Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Yaddo Afternoon

The Yaddo mansion lies beyond public access, but all are welcome to enjoy its beautiful gardens adorned with fountains and statuary.

Since my Tuesday mornings are taken up by volunteer work at a hospice here in Saratoga Springs, I mostly keep my nature adventures close to home on Tuesday afternoons. Luckily, lots of great places lie within a few blocks of my house, and today I headed out Union Avenue to the artists' retreat called Yaddo. Although much of this magnificent 19th-century estate is off-limits to all but the artists and writers and musicians in residence there, the beautiful gardens are open to the public. And, oh my! the formal rose garden was at its loveliest today.

In the shady areas along the rose garden, vivid purple irises accented the hostas and ferns and other shade-loving plants.

This rustic gate marks the limit of public access, with the private quarters for the guests in residence lying beyond.

Despite all this manicured loveliness calling for my attention, my quest at Yaddo today was to find one of the homeliest flowers that grows: Hare Figwort. In past years I've found it thriving in the gravel along a dusty drive, but today I came upon what was left of some specimens that some kind of bug was destroying. Where the flowers should have been, there were all these tiny translucent balls, and among them crept this critter. I've put in an ID request with Bugguide.net and will update this post if I learn any information. Update: Sure enough, BugGuide.net came through with an ID for the bug: Figwort Weevil (Cionus scrophulariae). But it took some searching of the web to find out that those round blogs are the pupa cases of the weevil. You can see another photo of weevil pupa cases by going to www.scrubmuncher.files.wordpress.com and searching for the post for August 27, 2009.

Happily, I did find a few undamaged plants of Hare Figwort a little further down the road. See? I told you they were homely. I wonder if they got their name because those two little dark brown flaps stick up like rabbit ears. This is a greatly enlarged photo. The flowers of Hare Figwort are only about a quarter inch across.

There are lots of prettier wildflowers to be found in the woods around the Yaddo gardens, including some very lovely wild roses. I believe this one is Virginia Rose.

Here's a distant cousin of that rose, the very handsome shrub called Ninebark, with clusters of small white blossoms. This native shrub gets its name from the propensity of its bark to peel off in many layers.

Two different species of beardtongue grow near the edge of a parking lot: Hairy Beardtongue and White Beardtongue, which look quite a bit alike, except that the Hairy one has a hairy stem, and the throat of its blossom is narrower than that of this White one.

There's a kind of yellow composite flower that I find in the shady woods at Yaddo and very few other places. It's not in my Newcomb's or Peterson's, either. Its flower heads look like those of some kind of hawkweed.

Its stalk is quite hairy, and its stem leaves are distinctly toothed. Anyone recognize this plant?

Well, I sure did not recognize this one! How could I have missed it all the years I've been scouting around Yaddo? A sprawling large shrub, its green bark striped with whitish cracks, it was hung today with hollow, pale-green pods. Talk about a distinguishing feature! When I got home I hauled out my George W. D. Symonds's Shrub Identification Book and, finding the page with that pod, I learned that this is American Bladdernut.

Here's another view of the American Bladdernut pod. I learned, from browsing the web for information about it, that its seeds are quite good to eat, either roasted or raw.

I confess I stole one pod for further research. When I opened it up, I discovered only one seed. I guess I'd better look for additional sources of nutriment if I ever get lost in the woods.


Jens Zorn said...

"Off limits to all but artists and writers" indeed! Categories for which you certainly qualify. Have you considered applying for a Yaddo fellowship?

Ellen Rathbone said...

I see the fountains are up and running now...I may have to make another visit! Love the Hare Figwort - it's not homely, it's unusual! Very nifty flower. And a new shrub, too! All in all, a trip that yielded many bounties.

Steve Young said...

The closest I can get to your mystery composite is Hieracium umbellatum which now includes H. kalmii and H. canadense.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Why, thank you, Jens! You are too kind. But no, I do not think I would enjoy that experience. Anyway, now that I'm retired, I kind of have my own artist's retreat everyday.

Hi Ellen. SOME of the fountains are running. I don't know why they don't turn on the ones in the wildflower garden, my favorite spot. But do let's get together for a nature adventure soon.

Thanks for the hawkweed ID, Steve. I looked at lots of photos of the ones you suggested, and mine does look similar, but different, too. For one thing, it blooms in pretty dark shade at Yaddo, while most other hawkweeds seem to prefer the sun. It shares its woodsy spaces with Wall Lettuce, and the two pretty much dominate the forest floor under pines and Norway Spruce.