Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Swamp Oak

Swamp Oak, Quercus bicolor, has been kind of a tough call for me. I first came across one of these species up at the north end of the lake way back in April. That tree was apparently killed off by massive numbers of galls; it did not leaf out this year.

I've been visiting with this southern end specimen throughout the summer, never sure on an ID. On Monday I picked up more photos after a dried leaf drifted down and landed in front of me. Yesterday after work, I thought I'd wrap up the ID but still didn't feel sure. So out I went again on a quick jaunt, a mission to collect enough evidence to nail this down.

Curiously, I could not find even one acorn. I know, I know! Acorns are heavy on both the reds and whites! So without the fruit, I went mostly on leaves--four to six lobes on each side, a bit of fuzziness on the silvery leaf underside, and rounded (not pointed, that is) buds.

From The North American Sylva:

"The acorns are sweet, but seldom abundant; they are rather large, of a brown complexion, and contained in a spreading cup edged with short, slender filaments, more downy within than those of any other Oak, and supported by peduncles one or two inches in length.

"The trunk is clad in a scaly grayish-white bark. The wood is strong, elastic, and heavier than that of the White Oak. In stocks more than a foot in diameter the grain is fine and close and the pores are nearly obliterated. It splits easily and in a straight line, and is esteemed next in quality to the White Oak, though from its rareness it is but accidentally employed in the arts."

I found a second tree. Same deal--no acorns!

It's happening already. Sundowns are coming noticeably early; this shot was from on the way back home. Soon I will be losing my after work sessions; I'll be down to days off and weekends. I'm taking a week off in a few weeks time for an intense collection marathon.

Michaux, F. Andrew. The North American Sylva. Philadelphia, 1865. 42-3. Web. Google Book Search. 29 Sep 2009.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, is a hairy stemmed, perfoliate native perennial. It's name conjures up magical properties of healing broken bones but as we'll read below that's just a bit off.

From A Manual of Weeds:

A near relative of Joe-Pye Weed, and also used in medicine, the parts desired being the flowering tops, gathered when in full bloom, and the leaves, stripped from the stalks and quickly dried, for which collectors receive three to eight cents a pound.

From Wikipedia:

Boneset, although poisonous to humans and grazing livestock, has been used in folk medicine[4], for instance to excrete excess uric acid which causes gout. Eupatorium has many more presumed beneficial uses, including treatment of dengue fever, arthritis, certain infectious diseases, migraine, intestinal worms, malaria, and diarrhoea. Boneset infusions are also considered an excellent remedy for influenza. Scientific research of these applications is rudimentary at present, however.

Caution is advised when using boneset, since it contains toxic compounds that can cause liver damage. Side effects include muscular tremors, weakness, and constipation; overdoses may be deadly.

Georgia, Ada E. A Manual of Weeds. NewYork, 1914. 417. Web. Google Book Search. 28 Sep 2009.

"Eupatorium." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 3 Sep 2009, 19:44 UTC. 3 Sep 2009 <>.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bird's Nest Weed

Here is another look at Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota. If all those names are not enough, today we'll use another--Bird's Nest Weed.

BNW is an alien biennial species with the carrot-like taproot forming the first year. I pulled up a second year plant that had already gone by--its taproot was all dried out. A first year root will be more like the carrot we know. At that time, it's more like a storage device.

From the Handbook of Nature Study:

"The wild carrot is known in some localities as the "bird's nest weed" because the maturing fruit clusters, their edges curving inward, look like little birds' nests."

I watched a very moving and inspirational The National Parks: America's Best Idea Episode 1 by Ken Burns while finishing up this post. See PBS for more information on this series.

Comstock, Anna Botsford. Handbook of Nature Study. New York, 1911. 544. Web. Google Book Search. 27 Sep 2009.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

And Now a Saturday Afternoon

The cool weather leaves the bees a bit sluggish but still dedicated to their work. They're a whole lot easier to photograph these days.

The pokeweed fruit is mature and making meals although I've yet to see the diners.

Here is a witness to the lake's high water mark, something like a foot over today's level.

Don't they always seem to come out of nowhere?

The swamp maples along the shoreline are beginning to turn.

I'd been thinking about picking up a digital recorder with headset and Dragon software for notetaking during my wanderings. Rather than becoming more burdened with the heavy yoke of technology (although I will have to work on entry dating), I am now the happy owner of a Moleskine 5x8 sketchbook and a couple of pencils. It not only works great for written and sketched notes but it's a handy place to safely tuck leaf samples during my wanderings. And get this, no batteries!

Tomorrow returns to single species posting with Bird's Nest Weed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Friday Afternoon

Yesterday's walk was simply over the top. The air was crisp and although the sun was getting low it still warmed nicely. The angled sunlight lit up subjects one after another with curves and colors, each one seemingly excited to be photographed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Autumn Elaeagnus

Sometimes an ID is just so darned exciting! This one's been in the works for weeks and I had finally decided upon Pin Cherry. Then last night, still feeling unsure, I went back to my trusty The Shrub Identification Book and worked through the basics--the absence of leaf serrations, back side leaf coloration, fruit size and color.

Now I can say with some confidence that here we have the Autumn Elaeagnus, Elaeagnus umbellata, also known as Autumn Olive. Alas, the alien species, native to China and Korea, is listed as a prohibited noxious weed species in Massachusetts. Here's the state's full noxious weed list.

So be it. I still consider it a beautiful shrub and I enjoyed photographing it on many recent occasions.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New York Aster

Just before getting the spider web shots on Sunday, I had a long talk with a fellow lake dweller that included a discussion on native, alien, and invasive species. It has reminded me that I planned to tag each species with native or alien. I'm trying to get back on track with that as well as adding invasiveness.

Here's a native species, New York Aster, Symphyotrichum novi-belgii. It seems that this genus was at some time renamed from Aster. Other than that, I don't find much information on this species but it sure is an attractive little plant.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Common Plantain

Here is the ubiquitous Common Plantain, Plantago major. This specimen grows on the edge of a field used for English riding shows. It's probably been hoofed and run over by trucks and horse trailers. It's tough stuff!

I found lots of interesting facts presented below on the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Leadership Program for Teachers web site.

Plantain’s common name comes from the Latin word planta, which means sole (as in sole of a shoe). Native Americans associated the plant with the Europeans, who seemed to leave a trail of the alien weed wherever they went, and called it “white man’s foot”.

Common plantain is in the same family as Plantago psyllium, the plant whose mucilaginous fiber is the active ingredient in Metamucil and other bulk fiber/laxative products.

In Gaelic, plantain is known as the “healing herb” because it was used in Ireland to treat wounds and bruises. Plantain was hailed by Pliny as a cure for the “madness of dogs”, and Erasmus claimed it to be an antidote for spider bite toxins. It was also said that if someone was bitten by a mad dog, rubbing plantain on the bite would heal it. Native Americans used it as an antidote to snakebite venom by rubbing its juices on the wound. It was listed as one of the nine sacred herbs in Anglo-Saxon medicine because of its healing powers. It was used as a cure for disorders of the kidney, a remedy for worms, a diuretic, and a cure for hemorrhoids, as well as a laxative.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumnal Equinox

Today is the Autumnal Equinox!

Not only is it a temporal touchstone in nature's annual cycle, but it's a quarterly marker for Nuncketest. The blog began just days before the Winter Solstice so I figure that it only makes sense to align with nature.

On Sunday I came across this little worn out web towards the back of the lake. The whole web would probably rest in the palm of my hand...

... and just off to the side was the tiny architect busy at work on a new snare. This shot is something like four to five times life sized.

Monday, September 21, 2009


We looked at Arrow-wood, Viburnum dentatum, a few months ago when it was in flower. Those flowers have done their jobs nicely, haven't they? :-)

From A Year Among The Trees:

"Among the several species which I shall not attempt to describe, one of the most common and familiar is the Arrow-Wood, so called from the general employment of its long, straight, and slender branches by the Indians for the manufacture of their arrows. This tree seldom rises above eight or ten feet in height, and is more common in the borders of fields which are low and wet than any other species. Its fruit is of a bluish slate- color. These peculiar shrubs are often seen in the damp forest, and in the borders of wood-paths, bearing conspicuous fruit and tempting us to gather and eat, while we refrain on account of the suspicions we naturally feel when we discover the fruit of a strange plant."

Flagg, Wilson. A Year Among The Trees. Boston, 1881. 187. Web Google Book Search. 20 Sep 2009.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pignut Hickory

I've walked by this tree over a hundred times; it's close to home on my return trips about the lake.

A few days ago I noticed this fruit and made a first guess of black walnut. Once I hit the books it became clear that I was barking up the wrong tree. (Ya, I know...)

The leaf pattern and size and shape of fruit as well as buds leads me to think that we have here a Pignut Hickory, Carya glabra.

From American Forest Trees:

"The superiority of American buggies, sulkies, and other light vehicles is due to the hickory in their construction. No other wood equals this in combination of desirable physical properties. Though heavy, it is so strong, tough, and resilient that small amounts suffice, and the weight of the vehicle can be reduced to a lower point, without sacrificing efficiency, than when any other wood is employed. It is preeminently a wood for light vehicles. Oak, ash, maple, and elm answer well enough for heavy wagons where strength is more essential than toughness and elasticity. Hickory is suitable for practically all wooden parts of light vehicles except the body. The slender spokes look like frail dowels, and seem unable to maintain the load, but appearances are deceptive. The bent rims are likewise very slender, but they last better than steel. The shafts and poles with which carriages and carts are equipped will stand severe strains and twists without starting a splinter. The manufacturing of the stock is little less than a fine art. In scarcely any other wood-using industry—probably excepting the making of handles—is the grain so closely watched. Hickory users generally speak of the annual growth rings as the grain. The grain must run straight in spokes, rims, shafts, and poles. If the grain crosses the stick, a break may occur by the simple process of splitting, and the hickory in that case is no more dependable than many other woods."

Gibson, Henry H. American Forest Trees. Chicago, 1913. 368. Web. Google Book Search. 20 Sep 2009.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

White Snakeroot

White Snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosum, although a quite beautiful little plant, caused many problems until its deadly nature was finally discovered.

The quoted text below is from Two Common Weeds That Cause Death.

"Since the times of the earliest settlers in Indiana, considerable trouble has been experienced with a disease of sheep, cattle and horses called trembles or milk sickness. Many farmers believed that the poison was communicable to man thru the agency of milk, hence the disease in man was also called milk sickness. The losses were so heavy during pioneer days that one writer has estimated that more than half of the deaths that occurred in Dubois County, Indiana, during the year 1815 were due to milk sickness and be further states that the loss to stock was exceedingly heavy."

"The disease was attributed to poisonous gases, poisonous minerals in the soil, polluted drinking water, poisonous plants (particularly white snakeroot) and insects and later to bacteria. Comparatively recent investigations have demonstrated conclusively that the disease is caused by eating white snakeroot and tbe poison is transmitted to the suckling young by tbe milk. There is little doubt that milk sickness in man is due to drinking milk from animals poisoned by white snakeroot although experimental evidence of this character is difficult to secure. Not only is the green plant poisonous but it seems to be dangerous when fed dry in hay, as has been determined by feeding experiments performed under the direction of Dr. R. A. Craig of tbe Veterinary Department of the Purdue University Agricultural Experiment Station."

By the way... the other weed that causes death? Water Hemlock, aka Cowbane.

Hansen, Albert A. Two Common Weeds That Cause Death. Purdue University Agricultural Experiment Station. Circular 101. February 1923. Web. Google Book Search. 18 Sep 2009.