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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Columbines’

1. Trail

On Saturday I went to see some old friends and to get there I had to take a short hike down this rail trail in Westmoreland. It was a warm and beautiful spring day and I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many birds singing. The dark dot at the end of the trail is where we’re going. It looks like a tunnel in this photo but it isn’t.

2. Woods

The forest here is made up of nearly all hardwood trees; mostly beech, maple and oak, and there are some old, large examples here. The fallen tree shown in this photo doesn’t look like much because I was so far away from it, but it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen.

3. Oak

For every fallen tree there is a new one coming along to replace it and the oaks were just unfurling their new leaves when I was here.

4. Ledges

Here we are already. This is the dark spot that looked like a tunnel at the end of the trail in that first photo. For a short time there are ledges on either side of the trail made by the railroad blasting their way through the bedrock 150 years ago, and some remarkable plants grow here.

5. Ledges

Almost every crevice has some type of plant or tree growing out of it.

6. Columbines

And these are the old friends that I came here to see; the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis.) They like to grow on partially shaded rocky slopes so this area is perfect for them. How they got here is anyone’s guess but their numbers have been steadily increasing since I first found them. Though I’ve spent 50 years walking through these woods this is the only place I’ve ever seen them.

7. Columbine

They are beautiful things; well worth the hike. Each red and yellow blossom is about an inch and a half long and dances in the slightest breeze at the end of a long stalk. The Aquilegia part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Aquila, which means “eagle” and refers to the spurred petals that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus thought resembled an eagle’s talons. Some think they resemble pigeons around a dish and the name Columbine comes from the Latin Columbinus, which means “pertaining to doves or pigeons.” It is said that Native American men rubbed the crushed seeds on themselves to be more attractive to women. Whether they did it for color or scent, I don’t know.

8. Columbine

Wild columbine flowers have 5 petals and 5 sepals. Each petal is yellow with a rounded tip, and forms a long, funnel shaped nectar spur that shades to red. The oval sepals are also red, and the anthers are bright yellow. When they grow on ledges some of them are up overhead, so you can see the nodding flowers in a way you never could if they were growing at ground level. From this viewpoint you can see the 5 funnel shaped holes that are the start of the nectar spurs. Long tongued insects and hummingbirds probe these holes for nectar. Some say that these holes look like dovecotes, which is another reference to birds. We’re so very lucky to have such beautiful things in these woods.

9. White Ledge

Columbines like sandy, well-drained soil on the poor side that has limestone in it, so seeing them is a good indication of what type of soil is in the area.  Some of the stone faces here are covered by grayish white deposits of something I’m assuming is limestone leaching out of the stone. At first I thought there were lichens covering the stone but the powdery deposits rub off easily with a finger and I’ve never seen a lichen do that.

10. Jack in the Pulpit

You can tell that there are pockets of somewhat deep soil on the ledges because Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) also grows here. They have a root that forms a corm, which is a kind of flattened bulb much like those found on gladiolus plants, and they need a few inches of soil to grow well.

11. Trillium

At the base of the ledges purple trillium (Trillium erectum) and many other plants grow. It is near the end of its brief time with us and this one was just about done blooming. If pollinated a three part seed capsule will form.

12. Poison Ivy

It’s easy when photographing flowers and other ground dwellers to become so absorbed in the subject at hand that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings and just kneel or lie wherever you need to be to get the best photo. That wouldn’t be wise here because poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also lives here and I’ve ended up with itchy knees by kneeling on leafless vines in the early spring. Luckily I’m not very sensitive to it and the rash usually just stays on my knees without spreading, but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it, so I try to always watch for it.

13. Stone Wall

When the railroad had to blast through a hillside they used the stone to fill in low spots, but if they had too much they simply piled the excess in the woods. Local people often took the stone to build with and this landowner built a stone wall with it. You can tell exactly where the stone came from because there isn’t a rounded edge on a single one. Our natural stones are almost always rounded.

14. Concrete Pad

There are reminders of the railroad all along this trail. I’m guessing that a signal box once stood on this concrete pad, because an old road once crossed the tracks up ahead.

15. Wires

Whatever the signal was it took 6 stout wires to control it.

16. Tie Plate

I flipped this tie plate over to see if there was any writing on it. I’ve seen them with a maker’s name and date but this one didn’t have a mark on it.

17. Fallen Beech

One of the biggest beech trees I’ve seen fell last year and shattered some oaks as big as watermelons when it did. Last summer I heard a tree fall in the woods close to where I was but not close enough to see. I’ll never forget the sound it made as it crashed its way to the forest floor. This beech fell right across the rail trail and I’m glad I wasn’t nearby when it happened. I see a startling number of fallen trees; usually at least one each year in every location that I visit regularly, and often many more.

18. Trail

I was going to take you on a climb up a new (to me) hill for this post but there were high wind gusts forecast for Sunday so I stayed out of the woods for most of the day and visited meadows instead. I’m very grateful that I got to see such a rare sight and I hope you enjoyed seeing the wild columbines as well. For me this walk has become an annual spring rite and I always look forward to it.

Gratitude turns anything into enough, puts past to rest, brings tranquility to our hopes of tomorrow, and blesses today with harmony and bliss. ~ Joseph Rain

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

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