Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Macro Testing

Here's a closeup of a white pine bud shot with my new macro lens. Holding up the actual bud against my monitor screen, this shot comes out about five times actual size.

I used to shoot macro back in the seventies and all this new digital technology sure eases the process. But, nothing come without cost. It's been an evening of learning how to use CF card readers and installing drivers until finally finding a level of compatibility for RAW files with Photoshop Elements 5.0 and the Canon 50d.

Now I can spend more time on efficient workflows and smoothing out my macro techniques. But for tonight, I'll quit while I'm ahead!

Monday, December 29, 2008


Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, might not be the showiest winter perennial but just wait until we get to the warm weather shots. Pokeberry, also known as plain old Poke, has big, beautiful green leaves and strands of dark purple berries on raspberry umbrels.

From the berries to the leaves to the taproot, Poke is poisonous. But, birds can gulp down those berries with abandon as they pass the seeds whole.

The berry juice was in the past used for a ink. In fact, the US Declaration of Independence was written with Poke ink.

Out on a ten mile hike with his Boy Scout patrol, the patrol leader suddenly heard screaming from above. As he looked up, he spied one of his scouts with blood pouring down his arm. As a good leader, he yelled for the first aid kit as he went scrambling up the hill--only to find the scout rolling on the ground in hysterical laughter. It turned out that my scout had crushed pokeberries all over his arm and was having a great laugh at my expense!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Japanese Knotwood

Somehow I always thought of this plant as a bamboo. It grows quickly and features nodes that look an awful lot like bamboo.

Japanese Knotwood, Polygonum cuspidatum, was introduced to the US from Japan in 1890. It quickly established itself as an out of control pest. Well, that's the popular thinking any way. I like it! In fact, it is really best to appreciate it as eradication seems to work with nothing less than dynamite. Suggested removal techniques include mowing every few weeks for two years (if not that often its growth is actually encouraged!) or repeated herbicide treatments. Fire won't stop it.

Here we catch a glimpse of three-winged calyx enclosing a single seed.

I'm looking forward to spring when I will catch this tenacious beast sprouting and quickly shooting up.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Oak Apple Gall

Galls are rather common on oak trees. They're formed by the tree when a wasp introduces chemical stimulus. The result of this activity is to provide a nest for a wasp larvae to develop.

Just like everything else that gets on the specimen list, there is so much to learn! Wasp species and gall types...on it goes. I think what we have here is the Oak Apple Gall, Amphibolips confluenta.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Princess Pine

Here is another local evergreen, Lycopodium obscurum, with the common names of Princess Pine, Ground Pine, and Tree Clubmoss. Some of these names are misleading, as this little being is not of the Pine family but of the Clubmoss family, Lycopodiaceae. They might look like little evergreen conifers, but reproduce by spores rather than cone and seed. They also multiply by way of underground creeping stems.

Tree Clubmoss is often seen this time of year in Christmas wreaths. It would seem kindly to harvest sparingly, having caution to not disturb the underground rhizomes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Vinca minor

Here is Vinca minor, low growing and evergreen. It's a rather lazy day here today and there's not likely to be any research. I really just wanted to show a bit of green that's been hiding under all the snow. After two days of balmy plus forty degrees, most of the snow has melted, uncovering for me a few new specimens.

Speaking of research, I suspect that I will be adding posts and photos on specimens already mentioned as I stumble over more and more information. That is a real treat compiling this blog, the always new little discovery that makes this endeavor so exciting!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Repeat Performance

Yesterday I mentioned the feeding behavior of the Titmouse. Today we can see him intent on pecking the meat out of his aptly held sunflower seed.

Best wishes to all for a Very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tufted Titmouse

The Tufted Titmouse, Parus bicolor, is a year round regular here. Although not so bold as the chickadees, these birds will stay close as I fill the feeders, ready to swoop in as soon as I back off a few feet.

The Titmouse is a sociable bird, banding up with chickadees, nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers. The whole gang usually feeds together here, sometimes with cardinals and doves joining in.

Prior to 1940, the titmouse was found only as far north as New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Nowadays they can be found as far north as Maine. Explanations for their expansion range from global warming, abandoned farms turning to forests, and increased winter bird feeding.

The original Nuncketest mission was limited to flora but I'm learning that the ecological picture encompasses the fauna as well. It will be cool to tie the local plants as food sources for the furred and feathered. Besides, all this snow is making it tough collecting specimens and my birds are flying right up to my windows. Go with the flow!

The Titmouse has a consistent behavior of picking out one sunflower seed from the feeder and flying up into the branches of the crabapple tree. It places the seed between its feet and pecks it open for the meat inside. Then it's right back for another, and another.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mystery Shrub

Today I present my first mystery. I collected this guy last week and figured it'd be any easy ID.

Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees & Shrubs arrived today and I'm still trying decode this unknown based on illustrated techniques.

Leaf node positioning, bud characteristics, and pith composition should make identification possible. So, if my first attempt is less than a blazing success, it is part of my learning process.

By the way, these photos are shot with my new Canon 50D. Unfortunately the kit lens doesn't do macro very well so these are big time blow ups. Real macro to come maybe next month.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Solstice!

Today in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the shortest day, the longest night, of the year.

As I gain a foothold with my botanical discoveries, I'm picking up a tuned awareness of my natural surroundings. Trees and bushes become unique--not only to differentiate species but to see the natural habit of each individual. My new acquaintances.

The Solstice marks for me a time of renewal and promise. These beings will again waken. Buds will swell. New leaves will birth. I need this assurance. It's been snowing for three days for about a foot and a half. I'm sore from shoveling.

During this snowy downtime, I will keep the bird feeders full and spread peanuts for the squirrels and blue jays. I'll study my natural history books--there are more on the way. Oh, and I'll figure out my new incredible camera--a Solstice present for me and this endeavor.

Happy Solstice!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Yellow Birch

The Yellow Birch, Betula alleghaniensis, is easy to spot with its distinctive peeling bark. The inner bark contains oil of wintergreen, as does the smooth barked Sweet Birch. Snap a twig on either species for a wonderful aroma of wintergreen.

This member of the Birch family supplies most of the timber used for birch furniture and interior finishing.

The curled papery bark was carried by Native Americans as tinder for fire starting, sort of like a Bic lighter of the times.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Black Locust

Today we look at the Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia.

While in my twenties, I worked as a groundskeeper and remember Frank, a co-worker and local farmer, relating that "Locust makes the best fence posts, even better than cedar. The old timers used to say that locust lasts a day longer than stone."

As I poke around through my books and the web, it becomes so easy to branch off down unexpected avenues. These excursions are always fascinating, even if suddenly no longer relevant to today's specimen. Today's research uncovers the Black Locust Initiative, advocating the use of this durable tree as a replacement for the toxic preservatives in today's pressure-treated wood. Frank would approve.

Here are a couple of seed pods I discovered during a lake walk in the fall. At the time, I didn't know their owner but saved them for their beauty. The intact pod is about 3.5" long.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eastern White Pine

It's time for a spot of color!

Here is the Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus, the tallest tree in Eastern North America, with records of this creature reaching heights of 180 feet.

What we have here is a terminal bud on the lowest reaching branch of a nearby youngster. What's to be expected when collecting in the dark? With the weekend coming and weather permitting, I hope to stock up on specimens for later photos and research.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bull Thistle

Grabbed this from the side of the road on my way to work. It was an eye catching plant during the summer--bright green and purple. But like most specimens these days, the colors are subdued.

Cirsium vulgare, Bull Thistle, I think this is.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Collecting specimens during a New England winter is certainly not without its challenges, especially when one collects in the dark.

So be it. I do want to portray each local plant in all its seasons so things will work out here.

I'm trying out Bob's loaned camera but I think I'll soon be getting a new one of my own, something that I will feel better about investing my time and experience with. I'm not that pleased with the results here and know I can do better but I do want to stabilize with a tool that I can get to know.

I think what we have here is Solidago canadensis, Canada Goldenrod. I'll save some for later photos when I can illustrate some of the white tufts that nearly appear in this shot.

This second shot came off the scanner. I'll need to investigate this technique as well. The toolbox is filling up!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Northern Red Oak

One of the larger trees in the area is Quercus rubra, the Northern Red Oak. At least, I think that's what we have here.

I have a few identifications guides en route that will hopefully help with my investigations. I'm interested in how well the guides will get me through the winter season. Sooo...I'll keep collecting and making guesses and fine tune my id's over time. That's the plan.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stocking the toolbox

My cell phone and Canon Powershot S100 only get me so far with photos. I sometimes need manual focus and exposure and these little guys run out of gas there.

Today my friend Bob loaned me an Olympus E-20N. Thanks Bob! It's been many years since I've worked with a good 35mm film camera but I suspect I'll get up to speed in isolating my subject with this cool digital camera.

Now I need to put together a library of plant identification books and web sites and I'll be on my way to a well stocked toolbox.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bittersweet is my first

I want to be aware of a plant's origin and somehow expected that my first entry would be native to the area. Alas, this bittersweet appears to be Celastrus orbiculatus, the Oriental Bittersweet and not C. scandens, the American Bittersweet that I was expecting. If that's not enough, it's also a destructive infiltrator capable of girdling and hence killing trees.

My identification comes mainly from counting fruit seeds-- one or none indicates the American Bittersweet (still destructive but more gently so) and five or greater indicates Oriental with 90% probability. (Great Lakes Science Center's American and Oriental Bittersweet Identification)

I found six seeds in each of three fruit sampled.

Facts and Figures

"Lake Nippenicket is a 354-acre natural pond known locally as the Nip. Bordering the Hockomock Swamp, it forms the headwaters of the Town River. The lake is located about a half mile west of Route 24, just north of its intersection with Route 495. Due to the surrounding wetlands, the water is heavily tea stained and transparency is only 2.5 feet. The pond is shallow with an average depth of three feet and a maximum depth of only six feet. The bottom is predominantly sand but aquatic vegetation (milfoil, fanwort, algae) is abundant particularly in the north end. Due to the surrounding swamp, residential development has been restricted to the southern half of the 4.8 miles of shoreline."

From Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A long time dream comes to life.

Once my dream and now my mission statement:

Document--through prose, photographs, web links, scanned documents, sketches, drawings, and paintings--the flora and history of the Lake Nippennicket area.