Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Botanical Day in Three Acts

We were lucky the rain held off until mid-afternoon today, giving us time for three distinct botanical adventures. The first was a wildflower walk I led through the Skidmore Woods this morning, sponsored by the local Audubon chapter. I was a bit concerned that participants might be disappointed not to find such showy spring ephemerals as Bloodroot, Hepatica, and Trout Lily (now long gone), but I shouldn't have worried. There's always SOMEthing worth seeing in the woods, such as that lovely trillium pictured above, a Large-flowered White, which turns pink as it matures. With dozens and dozens still in bloom in one area, they put on quite a show.

A bit less showy but still very pretty, Perfoliate Bellwort was just starting to bloom today. Note how the stem appears to pierce the leaf, a feature this bellwort shares with the Large-flowered Bellwort, which we found today, too, although most of those we found were starting to fade.

Wood Betony is a flower that most of the flower walk's participants had never seen, and well worth an extra quarter-mile off our route to go find it. I know of only one other place in Saratoga County where I have seen it. I find the leaves of this plant even more attractive than its flowers. Wood Betony flowers can also be pink, but the two populations I know of are both yellow.

I was happy to be able to show our group several other plants that grow in the Skidmore Woods but probably nowhere else in the county, such as Goldenseal and Green Violet. The Green Violet was only in bud today, but even when it's in bloom, the flowers -- indeed,the whole plant -- look nothing like the typical violet. I will post photos of it when it does bloom. A far more common woodland plant blooming today was Red Baneberry. The puff of white flowers of this species of baneberry is more spherical than that of its closely related White Baneberry.

Since this morning's walk was arranged by the Audubon group, most of the participants were avid birders, armed with binoculars as well as wildflower guides. It was a great treat for me to have them put a name to the birdsongs filling the woods all around us. Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Tufted Titmouse, Wood Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo -- these and others were all birds I could not see with my eyes, but I sure could hear with my ears.

* * *
My friend Sue was one of the walk's participants, and after the rest of the group had left, she and I continued to explore the steep limestone faultline where lots of interesting ferns and mosses grow. There were also some lovely clumps of Columbine punctuating the rocks with their blazing red, which Sue is here attempting to photograph.

I was enchanted by the contrasting texture of the tender green ferns (Bulblet Ferns here, I believe) with their soft lacy foliage arrayed against the craggy dark boulders.

Herb Robert likes these limestone boulders, too, which it shares with many different ferns and mosses. This plant will have pretty little bright pink flowers when it blooms, but even now its bright pink stems and lacy green leaves are beautiful in their own right.

I love the delicate curving fronds of the little Maidenhair Spleenworts, how they curl up snug against the nooks and crannies of the rock.

* * *

Had we had enough birding and botanizing, Sue and I? Nope, not yet. After pausing for lunch, we next headed to Bog Meadow Nature Trail just outside of town to explore a section of the trail Sue had never been on. We accessed the trail from the Meadowbrook Road entrance, and although we found the first part of the trail very muddy, we were compensated by masses of pale-purple Dog Violets carpeting the edges of the trail.

Another plant to be found there in great abundance was Tussock Sedge, which today was fully in bloom, its caramel-colored flowerheads nicely contrasted against the vivid green of its grassy leaves.

I was intrigued by these rigid stalks of Horsetail Reeds growing in the wet ditches along the trail. I'm not sure, but these may be Water Horsetail, a third kind of horsetail I've found at Bog Meadow (after Field Horsetail and Woodland Horsetail). Those cute little nubbins encircling the stalks will grow out to be well over a foot long as the summer comes on.

Here's a closer view of those nubbins, also showing the beautiful structure of the jointed stalk. As a kid I used to love to pull these stalks apart like pop beads, then pop them back together -- no doubt seriously damaging the plant in the process. So I don't do that any more. Although sometimes I'm tempted. Oh what the heck? There're hundreds of them here.

Compared to me, Sue has amazing eyesight. She could see a Yellow Warbler hiding out in a patch of Phragmites and flying up now and then to snatch a fly from the air. I would never have seen this pretty bird had she not pointed it out to me. I also would have missed seeing this large handsome sedge growing among the tall grasses if Sue hadn't seen it first. It's quite a distinctive sedge, at least three feet tall, with what look like multiple flower heads, both staminate and pistillate. The staminate ones, with their wild blond hair-dos, are on top.

The pistillate flowers, lower down on the stalk, looked to me like fuzzy white caterpillars.

This was surely a new sedge for me. How could I have missed seeing it before? For a graminoid, it's very large and showy. I would have taken more and better photos of it, but it started to rain in earnest, so Sue and I packed up our cameras and headed home. Such a busy, botany-filled day. Now it was time for a nap.

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