Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Drive in the Country

Another beautiful day, mixed clouds and sun, a little cool for August. I've learned not to go to the river on weekends (too many motorboats), but I wanted to get out of town. Racing season in Saratoga Springs brings a lot of downstate "attitude" to our normally pleasant little city, so it's a good idea to head for the hills, especially on weekends. Which I did. I drove among beautiful rolling hills and down country lanes where the trees meet over the road, past farms and orchards, sun-dappled woods, corn fields golden with tassels, and meadows where mares and their foals went running with wind in their manes. There's a splendid rural area above Saratoga Lake, just outside of town, with winding roads that I learned by heart all the years I travelled the county for Hospice.

During those years I also discovered where special wildflowers grow, and today I headed straight for the place where Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) thrives. This radiant blue flower likes low, damp spots with a little shade, and today they were in their glory.

A fascinating thing about this plant is the way its stamen curves outside its flower tube, then re-enters through a split top lip when a bee lands to go for the nectar. As the bee dives into the flower tube, the anther bops its fuzzy little butt with pollen.

For some reason this photo appears rotated to the left, no matter how I try to change it.
The stamen protruding through the split lip should be at the top of the photo.

Another flower with an interesting shape is Horsemint (Monarda punctata). Its yellowish purple-spotted flowers grow around the stem, but the first thing you see are the pale lilac bracts instead of the flowers. Luckily, butterflies don't have any trouble telling which is which. This is a favorite nectar plant for the endangered Karner Blue.

Except for the waving plumes of goldenrod (have you ever seen it grow as tall as it has this year!) and the asters arriving soon, most of the roadside flowers are long-ago introduced species like Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace. And this sunny yellow Elecampane (Inula helenium) that looks like a raggedy sunflower. I don't know much about this plant. Was it ever cultivated for seed or medicinal use? I don't find it very often, so I guess it's not invasive. (See postscript below.)

But even invasives can be lovely, as evidenced by these clumps of Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) sharing an abandoned barnyard with goldenrod and other flowers.

Our natives are not to be outshone, however. How pretty is this clump of Boneset (white) and Joe-Pye Weed (pink) growing along an old farm pond?

Many roadsides now are lined with what looks like dusty pink fluff. A closer look reveals that these plants are Rabbit-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense), another introduced species. And an even closer look reveals how really pretty they are.

We do have some native species of clover, or rather, bush clovers, a genus called Lespedeza. There's one called Round-headed Bush Clover (L. capitata) that lives up to its name, all right, with globular flower heads on tall leafy stems. Truth be told, it's kind of coarse and really not very pretty. Unless you see it up close.

Postscript: All it took was a quick visit to Wikipedia to learn all kinds of interesting stuff about Elecampane. I won't repeat much of what you can learn by clicking here, except to point out that its root contains the substance "inulin," which is currently used by food manufacturers to boost the fiber content of all kinds of foods -- like Activia yogurt, which is supposed to make you poop when you should or your money back. Most exciting, however, is research that seems to indicate that this plant contains an antibiotic substance effective against the dreaded MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria. And I thought it was just another weed. Goes to show you, there's something new to learn every day.


tintin said...

Once again fine photos. Lots of different textures here that are especially pleasing. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Gosh this is the post to visit to learn what to plant and what not to plant. I will use you as a source when I am stuck on the name of something. Are you a horticulturalist? Is Joe Pye or Pie Weed the purple stuff? Or the white?

Thank you very much for visiting my Brookville Daily Photo blog and for the comment you left me there.
Brookville Daily Photo Pick a Peck of Pixels

Woodswalker said...

Thanks, tintin, glad you liked the photos. I have a great assistant (my husband) whose gifted eye for judging photos I'm happy to consult from time to time.

Abe, thank YOU for YOUR visits and comments. I never miss your blogs because your stuff is just amazing. Nope, I'm not a horticulturalist, just a weed-loving wildflower nerd who knows that Joe-Pye Weed is purple and Boneset is white. (Thanks to your feedback, I added that info to my post.)

Anonymous said...

Reply to Woodswalker...

The bug is a Acrosternum and to prove it I put that into Google search and also Yahoo search and a lot of pictures like it popped up.

I joined the ButGuide.Net and within 5 minutes had the answer, just as you had said. Thanks a lot for that information. Now I have a place to go to get names for all these odd bugs I photograph.

suep said...

(see if this comment shows up; I tried something to fix my commenting-problem) -
to echo the other posters, I learn something new every time I visit your blog !

suep said...

OK, it works! I can comment again.
Now, to help YOU with that photo-rotating glitch - if you go back to your original, and save it as a .png file, it posts correctly.
Not sure why, it's a blogger glitch that also happened to me - randomly rotating only some of the photos -.