This afternoon saw a very rare occurance: Va joined me on a walk down to Sandogardy Pond. Jonathan came along too, as did Penny, in case there were any sticks along the way that needed fetching.

We walked along the creek that drains the pond (Cross Brook, or as I prefer to call it, Little Kohas Creek), and I plunged into the thicket and picked my way through the wetland to see if the false hellebore had bloomed. It had:

False hellebore (Veratrum viride)

False hellebore (Veratrum viride)

I was also pleased to notice a stand of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) and some buttercup (Ranunculus spp) growing where I had weeded out the garlic mustard this spring. Garlic mustard is an invasive alien that will take over an area if left unchecked.

Buttercup, species unknown

Buttercup, species unknown

I didn’t stop to take many photos since I had the rare pleasure of Va’s company on the walk. People don’t like to hang around while I take three minutes to set up a shot. So instead, I just enjoyed her company and took note of the flowers and plants.

When we got home we walked around to the back door to give Penny some grass on which to wipe her feet (she took a dip in the pond, and that makes the sand from the beach and road stick to her all the better). At the end of the garage I spotted an area resident:

Garter snake!

Garter snake!


I like having these around.

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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 went back to Devil’s Den for a short hike. All three of my kids came with me (as did Penny). I don’t know when this last happened, but I am very thankful for it yesterday.

I took the GPS with me too so I could add the trails to OpenStreetMaps, but I haven’t done that yet. I’ve been so busy lately I’m not sure when I will get to it.

Here is the first plant I saw that caught my interest:

Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)

Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)


Yesterday was the first time I had seen any this year. Pretty soon they shoot out a spray of flowers and blanket the woods.

While we walked, we threw sticks for Penny, and she was so intent on that, that she missed this pair of mallards.

A pair of mallards

A pair of mallards


The mallards were clearly not comfortable with our presence there, but they never got agitated enough to fly away. By that I assume they had an active nest nearby. I made sure the boys kept Penny occupied with sticks while I too this photo, and then we moved on. Good for you Penny. Keep bringing us sticks.

A second mission (other than mapping trails) was to look for some ostrich ferns in the fiddlehead stage. I found some fertile fronds still hanging around from last year, but no fiddleheads. At least I know they are here though, so I can come back and gather some in the near future.

Instead of fiddleheads, I found a lot of this:

False hellebore (Veratrum viride)

False hellebore (Veratrum viride)


This is false hellebore (Veratrum viride). I had the hardest time identifying this a couple of years back. Some was growing along the banks of Sandogardy Pond, and I monitor it for months waiting for it to bloom. Most of my field guides are ordered by the color of the blossom, and without ever having seen the blossom, I had no idea which section to look in. I looked in all of them, but never managed to narrow it down. Until I finally did catch it in bloom (it has green flowers).

Armed with that information, I was able to get an id and then I was able to read all kinds of cool stuff about the plant. It looks absolutely mouth-watering, but it is fairly toxic. If ingested, the body will react with an overwhelming desire to expel it via emesis – which is a fancy, scientific way of saying it’ll make you want to puke. It’s best to give in to that urge, or the results could well be fatal.

Native Americans used to employ this plant as a way to choose between multiple candidates for chief. The candidates would eat a prescribed amount, and the last one to puke was the new chief! Not all candidates survived the ordeal, and I imagine they lost a lot of well qualified men this way.

Our hike led us along the banks of the Winnipesaukee, and I went down to the edge to check out some red maple blossoms that had fallen off the trees and washed up in the mud. I found this while I was there.

Raccoon (Procyon lotor) tracks

Raccoon (Procyon lotor) tracks

We continued the hike and soon came to Devil’s Den.

David was not impressed

David was not impressed


David was not impressed with the size of the “cave.” I think his exact words were “I’ve seen cardboard boxes bigger than this.” Still, I think it’s a pretty cool place. I expect it would have been more impressive had it not been for the prodigious amount of cans and bottles scattered all over the area. Even if that wouldn’t make the cave any bigger.

All three of my kids climbed up on the boulders, as did Penny. After all, that’s where the stick throwers were, and she had found even more sticks!

Boulder scrambling

Boulder scrambling

Beth posed for me:

Beth strikes a pose

Beth strikes a pose


Not the greatest photo, but the woods were a bit dark and the sky was prett bright. I opted to blow out the sky rather than silhouette my model.

Soon, we rounded the end of the loop and were headed back. We crossed a small stream, and I found what I think is some liverwort:

Liverwort

Liverwort


I still do not have a good book on liverworts. I have one in mind to buy, but it’s a tad on the pricey side, so it will wait a little longer. But since this doesn’t look like a lichen, moss, or fern, I’m going to go with liverwort.

We finished our hike and returned home, where I disposed of two ticks that had hitched a ride with me. After that I kept feeling phantom ticks, so I finally broke down and took a shower, just to be sure I had washed them all off. Then Va, Beth, Jonathan, and I headed to the church. We are having a series of seminars there, and Va and Beth are running the childcare, I was helping with registration, and Jonathan was running the PA system. That was night two. We had also been there Friday for the first night, and tonight (Sunday) for the third. Those make for some long days, especially when other things are going on too.

When I got up this morning it was bright and sunny outside. I took Penny out for a walk after breakfast and saw a brilliant stand of lowbush blueberries. So I went over to have a look. To my astonishment, some of them had bloomed already:

Wild blueberry blossoms!

Wild blueberry blossoms!


I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. According to my records from last year, I observed the first blueberry blooms in 2011 on April 15 as well. Huh.

We had a Pathfinder meeting from 1:00-4:00 today. The big thing that happened during that was more cardboard boat building. I forgot my camera, so I don’t have a single photo of that. I was a bad director today. I looked at my watch and noted that it was 3:30 and thought “Good, we have another 15 minutes.” The next thing I knew, Va was pulling in and it was 4:00. Quitting time! We had cardboard strewn all over the place, glue pots everywhere, and half a dozen paint brushes sitting in them. But it was time to go, so I had to dismiss the kids. That left me to deal with the mess. Because the time sneaked up on me, I was not able to give the kids final instructions before our campout next week or pass out the packing list, or tell them to bring $20 to cover food. Of course I thought of all that while I cleaned up the mess. Sigh.

I sent Va, Jonathan, and David to go on and eat without me. I kept Beth with me, because one of my Pathfinder staff asked me to watch his daughter between the meeting and the seminars. He gave me some money to feed her. I asked her where she wanted to eat, and she said “Wendy’s” but I heard “Friendly’s” – so we went to Friendly’s.

Then we came back to the church. I changed clothes and manned the registration table. And now I’m home again and pretty tired! The rest of the week promises to be just as busy, so I need to shuffle off to bed soon.

Over the past two days I’ve seen lots of nature. Luckily for me, I like that sort of thing. Let’s take a look at what I managed to capture. Not all of it makes for great photography, but I sure thought it was interesting.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)


Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) is one of my favorites. I stumbled across one of these along the edge of the lawn, and then made a bee-line to where I have seen them growing in semi-profusion in the past. Jackpot. There are a ton of them there.

Blackberries (Rubus spp)

Blackberries (Rubus spp)


The blackberries have bloomed. If all the flowers on my place turn into berries, I ought to be able to pick a couple of gallons this summer. What I like best about them here in NH is that I can pick them without getting chiggers. I can deal with mosquitoes and black flies, but chiggers are in a category of their own. I have many unpleasant memories of running into those in the South. Shudder!

Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)


This is another that I always watch closely. The stamens are red when the flowers first open, and that makes for a much prettier blossom. It doesn’t take long before the red drains out. It’s still pretty then, just not as stunning. Even though I checked this one every day, I only managed to catch the tail end of the red phase.

Stupid Zamboni

Stupid Zamboni


Not everything was good though. Last winter, a trail groomer hit a patch of thin ice on Sandogardy Pond and fell through. These are large machines, similar to a Zamboni (if not the same thing). The NH Department of Environmental Services came out the next day to fish it out, but look what I see on the pond now. It’s not unusual to see rainbow slicks in Sandogardy, but I have never seen them this thick or in so many places. Ugh.

I was at the pond to see if I could catch the false hellebore in bloom. Bingo!

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride) blossom

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride) blossom


Until I took this shot (and several others of the same plant), I didn’t have a photo of this species in bloom. Psych! One for the album!

Goldsmith Beetle (Catalpa lanigera)

Goldsmith Beetle (Catalpa lanigera)


This beauty was on the screen door when I left for work this morning. If my id is correct, this beetle feeds on aspens (which I have here). According to my Audubon Field Guide, it was also mentioned in a book by Edgar Allen Poe. Not that I have read it.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)


I’m working on identifying ferns this summer. This is a close-up shot of a pinna from a Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum). These have been popping up all over the place here, and I had an inkling that’s what it was. So I looked it up this evening and found that that’s exactly what it is. After reading the identifying features, I ventured out into the twilight to collect a specimen for closer examination (and confirmation). The pinnula (tiny leaves on the pinnae) are exactly the correct shape. The pinnae also have a wooly base where they connect to the rachis. I was trying to capture that here, and I guess I kinda, sorta did.
Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) sporangia

Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) sporangia


The fertile fronds are waaaay different from the sterile ones (shown previously). These turn the color of cinnamon when they are covered with sporangia (spore containers). Peterson’s Field Guide reports that the sporangia look like a tiny Pacman. So I took the best macro shot I could and zoomed in so you could see it too. Yeah – one of those is split open like Pacman’s mouth. Here’s the photo I zoomed in on to get the above detail.
Fertile frond of O. cinnamomeum

Fertile frond of O. cinnamomeum


I took these shots in the bathroom with the super bright lights turned on. When I thought I was done, I put the camera down and started gathering up fern bits so I could chuck them outside. That’s when I spotted this guy:
Fern visitor

Fern visitor


I haven’t attempted an id yet, but I’m guessing this is a spittle bug. It’s about the right size.

This afternoon Beth and I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. Beth rode her bike, and I held Penny’s leash. I kept my eyes to the sides of the road most of the way there looking for flowers, and such.

Here is some “such”

Unknown Fungus

Unknown Fungus


I took a stab at identifying this little fungus, but came up empty-handed. There were three clumps of it growing in the ditch beside the road. Whatever it is, I like it!

Nearby, I spotted some False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) just beginning to bloom:

False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)

False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)


I have some of this on my own property, but it’s not as far along as this specimen. I guess I’ll be seeing more of it over the next couple of weeks.

We soon came to the Class VI road (meaning it is not maintained at all) that leads to the pond. About halfway down that road under a large white pine is the only place I know where I can find Lily-of-the-valley. I’ve been checking on it every time I go down there, and today I struck pay-dirt:

Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)


Too bad these flowers won’t last very long.

All along that road I saw plenty of pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acuale). Even though I’ve posted plenty of lady slippers in the past couple of weeks, I could not resist these triplets growing towards the end of that road.

Three pink lady's slippers (Cypripedium acuale)

Triplets!

When we arrived at the pond, I found a nice northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) in bloom. I’ve got plenty of the lowbush variety at my place (and all along the road and trails to the pond), but there aren’t very many highbush:

Northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

Northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

Then I checked one of the bunchberry haunts.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)


These were spotted in Maine last week, so I knew I should find some here just any time now. Bunchberry is an interesting plant. It belongs to the same genus as the dogwood trees, but it sure seems pretty different to me. Also, those white petals are not petals at all, but rather, sepals. The petals are little tiny things in the center of the sepals.

I walked around the beach to the trail that follows the stream draining the pond. There, I found a large patch of indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) in bloom.

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana)

Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana)

A little farther down I came to the patch of corn lily, aka blue bead lily, aka Clintonia borealis.

Clintonia borealis

Clintonia borealis


These flowers will turn into blue bead-like berries later this summer. They look delicious, but are not edible. The leaves are supposed to be, but they should be picked before they uncurl. I think they’re well beyond that stage now. Maybe next spring I’ll try them.

The trail along the creek ends when it hits the class IV road. At that point, the road is much more a trail than a road, and there’s a small wooden bridge used by snowmobiles and ATV’s. In the marshy spot along the creek right there by the bridge is a stand of false hellebore (Veratrum viride). That’s a plant I learned only recently. Last year I tried keeping an eye on it so I could get a shot of its flowers, but I never saw any. So I continue with that this year. I’m getting close:

False hellebore (Veratrum viride)

False hellebore (Veratrum viride)


I don’t know if I missed them again, or if they’re about to open. I’ll try to get back again as soon as I can to check them out.

On Saturday, I took a hike down to Sandogardy Pond with Beth, David, and Penny. I took photos along the way and while there, but haven’t gotten around to getting them off the camera until tonight. I also have been walking around in my woods snapping away over the past couple of days. Here’s what I’ve found:

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)


Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) was once considered a premium cough remedy. It has not proven to be effective by modern science.

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)


The photo above is False Hellebore (Veratrum viride). It looks like it would be really good to eat, with all those leafy lush greens. But that would be a mistake as it’s pretty toxic, causing the body to reject it almost immediately via emesis. Failure to purge is fatal. Some Native American tribes used this as a bravery test when selecting a new chief. The candidates would eat some, and then bravely try to keep it down. Last one to barf would be named the bravest, and thus, the new chief. But sometimes such bravery proved fatal, so they would have to go with the second-bravest-but-slightly-wiser candidate instead.
Violet (Viola spp)

Violet (Viola spp)


I’m not good a identifying violets down to the species level. There are a lot of them to choose from. This was in my backyard.
Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)

Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)


The blueberry blossoms are almost ready to open.
Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris)

Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris)


This little beast is carnivorous. The leaves exude a mucus that catches bugs. And here I thought all carnivorous plants were exotic and probably tropical. Never expected to find them in my backyard.
Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius)

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius)


When I saw these on Saturday, I knew it was spring.
Goldthread (Coptis groenlandica)

Goldthread (Coptis groenlandica)


I think this is about the most stunning wildflower in bloom at my place right now. The white petals are actually sepals. The actual petals are those yellowish clubs hanging out between the stamens. This plant gets its name from its roots which look like little gold threads. Chewing on them is purported to be an effective treatment for mouth sores, which is where its alternate name – canker root – comes from. I took a lot of shots of these. Here’s another:
Goldthread (Coptis groenlandica)

Goldthread (Coptis groenlandica)


None of the leaves around this flower belong to this plant. I didn’t take any shots of the foliage today (shrug), but they usually show up as three wedge shaped forms joined at a central point with jagged edges on the opposite side. The leaves here are from the star flower (Trientalis borealis), but those aren’t in bloom yet.

The mystery plant from yesterday turned out to be False Hellebore (Veratrum viride). This one has been in my Unidentified file for a couple of years now, so it’s good to finally know what it is.

Veratrum viride

Veratrum viride


It also turns out to be a pretty interesting plant! First, it is highly toxic, so it’s a good thing I didn’t decide it was close enough to cabbage that I could eat it (I would never eat an unknown plant though, and I highly recommend that no one else do that either). It usually causes vomiting, but if it doesn’t, it will be fatal. Some Native Americans used to have potential chiefs eat the root (which contains the highest concentration of the toxin), and which ever one was last to vomit – he got to be the new chief! I wonder if they ever accidentally killed their two best men with that approach.

I took a walk through my woods again today. I was surprised to find these:

Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia)

Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia)


I like these plants. Once those blooms open for business, they look like a little airplane, with a fuselage, propeller, and wings (thus the common name, I suppose). I’ll look for them again tomorrow to see if they’re open. This is another species that has bloomed two weeks early. Last year they bloomed on May 4.

Around 1:00 I headed over to the church. We had planned a closet clean-out for today. I set up the canopy I scored in December. I had help setting it up this time, and between forgetting the instructions at home, and having almost two sets of all the steel parts, it took a while to figure out how it went back together. A bit over two hours in fact. And that was in 70 degree, sunshiny weather (unlike the blizzard I fought when I took it down).

On the way there I stopped and took several shots of the hobblebush again. I’m still not happy with any of my pictures of this plant. Here’s the best from today, featuring some sort of insect I have not yet attempted to identify:

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) blossoms

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) blossoms

I might need to talk to my friend Paul about what I can do to get a better shot. Maybe I just need to bring the tripod along, I dunno.