Monday, August 17, 2009

A New Friend, New Discoveries

The rocks of the Hudson support all kinds of mosses and lichens (and Virginia Creeper, too).

Today it was HOT! If I hadn't had a date for a paddle, I probably would have stayed home with the AC cranked. But I am very glad I ventured out. It turned out to be a day of new discoveries for me. Including finding a new friend. A mutual friend arranged for me to meet Evelyn, a fellow botanizing Hornbeck paddler, who drove down from North Creek today to meet me at the river. And we had a grand old time. I showed her a few flowers she'd never seen, and she identified some mosses I see all the time but never knew the names of. Plus, we found a couple of plants we weren't exactly sure of, puzzles to solve, perhaps to add to life lists.

Evelyn's special interests are mosses and liverworts, plant forms the Hudson River banks abound with. She showed me a remarkable variety of them, but unfortunately, I took photos and notes of only a few. Here are three.

Feathery green Pleurozium schreberi covers the rocks in thick deep carpets, so soft and cool you just want to sink your fingers into it. Which I did.

Intermingled with the Pleurozium was this Bartramia pomiformis, equally soft and green but more grassy-textured and distinguished by these tiny "apples," the spore bearing organs. Evelyn told me the proper names of all the mosses' parts, but I didn't write them down. Obviously, I have a lot to learn about them.

Evelyn seemed to be quite delighted to find this tiny liverwort (without a magnifier, she wasn't quite sure of its name) and she gave me a little clump to bring home. I placed it in water on a white plate, the better to photograph it. Maybe someone who sees this photo will know exactly what it is. When I first saw it, I thought it was a moss. (As I said, I have a lot to learn.) The only liverwort I know is much larger with leaves that look like snake skin. But then, this group of plants is remarkably diverse in structure. I have read that they may have been the first green plants to diversify on land some 500,000 million years ago, making them the oldest living lineage of land plants. And lots of them grow right here, on my river bank.

Well, it's very good to have friends with good eyes. How on earth did Evelyn see this tiny bladderwort (Utricularia spp.) floating on the dark water? I can hardly see it against this white plate, although its tiny utricles -- minute creature-capturing bladders -- are in evidence. Since the flowers are absent, it's very hard to be sure of this plant's species, but its itty-bitty size suggests it might possibly be Utricularia minor. If so, this would be an unusual find, since USDA lists that plant as endangered or threatened in many states, including New York. I may never know.

Here's another plant we weren't exactly sure of, but plenty of evidence leads us to believe this is Eastern Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium dubium). We first noticed it because its flower heads were multiple and growing from the leaf axles, unlike the terminal, more flat-topped clusters of the more common Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) that grows all around it. Also, its stem is not solid purple like E. maculatum's, but greenish with purple spots. And its leaf shape is slightly different. Trouble is, my Newcomb's guide tells me this flower grows near the coast. Hmm. Does a river bank qualify as a coast? But the USDA plant distribution website indicates it does grow this far inland. As I mentioned before, we found puzzles.

At least this one we were sure of: Tall (or Green-headed) Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata). These striking yellow blooms were towering over the Boneset and Cardinal Flower all up and down the river, adding a finishing touch to Mother Nature's splendid array of late-summer river-bank flowers.

Update, August 19: Evelyn e-mailed a possible ID for that liverwort -- Plagiochila asplenioides. I plugged that name (what a long one for such a tiny plant!) into Google Images and voila! There it was. Thanks, Evelyn.


Ellen Rathbone said...

I knew you'd hit it off!!:D

Your liverwort might be Bazzania. I'm sure Evelyn will look it up and let you know.

Carolyn H said...

Sounds like a lovely day despite the heat.

Carolyn h.

Squirrel said...

I never knew bladderwort was so small. I love mosses but they are so hard to learn, I think you need a microscope for some of them. Have you read Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer? You would love it.

Allan Stellar said...

This is how bad things have gotten (and why your blog is such a treasure): The average American can identify 100 corporate logs; On the other hand, the average American can identify less than 10 flowers (that includes domesticated flowers).


Bird said...

What a joy to have a knowledgeable new friend open up a whole new world like that. I can feel your enthusiasm in the writing! Mosses are very beautiful (and inviting to touch) but I know nothing about them beyond that. Liverworts? I'll have to look them up, and they sound pretty exciting. Years ago I saw an amazing wildlife documentary about carnivorous plants so I knew of bladderworts - but not that they are quite SO tiny. I hope you meet up often, and share your finds with us :)

Woodswalker said...

Ellen, Carolyn, Squirrel, Allan, Bird: Thanks so much for your comments. Readers like you make writing this blog so worthwhile. As Allan noted, there aren't many people who know very much about wild plants. So when pollution, development, climate change cause them to disappear, most folks don't know or don't care. But once you can call them by name and know where they grow, they become your personal treasures, and that motivates you to fight for their survival.

Ellen: Evelyn ID'd that liverwort as Plagiochila asplenioides. Big name for a tiny plant!

Thanks for the moss book suggestion, Squirrel. I've put it on my want list.

Bird: Most bladderworts are NOT that tiny, which is why we think it might be Utricularia minor, a pretty uncommon species. In short, a real find!