Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Fine Day, a Good Friend, Wonderful Finds

A sweet lazy day on the river, made for just kicking back

A fine sunny day today, so back to the Hudson I went, this time with my canoe and my friend Sue and her kayak. We hauled our boats through the woods to put in near Bear's Bathtub, a sheltered area away from the open river where the banks are blooming now with all kinds of wildflowers. I wanted to check on the Smaller Purple Fringed Orchis I found in bud a few days ago, so we paddled over to a nearby bay where we found the first two blossoms just opening. I was really happy to have my suspicions confirmed. I'll come back to see it again when this lovely orchid is in full bloom.

Why am I making these pilgrimages to visit one only slightly showy flower? Well, just because I found this orchid here this year, doesn't mean it will grow here next year. Orchids are notorious for appearing and disappearing, and for reasons botanists don't yet understand. They guard their reproductive secrets well.

Sue is a devoted follower of Henry David Thoreau, who had a special love for Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus), so of course I wanted to show her the patch that grows in a quiet bay just above Sherman Island Dam. A widespread but not very common plant of shallow water, Sweet Flag has been sought after by people all over the world for various medicinal, as well as confectionary, reasons. Some folks have claimed it has aphrodisiac powers, a use suggested by its spadix's resemblance to . . . well, just look at it!

Supposedly, it's the rhizomes of Sweet Flag that contain all the medicinal and aromatic compounds, but I wasn't going to dig them up to find out. I did pop a spadix in two, just to look at its structure, which reminded me a bit of corn on the cob. I tasted a kernel or two and was surprised by the pungent piney flavor.

We were paddling around an island when Sue pointed to large yellow flowers and asked, "Could those be Jerusalem Artichokes?" Well, I didn't think they could be, since that's a flower that blooms pretty late in summer. And they weren't Tall Coneflowers, either, which also don't bloom until later. So I hauled ashore and hopped out of my boat to take a closer look. Holy mackerel! (I said) Look what we have here! They were Great St. Johnswort (Hypericum pyramidatum), a flower that's endangered or threatened or believed extirpated in many northeastern states, and one I found around here just once maybe ten years ago and never again since. What a find! Thanks, Sue, for pointing them out. I probably would have paddled right on by.


Anonymous said...

It doesn't get much nicer than these photos make it look. Nice post.

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Ellen Rathbone said...

Holy mackerel, indeed! Those blossoms are huge! Okay - I'm just gonna have to make a paddling appointment with you when I'm on vacation in a week or two!!!

suep said...

That was a great day on the water!
And to some places I would not have ventured alone, certainly. Yup.
See Thoreau's comments on Sweet Flag in "Wild Fruits" (an excellent book all-around)- he calls the early flowers "critchicrotches" - does anyone know where that word comes from? French? Algonquin? one of his own made-up words?
Jerusalem Artichoke IS now blooming up by Glen Lake trail.
So happy to have seen the Great St. Johnswort - I tried to get a photo of you there but you were jumping up & down!