Thursday, April 21, 2011
A New Woods, Grand Companions
Well, it sure wasn't the nicest day for a walk: cold and windy with even a little sleet! But it sure was the nicest bunch of folks to go walking with: the Thursday Naturalists, a group of nature enthusiasts whose combined knowledge would fill a large library, and who meet each week to explore natural areas throughout the capital district and beyond. Today they met at a state forest preserve off Usher's Road near Clifton Park, just a 15-minute drive from my house, so I was very happy to join them, especially since I had never visited this woods. This preserve has a well-maintained loop trail through its 110 acres of mixed hardwoods, huge pines, and several wet areas, and also provides a link to the multi-community mixed-use Zim Smith trail. Here, TN members Win, Ruth, and Peg study the trail map before setting forth.
I don't think I've ever heard anyone ask Ruth Schottman a botany question she couldn't answer, and yet she still brings a sense of wonder and enthusiasm to every phenomenon she encounters. Here she is explaining to us a strategy Red Maples use to protect themselves from invading organisms.
She pointed out some tell-tale arcing cracks in this maple's bark, which result from the tree attempting to isolate a fungus that has infected an area of the trunk.
The wonderful thing about joining such knowledgeable folks is that they always find something fascinating to examine in the woods, even a woods that ordinary folks might find lacking in points of interest. Especially this cold, long-delayed spring, with most of the wildflowers biding their time about opening their blossoms. We did find some nice fat buds, though, on this Red Trillium.
Lo and behold, we even found some flowers that were actually in bloom! The Marsh Marigolds will explode into gold in swampy spots throughout the county soon, but today, just one out of hundreds had opened its bright-yellow sepals.
This Tree Moss (Climacium) doesn't need flowers to be really showy, it's such a large fluffy moss of such a vivid green color.
And this Scarlet Cup fungus (Sarcoscypha austriaca) was such a knock-your-eye-out red, you'd think that we couldn't have missed it. But we did, until eagle-eyed Kay spotted it and called us all back to enjoy its beauty. One of the earliest of our spring fungi, it often escapes attention, despite its brilliant color, because it hides out under fallen leaves.
Just poking up from the fallen leaves were new tightly folded shoots of Mayapple, including a number of two-leaved fertile plants, with the baby flower-bud nestled between the leaves. Those big leaves will eventually surmount and overshadow the single flower enclosed in that bud, but just for now the bud pops up between the leaves like a baby bird peeking out from its nest.