Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Sue Finds a New Flower -- and It's a Rare One!

My friend Sue Pierce had good reason to smile this week! The rare flower she'd been waiting to see in bloom since she first discovered its spent flower stalks last fall, was finally flowering at last!

Called Winged Monkey Flower (Mimulus alatus), this flower is classified as a Rare (S3) species in New York State, but Sue was able to find over a hundred specimens last fall, and again she found well over 50 blooming today along a barely trickling creek in Saratoga County. Sue is known for her terrific eyesight, which helped her discern this quite unusual plant when most of us would never have noticed it at all, surrounded as it was by a tangle of other indistinguishable greenery. Our mutual friend Ruth Brooks (pictured) and I came along to help Sue hunt for them, but it was Sue who showed us what to look for, and she who found the most plants. Good for YOU, Sue!

As we started our search, the first few plants we found were almost done blooming and were dropping their flowers at a touch.  Since this plant has not as yet been reported from Saratoga County, Sue was hoping to secure a specimen to submit to the New York Flora Association to be vouchered as present in this county. So we all felt rather distressed to find such fragile flowers that wouldn't hold up well to pressing and drying.  But a further search along the creekbed revealed many more Winged Monkey Flower plants, many of which held onto their flowers with more tenacity. Mission accomplished!

This photo shows the long winged leaf stalks and very short flower stalks that help to distinguish this species of Winged Monkey Flower (Mimulus alatus) from the much more common species of Monkey Flower (M. ringens), which has short leaf stalks and long flower stalks. The pale lavender color of M. alatus's flowers is also different from the bright-blue flowers of M. ringens.

Here's a closer look at a pretty lavender bloom of Winged Monkey Flower.  I've been told that this native plant's vernacular name was suggested by its flower's resemblance to a monkey's face. Sorry, but that seems rather far-fetched, to me!

For comparison's sake, here's a photo of the much more common blue-flowered Monkey Flower.  

The bright-blue flowers might be distinctive enough for ID, but also note that the stem-clasping leaves have no stalks at all, while the flowers are held well away from the stem on long stalks.  This is just opposite from the way leaves and flowers are arrayed on a Winged Monkey Flower plant. This makes it easy to ID either plant, even when not blooming.  Which is what Sue was able to do last fall, when she first discovered this abundant population of Winged Monkey Flower, even though it had already gone to seed.  Not too many people would ponder over some fading, flower-less plants.  But that's what makes Sue a fellow wildflower nut, and it's one of the reasons I love her so! (Only ONE of the reasons, of course!)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Orchids Galore!

Who would think that an old industrial site would provide the habitat craved by multitudes of native orchids? Until I visited Putty Pond, site of a now-drained water supply for a garnet mine up in the Adirondacks, I never would have believed that.  But my friend Evelyn Greene introduced me to Putty Pond (a wet meadow now, instead of a pond) some eight years ago, where we found uncountable numbers of a native orchid called Hooded Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) in bloom, as well as equal numbers of the earlier-blooming Tubercled Orchid (Platanthera flava), already gone to seed.  I hadn't planned to revisit this site this year, but then Evelyn informed me that there were more Hooded Ladies' Tresses blooming at Putty Pond this year than ever before.  So of course, I had to go see for myself.  My friends Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks also joined me.  Here we are, emerging from the woods onto the wide open meadow called Putty Pond.

Before we laid eyes on any of the orchids hiding down in the grass, we were struck by the sea of Three-square Bulrush (Schoenoplectus pungens) that filled nearly every inch of the open meadow. This tall sedge-family plant is also called Chairmaker's Rush, because its tough three-angled stems were traditionally used to weave rush seats for chairs.

Just as Evelyn had reported, we found Hooded Ladies' Tresses everywhere, scattered across the meadow and made quite visible because of their bright-white blooms.

At first glance, this Hooded Ladies' Tresses looks quite a bit like the more familiar Nodding Ladies'  Tresses, except that the florets might be a tad more uplifted and less nodding. I must confess, though, that if folks more expert than I had not told me the name of this species, I would not have been able to identify it on my own.  The fact that this species is blooming in early August would be my only clue that this was an earlier blooming species than Nodding Ladies' Tresses.

I was told that one of the key features that distinguishes the romanzoffiana species is how the lower lip is somewhat fiddle shaped, narrowing in the middle before flaring out at the end.

The uncountable numbers of Tubercled Orchids might also have been difficult to identify if I didn't already know them well, for their distinctive "tubercled" florets had by now yielded clusters of seedpods along the tall stems.  Their tapered stem leaves, now slightly yellowing, could be sighted almost everywhere we looked.

Alpine Bulrush (Trichophorum alpinum) is another ubiquitous plant at Putty Pond. This sedge-family plant is easily identified by the cottony heads that produce long flowing threads.  This late in summer, those threads are tossed on the wind to waft on the air, becoming tangled on such neighboring plants as this Tubercled Orchid seed head.

We were exploring Putty Pond too early in the day to catch any blooms on the multitudes of Marsh St. John's Wort (Hypericum virginicum) that shared this wetland habitat.  In my experience, I never see this plant open its pretty pink flowers before mid-afternoon.  But Marsh St. John's Wort is beautiful even before it blooms,  with its purplish leaves and glossy scarlet flower buds.

We also missed seeing the Swamp Goldenrod (Solidago uliginosa) blooming, but even in bud, this species can be distinguished by its stiffly erect flower clusters, smooth stems, and slender lance-shaped leaves.  And of course, Putty Pond's wet meadow is exactly the kind of habitat Swamp Goldenrod prefers. 

And where but in a goldenrod patch would we be likely to find a Goldenrod Hooded Owlet Caterpillar (Cucullia asteroides)?  I had nearly given up on my Google search for a "pink caterpillar with yellow stripes" until I happened upon a site that showed many different color variations for this species.  Most were green, all were varied in intensity of stripedness, but at least one photo revealed exactly a glossy pink cat with yellow stripes and fine black lines.  If anyone has a better guess than mine, please chime in!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Here and There, This and That

Almost every day I head out to one natural area or another, maybe just for an hour or less, especially when the weather is hot and muggy.  I always find SOMEthing to fascinate or delight me.  Here are a few of the more interesting things I found this past week at nearby nature preserves.

Woods Hollow Nature Preserve, Milton, NY
This preserve offers a wonderful variety of habitats, from wet meadow to sand plain to boggy pond shore to upland pine forest.  My first stop today was the dry sandy area that supports only those plants that are suited to this low-nutrient habitat.  Lots of Black Oaks and Pitch Pines and Bigtooth Aspens surround this area, which is dotted with tufts of Little Bluestem Grass.  (There are Sand Burs, too, so I watch my step! It's no fun pulling those finger-stabbing stickers out of my shoelaces!)

Near the parking area for the Woods Hollow Preserve is a spring-fed wet meadow filled with Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), which today was offering its nectar to this pretty Pearl Crescent Butterfly.

A frequent denizen of sandplain habitats is Dotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata var. punctata).  Its large pinkish bracts are detected before a closer look reveals the small purple-dotted yellow flowers wreathing the stems.

The Blue Curls and Winged Pigweed I had hoped to find were not yet in bloom in the sandplain, so I moved on then to the pond that lies at the heart of this preserve. The pond once served as a reservoir for the surrounding community, and the small brick structure, now in disrepair, once served as a pumping station. It no longer pumps water but it does provide pictorial interest to photos of this pretty pond.

I find surprising little boggy patches along the pond's shore, where sphagnum mosses, Leatherleaf shrubs, and Round-leaved Sundews indicate an acidic habitat, and it's here that I sometimes find a few sprigs of Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica).  I had seen not trace of them a few weeks ago, but a search revealed that they were still here.  They are very small and easy to overlook.

I did find quite a few mushrooms sprouting up in the surrounding woods, with this Yellow Spindle Coral being the most photogenic.

The Burl Trail along the Kayaderosseras Creek, Ballston Spa

I never know what I will find along this trail.  Eight years ago, the state's Department of Transportation completely denuded the formerly steep banks of the Kayaderosseras here, beveling them back in order to allow flood waters to flow out over a floodplain instead of charging full-force through a narrow channel and undermining a roadway further downstream.  Many native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants were planted, but alien invasive species were also introduced on the rootballs of the trees.  The nasty weed Mugwort completely dominated the vegetation for a while, until our equally domineering Tall Goldenrod beat it back.  For a while.  Now the native sunflower-look-alike called Oxeye rules the banks, having pushed out our native asters and lobelias as well as the introduced Maximilian Sunflower that for three years burgeoned to near-invasive numbers until completely disappearing two years ago. So what will we find this summer?  Lord only knows!

One thing's for sure, the round-spotted Leopard Frogs still frequent the mudflats, flashing their emerald-green brilliance as they leap away from our footfalls.

Walking the trail through a green-and-yellow tunnel that passes through a towering Oxeye jungle, we welcomed the pop of color  many bright-fuschia Wild Bergamot flowers (Monarda fistulosa) provided.  These tiny, shiny-black beetles were enjoying these Mint-family flowers, too.  Probably for other reasons than their beautiful color.

These tiny red aphids were feeding on Oxeyes (Helianthus helianthoides), their favorite host species.  To judge from the vigor and dominance here of these sunflower look-alikes, all the swarming and sucking away on their plant juices has not wrought enough damage to the plants to cause their numbers to decline.

Oh my gosh, has anyone ever seen a Joe Pye Weed this super-tall?  Even if it were to be the extra-tall, hollow-stemmed Joe Pye species called Trumpetweed (Eutrochium fistulosum), I have never seen even that gigantic flower grow taller than maybe seven or eight feet! My friend Ruth Brooks is not a short woman, either. It's true that many creekside plants grow to humongous heights here in this rich alluvial soil, with Jerusalem Artichokes towering to eight feet and Giant Ragweed much higher than that.  But WOW! And that inflorescence would fill a bushel basket! We could hardly believe our eyes.

When the creekbanks were replanted back in 2012, the DOT introduced many different species of oaks than we usually see around here, and since oaks are host to probably more galls than any other trees (except maybe willows), I always expect to find galls adhering to their leaves. Galls are caused by powerful chemicals produced by an insect that interact with the tree hormones to produce the gall, which provides protection and nutrients to the insect's larva within, and each gall-maker induces the growth of its own distinctive gall.  I had never seen galls like these, so remarkably fuzzy, with red fuzz covering pebbled yellow spheres. Such an unusual gall was easy to Google (yellow gall covered with red fuzz), so now I know that this is the Hedgehog Gall, caused by the tiny wasp Acraspis erinacei. Happily, these galls do not cause serious damage to the trees, and are just part of the wonders to be found on a creekside trail that is planted with oaks.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Return to Archer Vly

I hadn't intended to revisit Archer Vly just yet.  I'd explored that quiet Adirondack pond just a few weeks ago, after all.  But then this photo of a visit there just one year ago appeared on my Facebook Memory page:

Oh gosh, who wouldn't want to be floating on that mirror-still water?  And I remembered that ORCHIDS were blooming this time last year.  And I even got two of the same three friends who paddled with me a year ago to join me again this year.  A perfect adventure on a perfect pond on a perfectly beautiful day!

One of the things I love most about Archer Vly is the marvelous mix of native north-woods vegetation that masses together on its rocky north-facing bank.  Sadly, those ripe Lowbush Blueberries remained just out of reach from my seat in my canoe. (But happily, they were quite reachable when we later returned to this very spot on foot!)


Here's a zoomed-in view of those bright-red Bunchberry fruits.

Bright-white Dalibarda flowers shone like stars from amid their dark-green heart-shaped leaves.

Mountain Holly hung its berry-laden branches over the water, the better we could marvel at the super-saturated red of its many fruits.

We were disappointed to discover that many of the Green Wood Orchids we expected to find were past their prime and already forming seedpods.  But here and there we found a clump or two that were still in bloom.

And to compensate for our disappointment over the orchids, many Narrow-leaved Gentians surprised us with gorgeous royal-blue blooms.  Last year, we found thousands of these native wildflowers blooming along these same shores, but not until later in August.  So many flowers are jumping the gun this year!

Pipeworts are far less showy than gentians, but they have their own charm, when masses of them  decorate the dark shallow waters close to shore.

Many floral stems of Arrowhead were also blooming in the shallows, some with the broad leaves appropriate to its scientific epithet latifolia (meaning "broad leaved"), but most with very narrow leaves.  This species is known to have leaves that vary in size, but the range of sizes the leaves of this plant displays is quite remarkable.

As we paddled close to shore, we moved among many patches of the narrow, stiffly upright leaves of one of our typical shoreline bur reeds (Sparganium sp.), but then we encountered this anomalous patch, with flaccid leaves floating on the surface.  A search through my guidebooks told me that this could either be S. angustifolium or S. fluctuans, since both are described as having flaccid floating leaves.  I tend to believe that what we have here is the more common S. angustifolium, since S. fluctuans is rated as a Rare plant in New York State. If I find out otherwise, I will be back to correct my prediction.

Here are the more typical stiffly erect leaves of most of the bur reeds we passed.  And what a sight they were today, with hundreds of spreadwing damselflies flitting about, their glossy transparent wings glittering in the sun.  It was very hard to obtain a focused photo of them, since they rested for only a second or less each time they landed on one of the leaves.

Still not a perfect shot, but the best I could do.  What a lovely ice-blue color that made the damselfly appear almost transparent against the blue of the water!

My friend Sue has much more patience than I when it comes to photographing damselflies.  I can't wait to see her photos of these beautiful creatures!

After slowly circling the pond, we beached our boats and climbed out to enjoy a picnic while sitting on the shore.  We then walked the trail that took us through the woods, where we could enjoy closer views of many of the beautiful plants we could only glimpse from the water.  One of the most abundant woodland plants was Painted Trillium, now in fruit with smooth, bright-red berries.

Our woodland walk also allowed us closer views of the many verdant mosses that carpeted the forest floor.  Here is a velvety clump of Pincushion Moss (Leucobryum glaucum), providing a perfect foil for this perky little orangey-pink mushroom called Salmon Unicorn (Entoloma quadratum).

Here was another fascinating fungus called Black Earth Tongue (Glutinoglossum glutinosum), this one surrounded by the moss called Big Red-stemmed Moss (Pleurozium schreberi).

This honeycombed stuff that was spreading across a rotting log is not a fungus but rather a slime mold called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides.  If this slime mold has a vernacular name, I regret that I do not know it. 

Many plants of Common Milkweed grew in the sunny clearing near the boat launch ramp, and a search of the leaves promptly turned up several striped caterpillars of the Monarch Butterfly.

I was intrigued by this lovely diaphanous bowl-shaped web that was suspended from some twigs.  It was created by the aptly-named Bowl and Doily Spider (Frontinella pyramitela).  A wee little thing, you can see her resting at the bottom of her "bowl" if you look closely enough.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Mud Pond, Mid Summer

The days have continued too hot for hiking. Unfortunately, that has usually led to afternoon naps instead.  Before I turn into a lump, I told myself, I've got to get outdoors.  Let's go for a paddle on the nice cool Hudson, I said.  But when I got to the shore, I found that much of the river had disappeared, due to work being done on a downstream dam.  

I would have to cross yards of ankle-deep mud to reach what was left of the water.  And then I'd be paddling out under the sun, far from the forest's overhanging shade and also far from any of the riverside flowers I'd hoped to admire in bloom.  Not what I wanted to do today.  OK, so what's Plan B?

I decided to head to Mud Pond instead.  Not for a paddle -- this water's too shallow and clogged with aquatic plants -- but just to visit the shore. There's always something of interest along this shore.  (Remember all those sex-crazed toads and the thousands of tiny toadlets that resulted from all that ardor?)

Today, the points of interest were floral, not animal, for the shore was crowded with masses of flowering plants.  How pretty these rosy Steeplebush spires (Spiraea tomentosa) appeared in the company of their neighboring (and related) Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba).

The Buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis) were loaded with blooms, perfect orbs of exploding florets shooting out spiky stamens.  Before I moved in close to shoot this photo, this flower head was alive with several nectar-seeking insects. Sadly, they fled before I could snap their photo!

I had arrived too late in the day to catch the now-snoozing Fragrant Water Lilies in open bloom, but other flowers had protruded their flowering stalks among the lily pads. Water Smartweed (Persicaria amphibia) held spikes of tiny pink florets well above their own floating leaves, while leafless stalks of Common Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) held chubby yellow blooms above the water.

Here's a closer look at the flower of Common Bladderwort.  Submerged below these flowering stems were masses of the bladderwort's underwater structures. These structures hold tiny sacs that suck in even tinier aquatic creatures that the plant digests, thus providing nutrients that this leafless plant could not obtain through photosynthesis. 

Sharing the shallow water and muddy shore with many other wetland plants were these spiky leaves and Sputnik-shaped blooms of a species of Bur Reed (Sparganium sp.).

Northern Dewberry vines (Rubus flagellaris) lined the sandy trail leading down to the pond, and many of these vines held jewel-colored fruits in various stages of ripeness.

This open, sandy-soiled area is just the habitat that suits Round-headed Bushclover (Lespedeza capitata), a native Clover-family plant, and I found several just coming into bloom. Granted, this plant can appear rather homely from a distance, but a close look reveals some rather pretty, pink-striped white florets nearly hidden among the plant's bushy green bracts.

There's a huge thicket of Shining Sumac (Rhus copallinum) that stands between the pond and the road, and I was delighted to find the shrubs looking green and healthy, their winged leaves as glossy as this shrub's common name suggests.  (Another common name is Winged Sumac, after the wings along the leaves's stems.) For years, this thicket has been affected by some plant disease that caused the shrubs' leaves to shrivel before the shrubs produced flowers or fruit.  But this year, nearly every shrub held conical clusters of tiny green florets.  I sure hope this good health persists until the flowers can yield their handsome clusters of red berries in the fall.

Passing through a narrow strip of pine woods on the way to my car, I came upon this dark shaggy mushroom that goes by the oddly appropriate name of Old Man of the Woods. Its scientific name is Strobilomyces floccopus, which means something like "woolly mushroom that resembles a pinecone," perhaps a more accurate descriptor! Despite its rather off-putting appearance, this mushroom is said to be edible.

I found some other, more photogenic mushrooms nearby, some very small specimens of what I believe are Cinnabar Chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnabarinus).  This one is also said to be edible, but you couldn't feed many people with this tiny cluster of them.  I was content to leave both mushrooms where I found them.