A pleasant surprise awaited me today when I got home. I took Penny out for a lap around my woods when this caught my eye.

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) bloom

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) bloom


I was not expecting the partridge berries to be in bloom yet, because a lot of them are still carrying last year’s berries. But here they were. I haven’t looked up the data yet – maybe they’re right on time and I just wasn’t ready.

Most of them have not opened yet. Here’s what they look like just before they open:

Mitchella repens

Mitchella repens

And here’s one with last year’s fruit:

Last year's berry

Last year’s berry


These berries are edible, and I like them quite a bit. I think I could eat a quart of them in one sitting, as they are not overpoweringly sweet like a lot of berries. The two eyes on the berry are from the two flowers you can see in the previous shots. The two flowers fuse at the base and form a single berry, and these eyes are the vestiges the flowers leave behind. That makes them pretty easy to identify too.

I’m also going to include this shot of a maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) because it had a photogenic visitor:

Mapleleaf viburnum visitor

Mapleleaf viburnum visitor


I have not tried to identify this creature yet, and I think I might not bother. It’s enough just to have his (or her) photo.

Advertisements

The eastern phoebes we found in that canoe a couple of weeks ago aren’t there any more. I don’t know if they met an ill end or if they have fledged and gone, but in their place we found these today:

Another Eastern Phoebe clutch

Another Eastern Phoebe clutch

I took a lap around my woods to see if the dewdrops had bloomed yet. A few had!

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens)

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens)

The wintergreen is still bearing last year’s berries. They seem to get bigger just before they drop. This one was about 50% larger (in diameter) than they are in the fall.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

I also found that the partridge berry was in bloom…

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)

…as was the whorled loosestrife…

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)

…and the cow wheat.

Cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare)

Cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare)

David and I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. I wanted to see if the sheep laurel was in bloom. It was. This might be the best shot I’ve ever gotten of it.

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)

The beach at the pond was covered with these guys:

Pickerel frog  (Rana palustris)

Pickerel frog (Rana palustris)


I think they are pickerel frogs, but it could also be some other species. They were so small that David thought they were insects at first glance. I knew better because I’ve seen them here before. They were only about a quarter inch long, and as we walked along the beach they were jumping out of the way. There were thousands of them.

I thought I’d write a little bit about the best and worst aspects of spring in New Hampshire. I’ll start with the worst.

You! Shall not! Pass!

A sign of Mud Season


A synonym for spring here is “mud season.” This is really only a problem on unpaved roads, but since I live on one of those, it’s a reality I have to deal with if I want to go anywhere. Some places are worse than others, so during mud season, I do alter my normal route to maximize the pavement. Even if it minimizes the scenery.

The other unpleasant aspect of spring is this:

This is why NH and ME are not overrun with people like MA.

Black Fly, defender of the North Woods


They are not swarming yet, but I saw several dozen of these nasty boogers in my woods today. Pretty soon several dozen will become millions. Between the black flies and the mud, I’d just as soon that winter give spring a miss and go straight to summer.

But as I said, it’s not all bad. I went for a couple of short hikes today. On the way home from dropping Beth off at school, I stopped at the Quentin Forest. I saw several of these aerial roots suspended in midair.

Aerial roots?

Aerial roots?


I’ve never seen these before. I’m not 100% positive, but I think these are highbush blueberry. My first thought was that it was hobblebush, since that plant has the habit of growing new roots on branch tips (like this), lower the new roots to the ground, and then they take hold. This creates branches that are rooted at both ends forming a loop. Horse would sometimes trip on these, from whence the “hobblebush” name comes.

But hobblebush belongs to the viburnums, and viburnums have opposite branches. These were all alternate. Everything else about the plant said highbush blueberry. I really ought to look it up to see if they do this.

Update! This is apparently a manifestation of Witches’ broom (Pucciniastrum goeppertianum), a fungus that does indeed infect blueberries. The cure is to remove all the fir trees within 500 feet and kill the blueberries with an herbicide. Infected plants will not produce fruit, so I suppose that might be warranted in a cultivated blueberry patch.

On the way out of the forest, I spotted a pile:

Moose scat

Moose scat


My best guess is that this was left by a moose. It’s the right size and shape, and it was near a boggy area. Perfect moose habitat.

When I got home I took a lap around my own woods. The trailing arbutus is working on its flowers, but they’re not ready for delivery just yet.

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Then I decided to take Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. I haven’t been there for a couple of weeks, and as soon as I spoke the word “Sandogardy” Penny’s ears perked up and she was doing her little “Take me! Take me!” dance.

They were grading our road. The mud will be tolerable. Right in front of the dump truck, I found a small stand of coltsfoot.

Cure (cough) for a cough (cough)

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

When I got to the pond, I found that the patch of garlic mustard I “wiped out” last month came back.

Enjoy the halitosis!

Garlic Mustard


I was not surprised. I picked a bunch and ate one leaf. I left the ones I harvested on the ground. A little garlic mustard goes a long way.

I wandered along the creek looking for wet-loving plants. I knew that false hellebore and jack-in-the-pulpit grows here, but I was hoping to find some skunk cabbage. I didn’t find any skunk cabbage, and I didn’t find any jack-in-the-pulpit, but I did find some false hellebore coming in:

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)


This stuff looks so luscious. Every time I see it, I just want to pop huge swaths of it into my mouth. But that would be a huge mistake. This stuff is incredibly poisonous. Luckily, the problem would pretty much take care of itself, as the result of eating it is an uncontrollable urge to purge. Success in controlling this urge will result in death. Native Americans would sometimes use this knowledge in selecting a new chief. Everyone who wanted the position would be required to eat some. Last one to barf is the new chief. Unless he died before assuming the new role. And some people think the Electoral College is a bad method of leader selection.

On the way back to the house I saw a patch of partridge berry (Mitchella repens). This one had an odd berry:

An odd partridge berry

An odd partridge berry

Partridge berries produce two flowers which are joined at the base. The two flowers form a single berry, and a normal one has two “eyes” on it which are remnants of the dual-flower:

"Normal" partridge berry

“Normal” partridge berry


I’ve never seen one that didn’t quite fuse properly. These berries were on the vine all through the winter. Wintergreen is another plant that will hold its fruit beneath the snow all winter and still be palatable in the spring. I did eat a few partridge berries. I really like them as the have a subtle flavor. I think I could eat a quart of them.

So as you can see, the good really does overpower the bad in a New Hampshire Spring. I should really not complain.

But sometimes complaining is fun.

Yesterday I had an errand to run during lunch, and I did not take the direct route back to the office. I wanted to check in on this guy.

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)

Strawberry tomato (Physalis pruinosa)


This is the same plant I found back in December. I picked one then so I could let it ripen, but all I could get it to do was mold. 😦 You’re not supposed to eat them until they ripen as they contain alkaloids (which are toxic if ingested). Ripening eliminates the alkaloids, but alas! Mine molded and ripened at the same time, so I still don’t know if these are any good. I may never find out.

Closer to the office there is a little street corner park (complete with benches). There is a bush growing in there that has the strangest fruits. I had no idea what sort of bush it was until I saw it today in flower.

Dogwood (Cornus)

Dogwood (Cornus)


Dogwood! I don’t know what kind of dogwood, but it certainly is some sort. Here’s a closeup of the petals (those white things are bracts, not petals).
Otherworldly dogwood bits

Otherworldly dogwood bits


The fruit looks a lot like this. Sort of an extraterrestrial basketball or something.

Today when I got home, I stepped into my woods and found one (and only one!) of these:

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens)

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens)


This is the flower that taught me to use a camera. A few years ago I was trying to get a decent shot of this one, but having no luck. I learned the following:

  • Press the macro button for flowers. There’s a reason its icon is a flower.
  • Don’t use flash.
  • Do use a tripod
  • Use a long shutter time.
  • Max out the F-stop for more depth of field
  • Set the ISO as low as it goes
  • Make the shutter delay a couple seconds after pressing the button so the camera has a chance to stop shaking from the button press.

My camera simply cannot get this flower (or many others) in the Auto mode. Especially not a white flower in the dark woods. Nope. The earliest I have ever seen this one in bloom is June 23, so it’s ten days earlier than ever this year (according to my records).

After I took several shots of this one today, I went looking in all the other places in my woods where I have seen it growing. None of the other stands had any flowers. This stand might have another tomorrow.

These flowers are infertile. The fertile ones are inconspicuous and stay beneath the leaves. I may have seen a fertile one last year, but I could not be certain. I can’t find any photos of the fertile flowers online or in any of my books.

My tripod mount is still in deplorable shape, but I used the tripod anyway. I have to hold the camera on, and it’s not good to be touching it during a long exposure. But it’s still better than a handheld shot.

While I was in the balance-the-camera-on-the-tripod mode, I took a few shots of the partridge berry. More of them are in bloom today than yesterday.

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)


Not too shabby. Note how the two blossoms are joined at their base. They will fuse together and turn into a berry with two eyes later on. Check it out.

Partridge berry berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge berry berry (Mitchella repens)


I took that one today. See the two eyes? Some people call these snake eyes. The berries persist through the winter, and won’t come off the plant until it flowers again. And since they are edible (and I really like them), they can provide a source of fresh berries almost year-round. Thy only time you can’t get them is between the flowering and the ripening. And as this photo shows, you can even get them for a little while at least after they have flowered.

They remind me a bit of apples. They are not too sweet, but just sweet enough. And those two flowers and two eyes? They make two seeds.

I spent most of Sunday installing roof vents for the upstairs bathroom fans. When the house was built, they vented the fans out the soffits. That’s “standard practice” but that’s not the same as “good practice.” The problem is that when the warm steamy air is exhausted out the soffit, the next thing it wants to do is rise. So it does, and gets sucked right back into the attic via the soffit vents. This is exactly the same as venting the fans straight into the attic, and that will lead to a moldy attic. Which is what I have.

So I installed some vents in the roof which will solve that problem. When the steamy air exits the roof vents is rises into the sky rather than into the attic.

I didn’t take any pictures of that process. I was far more concerned with not falling off the roof, thank you. I did make a nice rope harness for myself and looped it over a vent pipe just in case. I didn’t end up needing it, but if I had, it would be a good thing to have.

Today I went into the attic and sprayed the moldy OSB with vinegar. That’s what the EPA seems to recommend. I should have waited one more day, because it’s raining now, and I wanted to check for leaks. Now there’s no way to tell rainwater from vinegar (I doused it pretty good).

Now on to more interesting things – wildflowers! These shots were all taken yesterday when I took a walk during lunch, or after I got home. We’ll start with this massive mullein.

Great mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Great mullein (Verbascum thapsus)


This was about three feet tall. They often get a lot taller than that when they send up their flowering spike, but this one hasn’t done that yet. This is all rosette, and I just haven’t ever seen a rosette this size.

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)


Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is blooming all over the place here now. The genus name Achillea comes from Achilles, who purportedly carried a large supply of this herb with him into battle because of its healing properties. I can’t vouch for its healing power, but I will say it’s delightful to behold.

Rabbitfoot clover (Trifolium arvense)

Rabbitfoot clover (Trifolium arvense)


Rabbitfoot clover is not native to North America, but was imported as fodder for livestock. It is invasive in some areas, but it doesn’t seem like much of a problem where I see it.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)

Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)


This one is always delightful. The flowers are edible too, and I ate one of them (maybe this one!) before I left the area.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)


There’s a very long row of these along the railroad tracks. It is a hawthorn, but I don’t know which species. There are lots to choose from.

Some sorta sumac (Rhus spp)

Some sorta sumac (Rhus spp)


I have it in my head that this is staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), but I don’t know why (or if that’s accurate). I looked briefly at smooth sumac too, and haven’t ruled it out. It would probably be easy to tell if I went back with a field guide. Instead, we have to settle for guesswork.

Same sumac

Same sumac


This shot is from the same tree if not the very same blossom. Maybe we can tell from that.

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis)

Blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis)


I have no idea how this got the name “toadflax”. Apparently that’s also a common name for “butter and eggs” which we will see later in the summer (I promise!) – they are in the same family, and the blue toadflax was until recently considered to be in the same genus (Linaria) as B&E’s. I didn’t know any of that until this evening (thank you Wikipedia).

Now here’s one that I read was in bloom on someone else’s blog (don’t remember who!) so I went looking for it yesterday when I got home. Yup. Mine is just starting too.

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)


This is one of my favorites. I would have taken more time to set up the tripod and get a really nice shot, but the threaded insert I put in my tripod mount has popped out (taking with it a lot of camera body). I don’t know if I will ever manage a decent repair for that. Sigh.

When I came out of the woods I was surprised to find some whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia).

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)


This is one of the first wildflowers I learned when I set out to learn all the flowering plants on my property. I remembered that the name Lysimachia was interesting, but I couldn’t remember why. So I looked in a book I started a few years ago (I really need to finish writing that) and found this:

It is named after Lysimachus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. He was said to have fed a member of the genus to a bull to calm it down. The colonists must have heard this legend, because they used to feed this plant to their oxen to make them work together peacefully.

All I need now are some oxen.

I had the day off today, so I slept in a little (but not too much). We got a little bit of snow, but not as much as was forecast, and not even close to as much as I wanted. But I will take what I can get.

I went for a short walk around my woods and took photos of several tiny evergreens. I would hazard to guess that when most people hear of a tiny evergreen, this is what they think of:

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)


This is a tiny eastern white pine. If it survives, it will not remain tiny though. I think the tallest trees on my property belong to this species. But there are plenty of evergreens that stay tiny their entire lives. Here are a few of them.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)


Wintergreen is a tiny evergreen. The berries are delicious, and only moments passed between me taking this photo, and me eating my subject. Mmmm.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)


Goldthread is another tiny little evergreen. It’s roots are little gold threads. This one has two different binomial names: Coptis trifolia, and Coptis groenlandica. I learned it as C. groenlandica first, but I think C. trifolia is more commonly accepted.

Groundpine (Lycopodium)

Groundpine (Lycopodium)


Groundpine looks for all the world like a Christmas tree – except for its size. It is also called clubmoss. It is neither a pine, nor a moss, but rather, a flowerless plant belonging to its own eponymous class.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)


Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is another evergreen. It has leathery leaves sporting sharpish hairs. It blooms early in the spring, and the blossoms are edible. I tried them for the first time last spring and found them to be quite tasty.

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)


Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) is not edible. It’s other names attest to this: lamb-kill and sheep-poison. I suppose I’d have to tear it all out if I wanted to run sheep back here. But the flowers are among my favorites. Like the other plants listed in this post, it too is an evergreen.

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens)


The last evergreen in today’s post is partridge berry (Mitchella repens). I have had several kids tell me that its berries are poisonous, but this is absolutely not true. I eat them all the time, and I have found no literature indicating that it is toxic. It reminds me of a wee tiny apple; not as crunchy, and not as sweet, but it is something I would gladly eat in great quantities.

So there we have seven tiny evergreens that I found growing in my woods today.

Today Jonathan and I went to a deli a couple of blocks from the office for lunch. We walked back via the back allies. I wasn’t intentionally looking for blooms, but once you’ve trained your eye to do that, it’s hard to shut it off. I found an American nightshade (Solanum americanum).

American nightshade (Solanum americanum)

American nightshade (Solanum americanum)


I had always thought this plant to be deadly poisonous, but a new book I received this week – Nature’s Garden, by Samuel Thayer, says otherwise. Thayer holds that the ripe berries and the leaves are both edible and quite palatable. I will have to test his assertion later this year!

We soon ran out of alley and went back onto Main Street which has a row of Basswood (Tilia americana) trees. They were in bloom, so I stopped and snapped a shot.

Basswood (Tilia americana)

Basswood (Tilia americana)

We finished off the day, and then headed home. Penny was very excited (as she always is) and was more than ready to go outside and chase sticks and/or balls. I put down my laptop and headed out the back door with my camera bag still slung over my shoulder.

First I went to the woods in the back where I found that the partridge berry (Michella repens) had bloomed sometime during the past several days of rain.

Partridge berry (Michella repens)

Partridge berry (Michella repens)


I took several shots. It was still very cloudy out so the light was dim. This is not normally a problem except that the tripod mount on my camera is stripped. I packed it full of Quicksteel (a steel-infused epoxy) so that I could drill that out and re-tap it later. But later hasn’t come yet! Also, I’m not sure where I put my set of taps. As a result of this shameful state of disorganization, I had to take these photos with the camera either held in my hand, or sitting on a rock. Some of them turned out pretty OK:
Partridge berry (Michella repens)

Partridge berry (Michella repens)

I also checked in on the Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata). The flowers have still not opened for me, but they must soon!

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)

These unripe blackberries are growing at the end of my driveway.

Blackberry (Rubus spp)

Blackberry (Rubus spp)


Then Beth called out to me with an irresistible question, “Dad! What’s this flower?” I rushed right over and saw my first Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) bloom of the year:
Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris)

Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris)


While I was taking that shot, she also found some birdsfoot trefoil, but I’ve already taken shots of that this summer. I may even have posted them. Instead, I spotted some white campion (Silene latifolia) growing amongst the sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina):
White campion (Silene latifolia)

White campion (Silene latifolia)


and some sort of wild mustard (Brassica spp):
Wild mustard (Brassica spp)

Wild mustard (Brassica spp)


These are supposed to be good to eat as well, and mustard can indeed be made from the seeds. I’ll have to try that one of these days.

I then looked for some cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare) that has a habit of growing nearby. I’ve been looking for it already this summer, but hadn’t seen any until today:

Cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare)

Cow wheat (Melampyrum lineare)

And just for good measure, I took another picture of some whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia):

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)


By then Penny had chased her ball into the catchment pond (which is quite full again, thank you). When she saw that I was not going in after it, she did. And even though she was good and wet, I was ready to come in.

Luckily, she was just wet and not too muddy!