Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Yew Berry’

A bee landed on my windshield recently and, since I can’t remember ever seeing a bee’s belly, I took a photo of it. It’s cold enough now so bees and other insects are moving sluggishly and acting as if they really don’t know what to do with themselves, because there are few flowers to keep them company.

There are some flowers still blooming though and what I think is a hoverfly found this false dandelion blossom. It was tiny but barely moving, so getting a photo was relatively easy.

Here was something I wasn’t happy about seeing; the wind had knocked a bald faced hornet’s nest out of a tree. The nest was as big as a football and was buzzing with angry bald faced hornets. Each nest can house as many as 400 of them and if you get within three feet of the nest they don’t have a problem letting you know how displeased they are. They were flying all around as I took these photos and I’m still surprised that I didn’t get stung.

Bald faced hornets aren’t really hornets at all; though they are black and white they’re classified as yellow jacket wasps because they’re more closely related to wasps than they are hornets. But it doesn’t matter what you call them. This is one insect you don’t want to get stung by because unlike bees they can sting multiple times and it is a painful sting. They rate a 2.0 on the Schmidt Pain Index and the pain is described as “Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.” In case you’re wondering the Schmidt Pain Index goes up to 4.0, which is described as “You don’t want to know.” There is one insect that rates a 4.0 on the index: a Tarantula Hawk, which is another wasp that I hope I never meet.

What I think was a dark eyed Junco landed on a deck where I work and let me walk right up to it. It sat there even as I opened a door and went inside and didn’t fly off until I came back out of the building. Even then it flew just a few feet away and landed in an apple tree. They seem like very tame birds but what I was struck by most when I saw this photo of it was its shadow; it reminded me of something.

This is what the Junco’s shadow reminded me of. There used to be a television show called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and it always opened with this shadow. It was one of my favorite shows for quite a while and it can still be seen on You Tube today.

Here was another dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella.) At least I thought that’s what they were but these example had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

I saw a tiny insect on the underside of this mushroom but it wasn’t until I saw the photo that I realized it had been looking up at me. I’m not sure what it was; an ant, maybe? It’s a cute little thing, whatever its name.

I saw what I thought was a strangely colored rock along the Ashuelot River, but when I walked around it and saw the other side I discovered that it wasn’t that strange after all, because that side looked like any other rock. What we see here is the part of the rock that was buried in the soil and that soil apparently contained a lot of iron. How it got out of that iron rich soil I don’t know, but it might have rolled down the river bed. Standing here after heavy rains when the river is raging you can hear the eerie booming sounds of stones rolling along the river bed. It’s a sound that’s hard to forget; you don’t just hear it, you feel it as well.

When the leaves begin to fall lots of things that were previously hidden are revealed, and among them are bird’s nests like this one I saw along the river. It wasn’t very big; a baseball would have fit right in it like it had been made for it, so it was probably about 3 or 4 inches across.

It was made of mud and straw; an ancient recipe for bricks. All its soft interior of lichens, feathers, and soft grasses had disappeared. Or maybe they were never there and the bird was happy to sit on sun baked, hard mud. I’ve seen quite a few eastern phoebes in this area but I don’t know if it was one of them that made the nest.

American mountain ash is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Our woods are full of ripe Concord and river grapes at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red, fleshy part of the berry. The seed inside the berry, which can be seen in this photo, is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as three of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever figured out why he would do such a thing but the incident illustrated just how toxic the plant is.

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America, along with the concord grape and blueberry, that are commercially grown but I’m not sure of that. Because they float commercial growers flood their fields to harvest them. This has many people thinking that they grow in water but no, they grow near water on dry, peaty, sandy soil. Cultivation began in 1816 and growers discovered that a well-tended cranberry plant can live 150 years. The cranberry was highly important to Native Americans and they used them for everything from food and medicine to dyes. The most important use was in pemmican, which was a highly nutritious mixture of dried fruit, dried meat and fat. The name cranberry comes from crane berry, which the early settlers named them because they thought the flowers looked like sand hill cranes. Once the English brought honeybees over in 1622 honey was used as a sweetener for the tart berries and their use skyrocketed among the settlers. This was very bad news for the Natives and many tribes died out within 100 years of European contact.

I’ve seen lots of galls but I’ve never seen these pea size furry ones before. They grew on an oak leaf and some of them simply rolled off it when I tilted the leaf. They are wooly oak leaf galls I believe, and like most galls do no harm to the host plant. A wasp lays an egg on a leaf and the tree responds by encasing it in a gall. When the egg hatches the wasp larva eats its way out of the gall. Inside the fuzzy wool is a hard brownish kernel that looks like a seed.

Everlastings get their name from the way they can dry and often last for years once they’ve been cut. Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) gets its name from the way that it smells like maple syrup. It’s another of those plants like pineapple weed which will light up a child’s face when they smell it. They know instantly just what it smells like.

Well, here it is Halloween and the only spooky thing I have to show you is this witches hat that I found growing on a witch hazel leaf. It’s actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I think it looks like a Hershey’s kiss chocolate candy.

Here’s something that might be much more scary than the witches hat; puddle ice.

And yes that’s snow, and that scares me. We saw a dusting one morning a week or so ago but thankfully none since. Though we average zero inches of snow in October we’ve had over a foot on Halloween in recent memory. Chances are you’ll see more of it here soon. We average about 2 inches in November and just over 11 inches in December.

Nature is what you see plus what you think about it. ~John Sloan

Thanks for coming by. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Read Full Post »

 

1-ashuelot-islandsThough we’ve had a rainy day or two the drought has brought the level of the Ashuelot River down to the point where islands have appeared where they’ve never been, and they’re already covered with grasses and wildflowers. It would be quicker to walk down the middle of it than trying to navigate it in a boat. I don’t think you would even get your knees wet now, but in a normal summer it would be about waist deep here.

2-ashuelot-island-flowers

Extreme zooming showed the flowers were nodding bur marigolds (Bidens cernua.) I don’t know how they and the grasses grew on the islands so fast.

3-great-blue-heron

It’s cooling off quickly now and morning temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s, but great blue heron are still with us. They can take a lot of cold and can sometimes be seen even when there’s snow on the ground.

4-great-blue-heron

This one walked slowly into the pickerel weeds as I watched. It was nice to see one that wasn’t practicing to be a statue for a change.

5-hickory-tussock-moth-caterpillar

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is black and white and can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

6-lbms-on-log

We’ve had a poor mushroom season because of the dryness but there are occasional surprises, like these brown mushrooms colonizing a log. I think they were in the Galerina genus, which contains some of the most toxic mushrooms known including the deadly galerina (Galerina marginata.) Mushroom hunters would be wise to study them and know them well.

7-bracket-fungus

This large leathery bracket fungus grew on a tree root and looked like a well-worn saddle. I haven’t been able to identify it.

8-hen-of-the-woods-fungus-on-oak

Do mushrooms grow back in the same place year after year? Yes, some do and this convoluted bracket fungus is a good example of that. I found it at the base of a large oak tree last year and here it is again. I believe that it is hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) which is an edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I see green and my color finding software sees gray.

9-hen-of-the-woods-fungus-on-oak

Hen of the woods mushroom caps are attached to each other by short white stems. They appear at the base of oak trees in September and October and can be quite large; sometimes two feet across. In China and Japan they are used medicinally. Science has found that they contain blood sugar lowering compounds that could be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.

10-mushroom-on-mushroom

This was a first for me; the white mushrooms were growing out of the black decaying gills of another mushroom. I’m not quite sure how to explain it.

11-jack-in-the-pulpit-berries

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are ripe and red, waiting for a deer to come along and eat them. Deer must love them because they usually disappear almost as soon as they turn red.

12-jack-in-the-pulpit-root

I found a Jack in the pulpit that someone had kicked over and I washed the bulbous root (corm) off in a nearby stream so we could see it. All parts of the Jack in the pulpit plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable, and that’s why another name for the plant is “Indian turnip.” My father in law liked hot foods and would eat hot peppers right out of the jar, but when he bit off a small piece of this root one day he said it was the hottest thing he’d ever tasted.

13-false-solomons-seal-berries

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe and are now bright red instead of speckled. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the drooping stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

14-yew-berry

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red flesh of the berry, which is actually a modified seed cone. The seed within the seed cone is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as 3 of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 a man named Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever been able to figure out why he did such a thing but the incident illustrated how extremely toxic yews are.

15-virginia-creeper

Many birds love Virginia creeper berries (Parthenocissus quinquefolia,) including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted to red fruits more than the blue black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves in the fall when the berries are ripe. When the birds land amidst all the attractive red hues they find and eat the berries. Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be successful.

16-bvirginia-creeper-berries

On Virginia creeper even the flower stems (petioles) are red.

17-royal-fern

Burnt orange must be one of the most frequently seen colors in the fall and this royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) wore it well. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

18-sensitive-fern

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its common name from early colonials, who noticed that it was very sensitive to frost. Usually by this time of year these ferns would be brown and crisp from frost but since we haven’t had a real frost yet this year this example is slowly turning white. In my experience it’s unusual to see this particular fern doing this. Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) do the same each fall and are usually the only white fern that we see. This is only the second time I’ve seen a sensitive fern do this.

19-burning-bush

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) almost makes up for its invasiveness by showing beautiful colors like these each fall, but Its sale and importation is banned here in New Hampshire now because of the way it can take over whole swaths of forest floor. Ironically not that many years ago though, homeowners were encouraged to plant it by the state, which touted its attractiveness to birds and other wildlife. The saying “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.

20-virgins-bower-leaf

The crinkly leaves of Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) continue to turn purple. Despite its being toxic enough to cause internal bleeding this native vine was called was called “pepper vine” by early pioneers because they used it as a pepper substitute when they couldn’t get the real thing. Native Americans used clematis to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and for skin infections.

21-poison-ivy

Speaking of toxic plants, poison ivy is putting on its fall show. It’s often one of the most colorful plants on the forest floor but no matter the leaf color they’re still toxic, and so are the stems that they grow on. I usually get a rash on my knees in early spring by kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of wildflowers. Luckily I’m not that sensitive to it, but I know people who have been hospitalized because of it.

The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. ~George R.R. Martin

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »