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Posts Tagged ‘Willow Catkins’

We’ve had a string of very warm days here lately and that was all it took to kick spring into high gear. As you can see in this photo of the buds, red maples are responding to the warmth and buds are breaking. You can just see the male stamens all tucked inside the now open buds.

And then on another branch of the same tree the male flowers had fully opened and were producing pollen. I looked at several different red maples on this day, but this was the only one I saw flowering. Tree blossoming periods are staggered over several weeks, so if frost damages some flowers it won’t damage them all. That’s a good thing because this tree has misjudged the weather and jumped the gun. The night time forecasts include below freezing temperatures this week, so there is a good chance that any open flowers on this tree will die. However, thanks to the staggered bloom times that nature has seen to, I might still find red maples flowering a month from now.

I checked hundreds of hazelnut buds but hadn’t seen any of the tiny scarlet, female thread like flowers. They would appear at the top of a bud much like this one, which is so small I don’t really know how to describe it.

But then I saw this bush, loaded with golden colored male catkins, so I decided to check it for female flowers. Hazelnut catkins are just a string of tiny male flowers that usually spiral around a central stalk, and though these weren’t open and producing pollen yet the fact that they have readied themselves to do so is enough to awaken the female flowers.

And there they were, just barely opened on the first day of spring. If the wind blows just right and they are pollinated these almost microscopic scarlet threads will become hazelnuts, which will hopefully ripen by next fall.

There was a time, when I was gardening professionally, that I dreaded seeing dandelions starting to bloom, but I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this, the first dandelion I’ve seen this year.

I suppose my outlook must have changed. All the prejudices that I had toward them began to slip away and I started seeing dandelions for what they really are, which is a beautiful yellow flower that shouts spring is here! When I stopped fighting them and just let them be, I saw the beauty that had always been there. It was only my thoughts about them that had kept their beauty hidden. As Marcus Aurelius said “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.” Though I didn’t consciously “wipe out my judgement” of dandelions I have certainly softened my attitude toward them over the years. My dislike (that was mostly learned from others who didn’t like them) has completely fallen away, and maybe that is as it should be. All of my life they have been here. I have eaten their leaves and drank the coffee I made from their roots and dusted the tip of my nose with their pollen, and they are old friends.

I’ve spent a few years trying to figure out what the name of this plant is. I know it is in the mustard family and I know it’s a cress, but I’m not sure which one so I’ll just call it a spring cress. I think it might actually be hairy bittercress but by most accounts it’s a hated weed that is almost impossible to eradicate because of the huge numbers of seeds it produces. You can pull plants until the cows come home but you’ll always miss one or two. It’s like sea turtles; most will get eaten by birds or fish but there will always be some that survive to carry on the Prime Directive, which is continuation of the species. Nature has taken care of it.

Can you see the beauty in this “horrible weed?” Its leaves were just unfolding when I got there, which I thought made it even prettier.

If I go all the way back as far as my memory will go, I find the flowers of ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) living there. Both houses I spent my time at when I was young, my father’s and grandmother’s, had plenty of ground ivy in the lawns and I used to love seeing them bloom so early in spring. Ground ivy is in the mint family and is related to henbit. It has a powerful and unusual odor when it is mowed, with the kind of smell that gets in the back of your throat and stays there for a while.

I brushed some leaves aside where I know Solomon’s seal plants grow and there were the spring shoots. After I took this photo, I covered them up again and let them be. They’re beautiful just as their first leaves start to unfurl, so I’ll try to be there at the end of April to see it happening.

Even after temperatures in the 60s and 70s F. willows still aren’t showing any signs of their yellow flowers. They know what they’re doing and they bloom when they’re ready but I have seen bees and other insects flying already, and they would love to forage on some willow pollen, I’m sure.

I looked at the buds of a native pink azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and though the bud scales looked like they had relaxed I’m not sure any actual swelling had begun. They bloom in June so there is time. As can be seen in this photo this is a very hairy plant, and it is the hairs on the outside of the flowers that exude the wonderful scent.  

Looking for the seedpods of a wild azalea is a good way to find them. They’re quite large and showy.

Snowdrops bloomed while there was still a bit of snow left near them. Maybe that’s how they came by their name.

Johnny jump ups have lifted their heads up and are blooming far better now than they were just a week ago. The warm weather and rapidly melting snow have given everything a boost and plants now seem anxious to get going.

I saw a crocus, then two, and then just a day or two later they were everywhere. It’s remarkable what a couple of warm days will do for flowers in springtime. It was all very sudden; it seemed like most of the flowers in this post had appeared overnight.

I saw some of my old favorites. There were lots of bees buzzing around all the open flowers but they were too skittish for me to get a shot of them.

This one was very dark. Better to show off the yellow stamens and pistil in the center to the bees, maybe. I certainly enjoyed the contrasting colors.

This white one was quite small for a crocus. I’d guess barely an inch across.

All of these crocuses were small. I don’t know if they’re a new kind of hybrid or if they’re just getting smaller with age.

A new witch hazel has come out, or at least it’s new to me, and it’s very pink. I don’t remember ever seeing one with pink petals but I must have because I visit these bushes every spring.

I went to see the skunk cabbages and wow; I saw a lot of them. So many in fact, that I couldn’t move without stepping on the ones still under leaves that I couldn’t see. When you step on a skunk cabbage spathe they squeak, much like a head of cabbage does sometimes when you cut into it, and that’s how I knew I had stepped on them.

Luckily, I only stepped on one or two and didn’t damage them too badly. In any event the spathe isn’t quite as critical as the spadix, which is the pinkish thing that carries the tiny flowers seen here. The spadix is what, through a process called thermogenesis, can raise the temperature of the plant to as much as 70 degrees F. inside the spathe, thereby attracting insects to the tiny flowers, which on this day were already producing pollen. To a cold, hungry insect it is a nice warm cave that serves food. Though this plant’s roots are poisonous and the leaves can cause burning in the mouth Native Americans new how to prepare it, and used skunk cabbage medicinally. I’ve read that they also used the roots as an underarm deodorant, though I’m not sure just how that might have worked. In the 1800s medicine made from the plant was sold as a cure all, most likely by traveling salesman.

Spring in the world! And all things are made new! ~Richard Hovey

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Last weekend I went looking for signs of spring again and this thin ice sign was one of those I found. Thin ice at this time of year is a good sign if you happen to be a spring lover. The town puts them up in fall as the ice starts to form, then takes them down for the winter and puts them up again in spring when it starts to thaw. It’s good to pay attention to them; there have been photos in the local newspaper of plow trucks sitting in water up to their windows after going through this ice.

The ice was pulling back from shore so you wouldn’t catch me skating on it.

The willows are really coming along now. The soft gray catkins could be seen everywhere on this day.

I’m not seeing any yellow in them yet though, so it will be maybe a week or two before they flower.

I did see lots of pinecone galls on the willows. This gall appears at the branch tips and is caused by a midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laying eggs on them. Once the eggs hatch the larva burrow into the branch tip and the plant reacts by forming a gall around them. They aren’t very big but are very noticeable at this time of year. Galls and the insects that cause them, and the reactions of the various plants they appear on is a fascinating subject but they always lead me to two questions: how and why?

Hazelnut catkins are continuing their spring color change over to gold from green. I usually see the tiny scarlet female flowers in April but I have a feeling they might come a little earlier this year.  

This might look like an old pile of leaves but it is actually a hellebore plant. Hellebores bloom quite early so I usually start watching them at about this time of year. Another name for them is Lenten rose, because they will often bloom during Lent.

Crocuses have appeared alongside what I think are reticulated iris, and they are growing fast. A week ago there was no sign of them. The warm weather and rain this week should give them and everything else a good boost.

Daffodils are on hold, just waiting for the silent signal. The bed they’re in needs some serious weeding.

Since these are not my gardens, I can’t be positive but I do know that hyacinths grow near the front of this bed. Unfortunately an animal had dug down and eaten many of them. I’ve seen chipmunks and squirrels but no skunks, racoons or possums yet, so I’m not sure what could have done it.

There was quite a mound of good-looking soil that had been dug up. There’s nothing like the smell of newly thawed soil in spring.

This bulb had been rejected so it might be a daffodil. Daffodils are poisonous and somehow, animals know it.

I was surprised to see tulips up. No buds yet though, just leaves.

I keep checking the trails, hoping the ice will have melted. It is melting but not very quickly. Hopefully after the warmth and rain this week they will finally be clear of ice. I’ll never forget this winter. It has been one of the iciest I can remember. Even trail reports on the radio are saying that you should bring spikes.

I went to see a Cornelian cherry to see if it had woken up yet and I was very happy to see some yellow inside the bud scales of that pea size bud on the left. It won’t be long before its small but pretty yellow flowers unfold. I’ve seen them as early as late March. Last Sunday it was 65 degrees, so we might see them in March again this year.

Magnolia buds are covered by a single hairy bud scale called a cap and when the bud inside the cap starts to swell in spring the bud scale will often split and fall off, but as can be seen here by the bare space under the bud scale, the bud seems to be pushing the cap up and off. I’ve never noticed this before, but maybe it happens regularly, I don’t know. In any event it signals that magnolia buds are beginning to stir.

I took a look at the big horse chestnut buds. They’re easy to see but not so easy to get a photo of because they’re up over my head. Beautiful flowers will appear out of these buds in mid to late May.

Since most people have probably never seen a red horse chestnut blossom (Aesculus × carnea,) here is a not very technically good photo of what they look like. The tree is a cross between the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum.) I’ve read that bees and hummingbirds love the beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

After visiting the horse chestnut, I thought I’d wander over to the big old red maple. There still wasn’t a lot going on in its buds but they bloom in March so it won’t be long. Maybe it will be a sudden awakening. Speaking of sudden awakenings, I heard the first red wing blackbird today. If that isn’t a sign of spring then I don’t know what is. Soon the spring peepers will add their trills to the chorus.

Johnny jump ups were still blooming, even though they had been covered by snow for a week. I might apply for a part time job at the local college. That’s where some of the beds you see in these photos are located and they’re so full of weeds I’m almost embarrassed to show them. Maybe they would welcome a part time weeder. This bed is full of spring bulbs so it should be weeded before they come up.

I went to see the skunk cabbages, hoping that the spathes had opened so I could get a shot of the spadix with its strange little flowers, but they weren’t quite ready. You can just see a crack opening on the lower rights side of the bulbous part of this spathe but it’s nowhere near open enough to get my lens in. Maybe next week. I’d better bring something to kneel on though because the swampy ground had thawed and water filled every footstep.

The spring blooming witch hazels were in full bloom and I wanted you to see this one because of the translucence of the petals. Having to get so close to them to get a photo meant that I was awash in their wonderful fragrance. I find it impossible to describe but other have likened it to fresh laundry just taken down from the clothes line.

This witch hazel couldn’t have bloomed any more than it was. It had nice color too.

I chose this photo so you could see the different stages of a witch hazel bloom. On the upper right the petals are just emerging, and below that they are about half way unfurled. Finally in the center the flowers have fully opened. I’ve discovered this year that this can happen very fast. There are 4 or 5 different varieties in this group and as I wandered among them taking photos by the time I got back to where I had started many more flowers had opened on that first shrub I looked at. This was in the space of maybe 15-25 minutes.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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We’ve had two or three warm days in the mid 50s F. and the ice that has covered everything is finally starting to melt. The ice is everywhere you go and it has kept me from climbing, and even off the trails. Even with spikes on it is difficult to negotiate so I went to a small pond where I thought most of the ice would be on the pond where it belongs.  

I was wrong. There was ice covering the land as well so I had to think about each step and plan my route. If you’re traveling very far it can be exhausting but fortunately I move at a toddler’s pace so I can see the wonders.

Despite the ice I was able to get to the pond and I saw that the ice on it was melting. It was like a booster shot of joy into my arm.

Another shot came when I looked up at all the buds on a big red maple.

And the willows that showed their soft catkins.

There were lots of sensitive fern spore bearing fronds here and they, along with the willows and the big red maple told me that I was in a damp, or even wet place. All three plants like lots of water.

I love to see the color of last year’s grasses against the white snow but even there, there was ice.

This shot is for those who have never seen how a white or gray birch changes from brown to white. It’s always kind of a ragged looking process. White and gray birches can split easily in what are often extreme temperature changes in winter, where the outer bark warms or cools faster than the inner wood. A tree can tear itself apart with the stresses, so the relatively weak white colored birches use the color to reflect, rather than absorb sunlight. By doing so they’re less prone to frost cracks.

I ran into a blackberry, which is always a memorable experience. At least until your torn flesh heals.

What, I’m wondering, is going on with the mallards? A few days before this encounter mallards just stood and ignored me as if they didn’t see me, even though I was just feet away, and on this day these two swam toward me as fast as their webbed feet would take them and then just sat, as if expecting me to do something. This is very odd behavior for New Hampshire mallards, which are usually so skittish they have flown or paddled away long before you can get near them. They must be from the city where people feed them bread. That’s the only answer I can come up with.

The male just swam in circles as if waiting impatiently.

And his lovely mate just sat in a state of bliss while I took her portrait. I hope they learned from the experience that not all humans mean to harm them. I hope they also learned that not all humans walk around with a pocket full of bread.

The mallards were in the sheltered outflow of the pond, which had already thawed. Out here near the frozen pond itself the wind tore through the place with enough force to blow even the tough cattails back and forth. I’m surprised this shot came out at all because that wooly head was all over the place when I snapped the shutter. I think the wind was actually blowing the fluffy seeds right off the plant, which is part of The Plan.

Another plant that relies on the wind is the vine called virgin’s bower, which is a wild clematis also called traveler’s joy or woodbine. Its tadpole like seeds have long, feathery tails (styles) which the wind catches and blows to a new growing spot. I know that it’s a successful strategy because I see this plant wherever I go.

The long feathery style attaches the female stigma to the ovary. Once pollen finds the stigma a pollen tube grows down through the style to fertilize the eggs in the ovary, which is where the seeds form. I’ve looked at these seed heads a thousand times since I was a boy and I’ve never seen the finger like growths that show here. Are they what is left of the pollen tubes? It will take someone more knowledgeable in botany than I am to answer that question, but it any event they were small enough to be almost microscopic, and I’d guess that’s why I’ve never seen them.

I stopped to admire some tongue galls on these alder cones (strobiles.) These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host. I do wish I knew how they benefited from growing in such unusual forms. Maybe to present more surface area to the wind?

Under the alder were all of last year’s leaves. Once they begin to decompose, they will become compost that feeds the plant they came from.

There were lots of galls on the goldenrods out here. This type of gall, called an apple gall, is caused when a tiny fly lays its eggs on the plant. When they hatch the gall fly larvae (Eurosta solidaginis) eat holes into the plant’s stem, and this makes the goldenrod grow a ball shaped gall around them. The larva will start to produce an antifreeze in its blood in the fall and will grow inside the gall all winter. These galls have thick walls to discourage wasps and birds from reaching the larva, but I have seen birds, including chickadees, pecking their way into the center.

Here was a double gall, which I don’t see that often.

This pretty lichen grew on a fallen tree. I believe it is one of the sunburst lichens (Xanthomendoza.) One of the best places to go to study nature is near water because water is so important to all life. Many lichens for instance, like high the humidity found near water. You will find a good cross section of all the various forms of life that live in an area near water, even by a small pond like this one, and that is why most of the posts found on this blog have water in some form in them. It is of course also a great place for children to start exploring nature.

When you gaze out on a quiet, peaceful meadow, next to a still pond, under a motionless blue sky, you wonder how the noisy, busy cacophony of life could have arisen from such silent, motionless beginning.
~ Anonymous

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Have you ever gone outside on a spring morning and found the day so beautiful you wanted to throw out your arms and shout thank you? That’s what this day started like, with a beautiful blue sky and wall to wall sunshine. And with all of the red maples so full of red buds; I knew I had to go and find some flowers.

But it was still a little cool and I was afraid most flowers wouldn’t have opened yet, so I went to the river. I found ice baubles had grown over night on the shrubs that line the riverbank, so it had gotten colder than I thought.

The ice baubles form when river water splashes onto a twig or anything else and freezes. Slowly, splash by splash often a round ice ball will form. They’re usually as clear as crystal but these seemed to have a lot of bubbles in them.

There were waves on the river so I thought I’d practice catching one with my camera. I don’t use burst mode; when each wave comes I click the shutter, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds because there can be three or four small waves between big ones, so you have to sync yourself to the rhythm of the river. Sometimes you get a miss like this shot was. Just a bit too early for a really good curl but I love the colors.

And sometimes you’re a little too late. I find that there are times when I can “give myself” to the river and get shot after shot of breaking waves. I can’t really describe what giving myself to the river is, but your mind clears and you shoot each wave almost without really trying. I sometimes call it stepping out of myself or losing myself, and it’s always wonderful when it happens. You find that you can do things you didn’t know you could do, like reading waves.

As I was leaving the river I saw a bit of ice in a depression in a boulder. It looked like it had a face in it. Was it an elf? It was wearing a stocking cap, whatever it was.

Wildflowers are coming along and I saw my first dandelion. Since I found one blooming in February last year I’ve now seen dandelions blooming in every month of the year. Believe it or not I have more trouble finding them in summer these days than I do in the colder months. I know many people think of dandelions as weeds but to me all flowers are beautiful and there’s nothing cheerier than a field of dandelion blossoms in March. In fact one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen was a field of dandelions and violets all blooming together. My grandmother used to cook dandelion greens like spinach for me, so I suppose they’re part of me.

I also saw henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) blooming. Henbit gets its common name from the way chickens peck at it. The plant is in the mint family and apparently chickens like it. The amplexicaule part of the scientific name means “clasping” and describes the way the hairy leaves clasp the stem. The plant is a very early bloomer and blooms throughout winter in warmer areas. It’s from Europe and Asia, but I can’t say that it’s invasive because I rarely see it. I’ve read that the leaves, stem, and flowers are edible and have a slightly sweet and peppery flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Here is what the foliage of henbit looks like for those who have never seen it. I find growing along with ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which the foliage resembles in shape but not in habit. Henbit stands taller than ground ivy and the leaves are a different shade of green in early spring. Those of ground ivy lean more toward dark purple in early spring.

I also saw what I think were some very crinkly hollyhock leaves. I don’t know if they appear very early or if they live under the snow all winter.

We who live in New England have a fifth season called “mud season” and it is upon us now. Sometimes it can really be brutal; in the old days schools were often closed for a month because of it.

Here is a view, courtesy of the Cheshire County Historical Society, of what mud season can do. This was taken in Westmoreland, New Hampshire sometime in the 1940s. Gravel roads become a sea of mud and very little in the way of motorized transport can get through it. It begins when the upper foot or two of soil thaws but anything under that stays frozen. Water can’t penetrate the frozen soil so it sits on top of it, mixing with the thawed soil and making dirt roads a muddy quagmire. It’s like quicksand and it’s hellish trying to drive through it because you’re usually stuck in it before you realize how deep it is.

Snowdrops were living up to their name up in Hancock where there is still snow. When I was gardening professionally not a single client grew snowdrops and as far as I know nobody in my family did either, so I don’t know them well. I do know that they’re scarce in this area; I see small clumps of 4 or 5 flowers here and there every spring but not the huge drifts of them that I’ve seen online. They simply don’t seem to like it here and that could be because they aren’t used to our kind of below zero cold. I’ve read that they’re in the amaryllis family so maybe that’s why.  

I went to see the budded daffodils that I saw last week. I was sure they’d be blooming but not yet. We’ve had a coolish week so maybe they’re waiting for that silent signal. I have a feeling these will be white daffodils because of the bud shape. Of course they might not open at all; I once worked for an English lady who complained about bud blast in her white daffodils. Most springs they would start to open and then, just as they were showing a little color they would die off. Either a freeze or a hot spell can cause it and these have been through both. White varieties appear to be much more susceptible to bud blast than the yellows.

Tulips are growing fast. These had doubled in size in a week.

One of my favorite spring bulbs, the reticulated iris, doesn’t seem to be doing well this year. Or maybe they’re just Petering out. I’ve never grown any myself but I’ve heard they just fade out after awhile.

I went to see if the skunk cabbages were showing any foliage growth yet but didn’t see a single leaf. The ground had thawed in their swamp so rather than kneel down it wet mud I sat on a hummock beside them to get this shot with my phone. I thought about that silent signal as I sat there; the one that calls the red winged blackbirds back and makes the spring peepers peep and the turtles come up out of the mud. It’s doubtful that the signal is heard by the critters, I thought, so it must be felt. But if that is so, why can’t I feel it? But then I thought about how I wanted to throw out my arms and shout my joy that morning and wondered if maybe I did feel it and just didn’t know it. The things that come to mind when you’re sitting on a hummock in a swamp.

I would have bet breakfast that the willows would be in bloom but they held back like the daffodils. In fact many things are holding back but this week is supposed to be in the 50s and 60s, so that should coax all the plants that haven’t dared to dip their toes into spring to finally jump in with a splash.

The violas were still blooming just the way they were a week previous, so the weather doesn’t bother them at all. The pansy family is made up of cool weather lovers anyhow, so I wasn’t surprised.

The witch hazels were still going strong too. What a glorious fragrance!

Crocuses certainly aren’t holding back. Blue (purple?) ones have joined the yellows I saw last week. The gardener is going to wish he’d raked those leaves before the flowers came up. Now he or she is going to have to hand pick them.

This one is certainly purple, and very beautiful as well. The first crocuses of the year just do something to you. They let you know that yes, spring really is here despite the forecast.

These crocuses grow under redbud trees and don’t see sunlight until the afternoon so they hadn’t opened yet. I was disappointed until I saw how beautiful the unopened blossoms were, and then I didn’t care. How lucky we are to have such beauty in our lives. And everywhere you look, too. It really is a wonder we can get anything done.

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! ~Sitting Bull

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Last Sunday I decided to go looking for the tiny female flowers of the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), and I could think of no better place to find them than a rail trail. They usually grow all along rail trails and I knew I wouldn’t have to look very hard to find them on this trail in Keene.

Part of the trail was muddy, I was surprised to see.

But other parts were icy. Packed down snow from lots of foot traffic turns to ice quickly.

But luckily I had my micro spikes on. I once slid down an icy hillside with Yaktrax on, so I switched to micro spikes at a friend’s prodding. You don’t slip with these on, so if you’re a winter hiker you might want to look into them.

I found the hazelnuts easily. Some of the male catkins were deformed like these, which seems common, but they had taken on a look of more yellow than green and were getting pliable, so I was encouraged that they knew spring was happening.

I looked at hazelnut branches until my eyes crossed but I couldn’t find a single bud with female blossoms. This photo from a previous year shows the female flowers in relation to a paperclip so you can see how small they really are. I’m not sure why they aren’t blooming yet. I’ve seen skunk cabbages flowering and that’s usually a sign that the hazels are too. Oh well, when they’re ready I’ll find them. I’m sure they know what they’re doing better than I do.

Small white, downy feathers fluttered in the breeze on one of the hazel stems.

Hazels will quite often hang onto their leaves well into winter but this was the only one I saw on this day. It was a warm, orangey brown but it didn’t do much to warm me in the wind that always seems to blow along this trail. It comes out of the west and it howls sometimes.

I looked off to the west and saw, miles away, that there was still snow on the hillsides. The wind comes roaring over these hills sometimes so maybe that’s why the wind I was in felt cold. I’m not sure why this photo came out so strangely colored. Maybe there was a haze I couldn’t see.

I saw three large animal burrows that had been freshly dug but this was the only one I could get close to. Judging by the large mound of soil this one was deep.

The side view shows the soil mound a little better. I was surprised to see that it was really nothing but sand; I wouldn’t have thought the railroad would have used sand as a rail bed. These holes were big enough to be woodchuck holes. Since woodchucks are burrowing animals and are common here I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. I tried to find tracks but saw none.

The other two burrows were well protected by multiflora rose canes so I couldn’t get near them without shredding my clothes.

One of our Covid vaccination sites is near this trail and I saw this big army truck over across the way, so the shots are probably being administered by National Guard volunteers. It seemed to be parked so it would block the road. My turn comes soon so I’ll find out.

Last year I came out here and was surprised to find hundreds of willows, so I thought I’d check them for catkins. Though many of our willows are golden yellow these were very red.

Willows play host to many galls and if you like galls this is the time of year to look for them. This one was caused by a tiny midge called the willow beaked gall midge (Rabdophaga rididae). The gall started life as a bud until the midge caused the tissues to form a hard gall instead. These galls often come to a point which looks like a beak, hence the name. This one shows how red this particular species of willow is.

Here was another pretty gall that forms on the very tip of willow branches. It’s called a terminal rosette gall, which is also known as a camellia or rose gall. It is caused by another midge (Rabdophaga rosaria) which turns the terminal bud into what looks like a beautiful flower. This midge will choose any of at least 6 different species of willow so it’s hard to identify the willow by the gall. In fact willows are notoriously hard to identify because they cross breed so readily. As Henry David Thoreau said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused.”

Gray, furry willow pine cone galls appear on the very tips of willow branches, because that’s where a midge called (Rabdophaga strobiloides) lays its egg. Once the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into the branch tip and the willow reacts by forming a gall around them. These galls are about as big as the tip of your thumb. Galls might seem unsightly but they do not harm the plant.

I saw two or three small bird’s nests in the willows. I would think the birds would eat the midges that cause the galls but I don’t suppose they can catch them all. This nest appeared to be made mostly of grasses.

Young poplars were glowing in the sunshine and dancing in the wind. The poplars and the willows will be forever young because the power company cuts them to the ground every few years.

Soon these willow catkins will be bright yellow flowers. Since last Sunday when I took these photos we’ve had a week of record breaking warmth so they may even be blooming today. I’ll have to go and see. I hope you’ll see flowers in your travels too; I think we all need some flowers.

The snow in winter, the flowers in spring. There is no deeper reality. ~Marty Rubin

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Last week we had enough warm days to melt just about all the snow and then we had a rainy day on top of it, so the Ashuelot river was filled nearly to bankful. The word “Ashuelot” is pronounced Ash-will-ot if you’re from this area or Ash-wee-lot if you’re from away. The word is a Native American one meaning “collection of many waters,” and that’s exactly what it is; in Keene and surrounding towns all the streams and tributaries empty into this river, so it can fill quite fast.

I was able to practice my wave catching skills at the river in Swanzey. Nothing teaches you that a river has a rhythm more than trying to catch a curling wave in the viewfinder of a camera. The trick is to match your rhythm to the river’s. Too fast or slow with the shutter release and you’ve missed it.  

Blueberry buds are swelling and the bud scales are starting to pull back a little but it will be a while before we see leaves on them. Blueberries are everywhere you look here and many birds and animals (and humans) rely on a good crop each year. Most years nobody is disappointed. Native Americans called blueberries “star berries” and used them medicinally, spiritually, and as food. One of their favorite uses for them was in a pudding made of dried blueberries and cornmeal.

This is the first time an annual chickweed has appeared on this blog in March but some varieties of the plant are said to be nearly evergreen in milder climates, and we’ve had a mild winter. I think this one is Common chickweed (Stellaria media,) a very pretty little thing to see in March. And it was little; this blossom could easily hide behind a pea. I’ve read that chickweed is edible and is said to be far more nutritious than cultivated lettuce.

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has suddenly appeared here and there but I’m not seeing a lot of blossoms just yet. Soon I’ll be seeing flowers by the hundreds in some places. It’s a pretty little thing which can also be invasive, but nobody really seems to care.

I thought I saw a lot of frog eggs in this small pond but I couldn’t get a good shot of them. I left the photo in anyway though, because I liked the colors and because I wanted to tell you that spring peepers, the tiny frog with a loud voice, have started to sing. I heard them just the other day and it was a very welcome song.

There is yellow hidden in the willow catkins and I’m guessing that I’ll see flowers this weekend.

There just happened to be a poplar tree beside the willow and it too displayed its fuzzy catkins.

Red maples (Acer rubrum) have responded to the warm temperatures in a big way and though last week I saw a blossom here and there, this week I’m seeing them everywhere. This photo is of the sticky, thread like female stigmas that catch the pollen from male trees. Soon they will become seeds; many millions of them.

Last week I saw no male red maple blossoms but this week I saw thousands, and many were already producing pollen. This usually happens in mid-April, so this year they’re about a month early.

Virtually every part of the beautiful red maple tree is red, including the male stamens.

Male and female red maple flowers often grow on the same tree but this is only the second time I’ve ever seen them grow out of the same bud cluster as these were doing. Just when you think you have nature all figured out it throws you a curve ball.

Last week I looked at this spot and didn’t see a single sign of reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) but this week there was a basket full of them. What a beautiful color. They are also called netted iris; the “reticulata” part of the scientific name  means “netted” or “reticulated,”  and refers to the netted pattern found on the bulbs.

Each petal wore a pretty little badge. If I understand what I’ve read correctly reticulated iris flowers are always purple, yellow and white, but the purple can be in many shades that vary considerably.

But here was a very pretty little reticulated iris that looked blue to me and in fact my color finding software sees several shades of blue. Apparently this plant didn’t read what I read about them always being shades of purple.

I saw a different vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis,) much wilder looking than most of the restrained blossoms I see in spring. Quite often plant breeders have to sacrifice something when they breed for larger or more colorful blossoms, and often what is sacrificed is scent. I think that was the case with this plant because its scent was very weak. Many vernal witch hazels have a scent strong enough to be detected from a block away.

Hundreds of crocuses bloomed in one of my favorite color combinations.

Oh to be a bee, just for a day.

The fuzzy bud scales of magnolias are opening, revealing the buds within. Though the flowers of this one are white its buds are yellow.

American hazelnut catkins (Corylus americana) have taken on their beautiful golden spring color but the tiny male flowers aren’t showing quite yet. The catkins have lengthened and have become soft and pliable in the breeze though, so It won’t be long.

Tiny little female American hazelnut flowers are all over the bushes now so it looks like we’ll have a good crop of hazelnuts again this year. Native Americans used these nuts to flavor soups and also ground them into flour. In Scotland in 1995 a large shallow pit full of burned hazelnut shells was discovered. It was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so we’ve been eating these nuts for a very long time.

Yes that’s a dandelion. A lowly, hated weed to some but in March, to me it is as beautiful as any other flower I’ve seen. I hope you can see the beauty in it too.

The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Spring is happening but very slowly. We just had a week with nighttime temps in the teens F. and days that hardly reached 40 degrees. This is slowing the sap flow down, according to the maple syrup producers, and it’s looking like a poor year for the industry. This farmer used traditional sap buckets to gather his sap but many have switched over to plastic tubing that runs from tree to tree and then into a large holding tank. Squirrels love sweet maple sap and will nick maple bark with their teeth and then lick it up, but they’ve discovered that chewing a hole in the plastic tubing is easier and the sap flows better, so they’re doing that instead. Because the sap is drawn through the tubing by a vacuum pump even a small hole in it causes the entire system to stop flowing. That means the farmer has to walk miles of tubing to find and patch the hole, so I’m guessing that we can expect the price of maple syrup to go up. It’s about $70.00 per gallon now. I’m also guessing that more sap gatherers will return to the old ways and hang buckets again.

The syrup farmers don’t have much time because once the trees start blossoming the sap turns bitter, and sugar maples usually flower around the second week of April.  This cluster of red maple buds (Acer rubrum) had a few opening. You can see one just above and to the right of the center of the bud group. It looks like there might be female flowers inside.

Native Americans used to also tap another member of the maple family for its sap: box elder (Acer negundo.) The twigs and buds of this tree are pruinose, which means they’re covered with white, waxy, powdery granules that reflect light in ways that often makes their surfaces appear blue. It doesn’t look like these buds have started swelling yet but they will soon. Its flowers are very beautiful and I enjoy seeing them in spring. The earliest example of a Native American flute, from 620-670 AD, was made from the wood of this tree.

I thought for sure I’d see the yellow flowers of willows appearing through the gray catkins this week but the cool weather must have held them back.

The catkins of the white poplar (Populus alba) are gray and fuzzy much like willow catkins. They grow to 3 or 4 inches long and fall from the trees in great numbers. This tree was imported from Europe in 1748 and liked it here enough to now grow in almost every state. Soon their fluffy seeds will be floating on the wind.

I saw a flock of robins throwing leaves around in the forest litter, probably hoping worms or insects were hiding beneath them. One spring I had a robin land right beside me and do the same, but these birds were skittish. These are the first robins I’ve seen in many months.

There were starlings doing the leaf flipping trick along with the robins but I couldn’t get a very good photo of them because they were even more skittish than the robins.

I went to the swamp where skunk cabbages grow and saw a pair of mallards swimming away as fast as they could go. At least I think they were mallards; I’m not good with bird identification.

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are fully up now and many have opened the split in their splotchy spathes to let in insects. You wouldn’t think there would be many insects out in this weather but I’ve seen many this year on warmer days.

You can just see the round spadix with its many stubby flowers through the slit in this spathe. Photos like this one are hard to get; you’d better be prepared to get your knees wet if you want to try.

The spadix of a skunk cabbage is a one inch diameter pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but they do have four sepals. The male stamens grow up through the sepals and release their pollen before the female style and pistil grow out of the flower’s center to catch any pollen that insects bring in from other plants. The spadix is what carries most of the skunk like odor at this point and it is thought by some that the plant uses the odor to attract flies and other insects that might pollinate it. These tiny blossoms can produce large amounts of pollen and sometimes the inside of the spadix is covered in it.

Alder catkins have started to take on quite a lot of color, as the one on the right shows. They swell up and lengthen as the season progresses and the colors change to maroon and yellow-green. They sparkle in the sunlight and make the bushes look like someone has hung jewels from the branches. When they are fully opened and the tiny male blossoms start to release pollen I’ll look for the even smaller female flowers, which look like tiny threads of scarlet red. You can just see three of the much smaller female catkins at the very top of this photo.

I saw a strangely shaped cloud. I’ve never seen another like it and can’t even guess why it had that shape. Maybe it was a good luck horseshoe.

Vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) still bloom and perfume the air with their wonderful, clean fragrance. Their strap like petals can curl up into the bud if it gets cold and then unfurl again on warm days, so you don’t see too many that have been frost bitten. These ones have withstood temperatures as low as 15 degrees F.

The “Hamamelis” part of witch hazel’s scientific name means “together with fruit” and speaks to witch hazels being the only tree in North America which has flowers, fruit, and buds all at the same time. Though the seed pod has opened you can see in this photo how all three can appear at once; past, present and future all on one branch. The “witch” part of witch hazel comes from the Anglo Saxon word that means “to bend,” and refers to the way the branches can bend without breaking. These branches were used by the early settlers in water witching (dowsing) to find underground water.

I had to go back 3 times to do it but I finally caught these crocus blossoms fully opened. If it’s the least bit cool or cloudy they refuse to open but I was more stubborn than they were and refused to give up.

These were my favorites. How pretty is that after 5 months of winter?

There’s nothing quite like the sight and smell of green grass in spring. All thoughts of winter immediately just fly out the window.

Do you see what looks like a tiny white butterfly just to the right and just above center in this photo?

It’s a winter cress blossom; the first I’ve seen this spring. Cress is in a huge family of plants known as Brassicaceae with 150 or more species but I think this plant might be hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta,) which is a common weed that stays green under the snow all winter and blooms as soon as it melts. Its tiny flowers are about the size of Abraham Lincoln’s head on a penny. Seed pods appear quickly on this plant and explode if touched or walked on, flinging the tiny seeds up to three feet away. Each plant can throw as many as 1000 seeds so if this plant is in your yard, you should probably just learn to enjoy it.

There was something I was hoping to see; the first dandelion blossom.

At this time of year not even an orchid blossom could please me more. It looked as if it were only half awake; shaking off its long winter sleep and thinking about getting down to the business of making seeds. I haven’t seen a bee yet but I have seen quite a few smaller insects flying about.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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Last weekend (before our latest snowstorm) I decided to look for signs of spring. What follows is some of what I found.

 1. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I started my search in a low, swampy area where hundreds of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) plants grow. The plant smells just like its name suggests and I could smell them as I tiptoed through the snow, trying not to step on them.

 2. Skunk Cabbage

I saw signs of life. Skunk cabbages are one of the earliest spring plants, and through a process called thermogenesis are able to generate temperatures far higher than the surrounding air. You can often see evidence of skunk cabbage having melted its way through several inches of solid ice.

 3. Skunk Cabbage

The maroon thing with yellow-green splotches that looks like a tongue in the lower right corner is this year’s skunk cabbage flower (spathe), just starting to poke up out of the soil.

 4. Script Lichen aka Graphis alboscripta 

Script lichen (Graphis scripta) doesn’t have anything to do with spring except to remind me that soon it will be much harder to find lichens because of foliage.  Script lichen grows on tree bark and is seems to be quite rare here. I’ve only seen two examples in my lifetime, but a lot of that could be because I forget to look for them.  The dark lines that look like some type of strange cuneiform writing are the apothecia, or fruiting bodies of this crustose lichen. These were much larger on this example than on the other one that I found.

 5. Shagbark Hickory Bud 

The terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) are quite large and can fool you into thinking that they are swelling because of spring sap flow but no, they are this way all winter. We have to have several sunny days above freezing to trigger sap flow, so it’ll be awhile yet before buds really start to swell.

6. Hazelnut

I loved all the movement and texture in these American hazelnut seed pods. Hazelnuts (Corylus Americana) are usually snapped up quickly by bears, squirrels and other animals but in this spot I could have collected pockets full of them. It makes me wonder why the animals aren’t eating them.

 7. Hazelnuts

The tasty hazelnuts are also called filberts. Each one is about as big in diameter as an M&M candy. It’s strange to see them this late in the year.

 8. Marginal Wood Fern Sori

Native evergreen marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) gets its common name from the way its spore cases or fruit dots (sori) grow on the margins of the leaflets (pinnules). These ferns grow new sori on fertile fronds each spring and release their spores in July and August. The sori are no bigger than a match head.

9. Marginal Wood Fern Sori Closeup

On marginal wood fern the sporangia inside the spore cases are covered by a membranous cover called an indusium or fruit cover. When the sporangia are ripe they push this cover off so the tiny, dust like spores can be released.  This only happens on a dry day when there is a dry breeze so the spores might be carried as far from the parent plant as possible. Some ferns, like polypody (Polypodium vulgare), lack indusia and have naked spore cases.  The fiddleheads of this fern are covered with golden brown scales and are among the first to appear in spring.

 10. Tinder Fungus aka Fomes fomentarius

This example of a tinder polypore (Fomes fomentarius), also called horse hoof fungus, looked ancient but probably isn’t that old. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that as many as 800 million can be produced in a single hour. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by none other than the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BCE).

11. Frullania Liverwort

If you see a tree with what looks like fine, lacy, brown or purplish spots all over its trunk a closer look might show the spots to be Frullania eboracensis liverworts. This is the only liverwort in this region that can stand a dry environment. It is considered a northern species and is quite common here. I find it on maples and oaks. Though the one in the photo is dime sized they can get to the size of a grapefruit.

12. Frullania Liverwort

Frullania eboracensis liverworts are considered leafy liverworts. The above photo shows how the almost microscopic, zipper like, zig zagging leaves overlap. Not seen are the sac like lobes on their undersides. The leaves radiate outward from a central point and become very dark in winter, lightening as the air temperature warms. Quite a few lighter colored ones can be seen here, so maybe they feel spring in the air.

13. Willow Catkins

Last time I visited this willow it had one catkin showing, but on this day there were many. I haven’t been able to figure out which willow it is yet, but its catkins are quite small. Male catkins appear much earlier than female catkins, so there’s a good chance that these are male.

Spring might seem like it’s far off but if you go by nature rather than the calendar, you can see it happening right now.

Even in the winter, in the midst of the storm, the sun is still there.  Somewhere above the clouds, it still shines and warms and pulls at the life buried deep inside the brown branches and frozen earth. ~Gloria Gaither

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