Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cold Dawn On Pyramid Lake

Think 37 degrees is too cold to go for a morning paddle?  Yeah, that thermometer gave me pause for a moment Saturday morning when I arose at Pyramid Lake.  But then I turned around and looked at the dawn sun touching the trees with gold and a sapphire sky stretching from horizon to horizon, and I heard the loons calling from somewhere beyond the island.  The choice was easy.  Out I went.

Yeah, I sure could have used some warm gloves, but the rest of me was snug in warm clothes as I paddled toward the eastern end of the lake, keeping to the shaded shore so the rising sun wouldn't blind me.

Then I crossed to the sunlit shore and drifted along, feeling the warmth of a late-spring sun on my back and basking in the glow of this birch tree gilded by dawning light.

I don't think there's any place on earth more lovely than an Adirondack lake, surrounded by mountains and dotted with islands, on a sunlit morning when the water lies shining and reflective as molten silver.

I was here at Pyramid Lake this weekend to help prepare my beloved Pyramid Life Center for a new season of retreats and recreational offerings. I've been coming here for 24 years, ever since the 1991 (first!) Iraq war drove me to seek refuge among others who believed in the sinfulness and futility of war.  That was a peacemakers' retreat with the Jesuit priest and war resister Daniel Berrigan, and I've been coming back every year since then.  How many wars ago was that?

Since I find such peace and joy and friendship and natural beauty here, I volunteer both spring and fall to help open and close the center, and my task has always been to clean all the guest rooms in the main lodge, 17 of them, plus all the bathrooms and meeting rooms and lounges in the building.  The rooms are not fancy, but they are comfortable, and when I'm done with them, they sure are clean!  This was my room this weekend.

I did not have much time this year to go botanizing, but I did stop along the entrance road where marble boulders climb the banks, and it's here where the lovely Purple Virgin's Bower blooms every spring.  My visits to Pyramid Life Center don't always coincide with this flower's bloom time, but, lucky for me, this year's visit did.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Bounteous Botanical Beauty Along Bog Meadow Brook

What a botanical treasure-lode we have in Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail!  Located just east of Saratoga Springs, the trail runs for about 2 miles along an old railroad right-of-way and passes through three different  habitats:  forested wetland, swamp, and open marsh, each with its distinct group of plants.   If you just want to walk it, you can cruise right along and complete its length (one way) in much less than an hour.  But if you want to stop every few feet or so to marvel at all the array of fascinating plants, you'd better plan on quite a bit longer than that.  When I led a group from the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady there on Tuesday, we barely reached the half-way point before some of our group had to leave for prior appointments.  Ah well, at least we had seen some of the special plants I had promised we would find.

Right at the start of our walk, I could point to the masses of tiny white flowers that lined the path, a wee little thing called Grove Sandwort. This is not considered to be a rare flower in the county, but Bog Meadow is the only place I know where to find it, and none of our group today had ever seen it.

Adding its own bigger brighter color to the patches of sandwort was the lovely purple Wild Geranium.

We didn't have to go far before we saw the first of many Mayapples, with their single big white flowers half hidden beneath the umbrella of their giant leaves.

Only a bit further along we began to see the flower that this trail is famous for, the elusive Nodding Trillium.  Although some botanists have expressed concern that this trillium seems to be disappearing from its traditional sites, so far it thrives along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.  In fact, I counted many more  here this year than ever before, and our group was delighted to find so many in full glorious bloom.

We were a little bit too early to find the pretty yellow Clintonia in full glorious bloom, but we did find a few just warming up for the big show to come.

Speaking of shows to come, I was delighted to find dozens and dozens of Canada Lily shoots lining the path.  I don't know how many of these young plants will bloom this year, but if only a portion of them do, there will be a spectacular display of these lilies, dangling their orange, yellow, and red fireworks around the Fourth of July.

When it comes to floral fireworks, it would be hard to surpass the flowers of Glaucous Honeysuckle for gorgeous multi-colored blooms.  I was SO excited when one of our group pointed to this confetti-colored flower cluster and asked what it might be.  I had found Glaucous Honeysuckle here years ago, but not in quite some time.

It was just about at this point on the trail that some of our group had to turn back.  I offered to continue the walk for those who would like to remain, and several did.  And wouldn't you know, we hadn't gone more than 20 feet before we entered a section of trail that held some of the most interesting finds.  I almost hollered at our departing friends to quick come back and see these beautiful Star-flowered Solomon's Seals, but they might have already been beyond earshot.  The friends who remained were certainly delighted by these sweet starry flowers held on lovely blue-green leaves.

These beautiful and prolific flowers stayed with us for quite a while as we proceeded along the trail, until we drew to a halt to examine the next population of remarkable flowers, a large patch of Perfoliate Bellworts.

Now we were entering a darker forest, where the trees met over the trail and water pooled on either side, creating a deep-green swamp filled with Marsh Marigold and Skunk Cabbage leaves and the long slender wands of Water Horsetail, wreathed with their spiky branches.

It was here in these dark still pools, maybe 15 years ago, that I first found the only bog plant I've ever known to grow along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, a plant called Bog Buckbean.  For the past three years I have missed finding it,  for not only its flowers, but also its leaves just seemed to have disappeared.  Well, you can imagine the squeal I let out when I spied the distinctive cluster of Buckbean's three leaves protruding above the muck.  And that was just for spying the leaves.  On Wednesday I returned and discovered the bright-white cluster of flowers in the very same spot.  I wonder how on earth I could have missed them the first time around.  I am just so happy to see they are back where I always used to find them, the only place I know of in all of Saratoga County.

Just a few yards further along, it was my friends' turn to squeal with delight, as we spied the bright pink flowers of Early Azalea off in the woods, its presence announced in advance by the heady fragrance borne on the warm humid air.

Such an incredibly beautiful native shrub, it's hard to believe it just grows wild in the swamp, with no gardener or groundskeeper to tend it.

And now it really was time to turn back, if any of us hoped to have lunch before it was time to start dinner.  What a fine time we had all had together, enjoying not only the floral surprises but also the songs of many birds, from the loud liquid peals of a Scarlet Tanager hiding from sight in the treetops, to the sweet sibilant silvery spiral of song from a Veery way off in the forest. Not to mention the great pleasure of each other's fine company.  I hope we can walk together another time.  When we have more time.

*  *  *

Well, I had more time for Bog Meadow the next day, when I returned to enter the trail from a different access point midway along its length.  I knew there were still more botanical treasures to be found, and I wanted to find them before their bloom-time was over.

I encountered the first flower I was seeking almost as soon as I entered the trail, at a place I have always found it before, along a tiny brook.  The plant's name is Water Avens, and true to its name, it likes to grow in wet places.  Although it looks as if it were still in bud, this is actually as far as its blossoms will open.

I next crossed the trail and entered the woods, moving in closer to a vast wetland that supports massive growths of Sensitive Fern and Skunk Cabbage.

I could walk through an open woods close to this wetland, and here I found abundant numbers of the bright-yellow flowers of Golden Ragwort, a plant that likes its feet rather damp.

I was now exploring a part of this nature preserve I had never traveled through before, so I had never seen this particular section of wetland completely taken over by a single species of sedge.  Luckily, I have a friend with far more extensive knowledge of sedges than I ever hope to have (Thanks, Andrew!), and he has informed me that this is quite likely a sedge called Carex lacustris.   Possessing some of the largest leaves and fruiting bodies of any sedge, this is a common denizen of wetlands in New York State.

I have never thought of Bog Meadow as a particularly lime-rich habitat, but the presence of masses of Maidenhair Fern in both the wetlands and upland forest cause me to believe there must be some source providing the lime that this beautiful fern requires.

I also have found an occasional Rattlesnake Fern in these woods, which is a species of botrychium that also usually indicates the presence of lime in the soil.

Well, I searched and searched and I never did find a flower I had located several days ago when I scouted this trail in preparation for leading the ECOS group here.  How could I miss this sizable clump of Rose Twisted Stalk with its pretty pink bells dangling down from arching leaves?

I know it's in there, and I am determined to find it again.  Which means I will have to come back before next Thursday, when I lead my friends in the Thursday Naturalists  along this same trail in search of all we found this week, and possibly others.  I just hope that most of these botanical treasures will still be in bloom by then.

One thing is certain, the trail will be in good shape for walking, thanks to the efforts of this gentleman, Geoff Bournemann, whom I met hard at work repairing silted-out sections caused by erosion.  Geoff has been stewarding this trail for many years, and I can't thank him enough for easing my passage along one of the richest botanical sites in all of Saratoga County.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Back On the River Again

I think that this is the latest I've ever put my canoe in the river.  Why on earth did I wait so long?  How I love that sweet sensation of pushing off to glide across this blue expanse, even on a day as windy as Monday was.  I was glad to hug the shore where the wind was gentled, delighting in the tiny Bluets spilling down the banks and nestling in among the rocks and the roots of trees.

But eventually I made my way across open water,  to a little island not far from shore, because that's where I hoped to find many shrubs of Early Azalea.  Even before I was close enough to spy their brilliant blooms among the greenery, the wind carried their delightful fragrance to me, so I knew I would not be disappointed.

Oh, what a sight!  Everywhere I looked, I found another shrub with branches loaded with brilliant pink blooms.  Three years ago, beavers gnawed every shrub on this island down to the ground, but now they have come back even more abundant than before.

Some were a very deep vivid pink, and others a more delicate shade, like this one.  If you click on this photo, you might be able to detect the tiny glandular hairs on the base of the flowers.  These glandular hairs are the source of this flower's exquisite fragrance and one of the most distinguishing characteristics of this species of azalea.

A few other lovely flowers share this island with the azaleas.  This is a flower cluster from one of the shrubs of Black Chokeberry that also thrive here.

There are lots of Low Blueberries, too, with white bell-like flowers tinged with pink, and even more shrubs of Black Huckleberry, shown here in this photo with their ruby-red flower buds.  If you click on this photo, you might be able to just make out the tiny resinous dots on the leaves.  These resinous secretions help us to differentiate these shrubs from the look-alike blueberries, because huckleberry leaves will stick to our fingers if we pinch them. Blueberry leaves will not.

After saturating my senses with the fragrance and color of all that grows on this island, I next headed downstream to where the Hudson runs back behind an island and in and out of several sheltered coves.  On a rocky bank bordering one of these coves, I hoped to find the rather elusive Lance-leaved Violet.

And there it was!  Nestled into the cracks of a bankside boulder, and blooming more profusely than I have ever seen it before.

You can see the long narrow leaves that give this violet its name, both common and scientific.  Lance-leaved Violet is Viola lanceolata in Latin.

OK, I just had to take one more photo.  Such a beautiful flower, pristine white with long curving purple veining on its lower lip.  Some years, if spring floods persist into its blooming time, I may not find this violet at all, and I've never found it anywhere else in Saratoga County.  I'm so glad I managed to make it out on the river today!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Carpets of Floral Beauty

Everywhere I walked on Sunday, I found floral carpets spread at my feet.

In Congress Park in the center of Saratoga Springs, the bright shiny blooms of Creeping Buttercups and the tiny purple flowers of Ground Ivy spangled the grass.

Near the sidewalk abutting a vacant lot, these royal-blue Corn Speedwells filled every inch of a gravelly strip and lifted their tiny faces to the sunny sky.

Out at Yaddo, the artists' retreat on the outskirts of Saratoga Springs, the famous formal rose gardens there were far less spectacular than the masses of Common Blue Violets that carpeted the banks beneath the pergola.

A closer view of the violets' deep-purple gorgeousness.

On the Warren County side of the Hudson River, Moreau Lake State Park provides hiking trails that follow an old service road.  When I walked there on Sunday afternoon, I was glad no one drives on this road very often, so that these masses of tiny Bluets can grow to their hearts' content.  And grow they certainly do!

Just LOOK at them!  Could anything be more lovely?

Oh, maybe these tiny Sweet White Violets are just as pretty.  Especially when they grow in such amazing abundance!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Three-day Botanical Binge

This was one busy botanical week!  I've been out to various sites every day, trying to keep up with the rush of spring flowers that are coming on faster than ever I've known.  And leaving us, just as quickly, due to a stretch of unseasonal heat and very little rain.  Every night has found me falling asleep at my keyboard before I could post any blogs, so let me try to catch up now with a digest of outings since Wednesday.

Thursday, May 14:  Where the Hoosic Meets the Hudson
On as many Thursdays as I can, I love to meet my friends in the Thursday Naturalists for excursions to various nature preserves throughout the region.  This week we met at Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal, in Rensselaer County just across the river from Stillwater, close to where the Hoosic River runs into the Hudson.

Our Thursday group had explored this site late last summer, when we had discovered the fading leaves of Green Dragon, a far less common relative of Jack-in-the-Pulpit.  We were very eager to find it now in flower, since few of us had ever seen it before.  A preliminary search failed to turn up any specimens, but then Ed Miller spied it growing right by the path where we had passed several times.  But oh, it was really wee!  Less than a foot high, whereas the plants we had found last year were well above knee high.  But at least its long skinny spadix was evident, even though not yet in open bloom.

It was a truly lovely day to be walking along the river.  We even got to see a barge being pushed by a tugboat through the locks as we sat to enjoy our picnic lunches in the warm sunshine.  And of course, we found many other plants of interest beside the Green Dragon.  American Bladdernut shrubs, for example, still held some of their bell-shaped blooms that will later become the hollow bladders this native shrub is named for.

We were quite surprised to find Pink Lady's Slippers already blooming here, since the day before I had found them barely out of the ground just a few miles away.  And what a deep pink they were!  Gorgeous!

Not all our neat finds were flowers.  This fuzzy pink-polka-dotted sphere is a gall on oaks caused by the wasp Callirhytis seminator.  Oaks have the most incredible number of galls, of many shapes and colors and textures.

We were lucky to have our eagle-eyed pal Sue along today, since she not only spotted THREE Bald Eagles soaring over the river, she also spied this little Nut Weevil appearing to sip from a Witch Hazel twig.  I would say it was well camouflaged, with its shiny wood-colored body and a proboscis that looks like a leaf stem.

*  *  *

Friday Morning, May 15: Scouting the Skidmore Woods

Lucky for me, my friends Sue and Emily were free on Friday to help me scout the Skidmore woods for a nature walk I was due to lead on Saturday.  Sue is known for her super-keen eyesight that notices all kinds of things I would miss, and Emily runs a native-plant nursery and so is extremely knowledgeable about the kind of rare plants that thrive in Skidmore's limestone-underlaid forest.  And of course, both women are just great pals to hang out with.

When I lead a nature walk in these woods, I always like to point out several plants that grow nowhere else in Saratoga County (and rarely elsewhere, as well).  The Green Violet is one of those.  Not a very violetty-looking plant, it bears these little green nubbins in the axils of its large ovate leaves.

Another rarity is Goldenseal, nearly extirpated from many areas of the country because of its use in herbal medicine. But it thrives in certain areas of this woods, although I do have to keep its location a secret from most people.  Perhaps my attendees tomorrow, members of the Adirondack Botanical Society, would be the kind of folks who could keep this kind of secret.

That same need for secrecy extends to American Ginseng.  I wouldn't say it actually thrives in the Skidmore woods, but I do know one place where it grows.  I used to find more, but too close to the public trails for its own good, unfortunately.  This plant, too, is often poached by herbal collectors.

It would be hard to keep the location of Yellow Lady's Slippers a secret, since their bright color announces their presence from some distance away.  I was happy to find two specimens exactly where I found them a year ago.

The Botrychium called Rattlesnake Fern seems to be more abundant than ever this year.  We noticed its lacy fronds and vertical fertile stalks over and over again.

I'm glad that some of the Wood Betony flowers will be blooming on Saturday.  Most people are delighted to see this unusual plant with its leaves at least as beautiful as its flowers.

Canada Violet thrives in this limey woods, along with this pretty fern I don't know the name of.  Both plants thrive among limestone boulders.  The fern has a red stipe and green rachis, smooth and not hairy.  Can anyone help me put a name to it?

I just couldn't believe that the Large-flowered Bellwort had already finished blooming and was setting seed so soon.  This was the only one with a remaining flower we could find in all the woods.   At least we could see its interesting leaves that appear to be perforated by its stems.

Another bellwort with perforated leaves, the Perfoliate Bellwort, was just beginning to open, so I will be able to show our walkers plenty of these pale yellow flowers with an orangish grainy interior, a feature distinctive to this species of bellwort.

Oh dear, that spectacular sea of Large-flowered White Trillium I found not long ago has now withered and crumpled from lack of rain.  But we might still see a few weakening plants, the snowy petals aging to pink.

We found lots of Sanicle Snakeroot, not in bloom but in bud.  Not that the tiny greenish-white flowers look that much showier than these green buds.  This plant has a very handsome foliage.  We also found the foliage for two other members of the genus Sanicula: the Clustered Snakeroot and the Long-fruited Snakeroot.

I was REALLY excited to find this plant, even though it's not yet in bloom.  This is the foliage and flower buds of the beautiful woodland species of milkweed called Four-leaved Milkweed, more diminutive and dainty than most other species of milkweed that grow in sunlit areas.  It will have clusters of pink-tinged white flowers on plants not even a foot high.  I think I will print out one of my photos of this lovely flower to show to my walkers tomorrow.

What a blazing beauty is Wild Columbine!  I can't wait to show my ABS group a spectacular site where this brilliant flower grows in masses along with the slender stems of Miterwort.  Sue and Emily and I enjoyed that sight today as we wound up our morning tour of the Skidmore woods and moved on to another afternoon activity.

*  *  *

Friday Afternoon, May 15: A Mountain Trail to a Calla Pond

In addition to running a native-plant nursery (and also being a mom to an active toddler), Emily works for New York State Parks, so of course she has an interest in Sue's and my favorite park, Moreau Lake State Park.  Could we show her some of our favorite spots in this park?  Well, of course we could!  Since we'd been hiking already for over three hours, we chose what we thought should be an easy climb up one of the park's trails to a pond we knew of that should be chock-full of Wild Calla.  And so it was.

The trail to the Calla pond was steeper and longer than I had remembered, and populated by swarms of mosquitoes drawn to our panting and sweat.  But what's a little discomfort when the trail is surrounded by the treasure of lovely wildflowers like these bright-pink Fringed Polygalas?

We found more Wood Betony here in the park, but these plants had red flowers while the ones in Skidmore bore yellow ones.

High up on the mountain where a stream crossed the trail, we found numerous clumps of these Marsh Blue Violets with their distinctive super-long stems.

Also inhabiting the damp areas along the stream were dozens of Red Efts, the juvenile form of the Spotted Newt, including this little guy who sat still for the picture-taking.

*  *  *

Saturday Morning, May 16:  Wildflower Lovers Convene for a Skidmore Walk

This is the second year I have offered to lead a wildflower walk in the Skidmore woods for the Adirondack Botanical Society, and we had a nice group of five plant enthusiasts (including me) to share this lovely spring morning full of birdsong and really rare plants.  Plus one amazing little furry critter!  I was impressed that one of our group, Ellen (in the bright pink shirt), drove all the way from Blue Mountain Lake to join us.

I was able to show this group all the plants that Sue and Emily and I had found on our scouting tour the day before, and even more.  These tiny red flowers in the leaf axils of Orange-fruited Horse Gentian had not been open the day before, but they were today, just for us!

And we even found some Large-flowered White Trilliums that were still fresh and snowy and beautiful.

Over and over again, I heard my friends comment that they had never seen most of the plants I was showing them today.  That's understandable, since most of the Adirondack woodlands grow on granitic substrate, instead of the limestone substrate that underlies the Skidmore woods and provides the nutrients these rare and unusual plants require.  Not every plant that grows here, though, was new to them.  They had all seen Wild Columbine and Miterwort before, but I knew of a spot where they grew together in spectacular display, and this is where we ended our tour today.  I heard oohs and aahs all around, as someone described this scene as like the grand finale of a fireworks display, all the starbursts and rockets exploding at once!

We had a few other, non-botanical treats today, as well, such as watching a ground-dwelling bee fly into her nest, carrying the pollen with which she will pack these little holes, creating sustenance for the eggs she will lay within.

The highlight of the morning for me was seeing this amazing little creature, a Star-nosed Mole, scampering through the woods.  Feeling threatened by our presence, it tucked its head beneath a leaf and lay still, perhaps believing it was hidden from our view.  When I lifted the leaf, it did not move, but froze in position, allowing us to see its wondrous starry snout -- the most sensitive organ on earth, I have read -- as well as its wide, long-clawed tunneling front feet, and its velvety fur I longed to touch but didn't want to frighten it further.

*  *  *

Saturday Afternoon, May 16:  Nodding Trilliums Abound at Bog Meadow

Wouldn't you think I'd have had enough botanizing by now?  I do confess I was ready to go home and put my weary feet up, but a friend had informed me that Nodding Trilliums were open along Bog Meadow Nature Trail just outside Saratoga.  Now, that's flower I don't want to miss, since some botanical sources have expressed concern that this trillium seems to be disappearing from many of its former sites.  Well, I'm happy to say that that's not the case at Bog Meadow Nature Trail.  I walked but an eighth of its two-mile length today and counted 25 in beautiful bloom, with more buds still to open.

This photo shows how this pretty white flower got its name.  It's scientific name, Trillium cernuum, means the same: Nodding Trillium

The flower's petals are snowy white, but its stamens and pistils are tinged with pink.  One distinctive aspect of this plant is that its anthers are born on long filaments, which this photos clearly shows.

Well, this was quite a surprise!  Who ever heard of a PINK Nodding Trillium?  I suppose it's possible that it has hybridized with nearby Red Trilliums.  I shall have to ask some of my botanists friends if they have ever heard of this.  Hmm. . . . Very interesting!  A nice puzzle to end this long stretch of busy botanical days.