Only add time to the equation

Coronavirus woodland diary, day 9

Yesterday we had thunderstorms, rain on and off through the day and night. This morning the wind was ferocious, and when Brooklyn and I arrived at Maple Grove, a large ash tree was newly down 100 feet or so inside the entrance. The forest was strewn with oak limbs clothed in lichens displaced from near the canopy to the forest floor. An ash branch fell from 20 feet or more up, riddled with turkeytail fungi. A jelly fungus lay on the path like an enormous orange slug, torn from some other tree. Buds were expanding on the choke cherry and, I believe, on ironwood, but the marcescent ironwood leaves from last year have not yet budged.

White trout lily leaf unrolling. Maple Grove Forest Preserve, 2020-03-29.

Trout lily spears are widespread in the woods where the soil is bare. They have begun to unroll, and a few are exhibiting their mottled upper surfaces. Wild leeks throughout the woods are broadening in the blade, narrowed to a slender, dark red petiole. False mermaid continues to grow and now covers about 50% of the area that it will cover at its maximum. Virginia waterleaf is up in abundance, mainly it seems near the bases of larger trees. The flowers of Virginia bluebells are peeking out from the hearts of the leaf rosettes. Paired jewelweed cotyledons can be found along many of the trails, about the size of dimes. Wood nettle often grows next to jewelweed, and today there were little groves of seedlings that I suspect are wood nettle growing with the jewelweed. They grow thicker than the stems of the jewelweed and are reminiscent of mung bean sprouts. About a week ago I had thought some seedlings that look like these might be jewelweed, but now that they seem to be differentiating, I’m leaning toward wood nettle. We’ll see what they look like in a week or two.

Leaves of false rue anemone, Maple Grove Forest Preserve, 2020-03-29.

Several new plants have shown up on the shortcut trail past the pond in the middle of the preserve since I walked it four days ago. In one location, I found false rue anemone two inches high, leaf blades fanning out like playing cards. One of the plants I looked at bore tiny white floral buds near the junctures between the leaf blades and the petioles. One colony of bloodroot has sent up its first leaves, white flower petals just peeking over the edge of the leaf wrapped around it like a cape. The petioles run pink with bloody latex, and the veins on the backs of the leaves are reminiscent of the network of bronchi in a human lung. Leaves of prairie trillium (or bloody butcher; you get to choose between the pastoral and the macabre with this one) are unrolling trumpetlike on slender stalks, emerging along the trail edge. Cotyledons of great waterleaf are growing, pubescent with dark petioles. Black snakeroot leaves are bright green along the trail above the ephemeral pond.

A small colony of prairie trillium, Maple Grove Forest Preserve, 2020-03-29.

And the things with less conspicuous flowers or no flowers at all are moving along. The sedges are starting to accelerate: young shoots of Carex woodii are bluish-glaucous and about one pinky tall, and Sprengel’s sedge is bright green with new growth. What I take to be seductive entodon moss bristles with spent brown sporophyte capsules. Woodsy thyme moss is hairy with fresh sporophytes, which give the decomposing logs on which it grows a misty look, their edges indeterminate from 10 meters away.

Monday is back to work, back to oaks, analyzing data, working with students and staff on their projects, editing manuscripts and grant proposals. But I have a few mosses to identify and a scope to do it with, so perhaps I’ll take an hour at lunchtime and do that. Last night I read Nan Shepherd’s chapter “Life: The Plants” before my electronic copy of The Living Mountain was due and recalled by the library. I have a copy ordered from Seminary Coop Bookstore, on its way this week; but for a few days at least, I think I won’t have new Nan Shepherd quotes to share with you. I’m sorry. So for now, I leave you this, from Shepherd’s Chapter 7:

The more one learns of this intricate interplay of soil, altitude, weather, and the living tissues of plant and insect (an intricacy that has its astonishing moments, as when sundew and butterwort eat the insects), the more the mystery deepens. Knowledge does not dispel mystery. Scientists tell me that the alpine flora of the Scottish mountains is Arctic in origin–that these small scattered plants have outlived the Glacial period and are the only vegetable life in our country that is older than the Ice Age. But that doesn’t explain them. It only adds time to the equation and gives it a new dimension.

I hope that you and your families and friends are all well. Take care this week.

Plants referenced

  • Carex sprengelii – Sprengel’s sedge
  • Carex woodii – pretty sedge
  • Entodon seductrix – seductive entodon
  • Erythronium albidum – white trout lily
  • Floerkea proserpinacoides – false mermaid
  • Fraxinus sp. – ash
  • Hydrophyllum appendiculatum – great waterleaf
  • Impatiens sp. – jewelweed
  • Laportea canadensis – wood nettle
  • Mertensia virginica – Virginia bluebells
  • Ostrya virginiana – ironwood
  • Plagiomnium cuspidatum – woodsy thyme-moss
  • Prunus virginiana choke cherry
  • Sanguinaria canadense – bloodroot
  • Sanicula odorata – black snakeroot
  • Trillium recurvatum – bloody butcher, prairie trillium

4 thoughts on “Only add time to the equation”

  1. Oh, for another life time to get to know those mosses and their ‘seductive’ names! I’ll have to order an e-book of Shepherd’s, but I’ve been meaning to ask if you have read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Richard Powers called The Overstory? It was the hardest but best novel I’ve read in a long time. One of the many science works that inspired Powers was the Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I found this book fascinating. But I sometimes wondered if the author went a bit too far in likening trees to animals and overly anthropomorphizing them.. He even talks about their falling in love and even “talking” together. Yipes!

    1. Tell me about it. I like the mosses a lot… I read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss and loved it. I’ve been using McKnight et al’s book Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians to start to learn them. The keys are good and the photos and illustrations are good, and it’s a pretty accessible book.

      I thought very highly of Richard Powers’ book. I read it twice and found it even better the second time. I also loved his book The Echomaker. Wohlleben’s book I had a harder time getting into… same reasons you cite. I think it’s done a lot of good getting people to think about trees as individuals. That’s very good. I don’t like attributing intentionality where I don’t see a need to do so, but you know, Kimmerer addresses this very point nicely in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, and I find her reasoning compelling. I may change my mind on this yet. We’ll see.

      Enjoy the day, Rich, and thanks for the kind note. Take care.

    1. You know, Rich: you’ve got me wondering whether I’ve had this right. I have certainly thought _in past years_ that it was _T. recurvatum_, but now I wonder whether I ID’d it correctly. I’ll keep an eye on it as the flowers open.

      Thank you, Rich. I appreciate your taking the time to read and raise such good questions. Enjoy the day!

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