Sunday, August 19, 2018

And Now for Some Fauna From Canal Park

I returned to Canal Park (see last post) on Saturday to re-examine a flower I have some question about, and while I was there, I saw some interesting fauna too.

The first was a wee little crab spider trying to hide from view beneath an Oxeye bloom:

The second was an incredibly iridescent tiny green bee exploring the few still-open florets of a Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint. That little bee just glittered in the sunlight.

There were also Goldenrod Soldier Beetles dining on Mountain Mint nectar.

But the most surprising visitor to the Mountain Mint was this Ailanthus Web-worm Moth,  a creature usually found in more southern states. What gorgeous orange wings, decorated with black-and-white circular designs!

But not all the animal evidence I found was quite so vivacious. Some, in fact, was quite dead, like the remnants of this enormous fish I found lying on the shore.  Since the skeleton was at least three-feet long, without the head, this must have been one big fish!

Sadly, here was one more dead creature, a beautiful Monarch Butterfly I found lying on the stony shore.

Most of the fungi we found on Thursday was already dying as well, but this mushroom corpse had become the home of some tiny new fungi that sprouted directly from the shriveled and slimy remains.

Here was a newly sprouted mushroom, but one we associate with death, since this is one of those fungi that can kill you if you consume it.  Because it is snowy white, with a visible basal cup and stem ring, I believe this is Amanita verna, with the common name of Destroying Angel.

On a happier note,  the plant I had come to re-visit -- a sprawling bush clover I still don't know the name of for certain -- had opened some of its pretty purple flowers.  I'm hoping the flower's color and the number of flowers per stalk will help us determine its exact ID at last.  It might be the rare Lespedeza repens or else the more common Lespedeza procumbens.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fungi and Flora at Canal Park

My friends in the Thursday Naturalists and I love to go to Canal Park at Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal.  Located in Rensselaer County where the Hoosic River joins the Hudson, this nature preserve offers trails that follow both rivers, wend through the woods, and lead down onto an alluvial plain where springtime floodwaters enrich the soil and create a habitat for unusual species of plants.  There are plants that grow here that we never find anywhere else we explore, so we were looking forward to revisiting them when we arrived last Thursday morning.  However, it took us a while to reach those flowers.  The mushrooms grabbed us first.

Thanks to recent rains, the forest floor was a virtual mosaic of fungi of many shapes and colors, and we just had to stop to marvel at them.

If any of us had brought a mushroom guide, we would probably still be there on the trails, trying to decipher the species.  As it was, I could name only two of them as to species,  but almost all of the mushrooms we found fell into two basic groups: the Boletes and the Amanitas.  The Boletes are distinguished by possessing pores instead of gills as their spore-producing organs on the underside of their caps, and the Amanitas are gilled mushrooms distinguished by possessing bulbous cups at their bases and remnants of a veil indicated by rings of tissue on their stalks and patches of tissue on their caps.

Here are a few of the Boletes.

This spectacular one is called Frost's Bolete (Butyriboletus frostii), distinguished by its cherry-red textured caps, red pore surface, and coarsely reticulate stems.  This mushroom would be very hard to mistake for any other.  Or just hard to miss, period!  It really stands out.

Another Bolete, with velvety caps the color of orange sherbet.

This may be the same species of Bolete as those above, but I was struck by how much it looked like a miniature pumpkin pie!

This Bolete had a huge bulbous stem, very fine pores, and a  velvet cap the color of old port wine.

Another red Bolete, but a softer red and with a yellow rim.

This is the underside of the one above, showing the vivid yellow of it pore surface.

This was the most common Bolete of all we saw today, many of which were as big as dinner plants, and all had this soft suede tan-colored cap and cream-colored pores.

Another Bolete that is easily distinguished from all the others, this shaggy one has the whimsical  name of Old Man of the Woods (Strobilomyces strobilaceus).

Here are some of the Amanitas we saw, all distinguished by little patches on their caps, the remnants of the veil  that once encased the button stage.

This one was almost pure white, with only a sooty smudge at the center of its cap.

An Amanita the color of caramel and topped with golden patches.

A chrome-yellow Amanita, with larger patches than usual, and a quite pronounced ring on the stem.

A softer-yellow, rather glossy Amanita, with white patches.

This was a real odd-ball among the Amanitas.  It belongs to a type of Amanita called Lepidella, which has patches that are pyramidical and that cannot be wiped away the way the flatter veil-remnants of the caps of other Amanitas can be. Members of this Lepidella group sometimes look like bar-bells in their button stage (as does this one) because their cups can be bigger than the caps.

Finally, we made it to the flowers we had come her to find, the ones we find nowhere else but Canal Park.  When we were last here in May, the Green Dragons (Arisaema dracontium) were protruding long skinny spadices from their stems.  Today, we found the clusters of shiny green berries that will later turn bright red.

There's a beautiful patch of Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides) growing on the riverbank.

Sometimes called False Sunflower, the Oxeye can be distinguished from genuine sunflowers by its fertile ray flowers.  A close-up view of the flower head reveals the tiny Y-shaped pistils protruding from the base of each ray.  Only the disk flowers of genuine sunflowers  (Helianthus species) possess reproductive organs.

One of the reasons we like to revisit Canal Park late in summer is to find all three species of Bush Clover (Lespedeza) growing in one place.  The first and most populous one we found was the Hairy Bush Clover (L. hirta) with its terminal clusters of pink-throated white flowers and very hairy stems and leaves.

The second Bush Clover we'd hope to find -- the Wand-like Bush Clover (L. violacea) -- had passed its blooming time, apparently, because we only found plants with their distinctive small seedpods and none with the expected clusters of pink flowers.  But we were pleased that we could locate and identify this plant, even without its pretty flowers.

The third species of Bush Clover we hoped to find, called Creeping Bush Clover (L. repens) ,was also not blooming, except for a few little spent flowers that still showed a bit of bright-pink petals.  But its sprawling habit of growth and small rounded leaves provided us enough clues to verify its species. At least, I think we properly identified it.  There's a very similar species that looks almost identical, except it has "soft hairy" stems.  That species (called Trailing Bush Clover [L. procumbens]) is supposedly a more common species, while L. repens is state-ranked as Rare.  I can't quite tell from my photo whether these stems are hairy or smooth.  Guess I'd better go back to this site and take a closer look.

Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum) is another plant we come here to Canal Park to find, enjoying its pretty, bell-shaped flowers in May and, late in the summer, the sight of its aqua-colored fruits that dangle on long stems. Although these berries were not quite ripe this week, they will retain that lovely shade of blue-green even as they mature.  They will never taste very good to us humans, however, no matter how ripe they get.  The deer are welcome to them.

This wee little wispy plant was one of the true highlights of our trip this day, for here was a flower we had never found before, not here in Canal Park nor anywhere else in our explorations.  I was kneeling down to peer at another plant when I suddenly spied these tight conical clusters of tiny white flowers touched with pink and green.  They immediately spoke "Milkwort" to me, but it took our friend Lois's searching her Newcomb's to come up with a likely species: Whorled Milkwort (Polygala verticillata).

But wait a minute!  Most of the needle-fine leaves are alternate on the stem and not whorled.  How can this be Whorled Milkwort?  Well, Newcomb mentioned in his description of this species that there is a variety that has mostly alternate leaves.  I later learned that the variety is called ambigua.

Some taxonomists have elevated the variety ambigua to a species, but there is disagreement among botanists about this move.  Our New York Flora Association calls this flower Polygala verticillata var. ambigua.  Since I am a New Yorker, I will go with that.  And I will also come back to Canal Park to search it out again, just one more of those plants we Thursday Naturalists find here and nowhere else.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Here's Looking at You (with all four eyes)!

While walking the sandy shore of Moreau Lake yesterday, this wee little Jumping Spider hitched a ride on my shirt tail.  I'm glad we had a chance to say hello before little spider jumped away.  I love Jumping Spiders' furry little four-eyed faces, and they often look so fuzzy I wish I could pet them.  This one raised up and waved its little arms at me before it took off.  I'm sure that was a defensive posture, but I like to delude myself that the dear little critter was waving good-bye.  So long!  See ya later!

I also found some pink-flowered Blue Vervain along the same shore.  Quite unusual!  The flowers of Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) are usually known for their vividly blue blooms.

The shore of Moreau Lake is the only place I have ever seen this pink variety.  Here's the typical color for the flowers of Blue Vervain:

Monday, August 13, 2018

Flowers on a Rocky Height

 Finally!  Late last week, we had a day when the humidity fell low enough to dry my sweat, even when I exerted myself mightily.  And the temperature dropped below the 90s, too, so I decided to venture up a rocky height where a powerline climbs a mountain above the Hudson River.  In addition to enjoying some spectacular views of the river valley, I was seeking some late-summer flowers I have found only in this location and nowhere else in Saratoga County.

One of those flowers is the big beautiful Pasture Thistle (Cirsium pumilum), one of our few native thistles,  which abounds up here on this sunny open height.  I feared I might be a bit late to find them this year, but a few still bore their fist-sized purple blooms, while others had exploded into puffs of silky thistledown.

Here's a closer view of one of those blooms, as fragrant as they are beautiful.

A second flower I have to climb this rocky height to see is the Round-leaved (or Prostrate) Tick Trefoil (Desmodium rotundifolium), a sprawling plant with big round leaves that thrives in the thin soil that covers bare rock up here.  I always find the leaves, but only once in a while do I find its pretty little purple, pea-family flowers.  I did find some of the flowers this day, but they were nearly withered, so I found this photo in my files to better display the flowers.

A number of other Desmodium species can be found up here as well, including the Large-bracted Tick Trefoil (D. cuspidatum) with its dense racemes of blue-violet blooms.

Another inhabitant of these heights, the Panicled Tick Trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum), bears rosier-colored flowers in much more diffuse inflorescences.  I know of no other place I visit where I can see all these Desmodium species growing at the same location.  (The Showy Tick Trefoil [Desmodium canadense] also grows up here, but it was well past bloom by now.)


Several different species of Bush Clover also can be found in these open meadows, but the only one I found today was the Wand-like Bush Clover (Lespedeza violacea), with its compact cluster of pinky-purple blooms.

I was surprised to learn that this Bush Clover's specific name had been changed recently from intermedia to violacea, since I once had learned from Newcomb's Wildflower Guide that L. violacea was a different plant called the Violet Bush Clover.  But here's how the folks at the New York Flora Association explain this change in nomenclature:
"This taxon has recently gone by the name L. intermedia. The nomenclatural history of Lespedeza frutescens, L. intermedia, and L. violacea has been complex. The type of Hedysarum violaceum L., which is the name Lespedeza violacea is based on, is a specimen of what has recently gone by the name L. intermedia. The specific epithet violaceum has priority and therefore L. violacea is the correct name for what has recently been called L. intermedia. Lespedeza intermedia becomes a superfluous name and is relegated to synonymy of L. violacea (Reveal and Barrie 1991). The name Lespedeza frutescens is the correct name for what has recently been called L. violacea. Lespedeza violacea is considered a misapplied name of L. frutescens and is also the correct name for what has recently been called L. intermedia (Reveal and Barrie 1991).

But we can still call this plant by the common name of Wand-like Bush Clover.  That hasn't changed.

I was glad to discover that this next plant I find only here on these heights, called Orange Grass,  is still called by its old scientific name of Hypericum gentianoides (meaning, "gentian-like St. Johnswort).  I was surprised, when I first learned about it, that this virtually leafless plant was considered to be a St. Johnswort, since it looks so different from most other members of the Hypericum genus.  Different, that is, until it blooms, with its tiny yellow five-parted flowers that do resemble the flowers of other St. Johnsworts.

Ah, but when will I find it in bloom?  I keep venturing up this mountainside at different times of the late summer and fall, always hoping to see those tiny yellow flowers.  And every single time, I find only the green, grass-thin stems tipped with little yellow buds and the dark red pods that I assume are the seed pods.  I was lucky to find this plant in bloom only once, near the shore on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, so at least I do know what it looks like.  And I do have this photo of it, taken some years ago in mid-September.

It's not like I can stop by every day to see if that Orange Grass St. Johnswort is in bloom.  It takes quite an effort to climb this rocky powerline to the height where I find the plants.  And I still haven't climbed it to where it reaches the top of the mountain.  Each time I reach a height, I discover yet a higher one beyond the one I just climbed.  Eventually, the going gets too precipitous for me to attempt on my own, especially with my still-weakened knee.  This photo shows as far as I could go on my own.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Lots of Duckweed and Decodon, But Nary an Orchid

Regular readers of this blog may remember my photos of a rare Bicolor Orchid a few weeks ago, a hybrid of the White Fringed Orchid and the Orange Fringed Orchid.  This bicolor's white progenitor surrounded it abundantly in the bog where we found it, but no one has seen its orange progenitor in years.  The last sighting was many years ago in a Washington County pond called Carter's Pond, so when my friend Bonnie suggested we go paddle around this pond and look for it, I lashed my canoe to my car and met her there.

We met Wednesday afternoon, defying a forecast of thunderstorms, and set off to circle the pond under blue skies adorned with fair-weather clouds. 

Well, it was kind of slow-going around Carter's Pond, for the duckweed here was as thick as green slush.  The water was open out in the middle, but we needed to creep along close to the shoreline if we were ever to catch a glimpse of any orchids.

The duckweed was kind of pretty when observed up close (note the big and small species of it), but it clung to our paddles and often slowed our progress.

We were hoping we might find some bog mat (the habitat our missing orchid prefers), but our hopes were soon rendered futile.  Carter's Pond is completely ringed by shrub swamp rather than bog mat, and the shrub that completely dominates the shoreline is this purple-flowered one, called Waterwillow or Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus).  This shrub has pretty purple flowers, gorgeous fall color,  and it is a native species, but at this pond it sure was a bully, crowding out almost every other wetland plant.

We were growing weary of seeing nothing but Waterwillow, when these brilliant hot-pink spikes of Scarlet Smartweed (Persicaria coccinea) hove into view, reaching high above the shrubby shoreline.

Here's a closer look at those deeply colored flower spikes, quite showy for this generally more demure genus.

These pale-pink little Mild Water Pepper plants (Persicaria hydropiperoides) are more typical of the Persicarias.  We found a patch of these pretty plants in a shaded area near the canoe launch site, the only area on the pond that was clear of the Waterwillow.

Here's a closer view of the Mild Water Pepper's delicate pale blooms.

As I said before, we found very few flowers among the Waterwillow shrubs, so we were delighted when we found a hummock that supported an ample clustering of Marsh St. Johnswort plants (Hypericum virginicum).  And we just happened to be there on time to witness this flower's regular  3:30 pm opening.

We may not have found many flowers, but we did find some pretty graminoids.  I do not know the name of this one, but I love the red and tan herringbone pattern of its spikelets.  It reminds me of a flatsedge that grows on the shore of Moreau Lake, so perhaps it, too, is a species of Cyperus.

Update:  Thanks, Zihao Wang, for naming this lovely flatsedge:  Umbrella Flatsedge (Cyperus diandrus).

Here was another graminoid, this one with fluffy-looking yellowish inflorescences.  A beautiful species that I do not know the name of.  Perhaps one of our readers does.

Update:  Again, thanks go out to Zihao Wang for providing a name for this showy flatsedge: Red-root Flatsedge  (Cyperus erythrorhizos), a plant that is on the watch list for New York State and considered rare in some New England states.

Oh gosh, these rotting stumps looked like some kind of statuary expressing the agony of life!

We also came upon an area where the stench of the water was attracting hordes of tiny black flies.  Bonnie wondered if surrounding pastures were allowing cow manure to leach into the pond, since that was what the water smelled like.

A rumble of thunder warned us we had better head back to land.  Ah well, we were growing weary of pushing our canoes through this green sludge on this sweltering day, so we headed back to the boat launch site, the only place on the entire shore where we could leave the water unimpeded by the shrubs.

Once we had loaded our canoes on our cars, we decided to check out the nearby woodland trails of the Carter's Pond Wildlife Management Area.   Many of the trails at this many-acred preserve are accessible to the handicapped, and even the more rugged trails offer boardwalk over the wetland parts of the trail.

This beautiful doe must be used to folks walking through her woods, for she seemed in no hurry to run away when she heard us coming.  She did sort of disappear quietly into the trailside shrubbery, but it wasn't until we were nearly close enough to touch her did she flip up her white tail and bound away.

The trails gave us more views of the pond than would have been accessible from our boats.  No sign of any bog mat here, only lots and lots more shrub swamp dominated by Waterwillow.  If our Orange Fringed Orchid ever grew here (as records indicate it once did), it is highly unlikely it would grow here now.  So the mystery of how those orange-orchid genes made their way to the white-orchid bog will remain a further mystery for us.

We did find lots of other orange stuff though!  Like this brilliant Chicken of the Woods fungus only just emerging on this moss-covered log. 

Here was a veritable explosion of tiny orange fungi, almost completely covering this rotting log.  Remembering that I had encountered this species before, I searched my blog when I got home and found its name: Xeromphalina campanella, which means (loosely translated) "small bells with little dry navels."  Huh!  What a funny name for a fungus!  And what a lovely treat for our eyes as we went our way toward home.