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.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

The vernal pools in my woods are growing larger. It’s getting difficult to navigate back there because there are so many of them. The snow is still a foot deep, except where these pools form. There are many of them covering my trail now, so I do a lot of meandering as I go through. Penny is clearly a more mature dog now (she turns four next month), because she also chooses to go around them, even when chasing sticks. Last year she would plow headlong into the water, but not so this year.

The photo above shows a couple species. The one sporting a red berry is partridge berry (Mitchella repens) which has shown up in this blog on many occasions in the past. But off the the right side I see the leathery leaf of a trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). These will be among the first plant to flower, and I do look forward to seeing them in bloom again. One thing I know about them this year, that I did not know last year, it that the blossoms are edible. No preparation required – just pop them in your mouth. I will try that as soon as I see some, and will report on my impressions when I have some impressions to report!

I liked this photo because of the way the snow was sparkling. The partridge berry is growing under the water as I have observed them doing in previous years. It seems to not bother them at all.

I still haven’t seen any amphibians, but I have not stopped looking yet either. NH Fish and Game has a new site for reporting amphibian (and insect, and reptile, and mammal, and bird) sightings. I’m looking forward to doing that as well.

Today at lunchtime I walked from the office to Market Basket to get some food. Our parking lot abuts a Mexican restaurant (Hermanos Cucina Mexicali, which I like to call “The Hermanos Brother’s Mexican Kitchen Cucina, because… I like to mangle Spanish by pretending I don’t know that “hermanos” means “brothers” and “cucina” means kitchen).

Anyhow, Hermanos has a little flower bed at the back of their building. I guess I can’t really say that our parking lot abuts their building, because there’s that little strip of garden between them. Last year some Hyacinths came up there, and I noticed today that they had come up again.

Hyacinthus orientalis

Hyacinthus orientalis

They are nowhere near ready to bloom yet, but I think these are the first sprouts I’ve seen this spring (not counting evergreens such as trailing arbutus or wintergreen). Cool. Last year the first blooms I saw were around the other side of Hermanos – crocuses. I’ve been looking for signs of them for a couple of weeks now, but last year they didn’t bloom until March 25. They might come earlier this year, because we’ve had a lot less snow, and what we did have is mostly gone now. I still have some very large patches in my yard, and it’s maybe three inches deep in places. But most of the yard is bare now.

So, maybe spring is near. I might take up the bloom clock habit again. I kinda gave it up late in the summer last year because I was the only one logging anything, and that’s kinda boring. However, it does give me a reason to get out during lunch and take a bit of a walk. The exercise is good for me, and it reinforces my memory of flowering plant taxonomy. Also, I expect that if I keep doing this, I will keep finding new plants that I didn’t know before. So will I log them? Maybe!