Saturday, September 26, 2009
Out to the Islands, Off With the Weeds
One thing about my friend Evelyn, she sure gets me off my butt. But I'm lucky I didn't land on my butt today, picking and slipping my way through the river rapids, following Evelyn out to some Ice Meadows islands. The last warm and sunny day we'll have for a while, today was likely our last chance for wading across in any kind of comfort (?!), so we took it. There were alien aggressors out there among our native plants, and we were going to get them. Well, that was our plan.
The Purple Loosestrife was still pretty much confined to isolated clumps, which we'd planned on pulling and carrying off in bags. But it wouldn't budge. Its roots were well embedded among the rocks that make up these Hudson River islands north of Warrensburg. Since we didn't have dynamite or a backhoe to help us, we did the best we could: we cut off and bagged all the dead flower heads before they could spill their seeds and start a new generation of invasives. Sure, new growth will sprout next spring from the roots we left behind, but at least the seeds won't spread to new locations.
We'd planned to do the same with a growth of Japanese Knotweed out there, but too late, the seeds were long gone, scattered to the winds. Evelyn, a volunteer steward of this stretch of remarkable habitat, has been observing this clump of knotweed for some time, and seemed reassured that it had not seemed to be spreading. Very few alien plants are found out here on these islands or along these banks, and her hope is to keep it that way.
The harsh conditions created by huge deposits of ice on these shores each winter keep most invasive plants at bay, and also keep even the native trees and shrubs from growing tall and shading the shores. Native plants that have evolved to endure these conditions do thrive out here, but even they are dwarfed and stunted in appearance. Here's a field of Royal Fern, for example, that normally grows head high. Out here, it barely reaches our knees.
Very few flowers are still in bloom this late in the year, but we can still recognize some by their ripening seed heads. We found several patches of Rose Pogonia, a pretty pink orchid that blooms in June but reveals its location now by its plump yellow-green pods.
For years I have wondered what these little red wormy things could be, and today Evelyn told me that they are bulbils of Yellow Loosestrife, also called Swamp Candles because of the terminal spikes of yellow flowers they bear in summer. The flowers are long gone, but the plant can be recognized now by these reddish pointed and jointed bulbils in the leaf axils.
Here's a closer look. They are really quite distinctive. You can pluck these bulbils off and push them down into the sand and new plants will grow from them. I notice there's no sign at all of this plant's flowering spikes. Does that mean the flowers do not go to seed in the normal way, but reproduce only by means of these bulbils? Hmmmm. . . . I wonder, who would know?
Our weed-whacking mission accomplished, we struggled back to shore with our laden bags, hoisting our heavy loads up a steep sandy bank to our waiting cars. I was surprised to find along the road the purple tumbleweed clusters of Winged Pigweed (see "Very Weird Wingy Things," my post for 9/6). These plants are native to the central U.S., but have made their way east in recent years, seeming to prefer the sandy poor soils along the sides of roads. They turn this gorgeous shade of purple before the whole plant breaks off from a central stem and goes rolling away on the wind, spilling its seed as it rolls. Here's a close-up of its winged little seed.
I made the mistake of picking up one of the tumbleweeds that had broken off and placing it on my passenger seat. I discovered they don't need to roll along to dispel their seeds. What a mess in my car! Hmmmm . . . I know they like sandy poor soil. Maybe they'll sprout in the dirt on the floor of my car.