Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Back Bay Ramble

Dark, windy, and hot, with intermittent brief showers: It seemed almost tropical today, especially when I was pushing my sweaty way through towering stands of phragmites along the back bay of Moreau Lake. It felt like walking through sugar cane in the Caribbean. Peering up through the feathery phragmites heads, I could see swirling crowds of geese sailing in to join the honking throngs afloat on the water. Despite this heat, the geese sure know it's autumn and are gathering in migratory flocks.

Phragmites is a horribly invasive plant, crowding out our native cattails and other shoreline plants. But one of our native plants is happy to make use of its canes to climb on, and that's Groundnut (Apios americana). There was lots of it growing among the phragmites today. I'd read that this plant produces edible tubers along its roots, and today I lifted a few roots from the muddy ground to see what they look like. Sure enough, there they were: brown lumps the size of pecans strung along thready roots.

These tubers, which are said to be highly nutritious and taste like potatoes, were once considered a staple food for many native peoples, who apparently can eat them with impunity. People of European descent, however, sometimes experience allergic reactions to them. Which is not surprising, since they are related to peanuts, also an allergen for certain people. I'm not allergic to peanuts, so I'm thinking I might try them, if I can find a source that is not on state park land. (All plants are protected from foragers here in the park.) While searching the web for methods of preparation, I found an interesting article from Orion Magazine that contains lots of fascinating information about this native foodstuff. You can read it by clicking here.

Speaking of native foodstuffs, the acorn crop is amazingly abundant this year. Every path is pebbled with them, so a walk feels like having shiatsu massage to the soles of your feet.

The acorns in this photo are not the kind you would want to eat, however, since they are Red Oak acorns and bitter with tannins. The White Oak acorns are sweeter and don't require boiling in several changes of water to make them fit to eat. By humans, that is. I'm sure the deer and blue jays and bears and squirrels are having a feast this fall.

As this photo shows, somebody's been eating these acorns.

The sky grew darker and darker as I continued around the lake, and raindrops dimpled the water from time to time, although for only a moment each time, so I didn't really get wet. One of the great pleasures of walking in autumn is that the trees brighten the landscape even when the day is dark. In fact, I think the colors glow more richly under a cloudy sky, without the highlights and shadows to interfere.


Louise said...

Do you ever get discouraged at the number of invasive species there seem to be? I have seen these Phragmites, but hadn't known what they were. There are some growing in a ditch right down the road from me. I thought they were a beautiful plant, not realizing how deadly to native species they are.

Of course, I seem to live in an area that has many more invasives than yours, so, maybe, that's why, as I learn more, I get more distressed.

Carolyn H said...

Ah, your fall colors are coming along. I had a lot of drought-caused yellow leaves here until Tuesday. They came down in a storm and now it's pretty green here on Roundtop again.

Carolyn H.

Steve Young said...

The groundnut also lent its name to all those places on Long Island starting with Sag like Sag Harbor. The local Native Americans called them sagabon and they were a staple in their diet.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Woodswalker,
Thanks for the walk! I love the emerging colours of fall, so stunning. We don't get that visually here in NZ in autumn, and I miss Wisconsin this time of year even after 18 years.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Louise, thanks for your comment. Yes, Phragmites are pretty, but really,really hard to get rid of once they get established. We do have plenty of invasives here in Saratoga County, especially in the agricultural and suburban areas where the soil gets disturbed, but there are also lots of deep forests and mountainous areas where invasives have difficulty finding a foothold. One way to balance the invasives threat is to plant lots of native species around your own property.

Hi Carolyn, good to hear from you. I thought our autumn was going to be dull, but just now things are starting to color up beautifully. I hope today's rain and wind don't bring all the leaves down. But there's still lots of green here, too.

Hi Steve, thanks for that information about groundnut. Interesting! Another native name for the plant is hopniss, according to that Orion article I cited.

Kia ora back to you, Ruahines. (Is that a Maori greeting?) Thanks for coming along on my walks, Robb. Glad to have you along. I've heard that no other place in the world has glorious autumns like those of northeastern US, but you have some mighty amazing landscapes there in New Zealand, too.

Adirondackcountrygal said...

Very nice article, I am going to get out there and get a bag of acorns before winter hits to help my birds and squirrels out with this winter!