Thursday, September 9, 2010

Out With the Big Kids

Ed Miller (red checks) led a group of knowledgeable naturalists on a visit to Woodlawn Preserve today.

Boy, do I feel privileged! Today I got invited to come out and play with the big kids. My friend Ed Miller introduced me to his fellow Thursday Naturalists, a group of both professional and passionately knowledgeable amateur botanists who've been meeting most Thursdays for decades now, exploring the natural environment near and far. Today they'd arranged to explore the Woodlawn Preserve, a pine barrens preserve in Schenectady that's home to many rare and otherwise fascinating plants. And I got to come along. And I not only got to see some plants that I'd never seen before, I also got to make some great new friends, who welcomed me with gracious and friendly enthusiasm. That's how plant-people are.

The first plant I'd never seen before was this Tall Boneset (Eupatorium altissimum), which we came upon as soon as we entered the preserve. What's so special about this Boneset? Well, see how the leaves taper to meet the stem, rather then spreading and joining with the opposite leaf to create one perforated leaf? That's the most important feature that sets this Boneset apart from the common ones that are blooming now along every roadside and meadow.

When I checked the USDA website for information about this plant, I learned that it's found in only four counties in New York State. But Schenectady County was not one of them. Guess somebody should tell the USDA. Ed?

My second new plant-find today was Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia), a plant that in summer has four-petaled yellow flowers that have long fallen off by this time of year. Luckily the sepals remain and turn a lovely red, looking for all the world like four-petaled red flowers hiding among the tall grass.

Take a good look at the center of those red "flowers" and you can easily see how this plant got its common name. Is there any other flower that has seed pods so perfectly squared off? Eventually, those pods will be "cubed off," as they grow from this almost spherical shape into a box-shaped cube.

Another plant that the Woodlawn Preserve is famous for is Fringed Gentian, which grows here in absolutely prodigious numbers. Regular readers of my blog will know that I've found this radiant blue flower in other locations this year, but never have I seen it grow so prolifically. There must have been a thousand! Maybe more.

Outnumbering even those gentians, though, was Slender Gerardia, which grew just everywherein the Woodlawn Preserve's sandy soil. In most places the leaves of this plant had turned red, but a few still held their fine green leaves.

And in all those thousands of purple gerardias, we found one tiny blossom that was pure white.

This seems to be my summer of finding white variants of otherwise colored flowers. I've found white flowers on Common Mullein and Purple Bladderwort, a friend has reported finding a white Heal-all, and now this white Slender Gerardia. Interesting.

One of the great advantages of exploring with folks like Ed and his friends is that it's like having a vast library of knowledge along. Any question arises, and somebody knows the answer. Or knows how to find it fast. Today Ed gave us all a handy "crib sheet" for telling one goldenrod from another, a daunting task for even experienced botanists. In this photo I'm checking off the features of the tall goldenrod in the background, while examining its leaf. It didn't take long to ascertain that this is Rough-stemmed Goldenrod, thanks to Ed's handy guide.

Not all of our nature sightings today were botanical. This pair of shore birds seemed to be enjoying the sandy shore of a shallow pond. None of us could figure out what they were. I thought they might be Spotted Sandpipers in winter plumage, since that's the most common shore bird we have around here, and in autumn the spots disappear from their breasts. But they weren't constantly dipping their tails in the way Spotted Sandpipers do. Ah well. Fall birds can present quite a puzzle. Even for Thursday Naturalists.


catharus said...

Lucky you! That's a wonderful opportunity!!

threecollie said...

Great post!

Louise said...

Just spent some lovely time catching up on your latest posts. I always learn so much from you, about things to look for during my own walks. Thank you for all of your, totally unintended, help.

Ellen Rathbone said...

I hope that when I retire I can find a group of Thursday Naturalists to tag along with, too!

Could you make me a copy of that goldenrod guide?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

catharus, threecollie, Louise, and Ellen: Thanks for your generous comments. You would have loved this bunch of folks, funny and smart and just jam-packed with botanical knowledge.

Bird said...

How fantastic - I would love to find some knowledgeable botanists to tag along with. The best way to learn is with others! The wild flowers and your photos and descriptions of them are, as ever, fascinating.