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Posts Tagged ‘Wooly Aphids’

It’s blueberry picking time here in New Hampshire and one of the best local places I know of to do that is on Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. Wild blueberry season in New Hampshire usually starts around the end of July and people come from all over to pick them. I like to come here at this time not to pick blueberries but to meet the people who do.

The trail, as mountains go, is relatively easy to climb even for me and I often meet elderly people climbing here.

Hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) line the trail and they were starting to turn white, here and there. Another signal that fall is in the air. This fern likes shade and will tolerate extreme dryness as well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. It does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

A young mountain ash tree was covered with wooly aphids, almost from the soil to its tip. These sucking insects can be winged or unwinged. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of trees and in spring nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage. I’m guessing that this young tree will be severely weakened by such large numbers of aphids. The drops of liquid are their waste, which is called “honeydew.” It’s very sticky and often leads to sooty black mold.

Someone left a small stone on top of a larger one. I used to collect rocks and minerals and I could see that it wasn’t anything special. I almost tossed it into the woods but then I thought that it might have been special to the person, possibly a child, who left it there, so I put it back. Speaking of children I saw a few here on this day, and that made my heart glad. There’s no such thing as too many kids in the woods, and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is introducing them to nature.

There were lots of white whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) growing along the trail but many hadn’t bloomed yet. This plant can take quite a lot of shade.

The leaves were all mottled on this wood aster. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what would have caused it. It didn’t look like leaf miners.

Before I knew it I was at the meadow. The white puffy clouds though unexpected, were fun to see.

The clouds were unexpected because the weatherman said wall to wall sunshine for the day. Instead it looked like the clouds might be on their way to becoming wall to wall and some were huge. That dark area out there is a cloud shadow.

Theses hay rolls (?) were placed near where I saw the big black bear in May on my last trip up the mountain. I’ve thrown hay bales up onto wagons before but I was very thankful that I never had to roll these big things around. They must be for the Scottish highland cattle that live up here.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) dangled red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

Unfortunately most of the cherries in this area have black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

Flocks of these little gray and black birds flew along the trial beside me. I think they were dark eyed juncos. They were very quiet and didn’t seem frightened of me at all. In fact they were as inquisitive as chipmunks and watched me the whole way.

The old ranger cabin told me I was just a few yards from the summit.

The ranger cabin had me wondering just how often the people in charge come up here, because the boards someone ripped off one of the windows were still missing since at least May. There was also an alarm sounding on the generator that powers the fire tower, but nobody around to silence it.

I’m not sure what would happen if the power was cut to the fire tower. There sure are a lot of antennas on it. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. There were a few up here on this day and I even saw a woman wearing flipflops, which I wouldn’t recommend. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

I met a man with a German (?) accent who was very interested in blueberries. I told him that there were plenty of bushes right here on the summit and he should just help himself. The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state. There are areas where they are more concentrated though, and Pitcher Mountain is one of those areas. This is what the man was after and though they grow in great numbers near the summit he wasn’t having much luck finding any berries. I saw people carrying containers around and I saw ripe berries, so I’m not sure why he wasn’t finding any.

Native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and also grows on the summit. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though I told him that they are both native berries the man with the German accent said he didn’t want these berries because they must be “some kind of strange hybrid.” He wanted native berries he said again, so I finally had to say good hunting and move on. Clearly someone has given him erroneous information about blueberries but it can’t be just him, because most of these berries go untouched by the pickers. When I come up here in January I find them mummified by the thousands, still on the bushes. I’ve eaten many of both kinds and in my experience one isn’t any better or worse than the other, in my opinion. I wish I could have convinced the visitor of that.

It’s been quite dry lately so I was surprised to see water in what I call “the birdbath.” I saw a dark eyed junco taking a bath in it once but they didn’t follow me all the way to the summit to bathe on this day. I did see a black Labrador retriever roll in it though.

There was a certain haziness to the atmosphere so I couldn’t see much detail on  Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey.

Before long the clouds had almost fully come together and they seemed almost low enough to touch. I began to wonder if wall to wall sunshine was going to turn into wall to wall rain.

So off I went back down the trail, wondering about the woman climbing a mountain in flip flops and the poor man who couldn’t find a blueberry even though he was surrounded by thousands of them. I’ve always found it easier to understand plants than people, and sometimes human nature really does baffle me.

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for coming by.

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Even in winter there is still plenty to see in the woods. These are a few of the things I’ve seen lately that didn’t fit into other posts.

1. Foliose Lichen On Birch

I don’t know the name of this beautiful foliose lichen but I found it in a birch tree that I’ve visited many times.  I thought I had examined every lichen  within reach in that tree but I was obviously mistaken. My failure to see it even after so many visits helps illustrate the difference between seeing a thing and knowing it. I would have told you that I knew this birch tree like the back of my hand, but now I wonder what else I’ve missed.

2. Blackberry Thorns

Another illustration. This one shows why it’s best to wear old clothes when picking blackberries.

3. Motherwort Seed Head

The tiny pink flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) grow in circular tufts spaced up the length of the stem. Each flower produces 4 triangular brown nutlets, and in this instance the birds have eaten almost all of them. The scientific name cardiaca means “for the heart” and motherwort was once used to remedy nervousness and dizziness.  Whether it has any medicinal effect on birds is anyone’s guess.  The male black capped chickadees seem very excited this year so it doesn’t seem to be calming them down any.

 4. Purple Coneflower Seed Head

Birds have also been after the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds.  This is one reason I let plants go through their natural cycle and don’t cut them back until spring. Another reason is plain old laziness, which I’m sure the birds appreciate.

 5. Squirrel Tracks

If the question is “Does a squirrel slip in the woods?” the answer has to be yes.

6. Black Sooty Mold from Beech Wooly Aphid

Wooly aphids are sap sucking insects that secrete sweet honeydew on branches and leaves of plants. The honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold. Since the mold only grows on the aphid honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. In fact, the aphids will do far more harm. This mold feels hard and brittle when dry and soft and pliable after a rain. The example in the above photo was growing on alder, but it can also be found on beech, magnolia, maple, oak, elm, basswood, willow, walnut, white pine and hemlock.

7. Barberry Fruit

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.”

8. Foliose Lichen

I think this might be a tube lichen (Hypogymnia physodes) but I find that these gray / green lichens are one of the hardest to identify. Identification is made even more difficult by their habit of changing color between their wet and dry state. When wet the algae in some lichens (known as chlorolichens) “bloom” and turn the body of the lichen green. The algae are the photobiont part of the fungal and algal symbiotic pair that makes up a lichen, which means that the algae do all the photosynthesizing.

9. Green Shield Lichen

This common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) lives on an old hemlock tree just outside my back door, so I know it well.  The recent rain and snow have got it looking just about as good as it ever does so I thought I’d take its photo. Lichens have several ways of reproducing and one of them is vegetatively.  The granular bits in the center of this lichen are called soredia, and are made up of intertwined fungi and algae granules. They will eventually fall to the ground and will be blown or carried to another place where, if all goes well, another lichen will grow.

In the book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer mentions an experiment that showed that many mosses spread by sticking to the bottoms of the tiny feet of chipmunks. I wouldn’t be surprised if lichens were spread in the same way.

10. Honey Locust Seed Pods

The ground beneath an old honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) was littered with thousands of long, flat seed pods. Considering that each one of these was once a flower, this tree must have been very beautiful last June. The reason I was surprised enough by these to take a photo is because the seed pods when fresh contain sweet pulp that is loved by animals, including livestock. Native Americans used the pulp for food as well. Some say it is very sweet and tastes like the fig in a Fig Newton cookie. You do not want to just go munching on seed pods to find out though-black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) seed pods are very toxic.

 11. Honey Locust Seed Pod

Honey locust seed pods look a lot like giant flat string bean about 9-12 inches long and often curled. Some of them look like polished mahogany and others can be purple.

12. Unusual Jelly Fungus

I’ve seen two red jelly fungi in my life and this is one of them. I should say red-ish, my color finding software sees salmon pink, dark salmon, rose, orange, rosy brown, and chocolate brown. I think it might be a purple jelly disc (Ascocoryne sarcoides) but I’m not completely sure. Whatever it is, it is rare here.

 13. Snow Cone

Here is a question to ponder: How does the wind sculpt a perfectly circular feature in the snow? Wouldn’t it have to blow from every direction at once to do so?

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~ Anaïs Nin

Thanks for stopping in.

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