Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) spends parts of the white season in a full body stretch. When heavy snow and ice coat the trees, their flexibility is tested, and though not all survive the experience, most winters the vast majority do. In late fall and winter, if not locked in ice, the cone-like female catkins drop their seeds, which you may notice sprinkled atop freshly fallen snow. Small songbirds, including American Goldfinches, feed on the tiny seeds. Gray Birch bark starts out dark reddish brown and becomes off-white and marked with black chevrons with age. (To see the following photos in full-size, click here.)
Female catkin in late fall
This bent-over tree shows darker bark on younger branch
Typical black chevron on gray/white bark
Male catkins are found singly or in pairs on twig tips
Some trees stretch for days on end and still bounce back
I imagine most Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus), after weeks of gathering and storing nuts for the white season, are now kicking back, enjoying periods of rest and relaxation in their stocked up, subterranean dens. (To see the following photos in full-size, click here.)
I found these False Angelwing (Petricolaria pholadiformis) shells on Laudholm Beach in Wells, ME. These shells are petite -- about 2" long -- compared to the shells of the true Angelwing (Cyrtopleura costata) which can be 6-8" (for photo comparisons of these species, view this post at i Love Shelling). False Angelwing shells are thin and fragile, and as a result I was unable to locate an undamaged specimen. Is it just me, or do these shells embody the rhythmic energy of the ocean? (To view the following photos in full-size, click here.)
American Linden (Tilia americana), also known as Basswood, grows in river floodplains throughout most of New England, and is a common street tree in some towns. This species has many notable features including edible young leaves, fragrant flowers that can be used for tea and medicine, strong inner bark that can be made into cordage or rope, and light-weight wood that is easy to carve and suitable as the hearth board and drill of a bow-drill fire set.
In late fall, clusters of tan nutlets reveal the presence of mature trees. Some clusters can be found littering the ground, perhaps landing atop freshly fallen snow, while others remain clinging to branches, where they dangle beneath a leaf-like bract that serves as a wind-glider. Despite the built-in glider, in my experience, clusters don't sail far from the parent tree. Where crops are heavy, look for the feeding sign of small mammals and birds.
Twigs feature rounded, red buds, from which tender, tasty greens will emerge next spring. If you've never met American Linden, now might be a good time to visit a river floodplain and get acquainted.
Last month, I took a walk along the Saco River and noticed several trees accented with hanging clusters of hard nutlets. All of the trees' true leaves had fallen, but each fruit cluster was topped by a narrow leaf-like bract. Identify the tree species. (Photographed in Biddeford, ME on November 23, 2014.)
Reclaimer and guardian of disturbed sunny edges, Poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) channels the movement of aware humans, wordlessly whispering "Go around, I insist." At the same time, Poison-ivy provides nourishment to various birds, in the form of fall and winter fruit. I've seen Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers snacking on these small fruits. I carefully photographed these plants along the Timber Point Trail in Biddeford, ME. (To see the following photos in full-size, click here.)
Fomitopsis pinicola is a widespread wood-eating medicinal mushroom who goes by the common names Red-belted Conk and Red-banded Polypore. This species often grows on dead or dying conifers, but can also consume various hardwoods. I found today's feature on a dead Red Maple (Acer rubrum).
Red-banded Polypore has a cream-colored pore surface, from which reproductive spores are released. This tough polypore is perennial, often persisting for years. Though not well known as a medicinal, Greg Marley writes that decoctions and tinctures made from this tree mushroom are anti-inflammatory and immune system supporting. For more on the medicinal constituents of Fomitopsis pinicola, consult Marley’s book Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi (2009), p. 116-119.
Oh, and one more thing. Anyone in need of a full belly laugh should read the top paragraph of page 579 of Mushrooms Demystified (1986) by David Arora, which addresses the edibility (or rather inedibility) of this species. I'm not kidding, it's hilarious.