Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Watery Relief from the Heat
Another scorcher, another good day to get wet. Yesterday I put my canoe in the river down near the Sherman Island Dam, and today I moved a mile or so upstream to put in closer to the Spier Falls Dam. There's a pretty little island just upstream from the boat launch there, which offers a perfect place for a swim: deep water right off the rocks, so you don't have to sink into muck to reach a swimmable depth. And the current runs swiftly through a channel between the main island and a tiny islet, creating a kind of lap pool where you can just swim in place. Or take a ride on the current. Fun. But most of all, cool. Aaah, that sweet cool water! Does this not look inviting?
This little island is home to an amazing variety of wildflowers, so the rest of the afternoon was spent poking about in the underbrush and wading along the sandy edges, looking for all my old friends. The water level's been down for some time, so flowers are sprouting like crazy on mud that was deep underwater a few weeks ago. I think I've mentioned before how Golden Pert carpets the muddy flats, and that's exactly what it was doing today. Radiant!
Tucked in among all that Golden Pert was this sweet little veronica called Marsh Speedwell. Its flower is only a quarter inch across, but it still stood out amid that sea of gold. I was so happy to find this lovely little plant. It was one of the first flowers I learned when I first began exploring these banks, and I hadn't found it in many years.
St. Johnsworts of just about every kind find a home on this sandy half-acre, and today, as the Pale St. Johnsworts were fading, the Dwarf St. Johnswort was opening its miniscule blooms. To show just how tiny these flowers are, I've placed a bloom from a Common St. Johnswort next to one of the wee ones.
Another species that grows abundantly here is the Marsh St. Johnswort, the only pink one and not quite ready to bloom. I just love the colors of every part of this plant -- leaves, stalks, flowers, buds, seeds -- and was struck by the vivid fuschia of its buds today.
Pretty blue Monkeyflower was everywhere in full bloom. Whoever named this flower apparently thought its blossom looked like a monkey's face. Um . . . . Which monkey might that be? None that I've ever seen.
Steeplebush, on the other hand, does resemble (a little) what it was named for. Their beautiful deep rose flowers were just starting to bloom today on graceful stems that waved in the breeze.
Uh oh! Here's a beautiful flower that has no business growing here. Left to its own devices, this Purple Loosestrife would supplant all other flowers on the island in time. So of course I could not leave it to its own devices, and I ripped it out.
Wouldn't it be a shame to never see gorgeous Sneezeweed here on these banks, if that Purple Loosestrife took over its habitat? I was startled to find one in bloom so early. But then, all flowers seem to be blooming ahead of schedule this year. My friend Ed Miller has told me he hates the common name of this flower and would rather we called it Helen's Flower, which is what its Latin genus name means: Helenium. Well sure, why not? I'm sure it got named for sneezes because it usually blooms when Ragweed does, too, and got blamed for maladies it has nothing to do with. No flower this showy has pollen that wafts on the wind, since its very showiness indicates its need to attract pollinators.
Well now, here's a new one I've never found on this island: Horned Bladderwort. Unlike most other bladderworts that float about unrooted in the water, trapping tiny organisms in the bladders affixed to their stems, this species grows on dry land. Well, damp land, with its leaves buried down in the sand. It's a mystery to me how its bladders expand to trap foodstuffs down there, but it's certainly no mystery where the "horned" part of its name came from. Note those sharp spurs pointing downward.
Paddling back to shore, I took a little detour to visit an American Chestnut tree that hangs over the river. I missed its blooming this year, so I wanted to see how it was doing. So far, the blight that has destroyed all mature chestnuts has not yet destroyed this youthful tree. But it will, in time. In many ways, it's remarkable to see a chestnut grow old enough to bear fruit, as this one is doing now. It's highly unlikely the nuts will be fertile, however, since that would require cross-pollination, and no other flowering chestnut is growing nearby.
Heading home, I drive over Mount McGregor, and on steep rocky banks along the road I always find Smooth False Foxglove. Again, this flower is blooming a bit early this year.
Smooth False Foxglove seems to me quite showy for a wildflower, but it's not a garden escapee. One of our native flowers, it's parasitic on the roots of oak trees, according to Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. So that means I probably couldn't grow it in my garden, although I sure would love to. Supposedly, it's not a rare plant, but I've never found it blooming anywhere but along this mountain road.