Saturday, July 10, 2010
Back to My Home Turf
Hey! No fair! The Pipsissewa bloomed without me! I've been so busy running off to explore nature areas far from home that I completely missed the flowering time of one of my favorite local flowers. I find Pipsissewa at Moreau Lake State Park and also at Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa, where I took the above photo of one a year ago exactly. I returned to Woods Hollow today, only to find the Pips had long gone to seed. Darn!
Everything has bloomed early this year, and this past week of extreme heat only speeded things up even more. It rained last night and was cooler today, which encouraged me to try woodswalking again, repressing my memory of that bug-bombing I endured at Bog Meadow two days ago. But I'm sorry to report that I suffered a double dose of disappointment at Woods Hollow today. Last year, I found there at least a dozen plants of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain, but today I searched and searched and found only one. Ah well, these little orchids are like that. You just can't count on them coming up in the same place they did last year. I'm lucky I saw this one.
This Choke Cherry offered me some consolation, dangling its garnet-colored fruit so prettily before my eyes and camera lens. It didn't tempt me to taste it, though, since I know that its bitter cherries live up to their name.
Since I was already in Ballston Spa, I next headed over to Kelly Park, a nice little community park on the banks of the Kayaderosseras Creek. A favorite fishing spot, the winding creek is very pretty here, rushing over occasional rapids and shaded by tall cottonwoods.
I'm supposed to lead a nature walk here next Saturday, so I figured I'd better give myself a preview of what we're likely to find. At first glance, all I saw were the standard disturbed-soil alien plants: Chicory, Purple Loosestrife, Queen Anne's Lace, Spotted Knapweed, etc., etc. But then my eyes fell on the old standby natives, the milkweeds and dogwoods and goldenrods that stand up well to alien invasion. The goldenrods were already bulging with leaf and stem galls, so it will be fun to describe the life cycle of the tiny flies that inhabit them -- and the even-tinier wasps that inhabit the flies. (A nice gory story!) Another native plant that was thriving along the creek was this Clammy Ground Cherry. Like the tomato, this is a Nightshade Family plant that produces an edible fruit inside those Japanese-lantern papery pods. Maybe some will be ripe next week so we all can have a taste.
We better not taste this next plant I found, although it belongs to the Parsley Family, which does contain lots of edibles, including carrots and parsnips and yes, parsley, too. But this is Water Hemlock, every part of which is deadly for humans to consume. Isn't it interesting, then, that insects seem to be able to dine on its pollen with impunity? This Feather-legged Fly spent quite a long time exploring every floret, which allowed me lots of time to admire its beauty. Just look at those fringey legs!
The flies were certainly out in force today, but lucky for me, they were pollen-eating hoverflies instead of blood-sucking deerflies. I watched this first one hovering just like a hummingbird around this Common Mullein blossom, until it darted in and grabbed on tight to one of the flower's stamens.
By the fancy black and gold design of its abdomen, I recognized this next hoverfly as one I had photographed before. I never did get a species name for it, however, although I did submit a photo to BugGuide.net. At least I know the name of the flower: Dame's Rocket.
A big surprise for me at Kelly Park was finding a huge stand of American Germander (also called Wood Sage). This handsome Mint Family plant was thriving along the damp woodsy path that followed the creek, and I marveled at how I had never found it growing in Saratoga County. I guess Ijust hadn't looked in the right place before.
At first I mistook the germander for Hedge Nettle, another Mint Family plant with a spike of orchid-like purple flowers. But a closer look at the individual blooms revealed the diagnostic upright stamens and lack of an upper lip. (Please look at the flower only and not at how badly I need a manicure. Your fingernails would be dirty, too, if you'd been digging around in the dirt.)
Here's another plant that took me by surprise at Kelly Park. But I never did figure out what it is, even after poring over all my flower guides at home. Not in my Newcomb's, not in my Peterson's, not in my Audubon's, either. I suspect it's a garden escapee. It was growing close to the edge of the creek, in full sun. If any of my readers recognize it, please leave a comment to let us know what it is. Update: Mystery solved, thanks to NY Chief Botanist Steve Young, who has ID'd this as Garden Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris), a Eurasian native escaped from cultivation.
Here's a familiar fellow almost everyone knows the name of.