Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's Official: Endangered Plant Thrives at Moreau Lake State Park

Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum) is certainly not the showiest of New York's native flowers, with its tiny white purple-polka-dotted blooms set in rather scraggly heads atop spindly stalks. But it IS one of New York's most endangered plants, with only six other populations documented to exist in all of the state. But now we can officially count a seventh one, on the shore of the lake at Moreau Lake State Park. On Friday this past week, park manager Peter Iskenderian and I escorted New York Natural Heritage Program botanist Rich Ring to the site, where we documented the extent of the population, counting 273 individual thriving plants. A very healthy population indeed, possibly the largest and healthiest in the state!

Just one more reason to support this wonderful state park, with its nearly 5,000 acres of forest, mountains, lake, ponds, streams, waterfalls, marshes, islands, and riverbanks, all providing protected habitat for an amazing variety of flora and fauna.

Friday, July 25, 2014

On the Shores of the Hudson and Hoosic

Oh, what a glorious day we had to explore the shores of two rivers!  It was sunny but cool enough to enjoy easy walking along the Champlain Canal at Lock 4 near Stillwater, and then around the bend to where the Hoosic River pours into the Hudson.  About a dozen of us in the Thursday Naturalists were led by our friend Ed Miller, who kept a careful count of all the many fascinating plants we found, including one he is showing to our friend Peg in the photo below.

The Hudson shore was as lovely and fragrant as any garden, with an expansive patch of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) sharing its grassy plot with Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), each plant releasing its own minty scent as we moved among them to observe their beauty at close range.

Most of the Bergamot flowers were a pale lavender,  except for this trio of flowers that erupted in an explosion of deeper magenta.

We weren't the only creatures enjoying these flowers today.  A Clearwing Moth, which hovers and hums just like its look-alike hummingbird, was flitting from bloom to bloom, sipping nectar from each.

Nearby, a Long-legged Fly was resting on the leaf of Hairy Bushclover (Lespedeza hirta), its shiny metallic body as bright as any jewel.

This sunny bank of the Hudson is one of the very few places I have ever found Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides), also called False Sunflower, and they were just opening their bright-yellow blooms today.  Oxeye differs from true sunflowers in that not just its disk flowers, but also its ray flowers are fertile.

You have to look close, to see the tiny curling pistils nestled at the base of each petal.  Only a few of this flower's staminate disk flowers have opened as yet, looking like tiny lilies.

After rounding the bend where the Hoosic meets the Hudson, we continued along a wooded trail until we came down onto a floodplain where huge Silver Maples arched their limbs over the water.

Further back from the shore, towering Sycamores reached up, up, up before spreading their big leaves to shade the area of burgeoning plant life below.

From this silt-enriched soil, plants grew to prodigious height, and masses of rosy Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum)  towered over our heads.

There were thickets of the dainty-blossomed American Germander (Teucrium canadense) crowding beneath the trees, their spikes of pretty-pink florets opening from the bottom up.

A close look at those florets reveals how they differ from other Mint Family flowers, with their distinctively arching stamens and the lack of an upper lip.  I had never realized how fragrant these flowers are, until one of our group pronounced that it was.  Now that I have breathed its delicious fresh scent, I will never again pass by this flower without stopping to smell it again.

Some stalks of Joe-Pye Weed were bending under the weight of massive tangles of Dodder (Cuscuta sp.?).  I noticed its bright-orange threads were hung with cream-colored flowers, and I also noted the presence of numerous bead-like orbs among the threads.  At first I wondered if these were the Dodder fruit, but then I noticed that these orbs were actually swellings along the threads, so I believed they might be galls instead of fruit.  Sure enough, after searching the internet, I found images of similar looking galls produced by the Dodder-gall Weevil.  Ha!  So even parasites fall victim to parasites!

Here was the find of the day!  We were puzzling over these huge green leaves atop thick glaucous stalks, when our friend Ruth Schottman noticed a dried-up long-stemmed fruit dangling from an opening low down on the stalk.  Could these be the Arum Family plant called Green Dragon?

It sure looks like they could be!  Although this spadix has lost the long tail that distinguishes this relative of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the evidence was enough to convince us that this was indeed Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium), and that we must return to this place again next spring to find this remarkable plant in bloom.  None of us had ever seen it before.

All in all, a grand day with good friends along beautiful riverbanks and green shady woods, where it wasn't just flowers that added their color to the forest floor today, as these little Amanita buttons demonstrate.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Portrait of Paradise: A Summer Day at Pyramid Lake

Morning:  The day dawns cool and clear, the lake as smooth as glass.  I'm almost reluctant to disturb its perfect surface as I launch my canoe.  Almost.  Who could resist slipping silently through that silken water?

In the quiet shallow end of the lake, Water Bulrush (Schoenoplectus subterminalis) holds its needle-thin stalks above the dark, still water.

A closer look at the bulrush's curly inflorescence.

Thick mats of Water Lilies limit my penetration of the swamp.  So I sit very still and listen to the dawn chorus of the birds.

Old stumps and fallen logs form nursery beds for many damp-loving plants.  The bright-yellow flowers of Horned Bladderwort rise from a rosy patch of Round-leaved Sundew.

A closer look at that Sundew reveals the winged evidence of previous insect entrapment.

I have company this morning: this regal-looking Great Blue Heron moves at a stately pace not 20 feet from my boat.

Tiny frogs hop about on the Fragrant Water Lily pads, keeping their distance from that hungry heron.

Afternoon:  The breeze picks up and a small sailboat flies across the surface of the motor-boat-free lake.  Those comfy Adirondack chairs invite me to sit awhile to enjoy the view of forested mountains, as well as the lulling whispers of wind in the pines above my head.  Soon, I'm drifting off to another dreamland.

After my little nap, an afternoon paddle takes me past bouldered shores decorated by vivid pink spears of Steeplebush, while bright-purple spikes of Pickerelweed emerge from the shallow water.

A curious Loon surfaces near my boat and studies me with its red eye, before diving again and disappearing beneath the green ripples.

Evening: After supper, I slip my canoe back into the lake and find a sheltered place under an overhanging tree to watch the sunset.  I soon have a companion,  a spider who drops on a single filament from above and dangles before my eyes.  We sit quietly together and watch as the lake exchanges its colors with the sky.

The breeze dies down, and soon all is silent except for the haunting call of a loon sounding across the dark water and echoing from the surrounding mountains.  The lake grows so still, the stars begin to shine on the water's mirroring surface.

All is well.  Safely rest.  God is nigh.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seeking Peace in the Mountains

I can imagine no place on earth more peaceful than Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks. In these times of terrible violence, how fortunate I am to have such a place to retreat to, in the company of others who seek to live without damaging others. This is where I will be for the weekend, at Pyramid Life Center, praying that all who suffer or perpetrate violence may come to know healing grace, wherever they may be.

Pyramid Life Center is a spiritual retreat center that welcomes people of all faith traditions or none, to experience the healing power of nature and loving community in a place of unparalleled natural beauty.  Come visit their website,, to learn of their program offerings and to see many other photos.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Indulging My Flower Love

I just LOVE Great St. Johnswort! It's hard to find native wildflowers that are so remarkably showy, with big bright blooms, exuberant numerous stamens, and a fat green pistil shaped like a Turkish vase that flares at the top.  They would make wonderful cultivated garden blooms if they had a longer period of bloom than just a few short days.  Because they won't be with us for long, I returned to their river island yesterday to fully indulge my delight in them.

I know of only one place to find them, and they're easily seen as I approach by canoe, bright spots of yellow against the dark green foliage of the river bank.  Although they're classified as a rare plant in New York and many surrounding states, they must be very hardy to tolerate the conditions here, in thin rocky soil that is periodically flooded as the river rises and falls.

I pulled my boat up on shore and walked around behind the plants to enjoy how they looked against the flowing water.

How beautifully their golden blooms are complimented by the blue of the reflected sky.

Somebody else was enjoying these big beautiful blooms.  I believe that this is a Katydid nymph.

Many of the flowers had petals that were curling inward as they started to fade.  Too soon, those petals will fall.  But there will be many flowers yet to come, to judge by the quantity of fat yellow buds I found.

Sharing the same riverbank were many Buttonbush shrubs with their spiky balls formed of tiny white trumpet-shaped florets.  Working those florets over one at a time was this splendid Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, so occupied with its nectaring task that it completely ignored my presence.

When the butterfly worked its way around to the opposite side of the floral ball, I was able to have a perfect view of its ornate underwings and furry tiger-striped body.  Lovely!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Farmers' Market Supper

Thanks be to the farmers and local cheesemakers and bakers, who do all the work so that I can serve up the simplest of wonderful suppers with very little effort.  Wednesday afternoon is a farmers' market day in Saratoga Springs, and today brought the first ripe home-grown tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, and perfect slender green beans of the summer season.  Add handmade fresh Mozzarella from a local Italian market, a crusty whole-wheat bread from Rock Hill Bakery, sweet basil from the garden, and abundant extra-virgin olive oil, and it's quite a feast!  Even without the cold roast chicken and a nice bottle of wine, which we happened to have on hand.  Yes indeed, it's summertime, when the feastin' is easy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Botanical Bingeing

It was quite a weekend for botanical bingeing, ranging from an orchid-studded bog to a lily-lined roadside and ending with a riverbank search for all the St. Johnsworts blooming now.

The weekend started early, when my friend Sue Pierce had Friday off from work and our mutual friend Nancy Slack was able to join us to explore a sphagnum bog near Lake George.  Nancy is an ecology professor with extensive knowledge of northeast flora, but she had never visited this particular bog, so we were delighted to share our secret place with her.

This particular bog is known for its profusion of orchids, and we knew we were in for a treat when we slipped through the hedge that surrounds the bog and were greeted by the sight of dozens of vivid  Calopogon tuberosus orchids, also known as Grass Pinks.

The other orchid we'd hoped to find was present, too, and in abundant numbers.  The White Fringed Orchis (Platanthera blephariglottis) was still in tight bud, however, so we planned to come back in a week or so to see it in glorious bloom.

There was another bog-dwelling plant we looked for, too, but without much hope of finding it.  Needle-thin and green-as-grass, Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica) literally resembles the proverbial needle in a haystack, which is why I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a nice patch of it surrounding the trunk of a young tree.  Even though it was still in bud, we could recognize its stiff five-angled stem and its opposite branched clusters of flower buds.  When it's in full bloom, it won't look very much different from this, for its four-petaled pale-yellow flowers barely protrude above its green bracts.

Saturday saw the arrival of other botanical friends, when the wildflower photographer Carol Gracie drove all the way up from Westchester County with her husband Scott Mori to photograph Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense).  Author of the beautifully illustrated book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History, Carol is now at work on a book of summer wildflowers and finds many of the subjects of her new book hard to find in her home county because of over-browsing by deer, among other factors.  I was delighted to be able to escort her to a magnificent display of these beautiful lilies, growing abundantly in a roadside ditch.

Another friend, Bob Duncan, also drove a considerable distance, from his home up north in Pottersville, to join our photography party.  Although we had found one plant of Canada Lily while hiking together in northern Warren County last week, Bob told me that that was the first time in all his wildflower explorations he has found this plant that far north.

Obviously, the lilies had found a happy home in this roadside ditch at the edge of a forested swamp, for many of the plants held multiple blooms.  This one had produced ten large flowers of a vibrant orange.

Other plants had yellow flowers.

And one plant held a single bi-colored bloom combining both orange and yellow.

Once Carol had accomplished her photography task with the lilies, we still had time for further photo-botanizing, so I suggested we head up to Moreau Lake State Park.  Our friend Sue had reported that the little native orchid called Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata) was beginning to bloom along the path that circles Mud Pond.  We had to search a little, for this tiny orchid can hide very well on the forest floor, but we did indeed find some with a few open blooms.

Another find in the woods at Mud Pond was a single Blunt-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in perfect flower.  Bob isn't really offering prayers to the flower gods in this photo, but he is taking the time to admire its deep-rose bloom, which he said was one he had never seen before.

Sunday brought the threat of thunderstorms, but I took a chance that they might hold off until I had paddled out to an island in the Hudson River to see if the Great St. Johnsworts (Hypericum ascyron) were in bloom.  They certainly were, and in greater numbers than ever before.  I'm very happy to see that this beautiful flower, classified as "Rare" in New York State and either "Threatened" or "Endangered" in most surrounding states, has found a congenial home where I may visit it each year to admire its remarkably showy flowers.

Compare the size of those blooms above with the wee little flowers I'm grasping in the photo below.  These are the minuscule blooms of Dwarf St. Johnswort (Hypericum mutilum), a species of St. Johnswort that also grows on the same Hudson islands as H. ascyron.

I'm adding a second photo of H. ascyron, this one including my hand in the photo to provide scale.

I found three other species of St. Johnswort in the same area, Canada (H. canadense), Spotted (H. punctatum), and Pale (H. ellipticum).  All were in bloom today, although my photos of them turned out too poor to publish.  I did manage to take a clear photo of the ruby-red achenes of H. ellipticum arrayed in the grass beneath the bud clusters of Buttonbush.

 A fourth St. Johnswort, a pink-flowered species called Marsh St. Johnswort, also grows nearby, but it was not blooming today.  Although still considered a member of the St. Johnswort Family, Marsh St. Johnswort has recently been removed from the Hypericum genus and assigned the name Triadenum virginicum.

With the storms holding off, I continued my paddle around the islands and into a swamp where Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) ornaments the muddy shore.

Tucked in amid the Pickerelweed and other emergent plants that don't mind having their feet wet, a nice patch of Mermaid Weed (Prosperpinaca palustris) had come into bloom.  I first found this plant last fall when it was in fruit, so I was delighted to be able to find it in flower, although I did not recognize it at first, since its leaves were not as feathery as when I found them last fall.

Here's a photo I took of this plant last fall, with those remarkably feathery leaves:

At a glance, Mermaid Weed resembles another denizen of such swampy spots, Water Horehound, with its sharply serrated leaves and reddish stem.  But a closer look reveals that its leaves are alternate on the stem, while the Water Horehound's leaves are opposite.  Also, these flowers are greenish and borne singly in the axils, unlike the circlets of tiny white flowers that surround the stems of Water Horehound.

A rumble of thunder in the distance set me hurrying toward the shore, but I did pause for a moment to admire this little glowing patch of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) sprouting out of a crack in the rock.

I also had to stop to notice these blooms of Grass-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) protruding from shallow water near the shore.  Usually, these flowers are pure white, but these were striped with pink.  Very pretty!