Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mudlovers Along (and Under) the River

Got a note from Ed Miller today, telling me he had seen a small white unknown flower blooming under the water while paddling the Hudson, and did I have any idea what it might be? Now, Ed knows everything about plants, so I was quite flattered to be asked to help him ID this. So off to the river I went. And sure enough, I found the flower he meant right away, not 20 yards from the boat launch in shallow water. With the wind whipping my boat downstream, it was hard to get a good photo, but I did get an okay one. Can you tell what this flower is?

I knew immediately, but that's because I've often found Grass-leaved Arrowhead growing at exactly this spot along the shore for many years. And sure enough, I found some of this species blooming on shore. Good thing, too, because there was no way I could wade out to where the submerged ones were blooming. Three steps from shore and I was shin deep in muck and couldn't move my feet.

We have at least three different species of Arrowhead growing along this stretch of the Hudson, and the Grass-leaved one is distinguished by the shape of its leaves. They start out narrowly lance-shaped, but widen into blades at the top. I think you can see that feature in this photo.

This section of the Hudson flows between two hydroelectric dams, so the water rises and falls several times a day. Because of this, the plants that grow along the banks have to tolerate being periodically inundated. Some, like those various arrowheads and the Golden Hedge Hyssop that also grows here, can go right on blooming, even when under a foot or so of water. There are others that just like it damp. One of these is called Clammy Hedge Hyssop, which I found blooming today on the muddy shore of an island that lies just off the boat launch. This is a very small flower, maybe a quarter inch across, and it doesn't grow in masses that carpet the banks, as its cousin the Golden one does. I always feel really privileged when I find it.

And I felt exceptionally privileged today to find little Creeping Spearwort growing on that same muddy shore. I used to find it here frequently, but over the last five years or so the water levels have been kept extra high to accommodate recreational rafting, and the muddy flats that this spearwort loves have mostly disappeared. You can't see the fine thread-like leaves and stems of this plant in this photo. I could hardly see them, myself, they are so fine. This photo makes the flower look quite sizable, but it's really only about a half inch across.

As a consequence of these years of high water, many trees and shrubs that grew along the banks have now died. This photo shows what's left of the old shrubs (I think they were Red Osier Dogwood) as well as the new Elderberry shrubs that have come to replace them. Those Elderberrys weren't here three years ago. Or at least I didn't notice them. Maybe they've just reached the age to start blooming this year.

Happily, my dear little island looks as lush and lovely as ever, and during my visit today I was serenaded by the constant tweeting of Tree Swallows. Beavers, however, have been very busy along its banks, and some trees and shrubs that were here last year are nowhere to be found.

Oops! Sorry, little fellas. My tromping about the island scared off this brood of Common Mergansers, who took off running across the water before settling down to a rapid swim, nervous Mama right behind.

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