Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Cautionary Snow Tale

Not all winter storms produce cuddly snow creatures like giant ladybugs and yet-to-be-described species of morel.  Some storms bring forth creatures so vile that none dare speak their names.  This was the unfortunate case with Winter Storm Rocky.

The day started out as usual for any major snow event in Columbia, Missouri.  I woke to the faint sound of plows moving snow off the the main roads, leaving our sleepy little street untouched.  This sound was soon replaced with the whir and spin of various small vehicles stuck in the slush and ice outside of our apartment.  Winter Storm Rocky tried its best to show up Winter Storm Q, but fell slightly short.  Only once, in the wee hours of the snowy morning, did I hear the sound of Thundersnow.  An honorable attempt, however.

Winter Storm Rocky's meager offerings
As I said, the day started out as usual.  The dog, to his dismay, was walked and he decided quite firmly that there was no suitable real estate to properly conduct the business of the hour.

Marmaduke says "No way"
 There was a minor amount of snow hi-jinx and frolicking by the members of the household. 

Sarah, demonstrating proper snow-frolic technique
Anthony, full frolic

It was during mid-frolic that Winter Storm Rocky made its true intentions known.  The care-free snow-frolickers were set upon by a denizen-of-the-snow-so-vile-none-dare-to-speak-its-name (Dotssvndtsin, for short). 
The horror that is Dotssvndtsin

They say that a person who looks into the coal-black eyes of Dotssvndtsin is never the same again. 

Don't you listen?  Don't look directly into the eyes of Dotssvndtsin.
The frolickers put up a decent fight, but were no match for this snowy juggernaut of doom.
No amount of snow angels can protect one from the icy grasp of Dotssvndtsin.

Dotssvndtsin, impervious even to formidable winter weapons such as the snow shovel.

There is no telling when or where Dotssvndtsin may appear.  All it takes is a bit of snow and a dash of tree debris.  Some say the carrot nose is the key to the demise of the Dotssvndtsin, but nobody has ever lived long enough to test that theory.  Next time you are out in the snow, keep warm and watch your back...
No snow people or real people or dogs were harmed in the making of this blog.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thundersnow and Friends

Looks like I got my wish....and maybe even more than I wished for.   Winter Storm Q brought Columbia between 9 and 11 inches of snow (depending on who you ask).  However, this wasn't ordinary snow, this was THUNDERSNOW!  Winter Storm Rocky is following in Q's footsteps and may hit us Monday and Tuesday with a similar amount of (thunder)snow.  Until then, I will enjoy documenting some rarely seen denizens of the snow. Thundersnow?  Pshhh, check these out....

Perhaps the last morels I will see before leaving Missouri for the mushroom-less (I cannot even fathom such a thing) southwest Kansas.

The elusive Snow Morel, Morchella nix
Just before I discovered those beauties, I stumbled across this beast.
A giant Adalia bipunctata!  Waiting to challenge Godzilla, no doubt.
Maybe there is something to that Thundersnow after all.....

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lessons in Snow

Patiently awaiting the arrival of Winter Storm "Q", I find myself thinking about snow. 
More precisely, about Missouri snow.  My last experience with snow before moving to Missouri was approximately 20 years ago in Rhode Island.  Of course, 1992-me found the Rhode Island snow to be a most pleasing affair.  However, after a few winters here in Missouri, I've decided that it is definitely time to update my stance on the subject of snow.  
The novelty of snow definitely wears out quickly for the 2013-me.  Shoveling, scraping, earth-friendly salting, slipping, shoveling some more, getting my truck stuck in my own driveway, getting pulled out by a friendly neighbor and then slipping again, is not my idea of a "most pleasing" affair.  However, despite the tedium of snow for the 2013-me, I daresay snow has some at least partially pleasing aspects.

This winter has been quite mild as far as my Missouri winters go.  Definitely nowhere near the "Snowpocalypse" of winters past...

What a pain in the ass...

One of the countless victims of the "Snowpocalypse" - Columbia, Missouri

So mild I find myself actually hoping that we get some substantial snow from the approaching Winter Storm Q.  This brings me to the first positive thing I have to say about snow.  I was pleased to discover that snow can definitely make the drab winter scenery a little more interesting and even a bit dramatic.

Drab, green-less walk through the woods?  No need to fear, snow is here!

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, a wee bit snowy.
Have you ever seen a more interesting set of stairs??

The dramatic and snowy crevasse into the Devil's Ice Box, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

The snow and slightly hidden icicles hanging off of this ledge make this drab, sunset-hour, winter woodland scene a tad (over?) dramatic.
Additionally, I would like to thank snow for inspiring me to enjoy many of the darker, richer styles of beer which have served to warm my bones on many a cold winter's evening.  The legendary "Snowpocalypse" is directly responsible for making me brew my first Russian Imperial Stout with the intention of enjoying them during subsequent "snowpocalypses" (I really want to say "snowpocali") which have yet to occur...

I still have a few bottles of this tasty Russian Imperial Stout ready to go at the slightest hint of another MSE (Major Snow Event).

Finally, did I mention that I like to build snowmen?  I think the 1992-me would find that to be "most pleasing" indeed.

Go build a snowman/woman/person!
So, I guess what I mean to say is that snow is alright by me (mostly, sometimes, very briefly).

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Warm up a moment...

Well, it is a nice sunny day today, though still a bit too cold to enjoy the woods (for me at least).  Looks like tomorrow will be in the 50's; that might just get me out of the apartment.  In the mean time I find myself day-dreaming of warmer times...

Snorkeling in a little cove off of the Florida panhandle, perhaps...
Destin, Florida. Snorkeling in along this jetty was like being inside a salt water fish tank.
 Maybe just swimming in the black water of the Suwannee River...
Fargo, Georgia.  One of the two rivers to originate from the Okefenokee Swamp.

A lazy canoe trip along the Chipola River...

Cypress knees along the river, Florida Caverns State Park
Enjoying the smell of the pines while making my way through the flatwoods of the Okefenokee Swamp...
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, eastern entrance.

Or maybe just gazing out over the marsh with the rest of the birds...

Tybee Island, Georgia
There, not so cold anymore.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tread softly...

Why blog about moss?

 1. I've recently taken up a keen interest in mosses.  Recently as in over the last two years.  Well, a very slowly developing interest the first year and then an all-encompassing, sleepless obsession this past year.
2. I wanted to use this opportunity to make people see the cool things they are missing when they are not paying attention to mosses.
3. Why not?

Apple Moss (Bartramia pomiformis) with young sporophytes

 Of course, I am going to start off this blog with "What is a moss?", why wouldn't I?  Well, mosses are Bryophytes, aka non-vascular plants. Mosses have structures that appear to be leaves, however, these leaves are simply single sheets of cells lacking all of the complexity of the true leaves of vascular plants, aka Tracheophytes, aka that straggling rose outside your window.  With only a simple layer of cells acting as a "leaf", mosses are unable to control water loss from their tissues and shrivel up into obscure crisp nothings at the slightest hint of a dry day.  That's okay though, mosses are poikilohydric!  This means that mosses are able to withstand severe dehydration and recover as if nothing happened once moisture returns.

When you finally decide to look at a moss, you are typically seeing the gametophyte stage; the green plant-looking part.  In this stage, the moss does photosynthesize like normal plants, but it lacks true roots and does not take up water like normal plants.  The more inconspicuous portion of a moss is the sporophyte.  Sporophytes slowly emerge from the gameotophytes and their tips swell into capsules full of spores.  It is by these spores that mosses reproduce.  Both of these stages can be vital to properly identifying a moss and both stages can be equally interesting to look at.

Anyways, on to the the "making people see the cool things they are missing when they are not paying attention to mosses" part of the blog.  Lets start with some of the gameotophytes.
Juniper Moss (Polytrichum juniperinum), like tiny juniper trees

Climacium americanum looks like tiny palm trees
This too is a moss, Fern Moss (Thuidium sp.), of course
The coppery sheen and clasping, spoon-like leaves distinguish Spoon-leaved Moss (Bryoandersonia illecebra)

The whitish, translucent leaf tips and in-rolled leaf margins help ID this Pincushion moss (Leucobryum sp.)
 And not all mosses are lucious and green, check out these species growing on rocks.

Black tufts on a limestone face?

Scratchy, grey carpet on sandstone?
 Yep, both of those are mosses, check out the close-ups...

Strangulate Moss (Orthotricum strangulatum) with example sporophyte

Dry Rock Moss (Grimmia laevigata)

 How about a few moss fun-facts?

1. There are approximately 12,000 species of classified mosses!
2. The term bryophyte apparently comes from the Greek bryo, "moss" and  phyte "plant".  Hm, mossplant, how redundant.
3. Mosseries! Apparently, collecting moss was a fad in the late 19th century.  Mosseries were flat-roofed boxes open at the northern end to maintain a shaded environment for moss samples that were inserted between the slats of wood.  Regularly moistened mosseries were a typical installment in British and American gardens during this time.

Alright so what about those sporophytes I mentioned earlier?  Many can be quite cool and bizarre looking.  Some mosses can only be certainly ID'd with the sporophyte present.
Some sporophytes are large and hard to miss, like these from the Juniper Moss I showed previously.  Here you see one of the younger sporophytes still bearing its hairy sheath.  Hence, the other common name "Juniper Hairy-cap Moss".

And, of course, there are tiny, easily missed sporophytes like these from Velvet Apron Moss (Anamodon rostratus)
Some sporophytes look like alien cyclops peaking out of the moss, like these mostly mature examples from Bartramia pomiformis
 These pear-shaped sporophytes are known for showing up after burns or around old abandoned campfire spots, here is Cinderella Moss (Funaria hygrometrica)
Woodsy Moss (Mnium sp.), a pretty common group, can sport these brightly colored, drooping cylinders. 
Now that you are thoroughly enthused about getting outside and paying attention to mosses (even if you have to get really close to the ground and dirty up your knees), I will leave you with some tremendously helpful texts on moss identification that, for the most part, utilize direct observation of the specimen or, at the most, the use of a good hand lens.  Many species require microscopic examination of the "leaf" cells and/or spores.  

Happy Mossing!

Outstanding Mosses and Liverworts of Pennsylvania and Nearby States

Walk Softly Upon the Earth: A Pictorial Field Guide to Missouri Mosses, Liverworts and Lichens Apparently I got the last copy of this text that wasn't near $100 on Amazon.  Not worth that amount, but useful if you can find it.  A handful of typos and necessary corrections in the text.  I have all of those if you happen upon a copy.

Mosses With a Hand Lens: A Non-technical Handbook of the More Common and More Easily Recognized Mosses of the Northeastern United States

A Trailside Guide to Mosses and Liverworts of the Cherokee National Forest

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wenesday Wildflower Time

This won't  happen every Wednesday, but some Wednesdays are going to become...

Wildflower Wednesdays!

The first installment in the Wildflower Wednesdays series is going to focus on a cool little flower often missed even by those who purposefully get out to find the earliest spring blooms.  I'm talkin' about Erigenia bulbosa, people!  AKA Harbinger of Spring, AKA Pepper and Salt.
E. bulbosa, found as far north as central New York and southern Wisconsin, west to the western Ozarks and south to central Alabama.  Look for this plant in rich hardwood forests.

One of the things I was excited about upon moving to Missouri was that I would FINALLY be in a region that experienced a classic Spring burgeoning.  I was particularly interested in getting out during my first Spring here in order to see and photograph as many Spring ephemerals as possible.  Southern Georgia had its excellent share of cool plantlife and wildflowers, but I was always envious of the northern portion of the state for its springtime wildflowers in the mountains (Appalachian forest, the only saving grace of the northern half of the state).

I familiarized myself with Missouri's springtime blooms all winter and knew exactly what I wanted to see and when I should start looking.  This brings me to the subject of my current rambling.  The Harbinger of Spring is named quite accordingly.  This plant can begin blooming when Spring isn't even a thought on anyone's mind yet. Well, Spring seems to be a thought on my mind throughout the entirety of Winter.  Anyways, my copy of "Missouri Wildflowers" lists the bloom date for this species as January through April.  The first time I met this plant was on March 13, 2010.  This was a dreary, chilly, drizzle-soaked day. Spring was struggling to start, but the Harbinger wasn't struggling at all. I photographed several individuals in a large colony at the base of a shady, wooded slope.  Many in full bloom and even some finishing up flowering already!

The Harbinger of Spring, making its way up through the cold, rain-soaked leaves of March.
Erigenia bulbosa is a member o the carrot family (Apiaceae) and happens to be the only species in its genus.  Looking at the plant as a whole reveals a couple of characteristics that give away its membership to the carrot family.

Typical of the carrot family, the leaves of this plant are sheathed at the base and pinnately divided into many small sections.  I discovered this tiny set of blooms unsheathing itself below some dead leaves.

All members of the carrot family have their flowers arranged as an umbel (originating from a single point), as seen above.  Just for scale, the petals of this flower are only 3-4 mm long!
Pepper and Salt, what kind of name is that?   This common name originates from the look of the older blooms seen above.
This winter has been the mildest yet since my time here in Missouri.  I wouldn't be surprised if the trusty ol' Harbinger is already out and about.  After all, that groundhog didn't see its shadow.  I think I know what I'm doing this weekend....

You should get out and look around too, turns out these plants are endangered in New York and Wisconsin and threatened in Pennsylvania.  Not everyone is lucky enough to ring in Spring with this cool little plant, I'm glad I have the opportunity to do just that.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Likin' Lichen

While I am by no means an expert in regards to lichens, I have definitely dabbled in their realm.  In fact, I plan to dabble more in the future.  A recent email from a friend down Georgia way (check out Fitz Clarke's great Flickr page here) got me thinking about lichens again.

What is a lichen?  Lichens are not a single organism, but a symbiotic relationship between fungi, green algae and/or cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).  I recall learning in school that the fungi part of a lichen provided the "home" to the algae, while the algae provided the "food" via photosynthesis.  Of course, things are not as simple as they appear; the particular fungi/algae relationship differs from one lichen to the next and the relationship isn't always a friendly, two-way street.  Apparently there are upwards of 15,000 different species of fungi (primarily Ascomycetes) that form lichens!  And as for lichens themselves, there are nearly 14,000 distinct species found practically everywhere, and on every kind of surface, in the world.

So, why bother with lichens?  If you ask that question, you obviously have never taken the time to notice them.  I admit, many lichens can be quite inconspicuous and easy to overlook, but once you've noticed them you CAN NEVER UNNOTICE THEM.  Okay, well maybe you can, but I most definitely cannot. 

For example, there is no missing the Christmas Wreath Lichen, aka Bubblegum Lichen (Cryptothecia rubrocincta). 

This particular specimen readily demonstrates why it is sometimes referred to as "Bubblegum Lichen"
This lichen brings back fond memories of growing up in southeastern Georgia, where this splash of pink mottles every oak in site.  There are only two species of Cryptothecia in North America, both restricted to the extreme Southeast.  C. striata isn't as striking, it lacks the red pigment.  C. rubrocincta is also found in South America where it has been used as a source of red dye in Brazil.

As I mentioned earlier, some lichen (okay maybe a lot of lichen) are easy to overlook.  However, if you take a moment to look closely, you may find that they are much more interesting.  Take Script Lichen (Graphis scripta) for an example. 
Another common lichen occurrence on oaks in the Southeast.

From a distance, you may only see a whitish smudge on a branch with some black streaks or dashes.  Look a bit closer and you may begin to see why this particular group of lichens are known as "script" lichens.  There are only 39 species of Script Lichen in North America, most restricted to the Southeast and Florida claims 25 of them.  G. scripta is the most common and widespread across most of Eastern North America. 

How about this sickly looking Lichen?  Bark Rash Lichen (Pyrenula cruenta), one of 48 species of "bark rash" or "pox" lichens found in North America, again this species restricted to the Southeast.  This specimen was a tiny patch I found growing on scrawny, young oak, marsh-side at Skidaway Island State Park.  I think the photo clearly shows where these lichens get their common name.

Pyrenula cruenta, one of the Bark Rash Lichens.  Hey, I even see some Script Lichen!
Well, I don't think I'm doing a good job convincing you that lichen are easy to miss.  Here is another striking species Haematomma accolens, one of the Bloodspot Lichens.  This is an easily recognized group and there are only 7 species in North America, 5 of which are found in the Southeast.  Again, I think the photo will clearly show where the common name comes from.
One of the North American Bloodspot Lichens, Haematomma accolens.
Like I said before, lichens can be found growing on almost any surface.  So far I've shown you examples on tree bark.  Take a look at this attention-grabbing species that grows on rocks. 

I hope you enjoyed looking at this Sidewalk Firedot Lichen (Caloplaca feracissima) before you burned your retinas to ash.
Why the hell did I bother saying that lichens were easy to miss??  There are 133 species of Firedot, or Jewel Lichens in North America.  This particular species is at home growing on natural limestone and even sidewalks.  I photographed this specimen on a huge limestone chunk bordering a parking lot. 

Well, I wish I could tell you about each and every one of the ~14,000 species of lichen in the world.  I think these five interesting species should be plenty to peak your interest in these cool organisms.  And I promise you can easily overlook lichens.  So PAY ATTENTION.  You probably missed out on at least a dozen just today.

Go look at some lichen!

For an amazing reference on Lichens of North America, check out this book.

Also check out, A Guide to the Lichens of Howard County, MD - a great resource online for a lot of commonly encountered species, download it here