand bars dotted here and there along its length are great places to look for their tracks, but on this day the rain had been heavy enough to wash them away.

4. Sensitive Fern

It’s easy to see why sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is also called bead fern when you look closely at the shiny black spore cases on its fertile fronds. This fern gets its name from its sensitivity to frost because it’s usually one of the first to brown in the fall. It also likes growing in damp soil and does well along the stream.

 5. Tree Apron Moss  Closeup

It’s not hard to imagine tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuates) creeping across the bark of its host tree, looking very worm like.

6. Jelly Fungus

This jelly fungus was the color of Vaseline when I saw it on its limb but somehow the color has changed into a kind of yellow-green-orange in the photos. I was all prepared to tell you I’d never seen it before but now it looks like the common witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica.) It’s also called yellow brain, golden jelly fungus, and yellow trembler, and is very common in winter.

7. Script Lichen

I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find script lichens (Graphis) at certain times of year and then I finally realized that they only fruit in late fall and winter in this region, so at other times of year they look like a whitish gray splotch on tree bark. The dark rune like figures are its fruiting bodies (apothecia) and the lighter gray is the body (thallus) of the lichen. There are many different varieties of script lichen, each determined by the shape of its apothecia.

Someday I’m going to find out how releasing their spores at this time of year benefits some lichens. So far I haven’t had much luck.

8. Bitter Wart Lichen

I’ve only seen bitter wart lichen (Pertusaria amara) once before so I was very happy to find this one growing near the stream on an American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) limb. The body (thallus) of this lichen is whitish to greenish gray and its fruiting bodies (apothecia) are the whitish “warts” from which it takes part of its common name. The other part of its common name comes from the fact that it is extremely bitter tasting. It seems to prefer the bark of hornbeams because that’s where it was growing both times I’ve seen it. This lichen seems to have a hard time producing spores, which might help account for its rarity.

9. Foamflower Foliage

Foamflowers are native plants that hold their hairy leaves through winter and like growing in damp shaded soil along streams and rivers. Quite often after it gets cold the leaves will turn a reddish color but this year they’ve stayed green.

10. River Grape Vine

Many wild grapevines grow along this stream and their fermenting fruit perfumes the air heavily each fall. Their tiny flowers are also very fragrant and can be detected from quite a distance. Grapevines are easy to identify because of the way their bark peels in long strips. These grapes are one of our native vines and are called riverbank grapes (Vitis riparia) because that is where they like to grow. They have been known to survive temperatures as low as -70°F and are used as rootstock for several less hardy commercial varieties.  The vine in the photo is an old one, nearly as big around as my leg.

11. Whitewash Lichen

Something made strange marks in this whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena). This lichen is crusty and tough when dry but softens with rain and is easily damaged. I can’t think of any bug, bird or animal that would have made these marks. They were too thin and shallow for a bear and too high on the tree for a bobcat to have made them. Maybe a falling branch made them on its way to the ground.

12. Foam on Pine bark

For years I’ve seen foam at the base of certain white pine trees (Pinus strobus) when it rains. Sometimes it is in just a spot or two and at other times it nearly circles the entire tree. I’ve tried to find out what might cause it for a long time and finally had some luck at the Walter Reeves website recently. The most plausible explanation says that the “foam is caused by the formation of a crude soap on the bark. During drought there is an accumulation of salts, acids and other particles from the air that coat the bark surface (soap is essentially salts and acids). When it rains, these mix with the water and go into solution. The froth (foam) is from the agitation of the mixture when it encounters a barrier (bark plates) during its flow toward the ground.” That makes sense to me.

13. Bark Beetle Damage

If I understand what I’ve read correctly, the deeper channels or galleries seen on this white pine limb were made by the male pine engraver beetle (Ips) and the shallower ones by his harem of females. Eggs are deposited in these shallower galleries and once the larva hatch they create even more galleries. It all ends up looking like some form of ancient script and sometimes I catch myself trying to read it.

Luckily these beetles attack trees that are already damaged or weakened by stress and kill very few healthy trees but still, if you happen to own forested land and have seen evidence of these beetles you would do well to contact a qualified professional forester.  A healthy forest is the best defense against bark beetles and many other pests.

14. Tree Moss aka Climacium dendroides 2

Tree moss grew along the stream embankment close enough to the water to be submerged if it rises very much. I’ve seen it flood here several times, high enough to wash over the road. Apparently the mosses and other plants can take it.

15. Tree Moss aka Climacium dendroides

From the side the tree moss looked even more beautiful and full of life, as if it was glowing with an inner light. Some plants seem to just throb with the excitement of living, and this is one of them. They’re a true joy to behold.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

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1. Snowy Path

There was a blog post coming up in just a few days and I had nothing; not even an idea, and I wondered if, for the first time in almost 4 years, I’d miss a post.  I shouldn’t have wondered at all because I know that all I have to do is free my mind of expectations and walk into the forest. If I go into the woods expecting or hoping to find a certain thing then I usually don’t find it, but if I just walk in with an open mind and let nature lead, I often see things that I’ve never seen before.

2. Snow on Ice

If you have ever walked down a woodland path with a two year old child then you know that they’re open to anything and fascinated by everything. They also walk very slowly down a crooked path, toddling from this to that and back again with a sense of wide eyed wonder. That’s exactly how to see the things in nature that others miss-let yourself be a child again. I walk at the pace of a two year old and my path is never straight. I stop and look around often, never knowing what I’ll see, and if I have to get down on my knees to take a photo I’m sure to scan the forest floor around me for a full 360 degrees before I stand up again. I’ve seen some amazing things by doing that.

3. Orange Crust Fungus

One of the first things I found on this day was this orange crust fungus, which I think is the crowded parchment fungus (Stereum complicatum.) The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself.” This fungus often grows on fallen oak limbs and parasitizes some types of jelly fungi.

4. Puffballs

Before I stood up I followed my own advice, looked around and saw these pear shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme,) which grew on a log and stood out against what I think is a bright white lichen background, possibly whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena.)

5. Whitewash Lichen

I walked further down the trail and saw this excellent example of whitewash lichen. From a distance it looks like someone has painted the tree. These lichens can cover quite a large area and can be greenish white, silvery, or bright white. They usually grow on hardwoods but can occasionally be seen on conifers as well.

6. Small Stream

Naturalist John Burroughs once said “to find new things, take the path you took yesterday.” I’ve found that to be very true and am always surprised by what I’ve missed on my first, second and even third visits to a place, so though I’ve followed this small stream a hundred times I decided to follow it again.

7. Partridge Berries

Partridge berries (Mitchella repens) aren’t new to me but though I’ve seen them a thousand times they are always a welcome sight, especially when there is snow on the ground. I don’t know about partridges, but I do know that wild turkeys eat the berries. Though the plant creeps along the forest floor like a vine, botanically speaking it is considered a “sub-shrub,” which simply means that it is a dwarf shrub, usually woody at its base.

8. Unknown Lichen or Fungus

Here is something new. So new in fact that I’m not even sure what to call it, because I don’t know if it is a lichen or fungus. I’ve never seen a lichen with fuzzy edges like these and I’ve never seen a fungus, even a crust fungus, that was so very thin and flat. I’ve searched all of my books and online and haven’t seen anything close to it, so this one has me stumped. It was a little bigger than a quarter and was growing on the bark of a standing hardwood. If you know what it is I’d like to hear from you.

Note: Biologist and botanical consultant Arold Lavoie has identified this lichen as Lecanora thysanophora, which is also called maple dust lichen. It is supposed to be common in the northeast but I’ve never seen it. Arold is from Quebec and has a website that looks extremely interesting but unfortunately I don’t read French. If you do you can visit the site at http://aroldlavoie.com/ Thanks very much for the identification Arold!

9. Blue Purple Lichen

This bluish-lavender lichen appeared in several spots on a boulder. I’ve never seen it before and I’m not even sure if it’s a lichen but if not I don’t know what else it could be. I’ve spent quite a lot of time looking for something similar in books and online and haven’t found anything. Again, if you know what it is I’d be happy to hear from you.

10. Intermediate Wood Fern

On the same boulder as the lichen in the previous photo, growing out of a crack was a tiny evergreen fern that I think is an intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia.)  Evergreen plants send sugar into their leaves in the winter to act as antifreeze, so evergreen ferns get a jump on photosynthesizing in the spring, basking in the sunshine for a month or two and growing new leaves before being shaded by tree leaves. By the time other ferns are just poking their fiddleheads from the soil the evergreens are well on their way. The boulder probably soaks up heat from the sun all day and releases it slowly at night, making this little fern’s life much easier.

11. Amber Jelly Fungus

Something else I’ve never seen is veins running through an amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa.) Amber jellies are common at this time of year on oak and alder limbs and when I find them I like to hold them up to the light and look through them, because they often look like stained glass. They grow like little pillows or sacks of air and I wonder if, instead of veins those are wrinkles. These fungi are also called willow brain but I’ve never found one on a willow.

12. Tree Skirt Moss aka Anomodon attenuatus

I’ve seen tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuatus) growing on thousands of trees but never on trees this small. The biggest one in this photo was hardly bigger in diameter than an average garden hose.  Tree skirt moss grows up to 3 feet high around the bases of hardwoods, especially oaks. Knowing where certain mosses prefer growing, whether on soil, stone or wood, can help with identifying them.

 13. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) are one of my favorite lichens but, though I’ve walked these woods since I was a boy I’ve never seen them growing here. I noticed this one and then took a closer look at the other stones in the area and found that they all had this lichen on them! I have to admit that at that moment I didn’t feel very observant, that’s for sure. It really is amazing what we can miss in the forest, and that’s why I keep going back to the same places again and again. Just when you start thinking that you’ve seen it all nature will show you that you haven’t even scratched the surface.

14. Tiny Pine Cone

The storm we had on Thanksgiving eve brought down a lot of branches, especially those of white pine (Pinus strobus.) There are a lot of tiny pine cones on these limbs which will never grow to release their seeds. Next fall the animals that eat them might have to hope for a good acorn, beech and hazelnut crop.

15. Whittled Branch

I found that someone, probably a young boy with a brand new jackknife, had whittled a pine branch into a tent peg. He had done a good job, too-there was no blood on it. The smell of the freshly carved pine and the thought of whittling took me back to my own boyhood and I’m sure I must have had a bounce in my step when I left the forest on this day. Not only did nature show me several things that I hadn’t seen before, but I felt twelve years old again for a time. How can you ask for a better day than that?

I can’t guarantee that everyone who goes into the woods will come out feeling twelve years old again but I can guarantee that if you walk slowly, stop often, and look closely, nature will show you things that you have never even imagined-mind blowing things, as we used to say back in the day.

Humans who spend time in the wilderness, alone, without man-made mechanical noise around them, often discover that their brain begins to recover its ability to discern things. ~Robert Anderson

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1. Frozen Ashuelot

For the first time in at least 3 years the Ashuelot River has frozen over in this spot. You know it has been cold when that happens. It freezes over regularly in other areas but usually not here.

 2. Snowy Bushes

We’ve had 57 inches of snow so far this year and it seems like snow covers everything. It’s getting close to impossible to get through it without snowshoes. Luckily we also have 7000 miles of snowmobile trails-more miles than highways-and they make the going a little easier. If you step off a well packed snowmobile trail though, you can suddenly find yourself knee deep in snow.

 3. Snowy Stream

In spite of all the snow and cold there are still quiet, open pools in the woods where birds and animals can drink.

 4. Magnolia Bud 

Magnolia buds are wearing their winter fur coats.

 5. Monadnock From Marlborough

Mount Monadnock is wearing its winter coat too, but not to keep warm. The latest trail report says that hikers should be prepared for ice and deep snow. I’ve been through waist deep snow up there and I hope to never have to do that again. People sometimes underestimate the mountain and end up having to be rescued. Doing so can be very dangerous in winter.

 6. Lemon Drops 

Winter is a good time to find jelly and sac fungi. Lemon drops (Bisporella citrina) are sac fungi that grow on rotting logs and form spherical bodies that then become tiny yellow, trumpet shaped cups that are so small they look like simple discs. The biggest one I’ve seen was no bigger than 1/8 inch and the smallest the size of a period made with a pencil. They are usually in large groups that make them easier to find.

 7. Script Lichen with Elongated Apothecia called Lirellae 

For those new to blogging; the way it works is, if you mention on your blog that you’ve never seen a certain thing you will suddenly start seeing it everywhere. That’s exactly what happened when I said that I had only seen 2 examples of script lichen (Graphis scripta) in my lifetime. Now it’s like they’re on every tree limb. I’m not sure how it would work if you said you had never seen a room full of money that was all yours, but it works well for fungi, lichens and slime molds. And birds.

 8. Beard Lichens

There were many fishbone beard lichens (Usnea fillipendula) on the trunk of this white pine (pinus strobus). This pine stands near a local lake and these lichens seem to prefer growing near water. They get their common name from their resemblance to a fish skeleton.

 9. Fishbone Beard Lichen aka Usnea fillipendula with Unknown Green Beard

Here is a closer look at a fishbone beard lichen on the right and an unknown, dark green beard lichen on the left. I thought the darker one was moose hair lichen (Bryoria trichodes) at one time but that lichen is brown.  Now I’m wondering if it might be witch’s hair (Alectoria sarmentosa). It could also be a common beard lichen covered with green algae. It never seems to change color due to weather conditions as many other lichens do.

 10. Whitewash Lichen

Whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena) is a perfect name for this lichen that looks like someone painted it on tree trunks. It can be dull white or silvery and is a large crustose lichen that can cover quite a large area.  This lichen rarely fruits and, as lichens go, it isn’t very exciting.

 11. Black Locust Seed Pod

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) seed pods were all over the snow one day so I brought one home to have a closer look. These pods are from 2-6 inches long-far smaller than honey locust pods (Gleditsia triacanthos). Sometimes they can be very dark colored and other times are not. The leaves and bark of black locust are toxic to both humans and animals and I’ve read that if the foliage is bruised and mixed with sugar it will attract and kill flies. The fragrant flowers are very beautiful and appear in May and June. And bees and hummingbirds love them. The rot resistant wood makes excellent fence posts that can last 100 years or more.

12. Black Locust Seed

The tiny (about 1/4 of an inch long) seeds are bean shaped. No surprise since black locust is a legume, related to peas and beans. This photo shows how they attach to the inside of the pod. These seeds have a highly impermeable coating and can stay viable for many years. The seed pods stay on the tree until winter when strong winds will usually scatter them. The dried papery pod acts as a sail to help to carry the seeds long distances.

 13. Maple Sugaring

Someone is very optimistic about sap flow. This new method isn’t quite as picturesque as the old tin bucket hanging from a tree but it must be far more sanitary, and the sap won’t be diluted by rain water.

 14. Sunset

We’ve had some beautiful sunsets here this winter and they make me wonder if this winter is different somehow, or if I just wasn’t paying attention in previous years.

I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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We’re on a temperature roller coaster here in southwestern New Hampshire, with temps in the low 20s one day and high 30s the next. This weekend they say we might hit 50 degrees, so the ice and snow will be melting fast.

1. 1-5-13 River

Watching water freeze probably wouldn’t be considered high excitement, but if the above shot is compared to the one in last Saturday’s post, taken from the same spot, the slow buildup of ice in the Ashuelot river can be seen.

2. 1-5-13 River Ice

Last Saturday none of this ice was here.

3. January Witch Hazel

While I was at the river I walked along the banks to my favorite grove of witch hazel shrubs (Hamamelis virginiana.) I found one blooming here on the day before Christmas, and here it is still blooming. It is supposed to be a late fall bloomer-one of the latest-but seeing it blooming this late is strange. It is only one plant out of many that is doing this, and I’d bet that plant breeders would love to get their hands on it and develop an “ever blooming” witch hazel.

4. January Witch Hazel Bracts

This is what one would expect an American witch hazel to look like at this time of year. The small cups are formed by four bracts that curve back. The petals unfurl from these cups on warm fall days. It takes about a year for the plant to form seeds.

5. Alder Strobiles

Alder (Alnus) fruits come in the shape of small cones, called strobiles, which contain even smaller seeds, called nutlets. These flat, triangular seeds are an important food source for small birds like chickadees. Alders like a lot of moisture and can be found on the banks of ponds, rivers and streams in full sun.

 6. Alder Catkins

These are the male staminate flowers of the alder, called catkins, which will open in the spring and release pollen to fertilize the female flowers. The female flowers will then produce the strobiles shown in the previous picture.

7. Beard Lichen 7

Lichens are much easier to see in the winter. This is bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta) I think. I’m beginning to see that, though they grow almost anywhere, many lichens seem to prefer growing near a water source like a river or a lake. Ledges that trickle groundwater are another good spot to find them. 

8. Dried Burning Bush Fruit

I’ve never noticed before that the bright red fruits of the burning bush (Euonymus alatus) seem to turn to a kind of orange jelly in the winter. I’m surprised there were any fruits left because birds love them. Burning bush, also called winged euonymus, is one of our most invasive plants and the woods near the river are full of them. 

9. Whitewash Lichen aka Phlyctis argena

It’s easy to see how whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena) got its name because it looks like somebody took a paintbrush to the tree trunk that it grows on. This crustose lichen almost always grows on deciduous trees like red maple but can occasionally be found on conifers. It is also called blemished lichen. 

10. Seed Head

I liked these furry looking seed heads but couldn’t figure out what plant they were on. It had a woody stem and stood about a foot and a half tall. 

11. Hoar Frost 3

Hoar frost is also called rime and forms when water vapor contacts surfaces which are below freezing. The sun melted the snow around this clump of grass, but then frost formed on it quickly. This frost usually happens when the sky is clear and is also called radiation frost for the radiational cooling that takes place before it forms.

Wilderness touches the heart, mind and soul of each individual in a way known only to himself ~Michael Frome

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