Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Rare Plants on the Bogmat and Riverbank
As Calvin would say to Hobbes: The days are just packed! For a solid week now, beginning with our trip to Concord last Thursday, every single day has brought another wonderful nature adventure. Today was among the most wonderful of all: a paddling trip to a secret pond in search of the gorgeous rare orchid, Arethusa bulbosa, also called Dragon's Mouth. Evelyn Greene was my guide, and she has sworn me to secrecy about where we went, so maybe I shouldn't even publish this photo of the beautiful site. Except that it looks like so many other beautiful sites throughout the Adirondacks, so I doubt it could be identified just from this shot.
We hadn't gone far before this site's distinctive flora made its presence known. Everywhere we turned, bright spots of brilliant magenta glowed from the sedges and reeds.
Such a rare and beautiful flower deserves a closer look. In a week or so, when its blooms have faded, Arethusa will leave no trace of itself. Its leaves will come later, but they will look just like the grasses they're hiding among and so remain invisible.
Can you see the Arethusa here on this Sphagnum-covered bog mat? You will probably have to click on the photo to pick it out from among the Buckbean leaves and Pitcher Plant flowers. The mat was also spangled with tiny pink flowers of Small Cranberry.
Here's another flower I was pleased to find today, since I seem to miss it every year. This is Flat-leaved Bladderwort, an early bloomer among bladderworts.
Not all our finds were floral. Evelyn saw strings of jelly suspended in the water, which are probably the egg masses of a salamander. You can see the little creatures already developing, but they were still way too small to determine their species.
We also visited an active heronry, where three huge nests held three young herons each, all of them wuffling their cheeks to cool themselves in today's oppressive heat. We were feeling a little warm ourselves, since we had to haul our boats over two beaver dams to reach the heronry. Evelyn leads the way.
On my way home to Saratoga from the Arethusa pond, I stopped off at the Hudson Ice Meadows north of Warrensburg, to see if the Dwarf Sand Cherry, another very rare plant, was still blooming. This eight-mile stretch of grassland along the river is famous for the variety and numbers of rare plants that are able to tolerate the harsh conditions here, including massive build-ups of ice that are deposited here each winter. Today the meadows were lush and green, with spring-fed pools full to overflowing.
Those pools and springs provide a rich habitat for certain kinds of bacteria that consume the minerals in the surrounding rocks, producing these iridescent films that were covering the sand with rainbows. This may look like petroleum pollution, but it is not. If you stir these films, they will break into many pieces that do not flow immediately back together, as films from petroleum spills would do.
Yes! The Dwarf Sand Cherry was still in bloom. I'm glad I took the trouble to look for it today, since I am not likely to ever find it anywhere else in northern New York.
It actually turned out to be quite a bit of trouble to visit the Sand Cherry today. I had taken the road that runs along the west bank of the Hudson, expecting to continue on that road to Warrensburg and the Northway home. But the Memorial Day Weekend storm destroyed this road. Big time! I'm lucky the only inconvenience this wash-out caused me was to retrace my route to find another way to Warrensburg. I think it will be a long time before the road can be repaired.