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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Rare Plants, New Finds in the Betar Backwaters.

 Another sweltering day, after a whole string of them.  Soggy and hot.  Not a good day for a hike through a woods where clouds of gnats come to suck the sweat off your face.  But a paddle on a nice cool river might be okay.  So off I went to South Glens Falls, where the Hudson River flows back into quiet backwaters, ponds once carved out of the banks for sorting logs sent downriver from the Adirondacks.  No logs in these quiet ponds anymore (aside from those that topple in naturally), but some rare plants thrive here instead, and I was eager to check on their populations this year.

I wasn't really expecting to find Water Marigold (Bidens beckii) blooming yet,  but here was one nearly in bloom.  Classified as a Rare plant in New York, this species certainly thrives in these shallow waters, where most of their leaves trail in brown whorled clumps underwater, with just a few green leaves attached to the emergent flower stalks.

I could see uncountable numbers of the Water Marigold's emergent flower stalks, and this year they have spread far beyond the bay where they used to remain isolated.  Today, I found them ready to bloom in many places I had not found them before.

I was happy to see that the second rare plant I'd come here to check on, the Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), is continuing to thrive.

Classified as a Threatened species in New York, you would never guess that U. radiata was  considered rare when you see how many merrily bob along in the barely detectable current that moves through these backwaters.

Looks like a Mayfly found that a bladderwort bloom was a good place to molt.

At the same time these backwaters serve as a refuge for some rare plants, they also are far too hospitable to the terribly invasive Buckthorn shrubs (Rhamnus cathartica) that line the banks and crowd the islands that separate the ponds.  A few native dogwoods and viburnums manage to hold their own among them, but the Buckthorn, now heavy with berries, is the dominant species here.

But despite that Buckthorn dominance, Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) thrives on one of the islands, and I was delighted to find their branches still heavy with clusters of yellow blooms today.

Here's a close look at the very distinctive Wild Senna flower.  These flowers will produce the bean-shaped pods that contain the seeds that are used to produce the laxative called Senecot.

In the shadow of the banks, the dark water looked as if it were strewn with popcorn puffs today.

But a closer look at those puffs revealed the female flowers of Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana), an aquatic grass with long slender underwater leaves.  These female flowers are held exactly at the surface of the water on curlicue stems that expand or contract as the water rises or falls, prepared to receive the male flowers that are floating free with the current, ready to drop into the first female flowers they encounter.  After pollination, the curlicue stem sharply recoils and deposits the flower in the muddy bottom of the river, where it will produce a new plant.

In places, the surface of these backwater ponds is almost completely covered with the leaves of aquatic plants: Fragrant Water Lilies, Yellow Pond Lilies, and these in the photo below, the oval leaves of Water Shield (Brasenia schreberi).  From the presence of all these holes, it's obvious that some creatures must find the leaves quite nutritious.

As I paddled out into the open river, I passed through populations of Water Bulrush (Schoenoplectus subterminalis), its hair-fine leaves swaying like mermaid's hair in the river's current.

The pure-white flowers of Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) were arrayed on their vines across the branches of many riverside shrubs.

In years past, Arrowhead shrubs (Viburnum dentatum) were a favored target of the Viburnum Leaf Beetle, and we rarely saw one with leaves that hadn't been chewed down to shreds.  But the wave of the beetle's infestation appears to have passed, for the few Arrowheads I found today looked beautiful, with intact green pleated leaves, and with branches heavy with ink-blue fruit.

Oh oh!  The sky darkened and the wind picked up ominously as I heard the rumble of thunder. I don't mind being rained on at all, but I didn't want to risk being struck by lightning, so I quickly headed to shore and pulled my boat up on land by the public beach.  I could take refuge in the bathhouse there if a storm came raging through.

As I waited to see what the storm would do, I waded along the shore, seeing what shoreline plants I might find.  And I found a new flower to add to my life list!  At first, I didn't associate these paddle-shaped leaves with the Arrowhead (Sagittaria sp.) flowers I recognized. But it soon became clear that they went with the flowers, so out came my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide to see if that guide included an Arrowhead with such paddle-shaped leaves.  And it did!  So until I find information to contradict my assessment, I think that this is the Sessile-fruited Arrowhead (S. rigida).  As I mentioned above, a  new flower for me!

I was also happy to find an old friend blooming along the shore, one of the first plants that captivated me when I first started obsessing about wildflowers more than 25 years ago.  This is Golden Hedge Hyssop (Gratiola aurea), an amazingly prolific plant that can carpet mud flats and spring from rock cracks in astounding numbers when conditions are right, meaning when the river recedes and reveals its muddy bottom to the air.  And then when the water rises again, these sunny-yellow trumpet-shaped blooms will keep right on blooming under the water.

And finally, here was a plant that totally mystified me.  Masses of these spiky-leaved plants were growing right in water that was only about an inch deep.  They didn't look like any plant I had ever seen before.

The alternately arranged spiky leaves were stiff and stuck straight out from the stem.

A close look revealed that tiny, whitish, 4-parted flowers grew in the leaf axils, maturing as they descended the stalks.  And as the flowers matured, the white parts faded and the reproductive parts asserted themselves, the fuzzy pistils a bright ruby-red and the quivering yellow anthers protruding on hair-fine filaments above the pistils.

These flowers reminded me of those I had seen a few years ago on a native milfoil.  So I'm guessing that this could be some species of milfoil (Myriophyllum sp.).  Whatever it may be, it will be another new flower for my life list.   So, thank you, thunderstorm, for driving me off the river.  The storm never really developed, but if I hadn't come ashore, I never would have found these plants I had  never seen before.

When I came home, I posted photos of this plant on the Flora of New York Facebook page, asking for help with identification.  One of the suggestions (and from a very knowledgable source) is that this could be the Cutleaf Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum pinnatum), an Endangered species in New York.  It's still too early to know for certain, but it wouldn't surprise me that I found another rare plant at this location.  Quite a few live around here already.