Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Here and There on a Muggy Day
Way too hot and muggy for a hike up a mountain today. So why was I huffing and puffing up the Spring Trail in Moreau Lake State Park, dripping sweat and swatting deer flies? I wanted to see my Nodding Ladies' Tresses, the ones that I found last year by the dozens in a grassy clearing half way up to an overlook. And glory be, they were there again this year. I counted 37 but there could have been more: these orchids are small and most were not yet fully open. They like damp spots in the sun, the kind of habitat that is rapidly disappearing, so finding a large population like this is quite an occasion for glee.
I also found one of the causes these habitats are disappearing, or rather, being overrun by invasive species. There it was, a single plant of the dreaded Purple Loosestrife, right in the middle of the patch of Ladies' Tresses. How the heck did it get up here? Well, it ain't there anymore! Nor are a couple of others I found and yanked out.
All kinds of asters are now in bloom, but I've stopped trying to identify them all. If my life depended on it, I could probably parse them out, distinguishing leaf shape and bract behavior and all, but what a bore! There are billions of species (it seems) and they hybridize freely, just to confound flower nerds. And except for a few beauties like New England Aster, they're not very photogenic. Most look something like this. I think this one is Smooth Aster (Aster laevis).
Sometimes you just can't believe your eyes. And you shouldn't. I saw these bristly balls seemingly attached to the fronds of Hay-scented Fern and thought they were some kind of gall (fern galls!?). But a closer look revealed they were just the spent flower-heads of Wild Basil poking up through the pinnae. Looked kind of pretty.
Also very pretty were these fruits of the Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus). They're much nicer to look at than they are to eat -- quite sour and seedy.
The day was still young, so I drove around to the lake part of Moreau Lake State Park (admission free for us oldies on weekdays!). I wanted to walk the beach and see if Small-flowered Gerardia (Gerardia paupercula) was in bloom. And boy, was it ever! Once you get past the swimming beach and the bridge between the two parts of the lake, the sandy shore is just covered with these pretty magenta blooms. (Note: It seems that since my Newcomb's wildflower guide was published, gerardias have been renamed and assigned to the false foxgloves. The new name for this plant is Purple False Foxglove [Agalinis purpurea].)
An extra bonus was this clump of Closed Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii). I found just this one. This beautiful flower should be blooming profusely along the river right now, but the water is up so high of late, I think every plant over there has been drowned. By the way, when I searched the web for information about this plant, I discovered this could be G. clausa, a very similar species to G. andrewsii. I would have to take the flower head apart to be sure, and since either species is listed as "Exploitably Vulnerable" in New York, I wouldn't want to do that. So this plant could be one or the other. Any guesses which?
In a dry sandy area near Mud Pond (another body of water in Moreau Lake State Park), I found these tiny Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum). This Mint-family plant gets its name from its long curling stamens, which are often blue, but can also be violet or white. The petals are always bright blue. If they weren't so brightly colored, I would never see them, they are so small, maybe half an inch and growing close to the ground.
Before I went home, I stopped in the park's Nature Center to visit with staffers Gary and Dave. I also wanted to know if the lone Black Tupelo growing along the lake's shore had been protected from beavers. Imagine my chagrin when Gary told me he'd shown that tree to a state biologist who told him it was not a Black Tupelo. Well folks, I am not a biologist (in fact, I was an English major), but I know that the tree in question is indeed a Black Tupelo. That's my totem tree, my first nature mystery that started this whole need to know the name of all that grows. So I know my tupelos. No other tree has a profile quite like this: