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Posts Tagged ‘Witch Hazel Flowers’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back when I started this blog I found a little peninsula of land jutting out into the Ashuelot River. It can’t be more than a few yards wide but the variety of nature found there is really astonishing. There are deer, woodpeckers and other birds, a wide variety of plants, and even beavers. It’s amazing what can live on such a small piece of land. I’ve had what I thought was a fair understanding of nature since I was a boy but this is where nature really took me by the hand and said “Come with me, I’ve got something to show you.” So, going there last Sunday was like going home again, even though the place had been rearranged by nature somewhat.

One of the first thing I noticed was this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) changing into its bright green fall color. Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss is one of them. It’s is a beautiful little thing that isn’t as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. The leaves of this moss are often dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats. Orchid growers use this moss in orchid cultivation.

I saw a couple of frost rimmed little brown mushrooms on a log. It was cold this morning.

This one growing nearby showed what the previous mushrooms looked like when they were younger. Though the shape isn’t quite right I thought they might be deadly galerina mushrooms (Galerina autumnalis) which are, according to mushroom expert Tom Volk, so poisonous that eating even a little bit can be deadly. They are common on rotting logs in almost all months of the year and can fruit in the same spot several times. If you collect and eat wild mushrooms deadly galerina is one that you should get to know very well.

An old red maple tree had fallen, and I knew it was a red maple by the target canker still showing on the small piece of bark still left on it. Target canker doesn’t harm the tree but causes its bark to grow in circular patterns of narrow plates which helps protect it from the canker. According to Cornell university: “A fungus invades healthy bark, killing it. During the following growing season, the tree responds with a new layer of bark and undifferentiated wood (callus) to contain the pathogen. However, in the next dormant season the pathogen breaches that barrier and kills additional bark. Over the years, this seasonal alternation of pathogen invasion and host defense response leads to development of a ‘canker’ with concentric ridges of callus tissue—a ‘target canker.’” Apparently the fungal attacker gives up after a while, because as the tree ages the patterns disappear and the tree seems fine. I doubt it had anything to do with this tree’s death.

By the way, speaking of red maples, I hope everyone knows that buds are set in the fall and don’t magically appear in spring. All the plants you see out there have already made their plans for spring, as these beautiful red maple buds show. All they need now is a little rest first.

This little spit of land is where I found witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming in January one year. This day was cold enough to feel like January but it didn’t stop them.

I love the deep browns of witch hazel leaves. So warm on a cold day.

The underside of a witch haze leaf tells a different story. There is something that eats all of the tissue between the leaf veins and before long it will be a skeleton.

There was a good size burl on this witch hazel. Burl is an abnormal growth that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage.  Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and /or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. Bowls and other objects made from it can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

The dark spots of frullania liverworts could be seen on many trees  It’s a leafy liverwort but each leaf is smaller than a house fly. There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on; instead they simply perch there like birds. Mosses and lichens are also epiphytes. A frullania liverwort’s tiny leaves are strung together like beads, and change from green to deep purple in cold weather. Frullania liverworts can cause a rash called woodcutter’s eczema in some people. It’s an annoying, itchy rash but doesn’t cause any real harm, and it disappears in a week or two if you stop handling logs with liverworts on them.

Sometimes when the river floods parts of this little bit of land can be almost completely underwater, and it’s slowly washing the soil from the roots of this big maple. You can see the whitish, very fine silt it has deposited at the tree’s base. It’s a bit scary out here when the water is that high.

Here is a gravel bar complete with grasses that wasn’t here the last time I came out here. This river has changed a lot over just the last 10 years.

In 2010 a 250 year old timber crib dam was removed just upstream from here and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services “landscaped” this section of river bank by planting native trees and shrubs. One of them, an arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) showed off its fall color. It is said that this plant’s common name comes from Native Americans using the straight stems for arrow shafts. They also used the shrub medicinally and its fruit for food.

I walked down to the river’s edge and saw a stone with so much iron in it, it seemed to be rusting. Iron rich stones are common here but I think they were brought in from elsewhere by the state.

And then I saw this; almost every oak and ash tree that the state planted 10 years ago had been cut down and dragged off by beavers. There had to have been 12-15 trees gone, and at anywhere from $150-$500 per tree depending on size when planted and species, these beavers had an expensive meal.

Most of what they took were oaks. They had reached probably 4-6 inches in diameter since they were planted. To be honest when I first saw these trees had been planted here I wondered what the state was thinking. They are an open invitation to beavers, which swim right by here all the time. It took them a while but they’ve answered the invitation and they’ll most likely be back night after night now until every tree is gone. You can trap and re-locate them yes, but that’s like closing the barn door after you’ve see the horse running down the road. And they’ll just come back anyway.

You could see the drag marks in the sand where they had dragged branches.

They left an oak top at the water’s edge, but they’ll be back for it.

They didn’t just cut trees and drag them off though; they sat here and had a fine meal. You can tell by how every last bit of bark has been stripped from these branches.

And weren’t the oak leaves beautiful?

A beaver is a rodent that has to continually gnaw to keep its teeth from growing too long, and this is what their gnawing sometimes looks like. Their teeth are extremely sharp.

Now that they’ve taken most of the oaks and ash tees they’re going for the maples, which are native trees that weren’t planted. Beavers will often chew through a tree half way like this and leave it. It’s very dangerous to be walking among trees that look like this in a high wind, so I wish they’d simply drop the tree. I have a feeling that something scared them off when they do this.  

Well, this post wasn’t supposed to be about beavers; there was no part two planned for the original “Leave it to Beavers” post that I did a week ago but as you can see, the beavers made me do it. When I left off with that post I told about all the marvelous things beavers do for the ecosystem (true) and only hinted at the damage they can do. Now you’ve seen it, but don’t blame the beavers. You can’t expect a beaver to leave your trees alone. They’re just doing what comes naturally; what they’ve been doing for millennia, and they don’t know or care if it’s a “weed tree” or a rare specimen tree that costs thousands of dollars. They get hungry and they’ll eat, and in this spot it was like someone had set the table for them. Planting a tree near fresh water in New Hampshire is like having dinner invitations printed up.

It wouldn’t be right to end a two part beaver post without a photo of a beaver, so here is one I got a few years ago of a beaver swimming down the river with a mouthful of what look to be sensitive ferns. Sensitive ferns are toxic to humans but it might be that beavers can eat them, or maybe this beaver cut the ferns to use as bedding in its lodge. Beaver lodges can be quite big, with the floor a couple of inches above the water level. On the floor they scatter a 2 or 3 inch deep bed of dry leaves, grass, shredded wood and other materials to keep the floor dry, so using ferns would make sense.

Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from. ~Terry Tempest Williams

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1-purple-cort

Do mushrooms wait until it rains before they fruit? This purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides) would have me answer yes to that question because it’s the latest I’ve ever seen them. I usually find them in August. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of mycelium, which is found underground. The mycelium could be compared to a tree and the mushroom its fruit. The fruit is what we see growing above ground, but this fruit has spores instead of seeds. Rain helps mushrooms spread their spores., so it would make sense for them to wait for rain to fruit. We had a good day of rain recently and finally, here are the mushrooms. Purple corts often have a slimy cap and are toxic enough to make you sick. Slugs are the only critters that I’ve seen eat them.

2-velvet-shank-mushrooms

Velvet foot (Flammulina velutipes) mushrooms are considered a “winter mushroom” and they can usually be found from October through early spring. Though many say that they grow on logs I always find them growing in clusters on standing trees, particularly on American elm (Ulmus americana) as they were in this photo. They are very cold hardy and I sometimes find them dusted with snow. This group had just appeared and was very small; no more than an inch and a half high.

3-velvet-shank-mushrooms

On another nearby elm tree this grouping, probably about six inches from top to bottom, grew. The orange caps of these mushrooms often shade to brown in the center and are very slimy and sticky. The stem is covered in fine downy hairs that darken toward the bottom and that’s where their common name comes from. When the temperature drops below freezing on a winter day it’s a real pleasure to see them.

4-velvet-shank-mushrooms

Still another grouping of velvet foot mushrooms grew on another nearby elm, and these had reached full size, with caps maybe 3 inches across. Though the caps are slimy it was raining on this day so they were also wet. They aren’t usually this shiny. I’ve never been able to find an answer to the question of why some mushrooms wait until cold weather to fruit. Another one that is commonly seen when it gets cold is the fall oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus.)

5-turkey-tails

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have been all but invisible this year but I did find the brown ones pictured here recently. I was hoping for another year like last year when they grew in beautiful shades of blue, purple, and orange but I suppose the drought has affected them. This bracket fungus gets its common name from the way it resembles a turkey’s tail, and according to the American Cancer Society there is some scientific evidence that substances derived from turkey tail fungi may be useful against cancer.

6-lion-s-mane-fungus-aka-hericium-americanum

Bear’s head, also called lion’s mane mushroom (Hericlum americanum) is a beautiful toothed fungus that looks like a fungal waterfall. Soft spines hang from branches that reach out from a thick central stalk. As it ages it will change from white to cream to brown, and the brown tips on this example means it has aged some. This one was small; about the same size as a hen’s egg, but I’ve seen them as big as a grapefruit. They seem to fruit toward the end of summer but this year they’re later than in recent years.

7-wolfs-milk-slime-mold

I keep my eye out at this time of year for what look like small, pea size white or pink puffballs. They aren’t puffballs though, so if you squeeze them you’ll be in for a surprise.

8-wolfs-milk-slime-mold

The “puffballs” are actually a slime mold called wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) and if you squeeze them when they’re young instead of the smoke like spores you would expect from a puffball, you often get pink or orange liquid. Though books say that the consistency is that of toothpaste I almost always find liquid like that seen in the photo. As it ages the liquid will become like toothpaste before finally turning into a mass of brown powdery spores. By that time the outside will have also turned brown and at that stage of its life this slime mold could probably be confused with a small puffball. I think these examples were very young.

9-fallen-tree

Something you don’t hear much about until you have a drought is how the dryness weakens the trees enough to make them topple over. Dryness can cause the root system to shrink and makes it hard for the roots to hold onto the dry soil. Without a good strong root system trees can become almost top heavy. Sometimes all it takes is a gust of wind to bring down a big tree like the one in the above photo, so you have to watch the weather before going into the woods. I just heard that, rather than a single summer of drought, this current one has been ongoing for about 4 years. Though that may be true this was the first year that it was so obviously dry in this corner of the state.

10-maple-leaf-viburnum

Falling trees or not I’ll be going into the woods because that’s where you find things like this beautiful maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) The leaves on this native shrub have an amazing color range, from purple to orange to pink, but they always end up almost white, with just a faint hint of pastel pink.

11-bittersweet-berries

There are many berries ripening right now and the birds are happy. Unfortunately they love the berries of invasive Oriental bittersweet and help it in its quest to rule the world. This vine is very strong like wire and as it twines its way around tree trunks it strangles them. Once it reaches the tree canopy it grows thickly and covers it, stealing all the light from the tree. It’s common to see a completely dead tree still supporting a tangle of bittersweet, and sometimes the vine is the only thing holding it up.

12-burning-bush-fruit

Another invasive that’s fruiting right now is burning bush (Euonymus alatus.) It’s a beautiful shrub in the fall but Its sale and importation is banned here in New Hampshire now because of the way it can take over whole swaths of forest floor. Birds love the berries and spread the seeds everywhere, so it isn’t uncommon to find a stand of them growing in the woods. I know a place where hundreds of them grow and though they are beautiful at this time of year not another shrub grows near them. This is because they produce such dense shade it’s hard for anything else to get started.

13-canada-mayflower-berries

Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is described as “a dominant understory perennial flowering plant” and dominate it is, often covering huge swaths of shaded forest floor. It forms monocultures in forests and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. Its tiny white four petaled flowers become red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals. It’s a native plant that acts like an invasive.

14-cranberry

The native cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) have ripened and normally you’d get your feet wet harvesting them, but this year they were high and dry because of the drought. The pilgrims named this fruit “crane berry” because they thought the flowers looked like sandhill cranes. They were taught how to use the berries by Native Americans, who used them as a food, as a medicine, and as a dye. Bears, deer, mice, grouse and many other birds eat the fruit.

15-geese

Each year for as long as I can remember hundreds of Canada geese have stopped over on their way south in the fall to glean what they can from the cornfields. The harvester must spill quite a bit to feed such large flocks of geese.

16-sensitive-fern

Early settlers noticed this fern’s sensitivity to frost and named it sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) This fern loves low, damp places so when you see it it’s a fair bet that the soil stays on the wet side. I don’t know if they eat it or use it for bedding, but beavers harvest this fern and I’ve seen them swimming with large bundles of it in their mouth.

17-forsythia

A Forsythia couldn’t seem to make up its mind what color it wanted to be.

18-witch-hazel

Another odd thing about this drought is how trees like oak are loaded with acorns and shrubs like witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) have more flowers than I’ve ever seen. They’re very beautiful this year, and fragrant too.

19-monkshood

Witch hazels might be late bloomers but so is aconite, commonly called monkshood (Aconitum napellus.) It’s a beautiful flower which, if you look at it from the side, looks just like a monk’s hood.  This plant can take a lot of cold and its blooms appear quite late in the season. Though beautiful the plant is extremely toxic; enough to have been used on spear and arrow tips in ancient times. In ancient Rome anyone found growing the plant could be put to death because aconite was often used to eliminate one’s enemies. It is also called wolfbane, because it once used to kill wolves.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

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