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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Berries’

I’ve seen some glorious sunrises lately. This one reminded me of the old “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” saying, which is based in fact. According to Wikipedia “If the morning skies are red, it is because clear skies over the horizon to the east permit the sun to light the undersides of moisture-bearing clouds.” The concept is over two thousand years old and is even referenced in the New Testament, so sailors have been paying attention to the skies for a very long time.  

I like looking for patterns in ice and I thought I saw the Statue of Liberty’s Crown in this puddle ice. The whiter the ice, the more air bubbles were trapped in it when it froze. That explains the color, but what explains the long, needle like crystals and the strange pinging noise it makes when it breaks? There might be answers to those questions out there, but I still haven’t been able to find them.

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are a native holly that love wet feet so I look for them in swamps and along streams.  Conditions must have been perfect for them this year because I’ve seen more berries on them than I ever have. Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings all eat them so this year they’ll eat well.

Spindle berry is native to Europe but we have a native version called eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus,) and I think this plant is probably the native version. The photo above is of its interesting bright red fruit, which many birds eat. I watched a pair of blue jays eating the fruit just the other day, in fact. Though Native Americans used the bark, leaves and fruits medicinally  all parts of this plant are considered poisonous if eaten. Wahoo was their name for the shrub.

When young yellow hawkweed seedlings (Hieracium caespitosum) look like the above photo; very hairy. And when it gets cold the leaves will turn purple unless covered by snow. When covered the leaves will often stay green all winter and there are thousands of them in a meadow where I work. Hawkweeds were used in Europe to treat lung disorders, stomach pains, cramps, and convulsions. Native Americans used our native hawkweeds in chewing gum.

I know I showed Mount Monadnock in my last post but I’m showing it again because I just heard that a man had to be rescued from the summit recently. Unfortunately this has become a common occurrence that is expensive and dangerous for rescuers. It usually happens because people simply aren’t prepared for the weather conditions up there. They get wet, cold, and find themselves in serious trouble. People have died on that mountain, so if you plan on climbing it please do some research and stay safe. By the way, all the snow in this photo is gone now but it’s still mighty cold up there. For a current forecast visit https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Mount-Monadnock/forecasts/965

Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) grows long feathery filaments called styles on its seeds (fruits) so the wind can carry them long distances. Virgin’s bower is our native wild clematis vine that blooms anytime from July through September. 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. What is uncommon is its pretty star shaped seed head. The hairy looking seeds give it another common name: Old Man’s Beard.

I think this is the worst tree wound I’ve ever seen. Though dead now the tree lived like this for many years. It showed me that the natural drive to live is very strong among all living things.

I saw a familiar black growth on a fallen beech limb (Fagus grandifolia) that I recognized as an unusual little fungus that I had seen before.

Annulohypoxylon cohaerens fungi like beech trees and that’s where I always find them. They start life brown and mature to the purplish black color seen in the photo, and always remind me of tiny blackberries. Each small rounded growth is about half the diameter of a pea and their lumpy appearance comes from the many nipple shaped pores from which the spores are released. The fruiting bodies seen here are described as “cushion like round or flask shaped masses of fungal tissue with nipple or pustule shaped pores.” It took me about three years to be able to identify this fungus, so you have to be persistent in nature study.

Another black fungus found on trees is the bootstrap fungus. It is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria 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.

Fungal spores can enter trees through wounds in the bark, like sapsucker holes for instance. Yellow bellied sapsuckers are in the woodpecker family but unlike other woodpeckers they feed on sap instead of insects. They drill a series of holes in a line across the bark and then move up or down and drill another series of holes before moving again, and the end result is usually a rectangular pattern of holes in the bark. They’ll return to these holes again and again to feed on the dripping sap. Many small animals, bats, birds and insects also drink from them, so these little birds help out a lot of their forest companions.

Many ash trees have black winter buds, like black ash for instance, but I know this one by its fruit and it is a native mountain ash. It grows in a very un-mountain like wet place and because of that I think it suffers. It seems a weak, sickly tree and I didn’t know that its buds also looked sickly until I took this photo. It does bear a limited amount of fruit though, so it’s obviously trying.

But none of that was the actual point of taking this photo; I took it so I could tell you that the best way to start learning to identify trees when they are leafless is to find a tree with prominent or unmistakable features (like buds) and start there. Once you’ve learned all you can from that tree choose another. Sooner or later you’ll notice similar patterns among tree species and that will make them even easier to identify.

Shrubs too, can teach. I can’t think of another shrub with chubby purple buds like those found on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa.) In spring the outer purple bud scales will open and show the green inner bud and they will be very beautiful in their purple and green stripes. A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open in the spring is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new leaves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” An imbricate bud is a bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles. In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

The inner bark on dead staghorn sumacs can be a beautiful bright, reddish orange color in the winter. I’ve read descriptions that say the inner (live) bark is “light green and sweet to chew on,” but no reference to its changing color when it dries, so it is a mystery to me. The plant is said to be rich in tannins and I do know that dyes in colors like salmon and plum can be made from various parts of the plant, including its bark.

I’ve seen various animals and even beautiful Hindu dancers in grape tendrils but in this one all I see is infinity, because it doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end. A grape tendril is a flower stalk that has evolved into a grasping support to get the vine into the bright life giving sunshine at the tops of trees. They bend in the direction of touch so if the wind happens to blow them against a branch they will twist spirally around it. In a vineyard they usually point to the north.

I like the warm, rich brown of oak leaves in the winter. These were curled together in a hug, as if to keep each other warm.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) seed pods covered the ground under an old tree and I was glad I wasn’t the one who had to rake them all up. When the seed pods are green the pulp on the inside is edible and very sweet, while the pulp of the very similar black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is toxic. One good way to tell the two trees apart is by the length of their seed pods; honey locust pods are much longer and may reach a foot in length, while black locust pods only grow to about 4-5 inches long. Honey locust seed pods look a lot like giant flat string beans about 9-12 inches long and often curled. Some of them look like polished mahogany and others can be purple. Beautiful white, fragrant flowers cover these trees in late spring. Locusts are legumes, in the pea family. Deer love the seed pods.

Honey locust thorns grow singly and can be 3 to 6 inches long. They will sometimes branch like the example in the photo. 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. In the past the hard thorns of the younger trees were used as nails. 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. Native Americans used the wood to make bows, and medicines were made from various parts of the plant.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

 

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