Thursday, December 8, 2016

Woodsy Rewards

I almost didn't  join my friends in the Thursday Naturalists today.  The day was gray and cold and damp, and I couldn't recall anything special about the Ushers Road State Forest near Clifton Park, and darn, but my knee was hurting!  But eventually, friendship won out over reluctance, and soon I was setting off with my pals to explore this 120-acre woodland preserve along its well-groomed and level trails.

I don't think we'd progressed more than 20 yards when the first of many rewards appeared:  the withered stalks of the little orchid called Autumn Coralroot.  Frankly, I don't know how I managed to see its skimpy brown stalks, and probably wouldn't have if they had not stood out against the patches of white snow.  This orchid is hard enough to see when in full bloom in September, being the color of dead leaves even then, except for some tiny purple spots on its itty-bitty single petal.  I was quite excited to see a good number of them here in this woods and will look for them again when they bloom next September.

The very opposite of hard-to-see in the winter woods are our three evergreen ferns, and all three species of them were adding their lovely color to the woods we walked today. Top left in this photo is Intermediate Wood Fern, top right is Marginal Wood Fern, and at the bottom is Christmas Fern.  Note that the Intermediate Wood Fern has more intricately-cut pinnules (subleaflets) than does the Marginal Wood Fern, and the Christmas Fern has individual pinnae (leaflets) that resemble tiny Christmas stockings.

The two Wood Fern species are easy to distinguish when the little spore packets called sori are present on the backs of the pinnules.  See how the sori are right up to the edges (margins) of the pinnules on the Marginal Wood Fern.

While on the Intermediate Wood Fern, the sori are positioned mid-way between the center veins and the edges of the pinnules.

Not one of us could identify this baby fern.  But even fern experts have difficulty identifying juveniles.  We just admired its adorable cuteness.

Our most colorful finds today were the remarkable variety of fungi, including the Stereum fungus (Stereum hirsutum) decorating this log that Kay is photographing.

Stereum really does deserve a closer look, with its ruffly and colorfully striped caps that, unlike those of the similar-appearing Turkey Tail, have neither gills nor teeth nor visible pores.

Here's another pretty bracket fungus,  this one the toothed fungus called Purple-toothed Polypore (Trichaptum biforme), distinguished by the purple rim and undersides of its buff-colored caps.

Here was another purple fungus, this one appearing to burst right out of a split in the tree trunk.  The closest match I could find in my mushroom guides is a sac fungus called Ascocoryne sarcoides, or Purple Jellydisc.

My Barron's guide (Mushrooms of Northeast North America) describes the fruitbodies of Ascocoryne sarcoides as "up to 1cm across, gelatinous, and violet to purple or reddish-purple.  Young fruitbodies appear as purple lobes bursting out of the wood.  Lobes absorb water and expand to form cups or discs, which swell and coalesce to form a gelatinous mass."  Sounds like a match to me!

I still haven't found the name of these tiny, fragile, pale-green mushrooms growing at the base of a White Pine.  So dainty, so shiny, so elegant, like the finest celadon porcelain!

I put my finger in the photo to show how tiny they are.

Those tiny, pale-green mushrooms would have been easy to miss, but not these vivid Orange Jelly Fungi decorating a fallen log, which we could spy from many yards away.  Note, too, the clipped-off tufts of hemlock twigs, which were littering the floor of this hemlock stand.  No doubt they are evidence of the Red Squirrels grooming their paths through the tree-tops, nipping off any twigs that might impede their progress.

From that nearly-pure stand of hemlocks we next moved into a section of woods populated by towering White Pines that soared over our heads to disappear against the sky.  I always feel I have entered a sacred space when I walk beneath such giants.

The forest floor beneath those pines was decorated with some of the prettiest plants of the woods:  the red-berried Wintergreen, the glossy-leaved Goldthread, and the delicate ferny moss called Delicate Fern Moss.

There were so many other beautiful mosses and lichens and liverworts, I could have stayed in this woods all day, trying to get my camera to focus on them.  But time was growing late and we had to pick up our pace.  I did stop, though, to take one quick shot of this exuberant spray of Callicladium moss, which seemed to just explode in rays against this fallen log.  The photo's not truly in focus, but it still expresses something of how happy I am that I did join my friends for a walk in the woods today.

When I got home today and was looking at Facebook,  one of my friends had posted this passage by Hal Borland from his book Twelve Moons of the Year (December, 1966).  Wow!  How accurately he describes my love for the woods, even in December!

On its Own Terms
It wasn't an outdoor poet who coined the phrase "bleak December." It was someone who probably slept late, had sluggish circulation, and was afraid of catching cold. December was bleak because it wasn't June, loud with bees and bright with blossoms.
True, December can be raw and cold and its days sometimes are dark, but it is neither bleak nor colorless, Go outdoors soon after sun-up, which now comes late, and even on a lowering day you probably will find a frosty scene of dazzling beauty. If the day is clear it can be a world transformed by frost or snow, newly created, fragile as spun glass, ephemeral as the passing hour.
Go to the woodland and see how the green of pine and hemlock is twice as bright against leafless elm and ash and maple. Underfoot are those humble ancients, running pine and ground cedar, greener than summer grass; and the creeping partridgeberry is gay not only with evergreen leaves but with dewdrop-size rubies. Sumac has fat clusters of bloodstone-fruit. Black alder stems are decked with garnets. Bittersweet is festive with bangles of coral and carnelian. The barberry bushes are loaded with topaz and rubies.
The meadow grass is bronze and antique gold. Empty milkweed pods are lined with mother-of-pearl. Fraying thistle heads are spun silver. The gray beech tree's crisp leaves are beaten gold.
Taken on its own terms, no December day is really bleak. December wasn't meant to be June.


The Furry Gnome said...

Wonderful quote from Hal Borland. It's all in the eyes of the beholder, isn't it. I'm inspired to get out in the woods today and look more closely, and perhaps get one of his books off the shelf and read a bit. Very nice illustration of the three ferns.

Woody Meristem said...

Very nice post. Even though most of us think of December as bleak, there's still a lot to see out there.

threecollie said...

I like Hal Borland and hadn't read that quote before. Thanks