Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Clearing the Way for Fringed Gentians
Groan! I am so tired and stiff tonight I can hardly type up this post. I spent the day cutting down trees and hauling and stacking brush at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton, one of the very few places in Saratoga County where Fringed Gentian (Gentiana crinita) grows. But it wasn't going to grow there much longer if the young pines and poplars encroaching on its sunny, sandy habitat were allowed to take over.
In past years, I had found dozens of these radiantly blue biennial wildflowers, but last year I found only two, struggling to bloom in the shade. Concerned about this situation, I alerted Andy Fyfe, stewardship and education coordinator for Saratoga P.L.A.N., the land preservation group that manages this nature preserve. Smart guy that Andy is, he asked if I would like to help restore that habitat (he knows how I obsess about my wildflower friends), and what could I say but Why sure! So Andy organized a work day that included the two of us, as well as Russ and Melanie Doyle, a couple who live nearby and who serve as volunteer stewards for the preserve.
What better way to spend a spectacularly beautiful late-summer day? The morning was cool and fresh, the gentians still furled tight and beaded with dew, but blue enough that we could see clearly where they grew and not cut them down by mistake. We found about eight plants in all, hiding among the shrubbery, and what a sight it was to see them shining at last in the sun!
We worked through the morning until mid-afternoon and made quite a dent in the encroaching woods. There's still quite a bit of work to do to completely restore the original clearing, but for now the gentians can bloom and bear seeds that will have a good chance to germinate in the sun-warmed soil.
At the edge of this clearing is a small wetland habitat where cattails and alder grow, as well as one tamarack tree. The poplars and pines are encroaching there, too, so that area needs to be thinned out as well. I used to find Nodding Ladies' Tresses growing profusely there. Today we found just one.
Another wildflower, Slender Gerardia, likes that soggy spot, too. We found just one plant there today. In past years, there have been dozens.