Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Turtle Encounter on World Turtle Day

Well, whadda ya know? Guess what I found on World Turtle Day (May 23)? A nice big Snapping Turtle right in the middle of a parking lot at Moreau Lake State Park. I assume it was a mama turtle returning from laying her eggs somewhere and now waddling back to the lake. She was heading in that direction,anyway. But school buses were driving through the parking lots and a playground full of small children lay between her and the lake. It seemed a bit perilous for both her and the children, so I found someone with a bucket we could push her into and carry her right to the shore. She took off in a hurry once she hit the water!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Surprise Finds Along Bog Meadow Trail

On a break in a long stretch of drenching days, I returned to the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail last week, where a few surprises awaited me.  The first surprise was to find the water level in the trailside marsh considerably lower than it was just the week before, despite days of pouring rain.

When I reached the bridge a few yards further along the trail, I discovered why the water level had lowered so dramatically from just the week before. Over the past couple of years, beaver dams had completely blocked the stream that empties this wetland, but in just the past few days, work crews had performed the monumental task of opening parts of the beaver dam to let the marsh waters flow downstream.  It appears the crew also placed strategic barriers to prevent the beavers from blocking the stream once more.  It will be interesting to observe just how long these preventive measures succeed!

Continuing along the trail, I was not really surprised to find Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) now blooming under the trailside shrubs, since this trail is one of the very few places in Saratoga County where I can count on finding this native wildflower.  But I WAS impressed to find this species thriving in greater numbers than I had ever found them before. And some plants had achieved a remarkable size, both in individual blooms and in numbers of plants in a cluster.  Here were SIX all growing together, and each plant of remarkable vigor.  I usually think of this species as being more delicate in appearance than our other trilliums.

Another surprise awaited, just a few steps away.  Here was another vigorous multi-stemmed clump of trilliums, but instead of them having the expected white blooms, these were a deep rosy red. But the flowers somehow seemed different from those of the red-flowered species called Trillium erectum,  a plant that also inhabits this trail but whose earlier-blooming flowers were now mostly faded.  For one thing,  these reddish flowers were more drooping and with petals more reflexed than would be typical for the flowers of T. erectum. And the flowers were a more rosy color than the dark red typical of T. erectum.

When I picked up one of the blooms to examine it more closely, my puzzlement increased.  Trillium erectum is known to have a dark-red ovary, while this one had a white one, although it was tinged with pink toward the curling stigma.  Another anomaly could be observed in the filaments holding the anthers.  The anthers of T. erectum are virtually sessile to the base of the ovary, while these anthers were held on the longer filaments that would be typical for T. cernuum.

For comparison, here is a close-up photo of the corresponding parts of T. cernuum.  Note the pure-white ovary and the dark-red anthers held on longish white filaments.

And here is the flower of T. erectum, with its dark-red ovary, sessile anthers, and less-reflexed, darker-red petals than those of our mystery trillium.

Taking all these factors into account, I believe that our mysterious trillium is quite likely a hybrid of the two species.  Since the two species grow close together at this site, it seems that cross-pollination would frequently occur.

Continuing along the trail, I noticed some other anomalous trilliums that beckoned me to closely examine them.  The shorter peduncle and yellowish-white flower suggested this might be the white-flowered variety of Trillium erectum, a not uncommon find at other sites, but one I had never encountered along this trail.

But WHOA!  While the back of this trillium appeared to be whitish, the face was assuredly PINK!

And again, I found an ovary more white than red, and anthers held aloft on longer filaments than would be typical of T. erectum.  Seems like we might have another hybrid here!

There were two trilliums close together here, and when I raised the second flower to examine it, yet another surprise awaited! Do we call a four-parted trillium a quadrillium? Wow, but there sure seems to be a lot of Trillium hanky-panky along this trail!

As further evidence that Bog Meadow Trail is a real hotbed of trillium miscegenation, I recalled that five years ago I posted a photo of another oddball trillium, this one with a snowy-white flower but with a dark-red ovary:

I had assumed that this was simply a white-flowered T. erectum, but here's what my friend Andrew Gibson (a great botanist who really knows his stuff!) had to say about it:  "I have to wonder if that isn't a hybrid expressing some genes from a T. erectum. The red ovary and more sessile-looking anthers says T. erectum, but the pure-white petals, their reflexed nature, and the drooping fashion of the flower says T. cernuum. I've seen the white colored form of T. erectum plenty before, and its flowers have more of a greenish or yellowish cast.   What you have there strikes me as something quite different and very suspicious of some back crossing!"

After all these surprises, it was wonderful to find an old friend that remained unchanged: the beautiful Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus).    There's little chance this plant will hybridize here with any other of its genus, since this is the only location in all of Saratoga County where I have found this single specimen, let alone any other plants of the Streptopus genus.

I suppose it's possible there are other specimens of Rose Twisted-stalk in the county.  If so, I could very well have missed them all the years I've been roaming here, because its leaves could pass for several other woodland wildflowers.  You have to lift up a stem to realize the true beauty of its flowers.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Roadside Rocks in Beautiful Bloom

After a rather rigorous hike around Lake Bonita yesterday, my still-weary legs suggested I choose an easier outing on this beautiful blue-sky day. So I headed over to Spier Falls Road where it runs close along the Hudson River, and where mountains rise sharply in craggy cliffs right close to the road.  Here, in the cracks and crags and ledges of these rocks grows a spectacular display of flowers and mosses, a veritable roadside rock garden. And I could easily mosey along the paved road to enjoy it.

Aside from a violet or trillium or two, the preponderance of wildflowers here on these cliffs are the teeming clusters of Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis). Each small white flower would not draw much attention to itself as a single bloom, but here, where the flowers crowd together in masses of bloom wherever springs water the rocks, the effect is spectacular, like clouds of mist or heaps of foam rising amid the dark boulders.

While the massive accumulations of hundreds of flowers put on a spectacular display, the solitary plants also have their charms, with pure-white blooms held high above basal rosettes of crinkle-edged green and red leaves. And the plants are usually rooted within puffy clumps of gorgeous green mosses, which add much textural beauty.

The mosses themselves put on a pretty spectacular display of their own. I haven't determined if this clump is two different mosses or one at two different stages of maturity, but I love how the lower edge looks like a fringe has been added to the fluffy clump of leafy green.

One of the prettiest mosses here is the bright-green Spring Fountain Moss (Philonotis fontana), made especially charming this time of year when it bears its tiny sporangia, perfect little apple-green spheres held aloft on reddish-brown stalks.

Sated at last by all this cliffside beauty, I headed home along Spier Falls Road, stopping off to briefly explore a powerline clearcut that runs near Mud Pond.  I suspected the small patch of Susquehanna Cherry (Prunus susquehanae) would be blooming here now, and I wasn't disappointed.  Even before I spotted the low-growing, white-flowered shrubs, I could smell the flowers'  fragrance and hear the sound of the hundreds of bees and other winged pollinators feasting on their ample nectar and pollen.

Although there's not much about Susquehanna Cherry flowers to distinguish them from other species of cherry blossoms, the leaves are unique to this rather uncommon species.  Unlike those of other cherries, they narrow toward the base, and they are not toothed below the middle.  I hope every year that I will find these lovely flowers before the power company sprays their clearcut habitat with herbicide.  This was one of the lucky years.

Gal Pals from the North Visit Lake Bonita

We came prepared for rain.  But for once this soggy spring, the rain held off and the sky even cleared on Friday, the day I was welcoming a group of women to hike around Lake Bonita with me. These women live up in the Adirondacks and as a group have hiked some of the most spectacular mountainous trails up north.  So I was a bit worried they might find the tamer trails around this little lake less interesting than those they were used to.  But I shouldn't have worried.  Even though Lake Bonita lies in the lower mountains of Moreau Lake State Park, the trail that circumvents it offers a vigorous hike, and my friends -- to judge from their happy remarks -- found much to delight them here. 

From the parking area off the Wilton Mountain Road, the trail descends a steep north-facing slope to a hemlock-dominated dark forest. From here we made our way along a narrow trail bordered by  boulders and moss-covered bedrock ledges, the lake barely visible between the standing trees.

When we reached the south-facing shore, we were treated to beautiful views of the lake.  Here, we moved along sun-dappled trails that were bordered by hardwood trees and white pines, a noticeable change from the hemlock-shadowed woods we started out in.

The hemlock woods were indeed dark and damp, with few wildflowers growing beneath them.  But it was in that very habitat we found numerous Painted Trilliums, their lovely white petals splashed with ruby red.

The bright-white flowers of Goldthread also thrived in the hemlock gloom, holding their blooms high above their glossy green leaves. I know of no other wildflower that bears such remarkable parts as Goldthread's hook-shaped pistils and yellow-jelly "petals" surrounded by almost translucent white sepals. This is a flower that definitely deserves a closer look!

When we reached a small stream that was flowing into the lake, we found it littered with moss-covered rocks, with beautiful clumps of Foamflower occupying some of the mid-stream rocks.

After trekking along the north shore, we took a lunch break on a rocky promontory that jutted out into the lake.  Here on this sun-warmed ledge, we found the beautiful pink-and-yellow blooms of Pale Corydalis sprouting up from cracks in the rock.

If the deep-purple flowers of Ovate-leaved Violets had not been so vividly colored, we probably would have missed seeing these furry little plants, so tiny they were. 

We spotted these violets in a sunny sandy spot beneath an old power-line clearcut now growing up with native wildflowers. We could see from many abundant patches of leaves that Trailing Arbutus also shared this clearcut, although its flowers were already spent. We could also see many Pink Lady's Slippers poking up from the leaf litter, their flowers still only in bud.

I think we shall have to return, if only to witness the Pink Lady's Slippers when they come into glorious bloom.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Bog Meadow's Mid-trail Bounty

When I lead a nature walk at Bog Meadow Brook Nature Preserve just outside Saratoga Springs, I usually direct participants to meet me at the Rte. 29 trailhead, simply because it's the easiest trailhead for newcomers to find.  Problem is, at this time of year there's not much of botanical interest for nearly a mile along this part of the trail, where invasive honeysuckle predominates and the few plants of interest are not yet in bloom.  So when I met a group from the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady this past week, I invited them to follow my car as I drove along a convoluted route to a trailhead that led us directly into a middle section of the trail that's richest in fascinating plants this early in the season.  Shortly after we entered the woods at this trailhead, we descended into a lush wooded wetland traversed by a convenient boardwalk that conducted us over the mud.

We immediately had the opportunity to observe and distinguish these two plants with huge green leaves that are sometimes confused with each other, especially since they share the same wetland habitat. The broader leaves with pinnate veining are those of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), while the narrower leaves with parallel veining are those of the Lily-family plant called False Hellebore (Veratrum viride).  Skunk Cabbage produced bulbous spathes containing the earliest of our spring flowers way back in March, while the False Hellebore won't produce its tall stalks of small, greenish lily-like flowers until later in the summer.

We also had the opportunity here along this boardwalk to encounter three different species of native Horsetail (Equistem spp.) growing close together.  The lacy-looking one in the foreground with the forking branches is Woodland Horsetail (E. sylvaticum), while the three spiky stalks to the right belong to the species called Field Horsetail (E. arvense).  Note that the Field Horsetail has branches that do not fork. The green branches of both species will continue to elongate and will also continue to photosynthesize throughout the growing season. These Horsetails are not invasive, but instead occupy this habitat surrounded by many other native plants.

 This third, very different-looking species of Horsetail was sprawling across the mud a little distance away. This is Dwarf Horsetail (E. scirpoides), with very slender squiggly branches that often appear in knotted masses.

A number of ferns were just emerging along the boardwalk.  While it is often difficult to identify juvenile ferns, the emerging Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is distinctive enough, with its furry fiddleheads, that we could already call it by name.  Of course, it helped that last years' fronds, fading but still green, lay all around the base of this unfurling clump.

This baby Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) looked so much like its adult frond it was also easy to identify it at this stage.

This next fern, Lady's Fern (Athyrium filix-femina), was recognizable even at this stage by the black hairy-looking scales  on the stalks.  I remind myself of this distinguishing trait by noting that "this lady neglected to shave her legs!" Mnemonics help!

I'm not quite sure what this spindly fern is, but I'm guessing it's Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris) because of how far apart the narrow pinnae are arranged on the stipe.  Plus, the wet habitat is appropriate.  The lovely moss is a species of Mnium, a type of moss that has quite translucent leaves that are often no more than a single cell thick.

Towering over our heads in this swamp were numerous American Beeches (Fagus grandifolia), but lying all around our feet were clusters of fluffy beech flowers and pleated leaves on short woody stems that looked as if they had been nipped off by sharp teeth, most likely by squirrels. All of the flowers appeared to be staminate. None in our group, including myself, had ever seen beech flowers littering the forest floor like this. Anybody have a clue what's happening here?

Here, at last, were some wildflowers!  These lovely little plants with their snowflake-like florets are called Miterwort or Bishop's Cap (Mitella diphylla).

Close by were some small white violets, most likely the species called Northern White Violet (Viola pallens), an early white violet that prefers a damp woodland like this one.

From a standing height, it was difficult to see that this mat of American Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum),  held dozens of tiny flowers.  It was easy, though, considering its habit of sprawling across low muddy pools, to understand how it acquired its second common name, that of Water Carpet.

Here's a closer view of those tiny Golden Saxifrage flowers, just rings of red dots set amid wee glossy leaves.

Our boardwalk ended when we reached the main part of Bog Meadow Brook Trail with its dryer footing. Here we turned and continued our search for interesting plants, amid the green glow of the surrounding spring forest.

The first flowers we noticed here were masses of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), which were growing abundantly in an open marsh some distance from the trail.

A few of the Marsh Marigold plants lay close enough to the trail that we could get a good look at their beautiful flowers.

Growing closer to where we were walking were several plants of Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum), a species that bears pistillate and staminate flowers on separate plants.  The first one we found had produced flowers bearing clusters of pistils, with no surrounding petals or sepals.

Eventually, one of our group found a second Early Meadow Rue, this one bearing only staminate flowers, with anthers dangling down in trembling fringes that shimmied in the slightest breeze.

This lovely pale-lavender violet lined the trail in places.

I plucked a single stem to demonstrate how to distinguish this species of violet, called Dog Violet (Viola labradorica), from other violet species that bear purple flowers. I noted that this violet shares its flowering stem with its leaves, unlike some other violets that bear only basal leaves.  Also, each leaf node is wrapped with a thin tissue called a stipule. Then I pointed out that the stipules are sharply toothed.  Those sharp teeth make me think of canine teeth.  And canine makes me think of dog, which reminds me that this violet is called Dog Violet. See? Easy to remember, now.

From Dog Violet to what some people call Dogtooth Violet, although I sure wish they wouldn't.  In my opinion, there's nothing about Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) that remotely resembles a violet, with its six-parted obviously lily-like flowers and long pointed speckled leaves.  Why not call a lily a lily? And boy, did we see a LOT of them along Bog Meadow Trail!  Dozens of them, both close to the trail as well as off in the woods. Finding this lovely flower is one of the greatest joys of spring wildflower walks.

We were also lucky enough to find a few Red Trilliums (Trillium erectum) with unfaded flowers. Most of these flowers had passed their prime, but some looked better than others.  This cool rainy spring has probably helped to extend their bloom time.

This Mustard-family plant called Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla) was just beginning to open its four-parted white flowers along the bank of the brook.

Here was another wildflower that was just opening its buds along the brook, the lovely Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). I think that its bright-green leaves are as beautiful as its starry flowers.

If not for a sharp-eyed member of our group (Thank you, Nancy!), I would have entirely missed seeing this shrub growing some distance off the trail.  Called American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis), it is one of the very few bush honeysuckles we have that are native to our part of the world.

Here's a closer look at American Fly Honeysuckle's dangling twin yellow flowers, which are joined at the base.  The twin red fruits they produce will also be joined at their bases.

Most grasses have flowers that most of us wouldn't recognize as flowers, but this Hairy Woodrush  (Luzula acuminata) bears clusters of six-parted, pale-yellow flowers that resemble small lilies (if you look close enough!).  A close look at the leaf nodes reveals the abundant hairiness that suggested this native woodrush's common name.

Our group will have to return to Bog Meadow in a week or more to see the flowers of some of the plants we found on this walk.  These shiny purple buds of Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) give no hint as yet that the flowers tucked inside will be a vivid yellow.  And hundreds of them will soon be brightening the woods where we walked on this day.

I do see a tiny bud ascending from the center of this Starflower's leaves (Lysimachia borealis), so it won't be long before this plant's star-shaped flowers further beautify this already marvelous trail.

But we'll have to wait until nearly August to see if any stalks of tiny white orchids arise from the centers of these gorgeously patterned Downy Rattlesnake Plantain's leaves (Goodyera pubescens). As is the case with many native orchids, if this plant produces flowers one year, it may not bloom again in the same place for quite a long time, maybe years.   At least in the case of this little orchid,  the leaves are the prettiest part of the plant, even when it's in bloom.  And we were lucky enough to see them on our walk this day.

We got to see these adorable little golden-hued mushrooms, too.   Dozens of this wee little fungus  called Xeromphalina campanella crowded a moss-covered rotting log.  Although its genus name means "little dry navel" and campanella means "little bell,"  it has the common name of Fuzzy Foot, due to the presence of orangish hairs at the base. I have yet to detect those hairs, but perhaps they are too small for my nearsighted eyes to see. Whatever they are called, these pretty little mushrooms added one more dollop of delight to what turned out to be a wildflower walk of many pleasures.