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Posts Tagged ‘Witches Butter’

It was cloudy but warm last Saturday when I visited the Beaver Brook Natural Area in Keene. This is a nice walk on an old abandoned road that is only 5 minutes from the center of town by car, so quite a few people come here. I was pleased to see that there was little snow here on this day because it usually quickly turns to ice from all the foot traffic. As I said in my last post, it is very strange to drive from here where there is virtually no snow to my job a half hour away in Hancock, where there is plenty.

Beaver Brook was behaving itself despite all the rain and snow we’ve had. The last time I came here I would have been in water up to my neck if I’d been standing in this spot.

I have a lot of old friends here, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place I’ve ever seen it so when I want to see how it changes as it grows I have to come here. There are also many other one-of-a-kinds I can visit while I’m here.

I like the crepe paper like leaves of this sedge.

The sun finally came out just a few hours later than the weather people said it would, and the golden light falling on the brook was beautiful. I dilly dallied for a while beside this pool, thinking how some might consider coming to such a place a waste of time or an attempt to escape reality, but this is not an escape from reality; it is an immersion in reality, because this is just about as real as it gets. And getting a good dose of reality is never a waste of time.

This is the only place I know of to find the beautiful rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each rosette of leaves is about the size of an aspirin and looks like a little flower, and that’s where its common name comes from. Rose moss likes limestone and it’s a good indicator of limestone in the soil or stone that it grows on, so it’s a good idea to look around for other lime loving plants if you find it. Many native orchids for instance, also like lime in the soil.

Another moss that I’ve only seen here is the stair-step moss (Hylocomium splendens,) which is also called glittering wood moss  possibly due to its satiny sheen when dry. Though it looks quite fragile I’ve seen it with icicles hanging from it many times, and it grows north even into the Arctic tundra. The stair step part of the name comes from the way new growth “steps up” off the midrib of the previous year’s growth. You can’t see it in this photo but it’s a fun thing to look for if you find this moss.

Unlike the rarer mosses we’ve just seen juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) grows just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it is any less interesting than the others.

When young the female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra which protects it. You can’t see it in this photo but it is very hairy and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually as the capsule ages it moves from vertical to a more horizontal position and the calyptra falls off. The spore capsule continues to ripen after the calyptra comes off and when the time is right the beaked end cap or lid called the operculum will fall off and release the spores to the wind. As it ages the spore capsule changes from round to four cornered but not quite square, as seen here.

This is a look at the business end of the spore capsule, which is still covered by a thin lid of tissue. What looks like notches around its perimeter are slots that fit over specialized teeth called peristome teeth at the mouth of the capsule. These teeth move with changes in humidity and spread in dry conditions to release the spores, which are taken by the wind. The spore capsule’s diameter at this stage is less than the diameter of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. I’d bet that I’ve probably tried a thousand times over the years to get this shot and this is the only time I’ve succeeded.  I wish I had a microscope so I could get even closer.

Here was another moss that grew all mixed in with a liverwort. It was hard to tell exactly what it was but its sporangium were covered by white calyptra that looked like a swarm of tiny insects with white wings.

Here is a shot of one of the spore capsules from the moss in the previous photo. The spore capsules have a white (when dry) 2 part calyptra that doesn’t appear to be hairy, and I haven’t been able to identify it. I have a feeling it is another moss in the Polytrichum family but I don’t know that for sure. Sporangium means “spore vessel” in Latin, and of course that’s exactly what it is. Note the long beaked lid at the end of the capsule, which is its operculum.

The liverwort that was mixed in with the moss in the previous photos was the greater whipwort liverwort (Bazzania trilobata.) It lives happily on stones right along with mosses so you have to look closely to be sure what it is you’re looking at. This pretty liverwort looks almost like it has been braided and always reminds me of a nest full of centipedes.

Each greater whipwort leaf is about an eighth of an inch wide and has three triangular notches at its base. This is where the trilobata part of its scientific name comes from. It means “having three lobes.” You might notice though, that some have more than three.

There was a good bit of ice on the roadside ledges but it was rotten and falling so I didn’t get too close.

Drill marks in the stone of the ledges tells the history of this place. This road was one of the first laid out in the town of Keene, built to reach the first sawmill. If you didn’t have a sawmill in town in those days you had a dirt floor. Or one made of logs, which was probably worse than dirt.

It turned out to be a beautiful and relatively warm day. The lack of snow on the old abandoned road made walking a pleasure. I’ve seen this natural canyon with so much snow in it I had to turn back.

The yellow lines are still here on the old road, but since nobody has driven here since about 1970 they really aren’t needed.

One of the best examples of a healed frost crack that I know of can be seen here in this golden birch. Sun warming the bark in winter can cause a tree’s wood to expand. If nighttime temperatures fall into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly as the bark the stress on the bark can cause it to crack. On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots in the woods, but the sounds are really coming from cracking trees. They can be quite loud and will often echo through a forest.

The spot where this yellow jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica) grew was heavily shaded so I had to use my camera’s onboard LED light to get a shot of it. I was surprised when I saw the photo because you could clearly see the shiny and dull, matte finish surfaces on the fungus. I’ve read that the fungus produces spores only on its shiny side, but in previous photos I’ve taken the entire thing always looked shiny. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the two surfaces in a photo so I’m quite happy to have solved another riddle, even though there are always hundreds more just around the next bend when you’re involved in nature study.

If you come upon a white spot on a tree that looks like it has been inscribed with ancient runes you are probably seeing a script lichen. This common script lichen (Graphis scripta) was bold and easy to see. The dark lines are its apothecia, where its spores are produced, and the gray color is its body, or thallus. If you happen to be a lichen there is nothing more important than continuation of the species through spore production, and script lichens produce plenty in winter.

There is a great waterfall here but unfortunately you have to just about break your neck to get to it, so since I wasn’t interested in doing so here’s a shot of it from a few years back. Height estimates vary but I’m guessing about 30-40 feet, and it was roaring on this day. Just think; history lessons, plants, ferns, lichens, mosses, fungi, liverworts, a waterfall and a brook that sings to you all along the way. Where else can a nature lover find all of these things in one walk? Nowhere else that I know of, and that’s why I come here again and again. I do hope you aren’t getting bored from seeing it so much.

To taste life, so true and real. Sweet serenity. ~Jonathan Lamas

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray…I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day.” California Dreaming by The Mammas and the Pappas has been playing in my head a lot lately; maybe because I hoped to do one more fall foliage post. But now, since all the leaves are brown I doubt that it will happen.

I shouldn’t say all the leaves are brown because bracken fern’s leaves (Pteridium aquilinum) have turned kind of a pinky gray. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years ago, so it has been very successful. That might be because it eliminates competition by releasing chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants. That’s why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are seen, often along roadsides. Some Native American tribes peeled and cooked the roots of bracken fern to use as food but science has shown that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

It has gotten cold here all of the sudden; cold enough to be record breaking in parts of the state, so scenes like this one of frosty leaves and grass have become commonplace in the morning. I was hoping I could get all of the leaves picked up before it snowed, but that isn’t going to happen.

This juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) was about as frosty as it could be but mosses can handle extremes and this little plot of moss should come through winter completely unscathed.

The thin, crinkly white puddle ice that I used to love riding my bike through as a boy has appeared on the puddles. I was never thrilled to see it in the fall but I loved seeing it in the spring because it meant that the earth was warming up after a long winter and soon school would be letting out for the summer. I’ve learned since then that the white color comes from bubbles, because this ice contains lots of oxygen. I’ve also learned that you can see some amazing things in this ice; I’ve seen wave ripples, birds flying, high mountains, distant stars, and space and time. All of that and more can all be there for the seeing, but most of us don’t take the time to look.

At the river there was ice of another kind. Just seeing it in a photo makes me shiver because I remember how cold it was that day.

Speaking of the river, the Ashuelot’s banks won’t hold much more. We’ve been getting 1-4 inches of rain each week since about mid-July and so far there hasn’t been any serious flooding but as this photo shows, something is going to have to give soon if it keeps up. Luckily the weather people are finally talking about a pattern change, and except for a few snow showers the upcoming week looks fairly dry for the most part.

Of course streams are running furiously as well. I visited Beaver Brook in Keene recently to admire the stone wall that was built over and around the brook, probably well over a hundred years ago. It’s the only stone wall built around a brook that I’ve ever seen; essentially a box culvert on top of rather than below ground, built by a clever farmer I’d guess. The only time you can get a good look at it is after the leaves fall.

Even beavers are saying “enough rain already!” This beaver dam was breached by high water because apparently even the industrious beavers can’t keep up.

Beavers have been very active near my house. They cut down this 5 inch diameter poplar tree and I was surprised because in the past they’ve always cut birches first. There are quite a few birches in the same area but so far they’ve left them alone. They can cut and drag off an amazing number of trees in one night.

Usually it’s the top branches of a tree that beavers want most for winter food so I was surprised that they left this poplar limb behind. I’m guessing that they probably came back for it that night.

Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. Yellow jellies (Tremella mesenterica) like this one are called witches butter and are fairly common. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. Jelly fungi can be parasitic on other fungi.

The most common of all jelly fungi is the amber one in my experience (Exidia recisa,) because I see it all the time, especially after a rain. This one always reminds me of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi dry out when it’s dry and appear as tiny colored flakes that you’d hardly believe could grow as much as they do, but they absorb water like a sponge and can grow to 60 times bigger than they were when dry. Jelly fungi have a shiny side and a kind of matte finish side and their spores are produced on their shiny sides. After a good rain look closely at those fallen limbs, big or small, and you’re sure to find jelly fungi.

Hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) can be quite big but they are still easiest to see when the leaves fall. Their color can vary greatly but they’re almost always shiny on top, hence the “varnish” part of the common name, but this example had no shine. In China this mushroom is called the Reishi mushroom and it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese medicine and scientists from around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

When I started my current job I saw a tree / shrub that I hadn’t ever seen. I watched it for a while to see what it would do but even after watching it for months I couldn’t find it in any guide, so I put it on the blog as an unknown. Right off my blogging friend Clare from the Suffolk Lane blog told me it was a spindle berry, native to Europe,  and after researching it I was happy with that name and I’ve called it that ever since. But recently I found out that we have a native version called eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus,) so now I’m going to have to watch it even more closely to see which one it is. I think it’s probably the native version. The photo above is of its interesting bright red fruit.

In my last post I mentioned how the inner bark of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) was often a beautiful bright red, but the odd thing about it is that it seems to turn red only after exposure to the elements. I’ve peeled the bark from dead staghorn sumacs and have never been able to find any red color, but if I look closely at dead sumacs with bark that has peeled naturally like that in the above photo, it’s often quite red. How and why it changes is a mystery to me but it’s nice to see in winter when there isn’t a lot of color.

Wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) are sucking insects that pierce the bark of an alder and suck out the sap, so they do harm the plant. They can be winged or unwinged and need both alders and silver maples to complete their life cycle. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of silver maple trees. In spring the nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the undersides of new leaves until in late May through July they develop wings and fly off to find alders. Once on an alder they begin feeding on the sap and reproducing. Soon the colony is made up of aphids in all stages of growth and becomes covered in a fluffy white, waxy “wool” like that seen in this photo. Some aphids mature and fly off to silver maples to mate and once mated the female will lay a single egg in a crevice in the bark and the cycle will repeat.

Last year I was able to do an entire flower post in November but this year it got cold quickly, so I was surprised to see this little lobelia (Lobelia inflata) still blooming. The flowers are no bigger than a pencil eraser and its common name of Indian tobacco comes from its inflated seedpods, which are said to look like the pouches that Native Americans carried their smoking mixtures in.

I’ve seen native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bloom in January in a warm winter, so it wasn’t a surprise to see it blooming in November, but even witch hazel can have too much cold and I doubt I’ll see these pretty blooms again until the spring witch hazels bloom in March. It’s an event I’ll be impatiently waiting for. Just the thought of spring, my favorite season, is like a soothing balm that gets me through winter.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

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Here are some more of those sometimes odd, often beautiful, and always interesting things that I see in the woods.

 1. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

It’s interesting how nature seems to use the same shapes over and over again in different ways. The round fruiting cups, called apothecia, of the Poplar Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria hasseana) remind me of the suckers on an octopus or squid. Instead of latching onto things however, this lichen uses its cups for spore production. To give you a sense of scale-the largest of those in the photo is about an eighth of an inch across. The entire lichen might have been an inch and a half across.

 2. Many Forked cladonis Lichen

This lichen had me stumped for a while because I thought that beard lichens only grew on trees, and it was growing on stone. One bristly lichen that does grow on stones is called rock bushy lichen (Ramalina intermedia) but it has flattened branches that resemble noodles, and the one in the photo has round branches. I went back to re-visit it the other day and found that, though it was perched on a large boulder, there was soil on the boulder. That fact led me to discover a lichen new to me-the many forked cladonia (Cladonia furcata,) which grows on soil or stone. It is eaten by elk and reindeer in northern latitudes. This is the only example of it in this area that I know of.

 3. Common Liverwort aka Marchantia polymorpha

I went through most of my life ignoring liverworts, but after seeing one or two of them now I see them everywhere. The one in the photo is the common liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha.) It can often be found growing in nursery pots as a weed, but I found this one by a stream. This is also called the umbrella liverwort, because male plants have reproductive structures (Antheridiophores) that look like the ribs of an umbrella. They remind me of palm trees.

 4. Orange Mushroom Gills

Sometimes I like to take a photo of something I see just because I find it interesting or beautiful, without worrying about its name or how and why it grows the way that it does. That’s all that this photo of orange / brown mushroom gills is.

 5. Fallen Mushroom

Sometimes mushrooms are as interesting dead as they are alive. Sometimes even more so.

 6. Virginia Creeper Berries

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) stems and berries add color to the landscape. I got to these before the birds did. A paper titled “The dissemination of Virginia Creeper Seeds by English Sparrows” by Bartle T. Harvey describes how the author found 70 Virginia creeper seedlings in fifty square feet of ground under a known English sparrow roost in Colorado.

 7. Possible Jack O Lantern Mushrooms

I think these mushrooms might be jack ‘o lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens,) which are orange and fruit in late fall in clusters on wood. If I could see them at night I’d know for sure, because through bio-luminescence this mushroom’s gills glow in the dark. It is said that they glow an eerie green color and work in much the same way that fireflies do. They are also very toxic.

8. Jack O' Lantern Mushrooms

This photo of glowing jack o’ lantern mushrooms is from Wikipedia. Only the gills glow, even though it looks as if the entire mushroom does.

 9. Orange Jelly Fungus

More orange can be found in the forest in the form of orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus.) These are very common but I see more of them at this time of year than I do in warmer months.

 10. Hobblebush Buds

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) have already grown their spring leaves and they will remain this way, naked and unprotected, throughout the winter months. I got a good lesson on why they are called hobblebush recently when my feet got tangled in the ground hugging branches. They hobbled me and I went down fast and hard. Luckily there were no stones there to fall on-a miracle in the Granite State.

 11. Maaple Leave ViburnamAnother viburnum, maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), has leaves that turn to just about every fall color , including deep purple,  before they finally fade to an almost imperceptible pastel pink before falling to the ground.

 12. Marple Leaf Viburnum

This is an example of just some of the colors that can be found on maple leaf viburnums.

 13. Larch

The few larch trees (Larix) went out in a blaze of color. Larches lose their needles from the bottom up. It is our only conifer that loses all of its needles in the fall.

 14. River Reflections

The shrubs along the river have lost their leaves. The few yellow leaves that appear here and there are on bittersweet vines.

If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Thanks for coming by.

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