Fun with Focus

I must confess. I’m a stalker. Of flowers and ferns and leaves and twigs and buds and bark and insects and birds and mammals and tracks and scat and cycles and systems. Of nature. Every day. All day long.

Sometimes I circle round and round, checking on the activity of a particular area over and over again–all the while mentally noting any changes. Minute by minute, day by day, week by week. I can’t help myself. My stalking is addictive. As it should be.

multiflora1

Right now, one of my focal points is the multiflora rosa that blooms in our yard. Yes, we can get into all the reasons why this invasive shouldn’t grow here, but I, too, am an invasive species–my ancestors arrived on a boat, possibly bringing some seeds or roots with them.

fly on multiflora rose

Multiple species pollinate the massive display.

bee on multi

Their pollen sacs bulge as they quickly move from anther to anther.

sawfly larvae

Meanwhile, sawfly larvae munch their way across leaves.

saw 2

Sawfly is another word for wood wasp–certainly makes sense. But right now, their larvae look like caterpillars. Very hungry ones.

spring peeper1

And because I took time to look, I noticed. When I first spied this little guy about the size of a nickel, I thought it was either a small snail or a dried up leaf that. Curiosity pulled me in closer–thank goodness. Located about three feet above ground, this spring paper hid from predators all day, waiting to munch on insects and spiders tonight. I know this shot is sun drenched, but do you see the X on its back? Its name–Pseudacris crucifer–breaks down to Pseudo (false), acris (locust) and crucifer (cross bearer).

grasshopper

I’ve also been stalking the grasshoppers again, much as I did last year. Every day, I’ve noted that they are a wee bit larger–measuring almost an inch. But today, I found a giant among them.

Heal all

Then I went further afield, but to another familiar spot that I frequent. Heal-All blooms there with its square stem and whorls of florets.

heal all 2

The upper part of each floret provides a darker hood over the lower fringed landing platform. I’m surprised I didn’t see any action today. But don’t worry. I’ll keep  stalking.

Lady fern spores

The ferns also drew my attention, like this lady fern, with its graceful appearance and sori in the shape of eyebrows.

hayscented fern

Hay-scented fern offers another lacy look, but the size and shape of its spore cups at the margin of the underside make it easy to recognize. Look underneath. Always.

cinnamon fern 1

While I’m focused on ferns, here’s a clue to differentiate a cinnamon fern from an interrupted fern once if it doesn’t feature a spore stalk. Cinnamon ferns have obvious hairy underarms. Do you see the tuft of hair at the rachis?

interrupted fern

Not quite the same for an interrupted fern. I love the hunt.

royal 2

Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are both members of the Osmundaceae family, which also includes royal fern, so named for the fertile frond topped with a crown.

royal crown

Bead-like in structure, the capsules have evolved from their aqua-green color a couple of weeks ago to a rusty shade. Eventually, they’ll turn dark brown after releasing their spores.

exoskeletons

Because I was near water when I spied the royal ferns, I also had the joy of once again stalking exoskeletons that remain where dragonflies emerged. Such a special monument to their metamorphosis.

American toad

And  . . . young American toads hopped all about at my feet.

turtle 2

But one of my favorite focal points of the day–a painted turtle. She had her own mission–to lay eggs. After I saw her, I noticed another and so I did what any good stalker would do, I circled about the area looking for others. Only the two. But that was enough.

I’d made the two-hour round trip to Portland this morning to pick up my macro-lens that had taken two months to repair–0r so they say. As I got used to using it again, I found myself having fun figuring out the focus. I’ll continue to stalk and continue to learn–on so many levels.

 

 

A Closer Look

In my continued quest to capture spring, I spent the morning taking a closer look.

p-ph star1

Lest I take myself too seriously, let me begin by saying my inspection wasn’t always as thorough as it might have been. I was wowed when I discovered a four-flowered starflower. I know they can produce up to five, but typically I see one, two or three flowers. Um . . . I think this is actually two plants. Oops. The great discoverer I have yet to become.

p-ph sars1

But check out the wild sarsaparilla with its three globe-shaped umbels.

p-ph sars 2

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually noticed the green-petals that fold back. And it’s a tad bit hairy.

p-ph buttercup

Whenever I see the common buttercup I’m transported to my childhood–we placed it under each other’s chins. If your chin reflected the yellow glow that meant you liked butter. Mine never failed.  😉

p-ph foam1

And then it was the tiarella that pulled me down.

p-ph foam 2

Its terminal cluster of flowers is said to resemble foam, thus the common name of foam flower.

p-ph foam 3

Holy stamens! Each spray of a flower consists of five sepals (outer circle that appear petal-like), five petals that narrow as if they form a stalk, ten yellow-anthered stamen and two pistils, one of which is longer than the other. Amazing. And more hair!

p-ph gaywings

Because it’s equally beautiful, bountiful and birdlike–I couldn’t resist another pause for  fringed polygala or gaywings.

p-elm2

The next attention getter–the double-toothed American elm leaf with its asymmetrical base.

p-ph beech leaves

I love to contrast it with beech leaves. Apparently, both are quite tasty.

p-ph caterpillar 1

And I found a culprit. One of many. I know that the caterpillars and insects have to eat, but  it seems like the leaves work so hard to protect themselves only to be munched upon in a short span of time. So much for the protective hairs.

p-cinnamon2

What I really wanted to focus on, however, was the ferns. Last week’s crosiers are this week’s fronds and fertile stalks.

p-ph cinn2

I guess I’m most fascinated by the manner of the tiny green spore beads clustered together–in some ways they mimic the shape of a frond. Again, hair.

p-cinnamon 3

Already, a few are turning the cinnamon color for which they are known.

p-ph crane 2

Upon one, I found a crane fly. Check out those body segments and spindly legs. Adult crane flies, like May flies, don’t eat. Their mission in life–to mate and lay eggs.

p-ph interrupted 2

Because they like the same conditions, interrupted fern grows nearby. In this case, the fertile leaflets interrupt the sterile ones.

p-ph inter 3

It’s another beady appearance a tinge darker in color and the presentation is different.

p-ph royal 2

I think my favorite of all (don’t tell the others) is the royal fern. Maybe it’s because my friend Judy calls me the queen. I’m not sure what I’m the queen of, but I do love the crown that is beginning to unfurl.

p-ph royal1

Maybe it’s the elegant structure. Or that fact that no other is like it, so I can easily identify it. The spore cases are clustered at the tip of the fern giving it a bit of a crown appearance.

p-ph dew

The other fern that grows in this place hasn’t developed its separate fertile stalk yet. What drew me to the sensitive fern this morning was the drops of dew that gathered on the frond–and offered a magnification of its veins. A glimpse into its life-giving force.

I hope you’ll make time this spring to take a closer look and wonder about the world around you.

 

Hawk-eye Mondate

Some Mondates are shorter than others and such was the case today. But . . . we made the most of it as we walked up the trail to Hawk Mountain in Waterford.

hm-sign

It’s a half mile trek up a dirt and gravel road–just right when you want a great view and time is short. Of course, you could spend hours at the summit, but we weren’t there long.

hm-interrupted1

On the way up, I noticed interrupted fern in its interrupted form. Fertile leaves toward the middle are densely covered with sporangia (spore-bearing structures). I’m fascinated by their contorted, yet beautiful structures.

hm-lady1

Another favorite–lady’s slippers. Again, its structure is beyond my understanding.

hm-cyrstal and long2, ph

At the summit, we paused briefly and gazed toward Crystal and Long Lakes.

hm-white oak 4, ph

While my guy moved on to the better vantage point, I stopped several times. First, it was the color of these leaves that slowed me down. Have you noticed how spring foliage provides a subtle play on fall foliage? A few friends and I have been thinking about this lately, and this morning I had the opportunity to pick the brain of Dr. Rick Van de Poll, a well-known mycologist/naturalist/educator.

hm-red maple 1

He reminded me that the various hues of color in leaves is caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As our spring temperatures rise and light intensity increases, red pigment forms on a leaf and acts as a sunscreen to protect the plant from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

hm-white oak1

It wasn’t only the color that caught my eye. Take a look at the lobe shape of the reddish leaves and that of the green in the background. In my continuing personal citizen science project to informally connect the dots of where white oaks meet red oaks, I added another pin on the map. Rounded lobes=white oak in the foreground. Pointed lobes=Northern red oak in the background.

hm-bee1

As I headed toward my guy, I noted that the cherry trees were abuzz.

hm-wild columbine1, ph

And hiding among the rocks at the base of a tree–another treat for the eyes. Wild columbine. Splendid indeed.

hm, cyrstal and long, ph

Equally splendid–the view from the ledges. Crystal and Long Lakes again.

hm-bear river

Bear River below. I always expect to see a moose here. Or maybe a bear. One of these days.

hm-pm1, ph

Pleasant Mountain and my guy.

hm-dragon5

As we walked back down the trail and concluded our Mondate, we celebrated the fact that dragonfly season has begun. With their hawk eyes, may they capture and consume a kazillion black flies and mosquitoes.

 

 

Ambling Among the Ancients

ferns along path 2

For most of my life, I didn’t pay attention to ferns. If anything, I waged a battle against them, trying like heck to yank their hairy or scaly rhizomes out of the ground.

That was then. This is now.

cinnamon fern

Fossil records show that ferns pre-date wildflowers. Our present-day species are relatives of those ancient plants, which may have been as tall as trees.

cinnamon ferns

Their stunning beauty stands out in the landscape. With a little practice, I begin to recognize their nuances. The royal fern family, Osmundaceae, features large sporangia making them easy to identify. And they prefer moist to wet growing conditions.

cinn 5

The Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) that was in crosier form a few weeks ago, has fully developed.

cf hair

Those whitish hairs have turned a bit rusty colored along the stipe or stalk of each frond.

cf frond

Life is complex. (If my sons were to read this, they’d remind me that once again, I’m stating the obvious.) In the case of the ferns, the complexity comes from their life cycle. Unlike wildflowers, they don’t have blossoms and pollen for reproduction. Instead, they must release spores into the air. On some ferns, the sorus (a bunch of spore cases), occur on the underside of the leaves or fronds. Others, such as Cinnamon Ferns, produce separate leafless spore-bearing stalks, aka fertile fronds. Right now is the time to see them.

cinnamon young

Fresh fertile Cinnamon Fern fronds (try to say that five times fast) begin with a greenish-blue tinge.

cinnamon

With maturity comes the cinnamon color for which they are named. Once a spore lands on suitable ground, it will germinate, and develop into a teeny, tiny, heart-shaped prothallus, which will carry out the sexual phase of the life cycle. Eventually, if all goes according to plan, the plant will emerge from the prothallus and the crosiers will develop into fronds.

cinnamon

Just as tree leaves are different, so are fronds. In the case of the Cinnamon Fern, the ends taper to a point.

 if frond

A look alike of the Cinnamon Fern is the Interrupted Ferns (Osmunda claytoniana).  Well . . . almost. They have blunter ends.

interrupted

And on fertile fronds of the Interrupted Fern, the small brown pinnae or leaflets that contain the sporangia, interrupt the growth of the other pinnae along the stem.

if3

If the plant produces fertile fronds, they occur toward its center, while sterile fronds form an outer ring.

royal ferns

The third member of the family is the Royal Fern (Osmunda regalia). The leaves of the Royal Fern are distinct and look like those on a locust tree.

Royal fertile

As with all of these ferns, it’s important that they produce masses of sporangia, because only a few will actually survive. After the spores are released, they’ll turn from teal to light brown.

rf

One way to remember the name, Royal Fern, is that the fertile part occurs at the tip, resembling a crown on a king or queen.

Ebony Jewelwing

The day was topped off with a view of an Ebony Jewelwing.

ferns by stream

I’m thankful for moments spent ambling among the crown jewels of these ancient plants.

What Would Jinny Mae See?

My friend, Jinny Mae, was recently blindsided by a dreaded diagnosis. It has slowed her down significantly, but today she was with me in spirit as I walked along the Homestead Trail/Gallie Trail at Heald and Bradley Pond Reserve in Lovell, and then headed to the summit of Amos Mountain.

What would Jinny Mae see? That became my mantra along the way. I love to explore with her because she makes me slow down and take a closer look. She asks questions. She is incredibly knowledgable about the natural world. And even more so about the historical context of our area.

So . . . this one is for you, Jinny Mae.

HT 1

It was a beautiful afternoon and the mosquitoes were almost non-existent. I felt Jinny’s presence in the breeze that kept the biting insects at bay.

Interrupted Fern

And I knew the Interrupted Fern would draw her in for a closer inspection.

dragonfly and cinnamon fern

As would the fertile frond of a Cinnamon Fern–and a dragonfly.

bracken fern 1bf2

She’d love the juxtaposition of a young Bracken Fern beside an older one.

mullein

Then there was the wooly texture of the Common Mullein leaves begging to be caressed.

Foundation and stuff

Jinny Mae and I have explored these foundations before, so I needed to stop by again.

Hemlock foundation

And I knew that she’d marvel at how this hemlock tree has grown among the rocks and bricks.

Amos Andrews Trail

The Homestead Trail comes to an end at the handicap-accessible picnic area. And here the Amos Andrews Trail begins.

uphill

It’s a bit of an uphill climb, though not steep. For Jinny Mae, I’m thinking positive thoughts that her experience will be uphill all the way. Chin up, girl. You can do this. You’ve already amazed me with your attitude. May I strive to be half the person you are.

Maple Leaf Viburnum

There’s more to see like this Maple Leaf Viburnum,

wild oats

the three-angled seed pod of Wild Oats,

Indian Cucumber Root

flowering Indian Cucumber Root,

stone walls

terraced stonewalls,

young American toad

and a young American toad.

summit

At last I reached the summit.

stick bug

Again, I looked around and wondered what Jinny Mae might see. Despite its camouflage, I knew she’d find this walkingstick insect. The woman has eagle eyes.

dragonfly 2dragonfly 3

Maybe a more apt description is dragonfly eyes–with 30,000 lenses, they can see all the way around.

damsel fly

Not to be overlooked, a damsel fly.

strawberry

Wandering about, I found Wild Strawberries

raspberry

and Raspberries in bloom.

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But I saved the best for last. Wild Red Columbine. I can hear Jinny’s happy sigh. I was going to pick it. Kidding.

She’ll be happy to know that I arrived back at my truck three hours later. Another three hour tour–somehow that always happens when we explore together, so I knew for sure that she was channeling this hike.

Here’s to you, Jinny Mae. I know you would have seen even more than I found along the way, so I can’t wait to hit the trail with you again.

Close to Home

It’s a no-Mondate Monday since we just returned from vacation. My guy felt the need to work and I felt the need to stick close to home.

Stepping outside, the aromatic smell of lilacs and honeysuckle envelope me. It reminds me of my childhood home, where the lilacs grew outside the bedroom I shared with my sister. And that reminds me of Mom and Dad and the fact that it’s Memorial Day and we always went to the parade in town and sometimes we marched in it and other times we rode in the back of our neighbor’s car because she was the head of the VNA and the school nurse, and we always bought crepe paper poppies from the veterans to honor them and my father, grandfathers, uncles and cousins. Thank you to all who have and do serve.

Lilacs

We purchased our home 22 years ago. The previous owners had green thumbs and though the house had been empty for ten years before we bought it, their toil was still evident. I have a green pinky, so the gardens aren’t what they once were. I am excited, however, that some of the flowers they nurtured continue to thrive. Such is the case with this white lilac.

purple lilac

And the purple, that forms part of the windscreen on the edge of the yard.

The fragrance is mixed in with . . .

honeysuckle

that of the honeysuckle. Both buzz with pollinators seeking their sweet nectar.

strawberry 2

Wild Strawberries are just that as they creep through the gardens and lawn.

Flowers and leaves grow separately on long, slender stalks.
With milk-white flowers, whence soon shall sweet
Rich fruitage, to the taste and smell
Pleasant alike, the Strawberry weaves
Its coronet of three-fold leaves,
In mazes through the sloping wood.
—Anonymous

blueberries

Another edible, the Highbush Blueberries.

Canada Mayflower

Atop one of the stone walls, at its base and below many trees, the Canada Mayflower blooms.

star flowers

A wildflower that some consider common is the Starflower. Look closely and you may see that there are seven stamen, seven petals and seven sepals. How common is that?

Interrupted 2

We have plenty of ferns throughout the yard and woods, but I like this one–the Interrupted Fern. It speaks its name.

Interrupted fern

On larger fronds, brown fertile pinnae or leaflets interrupt the green sterile leaflets.

Lupine

And then there is that hitchhiker, the Lupine. Each year it moves to a different spot.

Lupine 2

I love to watch the flower open from the bottom up.

lady slipper

I saved the best for last. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve lived in this house for more than two decades and though I’ve seen Lady’s Slippers in other places, today I stumbled upon this one in our yard. A member of the Orchid family, it features the typical three petals in an atypical fashion. The pouch (or slipper or moccasin), called the labellum, is actually one petal–inflated and veined as you can see. The two remaining narrow petals twist and extend to the sides. Overall, it reminds me of a lady holding out her skirt as she curtsies.

Though bees help with pollination, they hardly reap the rewards of sweet nectar. It’s a symbiotic relationship with a fungi that helps the Lady’s Slipper germinate. And then, it still takes a few years for the germinated seed to produce leaves and about 3-5  years before it produces a flower. Once established, however, it may live for 20-30 years or more. So apparently this wildflower has been present for at least eight years, but I only discovered it today.

Staying close to home certainly offered sweet wonders.