Friday, August 14, 2009

Back to "My" Hudson River

The splendid summer weather continues, and where better to spend the afternoon than on "my" stretch of the Hudson below Spier Falls Dam? I love to mosey along close to shore, marveling at all the colorful flowers now blooming, then paddle across to a lovely island -- home to what seems a thousand tree swallows -- and slip into the sweet cool water for a swim. My idea of a perfect day.

Mother Nature plants a gorgeous garden of wildflowers along the river:
Sneezeweed (yellow), Cardinal Flower (red), Monkey Flower (blue), and Boneset (white).

I was delighted to find Narrow-leaved Gentian (Gentiana linearis) in bloom on the island, especially since some years I seem to miss it. For years, there's been just one (sort of scraggly) plant, but this year I found four, and all looking really healthy. Must be this rainy summer has suited them. Bumblebees are about the only pollinators strong enough to shoulder their way inside these closed-up petals (they never open). Why do they bother, with so many other easier targets in bloom? I've read that the gentian's nectar is sweeter and more abundant than almost any other flower, making it worth the bee's expense of energy. But sometime the bees cheat and chew holes through the flower tube directly into the nectaries.

I found several plants of Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) just coming into bloom along the river. I have watched bumblebees struggle to enter this flower, then completely disappear inside. While the bee is rummaging around in there, the blossom's lower lip moves up and down, so it looks like the flower is chewing. Now, that's kind of startling to come upon! When the bee backs out, it is thoroughly dusted with pollen.

Out in the river, a number of species of water plants were starting to bloom. The curlicue stems of Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana) were heading up to the surface with their little white flowers. (To read about this plant's fascinating sex life, go to my blog post for January 29. ) This plant likes to grow where the current streams its eel-like leaves and carries its pollen along the surface to tryst with those female flowers just dimpling the water's surface.

I found another water plant growing in quieter, shallow water, and I don't know what its name is. It looks like a miniature evergreen forest down under the water, with tiny white long-stemmed trefoils floating on the surface. If any of my readers knows what this is, please leave a comment. I thought it might be elodea, but its leaves seem finer than those in the photos of Elodea canadensis I find on Google Images. Could it be E. schweinitzii (found only in New York, according to USDA) or E. nuttallii? I can't find clear web photos of these species. And my photo is not all that clear, either: try taking photos while the current and wind are yanking your boat away. I tried wading out to where this plant grows and sank to my shins in muck before I could get there.

I checked on the American Chestnut tree I found blooming beautifully earlier this summer, and found just a single burr-encased nut. This healthy-appearing tree had had maybe a hundred flowers, but now it has just one nut. On the other side of the river I found a rather sickly looking tree with many nuts, growing in clusters of three or four. I wonder if the closer the tree comes to dying, the more it puts forth fruit. I also wonder if any of the nuts are fertile.


Carolyn H said...

I love your shot of the Hudson. It's gorgeous!

Carolyn H.

Woodswalker said...

Thanks, Carolyn. I like it, too. I just gaze at it and feel cool and serene. And blessed to be surrounded by such unspoiled beauty.

Bird said...

Those wildflowers are amazingly colourful - as bright as any bedding plants. i once saw bumblebees cheating lupins by cutting through the base of the flower to get the nectar - interesting that bees have learned to do this when frustrated by a flowers structure! And I love how you describe the turtlehead chewing :)

I also wonder if the American Chestnut with all the nuts might be dying. Also, if there is anyone you could tell about the tree who could perhaps gather some seed to cultivate?

Woodswalker said...

Hello Bird! I agree that the flowers that bloom by the river are as gorgeous as any that grow in manicured gardens. Regarding those chestnuts: I believe park staffers are monitoring the few nut-bearing trees that populate Moreau Lake State Park, checking the nuts to see if they might be fertile. The rare trees that mature long enough to bear blossoms are so far apart from each other that cross-pollination rarely occurs.