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Posts Tagged ‘woods’

Light grayish green lichens known as Old Man’s Beard hang from the trees in the forests.  Sometimes blown onto the ground on windy days, to the touch, these lichens are usually soft but sometimes stiff in dry weather.   A few are streaked with brown.

Old Man’s Beard is frequently found in clean, moist environments such as boggy woods.  Though it prefers to cling to coniferous trees in old growth forests, it also hangs from the younger birches in my backyard.  Sensitive to air pollution, it’s often found with other types of lichens, such as the foliose lichens shown below.

  

Canada’s native people harvested Old Man’s Beard long ago and added it to their diet.  It can be steamed or dried and pummeled into a powder.   A strong antibiotic, it was also used to prevent infection and gangrene from setting into external wounds.   A thousand years ago, Old Man’s Beard was already being used as a medicine to treat lung cancer.  It’s still used today as a treatment for tuberculosis in China as it contains usnic acid.

La barbe de nain illustration by Elisabeth Ivanovsky

The antibiotic properties of Old Man’s Beard make it an effective treatment for fish infections in ponds and aquariums.  Yellow warblers seek forests where the Beard is present as they consider it an indispensable construction material in building their nests. 

A french fairy tale, LA BARBE DE NAIN by Marcelle Vérité, explains that the beards once belonged to elves.  Long ago, it was customary for these kind, cheerful creatures to arrange bundles of deadwood on the forest floor as a gift for mankind.   But when men greedily began to cut down live trees, the elves hastily fled to remote mountain peaks, snagging their beards on branches in the process.  The lost beards can be found in forests to this day.

Considering the wonderful medicinal properties of these beards, their elvish origins are no surprise to me.

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The day after Saint Patrick’s Day is an excellent one for catching a glimpse of remnants of leprechaun activity the night before.  And what better than enlisting the help of little people in the quest for evidence of Little People? Trodding through the woods this morning, we weren’t disappointed by our findings.

shamrocks or wood sorrel

Shamrocks or wood sorrel coming to life in late winter.

Beneath some dried leaves we found some green wood sorrel, also known as shamrocks.  Surely the leprechauns’ merrymaking coaxed them out of their sleep last night.   They looked a bit limp, but the warmer days ahead should see them coming back to life again.

leprechaun jacket near vernal pool

A leprechaun jacket and prints found near a vernal pool.

Melting snows have created numerous small vernal pools over the past couple of days.  These provide temporary watering holes for wild creatures and excellent spots for leprechauns to catch a quick dip.  One must have done just that by the light of last night’s moon.  Could a surprise visit from a neighborhood cat have prompted him to leave so quickly that he forgot to take his jacket with him?

green moss heart on birch tree

Of course nothing says spring like a bit o’green smiling in the sunshine.  The heart-shaped moss we found on a birch tree was a delightful find, and surely a sign of creative activity by the Little People themselves.  Although many will roll their eyes at the thought of leprechauns still roaming the woods, I find it hard to not believe when  there’s so much evidence to the contrary.  Spring and warmer days are ahead and surely that is something to smile about.

For your smile is a part of the love in your heart,
And it makes even sunshine more bright.
Like the linnet’s sweet song,
Crooning all the day long,
Comes your laughter so tender and light.
For the springtime of life is the best time of all,
With never a pain or regret.
While the springtime is ours,
Through all of life’s hours,
Let us smile each chance we get.

~  When Irish Eyes are Smiling

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Old trees can easily conjure up memories of times past.  Covered with lichens, mosses and fungi, they are witnesses to history, quiet observers of human events and animal activities.  Their silent demeanor makes them privilege to secrets told beneath their branches.  Perhaps it’s because we expect trees to know so much that they spark our imaginations.


A favorite book from my childhood was The Faraway Tree Adventure by Enid Blyton. (My copy was the french translation: DEUX ENFANTS DANS UN SAPIN).  The story involved the magical encounters experienced by two children who follow an elf up a tree.  My imagination was sparked by the idea of a tree so wonder-full that it could act as an enchanted gateway to other lands and fairy folk.  

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.
~ John Muir

Two spruce trees I recently saw standing side by side in the forest reminded me of that magical tree I had read about years ago. They were wrapped up in mist and entwined in each other’s branches, still erect while others of their size were overturned by strong winds. 

Their older lower branches were bare of needles but looked strong enough for climbing.  As a child, I’d always been unable to reach the lower branches of the trees I believed held magical worlds in their canopies. At what age do we stop trying to climb up trees?

The magic that eluded us as children because we didn’t have arms long enough to reach the next branch, eludes us once again in adulthood as we become more and more attached to safe ground.  The trees must find us odd indeed, but in their wisdom, say nothing.

What tiny creature do you suppose lives in that hole among the roots?

In the tradition of  She Said, She Said, Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage has also written a post about these same trees.  You can find her post here along with marvelous close-ups of the wonderful worlds she captured with her lens.

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For every beauty, there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth, there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love, there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
~ Ivan Panin

Messy woods that consist of a tangle of fallen trees are seldom considered worthwhile exploring. Yet there are wonders waiting to be revealed in the most unlikely places…

Though it’s now barely noticeable underfoot, millions of years ago, the creeping club moss shown above grew much larger.  The swamps that were filled with these club moss trees during the Carboniferous period were eventually transformed into the coal that’s mined today. 

Did a flicker make this hole? Standing dead trees (snags) in old growth forests offer places for wild creatures to nest. If flickers nest here this year, they’ll be looking for tasty ants, their favorite food, to feed upon in the neighborhood this summer.

Who treads the delicate stairs of this stair-step moss?   Utilized in the past as a covering for dirt floors and a gap filler between the logs of log cabins, it’s now being studied for its anti-bacterial properties.

The porcupine teeth marks on this tree reveal a delicate pattern.  Could we be missing a woodland delicacy by not including inner bark in our diet? It might be worthwhile trying in a survival situation.

Could this delicate creeping vine be partridge berry? Its rich red hue will turn to green later this spring when it will blend in more with the mosses surrounding it.

The forest is reflected in a woodland pool that will sustain a diversity of life before it dries later this summer. Do the faeries sit on this log at the end of day to relax and chat about the day’s adventures?

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
~ Roald Dahl

These photos were taken on a most enjoyable walk in the woods yesterday with my friend Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage who posted a very different version of our adventure on her blog 🙂 You can read her post here.

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Boreal Felt Lichen

If there was the slightest chance that a rare organism existed in your neck of the woods, would you try to find it? 

The Boreal Felt Lichen  (BFL) is considered a critically endangered species globally.   Acid rain and forest disturbances have threatened its existence on both sides of the Atlantic.  Once found in Sweden, Norway and New Brunswick, it is now believed to only exist in  Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 

The BFL possesses the remarkable ability to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that can benefit forest plants and animals.  Like many of the earth’s rare organisms, it finds its home in forests that have not been disturbed by man and simply left in their primeval state. 

The color of the BFL varies from brownish-grey to bluish-green depending on its age and how moist or dry it is.  Velvety above, dried fronds curl to reveal a whitish edge.  Brownish-red berry-like nodules may be found on mature specimens.  BFL are usually found on balsam firs in the presence of the liverwort Frullania tamarisci.

Certain qualities are common to the woodland environments in which the Boreal Felt Lichen is already known to live:

  • The forest is within 25 km of the Atlantic coast.
  • Mature balsam fir trees grow in the area.
  • There is a North facing slope.
  • Sphagnum moss is found in the nearby wetland.
  • Ferns (cinnamon ferns esp.) are found among the grasses.
  • Red maples and black spruce trees are also found growing in the area.

Balsam fir needles and sphagnum moss

Although I’ve noticed all of the above qualities in the boggy woods behind my home, I’ve yet to find any BFL.  But I’ll keep looking.  You might like to look for them in your neck of the woods too.   Looking for rare lichens might not seem very exciting at first, but it’s an excellent way to spend an afternoon with a friend or a child in the woods.  Once you try it, you’ll never look at a lichen-covered tree or branch the same way again.

If you would like to learn more about the Boreal Felt Lichen, please visit the Newfoundland Lichen Education & Research Group’s Erioderma website.  It features the most excellent images of the BFL presently available online.  Many thanks to Eugene Conway of the NLERG for granting permission to use the two images of the Boreal felt lichen shown at the top of this post.

For further related reading, see The Benefits of Lichens on Trees  and  Don’t Clear Your Woodlands.

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Although seeing a butterfly in springtime is always a joy, seeing one in winter is sure to set anyone’s heart aflutter. 

These fragile creatures, known for their marvelous ability to transform themselves from caterpillar to winged wonder, have often been employed as symbols of the soul, hope and renewal.

In late winter when there is still the threat of harsh weather, one doesn’t expect to find such a delicate creature in the woods. My grandson was turning a log over in the forest to examine a shelf fungus more closely when he caught sight of the butterfly. 

 Though its wings appeared frosted and stiff, we brought it indoors to have a closer look.  We were quickly able to identify it as a Mourning Cloak  (Nymphalis antiopa), a species that can convert glucose into antifreeze in order to survive the cold.  When its wings are closed, showing only the dark undersides, it’s also extremely well camouflaged in dark woods.

What is unsought will go undetected.
~ Sophocles

Too often, we only see what we expect to.  Adults usually don’t expect to see butterflies in winter.  But a five-year-old wouldn’t have such set expectations, so his eyes would not so easily dismiss the shape of delicate wings for dried leaves.  I wondered how many Mourning Cloaks I had missed seeing in the winter woods over the years.

Within minutes of being indoors, the butterfly was opening its wings.  Though it looked a bit ragged, it was still alive.     

The older we get, the better we learn how to manage expectations.  We don’t like to disappoint others and we especially don’t like to disappoint ourselves so we get into the habit of expecting less of everything around us.  Yet, surely there’s something to be lost in lowering expectations in order to avoid disappointment.  Besides butterflies in winter, what else might we be missing?

High expectations are the key to everything.
~  Sam Walton

Thank you to Joseph Belicek of Edmonton Alberta for identifying this butterfly’s subspecies as hyperborea.

Scott over at Views Infinitum is offering a macro photography challenge to all who are interested.  Deadline for submissions is March 23rd.  The close-up images shown above were made by using the macro mode on the Nikon Coolpix S8000.

 

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