Monday, August 30, 2010

Surprise Finds Along the Hudson

My friend Ellen came down from Newcomb today to meet me in South Glens Falls. We planned to paddle the Hudson there, where two days ago Sue showed me that Grass of Parnassus, a flower that Ellen also was eager to see. Well, let me tell you, she got quite an eyeful of them! And so did I. After locating the spindly few in the site I had visited before, we continued on upstream where tall limestone and shale cliffs plunged straight down to the water. And oh my, those cliffs were just COVERED with Grass of Parnassus! Not to mention all kinds of other lime-loving plants. I think those are Bulblet Ferns sharing the cliff with those white Grass of Parnassus blooms.

Just as interesting as the wonderful plants we found there were the very cliffs themselves. Some were as black as coal.

Others were colored orange by some kind of growth that was covering the surface. Ellen thinks that this stuff is a lichen.

Here's a close-up shot of that orange fluffy stuff, which I think looks more like a moss. I hope maybe some of my readers will set us straight about its identity.

My friend Evelyn Greene came through with an ID for this stuff, thanks to her friend Bob Duncan, who says this is a green alga called Trentepohlia aurea. What?! A GREEN alga?! Yup. It contains a chemical that masks its chlorophyll. Google that name, and lots of photos that look like this will pop up.

We were quite fascinated by the seam of what looks like paving stones near the water line of this cliff. I'd love to have a geologist explain these structures to me.

One of the shrubby plants that had taken root in the sheer walls of rock was this berry-laden Spikenard. Anyone know if those berries are good to eat? I'll bet some kind of creature eats them.

We also paddled around a quiet cove, where bur-reeds and water-lilies thrived in the shallows, and we startled a Great Blue Heron in the midst of its meal.

Several kinds of submerged water plants were waving around in the underwater currents, including these curlicue stems of Wild Celery.

Observing the multitude of lily pads, Ellen asked me if I had ever seen a frog sit on a lily pad, and we two agreed that no, we had never seen such a thing except in cartoons. Well, the laugh was on us, for no sooner had we expressed these observations than guess what? Right there before our very eyes was this Green Frog sitting on a lily pad. What a face!

What a face, indeed! Because that face is so broad that it pushes the frog's ears skyward, one reader has suggested that this is instead a Bullfrog, not a Green Frog. Unfortunately, I couldn't get closer photos or profile shots to clinch the ID. One thing is certain: this was a BIG frog with a BIG WIDE mouth. And it's still the first frog I have ever seen sitting on a lily pad.

Heading back to the boat launch, Ellen remarked, "Oh look, bladderworts. I thought that they'd long stopped blooming." And we passed on by. But something told me I wanted a closer look. So back we went. And look what we found when we peered directly down on them: Inflated Bladderwort (Utricularia inflata). I was so excited I nearly capsized our tandem canoe leaning in for a closer look. This is a species the USDA reports to be endangered in New York State.

Here's a closer look at the structures that give this plant its specific name. Those whorled stalks are filled with inflated sacs to help hold the floating flower clusters erect. Like little pontoons. The underwater parts of this unrooted plant consist of fine thready stems to which hundreds of tiny bladders are attached, bladders that suck in tiny organisms to feed this fascinating plant.

Update: I heard from NY State Chief Botanist Steve Young that Utricularia inflata has not only been removed from New York's endangered plant list, it is now considered a dangerously invasive plant in certain areas where it is crowding out other native species. That's the bad news. The good news is that the bladderwort in the photo above is more likely Utricularia radiata, or Small Inflated Bladderwort, since those radiating arms are only a little longer than an inch and branch out only at the ends. Another distinguishing feature is that the flower petal's lower lip has three distinct lobes. U. radiata is indeed a rare plant in New York, and as far as I can tell, has never been reported in Saratoga County. Until now.

So that was quite a find, for wildflower nuts like Ellen and me. It really crowned the day, which began pretty happily, too, when I drove Ellen over to Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton to show her the Fringed Gentians there. Every day now, more and more of these radiant blue flowers are opening, so they put on quite a show.

We also found there just one single plant of Slender Gerardia, a dainty pinky-purple flower that used to grow here in abundance, but which seems to have petered out in the last few years. I was mighty glad to find even one.

Another unusual plant we found there was this willow herb with very narrow leaves. It doesn't look quite like the Narrow-leaved Willow Herb pictured in the Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, but its leaves are much, much finer than those of the commonly found Northern Willow Herb. I've asked some wildflower experts for their opinion, so I hope to update this post with correct information, if I do receive it.


threecollie said...

Great post. There is no blue more intense than gentians...alas I never see them any more since we moved here.

Carolyn H said...

To me, the photo of the berries looks like elderberries, though it's not always easy to tell from a photo.

Carolyn H.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi threecollie, we hardly ever see them around here, either. I think Orra Phelps planted them on her property that is now a preserve. But my friend Sue just told me she found some growing wild along a bike trail near Glens Falls.

Thanks, Carolyn H, for your comment. I agree, these berries look very much like Elderberries from the photograph, which does not reveal the proportions accurately. But Elderberries are born in a flat, round cluster, while these are in a densely packed conical cluster, like grapes.

I searched the web about Spikenard and discovered that some people use the berries, which it is said taste quite a bit like Elderberries, medicinally. Apparently, the whole plant has been used medicinally for ages. The aromatic oil called nard, which is what the sinful woman of the Gospels used to bathe Jesus's feet, is derived from the roots of Spikenard.

Wayne said...

Another inspiring adventure, Jackie! I have to tell you that you got me out to check out the fringed gentians, too. Much better than last year! (I live close to the preserve, so it's one of my regular spots, but I often neglect it for too long.) Thanks!

Ellen Rathbone said...

You got a great shot of that gerardia after all!!!

And you got more info from Steve about our bladderwort than I did. I've added what you wrote to my blog, too.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Wayne, I'm glad to be your inspiration. You always come back with the most beautiful photos of flowers I've ever seen.

Ellen, I have to confess that the gerardia photo is one I took several years ago at the same location. Try as I might, my camera would not focus on those flowers yesterday, so I filched an old photo from my files. Regarding the bladderwort, I didn't get that much information from Steve, who only suggested I consider the Small Inflated Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) as a possibility. I hauled out my 3-volume Britton and Brown to compare U.inflata with U. radiata, and that's how I came to believe that this one is U radiata.

Unknown said...

Hi, did you ever find out about the willow herb? I have the same one in my garden and don't know how it got there but I love it. No one is sure what it really is.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Yes, andrea forshaw, an expert botanist confirmed my guess that this is Narrow-leaved Willow Herb (Epilobium leptyphyllum). I can't remember the exact criteria, but it had something to do with the ways the hairs grew on the stem.