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Posts Tagged ‘Witch Hazel Gall’

A bee landed on my windshield recently and, since I can’t remember ever seeing a bee’s belly, I took a photo of it. It’s cold enough now so bees and other insects are moving sluggishly and acting as if they really don’t know what to do with themselves, because there are few flowers to keep them company.

There are some flowers still blooming though and what I think is a hoverfly found this false dandelion blossom. It was tiny but barely moving, so getting a photo was relatively easy.

Here was something I wasn’t happy about seeing; the wind had knocked a bald faced hornet’s nest out of a tree. The nest was as big as a football and was buzzing with angry bald faced hornets. Each nest can house as many as 400 of them and if you get within three feet of the nest they don’t have a problem letting you know how displeased they are. They were flying all around as I took these photos and I’m still surprised that I didn’t get stung.

Bald faced hornets aren’t really hornets at all; though they are black and white they’re classified as yellow jacket wasps because they’re more closely related to wasps than they are hornets. But it doesn’t matter what you call them. This is one insect you don’t want to get stung by because unlike bees they can sting multiple times and it is a painful sting. They rate a 2.0 on the Schmidt Pain Index and the pain is described as “Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.” In case you’re wondering the Schmidt Pain Index goes up to 4.0, which is described as “You don’t want to know.” There is one insect that rates a 4.0 on the index: a Tarantula Hawk, which is another wasp that I hope I never meet.

What I think was a dark eyed Junco landed on a deck where I work and let me walk right up to it. It sat there even as I opened a door and went inside and didn’t fly off until I came back out of the building. Even then it flew just a few feet away and landed in an apple tree. They seem like very tame birds but what I was struck by most when I saw this photo of it was its shadow; it reminded me of something.

This is what the Junco’s shadow reminded me of. There used to be a television show called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and it always opened with this shadow. It was one of my favorite shows for quite a while and it can still be seen on You Tube today.

Here was another dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella.) At least I thought that’s what they were but these example had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

I saw a tiny insect on the underside of this mushroom but it wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized it had been looking up at me. I’m not sure what it was; an ant, maybe? It’s a cute little thing, whatever its name.

I saw what I thought was a strangely colored rock along the Ashuelot River, but when I walked around it and saw the other side I discovered that it wasn’t that strange after all, because that side looked like any other rock. What we see here is the part of the rock that was buried in the soil and that soil apparently contained a lot of iron. How it got out of that iron rich soil I don’t know, but it might have rolled down the river bed. Standing here after heavy rains when the river is raging you can hear the eerie booming sounds of stones rolling along the river bed. It’s a sound that’s hard to forget; you don’t just hear it, you feel it as well.

When the leaves begin to fall lots of things that were previously hidden are revealed, and among them are bird’s nests like this one I saw along the river. It wasn’t very big; a baseball would have fit right in it like it had been made for it, so it was probably about 3 or 4 inches across.

It was made of mud and straw; an ancient recipe for bricks. All its soft interior of lichens, feathers, and soft grasses had disappeared. Or maybe they were never there and the bird was happy to sit on sun baked, hard mud. I’ve seen quite a few eastern phoebes in this area but I don’t know if it was one of them that made the nest.

American mountain ash is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Our woods are full of ripe Concord and river grapes at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red, fleshy part of the berry. The seed inside the berry, which can be seen in this photo, is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as three of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever figured out why he would do such a thing but the incident illustrated just how toxic the plant is.

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America, along with the concord grape and blueberry, that are commercially grown but I’m not sure of that. Because they float commercial growers flood their fields to harvest them. This has many people thinking that they grow in water but no, they grow near water on dry, peaty, sandy soil. Cultivation began in 1816 and growers discovered that a well-tended cranberry plant can live 150 years. The cranberry was highly important to Native Americans and they used them for everything from food and medicine to dyes. The most important use was in pemmican, which was a highly nutritious mixture of dried fruit, dried meat and fat. The name cranberry comes from crane berry, which the early settlers named them because they thought the flowers looked like sand hill cranes. Once the English brought honeybees over in 1622 honey was used as a sweetener for the tart berries and their use skyrocketed among the settlers. This was very bad news for the Natives and many tribes died out within 100 years of European contact.

I’ve seen lots of galls but I’ve never seen these pea size furry ones before. They grew on an oak leaf and some of them simply rolled off it when I tilted the leaf. They are wooly oak leaf galls I believe, and like most galls do no harm to the host plant. A wasp lays an egg on a leaf and the tree responds by encasing it in a gall. When the egg hatches the wasp larva eats its way out of the gall. Inside the fuzzy wool is a hard brownish kernel that looks like a seed.

Everlastings get their name from the way they can dry and often last for years once they’ve been cut. Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) gets its name from the way that it smells like maple syrup. It’s another of those plants like pineapple weed which will light up a child’s face when they smell it. They know instantly just what it smells like.

Well, here it is Halloween and the only spooky thing I have to show you is this witches hat that I found growing on a witch hazel leaf. It’s actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I think it looks like a Hershey’s kiss chocolate candy.

Here’s something that might be much more scary than the witches hat; puddle ice.

And yes that’s snow, and that scares me. We saw a dusting one morning a week or so ago but thankfully none since. Though we average zero inches of snow in October we’ve had over a foot on Halloween in recent memory. Chances are you’ll see more of it here soon. We average about 2 inches in November and just over 11 inches in December.

Nature is what you see plus what you think about it. ~John Sloan

Thanks for coming by. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

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1-half-moon-pond

Fall officially began two weeks ago but often the calendar doesn’t align with what we see, and fall colors are only just starting to appear.  We’re probably a week or two away from peak color but you can get glimpses, as this view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. Water cools slower than the air and fog forms on lakes, ponds and rivers most mornings now.

2-marsh-st-johnswort-pods

While at the pond I took some photos of marsh St. John’s wort seed pods, which are an amazing shade of red. It’s particularly amazing to me because it is one of the few shades of red in nature that I can actually see. Colorblindness plays havoc with reds and blues for me.

3-dirt-road

Though the drive down this dirt road was mostly green there was quite a bit of yellow to be seen as well. Birches turn yellow and usually do so quite early.

4-black-birch

This black birch (Betula lenta) was half green and half yellow. This tree’s bark looks like cherry bark but the twigs have an unmistakable taste of wintergreen, so nibbling on a twig is the easiest way to identify it. Black birch was once harvested, shredded and distilled to make oil of wintergreen, and so many were taken that they can be very hard to find now. Most are found on private property rather than in the forest where they were harvested.

5-witch-hazel

This witch hazel was also half green and half yellow, but in a very different way. Once this shrub loses all its leaves it will bloom. Witch hazel is our latest flower; I’ve seen them even in January.

6-gall-on-witch-hazel

At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves. They are actually the gall of the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis). These galls won’t hurt the plant, but they do look a little strange. They are called nipple galls or cone heads.

7-sarsaparilla

The yellow ribbons along the edges of the old road were made of ferns and wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis.) Native Americans used the root of this plant as emergency food and it was also once used to make root beer.

8-autumn-olive

The ripe berries of autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) signal fall’s arrival. It’s a terribly invasive plant originally from Japan but also very fragrant in spring. Its wonderful fragrance overlaps that of lilacs and honeysuckle and smelling all 3 mingled together is a little slice of heaven that I look forward to each spring.

9-burning-bushes

It looks like it’s going to be a good year for burning bushes (Euonymus alatus,) both in color and berries.

10-burning-bush-foliage

The color of burning bushes can vary considerably, from red to pink to magenta. These along the river have chosen vivid magenta this year. The many berries will ripen from greenish white to orangey red and the birds will eat them quickly, and that’s what makes this plant so invasive. Once they become established they can take over large areas of forest and create enough shade so native plants don’t have a chance.

11-orange-crust-fungus

Fall is the time when more colorful crust fungi appear. This orange one, which I believe is Stereum complicatum, is the first I’ve seen. This fungus is usually brown and I’m not sure if it changes color in the fall or if some of them decide they want to be orange.  Of course, I might also have the identification wrong, but it’s very pretty no matter its name and I like seeing it in the woods.

12-jelly-fungi

I don’t know if day length or cooler temperatures trigger the need to produce spores in jelly fungi, but I see more of the jelly like fruiting bodies in the fall and winter than I do at other times of year. So far I’ve never been able to find an explanation for why that is.

13-jelly-fungi

But I do know that it’s great to come across bright orange jelly fungi in the dead of winter, even if it is frozen solid.  I think this one’s name is orange witch’s butter (Dacrymyces palmatus,) which isn’t in the same family as yellow witches’ butter (Tremella mesenterica.)  It likes to grow on fallen pines and often looks like it is being squeezed out of voids in the bark, but that’s because it actually grows on the wood of the log and not the bark.

14-oak-leaves

A huge old oak tree was a sea of green except for this one branch which had turned yellow. If this entire tree turns that color it’s really going to be something to see.

15-virginia-creeper

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) continues its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This photo was taken on a rare rainy day so the leaves were shinier than they would normally be.

16-ferns

I visited one of my favorite cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) groves hoping to see them wearing orange but instead I saw mostly yellow and green. I don’t know if they’ll go from yellow to orange or not, but I’ll keep checking. Cinnamon ferns get their common name from their cinnamon brown fertile fronds that appear in spring.

17-cinnamon-ferns

This is what I was hoping to see in the cinnamon fern grove. Seeing that many ferns wearing this color is kind of amazing.

18-ashuelot-scene

There is a spot on the Ashuelot River to the north of town where one tree turns color before all of the others. I can’t get close enough to it to know for sure but I think it’s a maple. It certainly is bright, whatever it is.

19-along-the-river

There is still more green than other colors along the river, but pink, yellow, and orange can be seen here and there. This is one of my favorite places to walk in the fall. Before too long the colors here will be astounding.

20-half-moon-pond

Since I started with a photo of Half Moon Pond I’ll end with one too, taken with my cell phone just 2 days ago in the early morning light. It shows the promise of things to come, I think. Everyone has been wondering what this extended drought would do to the fall colors but from what I’ve seen so far things look to be fairly normal.  One theory says that fall will be colorful but brief and that could prove to be true, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy being inside this beautiful kaleidoscope of colors.

An autumn forest is such a place that once entered, you never look for the exit. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

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