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Posts Tagged ‘Willow Pine Cone Gall’

So many more of the smaller things become visible when the leaves fall, like the tongue gall 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 wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

I didn’t know if this ladybug was dead or alive or maybe frozen, but it wasn’t moving. And where were its spots? The answer is, it doesn’t have spots because it isn’t our native ladybug; it’s a female multicolored Asian ladybug. From what I’ve read it is highly variable in color and was purposely introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a biological control agent. It is a tree bark dwelling beetle that consumes large amounts of aphids and scale, both of which do large amounts of damage to crops. They’re slightly larger than our native beetles and can drive homeowners crazy by collecting on windowsills, in attics, and even indoors in the spring. They can release a foul smelling defensive chemical which some are said to be allergic to.

We’ve had more snow in parts of the state. It’s very odd to leave my yard at my house that has no snow in it and drive to work where I see snow like this. It’s only a distance of about 25 miles, but it’s enough of an elevation change to cause cooler temperatures. It really drives home what a difference just a few degrees can make.

I thought this beech tree was beautiful, with its Christmas ornament like leaves.

And what was that poking up out of the snow?

It was a fallen limb which was covered by what I think was orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum,) which is very common here. I see large fallen limbs almost completely covered by it. Though this isn’t a very good shot of it the color is so bright sometimes it’s like a beacon in the snowy landscape. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself”  and that is often just what it does.

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) grew on the same branch the orange crust fungus grew on. I like holding these up so the light can shine through them because sometimes they look like stained glass. Being in the snow meant these examples had absorbed plenty of water so they were pliable and rubbery, like your ear lobe. I see this fungus everywhere, especially on fallen oak limbs but also on alder and poplar as well.

I decided to visit a grove of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) that I know of to see if they were still blooming. Blooming or not, they were beautiful with all of the newly fallen snow decorating them.

And they were still blooming, even in the snow. This tells me that it must be the air temperature that coaxes them into bloom because it was about 40 degrees this day.

I know it’s far too early to be looking at buds for signs of spring but red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) buds are so pretty I couldn’t help myself. I’ve known people who thought that buds grew in spring when it warmed up, but most buds actually form in the fall and wait  for warm weather to swell up and break and form leaves and / or flowers. These buds should break in mid-May, if it’s warm enough.

I’ve seen some unusual lichens lately, like this grayish white example which had the same color apothecia (fruiting bodies) as the body (Thallus.)  This made them hard to see and I only saw them by accident when I got close to look at something else.

I wish I knew what caused the colors in a lichen. As far as we know they don’t use color to attract insects but many of them are brightly colored nevertheless. I have seen teeth marks in lichens so I’m fairly sure squirrels eat them and I know for sure that reindeer eat them, but I don’t know if this helps them spread or not. I also don’t know the identity of this lichen. I haven’t been able to find it in any of my lichen books or online.

Here’s another unusual lichen; actually two lichens separated by the nearly horizontal crack between them. The lichen on top might be a bumpy rim lichen (Lecanora hybocarpa,) which gets its name from its bumpy body (Thallus) and the rims around its apothecia.  The lichen below the crack has me baffled. It has a fringe around its perimeter that makes it look like a maple dust lichen but I can’t find any reference to apothecia on a maple dust lichen. It’s another mystery to add to the thousands of others I’ve collected.

Here is a true maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Note the white fringe around its outer edge, much like the lichen in the previous photo.  But unlike the previous lichen it has no visible fruiting bodies.

If you have ever tasted gin then you’ve tasted juniper berries, because that’s where gin’s flavor comes from. The unripe green berries are used for gin and the ripe, deep purple black berries seen here are ground to be used as a spice for game like deer and bear. The berries are actually fleshy seed cones and they appear blue because of a waxy coating that reflects the light in such a way as to make them appear blue. The first recorded usage of juniper berries appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used the fruit of junipers medicinally and Native Americans used them both as food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated.

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 and do not harm the plant.

A woodpecker, chickadee, or other bird started pecking at this goldenrod gall to get at the gall fly larva (Eurosta solidaginis) that is growing inside the gall. These galls have thick walls that discourage parasitic wasps like Eurytoma gigantean from laying its eggs inside the larval chamber. If successful the wasp larva quickly eat the gall fly larva. If the bird is successful then everything inside will be eaten.

We’re certainly having some beautiful sunrises lately, probably because of the low cloud deck we seem to have almost every morning.

And those low clouds can hide things, including mountains. Off to the left in this photo is the huge bulk of Mount Monadnock behind the clouds. It’s too bad it was hidden; the bright morning sunshine on its snowy flanks tells me it probably would have been a beautiful scene.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

Thanks for coming by.

 

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We haven’t been seeing a lot of sunshine yet this year but I did see a bit of it caught in the Ashuelot River recently.

By the time I pointed the camera at the sky though, it was gone.

We’ve seen slightly above average snowfall for the season and to show you how deep it is now I took a shot of this fire hydrant, which actually should have been shoveled out in case of fire. Anyhow, the snow is melting again now and by the time you see this quite a lot of it should be gone.

The weather hasn’t been all snow and cold all the time. We’ve had very up and down temperatures and a few days that were warm enough to send me out looking for witch hazel, which is our latest (and earliest) blooming flower. I found some color, but it came from what looked like two or three blossoms that had lost the battle to the cold. That was probably the last chance I’ll have to see our fall blooming witch hazel flowers (Hamamelis virginiana,) but the spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be along next month.

I went to see if there was any sign of willow buds swelling but instead of seeing furry gray catkins I saw furry gray willow pine cone galls. These galls appear at the branch tips and are caused by a midge (Rabdophaga 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. The galls are about as big as the tip of a thumb.

I saw this spider indoors at work one day and took a couple of photos and then let it be. Hours later at home it felt like something was crawling on my lower leg so I stamped my foot hard and out fell a spider that looked exactly like this one. I doubt very much that a spider could have been on my leg all day without my knowing it, but I still had to wonder where and when it had decided to hitch a ride with me. It’s possible that it was in my car but that sounds doubtful too. Maybe it was right here at home and I just didn’t see it. I guess I’ll never know. I haven’t had any luck identifying it, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

A waxy coating called bloom on juniper berries reflects the light in a way that makes the deep, purple black berries appear to be a bright and beautiful blue. This waxy coating is common on fruits like blueberries, on black raspberry canes, and even on some lichens. Though the fruit is called a berry botanically speaking it is actually a seed cone with fleshy, merged scales. Birds love them and I was surprised to see them so late in the season.

Many gin drinkers don’t realize that the flavor of gin comes from the juniper plant’s berry. It is the unripe green berry that is used to make gin. The ripe berry is the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice. Whole and / or ground fruit is used on game like venison, moose, and bear meat, and man has used juniper for a very long time. The first record of usage appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used juniper medicinally and Native Americans used the fruit as both food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated. Natives also made jewelry from the seeds inside the berries.

The maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) in my yard had a single, dark purple berry left on it. I was surprised how textural it was when I saw the photo. Birds seem to love these berries and most of them go fast, but I always wonder why they leave the ones that they do. They obviously know something that I can’t fathom. The shrub is also called arrow wood and some believe that Native Americans used the straight grained wood for arrow shafts.

This is the way the rest of the maple leaf viburnum looked; picked clean.

There are plenty of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds left so the birds must be happy. I always let plants go to seed in my own yard because I don’t use bird feeders due to occasional visits from bears, and they feed a lot of birds. Speaking of bears, state biologists say the acorn crop was large enough to feed bears through the winter, so many of them aren’t hibernating. I can’t say that was wonderful news, but at least the bears aren’t starving.

The motherwort seeds (Leonurus cardiaca) have all been eaten now. A helpful reader told me that she has seen goldfinches eating the seeds of motherwort, so they must be doubly happy because they eat the coneflower seeds too. I hope one day to be able to see them doing so. They must come when I’m at work because I never see them.

I saw a young, beautifully colored hemlock varnish shelf bracket fungus (Ganoderma tsugae) growing at the base of a young hemlock tree. This mushroom has been used medicinally in China for centuries and is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese herbal medicine, including even ginseng. In China it is called the Reishi mushroom and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. The number of beneficial things growing in the world’s forests that we know nothing about must be mind boggling.

Honey mushrooms (Armillarea mellea) once grew on this tree and I know that because their long black root like structures called rhizomorphs still clung to the dead tree. Honey mushrooms are parasitic on live wood and grow long cream colored rhizomorphs between the wood and its bark. They darken to brown or black as they age, but by the time we see them the tree has died and its bark is falling off. The fungus is also called armillarea root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees. Fallen logs will often still have the black rhizomorphs attached to them.

A couple of posts ago I talked about poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and how it can grow as a shrub, creep along the ground, or climb like a vine. When the plant climbs as a vine it holds onto what it climbs with masses of roots all along the stem, but the example I showed in that post had only a few roots showing. The example above is more typical of what I see, with matted roots all along the stem. I can’t think of another vine that does this so I think it’s a good way to identify poison ivy.

It’s a good idea to leave any vine that looks like this one alone.

I saw this yellow something on the bark of a dying black cherry tree and at first thought it might be a large lichen colony, but it didn’t look quite right for lichen. I knew it wasn’t moss either, so that left one possibility: algae. A few posts ago I showed a hemlock trunk that was all red and another helpful reader helped identify it as a red algae growth, so after some research I found that there is also yellow-green algae, and this example is possibly one called Desmococcus olivaceous, which is also called Pleurococcus vulgaris.

Pleurococcus algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, and on rocks and soil and sometimes even on walls if they’re damp enough. Their closest relatives grow in lakes and rivers but they can withstand dryness. There is fossil evidence of algae colonies existing even 540 million years ago so they’ve been here much longer than we have, and they haven’t changed much in all that time.

Raccoons, so I’ve always thought, are nocturnal animals rarely seen during the day, so my first thought when I saw this one was that it might be sick. Unfortunately they can and do get rabies and it isn’t all that uncommon in this area to hear of people or pets being attacked by rabid raccoons. But this one was eating and after I thought about it I didn’t think if it were sick it would be eating with such gusto. After a little research I found that raccoons often go out in search of food and water during the daytime, especially nursing mother raccoons, usually in the spring.

From what I’ve read you can tell that a raccoon is sick because it will look sick. They’ll be lethargic and stagger when they walk and sometimes will even fall over. If they look alert and bright eyed and run and walk normally then you can be almost certain that they don’t have rabies. I saw this one walking around and it looked fine so I doubt that it was sick. I couldn’t tell if it was a mother raccoon or not but it sure was cute with its little hands looking as if it were begging for more food. For those who’ve never seen one raccoons are slightly bigger than an average house cat. Maybe a chubby house cat; males can weigh 20 pounds. I’m sorry about the quality of the photos of it. All I had for a camera when I saw it was the small point and shoot I use for macros so they aren’t great, but since they’re the only shots I’ve ever gotten of a raccoon they’ll have to do.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1. Thistle Seed Head

I wondered during our recent severe cold snap how the birds and animals were getting on. There still seems to be plenty of food for them but they use it up fast in weather that is so cold.  A group of bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) had been picked over but still had seeds in the seed heads. This European native is considered invasive here but many birds eat its seeds and a group of plants is a good place to see goldfinches and juncos. When in flower hummingbirds and bees do a lot to pollinate the plant and ensure there will be another seed crop.

2. Thistle Prickles

The leaves of the bull thistle might have passed but the many sharp spines live on. Prickles on the leaf surface are a good identifying feature of this thistle. It is also called spear thistle, for good reason.

3. Aster Seed Heads

What I think were aster seed heads had been picked clean of seeds but the bracts remained. We call them dead at this stage, but to me they are as beautiful now as they are when they’re blossoming. Goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees, evening grosbeaks, finches, titmice and other birds and small animals eat aster seeds. Native American tribes burned the flowers and leaves and used the smoke in sweat lodge ceremonies. They also had many medicinal uses for the plant and included parts of it in a smoking mixture they called kinnickkinnick.

4. Cedar Seed Cones

I’ve known about the woody seed cones on the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for a long time but I didn’t know which birds ate them until recently. Robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds and many small birds use the tree to hide in. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought it was sacred because of its many uses, and maybe it was. They showed 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier how to cure scurvy with the leaves of this tree and he was so impressed that he named it Arborvitae, which is Latin for Tree of Life. He had trees with him when he returned to Europe, and Thuja occidentalis became the first North American tree to be introduced there.

5. Cedar Seed Cone

Each individual seed cone on the northern white cedar looks as if it was carved out of wood and then polished to a satiny shine. Of course to have fruit on a plant, which is what a cone is, you first have to have a flower. This tree flowers in late May to Early June and the small green, egg shaped female flowers have blue tips on their overlapping scales. They grow in clusters and are easy to find.

6. Cattail Seeds

I solved a year old mystery when I pulled a small tuft of cattail seeds from a seed head and took a photo of it against the black of my glove. I first noticed a long white angle hair like filament with a seed on the end last year. The wind had blown it onto a lichen that grew on tree bark and at the time I thought it was a dandelion seed. Now I know it was a cattail seed. In spring after the male red winged blackbird finds a mate he will line the nest he builds from dried cattail leaves with the plant’s soft seed down.  Man must have learned something by watching the bird because the fluffy seed down was used to stuff mattresses for centuries.

7. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

I thought I’d go and visit a couple of lichen friends recently. This poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana) grows on a tree at a local shopping mall and is a favorite of mine. I’ve never seen it growing anywhere else. The odd thing about it this year is how few spore bearing apothecia it had. The apothecia are the little cup shaped objects that look like the suckers on an octopus arm and they are usually much bigger and more numerous than what are seen in this photo. Even so it’s still a very beautiful lichen.

8. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen

Scattered rock posy is another beautiful lichen that I can thank for showing me how fast lichens can grow. When I met this example it could have sat on a dime (.70 inches) but now, about 5 years later, it would take up most of the real estate of a quarter (.95 inches.) Following what I’ve seen in this example I’m guessing that it gains about an inch in diameter every 20 years, so if you found one that was five inches in diameter it would be about 100 years old. Its frilly orange pads are its apothecia, where its spores are produced. The body (thallus) of this lichen is grayish and brain like. It tends to grow in a mound.

9. Orange Wood

The two orange lichens I showed previously aren’t the only orange things I’m seeing this winter; I’m even seeing orange wood. I’m guessing this might be birch, which can sometimes have yellowish wood and reddish heartwood. What made the wood pictured so orange is a mystery. Brazilian satinwood, also called yellow heart, is orange colored but I doubt very much that pieces of it would be lying around in a New Hampshire forest.

10. Oak Leaves

And then there are orange oak leaves, but I think that they’re caused by the sun shining brightly on their normally brownish surface. I’ve also seen pink oak leaves, but I don’t think that their color has anything to do with light. I think pink is a normal for certain oaks.

11. Gouty Oak Gall

While I was admiring oak leaves I saw this gouty oak gall. I wish I’d gotten a better photo of it but at least this one shows the structure fairly well. Gouty oak gall is caused by a wasp called, not surprisingly, the gouty oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuspunctata). In spring the wasp lays its eggs in expanding plant tissue and secretes chemicals that will cause the abnormal growth seen in the photo. The gall grows quickly and once the eggs hatch the larvae feed on its tissue. It can take two years or more for the gall wasps to reach adulthood. One adult exits the gall through each hole.

12. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

13. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

This close-up of the willow pine cone gall shows its overlapping scales, which remind me of shingles. Even original ideas come from somewhere and I wonder if mankind didn’t come up with the idea for shingles by studying something like this.

14. Crab Apples

I saw a crab apple tree that was loaded with crab apples that were about an inch in diameter. I think they were probably too big for a bird to eat but I was surprised that deer and other animals hadn’t eaten them. They had hung on the tree for so long they were turning purple. Though we think the apples we’re eating are native, crab apples are really the only apples native to North America. The apples we know originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. Apples are thought to be the first cultivated tree and have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. North American apple cultivation began 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Settlers had come prepared with seeds, cuttings, and small plants from the best European stock and the trees grew well here; by the end of the 19th century 14,000 apple varieties were being grown. Many were inferior varieties and for one reason or another fell out of favor and have been lost to the ages. Today 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. and 7,500 varieties of apples are grown worldwide.

Thank you to Tim Hensley and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the article A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America, for some of the information used here.

15. Frost Crystals

It is the light that makes frost crystals appear so three dimensional even though they grow flat on glass, so if I were to try to paint them I’d  have to start with a dark canvas. Artists know that there can be no light without darkness, and wise artists know that the same is true in life.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Lady Fern

Since we aren’t having the pumpkin festival here in Keene any longer I don’t have any carved Jack O’ Lanterns to show you, but I did see a ghostly lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) on a recent walk in the woods. According to the “Fern Bulletin,” which is a quarterly publication devoted to ferns, fern reproductive systems weren’t understood until the middle of the 16th century, when fern spores were finally studied. Before that time people thought that there were male and female ferns, and that’s how the lady fern came by her common name. There are other stories about the origin of the name but this one seems the most plausible.

2. Howling Stump

How about a scary, one eyed howling stump for Halloween?  No, it wasn’t really howling but it looked like it was about to.

3. Hazel Galls

Jacqueline Donnelly from the Saratoga woods and waterways blog said that cone galls (Hormaphis hamamelidis) on witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) reminded her of tiny witch hats, and I have to agree. These galls are caused by the witch-hazel cone gall aphid. The gall is rich in nutrients and provides both food and shelter for the female aphids. For part of their life cycle these galls are bright red.

4. Willow Gall

The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

5. Turkey Tails

After seeing few turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the last couple of years this year I’m seeing them frequently, including the blue / purple ones that I’m always happy to see.  They range from tan to brown to orange, red or blue and purple. I’ve searched for a few years to find out what influenced their color and finally just read that both genetics and environment are determining factors. There are many other fungi that look like this one but the pores on its underside and the colorful banding are the two most reliable identifying characteristics for turkey tails. Turkey tails are saprobic fungi, meaning they decompose dead or decaying organic material. They cause white rot of the sapwood, so having them on a living tree is not good.

6. Blue Crust Fungus

Fungi with a resupinate or flat sheeting habit are sometimes called crust fungi. They often grow on the undersides of logs, which is where I found this blue example. Some crust fungi, like the cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) are very beautiful and also very rare. Rolling logs over can be a lot of work but can also reveal hidden and unexpected beauty.

7. Bunchberry

These bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) seemed all ready for Halloween. Seeing a forest floor carpeted in drifts of white bunchberry flowers is a delight that is hard to equal. The bright red berries that follow the flowers grow in bunches, and that gives this plant its common name. The berries are loaded with pectin and early settlers put them in puddings to add color and help them jell.

Bunchberry has also been found to be the fastest plant. According to a study done at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts “Tests have shown that the petals of the bunchberry plant’s tiny flowers can move at 22 feet per second when they open with an explosive force. The petals explode open to launch pollen an inch into the air. The pollen is ejected to 10 times the height of the small plant so that it can be carried away on the wind.”

The scientists say in Nature Magazine: “Bunchberry stamens are like miniature medieval trebuchets, specialized catapults that maximize throwing distance by having the payload [pollen in the anther] attached to the throwing arm [filament] by a hinge or flexible strap.”

8. Barberry Stump

A Japanese barberry stump (Berberis thunbergii) bleeds bright yellow. A strong, permanent yellow orange dye can be made from all parts of the barberry. From the Pioneer Thinking Newsletter: “To make the dye chop the plant into small pieces and place them in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight. To fix the color mix 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar. Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.” Maybe dyeing fabrics with it would help control the spread of this invasive shrub.

9. Beaver Stump

The beavers seem to have started a sculpture garden along the banks of the Ashuelot River. Nearby they had felled a large American elm (Ulmus americana.) Anyone who has cut and split wood knows that elm is tough and stringy and hard to do much of anything with, so why beavers would choose it is a mystery.

10. Fungus

This fungus was big-as big as a soccer ball. I thought it might be a black-staining polypore (Meripilus sumstinei) which is related to the hen of the woods. However, since a few cuts on the spore bearing surface showed no black stains I’ll have to keep searching for its identity. It and a few others grew on the roots of a living oak, which does not bode well for the tree.

11. Fly Agaric Mushroom

This fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) was also big; easily the biggest capped mushroom that I’ve ever seen. I put a quarter on its cap to give you a sense of its size. The quarter is about an inch across and I’d guess the mushroom was about 10 inches. It looked like a dinner plate.

12. Mushroom

This mushroom was no bigger than a nickel, but far more beautiful than the two giant ones seen previously. I think that the gills are the most beautiful part of some mushrooms.

13. Feern

This fern came into life curled like the head of a fiddle and left the same way.  Sometimes beauty can be found even in death.

14. Beech

Lest you think that autumn has ended here, the beeches and oaks are now taking center stage. This small beech looked like it was on fire, so brilliant were its leaves.

15. Chair

There’s just no telling what you’ll find in the woods of New Hampshire. What a peaceful place to sit and contemplate the wonder of it all.

The knots in the wood can’t be untied. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Halloween!

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1. Blueberry Stem Gall

It might look like a fermented kidney bean on a stick but this is actually a blueberry stem gall. Last summer a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damaged a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responded by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This plant was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) These galls do no real harm to the plants.

2. Witch's Broom on Blueberry

Witch’s broom on highbush blueberry is a deformity that causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. It’s not caused by an insect but by a fungus called Pucciniastrum goeppertianum. This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) so bushes should never be planted near fir trees. When the fungus releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, the bush becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on the bush and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees, and the cycle begins again. The disease infects the entire plant so pruning off the witch’s broom won’t help. If you have a blueberry plantation and want to keep other plants from becoming infected then any bushes with witch’s broom need to be removed and destroyed.

3. Oak Apple Gall

The first recorded mention of ink made from oak galls and iron was by Pliny the Elder (23 -79 AD). Tannic acid extracted from fermented oak galls was mixed with scrap iron, gum arabic, and water, wine, or beer to make a dark black ink that was used for many centuries in virtually every country on earth. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Johannes Sebastian Bach, Victor Hugo, George Washington and countless others wrote, sketched, and composed with it. The Constitution of the United States was written with it and the U.S. Postal Service even had its own iron gall ink recipe. Chemically produced inks became widely available in the mid-20th century and oak galls went from being prized and sought after to those strange growths seen on forest walks.

4. Willow Pine Cone Gall

If you can stand hearing about one more gall, the willow pine cone gall is an interesting one that isn’t seen that often. The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

 5. Fishbone Beard Lichen

Fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) is one of many different beard lichens that we have here in New Hampshire. It is a forest species that seems to prefer growing on spruce limbs and anyone who has ever deboned a bony fish like perch will understand where its common name comes from. The main branches are covered with shorter, stubby branches and the whole thing looks a lot like fish bones. One of the ways I find lichens in the winter is by picking up and looking at fallen tree branches. They almost always have lichens on them.

6. Powdered Ruffle Lichen

This powdered ruffle lichen (Parmotrema arnoldii) grew into a V as it followed the shape of the forked branch it grew on. This is a beautiful foliose lichen  that I don’t see very often because it seems to grow high in the treetops and the only way that I can find it is by inspecting fallen branches. Features that help identify this lichen are the black hairs on the lobe margins, which are called cilia, and the black to brown undersides. There are several similar lichens with the same common name but different scientific names.

7. Sidewalk Firedot Lichen

Sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) gets its common name from the way it likes to grow on concrete. In this photo it is growing on the concrete between the stones in a stone wall. If it is seen on stones it’s a good indication that they are limestone or contain some lime because this lichen almost always grows on calcareous substrates. Something unusual about it is how it is made up almost entirely of tiny, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (Apothecia) and doesn’t appear to have a thallus (body) like most lichens.  Firedot lichens can be red, orange, or yellow. There are also granite firedot lichens (Caloplaca arenaria) and sulfur firedot lichens (Caloplaca flavovirescens).

 8. Frost Crack on Gray Birch

A couple of posts ago I talked about frost cracks on trees. Here’s a severe example on a gray birch which probably happened a year or two ago and never healed and which, in this case, will probably kill the tree. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night.

9. Frost Rib on Red Oak

Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. It almost looks as if a young tree has somehow grown onto the side of an older tree but that’s only because of the differences in the age of the bark, which of course is much younger on the healed frost crack.

Thanks very much to Michael Wojtech’s book Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast for helping me identify and understand this process. If you are serious about nature study this book is a must have.

10. Polypody Ferns

Though it might seem like polypody fern fronds curl in response to the cold in winter, it is really dryness that makes them curl. Polypody ferns are one of a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying, much like non vascular lichens and mosses do. Once the soil thaws they will begin to once again absorb water and will return to normal.  When they curl like this it’s a good time to study the spore cases (sori) on the leaf undersides, and a good time to reflect on how dry winter soil can be even though it might be covered by 3 feet of snow.

 11. Woodpecker Holes

 

Long, rectangular holes with rounded corners are made by a pileated woodpecker, probably looking for carpenter ants. It’s hard to tell which woodpecker made the round holes but I’m guessing it was the same pileated woodpecker because they were quite big.

12. Woodpecker Holes

One of the smaller woodpeckers made these holes; maybe a hairy woodpecker. They looked fairly fresh and there were wood chips on the snow so I probably scared this one away.

 14. Beech Bud

The tips of the bud scales on American beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) show just a small hint of the gray, hairy edges that will be on the leaves to come. It is thought that these leaf hairs keep caterpillars and other insects from eating the newly opened leaves, but they also make them something worth watching for. The long feathery hairs disappear quickly once the leaf opens, so you have only a short time to see how very beautiful they are.

13. Beech Bud Break from May 2014-2

I don’t usually reuse photos but since I was on the subject of how beautiful beech buds are when they break I thought that a picture might be worth a thousand words. This is one of the most beautiful things that you’ll ever see in a New England forest in my opinion, and it is just one reason I spend so much time in the woods. It won’t be so very long before we see them again-this was taken in late April last year, just when the spring beauties bloomed.

Natural objects themselves, even when they make no claim to beauty, excite the feelings, and occupy the imagination.  Nature pleases, attracts, delights, merely because it is nature. We recognize in it an Infinite Power.  ~ Karl Humboldt

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 1. Rail Trail

Last weekend really felt like spring with warm sunshine and warm southwesterly breezes blowing, so I decided to walk an old rail trail that runs right behind the house I grew up in. When I was a boy there were railroad tracks here and I spent many hours walking along them. Now snowmobiles get the most use out of the area. I appreciate them packing the snow down so you don’t need snowshoes, but it means that there is far less solitude here than there used to be.

 2. Wild Cucumber

There are many things along this old rail bed that take me back to my childhood, including the wild cucumbers (Echinocystis lobata) that we all used to throw at each other. This is one of the plants that made me want to know more about why and how plants grew the way they did. I had lots of questions and since nobody I knew could answer them, when I got a little older I turned to books like Asa Gray’s Manual of Botany.

 3. Black Raspberry First Year Cane 

By reading Gray’s Manual and other botany books I was able to answer many questions, like why do some plants have this bluish white coating on them? I learned that, in botanical terms, a plant part that looks like this is said to be glaucous, which describes the color. The coating is called bloom and is a wax which can protect the plant from sunburn, prevent moisture loss, or help shed excess water from the leaves.  I see it mostly on plums and blueberries.

In the case of the plant in the above photo the bloom on the cane (along with the prickles) taught me that it was a black raspberry, rather than a red raspberry or a blackberry. I also learned that bloom on canes means that they are first year vegetative canes (primocanes) that would bear no fruit until their second year. There were plenty of others that did bear fruit though, and I used to eat bellyfuls of them.

 4. Winter Woods

At one time there were large fields of corn growing along the rail bed but now some of the land has started reverting back to forest.  Most of the trees seen here can’t be more than 40-45 years old. Knowing that I’m older than the trees brings on kind of an odd feeling.

I learned how badly corn plants can make you itch can be by running through the cornfields that were once here. Each corn leaf has tiny, saw tooth serrations on its edges that can cause quite a rash on exposed skin. Of course I could have prevented it by wearing a long sleeved shirt, but you would have had to have hog tied me to get long sleeves on me in the summer.

 5. Virgin's Bower Seeds

My grandmother taught me about the wind blowing pollen from one corn plant to another, but here on the tracks is where I learned how other plants use the wind. Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) for instance, grows long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. Botanically speaking these “seeds” are achenes, which are fruits with one seed. This is a common plant seen draped over shrubs and climbing into trees all along these tracks.

 6. Feathers-2

Every time I see a feather stuck in a bush I wonder what bird left it there. I usually come away scratching my head and this time was no different.  It’s odd that the wind can send clematis seeds flying, but feathers seem to stay stuck fast to whatever they land on.

 7. Ash Swamp Brook in Winter

Ash Swamp brook meanders lazily through Keene before finally meeting the Ashuelot River here.  I spent many happy hours exploring this place as a boy. Coming this far south down the tracks was quite an excursion but it was always worth it. Very near here the banks of the river are high and sandy and bank swallows used to nest there. Watching them come and go was always good for an afternoon’s entertainment.

 8. Willow Branches

Spring never came by the calendar here. I learned early on that plants could tell you more than the calendar ever could. Willows for example, take on a golden hue when they feel spring coming on.

 9. Pinecone Gall on Willow 

The coming of spring wasn’t the only thing willows taught me to see.  Willows often have pine cone galls on them, caused by a gall midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides). The midge lays an egg in the terminal leaf bud of a willow in early spring and the larva releases a chemical that tricks the willow into creating this gall instead of leaves. The midge spends winter inside the gall and emerges in the following spring, so the entire cycle takes a full year. It is fascinating things like this, found all along these railroad tracks, which let nature get its hooks into me early on.

10. American Hazelnut Catkins

This is where I also started paying attention to things like catkins; though half a century later I still struggle with the identity of some of the shrubs and trees I find them on. American hazelnut (Corylus Americana) catkins are easy because of the hairy young twigs they often hang from. These hairs are called stipitate glands. Botanically speaking a stipitate gland is a gland on the end of a stalk (stipe).  If you find a hazelnut that doesn’t have hairy young twigs and leaf petioles, it is a beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta).

11. Elderberry Buds

We used to make small “pipes” by hollowing out an acorn, putting a hole through the side of it, and then inserting a pipe stem. The choice for the pipe stem was always elderberry because it has soft pith that is easily pushed out of the stem with a hardwood twig.  American elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis) pith is white and spongy, so when you pinch its twigs between your thumb and forefinger they will deform. If it doesn’t deform it isn’t elderberry.  It’s a good thing that we kids never smoked anything in these pipes because elderberry is toxic, especially to kids who make whistles and pipe stems from its parts.

12. Puddle Ice 3

Nothing takes me back to my boyhood at this time of year like the white ice on mud puddles. I remember, once the snow melted off the roads, riding my bike to school through the ice covered puddles that froze at night and melted during the day. I can remember how my spirit soared knowing that once the white ice appeared on the puddles it wouldn’t be long until summer because these were special puddles, not caused by rain but by snow melt. Soon the red sox would once again play at Fenway Park, school would be over until fall, and everything would be right with the world. There was as much joy in the anticipation of the event as there was in the event itself. Lately I’ve been feeling that same joy anticipating the arrival of spring.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.  ~ John Burroughs

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This post is another one of those filled with all of the strange things I’ve seen that don’t fit anywhere else.

1. Red Stain on Pine Bark

I found several white pine trees (Pinus strobus) on less than a square acre of land with some type of red substance on the base of their trunks. I don’t know if this was caused by a fungus or not, but I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t a lichen or slime mold, and I’m sure it wasn’t paint. I’ve never seen this before.

 2. Red Lichen on Tree Trunk

This tree also had a red substance on it, but it was higher up than that on the white pines was. This looked like it might have been a crustose lichen-possibly one of the fire dot lichens.

 3. Wild Cucumber

Last summer long I kept watch for a wild cucumber vine (Echinocystis lobata) but never saw one. Then I recently found this one, or what was left of it. This summer I’ll go back to this place and get the shots I wanted last summer. These vines are very fragrant when they bloom and people have started growing them in gardens for their enjoyable fragrance.

 4. White Pine Bark

This bark was on the end of a fallen log. It was much smoother and was a different color than all of the bark around it, and it looked as if someone had sanded and stained it. Seeing things like this always make me wonder how and why they happened.

5. Frozen Tree Sap

We are still having freezing cold days here and this recently cut hemlock stump with its sap frozen solid illustrates just how cold it can get when the wind is from the north.

 6. Dead Fern

This dead fern made me imagine the rib cage of some unknown forest creature.

7. Feather on a Twig

Birds must lose a lot of feathers, because I see them hung up on shrubs all the time. Sometimes from a distance they can be easily mistaken for flowers. Since I’m tired of bush whacking my way through the woods to look at feathers that I thought were flowers, I bought myself some nifty mini binoculars to scan my surroundings with. They weigh almost nothing and will fit in a pocket.  I might even get to see some birds with them.

 8. White Bracket Polypore Underside

I recently thumbed through a book called “Photographing the Patterns of Nature,” which was a mistake because now I’m seeing patterns everywhere.  This is the pattern on the underside of a bracket fungus.

9. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

 A tiny midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg in the developing terminal leaf buds of a willow and when the larva grew it caused this pine cone gall by releasing a chemical which interferes with the willow’s normal development. The adult insect will emerge soon and repeat the cycle.

 10. Grape Damage on Tree

When something that doesn’t stretch is wrapped around the trunk of a tree it interferes with the tree’s normal development by stopping the flow of nutrients to its roots from its crown. This is called girdling. Unless it has other branches that aren’t girdled so nutrients can reach its roots, the tree will usually die. In the case of the tree sapling in the photo, this girdling was caused by a grape vine tendril.

11.Beard Lichen 2

I took this picture of this beard lichen because it looked so ancient-as if it had been clinging to this branch since the dawn of time.

12. Moon and Clouds

One cold morning at about 6:00 am I saw clouds around the moon so I gathered up my camera and tripod, and out I went. Out of over 100 photos, this is the only one worth showing here.  Keeping both the moon and clouds in focus was much harder than it should have been. I’ll see if I can learn from the rejects and try again the next time the moon is in the clouds.

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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