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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Grapes’

For a few years now I’ve thought that if anyone came to my door wanting to see a plant that I’ve shown on this blog I’d be able to lead them right to it. I don’t think my memory is any better than anyone else’s but I do believe that I remember where most of the special or unusual things I feature here grow because I visit them as often as I can. But I don’t know that for sure, and I sometimes wonder if I really could lead you to a sweet gum tree, (which isn’t even supposed to grow here) so last Sunday I decided to test myself. Somewhere along this rail trail is a red maple tree with a beautiful lichen on it. It’s grayish white and has blue fruiting bodies (Ascomata) and after my last post about lichens I wanted to see it again, so off I went.

This was a blue day because everywhere I looked I saw blue, like the beautiful blue of the sky’s reflection in the flooded area beside the trail.

There are lots of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) growing along this trail and their catkins had me longing for spring, when the tiny scarlet threads of the female flowers will appear. They’re a sure sign that spring is upon us, but I won’t be seeing them for a while.

Here was more blue; the beautiful blue of first year black raspberry canes (Rubus occidentalis.) When I was a boy I used to pick and eat handfuls of them along the tracks that used to be here.

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 in this instance was much like that of a blue jay.

There are also wild grapes growing along the trail and most of them were fermenting up in the trees, so the smell of grape jelly was heavy in the wind.

I saw a squirrel up ahead working furiously at something and as I got closer it ran off with a corn cob in its mouth. When I looked at the place it had been I found a pile of corn. It had been stripping the kernels from the cob, and I wondered why it didn’t do it in its nest.

In fact this trail is overrun with squirrels and I’ve never seen so many squirrel nests in one place. The trees were full of them and I’d bet that I must have seen 30 or 40 on this walk. Nests start with a woven twig floor and then damp leaves and moss are packed on top. A spherical framework is woven around the floor and leaves, moss and twigs are stuffed into it until a hollow shell of about 6-8 inches across has been formed. Gray squirrels can have nests that are up to two feet wide and though they look like they’re open to the sky from below, they aren’t.

Some of the trail sides were covered by newly fallen maple leaves and I’m sure the squirrels are using them for nest building. I’ve watched them build nests before and have seen them gather up a bunch of leaves, tuck them up under their chin and hold them there with one front paw, and then run up the tree with the other three paws. They will also carry leaves in their mouth but they can’t seem to carry as many that way.

In spite of the drought last spring the corn grew well this year. I lived very near here when I was a boy and back then the Boston and Maine Railroad ran through here twice each day. There were extensive corn fields all along the railroad tracks in those days, and not much else. These days there are shopping malls nearby and the college has grown more than anyone thought it would. I used to sit out here all day and not see a soul but these days the trail is like a city sidewalk. College students, joggers, walkers, bicyclists and snowmobilers all use it regularly.

The farmer was harvesting his corn while I was there. This is silage for cows, what we used to call “cow corn,” so the entire plant except for the roots is chopped up and blown into 10 wheel dump trucks to be taken off to the farm. The stubble that is left will get tilled under in the spring and then the field will be planted again. These fields aren’t watered so it all depends on weather.

The farmer wasn’t the only one harvesting the corn. His crop must support hundreds of squirrels, and that explains why there are countless squirrel nests here even though there are no oak trees for acorns and very few pine trees for pine seeds.

There is a good view of Mount Monadnock from here, and on this day it was very blue. Since it was easy to see all over town this is the view I grew up with and it comes to mind whenever anyone mentions the mountain. It was from right here when I was probably 14 or so that I hatched a plan to identify and catalog all the wildflowers on the mountain. Henry David Thoreau started doing just that in the 1800s but never finished. I thought I will finish what Henry started, but when I finally got to the mountain I saw how foolish the plan was because this mountain is huge, and it might take ten lifetimes to do what I thought would be a lark. It’s no wonder that Henry never finished.

We’re almost there. That big thing in the center of the photo is a bridge.

And the bridge goes over a very busy highway, built so Keene State College students and others could cross safely. If you’re interested I wrote about it in a post I did last year called “Bridging a Dangerous Crossing.” When I was a boy the highway was just a road so I don’t think it was quite so busy as it is now, but over the past few years you often had to stand and wait for a while before being able to cross.

When I see the bridge I know I’m very close to the maple tree with the beautiful lichen on it, but on this day I got distracted by these married maples. A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see it happening more all the time.

I knew when I was near the bridge that the tree with the lichen on it would be on the left side of the trail, just a few yards from the bridge. It was a maple but they were all maples and all about the same size, so I had to look at each tree. Actually I had to inspect each tree with my camera because the lichen I was looking for is only about as big as a dime. If you look at all the white spots on the married trees in the previous photo you’ll see what I was up against; those are all lichens.

But after about half an hour of searching I found the frosted comma lichen (Arthonia caesia) I was looking for, so my memory hadn’t completely failed me. Why did I want to find a dime size white spot on a tree? Because it’s a beautiful thing and this is the only example of it I’ve ever seen. The only other lichen I know of with blue fruiting bodies is the smoky eye boulder lichen and that one has blue apothecia only in a certain light. The spherical fruiting bodies on this lichen, called ascomata, are blue in any light and they don’t change color when they dry out. They are also very small; each blue dot is hardly bigger than a period made by a pencil on a piece of paper, so lichen hunters need to carry a good loupe or a camera that is macro capable.

As I walked back down the trail I wondered how and when all the grass grew along the sides of this rail bed. It wasn’t here when I used to come here as a boy. Back then all you saw here were sharp black clinkers, which were basically boiler slag and ash. They were the ballast that the tracks were laid in and it must have been an awful lot of work to get rid of them, but I do like the result. Those clinkers were hard things to take a fall on, which I seem to remember doing quite regularly as a boy.

As I was walking back this birch tree caught my eye. I like to look at the inner bark of trees because sometimes it can be quite beautiful. The inner bark of staghorn sumac can be bright red for instance, after it has peeled and been exposed to light and air. This birch had a deep wound, right down to the wood, and the peeling bark was thick. I thought I saw color there so I had to have a look.

I never expected to see anything like this on the inner bark of a gray birch. The only thing I could think of is the tree’s sap might have turned blue in the cold, because the blue bits weren’t lichens. I can’t think of anything else that could explain so much color. White pine tree sap turns a beautiful blue when it gets cold and on this day it was in the 30s F. with a biting wind. Whatever caused it, it was beautiful and I was happy to see it. As I said it was a blue day and, since blue is my favorite color, I wasn’t at all blue.

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. ~Linda Hogan

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Split Gill Underside

I loved the look of the underside of this split gill mushroom (Schizophyllum commune.) I’ve heard that the underside of this fungus could be reddish but until I saw this one I had only seen them in white. The gills split lengthwise as it dries out and that’s where its common name comes from. These are “winter mushrooms” and I often find them very late in the year, even when there is snow on the ground.

 2. Cobalt Crust Fungus

The cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea) is very beautiful and some say very rare, but I wondered if its rarity was because it grew on the underside of fallen oak limbs where they touch the soil surface. Unless the limb was disturbed it would never be seen, so since seeing this one I have peeked under several old rotting limbs to see if I could find another one. I haven’t seen one so maybe it really is rare. Another name for it is velvet blue spread. It can also come in lavender but since I’m colorblind it will always be blue to me.

3. Burning Bushes

Along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey there is quite a wide swath of invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus,) also called winged euonymus. They are protected by the trees overhead so they don’t begin to turn color until quite late. In this photo they are in their dark orangey-pink phase, but before too long they’ll all be pale pastel pink

4. Burning Bush Berries

This is why there are so many burning bushes along that section of river. The birds seem to love their berries. The bushes are beautiful at this time of year but they shade out native plants and create a monoculture, much like purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed.

5. Virgin's Bower Foliage

Virgin’s bower leaves (Clematis virginiana) have taken on their fall plum purple shade.

 6. Royal Fern

In the fall royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) go from green to yellow, and then to orange brown. They grow in low swampy places along the sides of streams and ponds and are one of our most beautiful fern.

 7. Blackberry Gall

Blackberry seed gall is caused by the blackberry seed gall wasp (Diastrophus cuscutaeformis.) These very small round hollow galls look like seeds and form in clusters around blackberry stems. Each tiny gall has a stiff, hair like spine and together they form a hairy mass like that in the photo.  I showed this same mass here last spring and it was bright yellow-green and I wondered why it was described as brownish red. Now I know that it just needs time to age.

8. Grapes

The many smells of a New England autumn are as pleasing as the foliage colors. One of those smells is that of fermenting grapes, and I have a feeling that the woods will smell like grape jelly for a while this year.

9. Asparagus Berry

Asparagus plants come in male and female, meaning they are dioecious. If you see a small red berry on your asparagus then you have a female plant, but there has to be a male nearby. You also have asparagus seeds, which can be stored in a cool dry place and planted in the spring.  You’ll wait a while for an edible harvest though.

10. Juniper Berries

Some of the junipers are loaded with berries this year. Actually, though they’re called berries, botanically speaking they are fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice.

 11. Velvet Shank Mushrooms

Velvet shank mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) are another “winter mushroom” that typically fruits in late fall. I’ve found them with snow on the ground during warm spells in winter, and they can and do survive freezing temperatures. Their stems feel like velvet and, though it can’t be seen well in this photo, are darker at the base and lighten as they get nearer the cap.

12. Fuzzy Foots

I thought these were chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus) but the dark stems didn’t quite match the descriptions. After searching my mushroom books again I realized that they are fuzzy foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina campanella,) so called because of the dense tuft of orange brown hairs at the base of each stem. I found them growing on the side of a mossy log. Each cap is about the same diameter as a nickel. They are one of the most photogenic of all the mushrooms, in my opinion.

13. Blue Crust Fungus

While I was looking for more cobalt crust fungi I found this light blue one instead. Like cobalt crust fungus it grew on a limb where it made contact with the soil. It’s a beautiful thing but I haven’t been able to identify it through books or online. If you’re reading this and happen to know what it is I’d love to hear from you.

 14. Forked Blue Curl Seed Pods

The seeds and seed pods of forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) are so small that I can barely see them, but a macro lens reveals all of the hidden details, including the surprising colors and hairiness of the plant. Each pod carries two tiny seeds and since these plants are annuals those seeds will make sure that a new generation comes along next year.

15. Washed Up Leaves

The object of this post was to show that not all of the beauty is up in the trees at this time of year. We look to the sky and dream of paradise, forgetting that it is all around us, all of the time.

If you are lost inside the beauties of nature, do not try to be found. ~Mehmet Muratildan

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. Phantom Crane Fly

The phantom crane fly (Bittacomorpha occidentalis) is a beautiful thing and gets its common name from the way it appears and disappears as it floats through light and shadows. They can float on breezes and air currents with minimal use of their wings because each lower leg is hollow, inflated, and sac like.

2. Blue Bottle Fly

I’ve always liked blue and yellow together and this blue bottle fly and yellow milkweed aphids were eye catching.

3. Leaf Hopper

I think this is some kind of leaf hopper. He was very triangular.

NOTE: Amelia at the A French Garden blog has identified this creature as a tree hopper called Stictocephala bisonia. It can cause a world of problems for grape growers, as Amelia can attest. If you’d like to read her blog post about it, just click here. Thanks Amelia!

4. Dog Lichen

Usually when you find dog lichens, in this case membranous dog lichen (Peltigera membranacea,) they are growing with moss. That’s because lichens like plenty of moisture and mosses soak it up like a sponge and release it slowly back to the surrounding vegetation. You can tell that the one in the photo has had plenty of moisture by its color. They turn a light ashy gray when dry. I like its frosted edges.

5. Greater Whipwort Liverwort aka Bazzania trilobata

I never noticed this liverwort, called greater whipwort (Bazzania trilobata,) until last year but now I’m seeing it everywhere I go. It likes to grow in large colonies on damp stones usually near streams, and is very small and easily mistaken for a moss when you’ve never seen it. Each “leaf” is only about 1/8 inch wide and ends in 3 lobes or notches. That’s how it comes by the trilobata part of its scientific name. It’s another one of those beautiful things found in nature that often go unnoticed.

 6. Poke Berries

And speaking of beautiful things that go unnoticed; I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana.) They are actually the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses.

7. Bittersweet Nightshade Berries

Ripe bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) dangle like tiny Roma tomatoes, but eating them wouldn’t be good because they are very toxic. The plant can be especially dangerous around small children, who might be attracted to the bright red berries. Native to northern native to Africa, Europe and Asia, it has spread throughout much of the world thanks to migrating birds that are immune to its poisons.

8. Cabbage

I liked the netting on this savoy cabbage that I saw in a friend’s garden.

9. Wild Cucumber Fruit

A different kind of netting is found on wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata,) and once the seed pods dry the netting found inside them is even more interesting. A man wrote to me once and told me that he decorated pens that he makes with that same netting. For me these plants are like a time machine that always takes me back to my boyhood, when we used to throw the soft spined fruits at each other.

10. Wild Grapes

Wild grapes are showing signs of ripening. The ones pictured also show a good example of bloom, the powdery, waxy white coating found on grapes and other soft fruits like plums and blueberries which protects them from moisture loss and decay.

11. Black Raspberry

Many other plants like the first year black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same waxy white bloom as a form of protection. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, and smoky eye boulder lichens the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

12. Silky Dogwood Berries

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) start out white and then turn blue. Somewhere in between they look like Chinese porcelain. In fact, I’ve wondered if the idea for their blue and white decorated porcelain didn’t originally come from these berries. Ideas always come from somewhere, and nature would be the most obvious source of inspiration.

13. Spinulose Woodfern Shadow

No plant can live without light and nature always provides enough, even if that means being spotlighted by a sunbeam for only an hour each day like this spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana.)

14. Long Leaf Pondweed

I first became attracted to long-leaved pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus) earlier this summer when I paddled my kayak through a large colony of it. They are unlike many of our more common aquatics and I like the leaf shape and the way they float on the water. The floating leaves are only half the story though, because the plant also has quite a crop of submerged leave floating just under the surface. The submerged leaves have the longest leaf stem (petiole) of any pond weed. It can reach 5 or more inches in length.

15. Maple Leaf Viburnum 3

In my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year is the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) Its leaves go through several color changes and In addition to the deep maroon seen in the photo they can become red, yellow, orange, deep pink, and often a combination of two or three colors at once. Finally, just before they fall, they turn a pastel pink so light it is almost white.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Thanks for coming by.

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