Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Prize Finds Along the River
Aaah! That's more like it! As soon as I finished the six loads of laundry my houseful of holiday houseguests produced, I grabbed my canoe and hurried off to the Hudson River today. Another scorcher of a day, but I felt quite refreshed after dunking myself from head to toe in cool river water. Then I took it nice and slow, paddling along close to the banks to see if I could find some flowers that bloomed on the river last summer.
And that I did -- every single one of the ones I went looking for. The prize was this Smaller Purple Fringed Orchis, growing in the very same spot I found it last year. Orchids can be quite temperamental and fail to rebloom for no reason that we can think of, so I felt very pleased to find this one.
Another prize was a good-sized group of Great St. Johnsworts. True to their name, as St. Johnsworts go, they are really big. This bloom is about three inches across, so I wonder how I could have missed them all these years of prowling the river. I hadn't seen them for more than ten years when I found them again last July. And now they're back. We New Yorkers should count ourselves lucky to have them, since in nearly every state that surrounds us, this flower in classified as endangered or threatened. And I have never found them in any other place but where they were growing today.
Another flower that seems to be disappearing from much of its former range is Narrow-leaved Vervain, its flower a much paler blue than that of the far more common Blue Vervain. There's just one spot in all my wanderings where I've found this Narrow-leaved one, so I was mighty pleased to see it blooming happily and abundantly today.
The Narrow-leaved Vervain was sharing its patch of sand with its deeper colored cousin. Blue Vervain may indeed be a common plant, but its flowers are an uncommonly gorgeous shade.
On the stretch of the Hudson where I paddled today, the water flows around an island and into quiet bays protected by rocky promontories and steep wooded banks. It's here that I find great masses of Golden Hedge Hyssop crowding every square inch of muddy bank or finding a foothold in every crack in the rocks. Its bright yellow trumpets set among yellow-green foliage were setting the river banks aglow today.
My friend Ed Miller told me he likes to call this flower its alternate common name, Golden Pert, instead of Hedge Hyssop, since in truth it looks nothing at all like any kind of hyssop. While pert it most certainly is. So sure, I'll call it Golden Pert from now on. (Gratiola aurea is its Latin name, also a pretty one.) Here's a closer look at the flowers.
Speaking of names that seem most appropriate, what name could fit the plant better than Buttonbush? Its perfectly round spiky puffs of tiny white blooms were just starting to open today.
And Cardinal Flower sure seems a good name for the reddest flower that is, was, or ever will be. The banks will be crowded with its brilliant blooms before too long, but as this photo shows, even its buds are striking in their vivid coloration.
How serendipitous, then, to see this brilliant bird flashing its scarlet through the trees, just as I was photographing the Cardinal Flower. It almost seemed as if the flower had taken wing. This Scarlet Tanager would NOT sit still for its portrait, of course, but even this blurry photo manages to capture something of its startling brilliance.
One last flower, which I find every year in a parking area near where I launch my canoe. It's called Common Hedge Nettle, and I wonder how it ever got that name?
I don't think it's all that common, for one thing, and it certainly doesn't sting you as nettles do. Nor does it form a hedge. Also, it's a Mint Family plant that doesn't smell minty. So who knows? All I know is that it has a moire-patterned flower as pretty as any rare orchid, and I'm glad to find it again just where I left it last year.