All posts by Josh

Winter Vine ID: Carrion-flower

Photo of Carrion-flower

Several times a week, I drive past this plant whose dark, round clusters of fruit stand out in the snowy landscape.  Up close, this plant is recognized as a branching herbaceous vine, bearing tendrils and a few withered simple leaves.  This is Carrion-flower (Smilax herbacea), a prinkle-free, non-woody relative of the heavily armed, woody stemmed Common Greenbrier (S. rotundifolia).

Carrion-flower's fruits are born in umbels, which are composed of short stalks radiating from a central point (the nearly fruitless example below provides a look at the umbel's structure).  Note the location of plants you find in the white season, and you can return in the spring to observe the new green growth.  In fact, you may want to sample the rapidly growing tips of this plant, which are edible both raw and cooked.

Photo of Carrion-flower

Quiz #87: Tree

The bark of this young tree caught my eye. Name this common New England hardwood.

Photo of Quiz #87: Tree

A. Northern Red Oak

B. Red Maple

C. Eastern Red-cedar

D. Red Pine

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Photo of Quiz #87: TreeThe answer is... A: The bark of Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) commonly forms long vertical ridges, though they don't always show this much red (another example pictured right).

Young Red Maples (Acer rubrum) typically have smooth, gray bark.

The fibrous bark of Eastern Red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana) was featured in a previous quiz.

Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) has reddish-brown bark that is scaly when young.

Medicinal Mushrooms: Tinder Conk

Photo of Tinder Conk on Gray Birch

A frequent destination of mine, as of late, is a wooded trail near my home with a generous quantity of tough tree fungi.  One such fungus is Tinder Conk (Fomes fomentarius), a light-colored, hoof-shaped species who I found growing on a Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) tree.

Tinder Conk is a perennial fungus, capable of living for several years if the woody food source allows.  According to Greg Marley*, Tinder Conk tends to be smaller on Gray and Paper Birch (B. papyrifera), species who decay rather quickly, and can be longer-lived (and larger) when growing on Silver Birch (B. alleghaniensis), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), and Maples (Acer spp.).  That said, Tinder Conk appears best camouflaged when growing on Paper Birch (bottom photo).  To my eyes, the tree and fungus appear meant for each other.

Photo of Tinder Conk pores

The underside of Tinder Conk is slightly concave and covered with tiny pore openings.  It is from these holes that spores are released during periods of active growth.  For foragers interested in gathering Tinder Conk for medicine, Greg Marley advises collecting "conks only when they are actively growing and producing spores; in the northeast, that is from June through October."  The pore surface, he writes, "should look fresh and evenly buff-tan."  So, get to know where this species grows now and return in the summer for prime collection.

Photo of Tinder Conk on Paper Birch

Perhaps the most famous use of this shelf fungus is as... Tinder!  While I can't speak from experience (though I just added it to my to-try list), I've read that Fomes fomentarius is a superb natural material for catching sparks and creating a smouldering coal.

*To learn more about the medicinal and folk uses of Tinder Conk, I'd recommend Greg Marley's book Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi (2009, pages 120-124).

Quiz #86: Seashore

Last weekend, I photographed this dead but fairly intact crab (one leg is missing) on the southern rocks of Timber Point*. Who was this clawed creature?

Photo of Quiz #86: Seashore

Photo of Quiz #86: Seashore

A. Common Spider Crab

B. Jonah Crab

C. Atlantic Rock Crab

D. Green Crab

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Photo of Quiz #86: SeashoreThe answer is... D: Green Crab (Carcinus maenas).  Common Spider Crabs (Libinia emarginata) have spiny backs, while both Atlantic Rock (Cancer irroratus) and Jonah Crabs (Cancer borealis) have bodies with 9 marginal teeth on each side.  Green Crab shells have 5 sharp indentations (teeth) on either side (see top photo).

*Timber Point, at the end of Granite Point Road, is the southern-most land in Biddeford, Maine and is located northeast of Kennebunkport's Goose Rocks Beach.  The US Fish & Wildlife website contains a brief description and trail map of the publicly accessible Timber Point Trail.

New Year New Moon Recap

Photo of Northern Shrike

I'm baaaack. Did you miss me?  Taking a break from blogging gave me just the shake-up I needed to usher in the new year. A few turns of the sun (i.e., days) into the challenge, I began sitting in my backyard early each morning.  Often heading outside before sun-up, I'd sit still and take in the sounds of the birds as they became active -- a Chick-a-dee-dee-dee here, a Cheer-Cheer-Cheer there. On several mornings, a Common Raven called (once flying directly over my home), and other mornings I saw flocks of American Goldfinches, Am. Robins, Am. Crows, and Eastern Bluebirds moving overhead, though on any given day, more than a dozen species typically made a vocal, if not visual, appearance. On just one morning, a Northern Shrike (pictured above) caught me by surprise, briefly singing from a high perch before vanishing from view.

In the depths of winter, with frigid temperatures for much of the moon, various birds managed to lure me out of my brick cave, if only for short stretches at a time. How did you spend your New Year New Moon?