Sunday, September 24, 2017

September 24, 2017 - Rock Tripe

Last week we saw a wide array of fungi, organisms that tend to grow in damp, rich environments - just where you'd expect to find life thriving.  But there are other organisms that somehow defy logic and have adapted to grow in places where they have no right to live.  If you have walked around in some of the darker forests in New Hampshire, particularly near ledges or large boulder fields, you have probably seen this prime example, the Rock Tripe.
Rock Tripe (genus Umbilicaria) growing in the Smyth Conservation Easement

Rock Tripe is a lichen, which are composite organisms made up of at least two, and sometimes three, very different organisms.  One component of lichen is always a fungus, and the second is usually an algae.  The algae lives inside the fungus and the two organisms exchange nutrients - not unlike what a fungus does for a tree. And since algae can photosynthesize using sunlight, CO2, and a few nutrients, [REF:] it can provide energy to the fungus, which in turn, provides a home for the otherwise structure-less algae.  It's a pretty nice arrangement, and can produce some really large Rock Tripe.

These are nice and green, but in a dry season or on a sunny ledge they can be brown, dry, and stiff.

In case you're ever hungry in the woods, these are edible.  The recommendation is to soften them by boiling, though I can't say I've ever tried it.

We were up in New Brunswick, Canada this week and saw another great example of lichen that grows in an amazing location.
Beard Lichen (Usnea subfloridana)
This is called Beard Lichen, and it's common in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire where I usually see it on the ground after it has been dislodged the tree branches above.  This lichen pulls most of its nutrients right out of the air and it is a great indicator of air quality; it can't live in polluted air, and the better the air quality, the larger it grows.
Beard Lichen on the ground back in Meredith, New Hampshire
Ferns are another plant that often grow on granite, though these use a more conventional approach: they take root in the rotted debris that has collected on the tops of boulders over many years.

They can find the smallest nook to set roots into.
Or they can take over an entire boulder.
Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) crowd out all others on this boulder

Christmas ferns got their name because they stay green well into winter, often being seen still bright green when covered with snow.

There are also large plants that manage to take up residence where they have no right to.  White pine and hemlock are both good at this, and all it seems to take is a small crack or depression in the rock which captures both water and a seed, and a tree can take root.
A white pine establishes a toe-hold on Sheep Island in Lake Wicwas

This relationship is more damaging to the host (though even lichen will eventually degrade the rock), as over time, as the root grows, it will slowly pry a granite boulder apart, accelerating the demise of the rock, but helping to create sandy beaches for us (in a few millions years).

Here is a white pine farther along in this process:
This pine has been growing for 10-20 years

During which time it has pried up a large piece of the bedrock
Next is an example of an oak tree that started out trying to grow on top of a boulder, but it didn't work out well for it.  At one point it got toppled over, bringing up some bits of mother earth with it.

But that didn't slow it down much.  It just took a 90 degree turn back up towards the sky and kept right on growing.
Very adaptive in its quest to find the sun

Nature can be both resilient and persistent.  It can also be tolerant.  Take a look at these two trees:
Two different trees with an intimate relationship.  (Credit goes to Jim G. for discovering this.)
The branch of one tree grew right across the trunk of the other, and over the years, the two have grown together.  Even more interesting is that it is an interracial marriage - they are different species. The one on the left with the branch sticking out is an oak, while the receiving tree is a maple. Notice how the oak has grown its bark out, wrapping right around the maple tree.

These trees are in the soon-to-be-conserved extension of the Page Pond Town Forest.  A planned trail will go right by this, so when the property is open I'll provide directions so you can see this natural anomaly for yourself. Until then, be on the outlook for plants growing in unique ways as you travel around the Lakes Region, and let me know what you find growing where it has no right to.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

September 17, 2017 - Annual Fungus Review

It's time for the annual fungus parade.  I'm not a mushroom expert, so I can only identify a few, but I enjoy the great variety in size, color, and form of these intriguing organisms as I tour the woods.  I'll show some new ones along with my favorites, starting with the tiniest samples and working my way up.
British Soldiers among various fungi and mosses
These are called British Soldiers due to their color and form resembling British troops in the Revolutionary War.  This brigade was mustering on top of an old white pine stump;  they are really small.
That's my thumb
I cheated here a bit, because these are actually a lichen, which is composite organism made up of fungi and algae working together in a symbiotic relationship.  As I discussed in last year's fungus post, fungi work symbiotically with many other organisms which enables our entire forest ecosystem to exist.

A bit larger are these little white fungi that speckled the forest floor in the middle of August, something new I haven't noticed before.

Next up are the small orange mushrooms that grow all summer long, often right near or on a trail. These are Orange Mycena.
Orange Mycena, (Mycena leaiana)
Now here's something that's a bit different:  Yellow Slime Mold.
Yellow Slime Mold (Fuligo septica) showing yellow and white tissue
I assumed this was a fungus, but looking it up I found that it has been re-characterized from a fungus to a "Eukaryotic".  [Ref:  Wikipedia Slime mold] It appears to be the species Fuligo septica, also known as "scrambled egg slime" or "dog vomit slime" (I don't make this stuff up).  And it gets better - this organism can move:  It can "form a ... mass of undifferentiated cells that that may move in an ameboid-like fashion during the search for nutrients."  [Ref:  Wikipedia Fuligo septica]  Sounds the plot of a horror movie - seen any of these walking around the lake recently?  You can read more about its bizarre properties at the references provided.

Moving up in size is this new (for me) mushroom, the first purple fungus I've come across.
Purple Cort (Cortinarius iodeoides)
I found this one while doing boundary monitoring on the Rawson Wood Conservation Area near Blake Brook on the west side of Lake Wicwas.  A quick search suggests it is a Purple Cort Mushroom, which grow in New Hampshire hardwood forests, especially oak, so it all fits [Ref:].  Since it is only purple when it first emerges, turning gray as it ages, it's possible I've seen one before but never noticed it as something unique. It appears people eat these, but not this person.

So as not to bore the reader, I'll just show a few of the more interesting specimens I found, and then finish with the granddaddy of the summer. First, a medium size orange one emerging from under the leaf litter.

Next a Fly Amanita growing from a dead branch.
The common Fly Amanita

Here, emerging from the dirt and debris in the middle of a trail, is a family of pristine white mushrooms.

A nice collection of speckled maroon toadstools took up residence in this mossy spot.

There are many animals that consume these nutrient-filled organisms including insects, mammals and amphibians.
A red eft looking for small insects feeding on this medium-sized fungi
And finally, the biggest and brightest find of my roamings about the Lakes Region this summer:
Sulphur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)
I'm pretty sure this is the sulphur shelf, or "chicken mushroom," considered by many to be good eating, but again, not something I'm going try.  I'm happy just to feast on these strange organisms with my eyes as the summer passes into fall.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

September 10, 2017 - Weed Watch Tour

I took my final weed-watch tour of the summer around my section of Lake Wicwas this week, searching for signs of invasive weeds that may have found their way into the lake. I was pleased to see that our Lake Host Program continues to be successful, as I found no Eurasian Milfoil or other exotic species in the lake.  Eurasian milfoil is just one of several invasive species to watch for in New Hampshire Lakes;  the Lake Wicwas Association Website has an excellent overview of invasive species - take a look so you'll recognize them if you come across them.  If you see something suspicious you can take a picture or collect a sample and contact our Weed Watch coordinator at 279-5242 who will arrange to pick up your sample and deliver it to the NH Department of Environmental Services if needed. You can also become an official weed watcher yourself for any New Hampshire lake - learn more here or contact me or the Weed Watch Coordinator.

Not finding any invasive weeds doesn't mean the trip around the lake was uneventful - there are always interesting sights when one takes a slow paddle around a New Hampshire lake on a quiet day. How about a young turtle, still light enough to float on top of a lily pad while sunning itself?
This painted turtle was about 3 inches long

The next one was enough large that it had to find a old log to support its greater mass.

There were also numerous birds to be seen, both on the water and in the air.
A pair of ducks on the mud flats

A cormorant fishing by the (non-invasive!) weeds

An osprey flies over Wicwas
I have heard osprey calling frequently around the lake the past few weeks, so they are spending a good amount of time fishing on Wicwas.

There are still plenty of colorful plants to be seen around the shores of the lakes, both in the water and on the shore line.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) with some bright red berries photo bombing
Fragrant Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)

Signs of the fall harvest continue to appear around the lakes.  Perhaps you have noticed the abundant crop of pine cones growing like bunches of bananas in the tops of the white pines.
A bumper crop of white pine cones

Down at their roots the furry animals - squirrels, chipmunks, mice - have been feasting on their seeds, leaving table scraps all over the trails.
Pine cones stripped for their seeds (probably by a red squirrel)

It is also looking like an excellent year for beechnuts.
Beechnuts are plentiful

These also have the appearance of being consumed by rodents, but the bears will be after them as well.  Keep an eye out for bear claws on the trunks of beech trees as evidence they have climbed the tree to access the nuts.
A single set of claws is hard to discern

But multiple sets provide more definitive evidence

Other signs of bears going after beechnuts will be branches broken or ripped right off the tree in order get the nuts.  Sometimes a bear will just pull the whole tree over so it can sit on the ground while it eats its lunch.
Breaking a tree over makes for lazy snacking
Beech trees are an important food source in the forest;  the forestry plan for healthy and diverse forests includes leaving some of the largest beech trees for both their aesthetic value and their food value for the animals. Good foresters do this even though it would be more financially valuable to remove them.

When you're traveling around the Lakes Region during the upcoming fall season you are bound to see land-based invasive species such as Japanese knotweed, purple loosestrife, and oriental bittersweet. These can be quite beautiful, but sadly will crowd out native species that are more important to our wildlife, and are just as beautiful in their own right.
Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), a native North American plant, enjoyed by humming birds, bees, and butterflies - as well as humans

Sunday, September 3, 2017

September 3, 2017 - Lightning Strike II

After an impressive electrical storm hit the Lakes Region back on July 17th I took a look around for signs of strikes but didn't find anything.  Then this week, while doing trail work in the Hamlin Conservation Area, someone with a good eye noticed two trees with the sure marks of lightning.

I can't tell if these date from the July storm, but given their prominent location, I would guess they are from a more recent storm.  When struck, current takes a path down a tree just under the bark where there is the most moisture, providing the best electrical circuit - current always takes the path of least resistance.  The rapid heating due to the high current expands the moisture in the sap, instantly vaporizing the water, which blows the bark right off the tree.
Bark blown off the trunk (this is looking south, towards the trailhead)

Bark fragment on the ground doesn't show any signs of charring
The resulting long strip of exposed wood may or may not kill the tree; these strips, though long, are narrow so the tree may survive.  Lightning is fickle - these two trees are about 50 yards apart, and neither are the tallest in the area - why these particular trees?

They are easy to find if you want to see them for yourself.  They are just 0.1 miles from the trailhead kiosk, one right beside the trail on the right and the other just down the slope on the same side of the trail.  While you're in the area, walk down to the first trail intersection and see the freshly trimmed field there.
The Tuesday Trail crew clearing the old log yard.
You might come across some wild blackberries which are ripening now - look along the edges of sunny trails and wood roads.

Also be sure to keep an eye out on your travels for the late fall flowers that are blooming now.
Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Some of which have visitors.
Unidentified visitors

Black-eyed susan
With a Plume Moth (family Pterophoridae) 
Milkweed pod with Small Milkweed Bugs (Lygaeus kalmii)
You are also likely to see more signs of upcoming attractions;  lightning can't take them all out!

Female Common Yellowthroat  (Geothlypis trichasat the edge of the swamp in the Chemung State Forest