Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ebony Spleenwort On The Rocks

I have something in common with the Ebony Spleenwort... we both enjoy rocky outcrops.
Perhaps that is one reason I found quite a few of the Ebony Spleenworts growing on this sandstone outcrop on Shale Ridge.
Ebony Spleenwort - Asplenium platyneuron on a rock outcrop
  I framed this photo of an Ebony Spleenwort to include some interesting background, like the long, purple Appalachian ridge with some light green of the farm fields in the valley showing through the trees on the left beyond the rock outcrop. This picture really fascinates me... maybe because there is more in the frame to appreciate than meets the eye.  I'll elaborate on some of these notable things with a few posts. First, I'll focus on the Ebony Spleenwort.
Ebony Spleenwort - Asplenium platyneuron
This is a small, evergreen fern... notice its size compared with the moss.
In the picture below, a couple of acorn caps (to the right and above the fern) give it some scale.
The fern grows a rosette of sterile fronds close to the ground as well as some fertile fronds which are more erect.  The fertile fronds somewhat resemble the Christmas Fern in my last post.
Ebony Spleenwort
This interesting growth habit is displayed in the picture above, which was taken on Shale Ridge in central Pennsylvania.     The two different kinds of fronds are also shown below, in this photo of an Ebony Spleenwort growing on a rock cliff face.  I snapped this picture while on a ramble on a boys camp in Ohio.
It is such a lovely little fern... wouldn't it be nice to grow some in a terrarium or winter garden?  Along with some of its moss companions?
Anyway, back to some identifying features of the Ebony Spleenwort.  It has alternating, eared leaflets (pinnae) similar to the Christmas Fern
It also has a dark, glossy brown stalk.
The sori, or fruitdots, look like this...

The Ebony Spleenwort is just one of the many notable things in this snapshot of a small spot in the big, wide world.
Next post, I'll focus on the rock outcrop there in the background.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Ferns On Shale Ridge

Christmas Ferns added a splash of green to the otherwise dull-colored woods when I took some of the cousins out on a Christmas day ramble while the family was at a cabin on Shale Ridge.
Here we are looking for over-wintering insects on some fallen timber.  The Christmas Ferns are about the only green things left from last summer.
Christmas Ferns at Christmas
The fern's fronds are laid low for the winter. They flatten out after the hard, fall frosts.
   The photo below shows a very young Christmas Fern in the spring (early May).  Some dark green fronds from last year are visible on the lower left.
Christmas Fern in the spring
   The Christmas Fern's fronds stay green throughout the winter and actually looks nice with a bit of snow.  

 The Christmas fern has a scaly stem and eared leaflets.  In the picture below, those "ears" are near the stem and all pointing to the left.
 This fern grows singly, in groups of two or three, or sometimes in colonies (like in the picture below).
Colony of Christmas Ferns
   I suspect these ferns got their name from being used for Christmas greenery and wreaths.  Christmas Ferns definitely decorate the forest floor with a welcome, rich-green color. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

An Unfortunate Sapling On Shale Ridge

I spotted this interesting tree while hiking at a cabin on Shale Ridge. 
  Apparently, the unfortunate maple sapling was bent into this tight arch by a fallen branch or tree.  Whatever bent the sapling is now gone...quite possibly it was made into firewood. From the way the upper branches of the bent sapling have grown, I would guess this accident happened a few years ago, but I doubt it happened long enough ago for the fallen branch/tree to rot away. 
  This unusual tree has survived the trauma of being bent over backwards, but enough life giving sap has flowed through a strip of sapwood to keep the upper part alive long enough to grow its branches back toward the sun.  Wow, trees are tough!
  The arched sapling will have a tough time surviving for as long as "the days of a tree".  It may however, live long enough to produce seed...seeds that may have a better chance of reaching their full potential.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Birds - Barn Swallows

Wonder why I call Barn Swallows.... Christmas birds?
Your author exploring the jungle
    Well, some years ago, we were visiting in Belize and Guatemala. I thoroughly enjoyed the jungle, the Maya ruins, and the exotic wildlife.  The Belize jungle is Jaguar country.  The Toucans follow their huge bills around. The Wee Wee Ants (Leaf-Cutter Ants) file along their little trails each carrying a piece of leaf for their underground fungus farm. The Cohune Palms dot the landscape with their giant, arching leaves and huge clusters of nuts.  The Howler Monkeys make an awful lot of noise.  The list goes on...ya' just hope ya' don't meet a "Tommy Goff" (Fer de lance).
   Here's a picture of a few of us on the bank of the Belize River at "Isabella Bonk".  There is a dugout canoe at the water's edge, behind those tree trucks and flood debris. Sorry...I can't find my good pictures.
  Now back to the Barn Swallows....  Near this north-western Belize location, on the bank of Spanish Creek is a little village.  There I stopped to talk with some local villagers. Out across the mud yard, past the big, stump-sized, wooden mortar and pestle, I noticed some Barn Swallows flying around over Spanish Creek.  When I mentioned this to the villagers, they said "Oh, those are Christmas birds."
   The Barn Swallows were on an extended Christmas vacation in Belize!  They left the musty, old barns and the munching cattle for more exotic country.
   I miss their aerial acrobatics as they swoop up mosquitoes.  I miss their scolding "wee-cheat,  wee-cheat" as they dive past threateningly when I walk through the barn.
 Oh well, they'll come back when they are tired of noisy Howler Monkeys, Mayan ruins, Tarantulas, steamy jungles, and rain.
Listening to Howler Monkeys at Tikal
 Someday, maybe I'll join the Barn Swallows for a Christmas vacation.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winter Mushrooms

  A post on Winter Mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) for the first day of winter.
Winter Mushrooms - Flammulina velutipes
These are cool mushrooms...they don't mind the cold, or the snow. 
Winter Mushrooms - Flammulina velutipes
   These winter mushrooms were growing on a dead elm in our fencerow. The photos were taken in December a few years ago .  They are commonly called Velvet Stem, Velvet Foot, or Velvet Shank Mushrooms.
   Obviously this fungus has a keen sense of gravity (not so sure about the photographer's). I have to think about the mushroom's mechanism of graviperception. One also wonders at this wood decaying fungus' affinity with cold weather and standing dead trees.
  A few mushrooms growing on a dead elm in the fencerow is a great reminder that the winter world is surprisingly full of bugs and beasts and botanical wonders. 
  Winter is here... the prospect of a cold, white blanket of snow isn't as bleak as it seems.

Monday, December 19, 2011

High-water Hemlock - Another Tree Story

This hemlock is an unusual tree...standing on it's tiptoes.
Unusual Eastern Hemlock
This hemlock looks like it has high-waters...perhaps it doesn't like snow, or bugs.
Maybe it's a foot-loose tree and is out for a stroll... a wanderer...a stray...a drifter.
Better yet, maybe Cherry Tree Joe passed through here once...
Unusual tree roots
   Once, as the story goes...Cherry Tree Joe "was racing rafts with his friend, Bob McKeage, down Clearfield Creek, and it looked as if Bob might get ahead. Joe reached out and pulled up a hundred-foot white pine by the roots and stuck it in the channel in front of Bob's raft. That ended the race as far as Bob was concerned, but he never held any grudge over it, and the two are buried within a few feet of one another in a cemetery high on a hill above Cherry Tree."
                                                                                        - Keystone Folklore Quarterly Vol. 7 pg 22+23
   Cherry Tree Joe McCreery was a timber raftsman here in Central Pennsylvania.  Some of his exploits have taken Paul Bunyan-like proportions.

   Legend and fancy aside, it's easy to see that long ago this hemlock sprouted on top of an old stump.  The rotting remnants of its predecessor are still partially visible.
So is the ghost of the stump...the hemlock's roots outline it nicely.
Incidentally, I think the tree sprouted "on", not, "from" the old stump. I don't think conifers sprout from cut stumps like some other trees do.
  I can picture a red squirrel sitting on that stump in the background, toward the left, in the photo below.  The Red Squirrel is shucking hemlock cones, but happens to drop a choice seed (maybe Cherry Tree Joe will saunter by and frighten it).
  If that seed lies hidden among some moss on the stump, and sprouts, and grows unusual roots...who knows?  If you took the same picture fifty years from now, our hemlock might look like it was a drifter after all.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Spiny Witch Hazel Galls, Winterbloom, and Double-barreled Cannons

Witch Hazel bushes, also known as Winterbloom, are especially noticeable this time of year because of their unusual yellow flowers.
Witch Hazel flowers - Hamamelis virginiana
   Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a peculiarly interesting bush the whole year long. In the summer there are several galls and some interesting insects associated with the shrub.  Now, in the late fall/early winter, the scraggly flowers (when there are few other flowers blooming) and the double-barrel seed shooters are prominent.  Most of the year, the spiny galls and the seed pods are visible as reminders of the peculiarities of this plant.
   I recently spotted a Spiny Witch Hazel Gall among some Witch Hazel flowers.

Last summer I took this photo of some Spiny Witch Hazel Galls along with a leaf rolled by a leaf-roller caterpillar into a nifty leaf-shelter.
Spiny Witch Hazel Galls and the leaf-shelter of a leaf-roller caterpillar
 Here is a photo of a Spiny Witch Hazel Gall that I took last winter.
Spiny Witch Hazel Gall
  These strange, spiny galls are caused by the Spiny Witch Hazel Bud Gall Aphid, Hamamelistes spinosus
All year long the spiny galls remind me of the aphid's amazing and complex two-year life-cycle which involves living on birch leaves part of the time and some of the time on Witch Hazel. Here is a link to an overview of the aphid's life-cycle.
   Sometimes alongside the galls are the seed pods of the Witch Hazel.  They are similar in size and shape... minus the spines.  Witch Hazel uses an explosive seed dispersal method.  The seed pods act as double-barrel cannons.  In the late fall/early winter the seeds begin to dry out and open slightly.  As the seeds continue to dry and contract, pressure is exerted on the seeds until, pow, the seeds are shot a considerable distance.

 Here's lookin' down the barrel of a loaded double-barrel Witch Hazel seed cannon.
Witch Hazel seeds
The glare at the bottom of this photo is from the sky reflecting off of a creek. 
  In all three of these seed pod pictures, notice how all of the seed pods are held at a skyward angle to maximize each seed projectile's trajectory.
These seed pods are shot, but they are still cool to see.
Another noteworthy sight (and one of the many things I hope to post about) on the Witch Hazel bush, is the Witch Hazel Cone Gall, or Witches Cap Gall, caused by an aphid, Hormaphis hamamelidis.
Witch Hazel Cone Gall
These pointy cap-like galls are just another reason to take notice of the trail-side Witch Hazel bush. 
What other shrub will remind you of two-timing, sap-suckers living in spiny houses alongside double-barreled seed launchers...not to mention Witches Cap galls, blotch leaf mines and leaf-shelters?
Winterbloom, or Witch Hazel, blooming in December
A Witch Hazel bush is well worth appreciating anytime of the year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ten Wonders In The Woodpile

Slime mold, fungus gnat larvae, globular springtails, and pill bugs...just to name a few. 
   I noticed these wonderful woodpile inhabitants while moving some firewood into a stack last month.  Now I'm burning the wood to heat the house.  So I'm posting a quick overview of these members of my woodpile's ecosystem.
On one of the pieces of wood ...
...was a forest of blue lollipop trees.
Actually, these are extremely small spore-bearing structures (stalked sporangia) of a slime mold.  
The photo below shows what they looked like the next day.

On another log...
... was a candy forest of cherry 'pops.
These orange-colored sporangia weathered a frosty night...hence the flattened, sour-cherry look.  I should have taken the photos sooner.
Encroaching on those "cherry 'pops" (from the bottom side of the picture) is the fruiting body of a fungus.  The picture below shows more of that fungus... Phlebia tremellosa.
The fruiting body of Phlebia tremellosa just spreads over the log like a crust, for the most part. But, in the upper part of the picture you can see it has some little shelves, or folds...almost like it is trying to be a shelf fungus.  Keep in mind the log was turned over so the fungus was not photographed in its natural position.
   Interestingly, when I was looking at the photos, I noticed I missed seeing a whole village of insect larvae on the Phlebia.  Here is a close up... I counted about two dozen larvae (clear-colored), a few pill bug droppings, and one very small beetle in this frame.
Throughout the woodpile, white, branching, fungal hyphae were evident.  Various fungi were beginning the process of digesting the wood.  I liked this nicely radiating mycelial fan.
 When I would lift a piece of wood and look closely among the hyphal strands I would spot many critters.... like the larvae in the photo below.  I believe the clear one is the larva of a fungus gnat.  It is heading toward the left side of the picture.
 The orange grub-like larva had been inside the little "nest" among the fungal hyphae.

I fetched my hand lens to observe this globular springtail.  
With its dark colored body and two white spots, this springtail was easy to see.  Since this springtail wasn't interested in holding still and the lighting wasn't good, I'm hoping to see some another time in order to get better pictures.
While "chasing" the globular springtail, I noticed a variety of colorful fungal growths.  The mixture of colors and textures reminded me of snorkeling on a coral reef.


An iridescent glitter caught my eye.  This humpback, iridescent springtail came by, but wouldn't hold still for its picture.
There were scads of these elongate-bodied springtails.
Springtails (collembola) are an abundant and entertaining lot.
Check out those hairs around the springtail's "neck"...  reminds me of those exaggerated Elizabethan neck ruffs from the late 1500's.

 Pill bugs (Armadillidium) were abundant as well. 
 When I disturbed them they would curl into a ball.  If they were on a sloped surface, they would roll away.
  Pill bug defensive position.

 Below the firewood in the moist ground were a masses of snail or slug eggs.
Slimy things!

Hanging underneath a piece of wood in a sheltered spot was this tussock moth or tiger moth cocoon.  It is covered in the caterpillar's hair
Those hairs probably mean "leave me alone"!
Really!

Okay, so maybe that was more like a dozen wonders from the woodpile...and there were plenty more! 
But hey, I was stacking wood and couldn't get too side-tracked.
Hopefully, I can post more details on some of these woodpile wonders another time.