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Posts Tagged ‘Witch Hazel’

Last Sunday I was going to go over to Willard Pond in Hancock to see the beautiful display of beeches and oaks but a lot of the oaks here are still green. Anyhow, according to the blog archives I don’t usually go there until the last weekend of the month, so I decided to visit Yale forest in Swanzey. I chose the part of the forest with the old paved road running through it. Yale University has owned this parcel of land since the 1930s and allows public use. The road was once called Dartmouth Road because that’s where it led, but the state abandoned it when the new Route 10 was built and it has been all but forgotten ever since.

The first thing I noticed on this day were all the downed trees. In some place I had to go off into the woods to get around them. I doubt the folks at Yale even know they’ve fallen.

Three years ago they were logging here and they cut quite a lot of trees. Why this pile was left behind I don’t know.

Yale founded a school of forestry and environmental studies in 1900 and owns parcels of land all over New England. Alumni donated the land in some cases and in others the University bought or traded other land for it, and in time good sized pieces of forest were put together. This particular parcel is 1,930 acres in size.

The forest is recovering well from the logging, as this young maple shows. All those new shoots are coming from one stump and they make good browse for deer and moose.

There are lots of hardwoods out here including oak. This young oak had colored beautifully.

Many beeches had also changed already and they and the oaks made me question my decision not to go to Willard Pond. I’d hate to miss the fall colors there because it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.

It was a beautiful fall day, but a bit chilly with temps in the 40s F. and a brisk wind. I was wishing that I had worn gloves.

I saw some small fall oyster mushrooms on the end of an old moss covered log. Oysters are very unusual mushrooms, because they exude toxins that stun the nematodes that try to feed on them. Once stunned the mushroom’s mycelium invades the nematode’s body through any orifice and digests the worms. The mushroom also consumes bacteria in order to get nitrogen and proteins from them. What all of that means is the oyster mushrooms are carnivorous.

A ray of sunshine shone a spotlight on a beech tree. When this happens I always pay close attention. It was a sun beam just like this one that had me seeing the true beauty of a red clover blossom for the first time a few years ago.

I didn’t see anything about the beech tree that seemed out of the ordinary or special but I did see some running club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) just behind it in the woods and this was special, because it was producing spores in the long “clubs” that give it part of its common name. This is the first time I’ve ever seen running club moss produce spores. The other part of its common name comes from the way its long stems “run” just under the soil surface.

Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but they do produce spores in long, club like sporophylls, like those shown here. Clubmoss spores can take as long as 20 years to germinate and then only under ideal conditions. If it’s too warm where the spores fall they will not grow. There was a time about 200 million years ago when there were forests of clubmosses which grew to 100 feet tall. Native Americans used the strong underground stems of clubmosses as twine and also brewed a medicinal tea from them.

Ferns also produce spores and I always like to look at the undersides of their fronds at this time of year to see if there are any sporangia. Evergreen marginal wood ferns (Dryopteris marginalis) like the one seen here should have some, but they won’t be on all the fronds so you have to look carefully.

Sori are tiny clusters of sporangia and there they were, located on the leaf margins just as they should be on a marginal wood fern. The sori are often round or kidney shaped but they can be just about any shape, I think. Before the spores mature the sori are covered with a kind of a tissue cap called an insidium but I can just make out the individual sporangia here so these spore were mature and ready to let the wind catch them.

Here were more fallen trees. If you look closely you can see four of them here. I wonder who will clean this all up. I certainly got tired of climbing over and under them but I always stop to look them over because you can find some interesting lichens on fallen trees.

This was a little scary because I had to walk under it if I wanted to go on. And the wind was blowing. Luckily it stood for as long as I was there.

When you’re close to where the old road meets the new Route 10 a stream cuts its way through. On this day I was able to step / hop across it but I’ve seen it when I couldn’t.

The stream flows out of what was once a beaver pond on the left side of the road but it was abandoned quite a while ago, by the looks. This place is unusual because when the beavers were active there were ponds on both sides of the road, or one large pond with a road running through it. It seems kind of an odd place for them to have built in. Beavers, from what I’ve read, will work an area in what averages thirty year cycles. The first stage is damming a stream and creating a pond. The flooding kills the trees that now stand in water and the beavers will eat these and the other trees that surround the pond. Eventually the pond fills with silt or the beavers move away and the dam fails. Once the land drains it will eventually revert back to forest with a stream running through it and the long cycle will repeat itself. Many other animals, birds, fish, amphibians, waterfowl and even we humans benefit from beaver ponds.

If you know where to look and what to look for you can still see parts of the old beaver dam. This one on this side of the old road is getting quite degraded and no longer holds water, but just three years ago it was still doing its job. You can see all the grassy growth at the top of the photo, which would be behind the dam. This area would have still been under water if the beavers were still here.

I can’t remember ever seeing witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) out here but there it was, in full bloom. I wasn’t really surprised; our woods are full of them. These flowers have a very subtle fragrance I’ve heard described as being like “fresh clean laundry just taken down from the line.” I haven’t taken much laundry down clotheslines so I can’t say one way or the other, but it is a pleasant, clean scent. Native Americans steamed witch hazel twigs over hot stones in sweat lodges to sooth aching muscles and my father always had a bottle of witch hazel lotion in the house.

I hope you liked this walk in the woods. Though I’ve walked here many times it is always changing and never the same. Though I’ve been wandering in the woods since I was just a young boy change isn’t something I’ve focused on, but walking through this particular forest again and again has shown me just how quickly changes can come to a forest, even without any human intervention.

 In a forest of a hundred thousand trees no two leaves are identical, and no two journeys along the same path are alike. ~Paulo Coelho

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We had a big storm here last Friday but we saw more rain than snow, and little wind. I’ve heard that upstate New York saw 2-3 feet of snow and in Pennsylvania semi-trucks were blown over by the wind, so we got off relatively easy. We did see flooding in places as this photo of a flooded forest shows, but not enough to cause any real damage. Things may change again today, because the weather people are saying we might see as much as 18 inches of snow from this afternoon through nightfall on Thursday.

The Ashuelot River spilled out into this pasture but this is expected in spring and there are no buildings within the flood zone.

I think it was just 2 weeks ago when I watched people skating on this pond. Now there is open water. I was hoping to see some ducks or spring peepers but I didn’t see either.

Though our days have been warm, mostly in the 50s F, our mornings are still cold enough for puddle ice. This ice is very thin and often white because of all the oxygen bubbles in it, and it tinkles when you break it. Nothing says spring to me quite like puddle ice, because when I was a boy I used to ride my bike through it in the spring as soon as the snow melted. You can see many things in this ice, but on this morning it was a simple starburst.

I noticed that the hairy bud scales on a Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) had opened to reveal the bright yellow flower buds they’ve been protecting. Once pollinated in mid-April the flowers will become sour red fruits that have been eaten by man for about 7000 years. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included Cornelian cherry fruit and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the fruit. I would if I could ever find one but apparently the birds snap them up quickly, because I’ve never seen one.

I’ve been staring at this photo of a crocus blossom trying to figure out exactly what is going on, because you shouldn’t be able to see the central anthers in a closed crocus blossom. I finally realized that it has been cut in half lengthwise, so you can indeed see inside the blossom to the reproductive parts. Why or how anyone would do this while the plant was actually in the ground growing and blossoming is a mystery to me, but it is an interesting look at something rarely seen.

Another plant I was hoping to get a look inside was a skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) so I went to visit them in their swamp and saw that many of the mottled spathes had opened since I was last here. I could see the spadix covered with flowers in this one, but could I get a shot of it?

I was able to, barely. The spadix is a one inch diameter pink or yellow, stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four 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 insects bring in from other plants. The spadix carries most of the skunk like odor at this point and it is thought by some that it uses the odor to attract flies and other insects that might pollinate it. Sometimes the spadix is covered with pollen but this one hadn’t seen any yet so the male flowers must have just opened.

I saw some over-anxious daylilies. I hope they know what they’re doing. They could easily find themselves under a foot of snow tomorrow. March can be a fickle month with 50 degrees one day and snow the next and right now the forecast looks wild.

Ever so slowly the buds of red maple (Acer rubrum) are opening. The purple bud scales pull back to reveal the tomato red buds within. It probably won’t be long before they blossom, unless we get a cold snap with the coming storm.

The vernal witch hazels are blooming with great abandon now, even though this day was a cool one. We probably won’t see another display like this one until the forsythias bloom.

I couldn’t tell if this blueberry bud was opening or not but it showed me that spiders are active, even in winter.

It looked like this huge old mother white pine tree held her baby in her arms and it reminded me of the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I’m reading it now and it’s a book that I’d highly recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about nature.

If a forest is a cathedral, then this is its stained glass.

I saw some beautifully colored turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) Someday I hope to find out what determines their color. They seem to all be different so I would think that the wood they grow on must play a part in their coloration, but I haven’t ever been able to find anything written on the subject.

I was walking the grounds of the local college looking for blooming flowers when I came upon this Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata.) The vine has nothing to do with Boston and it isn’t a true ivy, but it is the reason colleges are called “Ivy League.” Boston ivy is actually in the grape family and originally came from China and Japan.

Boston ivy will climb just about anything by attaching itself with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils. The vine secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to glue itself to whatever surface it grows on, in this case brick. The glue can support up to 260 times its own weight and if you’ve ever tried to pull Boston ivy off a building you know how sticky it is.

I’m not wild about stone walls that were built with mortar but sidewalk firedot lichens (Caloplaca feracissima) sure are. These bright orange lichens love the lime used in cement and can often be found growing on concrete sidewalks, and that’s where their common name comes from. When you find them growing on stone in the woods it’s a great sign that you’re in an area with a lot of limestone, and there’s a good chance that you’ll find other lime loving plants, like many of our native orchids.

Sidewalk firedot lichens appear very granular and often show fruiting bodies but this example was quite dry and I couldn’t see that it was producing spores anywhere.

A pile of fallen fern leaves reminded me of nautili swimming under the sea. It is interesting how nature uses the same shapes over and over, especially spirals. The spiral was considered sacred geometry by ancient civilizations and is still used today. Sacred geometry involves sacred universal patterns used in the design of everything in our reality. Spirals for instance, can be found in everything from the nautilus to the sunflower and from our own DNA to entire galaxies.

Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring. ~Lilly Pulitzer

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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

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The record breaking warmth of October continued into the first week of November and that means, for the first time in nearly 8 years of this blog, that I can use “Early November Flowers” for the title. But by the second week of the month it was back to reality and as I write this on the 11th we saw record breaking cold temperatures this morning. Instead of flowers I was photographing ice and snow, so there’s a good chance that you won’t find another rose like this one here until next summer. After record warmth for the last three months and now record cold, it seems as if the weather doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.

At this time of year any flower is welcome. If it were a normal year asters and just about every other flower would be long finished blooming by now, but I found several examples of this aster growing in a group. The roadside grasses had been mowed all around them but they were left untouched.

I’m not sure which aster the small blue ones in the roadside colony were, but it was nice to see them. They might have been the sky blue aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense.) The flowers were about a half inch across and the plant about two feet tall.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) has a very long blooming period. I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, but I never expected to see them in November.

I’ve noticed that when it gets cold the small, normally white daisy fleabane blossoms take on a hint of purple. I’ve seen other white flowers do the same, so it isn’t unusual.  Many white chrysanthemums for example will turn purple when it gets cold. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

I knew knapweed (Centaurea jacea) was a tough plant but I was a little surprised to see it still blooming. Many of the plants in the colony I visit are simply exhausted I think, and have stopped blooming. Knapweed is very invasive in some areas but we don’t seem to have much of a problem with it here.

I’ve seen dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) bloom in January but that was a winter when we saw extended 55-65 degree temperatures in that month. It’s still a bit startling to see them so late, but I’m always happy when I do.

Until they started bothering me by reminding me of fall in June when they start blooming, I never paid a lot of attention to black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta.) They were a flower that I enjoyed seeing along with all of the other summer flowers and that was all, but now I know what a tough plant this is because I saw this very same plant still blooming today after a freezing cold night of 7 only degrees F. There aren’t many of our flowering plants that could take that kind of cold and I never knew this one could until today.

Chrysanthemums are plants that I would expect to be able to withstand some cold but I doubt even they could stand 7 degrees. I saw these blooming when it was a relatively balmy 50 degrees.

There were hoverflies all over the mums, and I was as surprised to see them as I was the flowers. They were moving over the flowers very slowly, but they were also flying.

Several of what I think were hairy white asters (Symphyotrichum pilosum) grew on a roadside and still blossomed heavily. One of the complaints that I used to hear about asters in the garden was their short bloom time and that might be true for cultivated varieties, but our native plants seem to go on and on.

Hairy white asters get their name from their hairy stems and leaves. The pilosum part of the scientific name comes from the Latin pilus, which means hair. They are also called old field and frost asters. They like to grow in weedy, gravelly waste areas like roadsides. As is true with many asters the white ray flowers look like they were glued on by a chubby fisted toddler with no regard for symmetry.

The monkshood (Aconitum napellus) in a local children’s garden still stood tall, even though all of the other plants had been cut down. This could be because the gardener knew of the plant’s extreme toxicity. People have died from the sap being absorbed through their skin so this is a very dangerous plant indeed, and though I have touched it several times I would never cut it or pick it without good stout gloves on. Another name for it is winter aconite, so it wasn’t a surprise to see it still blooming.

Though many goldenrods went to seed a month or more ago you can still spot them blooming here and there, and this one was still going strong. I think it might be tall goldenrod (Solidago canadensis,) but goldenrods are tough to identify correctly. In any event it was quite tall and branched at the top of the plant.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) flower heads have gotten smaller and smaller into fall, and this one was no bigger than a hen’s egg. Man’s relationship with this plant goes back thousands of years and predates recorded history. It has been found in Neanderthal graves and is mentioned in the Chinese I Ching. It is one of the nine “holy herbs” and was traded throughout the world, and that is thought to be the reason it is found in nearly every country on earth today. It has more common names than any other plant I know of.

It’s hard to find an open blossom on sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) but they still smell faintly like maple syrup, even when closed. Native Americans added this plant to the smoking mixture they used to communicate with the Creator. It was and is also used medicinally by herbalists to treat asthma and other breathing difficulties.

I’ve had a lot of trouble finding witch hazel flowers (Hamamelis virginiana) this year but then on the coldest day so far; a blustery 15 degree wind chill day, there was a plant loaded with blossoms. Now I wonder if the cold is what actually makes them bloom. They are called winter bloom after all. There is little that is more cheering than finding these fragrant yellow blossoms on a warm January day.

Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths, but this year the moths may have help from several other insects I’ve seen still flying. It wasn’t a week ago that I was still seeing dragonflies.

He who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth is generally considered a fortunate person, but his good fortune is small compared to that of the happy mortal who enters this world with a passion for flowers in his soul.  ~Celia Thaxter

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I think, in the seven years that I’ve been doing this blog, that this is only the second time I’ve been able to do two full flower posts in October. Though we’ve had a couple of morning frosts it is still very warm here, and some days could even be called hot. Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) aren’t just blooming right now; they’re thriving, and I’m seeing them everywhere.  Is there any wonder I always think of them as fall flowers?  When they appear in June it always seems to me that they’re trying to rush things along a bit, but life would be a little less cheery without them so I don’t begrudge their early arrival too much. I think they must hold the record for our longest blooming flower; almost a full 5 months this year.

This purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) looked like it had been through the wash. Its color had faded to a kind of pinky brown and its dry petals felt like paper, but the camera saw what it wanted to see and voila; a new flower was born! Now if only I could learn how to make the camera do those kinds of things when I wanted it to.

Most jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) plants are finished for the season but I found a small colony of plants blooming away under some trees at the edge of the woods. Apparently they didn’t get the message that their time was up because they looked as fresh as they do in July. There are still plenty of pollinators about too, and I’m sure they’re happy to see more flowers blooming.

Most knapweed plants (Centaurea jacea) in this colony dried up from the heat and then were mowed down, but they’ve come back with renewed vigor and several were blooming, much to the delight of all the bees and butterflies that were swarming around them. Brown knapweed is very invasive in some states but we don’t seem to have much of a problem with them here. This is an established colony that has been here for years but it doesn’t seem to get any bigger. When I need to visit with knapweed this is where I come.

Perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea) is in the same family as knapweed, so it’s no wonder they look so much alike. I found this one growing in a local park. This plant self-seeds readily and can take over a garden corner if its seedlings aren’t pulled.

There are a few things about the Stella D’ Oro daylily (Hemerocallis) that don’t appeal to me. Though it’s supposed to be a “re-blooming daylily” after its initial flush of bloom in late spring it blooms only sporadically throughout the rest of summer. It is also very short, which isn’t a problem in a bed full of daylilies but it always seems to look out of place in the front of a bed of mixed perennials. The third thing that doesn’t appeal to me is its over use. I see it everywhere I go; banks, gas stations, malls, and anywhere else that someone wants flowers but doesn’t want to have to fuss with them. But I can easily forgive all of that at this time of year because quite often they are the only flower still blooming. It’s a tough plant; I’ll say that for it.

Native wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) are still blooming but instead of in the woods this one bloomed in a local park. Native Americans used these plants medicinally in a tea to treat toothaches and as a nerve tonic. The seed pods have long beaks and for that reason the plant is also called crane’s bill. It has quite a long blooming period and is very hardy.

When I first saw this plant blooming while snow was falling a few years ago I thought it was a Shasta daisy on steroids, but it turned out to be the Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) which is a Japanese creation also called the Nippon daisy. It is extremely hardy; I’ve seen it bloom after a 28 degree F. night and it is also a very late bloomer. It would be an excellent choice for a fall garden.

The bumblebees were certainly happy to see the Montauk daisies blooming. The warmth has kept the bees going but it hasn’t kept many flowers blooming so now when I see a plant in bloom it is almost always covered with bees.

Polyantha roses still bloomed in another park. This small flowered rose usually blooms from spring through fall, often covered in flowers. It is usually disease resistant but this example’s leaves were covered in black spot, which is a fungus, and were tired looking. In general they’re good low maintenance roses that are small enough to be used in just about any size garden. A good fungicide would take care of the black spot on this one, but the leaves should also be raked up in the fall and destroyed.

We do love our asters here in New Hampshire, enough to grow them in our gardens even though the meadows are full of them. This hybrid version of a dark purple New England aster grew in a local park.

I found this New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) blooming even though it was only about 3 inches tall. It was on a roadside that had been mowed earlier, but even after being cut it still bloomed. I’ve seen other plants do the same.

I had never seen an azalea blooming in October until I saw this yellow evergreen azalea doing just that. It had about a dozen flowers on it, and I wonder if it will have a dozen fewer in the spring.

The cultivated speedwell I found in a garden last summer was still blooming. This is an attractive plant, about two feet across with hundreds of the small blue flowers shown all blooming at once. I haven’t had much luck identifying it yet. I think it must be a hybrid of germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys.)

I wonder what Native Americans would have thought of seeing wild strawberry blossoms (Fragaria virginiana) in October. I think they would have been happy to see them, though probably a bit confused. Strawberries were an important food and were eaten raw or mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. They were also dried and preserved for winter, often added to pemmican and soups. Natives also made a tea from the mashed berries, water and sassafras tea.  It was called Moon tea in honor of the strawberry moon in June. A tea made from strawberry leaves was used to clean teeth and stimulate the appetite.

A spaghetti squash grew in the compost pile where I work.  It’s late for squash plants to be blossoming but stranger than that is how nobody can remember a spaghetti squash ever having been cooked or eaten there. How the seeds got into the compost pile is a mystery. We picked one good squash but the one in the photo looks like it has slug or some other kind of damage, so it’ll probably stay in the compost pile.

This bumblebee’s pollen bags were full of yellow pollen but I don’t know if it came from this globe thistle flower head (Echinops) or not. It was working the long tubular blossoms over furiously. Even though globe thistle is originally from Europe and Asia our native bees love it. It should be done blooming by now but this plant had this blossom and three more buds on it.

If you were found growing monkshood (Aconitum napellus) in ancient Rome there was a good chance that you’d be put to death, because the extremely toxic plant was added to the water of one’s enemies to eliminate them. It was used on spear and arrow tips in wars and in hunting parties. It is also called winter aconite and is so poisonous its aconitine toxins can be absorbed through the skin of some people. I’ve touched it many times with no ill effects but I wouldn’t pick it or rub the sap on my skin. People who have mistaken its roots for horseradish have died within 4-6 hours after eating them. Knowing all of this I shudder each time I see this plant, because it grows in a local children’s butterfly garden.

When the blossoms are seen from the side it’s easy to see why this plant is called monkshood. It is also called friar’s cap, leopard’s bane, wolf’s bane, devil’s helmet, and queen of poisons. In 2015 an experienced gardener in the U.K. died of multiple organ failure after weeding and hoeing near aconite plants.

Though I’ve seen dandelions blooming in January witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is considered our last flower of the season and they’ve just started blooming. The flowers are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. The moths raise their body temperature by shivering, and can raise it by as much as 50 degrees F. This allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.

 

There’s nothing more cheering on a cold fall day than coming upon a thicket of witch hazel in bloom. They might not look very showy but their fragrance makes up for that lack. Tea made from witch hazel tightens muscles and stops bleeding, and it was used for that purpose by Native Americans. You can still buy witch hazel lotion. My father always had a bottle of it and used it on his hands.

Chances are there will be flowers popping up here and there in future posts, but this will most likely be the last post devoted entirely to flowers this year. Now, though it is supposed to be sunny and 70 degrees today, we wait for spring.

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

Thanks for coming by.

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Last Friday the temperature started to fall and it didn’t stop until it bottomed out at a meager 4 degrees Saturday morning. Along with 30 mph wind gusts, that meant a wind chill factor of about 19 below zero. In that kind of cold flesh can freeze in 30 minutes, so I decided to wait until it warmed up a bit. By noon the temperature had risen to 15 degrees above zero with a wind chill of zero, so off I went to one of my favorite stands of American hazelnut shrubs (Corylus americana.) They grow beside the rail trail in the above photo. Snow squalls Friday night coated the ground with an inch or two of fresh powder and added to the arctic feel.

I wanted to see the hazels up close to see if the male catkins shown here had opened. They had barely started to open and didn’t look like they would have been releasing much pollen.

But much to my surprise on such a cold day female flowers were just starting to show. Each tiny crimson thread is a flower stigma protruding from the female buds. The golden catkins that we saw in the previous photo are the male flowers, and the wind blows their pollen to the female blossoms. This photo also shows how hairy this shrub’s stems are. They feel slightly prickly when you run your finger over them, and that’s an easy way to identify them.

Female hazelnut flowers are simple sticky crimson stigmas and are among the smallest flowers that I know of. I have to look up and down each stem very carefully to find them. Even then I often see only color and no real shape so I let the camera sort that out. I had been out in the weather for about a half hour and that was about all I could stand. I hope the hazel flowers weren’t hurt by it; last year I saw many that had been frost bitten.

On a warmer day I had spent some time looking at the alder catkins. The large ones in the foreground are the beautiful male catkins and the tiny ones in the upper left are the female flowers, which at this time were only showing a hint of their crimson stigmas, which are similar to female hazel blossoms in color and shape. The male catkins had already started releasing pollen so the female stigmas should have come out fully at any time, but then we’ve had this terrible cold so now I’m not sure.

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. The opening of alder catkins is one of the earliest signs of spring and when thousands of them open it looks like the bushes have been hung with sparkling jewels.

I was glad to see that the chubby little buds on the red elderberry hadn’t opened yet. Last year they opened early and were frostbitten. The week of 60+ degree temperatures at the end of February fooled a lot of plants. I just heard on the news that apple tree buds started opening and now orchard owners are lighting fires in barrels along the rows of trees, trying to keep them from freezing.

The bud scales on some of the red maple buds (Acer rubrum) have pulled back to reveal cups full of male anthers tightly packed together. When the fuzzy bud scales are closed they protect the flowers through winter and keep them from getting damaged by the cold.

Some red maple blossoms couldn’t wait and started showing themselves, and I’d guess that they’re probably blackened and shriveled by now. I saw many get frost bitten last year but it didn’t seem to hurt the trees any. What it will do is cut down on the number of seeds, so squirrels and other animals that eat them won’t be pleased. When maple trees blossom their sap gets bitter so seeing these flowers tells me that we’re near the end of the syrup season.

Daffodil leaves poked up out of the snow. At least it was just their leaves. Last year we had a cold snap after they had blossomed and I saw many blooms lying on the ground.

Tulip leaves were also covered by snow. I don’t know if tulips are coming up earlier each year or if I’m just not paying attention, but it seems very early for tulips.

The season of Lent began on March first, but I fear the Lenten roses (Hellebores) will give up blossoming for lent this year. The season doesn’t end until April 13th though, so I could be wrong. The flowers are beautiful and I’d like to see them, but not if there’s a chance of them being damaged by cold.

Pussy willows seem to have shrugged off the cold; they hadn’t changed since the last time I saw them.

There was no yellow showing and plenty of fur, so I’m guessing the pussy willows will be fine.

Because skunk cabbage can melt its way through ice and snow by raising their temperature by as much as 50 degrees through a process called thermogenesis I didn’t think the cold would bother them at all, but I found quite a few that had been damaged. Though the above examples look healthy many flower spathes had darkened and had become soft and rubbery. I found several like that last year and wasn’t sure why they seemed sick. Now I know.

The greatest shock for me on this day was seeing the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) all in bloom. I’ve never seen them bloom in this kind of cold and only time will tell if they were hurt by it. I saw this scene on Saturday afternoon and that night it dropped to 2 degrees F., so I won’t be surprised if these flowers show more brown than yellow next time I see them.

There is an old Chinese Proverb that says “Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men” and the plants, shrubs, and trees are telling me that as far as they’re concerned it is indeed spring, but the weather certainly doesn’t seem to agree. I hope that the cold doesn’t harm too many early blossoms but there aren’t many plants that I know of that can survive such a long stretch of below freezing temperatures and now snow as well. We’ll just have to wait and see.

There I was, hoping for a warm spring rain.
But instead frost flowers bloomed on my window pane.
It wasn’t right; this cold, cold March.
Instead of frost on the windows there should be blooms on the larch.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1-half-moon-pond

February has shown us what a strange month it can be once again. After snow and cold in the first half of the month the temperatures suddenly shot up into the high sixties for the second half. This photo shows what happens when warm air meets the cold ice of a pond: fog; sometimes very heavy fog, as this was. On Saturday morning February 26th at 7:00 am it was close to sixty degrees and then warm enough to wear just a tee shirt by noon, which is just about unheard of in February in New Hampshire. By 8:00 pm they were saying we might see thunderstorms.

2-thin-ice-sign

The ice at a local skating pond became too thin to skate on but this has really been a problem throughout the state all winter, with many people falling through the ice this year. It never really got cold enough to form the kind of ice that is thick enough for vehicles to drive on and pickup trucks and many snowmobiles have gone through the ice, in some instances with fatal results.

3-icy-trail

Unfortunately not all of the ice was thin enough to melt. The warmth melted most of the snow quickly enough to cause a flood watch to go into effect but as this photo shows, when hard packed snow melts it can turn to ice. This trail was icy in spots and completely bare in others.

4-skunk-cabbage

What a welcome break the record breaking warmth was from the cold winds and deep snow. The skunk cabbages responded by sending up their flower spathes. Skunk cabbages can fool you into thinking they’re growing when you see the green sheath on the left, but it covers the leaf buds and appear in the fall. Only the mottled maroon and yellow flower spathe on the right shows new spring growth.

5-yellow-skunk-cabbage

Some flower spathes can show more yellow than maroon as this one does. Bears that come out of hibernation too soon will sometimes eat skunk cabbage. There is little else for them at this time of year.

6-mud

Why am I showing you mud? Because here in New Hampshire we have an unofficial 5th season called mud season. When the frost is 3 or 4 deep in the ground and the top two feet of a road thaws the melt water is sitting on frozen ground and has nowhere to go, and this results in a car swallowing quagmire that acts almost like quicksand. Those who live on unpaved roads have quite a time of it every year. The mud can sometimes be as much as 12-16 inches deep but I haven’t seen it that bad here yet this year. Quite often the mud gets bad enough to close unpaved roads and the logging and over the road shipping industries virtually grind to a halt until things dry out. Mud season has come early this year, so if you need a load of sand, gravel, loam, building materials or other such things you should be prepared to wait until April or May.

7-dandelion

I’ve seen dandelions blooming in January but that was during an extremely warm winter when the temperature barely fell below freezing. I’ve never seen one bloom this early after a winter like the one we’ve had. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement.

8-cress-blossom

Tiny white flowers bloomed in a lawn. They were so small that three or four of them could have been hidden behind a pea, so I had to kneel in the muddy grass to get a photo of them. I think it belongs to the cress family, which is large with many plants that look alike. It might be spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa,) but I’m really not sure.

9-crocus

These crocus blossoms were a real surprise because I’ve been checking crocus beds and have only seen the leaf tips poking out in all but this bed. I’ve also seen tulips leaves just out of the ground. They might be rushing things a bit.

10-daffodils

Last year these daffodils came up too early and got badly frost bitten. I fear that they’re repeating the same mistake this year, because we’ve gone from the 60s back down to the 30s now.

11-red-maple-buds

Huge swaths of forest bleed with a red haze from red maple buds (Acer rubrum) each spring and it’s starting to happen now.  I’ve tried to get photos of it from above and below, but so far I haven’t had any luck.

12-red-maple-buds

The bud scales on red maple buds can be deep purple in winter, but when it warms up in spring the scales pull back to reveal the tomato red buds they’ve been protecting, and that’s what causes the red haze seen on our forested hillsides. Seeing what must be millions of them together is a spring sight not soon forgotten.

13-pussy-willow-buds

I told myself I was on a fool’s errand the day I went to see if the pussy willow catkins were showing, but there they were. The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) open in late winter to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” and I have to agree.

14-pussy-willow

The Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about the medicinal properties of willow in the fifth century BC, and Native Americans across North America used the plants medicinally for pain relief for many thousands of years. Finally in 1829 scientists discovered that a compound in the bark of willows called salicin was what relieved pain. Chemically, salicin resembles aspirin.

15-witch-hazwl-blossoms

I was surprised to see the spring (Vernal) witch hazel blooming so early. Though we do have a native vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), it doesn’t grow naturally this far north, and since this one is in a park I’m betting it’s one of the cultivated witch hazels, so maybe it has been bred for early blooms. The other American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that is native to New England blooms in the fall and grows in the same park.

The Native American Mohegan tribes are believed to have been the first to show English settlers how to use Y-shaped witch hazel sticks for dowsing, an ancient method of finding underground water. Settlers all across the country used this method to find water and it was successful enough to be exported back to Europe. Its twigs are still used by dowsers in the same way today.

17-witch-hazwl-blossoms-close

The Native American Osage tribe used witch hazel bark to treat skin ulcers and sores and my father always kept a bottle of witch hazel ointment for his hands. Many people have most likely used witch hazel without even realizing it; it’s a chief ingredient of Preparation H. Studies have found active compounds in witch hazel such as flavonoids, tannins (hamamelitannin and proanthocyanidins), and volatile oils that give it astringent action to stop bleeding.

17-witch-hazwl-blossoms-close

Witch hazel blossoms are pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. These moths raise their body temperature by shivering. Their temperature can rise as much as 50 degrees and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.  I think these blossoms were ready for a visit from them.

18-orange-witch-hazel

I have to say that I’m not a fan of orange witch hazel blossoms because they aren’t as bright and cheery as the yellow ones, but when it comes to fragrance the orange flowers beat the yellow hands down. I know a spot on the local college grounds where several large orange flowered shrubs grow and on this day all I had to do was follow my nose, because their clean spicy fragrance could be detected from two blocks away. Someone said the fragrance was like that of clean laundry just off the line, but I think it’s even better than that, especially after a long winter. One shrub still had a nursery tag still on it that read “Hamamelis vernalis,” so they are our native vernal witch hazels. Odd that they don’t grow naturally this far north. They seem to do well here; these examples must be 10 feet tall. If I were planting witch hazels I’d mix the yellow and orange flowered varieties; one for cheer and one for fragrance.

19-puddle-ice

The paper thin white puddle ice that makes that strange tinkling sound when it’s broken always takes me back to my boyhood. Seeing this ice on puddles after a long winter meant that spring was here and though nights still got cold and icy, the days were warm and muddy. My spirits used to soar at the thought of spring when I was a boy and that’s something I’ve carried with me all of my life. The difference is now I look at the ice instead of breaking it to hear it tinkle, because I can see so much in it. The waves that formed it, bubbles and birds flying, mountains, distant suns, space and time; all are there for the seeing, but few take the time to look.

20-sap-buckets

As I write this last entry the thermometer reads 34 degrees, so our week long flirtation with high spring has ended. The dandelion blossom has probably been frost bitten and the witch hazels have most likely stored away their petals for another warm day, but 34 degrees is above freezing and that’s what maple syrup producers want. Days above freezing and nights below freezing get the tree sap flowing  and the sap buckets have been hung, so there’s no turning back now. True spring must surely be right around the corner.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for coming by. Happy March first!

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