Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Muddy March, Skidmore Woods

 Another dreary day.  It seems a long time since I've seen a bright blue sky, felt a warming sun on my back.  There's really not much to call me out to the woods right now, other than a sense of duty to visit Mother Nature on a regular basis.  She's not looking too lovely these days, all brown and gray and sodden underfoot, with squishy mud alternating with slippery ice.  But like a loyal daughter, I hauled myself out to the Skidmore Woods today, just to get some exercise and maybe find something of interest.  And wouldn't you know, Mother Nature had a little surprise, just waiting for me.

It was hard to miss, this splash of vivid red in the otherwise gray-brown landscape, although it was sort of hiding on the bottom side of a rotting log.  But what the heck could they be, those red tangled threads dangling over a ridge of bark?

At first inspection, it looked like some weird mold had infested some hornets' nests and was oozing out, after consuming the insects contained within.   But it also reminded me of a photo I'd seen in one of my fungus guides, perhaps some kind of slime mold.

When I got home, I searched through my books as well as the internet, and the closest image to this I could find was of a slime mold called Trichia favoginea.  But not an exact match.  Wrong color (too red) and I never found any photo of this species with dangling threads.  But that's my best guess for the moment.  I'm sending photos off to some friends who might know better than I.  Stay tuned.

I do know the name of this pretty snaky-armed liverwort, another splash of bright color in an otherwise dreary woods.  This is Lophocolea bidentata, and if you click on this photo and look very close, you can see the two-toothed leaves that give this wood-dwelling liverwort its specific name.   Sharing its rotting log today was another pretty liverwort, the reddish one to the right, called Noellia curvifolia. (I've never been able to take a close enough shot of this one to see the curving leaves that are indicated by its specific name.)

A nearby boulder was completely covered with a third liverwort that I at first took to be a moss.

A closer look, though, revealed the overlapping sac-like leaves that are so typical of many liverwort species.  I do not know the name of this particular liverwort.  It resembles the Porella species that grow on tree bark, but this liverwort was growing on limestone rock.

Now, here was a find I was not at all happy to discover:  Every single bud on every single Leatherwood shrub had been browsed by deer.   Every single one.  I could not find a single solitary shrub that did not have tattered shreds of bark at the end of each twig.   This makes me very sad.  I so look forward to the bright yellow trumpets dangling from the ends of the twigs, one of the very first flowers to bloom in the spring.  Never in all my 20 years or more of documenting the flowering plants in the Skidmore Woods have I seen such browsing of Leatherwood by deer.

Here's a photo of the pretty display we'll be missing this spring.  What a loss!

Finally, as I neared the end of my walk, I found just one single Leatherwood shrub that was too tall for the deer to reach the topmost buds.  I was happy to see a healthy bud developing its typically hairy bud scales.

As I made my way back to my car, I passed by this limestone ridge, the sharp-edged rocks cushioned by thick mounds of mosses that seemed to glow like emeralds in the late afternoon light.

In just a few weeks I'll be back to find Columbine and Hepatica and Long-spurred Violets and Early Meadow Rue tucked in among these mosses.  Even now, there are lovely plants to discover, such as these Maidenhair Spleenworts, whose dainty appearance belies the toughness of their sturdy evergreen leaves.


Raining Iguanas said...

You excavate so much beauty from such a bland landscape.

maureen said...

ah, that was so lovely! thank you so much.

Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Darn those deer! What a loss and shame to see the leatherwoods browsed to oblivion. They are one of my absolute favorite of woody plants. We have a nice grove of them on our property in southern Ohio and I transplanted a few of the smaller ones closer to the cabin three springs ago and they are doing very well! I hope they flower someday soon. Hopefully you have some other places to be greeted by their early spring charm!

Maggie said...

Beautiful - thanks for looking for us. Makes me want to look closer myself.