Thursday, November 29, 2007
It is not uncommon to find this unusual organism growing among the leaf litter along the edges of the forest. It is probably the lichen Cladonia rangiferina, commonly called "reindeer moss." Cladonia is an important source of food for reindeer in the alpine tundra as it is extremely cold hardy.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
I have a "Thanksgiving cactus," from the Schlumbergera genus growing in my studio. All year long I water this peculiar looking plant and keep it in a bright window hoping that it will bloom again. Then come Thanksgiving I am rewarded with these beautiful bizarre flowers. These plants are tropical rainforest epiphytes from Brazil.
It's awfully late in the season for planting a fall cover crop in the vegetable garden. But warm bright days have me working cleaning out some of the growing beds. I plant spring oats on the exposed soil in the hope that they will germinate and grow in the continuing coolish weather, providing some protection from erosion during the storms of winter and some useful biomass, or green manure, to be worked into the soil in the spring.
Riding my bicycle through the country today I come across some land that the owner has filled with a grove of chestnut trees. Dozens of trees, maybe 25 years old, spread over the rolling acreage once used as pasture. Perhaps these are American chestnuts being grown in the hope of finding a blight resistant strain. American chestnuts, Castanea dentata, were once a characteristic tree of our Appalachian forest. One in every four trees is thought to have been a chestnut. They could be giants, growing to 150 feet and up to ten feet in diameter! In the fall the massive crop of nuts, "mast," provided vital food for forest wildlife. In the early twentieth century a blight appeared in America, probably introduced on imported asiatic chestnut trees (which are immune to this same blight). The infamous chestnut blight quickly ravaged the eastern forest killing almost every forest chestnut. Today several organizations are breeding American chestnuts from a few surviving stragglers and attempting to breed in some blight resistant genes from other species of chestnuts. Perhaps one day these "redwoods of the east" will return to our forests!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Saturday is the first day of regular hunting season. A neighbor has put out some deer skulls to mark the entrance to his land. The deer are a blessing and a curse. They have severely overpopulated the forest around here and affect the health of the habitat for many creatures. And of course they wreak havoc on the gardens of those of us silly enough to try using their territory for vegetables! I welcome the hunters who have come to perform a necessary service. Their bow season began in early October and gun season will go through January 5 with quiet days on Sunday when I can cautiously, very cautiously, return to the woods.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Several years ago my wife planted garlic chives in one of the flower beds. Its a beautiful and useful plant. Grass green ribbon-like leaves and pretty white flowers are used in asian cooking for a mild garlic flavor. It is a perennial, the clumps expanding slowly. This time of year the flower stalks turn to seed which spread easily throughout the garden starting new plants whenever a seed can find a tiny bare spot of ground.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Many people revere the amazing Ginkgo tree, Ginkgo biloba. It comes to my attention this time of year as it turns bright gold and then seemingly all at once drops its yellow leaves in a carpet of color. The Ginkgo deserves the reverence it receives. Its leaves appear in the fossil record 270 million years ago yet it is thought by some to be currently extinct in the wild. A European discovered that the trees were still being maintained by Japanese monks in their gardens in 1690 and it was then found that this practice is common in temple gardens of Japan, China, and Korea.
An amazingly resilient tree, some trees are believed to be over 1500 years old. It has few disease or insect problems and survives well in urban conditions. The most amazing story I have come across is that four Ginkgos growing in the area between 1000 and 2000 meters of the epicenter of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast still survive!
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Sunday, November 4, 2007
The intensity of afternoon light at this season's shallower angle sets the fallen leaves ablaze. Their fire is fleeting and will soon be replaced by the dull browns and grays of winter. The season, just as this afternoon moment, must be caught and savored before it passes.
One of the common "jungle" vines in the forest here is bittersweet. It twists around tree trunks or forms dense thickets. Our native bittersweet, Celastrus scandens, is being forced out of the ecosystem by a much more vigorous but very similar looking vine, oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus. The oriental version was introduced in 1879 as another unfortunate tool for fighting soil erosion. Bittersweet vines are covered with beautiful berries this time of year which are often used for holiday decorations. Bittersweet is poisonous.