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.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Up the Mountain, Along the Creek

Yesterday, my friend Sue showed me Grass of Parnassus, a flower I had never seen. Today it was my turn to show Sue some flowers that she had never seen. Our first excursion was up a mountainous trail in Moreau Lake State Park. Our goal was a high rocky ridge overlooking the Hudson River far below, but we had to stop at an open meadow about halfway up to admire the beautiful Nodding Ladies' Tresses that were growing abundantly there. I've never seen so many growing in one spot. I counted 70 of these dainty white orchids in bloom today, and I'm sure there are many more.

Along the trail heading up, we came across a group of Common Mullein that caused us to stop in our tracks. Why on earth would we stop for a second look at such a common roadside weed? Well, these mullein flowers were colored white, a most unusual color for a flower that usually is yellow. I know that the related Moth Mullein comes with both yellow and white flowers, but I had never seen a Common Mullein colored white.

We also stopped at a rocky outcropping where I'd found a delightful tiny pink lichen last June. Called Pink Earth Lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces), it looked exactly the same as it had in June, which is one of the wonderful things about lichens. You can look for them at any season, and they will look much the same. For comparison, you can check my photo of these lichens on my blogpost for June 21.

What a splendid day it was for a walk in the woods, not too warm, with the sun casting dappled shadows through the still-green trees. We especially loved it when the path leveled off, so we got a little easy walking after a couple of steep climbs.

Once we reached the overlook, we stopped to gaze out over the river below and mountains beyond. And to rest our feet.

Descending to our cars, we next headed off to Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton, where I hoped to show Sue the beautiful Fringed Gentians that were just budding out two days ago. And wonder of wonders, they were in full glorious bloom today. Sue was so thrilled by their beauty, I felt as if I had given her a chest full of jewels, not simply showed her a field of sapphire flowers.

But Sue's delight didn't stop there. She was equally thrilled to discover the beautiful sun-dappled rushing creeks that run through the Orra Phelps Preserve. One of the creeks was floored with flat expanses of shale, allowing us to walk right out in the streambed and cross easily from one side to the other.

A radiant cluster of Great Lobelia had found a happy home along the creek.

The two of us spent a long time just poking about in the creek, scaring up frogs and watching the shimmering ripples and burbling eddies around the rocks. How happy I am to have such a friend who delights in messing about in the woods like this! We both felt as if we had been transported back to our backyard-wilderness-exploring childhoods, when muddy knees and mosquito bites were a small price to pay for all the fun we were having.

Here's one of the frogs we scared up. Actually, he didn't seem very scared at all, but sat on this rock for the longest time while we both took many pictures. Sue says that this is a Green Frog.

We found lots of other neat stuff, as well, including several Indian Cucumber Roots that still had their berries on them.

We walked on a path that was littered with Wild Black Cherries, including this one that had fallen so prettily on a fern. I've never seen such a fruit-fall before, since birds usually strip the trees before the fruit is so ripe. These cherries were so ripe that their sweetness overwhelmed their bitter edge. (Yes, I tasted one.)

We also tasted the sweet-tart fruit of Red Currants, which, lit by the sun, were shining like rubies where they dangled on their canes.

We didn't taste this tiny orange mushroom, though. I never eat a mushroom I don't know the name of. It wouldn't be much of a mouthful, anyway.

Then there were these black knobby things, resting on moss and mud in a seepy area near a stream. I would never have guessed what they were, except that we found them where I know that hundreds of Skunk Cabbage plants fill this area earlier in the year. These must be what's left of the fruits.

As I said, lots of neat stuff.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Searching for Grass of Parnassus

A new stretch of the Hudson for me to explore, just upstream from Glens Falls.

What a spectacular day for a paddle on the Hudson! Especially since it led to finding a wonderful new flower. My friend Sue told me that she had found Grass of Parnassus growing along the Hudson last year, and would I like to come paddling with her today to try to find it again? Oh boy, would I! That's a flower I'd never laid eyes on, and neither have many other folks, either, since this is a flower that's rare in many northeastern states and is also listed as "exploitably vulnerable" in New York State.

Here's Sue in her kayak preparing to lead the way past the swimming beach along the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls.

And here's Sue again, taking a photo of this lovely and unusual flower, which likes damp ground and limey soil. In all this stretch along the river we found a total of just three plants.

Here's the best shot I could get of the flowers. I could capture the pale green stripes in the blooms only when I shut the exposure way, way down, so this photo is really dark.

Here's a closer view, the better to see that ring of bright yellow dots around the center.

I can't quite figure out the sexual anatomy here. If -- and that's a big if -- those yellow dots are the anthers and the green shiny ball is the pistil, what are those brown blobs on the long white stalks? Or are the brown blobs the anthers and the yellow dots the ends of nectary tubes? Since this flower (Latin name Parnassia glauca) is the only member of its family, I don't know of any other similar flower to compare it to. It was once thought to belong to the Saxifrage Family, but recent taxonomic investigations have reassigned it to its very own family, the Parnassiaceae.

The riverbanks offered other points of beauty today, such as these Glossy Buckthorn berries surrounded by bright red Winterberry. I was glad to see the native Winterberry holding its own against the invasion of the alien buckthorn shrubs.

The Winterberry looked spectacular against the blue, blue sky.

We observed many underwater plants, too, including Wild Celery and these bushy Coontails waving in the current.

Sue's a great lover of turtles, so she had to stop often to photograph the many Painted Turtles that were enjoying the sunshine today.

I took some turtle pictures, too. I especially love the green shimmery water all around the log these two are resting on.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Signs of the Season's Close

The crisp, cool, cricket-chorus nights. The sun setting soon after supper. That sighing sound in the trees that means the leaves are completing their cycle. So many signs now are telling us that summer's about to end. The goldenrods are going strong, and the asters have made a good start. Witch Hazel may yet hold off for a while, but I'll bet the gentians and gerardias are already starting to bloom. Maybe I'll even find some Spiranthes, I told myself as I headed up to Moreau Lake State Park for a walk along the shore. The beach that edges the lake's back bay is truly a garden for most of the flowers that fill the last page of my annual wildflower journal.

First, though, I had to make a stop at the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, the only place I know of in Saratoga County where Fringed Gentians grow. A year ago, I had feared that this population was starting to diminish, as pines and poplars began to encroach on the sunny sandy site where these radiant blue flowers had flourished in the past. The folks at Saratoga PLAN organized a work day to remove those trees, and I'm happy to report that the gentians are once again burgeoning. I counted only six plants last year, and today I found nearly two dozen. Most are still in tight bud, but a few are starting to unfurl the petals that give this gentian its name.

Another gentian that's blooming now is Closed (or Bottle) Gentian, whose never-opening flowers yield their nectar to only the strongest of bees. Today, I found a patch of them growing along the shore of Moreau Lake.

Small-flowered Gerardia also seems to love the shore of that lake. This dainty magenta flower thrives in the sandy area just above the waterline, but only along the back bay of the lake. As soon as I leave the swimming area and cross over the path that leads to the bridge, I begin to find this gerardia just everywhere.

Here's a closer look at its pretty blooms.

I wasn't really expecting to find these Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) along the shore, but there they were! These little orchids love damp sandy spots in the sun, so the beach provides them a perfect habitat. But this is the first year I've found them in this place. A nice surprise.

I always expect to see asters here. And I'm never disappointed. I am disappointed in myself, though, since I can't figure out just exactly which species these are. They don't quite fit the description of Calico Aster or Small White Aster or Heath Aster, but share some characteristics of each. Maybe they are a hybrid. For sure, they're very pretty.

Here's one more piece of evidence that autumn is closing in.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pyramid Lake and Oliver Pond

Well, it wasn't the best day for a paddle: cool and cloudy and then a misty rain. But I sure had the best of companions. And some wonderful places to paddle. Plus, I saw a new flower to add to my life list. My friend Ed and his fellow botany-enthusiast friend Nan met me today at Pyramid Lake, a wilderness lake in Essex County that Ed last laid eyes on 50 years ago. Back than, he'd had to hike in from some distance, but today we could drive right up and put our canoes in the water, since I am a volunteer at the retreat center that occupies the northern shore of the lake.

Although we eventually paddled completely around the lake, we spent most of our time moseying along in the marshy eastern end. Here, long-ago-fallen logs serve as nursery beds for a fascinating variety of flowers, and the warm shallow water provides a home for numerous emergent plants, including a rare bur-reed (Sparganium natans) that's included on New York's list of endangered species. There actually wasn't much in bloom today, but the water was just teeming with masses of Nostoc balls, little jelly-like balls that enclose whole colonies of cyanobacteria.

I first learned about these Nostoc balls last year, when my friend Ellen noticed them while we were paddling this same marsh at Pyramid Lake. I eventually took samples to a biology professor at Skidmore College, who let me examine them under a microscope. To see what I saw and learn what the professor told me, go to my blog post for September 23, 2009 by clicking here.

The rain held off while we circled the lake, paddling close under massive cliffs where heaps of boulders have tumbled down to the shore.

We were treated to the sight of a Bald Eagle soaring just over our heads and landing in a tall pine tree. (It was hard to capture much more than a silhouette of the eagle against the sky.)

After a picnic lunch we headed next to Oliver Pond, which lies up in the mountains a dozen or so miles east of Schroon Lake. Ed and Nan knew of an unusual bladderwort that grows there, and I had begged them to show it to me. Here, Ed and Nan head out across the pond while I figure out how to climb into my canoe from a very mucky shore.

As soon as we started across the pond, a pair of loons started sounding their loud yodeling calls. Although I didn't see any young loons, they may have been trying to warn us away from their offspring. (If you click on this photo, you can see a fine rain has started filling the air.)

It didn't take us long to find that bladderwort, snowy white with a yellow throat.

What's really interesting about this plant is that it is actually a Purple Bladderwort. A white Purple Bladderwort. Utricularia purpurea var. alba. I'm just guessing that that's what its Latin name is, because when I type it into my Google search bar, nothing of that name comes up. But that's what Ed was calling it. And Ed would know.

That bladderwort may be unusual, but I can't believe it is rare, since the entire pond was circled with thick mats of its underwater structures. There was the Purple Bladderwort (White variety) and Fragrant Water Lily and another floating water plant I believe is Watershield. And just about nothing else. Those three plants completely dominated the water's edge, making it difficult to push through the growth and actually reach the shore. Here's a photo of that Watershield, with its ropy stems colored a vivid pink.

After circling the pond and heading back to the put-in spot, I was startled to see this solitary dot of bright yellow: a single stalk of Horned Bladderwort.

Then another dot of bright yellow close by: a single bloom of Humped Bladderwort, very tiny. I wondered how these two yellow species of bladderwort had managed to escape being shouldered aside by that dominant purpurea species.

Update: I got a note from Ed reminding me that these two yellow bladderworts are both rooted, rather than floating, species, and so would not compete with the Purple Bladderwort, a floating species, for the same habitat.

And right where I pulled my canoe from the water, this Water Smartweed seemed to be thriving, adding another welcome note of diversity to the flora of Oliver Pond.

Ed and Nan had to hurry directly home, but I, rather than catching the interstate south, chose a wandering route toward Saratoga along Troutbrook Road. I assume the beautiful stream pictured here must be Trout Brook. I pulled off the road and got out of the car just to stand and admire this view of mountains and water and spruces and shrubs and wildflowers. This landscape just epitomizes all that is lovely about the Adirondacks. Even when it rains.

Along the shore of Trout Brook, bright clumps of Orange Hawkweed were still in flower.

Now that's a bloom that will brighten the darkest day!