Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Willow’

Last Saturday the weather wasn’t cooperating at all. As the above radar image shows there was a thin ribbon of rain from the Midwest to the northeast. In my corner of New Hampshire it was in the mid-30s and we had snow mixed with rain, which translates into a sloppy mess. With the hill climbing trails still covered in snow and ice March continues to be a challenge.

This is what the view out my back door looked like while it snowed.

In spite of a near blinding snow squall this willow’s golden branches lit up this space. Golden willows are one of the earliest signs of spring in this area.

I’m guessing that I won’t be seeing any yellow flowers on the pussy willows (Salix) real soon. Once the snow stopped they had ice on them on this day.

A sedum decided to throw caution to the wind and come up anyway, even if it was snowing. The shoots looked like tiny cabbages.

Buds of American elm (Ulmus americana) are just starting to open. Their flowers are unusual and beautiful and I hope I don’t miss them this year. I know of only two trees with branches low enough to reach.

Last year this magnolia blossomed too early and lost nearly every flower to frost because of it, but this year there is still a single furry bud scale on every bud. They looked a little wet and bedraggled but they’re still protecting the flower buds inside. Soon they’ll fall off and the tree will start to blossom, cold weather or not.

It looked like the bud scales on these box elder buds (Acer negundo) were just starting to open. The buds and young twigs of box elders are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose. Box elder is in the maple family and several Native American tribes made sugar from this tree’s sap.

Lichens are at their best in wet weather so I decided to look at a few I hadn’t seen in a while. I can’t speak for the rarity of hammered shield lichen (Parmelia sulcata) but I do know that I rarely see it. This lichen gets its common name from the way it looks like its lobes were hammered out of a sheet of steel. This one grows on a tree in a local shopping mall. It’s the only example that I could confidently lead  someone to if they asked to see one.

On the same tree, just a few inches away, grows a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) that produces spores quite regularly. The dark brown apothecia with white rims are fairly easy to see without magnification but there was something else here that I had never seen.

I’ve seen many lichens with apothecia that are cup shaped as this one has but some of these cups were full of water, and that’s something I’ve never seen. I don’t know how or even if this benefits the lichen but I do know that most of them like a lot of water. Star rosette lichen gets its common name from the way its lobes radiate outward like a star.

If you don’t mind getting down on your stomach in the kind of swampy ground that they like to grow in you can sometimes get a peek inside the spathe of a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) to see its flowers. A spathe is just a modified leaf or bract which kind of wraps around itself and protects the flower bud. As the plant matures a gap opens in the spathe to let in the insects which will pollinate the flowers. This one was open far more than they usually are and I wondered if someone had been there before me, taking a peek inside.

Inside the skunk cabbage’s spathe is the spadix, which is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish 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 visiting insects might carry from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this stage of the plant’s life, and it is thought that it uses the odor to attract flies and other early spring insects. This example had released a large amount of pollen and it was stuck to the insides of the spathe. In 1749 in what was once the township of Raccoon, New Jersey they called the plant bear’s leaf because bears ate it when they came out of hibernation. Since skunk cabbage was and is the only thing green so early in the spring so if the bears woke up too early they had to eat it or go hungry.

Some of the skunk cabbages came up too early and paid for their mistake by being frozen. Now their spathes are shriveled and black. This one had a new green leaf shooting up beside it but its spathe didn’t look good. The leaf will keep the plant alive but it will have to wait until next year to blossom again. There is a time when they’re young that the leaves do look somewhat cabbage like but they grow quickly and lose any resemblance once they age.

I doubt it would help pollinate a skunk cabbage but I did see what I think is a wasp recently. It seemed sluggish; most likely because of the cold. It did finally rear up on its hind legs when I got the camera too close, but I don’t think it was in any position to sting just yet. It seemed like it could barely stand. After a couple of quick shots I left it alone to contemplate the weather.

Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) are our earliest iris I think, and usually bloom at about the same time as the crocus does, though this year I saw a crocus blossom two weeks ago. This beautiful and tough little plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran.

This one looked more like an iris, even with the ice on it making its petals curl. Reticulated iris are a much tougher plant than I ever realized and I appreciate them and the other early bloomers showing me that spring is indeed here, even though it still feels like winter.

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. ~Henry Van Dyke

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Read Full Post »

1. Rhubarb

I saw a great example of bud break in this rhubarb plant. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” but there is often far more to it than that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more crinkly leaf.

2. Gritty British Soldier Lichen

At first I thought these were British soldier lichens but something about them didn’t seem quite right. They seemed almost gritty, and that’s because they’re gritty British soldiers (Cladonia floerkeanna.) They like to grow on well-rotted wood or soil and I found this example on very old wood. The stems are covered with granules and squamules, which are lobed, scale like growths on the body of a lichen.

3. Birds Nest Fungus

Fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) grew in the mulch at a local park. The tiny funnel shaped nests are the spore producing fruiting bodies of this fungus and are called peridia. Their shape makes them splash cups and when a raindrop falls into one it splashes out the eggs (peridioles), which contain the spores. Unfortunately the eggs had already been splashed out of these examples, but I’m hoping they might produce another crop.

4. Birds Nest Fungus

This view of the bird’s nest fungus shows the funnel shape and inside flutes. The flutes on the inside and brown hairs on the outside are identifying features. Each one is about .39 inches (1 cm) tall. They are very hard to spot since they are so small and essentially the same color as the wood that they grow on, and this is only the second time that I’ve ever seen them. They felt quite tough and almost woody.

5. Great Blue Heron

Even though I was sitting in my truck taking photos through the windshield this great blue heron was determined to keep as many cattails between us as he could. Then just for a few seconds he stepped out into the open to catch a spring peeper and was caught in the above photo. The small pond is full of spring peepers and he was doing his best to clean it up. He caught a few while I watched but I couldn’t catch the action with the camera. The pond also has some big snapping turtles in it but I don’t know if they’d bother a bird this big.

6. Canada Geese

Along the Ashuelot river the Canada geese came as close to shore as I’ve ever seen. Normally they stay well out in the middle but on this day for some reason they had no fear. They were also very quiet and didn’t honk once the entire time I was there, which is also unusual. They’re usually quite loud.

7. Canada Goose

This one kept a wary eye on me as if wondering just what I was up to. Or it could have been that he was hoping for a few crumbs of bread, but I didn’t have any.

8. Striped Maple

The buds of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have just started to break. These are among the most beautiful buds in the forest, covered in soft down which is sometimes orange and sometimes pink, and often both together. They are worth looking for, and now is the time. Soon two other beautiful leaf bids will open; beech and shagbark hickory. Those are events I never miss.

9. Woodpecker Tree

I’m guessing that this tree is a woodpecker’s equivalent to the corner convenience store. I’ve never seen a tree so full of holes, and they went all the way up the trunk. It must be full of insects.

10. Colonial Coin

You might think I’m straying far from the forest when you see this coin but since it was found in the forest I’m really not straying far. I show it here for the history buffs out there and because it’s a very important coin; the first official copper one cent piece ever minted in the Colonial United States. It was designed by Benjamin Franklin and is called the Fugio cent because of its image of the sun shining down on a sundial in the center with the word “Fugio” on the left. Fugio is Latin for “I flee / fly,” which when shown with the sundial reminds the bearer that time flies. On the right is the date 1787 and at the bottom are the words “Mind Your Business.” A coworker found it near an old cellar hole in the woods. To hold something over 200 years old that Benjamin Franklin had a hand in was a rare treat.

11. Colonial Coin Reverse

The reverse side of the coin has the words “We Are One” in the center, surrounded by the words “United States.” A chain with 13 links symbolizes the 13 original states. I wonder how much it must have hurt to lose this coin in 1787. At about the diameter of a Kennedy half dollar (1.2 inches) it is large for a cent.

12. Ramps

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

13. Ramp Bulbs

This is what the complete ramp looks like. I foolishly pulled these two plants three years ago before I knew they were being threatened. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

14. False Hellebore

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m really surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it does happen.

15. Willow

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a willow more colorful than this one was. A kind of orange red, I think.

16. Robin

This robin watched me watch him. He was only about two feet away and just sat quietly while I took his photo. I said thank you and told him that his photo would be seen all around the world. He didn’t seem at all impressed and went back to seeing what he could find to eat.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

1. Male and Female Alder Catkins

I’ve tried many times to get a fairly good photo of male and female speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) together but always failed until this time. The male catkin is the large golden object on the left and the female catkins are the long brown pointy objects on the right. They grow on the same bush but are very hard to get in the same photo.

Brown and purple scales on the male alder catkin are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers, which are usually covered in yellow pollen.

2. Female Alder Catkins

Each female speckled alder catkin is cone shaped and about a half inch long. A catkin, botanically speaking, is a slim, cylindrical flower cluster, usually with no petals. It is also called an ament. When I look for alder flowers I can only see a faint hint of red in the right light; the flowers are too small to see without a camera or loupe.

3. Female Alder Catkins

Each flower is a thin reddish strand that is the stigma; the part of the flower that receives the pollen. Normally a flower’s central pistil is made up of the stigma on the end of a style which then connects to the ovary. These flowers are so small that I can’t think of anything to compare them to except a hair, but they are bigger in diameter than that. They are certainly the smallest flowers that I try to photograph.

4. Hazel Catkins

The late afternoon sun turned the catkins of American hazel (Corylus americana) to gold. American hazel is a common roadside shrub that I don’t think many people ever see. When I tell people about it and the hazelnuts that it bears they always seem surprised. I wonder if that’s because they like hazelnut flavored coffee.

5. Hazel Catkins 2

The male hazel catkins are just starting to release their pollen. It pays to watch them develop because once they’re releasing pollen the tiny female flowers will soon begin to blossom.

6. Hazel Female Flower

The female hazel blossom is another flower that it’s hard to convey the size of. They are simple sticky crimson stigma just like the alders we saw previously, but since they grow from a bud rather than a catkin they’re slightly easier to see. I still have to look for a reddish blush though, because they’re too small for me to see. Luckily the camera can see very small things.

7. Golden Willow

The willow trees have taken on their golden spring crown but our willow shrubs are still holding on to their furry gray catkins. Maybe this will be the day that they bloom. It’s supposed to sunny and warm.

8. Crocus

Crocuses are blooming a little more but still seem a bit hesitant to really let go and bloom to their full potential. It could be the up and down weather.

9. Crocus

They were in the shade so these crocus blossoms didn’t seem to want to open but that was fine, because I was loving them just as they were. I’ve never seen this variety before.

10. Reticulated Iris

Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) are our earliest iris I think, and usually bloom at about the same time as crocus. I love these examples for their color, though I’m not sure what it is. I see blue but my color finding software sees both blue and purple. I’m happy believing they’re all blue. This beautiful little plant comes from Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern Iraq and Iran.

11. Skunk Cabbage1

Something strange is happening to the skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) this year. The spathes, which are seen here, aren’t opening fully and the flowers on the spadices inside aren’t producing pollen. Normally you would be able to see the spadix with its flowers inside the spathe at this time of year, dusted with pollen. They’re noting that the same thing is happening with skunk cabbages in New York. It’s a mystery.

12. Male Red Maple Flowers

Many of the male red maple flowers I’ve seen have stopped producing pollen already.

13. Female Red Maple Flowers

But the female red maple flowers seem to be still waiting to be pollinated.

14. Yellow Witch Hazel

The yellow vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis) that grows in a local park was timid and slow to get started this year but now it’s blooming better than I’ve ever seen it. Every branch is loaded with strap shaped petals.

15. Orange Witch Hazel

The orange vernal witch hazel’s branches are as full of blossoms as the yellow but these flowers are smaller with shorter petals. But what they lack in size is more than made up for with fragrance. I’ve never smelled anything else like it and standing downwind from a shrub full of these flowers is like smelling a bit of heaven. It’s such a fresh, clean scent.

16. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) has just started poking out from under the leaves to bloom. These examples were quite small as can be seen by comparing them to the acorn cap in the upper left corner. I expect that I’ll see many more this weekend.

17. Robin

It’s always a little surprising when a bird or animal acts like it has no fear of humans by getting close to you but it also means a great opportunity for photos, and I thanked this robin for swooping down beside me and posing.  Robins used to be harbingers of spring but the people who know birds say that many stay with us year round. That may be, but over the last few years I’ve watched their numbers increase each spring. It’s almost as if someone flipped a switch and suddenly there are flocks of robins everywhere.

18. Snowy Road

Once again the warmth and sunshine gave way to winter’s return, but thankfully it was a short visit. The streaks in the sky in this photo were made by falling snowflakes just after sunrise.

19. Half Moon Pond

This photo was taken in the afternoon of our snow day. By the time it got dark most of the snow had melted but the rest of the week turned cloudy and cool.

20. Red Elderberry Bud

The buds on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) have opened and they didn’t seem to mind the snow. There’s a lot going on in there. The part that looks like it has fingers will be a leaf; when the bud scales are closed tightly one leaf on each side wrap around the flower bud to protect it. The flower buds will be deep purple soon, and will resemble lilac buds for just a short time. As time passes they’ll become greenish white flowers. I hope I can show them to you when they’re at their most beautiful.

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

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a happy Easter.

 

Read Full Post »

1. Black Locust Thorns

I tugged on what I thought was a black locust twig (Robinia pseudoacacia) stuck in the snow but I quickly found out it that was still attached to the stump by dragging the side of my hand over its thorns. Yes, those thorns are every bit as sharp as they look. To be botanically accurate, they are actually stipules. A stipule is a growth that appears on either side of a leaf stalk (petiole.) In the case of the black locust these stipules have been modified into sharp spines, so that makes them stipular spines.

2. Black Locust Seed Pod

If the stipular spines don’t convince you that you’re looking at a black locust, the flat seed pods will. These dark brown pods stay attached to the tree and their color lightens during the winter. Finally as spring nears they begin to fall and, though they are light and can be blown long distances, many can be found under the tree on top of the snow, as the photo shows. The tiny brown seeds look like miniature beans. Their coating is very tough and black locust seeds can remain viable for many years.

3. Honey Locust Thorn

Another locust that I see regularly is the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), which in my opinion bears the king of all thorns. These thorns are big and as hard as iron. They can reach 6 inches in length and poke right out of the bark of the tree along its branches and sometimes even the main trunk. They are tough enough to puncture shoe soles and I always watch my step when I walk under one of these trees because thorns like these can cause a nasty wound. Confederate soldiers once used them to pin their uniforms together and survivalists still use them as fish hooks, spear heads, nails, sewing needles and even small game traps.

4. Round Holes in White Pine

I wondered what could have created these perfectly round holes on this dead white pine log (Pinus strobus). They weren’t in the usual neat rows that a sap sucker makes and anyway they were much larger than sapsucker holes. Each hole was about 3/8 inch in diameter and after some Googling I found that an invasive horntail called the Sirex woodwasp (Sirex noctilio) likes pine trees and makes exactly these kinds of holes. But it hasn’t been found in New Hampshire yet, so it was back to more Googling. The Asian long horned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) is another invasive species that makes holes just like this but it only attacks hardwoods, so again it was back to Google.  Finally I found that a native beetle called the white spotted pine sawyer (Monochamus scutellatus) makes holes in weak and damaged white pines but I couldn’t find a good example of its hole, so I really don’t have an answer.

5. Hole in White Pine

Being an engineer by trade these days I’m fascinated by any creature that could make such a perfectly round hole. Maybe I should have poked around in there. The photo makes it look like something might have been at home. If you know what makes holes like this I’d love to hear from you.

 6. Milk White Toothed Polypore

It might be spring but the “winter” mushrooms are still going strong. One of my favorites is the milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus,) which in my experience is hardly ever really milk white. Its teeth lean more towards tan or yellowish brown. The teeth start life as tubes or pores in the spore bearing surface, which breaks apart with age to become tooth like as the above photo shows. This crust fungus is common on fallen branches and rotting logs.

7. Maleberry Seed Pods

I found this native northern maleberrry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrub growing between two highbush blueberry shrubs on the river bank. Maleberry is sometimes called male blueberry because the flowers look much like blueberry flowers, but the fruit of the two bushes is very different. The fruit on this bush is a hard, woody, 5 part seed pod. Maleberry fruit is said to make a good insect repellant, but you have to get them before they become hard and woody. Native Americans used its straight young stems to make bows, so its wood must be quite strong, flexible, and elastic. It is said that the wood also makes good fence posts but I’ve never seen a maleberrry branch that was big enough in diameter to be used for one.

 8. Maleberry Seed Pod

Maleberrry is one of the easiest of all our native shrubs to identify in winter because its seed pods persist until spring. I just look for the star. There’s a very good chance when you find a maleberrry that there will be blueberries growing nearby.

 9. Winter Stonefly

The first insect I’ve seen since last fall was a winter stonefly. This one was living up to its name by resting on top of a granite post near the Ashuelot River. Its nymphs live beneath rocks and gravel on the bottom of streams and rivers. When the adults emerge they can be found along river and pond banks all winter long, so they are not a good indicator of spring. The adults feed on blue-green algae and the nymphs on aquatic plants. Hungry trout love to eat the nymphs and fishermen use them as live bait.

10. Willow

Willows have just started showing their furry gray catkins and if we hadn’t plunged back into another cold snap it wouldn’t have been too long before we saw their flowers. The cold we’re seeing now will hold them back for a while but it won’t hurt them any. Willows are a spring favorite that many of us enjoy seeing but they’re famous for clogging any type of piping with their moisture seeking roots, so they should never be planted close to a house. They’re great for planting along stream and pond banks because their extensive root systems help hold the soil in place.

11. Witch Hazel Bud

The spring blooming witch hazels in a local park that I visit have been slow to unfurl their strap shaped flower petals, but if you look closely you can see that the bud scales are opening enough to show the 4 bright yellow petals tucked up into the buds. Spring witch hazels often make the mistake of blooming too early and their flower petals turn brown because of damage from the cold, but not this year. Each bud in this photo is about as big as a small pea.

12. Alder Catkins

Speckled alder catkins are just showing signs of producing pollen, as the greenish smudges on the larger male catkins in this photo shows. Soon the bud scales will pull back and the flowers will open. Spring is happening but right now you have to look around a bit to see it.

 13. Skunk Cabbage Spathe

The one plant that tells me that spring is really here is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). It doesn’t waste time worrying that it might be too cold; it just raises its internal temperature and melts its way through the ice and snow and shouts that spring is finally here. I don’t know if the black bears are coming out of hibernation yet but if they are they’ll be happy to see skunk cabbages. It’s often the only food available to them in early spring.

14. Skunk Cabbage Flower

You can just see the rounded greenish yellow flower head through the opening in the red and yellow mottled spathe on this one. This plant is called skunk cabbage for a good reason, and it is thought that its odor attracts pollinators like flies, stoneflies and bees. Since skunk cabbage can raise its internal temperature by as much as 35º F above the surrounding air temperature, it is also thought that warmth might be another reason that insects visit them.

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men.  ~Chinese Proverb

Thanks for stopping in and happy spring!

Note: Today marks the start of the fifth year of this blog. I’ll take this opportunity to say that I appreciate your continued interest and I thank you very much for taking the time to read about what I think is important, and for leaving such thoughtful and often very helpful comments.

Allen

 

Read Full Post »

 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

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »