Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bright Spots of Color in the Dull Winter Woods

I missed getting outdoors this bright beautiful morning, since each Tuesday morning I volunteer at a local hospice home, and by the time I was free to head to the woods the sky had clouded over.  Oh well, I thought, nothing but dull dead browns and grays out there, anyway, so I'll just go to the nearby Skidmore Woods and give myself a bit of a workout hiking the hilly trails.

The Skidmore Woods is remarkable for its limestone substrate, which provides a rich habitat for an amazing variety of rare and beautiful wildflowers.  Of course, no wildflowers are blooming now, but the rocks that leach their minerals into the soil are evident throughout the woods, their pitted surfaces covered with velvety green mosses.

Some of those rocks are a most remarkable blue.

Today I came upon a fallen log that appeared to be covered with velvet of a most remarkable red.

Closer inspection revealed that that red velvet was composed of what looked like tiny dreadlocks, the plaited leaves of a liverwort called Nowellia curvifolia.

Sharing the same log was a nice cluster of a lovely moss with a flower-like shape, possibly the moss called Mnium hornum.  Those ruddy threads arising from the center of each moss stalk are most likely the immature spore stalks.

This time of year, one does get greedy to find any traces of color in the woods, which perhaps explains how I happened to spy this tiny dot of orange at the base of a rotting tree.

With my bare eyes, I could not really see this cluster of cottony orange balls resting in tiny cups, so I tried a number of macro shots with my camera, then blew up the image to see it better.  The photo's not quite in focus, but it gave me enough information to recognize it as similar to a slime mold pictured in one of my books, Hemitrichia clavata.  These little puffs would be the fruitbodies (sporangia) of what my book calls a "common and widespread" slime mold.    Widespread and common it may be, but I had never seen it before.  And who would think to look for fruiting bodies of any kind in the very dead of winter?  Those empty cups on the lower left and the yellow dust beneath seem to indicate that some spores have already been spilled.

Here are some of the brightest spots of color I found in the woods today, two girls and a boy, the 8-yer-old triplet children of their mother pictured here, too. They were coming along the trail while I was crawling around in the woods and,  curious as to what I was doing, they gathered close while I showed them my photos of what I had found.  I just love how excited kids can be when they experience cool stuff in the woods.  As they scampered off to see if they could find that orange slime mold for themselves, I sent my blessings with them.


The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

lovely pics as always, does it not make one feel so fair to know that we can walk out into the fresh air and wind, through the heady smells, to take in lungfuls of woody refreshment.
im sure you bring the essence of woods into the hospice with you, that must be appreciated.

June said...

It makes me so happy to think of those kids getting all excited and running off to find the hidden treasure!

catharus said...

What's the story as to the blue color of those rocks?

Carolyn H said...

Ah, a post all on moss. I love it! And kids in the woods, too. Nothing can be better!

sheila said...

We found it! Can't believe how tiny it was.. We will have to start bringing our camera with us. So nice meeting you yesterday...

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Sorry to take so long to respond to all your welcome comments, dear readers. Life gets busy, sometimes. I am always so grateful to hear from you, and I like knowing you like to come along to the woods with me.

catharus, I'm not sure what makes those rocks so blue. I do know that the glassy blue parts are a kind of flint called "chert" and the gritty part of the rock is a kind of limestone.

Sheila, I am so glad you and the children found that tiny clump of slime mold. I was really delighted to experience your children's enthusiasm for the natural world.