Friday, June 11, 2010

Wildflower Nut Heads North

Wildflower nerds are nuts. I confess it. Who else would drive 40 miles one-way just to see a flower no bigger than a thimble? That's what I did today, scooting up to the Ice Meadows north of Warrensburg because a friend told me that Sticky Tofieldia was in bloom. Never heard of it? That could be because it's so rare, listed as endangered by New York State and never before seen by me. Until today. And I almost stepped on it.

I had only seen photos and drawings of this plant and assumed it would be much larger than it is. But still, it was easy to see, with its bright white spikes of bloom, small as they were. Here's a closer look at the flower.

And here's a look at the sticky stem that gives this plant its name and distinguishes it from its close relative and look-alike False Asphodel, which grows further south.

There's always lots of good stuff to see on the Ice Meadows, so I took some time to look around in a seepy area where springs form little pools in the rocks and keep much of the ground quite marshy.

Lots of different grasses and sedges, rushes and reeds flourish here, most of which I cannot name, including this one that seemed to be sprouting white lilies out of its head.

Here and there in the seepy spots I found oily films covering the water and damp soil. I learned just recently that this oily stuff is not petroleum pollution, but is caused by bacteria consuming minerals in the rocks and water, and it is not harmful to the environment in any way. One way to distinguish this oil slick from that caused by petroleum is to break it apart with a stick. If it stays broken, it is the bacteria product. If it flows back together, it is petroleum.

There are dry sandy areas along this stretch of the Ice Meadows, too, and that's where I found this little Dwarf Cinquefoil.

What distinguishes this plant from the Common Cinquefoil, aside from the size of its bloom, is the pattern of serration on its leaves. The leaves of Dwarf Cinquefoil are serrated only from the middle out. The commoner variety has serration all the way back to the leaf stem.

This Speckled Alder shrub looked so beautiful today, with the rich red color of its flourishing leaves. These shrubs that grow out in the flat areas along the river are kept dwarfed by the massive heaps of ice that crush them flat each winter. It's amazing how they continue to struggle back.

See too, how dwarfed are these Royal Ferns growing out of a crack in the rocks, less than two feet high. Typically, this fern grows shoulder high. This is just another example of how many of the plants that grow on the Ice Meadows have adapted to harsh conditions.

Up closer to the tree line, where the ice doesn't reach, the shrubs assume a more typical size. Here's one of our native honeysuckles, the American Bush Honeysuckle, just opening its blooms of small yellow trumpets against the foil of its deep green leaves.

Now, here's an odd thing I have never seen before. Lots of fragrant wild roses sprawl all over the rocks out here, but look what I found on one of the stems: little prickly sputniks. I guess they must be some kind of gall. I wonder what insect could cause them? Update: I should really do my research before I publish my blog the first time. Just a quick search of the web for info on "Spiny rose galls" brought me right to this: these galls have a name -- Diplolepis bicolor -- and are caused by a Cynipid wasp laying its eggs inside the rose stem.

Isn't it funny how wildflower nuts never give up? We keep looking for flowers wherever we go and are likely to drop to a squat right there on a city street corner, crying Oooh, look at that! That's what happened tonight as my husband and I left a restaurant and were walking down Putnam Street on our way back home. These teensy weensy lavender-colored specks were growing out of a crack against the wall of the health-food store. I don't know how the heck I saw them, what with the evening shadows and my bad eyesight. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me (it was too dark for a photo, anyway), so I brought some home to inspect with a magnifier. The flowers dropped off, but I managed to save a couple to be photographed. Here's the plant with the flowers beside it.

And here's a close shot of the flower, revealing its minute spur. Hmmm . . . . I remember finding this one at least 10 years ago along the river and never again since. Could it be Dwarf Snapdragon?

Yes. That's what it is. Just a cute little weed. How nice to see it again after all these years.


troutbirder said...

What a fun outing. Beautiful and fascinating flowers and views. Thanks!

Ellen Rathbone said...

Another delightful trip! If I weren't wearing sandals and sporting a cut arch on my right foot, I'd be tempted to stop at the Ice Meadows on the way home this afternoon!