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Posts Tagged ‘Witch Hazel’

On Friday the 10th of January it started warming up, and it didn’t stop until the temperature reached 62 degrees F. and all the snow was gone and all the records were broken. January thaws usually last for about a week and temperatures rise an average of 10° F higher than those of the previous week but this was a thaw to remember, with temperatures rising 30 degrees or more. I think of a January thaw as a taste of spring in the dead of winter, and it is always welcome.

Snow was coming off roofs in lacy sheets because of the ice underneath.

I followed an ice covered road by a pond and by the time I walked back, in the space of a half hour most of the ice you see here had melted.

The ice on the pond was melting quickly and was covered with water. When it freezes again it will be a great surface for skating.

On a day like this it was easy to think of red wing blackbirds building nests in the cattails at the pond edges, but they won’t really be back for a couple of months.

North of Keene you could see it was still January on the banks of the Ashuelot River but that snow was thin and I’d guess that it is all gone now.

You can see how thin the snow was in the woods. I’d guess no more than two inches, and two inches melts fast in 60 degree weather.

The high water mark along the river showed that there was plenty of room for all the melting snow.

The Ashuelot River south of Keene looked completely different than the photo I took of it in the north of Keene and they were taken just a few hours apart. This view looks more like March.

The melting ice and snow has uncovered a bounty for animals. It was a good year for acorns.

Spring has always been my favorite season so for me a thaw is also a tease that lights the pilot light of spring fever. Seeing pussy willows in January fuels the flames.

Willows often have pine cone galls on them, caused by a gall midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides). The midge lays an egg in the terminal leaf bud of a willow in early spring and the larva releases a chemical that tricks the willow into creating this gall instead of leaves. The midge spends winter inside the gall and emerges in the following spring, so the entire cycle takes a full year. 

I went to see a witch hazel that I had seen bloom quite late before and there it was, blooming again. This is unusual because it’s a fall blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana.) At this time of year I’d more expect to see a spring blooming witch hazel in bloom.

But no, the spring blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) buds were still closed up tight. They’ll bloom in March, and I can’t wait to see them again.

I was shocked to see what I think are reticulated iris (Iris reticulata) shoots out of the ground. These irises are early, sometimes even earlier than crocuses, but I have a feeling they’ll pay dearly for believing it was spring in January.

The big flower heads of Hydrangeas can usually be seen blowing across the ground like tumbleweeds in spring, but these stayed put.  

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) loses its berries over winter and in the spring you can find the ground under them littered with small blue spheres. These examples were still hanging on tight, so they hadn’t been fooled by the warmth. Boston ivy lends its name to the “ivy league” schools. The odd thing about Boston ivy is its name, because it isn’t from Boston and it isn’t an ivy; it’s a member of the grape family and comes from China and Japan. This vine attaches to just about any vertical surface with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils.  It secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to “glue” the pads to the surface it wants to climb. The glue can to hold up to 260 times its own weight, which is pretty remarkable.

The magnolia flower buds still wore their fuzzy caps and I was glad to see it. I’ve seen lots of beautiful magnolia blossoms browned over the years by opening early and getting frost bitten.

There wasn’t any ice to be seen at Ashuelot falls. The falls are shaded for a large part of the day so any ice that forms here often stays for the winter, but not this time.

The warm spell was a nice respite from the cabin fever that always starts to set in around mid-January. Forty degrees above our average high lets us catch our breath and prepare for more winter weather. We all know there is plenty of winter left to come but for now a taste of spring was just what we needed. Everywhere I went there were people outside, loving it.

The sun came out,
And the snowman cried.
His tears ran down
On every side.
His tears ran down
Till the spot was cleared.
He cried so hard
That he disappeared.

~ Margaret Hillert

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Actually it was Christmas eve day when a trail I haven’t walked in a while called to me. It was a bright, sunny and warm day with temps nearing the mid-40s F. Days like this don’t come often in a New Hampshire December so I hated to waste it. I hadn’t been the only one to think so; the thin snow on the trail showed many footprints.

There were icy spots on the trail but I had my micro spikes on so I stayed upright. It’s a good idea to have them if you hike popular trails because the compacted snow quickly turns to ice.

There is pond here that’s a popular ice skating spot for local children. In fact I skated here as a boy. The town usually plows the snow off it but over the past few winters it has taken the ice longer to thicken up. I don’t think it was plowed at all last winter because it was too warm for good ice. Plow trucks have ended up at the bottom of the pond in the past so they make sure it’s good and firm before plowing it these days. But kids will be kids and you can see where they have shoveled to make a small skating area.

They pay no attention to the signs. Someday they might wish they had, but I hope not. This sign is on a dam and I’ve seen the pond when it had to be drained to work on the dam a few years ago, and I was shocked at how shallow it was. If a pickup truck went in at the deepest point the water would probably reach to the bottom of the windows.

Spidery cracks in the ice showed that it was still quite thin in places.

When a thin layer of ice on a pond gets snowed on quite often the snow is heavy enough to make the ice sink a bit, and this forces water up through holes in the ice. The water turns the snow to slush, which then freezes into the spidery patterns seen here. For years I wondered if someone had thrown a rock and broken a hole in the ice but this comes from below, not above.

Another thing I wondered about for years was what tree produced such zig zaggy twigs. When I finally realized it was witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) I felt pretty foolish, because all I would have had to do was look the plant over more carefully and I would have seen its seed pods and cup like bracts, which would have been an immediate give away. The seed pods especially are unmistakable in the winter. Inside each pod are two shiny black seeds that were much loved by certain Native American tribes. They are said to taste like pistachio nuts but I’ve never tried them. Natives also steamed witch hazel branches over hot stones in their sweat lodges to sooth aching muscles and used its Y shaped branches for dowsing. In fact the Mohegan tribe is said to have shown early settlers how to find water using witch hazel branches, and also how to use the plant medicinally. A tea made from witch hazel tightens muscles and stops bleeding and the plant is one of only a handful of medicinal plants still approved as an ingredient in non-prescription drugs by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s amazing that it is still being used medicinally after what is quite probably thousands of years. 

Two things we have lots of here in New Hampshire are trees and stones and you can find plenty of both along this trail. Some look like they were just left here by glaciers.

A vein of quartz in a stone points the way. Quartz can fill an already present crack in a cooling stone as a hot, liquid brine and some of the resulting veins can be very large. In Frankfurt, Germany there is a hydrothermal vein system that is nearly 4 miles long and almost over 200 feet wide. 

This little fern growing in a crack in a boulder never gets any bigger than what is seen here but it comes back every year to try again. It’s very persistent.

When water finds its way into a crack in a stone and freezes, the pressure from the ice can split the stone, and that’s what happened here. What is unusual about this scene is how a tree seed found its way onto the ground at the bottom of the crack and grew there. I’m guessing that the ever growing tree trunk is pushing the crack in the stone open even more each year. I’ve seen boulders as big as trucks split in the same way, cleaved perfectly by ice.

Stones aren’t the only things in the forest that crack; trees also crack. Straight, vertical cracks in tree bark like that shown above are called frost cracks because they happen in frigid weather when bark repeatedly freezes and thaws. Sunlight warms the bark during the day and then at night when the temperature drops quickly the bark cools and shrinks much quicker than the inner wood, and this causes stress and pressure build up. The unequal shrinkage and contraction between wood and bark can cause the bark to split, sometimes violently and as loudly as a rifle shot. It’s a relatively common sound in the woods at night, but it’s always startling. This frost crack is rare because it is in the bark of a white pine, which has thick bark.

Most frost cracks usually appear on thin barked trees and heal relatively quickly. This photo shows a healed frost crack in an oak.

Here is a scar in the bark of an eastern hemlock that I can’t explain. I’ve shown it off and on in blog posts over the years and many readers have had a shot at guessing the cause but none of us has truly been satisfied with their guess. By far the most popular guess is that lightning made the scar, but the lightning strikes that I’ve seen in tree bark have run as straight as a frost crack. They have also run the length of the tree, while this one comes up out of the ground and runs maybe 4 or 5 feet up the tree.

The zig zag crack is quite deep so I think it has been there for a few years. I’ve seen only one other photo of a similar scar and that also came with no explanation.

Sunlight on a hemlock branch warmed my spirits as much as it did the branch.

When a tree dies it often will shed its bark before it falls if it falls naturally, and the serpentine opening that shows in this tree’s bark is the beginning of the process. I see trees all the time that have all their bark lying in a heap at their base.

Sometimes I see trees that have broken off and fallen and their trunks are completely hollow. I often wonder how many of the trees that surround me in the woods are standing with hollow trunks. That isn’t a real comforting thought especially on a windy day, but I think the wound “window” in this tree shows how it happens. The weathered gray heart of the tree died first and the outer bark lived long enough to start healing the wound. If the tree had lived it would have most likely just been another standing hollow tree, but it finally died and I think the channels showing bark beetle damage all around the wound tell the story of how. Bark beetles don’t usually attack healthy trees but if the tree is alive when they move in it is doomed.

Here was a tree scar that wouldn’t ever heal; someone had cut down a hemlock that was about 5 inches through and I wondered who would do such a thing and why. And then I remembered doing the same thing when I was a boy, and I thought about how I didn’t know then and still don’t know why I did it. This seemed like a good time to ponder such things but I wasn’t able to fill in any blanks. It is healthy I think, to occasionally question our actions. I hope whoever did this will one day ask themselves why, just as I did on this day.

The bark had fallen off an old black birch (Betula lenta) and the inner bark was like confetti. Black birch bark looks a lot like cherry bark when young but once they reach about 50 years old the bark begins to split and form scaly plates. These irregular plates start to fall off when the tree is about 80 years old,  so I would say this tree must be at least that old. The beautiful inner bark shown here will eventually become the outer bark and it will begin to fall off when the tree is about 150 years old. Black birches were once heavily harvested for their natural oil of wintergreen so it’s unusual to find such an old example. I gave it a pat on the bark and wished it well.  

I know this very popular trail has been here since the late 1800s but this tree hasn’t been here that long. Still, it took a lot of foot traffic to wear the bark off its roots like this. I always stop to look at roots like this. Some are so smooth they look as if they had been sanded and polished by a cabinetmaker. Many show wood of different colors and are beautiful.

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters. ~St. Bernard

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Last Saturday it rained and Sunday the forecast was for 40 mile per hour wind gusts, so I decided to stay out of the woods and play instead along the banks of the Ashuelot river. I’ve seen a lot of blown down trees this year and it doesn’t take much to bring them down when the ground is saturated. And saturated it must be because all the snow has melted and the river is approaching bank-full.

Downstream from the bridge I stood on it was choppy.

I stopped trying to get a good wave photo in the dim light and admired an aster seed head instead.

The remnants of a bird’s nest hung from the branches of a small oak. I was surprised at the length of the fibers it was woven with. They must have been nearly a foot long. I saw an eastern phoebe nesting here in the past but I can’t say it that was a phoebe that built this nest.

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds, rivers and streams.  

Birds are gobbling the berries of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) which isn’t a good thing, because this shrub doesn’t need any help in its mission to take over the understory. Since its introduction from Asia as an ornamental in 1860, Winged euonymus has spread as far south as the gulf coast, north into Canada, and as far west as Illinois. It creates such a dense shade nothing else can get a start, so our native plants won’t grow near it. Because of that burning bushes can create monocultures of hundreds or even thousands of plants, and that is what has happened along this stretch of river.

One of the curious things I saw on this walk was what I think was a hemispherical insect egg case attached to a tree.  It had a single hole in it where either the insect had escaped or a bird had pecked the larva out of it. It was hollow and had opened somehow and fallen away from the tree, and I could see that the inside was pure white.

I carefully closed the egg case (?) against the tree and this is what it looked like. The white spot is the hole in it showing the white inside. It was only about a half inch across and I don’t know what made it.

It was a mostly cloudy day but the sun was kind enough to come out long enough to illuminate a beautiful patch of snowy moss that was in front of me.

There is a trail here that follows a narrow spit of land that juts out into the river. I suppose you’d call it a peninsula. It’s wooded and though I told myself I had to stay out of the woods I couldn’t resist.

A little spruce tree reminded me that Christmas is near. It’s unusual to find a spruce growing here.

Barberry berries looked like tiny Christmas ornaments but barberry is extremely invasive so I’d rather not see it here. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is native to Japan. In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently “barberry has been implicated in the spread of Lyme disease. Researchers have noted higher densities of adult deer ticks and white-footed deer mice under barberry than under native shrubs. Deer mice, the larval host, have higher levels of larval tick infestation and more of the adult ticks are infected with Lyme disease. When barberry is controlled, fewer mice and ticks are present and infection rates drop.”

Japanese barberry has inner bark that is bright yellow. It also has thorns that are a son of a gun to kneel on.

This is the first gall I’ve ever seen on a silky dogwood shrub. I haven’t been able to identify the insect that made it but it doesn’t matter because galls don’t usually harm the plants they grow on.

There are many witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) on the peninsula and I like to come out here in winter to see their beautiful brown leaves.

Beavers like witch hazels too, and treat them as we would a garden vegetable. Over the years, due to the cropping by the beavers, I’ve seen the witch hazels here grow into many stemmed shrubs. The beavers come and harvest a few; never all of them, and then leave them alone for a few years to grow back. Then they repeat the process, all up and down the river. It’s so good to have beavers here, because when I was a boy this river was so polluted few animals frequented it. Muskrats, I think were the largest animal using the river then. I can’t remember ever seeing a single sign of beavers.

Witch hazel seed pods explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never have been.

Bark beetles usually attack weak or dying trees but they can also kill healthy trees by girdling them.  Adults bore small holes in the bark and lay eggs in a cavity. Once the larvae emerge from the eggs they make tunnels in the inner bark. Once they stop feeding they will pupate at the end of these tunnels. The pupae then become young adults and fly off to find another tree. These beetles carry spores of various fungi which can grow on the outer sapwood and stop the upward flow of water to the crown. Bark Beetles include over 100 species. It is said that their work is like a fingerprint for the species. They can create such beautiful patterns in wood that it looks as if a calligrapher has taken up a chisel instead of a pen. When I think of things like this, created under the bark of a limb and never meant for me to see, that’s when I feel an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude, just for being alive and able to see beauty like this every day.

Bark beetles excavate egg galleries in fresh phloem, the inner bark which carries food from leaves to the roots of a tree. For a living tree this is a death sentence.  

The peninsula I was on gets narrower and narrower until it becomes just a point jutting out into the river, but on this day the water was so high I knew I’d never reach the end.

In fact the end of the peninsula was under water and this was a scary scene that I’ve never seen before. I’m guessing the peninsula is going to be a hundred or so yards shorter from now on.

On my way back up the trail I tripped over a pine branch and fell to my knees right on some Japanese barberry thorns. Once I stopped cursing my bad luck I saw that in fact I’d had good luck, because I saw a little pink, brain like jelly fungus that I’ve never seen before growing on the branch I had tripped over. Now I just have to see if I can identify it. So far I haven’t had much luck doing so. It’s very unusual, and cute too. It was a little over a quarter inch long.

There is no music like a little river’s . . . It takes the mind out-of-doors . . . and . . . it quiets a man down like saying his prayers. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

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On the night of Sunday December 1st, just after I visited the deep cut rail trail in the last post, it started snowing. And then every day for all of that week we had at least some snow falling. In my yard I had about a foot of it but some towns in the region saw as much as three feet. I stopped one snowy morning to take the above photo of the road to work. Every living thing was snow covered, settling in for a long winter sleep.

The swamp off the side of the road still showed some water but just a shadow of what it actually holds.

In case you’re wondering, it costs $80,000 per hour to remove all of this snow from state roads. That doesn’t include the cost to each individual town to remove the snow from town roads. It takes a lot of time and effort to move a foot of snow, but move it we must.

I love how the water looks so dark against the snow. Like a black mirror.

We actually got more snow than this. It settles quickly so you really should measure it just after it falls, but this was 2 days later. Still a foot even after settling. I’d say we got 14-15 inches total.

The sky looked like someone had painted the sun into it as an afterthought. It gave light but no heat. We’ve seen 7 degrees below zero F. so far.

This is another shot taken during a snow storm. They say that it snowed for about 48 hours but it felt longer than that.

The slushy snow on Half Moon Pond in Hancock absorbed water from the pond and glowed a strange color that looked green to me, but I was told that it was kind of tan.  

Finally the snow stopped but the strange colored ice was still there.

I saw some excellent examples of ice needles before it snowed and the crunch underfoot told me they were there before I saw them. They were some of the longest ice needles that I’ve seen. Many were 6-8 inches long.

When the air temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit right at the soil surface and the soil and groundwater remain thawed, hydrostatic pressure can force the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. From what I’ve seen the needles almost always freeze together and form ribbons like those seen in the above photo. I’d love to find a single one but so far, no luck with that.

Ice needles are very fragile, as you can imagine. They weigh next to nothing and just a warm breath or the swipe of a finger can destroy them. This is the same ice ribbon in the previous photo turned on edge.

The view out my back door was a little snowy.

Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey looked cold. I’m betting that the snow was deep up there, but I’d also bet that people were still climbing it. Monadnock is the second most climbed mountain on earth after Mount Fuji in Japan and it is climbed year round. The wind blowing through this spot at Perkin’s Pond in Troy can quickly chill you right to the bone, so imagine what it must be like up there.

So far the Ashuelot River in Swanzey remains ice free.

But ice shelves are forming along the Ashuelot in Keene. These ice shelves can be very dangerous once they get snowed on because it can be hard to tell where the land stops and the river begins. I’ve found myself standing on one more than once. Luckily I haven’t gotten get wet.

I stood on a bridge over the river and saw last year’s cattails through the ice.

The shadows on the snow were deep blue one day and they reminded me of a special high school art teacher who taught me to see rather than just look. To me, probably due to colorblindness, winter shadows looked gray but she convinced me that they were and should be blue. The odd thing about all of that is how, once I began painting them blue I began seeing them in blue, and I have ever since. Colorblindness is a very strange thing and it doesn’t behave as many people think it does. I can see red and green separately for instance but when a red cardinal lands in a green tree it completely disappears. Stoplights however are always red, green and yellow.

Speaking of yellow the bright yellow blossoms of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) on a 25 degree f. day were a pleasure to see. Witch hazel is our latest blooming shrub, even blooming as late as January in a warm winter, so I wasn’t that surprised to see these blossoms in December. There were lots of them.

              

I’ve shown this trail many times in these winter posts but it has always been disturbed in the past, with the snow torn up by 4 wheelers or snowmobiles. This time except for a few deer tracks it was undisturbed and paved in golden sunlight. It was so beautiful I couldn’t bring myself to disturb it either, so I turned back and left.

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

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Though I’ve done it for over 60 years it’s still hard to say goodbye to the flowers in the fall. More and more of them seem to be lasting well into October these days though, so the time without them grows shorter. I was very surprised to see this nice stand of goldenrod in mid-month.

Asters too, still bloomed here and there, usually under trees where they are protected from frost. Though most are gone now many made it well toward the end of the month.

I found this New England aster blooming near a stream. It had been cut down sometime during the summer and that made it bushier, with even more flowers.

There’s that little aster, down in the left hand corner, along with goldenrod and yarrow.

Garden asters also bloomed throughout the month. There were light ones…

…and dark ones. I like the darker ones myself.

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.

Flies certainly love this daisy.

This ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) was a real surprise. It should have gone to be weeks ago. This much loved flower was originally introduced from Europe as an ornamental in the 1800s. It quickly escaped cultivation and has now spread to each of the lower 48 states and most of Canada. Since cattle won’t eat it, it can spread at will through pastures and that means that it is not well loved by ranchers. A vigorous daisy can produce 26,000 seeds per plant and tests have shown that 82% of the buried seeds remained viable after six years underground.

Black eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) closed up shop early this year and most were missing even during the first week of October, but these garden varieties still bloomed.

I went to a spot I know of where hundreds of knapweed plants grow and I saw only about 4 flowers, so I think it’s safe to say that they’re done for this year. I think this is Brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea.) I’ve always thought that knapweed flowers were very beautiful but unfortunately this European plant according to the U.S. Forest Service is a “highly invasive weed that is capable of forming large infestations under favorable conditions.”  The large infestations crowd out native plants including those used for forage on pasture lands, so it is not well liked by ranchers. The brown bracts below the flower are what give the plant its common name.

A few purple morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea) still had their amazing inner light shining from them. They make me wonder, these flowers with their own light. I wonder if all flowers have it and we just don’t see it in all but a very few. I call it the light of creation.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) had a good year but their time seems to be just about over now. Though another name for this plant is “wild carrot” you had better know exactly what you’re doing if you dig and eat the root because there are very similar plants like water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) that are among the most toxic plants known.

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has a period of bloom in June through August and then rests for a while before giving it another go.  Mankind has had a relationship with this plant since before recorded history and dried sprigs of it have been found in Neanderthal graves. The ancient Greeks used it on wounds to staunch blood flow and so did Native Americans.

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) never looks like a flower until it is gone by and its bracts are all that’s left. The common name comes from the way it lasts for years after being cut and dried. An unusual fact about this plant is how it smells strongly of warm maple syrup. It was and still is used in smoking mixtures by some Native people.

A lone phlox bloomed on the banks of the Ashuelot River. I think it’s probably a garden escapee.

Since I like the color blue so much it’s hard not to like vetch, even though it is invasive and is probably responsible for more than a few gray hairs on this head. Once it gets in a garden it is close to impossible to eradicate by pulling alone, and I know that because I tried many times in many gardens over the years. It’s especially annoying when it gets into shrubs. I think this example might be hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa,) which was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire.

The monkshood (Aconitum napellus) in a local children’s garden still bloomed. 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.

What bothers me about this particular plant is where it grows. It’s not a good choice for a children’s garden I wouldn’t think. But it all the times I’ve been there I’ve never seen anyone actually working there. The plant gets its common name from the way each flower resembles the hood worn by medieval monks.

This is the first time I’ve ever gotten a photo of the inside of a monkshood blossom. I see what looks like a lot of stamens. Poison or not it’s all about the continuation of the species, just as it is with all plants.

Our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) starts blooming sometimes as early as mid-September, so seeing it isn’t a great surprise. It’s doing well this year and each plant is loaded with blossoms. 

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.

Every corny thing that’s said about living with nature – being in harmony with the earth, feeling the cycle of the seasons – happens to be true. Susan Orlean

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Fall came early this year I think, but for what must be the first time I’m noticing how dependent on temperature and weather the foliage colors are. We had some quite cool nights a week or two ago and that started things off but then it got hot again; it was 80 degrees and humid on the day of this writing, and the foliage changes seem to have slowed. This view of the Ashuelot River north of Keene in Gilsum is bright enough but other than a spot of yellow or orange I think it’s mostly made up of varying shades of green. But since I’m colorblind I’m the last person you should choose to believe when it comes to color. I’ll let you make your own decisions.

One thing I’m sure of by these photos is how little water is actually in the river bed. Normally I would have been very foolish to try to stand where I was when I took this one but it’s been so dry there was nothing to worry about on this day. They say we’ve had the 18th driest September since records have been kept over the last 150 years.

Something that struck me as odd and interesting was this dog lichen, which was growing on a stone that is submerged for at least a few months in spring. I’ve seen mosses stand it but this is the first lichen I’ve seen put up with being underwater. But they do love water; evidenced by their color changes and their increased pliability after a rain.

This is another scene along the Ashuelot River in the northern part of Keene. There wasn’t really more water in this part of the river, just fewer rocks.

Sometimes highbush blueberries will take on a plum color in the fall as this one has and sometimes they’re bright red.

An ash tree burned brightly at the edge of the woods. Ash trees are among the first to turn and you can often see green hillsides with spots of bright yellow here and there.

And this young ash turned a beautiful deep purple. This is a white ash (Fraxinus americana,) I believe.

One of the scenes I look forward to each fall is this one, where birches grow out of the bedrock.

Many ferns are putting on their fall colors and one of the prettiest is the cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.

And a forest full of them is even prettier.

Another plum colored blueberry with a yellow maple caught my eye on the way to work one morning.

I actually learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

Here is a closer look at purple love grass. It’s very pretty and I’m lucky enough to see quite a lot of it along roadsides.

Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) also chose to wear purple for fall. Pretty, but it contains solanine, which is the same toxic substance found in many members of the nightshade family including deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna.)

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are beautiful this year.

Red leaves and blue berries on pink stems make Virginia creeper really stand out in the fall, and sometimes whole trees are draped in it.

Winterberries, one of our native hollies, also ripen in the fall and if the birds don’t eat them they’ll persist well into winter. Photos of winterberries with snow on them have become so common they have become almost a cliché, like raindrops on roses. Still snow on these berries is a relatively difficult shot, only because you have to be in the right place at the right time. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly after they’ve been in the cold for a while. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

There must be many millions of acorns falling this year; I would guess enough to call it a mast year. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Having been outside most of my life I can say that many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year. I’ve spent a good deal of time raking them up.

Native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) often lose their chlorophyll in an odd way. Sometimes in winter you see these leaves wearing a warm, rosy brown which is very beautiful against the snow. 

Red maples (Acer rubrum) aren’t always red in the fall, but they’re almost always unbelievably beautiful and we have many millions of them here in our 4.8 million acres of forest. Over the years I’ve heard  different people say that these tree colors “can’t be real,” and that there must be some kind of camera trick involved, but I’m here to tell you that they are indeed very real and there is no trickery involved. This photo is exactly how it came out of the camera, so if you feel that what you see here is some kind of trick I would suggest that before determining the reality of a thing you might want to experience it for yourself. Many millions of people from every country on earth come here to see the autumn foliage each year. Maybe you should too.

This view of the Ashuelot River in Keene was another that held more varying shades of green than anything else but I thought it was so beautiful and peaceful I had to include it. I hope you think so too, and I really do wish you could experience it for yourselves. At this time of year you can find people who have lived here their entire lives just standing and staring, and I think that’s because when you see something like this for a time you’re taken away to a higher place. I stood and stared for a while myself, forgetting that I was supposed to be taking photos for you.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

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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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