Thursday, May 26, 2011
Hiking to Wildflower Heaven
For wildflower lovers, there are certain places on this planet that deserve a big star on the map. It was one of those very special places that Ed and Nan took the Thursday Naturalists to visit today: an old marble quarry high on a mountainside near Dorset, Vermont. Ed and Nan have been hiking this mountain for ten years or more, and so they knew what was in store for the rest of us on this splendid spring day. Aside from the spectacular view.
Lucky for those of us getting on in years, we were able to drive most of the way up the mountain, so our hike was probably less than a mile to reach the abandoned quarry. Our trail passed through a beautiful sunlit woods . . .
. . . and around some impressive cliffs.
The woods and cliffs were adorned with many species of lime-loving ferns, including this pretty clump of Slender Cliff Brake that had found a home in a seam of the rock. The short chubby fronds are sterile, and the long slender ones are the fertile fronds.
Canada Violets are a sure sign of a woods rich with lime, and the plants here had grown to a very healthy size.
Miterwort joined with those violets to grace the rocks with their beauty.
Showy Orchis was very happy here, too. These plants were growing high on a bank, so that we could see right into their beautiful throats.
Nan found this healthy clump of Yellow Lady's Slippers, the first of many we would see in the woods today.
The most abundant lady's slippers we found were these Smaller Yellow Lady's Slippers, which carpeted an area of the woods with their dainty blooms capped with dark purple petals. In one place, they were so thick on the ground, we had to walk very carefully to avoid trampling them.
Well, those lady's slippers were kind of small, but they sure were large in comparison with this really minute little orchid, Early Coral Root. I do not know how Nan ever managed to see it, especially since its green flowers blend in with the rest of the greenery.
We have almost reached our destination now, as we make our way around the walls of the long-abandoned quarry, being careful where we put our feet among the jumble of fallen rocks.
Just breathtaking! The quarry walls were corrugated by the drills used to break up the marble, and the tiers and striations are occupied now by a rich array of mosses and ferns. We felt like we were sitting in some ancient temple, with the flutes and trills of a Winter Wren echoing off the stone walls.
Click on this photo to see the bright red accents of Columbine growing out of the rock.
Near the edge of the quarry we found the dainty pink flowers of Rosybells (also called Rose Twisted Stalk or Rose Mandarin).
Here's more of that Columbine, glowing like little Japanese lanterns against the rich green moss.
We met some other botanists on the trail, who were very excited to have found these baby Moonworts of a very rare species, growing in an open area near the top of the mountain. They had marked the location with little flags, so we were able to find them when we arrived at the spot -- and avoid trampling them unknowing. This was one of the larger ones; some were barely in inch above the ground. How on earth did they find them? That's plant people for you: passionately single-sighted in pursuit of the rare. And these Moonworts are really rare: the botanists told us that is the only known site for them in the eastern United States.
A wonderful day to a wonderful place with wonderful folks, including Ruth Schottman, seen standing here looking over the landscape below.