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Posts Tagged ‘Witches’ Broom on White Pine’

Even by my own account this will be a strange post because it starts with a dream or a thought that I had about brooms. The very first thought I had one morning was “Three brooms,” so I wrote it down. Since I rarely remember a dream I pay attention to those I do remember so I said okay, we’ll do brooms. But what do I know about brooms?

I know broom moss (Dicranum scoparium,) but the only thing it has to do with brooms is how it looks like it has been swept by one. This is a common moss that likes to grow in the woods on soil, stumps or logs. Its leaves generally point in one direction and so do its spore capsules. It is said to be called “mood moss” by florists, though I don’t know why. The example in this photo was very dry, which does affect its appearance.

I know a little about another kind of broom, which is called witches’ broom. It’s a plant deformation which appears as a very dense cluster of branches and it is usually found on woody shrubs and trees, like the white pine in the above photo. Witches’ broom can also happen on food crops and in some cases it can be fatal to the plant. Rice for example, will die if the fungus that causes witches’ broom reaches it. Each plant has a different fungus that causes the broom deformation in it, so the one that causes it in rice will not affect any other plant. The witches’ broom fungus that affects potatoes causes the tubers to form on top of the soil rather than under it, and potatoes exposed to sunlight become toxic by forming a toxic alkaloid called solanine, so this will ruin the crop.

Mistletoe is a type of broom deformation but we don’t have it here, so this witches’ broom on a maple tree must have been caused by a fungus. It isn’t always a fungus that causes it though; in honeysuckles it is caused by an aphid and on hackberry trees it is caused by both a powdery mildew fungus and a tiny mite. On cherry and blackberry it is caused by a bacteria carried by insects from elm or ash trees.

The most common form of witches’ broom that I see forms on highbush blueberry bushes. This fungus lives part of its life on balsam fir trees. It is a rust fungus that must have a fir and blueberry as hosts, so the fungus from one blueberry bush can’t infect another blueberry. Most witches’ brooms in fact need two host plants; the fungus that causes witches’ broom in fir trees must have chickweed as a host and the fungus that infects spruce trees needs bearberry as a host.

Though witches’ broom on blueberry plants can be unsightly it doesn’t seem to harm the plant. When I was gardening professionally I picked blueberries from a bush with a large witches’ broom on it for years. This photo shows the dense mass of deformed branches that are typical of witches’ broom on blueberry. Medieval writers wrote of bewitched bundles of twigs called Hexenbesen, which were obviously caused by witches. In 1453 warlock Guillaume Edelin confessed to flying on a broomstick.

I’ve never seen witches broom on lowbush blueberry plants, but I like their spidery branch structure against the snow.

Now we come to the third kind of broom, the sweeping kind, which I knew nothing about until I did this post. Historically, brooms were made of just about any natural material you can imagine, including birch branches. It seems though, that people always found fault with them; they wore out too fast, they didn’t clean as well as they liked, etc. But then in 1797 in Hadley Massachusetts farmer Levi Dickinson made a broom out of sorghum, which is a grain native to Australia that he grew. Levi also eventually made a machine that made brooms faster than he could by hand, because everyone wanted one of his brooms. Levi and his broom machine owned the broom market until the Shakers invented the broom vise in 1798 and made the normally round brooms flat. Levi and the Shaker’s broom machines are credited with starting the industrial revolution and gave us the flat brooms that we all use today.

If you Google “3 brooms” like I did after my dream this is what you come up with. I don’t drink wine so I have never heard of it. I thought it was interesting that the brooms on the label are old style, before the Shakers re-invented them. This is the kind of broom that was used for thousands of years; sweeping is even mentioned in the Bible.

Well, I’m sure we all now know more than we ever wanted to about booms. Let’s hope I never dream of vacuums. I’m sorry this post strayed so far from my usual fare but doing a broom post allowed me to sweep away all thoughts of going outside in the bitter cold we’ve had. It was about -9 degrees F. the morning I started this post and it hadn’t reached freezing (32 degrees) until about 3 o’clock that afternoon, which was much too late to get out and take photos because it gets dark so early. I’ve found that, due to COPD, extreme cold is much harder to bear these days and in fact the doctors say that it can be dangerous. There is a bright side though; Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog didn’t see his shadow so spring will come early, even though the calendar says we’ll have 6 more weeks.

I make no secret of the fact that I would rather lie on a sofa than sweep beneath it. ~Shirley Conran

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. After an Ice Storm

Winter can’t seem to make up its mind this year. We’ll get one or two cold days and then two or three warm ones and the snowstorms have left little more than powdered sugar dustings. After the record breaking warmth of December, January is now 6 degrees above average and after last winter I’m not complaining about any of it. The photo above was taken right after a small ice storm as the sun was melting all the ice off the trees and shrubs.

2. Misty Morning

This is what happens when it isn’t light enough for the camera to see. I took this with my cell phone at Half Moon Pond in Hancock at dawn one morning. I was going to delete it but then it started to remind me of a watercolor painting so I kept it. It shows how misty some of our mornings have been lately.

3. Misty Swamp

This also shows how misty it has been but this was taken at sunset after a dusting of snow fell that morning.

4. Pond Ice

Our smaller ponds have started to freeze up but the ice is thin and ice fishermen are getting frustrated.5. Frozen River Foam

The river has hardly frozen at all but one day it was full of these curious white pancakes.

6. Frozen River Foam

The pancakes turned out to be river foam that had collected into discs and then had frozen overnight.

7. Mallards

There was a tiny bit of ice on the Ashuelot River and some mallards swam by it just as I was preparing to take its photo. Two males and a female, with the female leading the way.

8. Glare Ice

This is what happens when a pond freezes and then it rains and the rain freezes; glare ice. If it hadn’t been so thin it would have been an ice skater’s dream come true. Thin ice causes problems every year and this year is no different. I’ve already heard of two boys and a snowmobiler having to be rescued, and a deer was rescued one night as well. They’re all lucky to be alive.

9. Dawn in the Woods

I wonder how the deer get through a winter like this. They can’t stand on the ice very well and sometimes all 4 feet splay out from under them. In some places the woods are full of ice as the above photo shows, so I think the deer are might be having a rough time of it.

10. Hollow Tree

I saw a huge old maple tree that was hollowed out enough for me to have comfortably had a sit down in it if I had been so inclined. There are more hollow trees living in the forest than one would guess.

11. Witches Broom on Pine

Can you see the setting sun in this old pine tree? I took its photo because the setting sun lit up the lichens covering almost every bit of exposed branch. The branches themselves have grown into a witches’ broom, which I rarely see on trees, especially conifers. According to the Arnold Arboretum the English term witches’-broom translates directly from the German word Hexenbesen. Both parts of the German compound word are found in English as hex, meaning to bewitch, and besom, a bundle of twigs, meaning witches’ broom is a bewitched bundle of twigs. Even though that might be what it looks like it is actually a deformity caused by any number of things such as disease, fungi, insects or viruses. Many dwarf conifers have been propagated from witches’ brooms and collecting and growing new specimens is big business.

12. Black Jelly

Winter is when jelly fungi appear and one of easiest to find is black jelly fungus (Exidia glandulosa.) This pillow shaped, shiny black fungus is common on alders here. When it dries out it loses about 90%  of its volume and shrinks down to small black flakes, and it looks like someone has smeared paint or tar on the limb that it grows on. This one shows well that jelly fungi are mostly water.

13. Amber Jelly

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) is also common and I find it on oak or poplar limbs. You can’t tell from this photo but it has a shiny side and a matte finish side. The spores are produced on the shiny side and if I understand what I’ve read correctly, this is true of most jelly fungi. This one has the color of jellied cranberry sauce.

14. Orange Jelly

This is one of the biggest orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) that I’ve seen. Orange and yellow jelly fungi seem to appear earlier in the season than black or amber jellies do, so I see more of them.  Jelly fungi are fun to see because they add beauty to the winter landscape, but people seem to have a hard time finding them. I think that they probably miss seeing them and many other things because they’re thinking more about where they’re going than where they are, and they walk too fast. To find the small beautiful things in nature I have to walk slowly and focus completely on right here, right now; just the immediate surroundings. If you’re in the woods thinking about what you’ll do when you get home you probably won’t see much, and you’ll remember less.

15. Puddle Ice-2

I’ve seen a lot of puddle ice this year that has grown long, sharp looking ice crystals.

16. Snowmelt

As you’ve seen so far this winter is more about ice than snow, but even that hasn’t approached anything near severe. Winter can’t seem to make up its mind and everyone wonders if it will be as severe as it has been for the last two years. Last year it all happened in February so it’s still a possibility, but I try to think about how each passing day means the sun stays out a little longer and brings us another day closer to March. From that point it’ll be doubtful that we’ll see any severe weather, but anything is possible.

Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things. ~Edward Steichen

Thanks for coming by.

 

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