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.


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Arethusa bulbosa...ah, my heart skipped a beat seeing those pictures! I'll be heading up to the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario next week and that species is HIGH on my list to see. I have a good shot at seeing over 20 species of orchids in bloom during my week up there. Fingers crossed I come across Arethusa and more! Wonderful post, yours are always the highlight of the daily postings

Anonymous said...

Exquisite! Most interesting about the rock digesting bacteria - nature is amazing ... including what it did to that stretch of roadway!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

You should have heard MY heart, A.L., when I saw my first Arethusa in the bog! Hope you find yours in Ontario. Thanks for your kind comment.

Thanks, hikeagiant. I was SO relieved when I first learned about bacteria rainbows. I kept thinking there were gas spills everywhere.

Raining Iguanas said...

You truly do a beautiful job with your site.

Wayne said...

Another wonderful trip. You are having a great summer. Excellent photos, as always. I wonder if the Arethusa in your close-up is typical of the specimens you found. I just returned from a paddling/camping trip where I photographed Arethusa, but the ones I saw had less yellow in the "tongue," which also appeared much more hairy. I have seen photos of the species in both forms, so I was wodering if they are geographic varients, or just differences in individual plants. I'll send you some of the photos.

Ellen Rathbone said...

I wonder if that's the same bladderwort I found Sunday on my paddle. I'm guessing it is (my copy of Newcomb's is currently MIA).

And I'm wondering if this is the same arethusa site Evelyn took me to four years ago. Again, I'm guessing yes.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thank you, Raining Iguanas. You do a very nice blog, yourself, which my readers can easily visit by clicking on your name.

Thanks, Wayne. How lucky for you to find those Arethusas, a truly rare plant. My readers can see lots of your beautiful photos by clicking on your name.

Ellen, your bladderwort could be this Flat-leaed Bladderwort or the other one blooming now, Common Bladderwort. A distinguishing feature of the one I photographed is that it bears its bladders on a stem separate from the stem that bears its leaves. Regarding the Arethusa site, aren't we lucky to have friends who will share such wonders with us?