Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Three-Orchid Afternoon

With a house-full of company coming this weekend, I really should have stayed home today to clean my house. But the Ice Meadow orchids were calling to me. If I didn't go visit them now, I might not see them again for another year. So off I went to this remarkable stretch of the Hudson River north of Warrensburg, where deep ice build-up each winter creates a distinctive habitat that certain orchids just love. Lots of other rare plants do, too.

I started my quest on the east bank of the river, at a place where marble outcroppings create a dramatic shoreline. This brilliantly colored Butterfly Milkweed added its own touch of drama to the scene on this rather dark day.

It didn't take long to find my first orchid. This healthy patch of multiple stalks of Tubercled Orchis was right where I found it last year. Only, last year I found but one stalk. I wonder if this spring's flooding inspired the plant to increase its footprint. Some orchids respond to stress by abundant growth.

I know, I know, it's not a very showy orchid. But if you look close at individual flowers, you'll see that distinctive orchid resemblance.

Here's the second orchid, Wide-leaved Ladies' Tresses, and it's some kind of miracle that I actually saw it. Last year I found many plants of this early bloomer with the yellow lower lip, but this year I found just this one, and a runt, at that. Perhaps its response to this spring's flooding was to pack it in for the year. Some orchids respond to stress by sulking, instead of burgeoning. Orchids are like that, kind of temperamental.

When I first saw this giant Zinnia sticking out of a rock, I thought some jokester was having a laugh on all us plant people who haunt the Ice Meadows by planting a fake flower to fool us. But no, it really was real! How the heck did that flower get there?

Here's a plant that's as unshowy as that Dahlia was spectacular, and yet it's one of those rarities that keep botanists coming back to this site. This is Whip Nutrush (Scleria triglomerata), a species listed as "threatened" in New York and many surrounding states, but which abounds among these marble rocks. When they ripen, those tiny green balls will be as white as pearls. One of them is, already.

Harebells are certainly not rare plants, but they sure are beautiful -- and generous with their blooming. Everywhere my eyes happened to rest, I detected their radiant blue.

Same thing with the roses. Gorgeous and abundant! And when I look at this photo, I can almost smell the way they perfumed the air.

Still seeking the third orchid I expected to be in bloom, I decided to venture across the river to the west bank, where I knew they would likely be growing abundantly. On my way back to the parking lot, I took a short cut through the pine woods and was delighted to come upon this patch of One-flowered Pyrola hiding out well away from the path.

Looked at from above, they're pretty enough, like little stars scattered across the forest floor. But to really appreciate the intricate structure of their flowers, you have to get down -- way down -- and look up.

To get to the west bank of the river, I continued north to The Glen and crossed a bridge to follow the river road down the other side. At a site marked as a nature preserve, I walked through the woods and down to the river, climbing out on rocks near an area flooded by springs.

My third orchid, Rose Pogonia, certainly did not disappoint! Just look at them all! Such a vivid pink and growing as profusely as Dandelions.

Now this is an orchid that really LOOKS like an orchid!

As beautiful as they are, Rose Pogonias are not considered rare, although they are protected by state law, as all orchids are. You could understand how folks might be tempted to dig them up to plant in their gardens. Not many folks, though, would be tempted to poach Sticky Tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa), a really rare plant that grows quite happily on the Ice Meadows. For one thing, they're easy to overlook, being very small and not at all what one would call showy. Looked at with my macro lens, though, I can see that they are kind of pretty. I can also make out the sticky glandular stem hairs that give this plant its common name.

Here's another tiny flower, Creeping Spearwort, a little buttercup that usually spangles the sand along the river here. But today, despite a diligent search, I found just this one single bloom. How I happened to find it, I'll never know. Maybe it knew how much I love it and called out "Here I am!"

This Swamp Milkweed doesn't have to send out subliminal signals to be seen, that's for sure!

I could have used a little guidance, though, to locate Buxbaum's Sedge, another one of those really rare plants that botanists crave to find. But I couldn't find it today. I know it grows here, I've found it before, and I have this photo to prove it. This photo was taken in late May a year ago. It's a nice big sedge, with a lovely lime-green head. It should have been easy to see. Darn!

This sedge sure stood out. But I don't know its name. Some day, after I've learned to identify all the wildflowers and ferns and mosses and lichens and liverworts and trees, I am going to learn some more sedges. One thing I do know, is that these Ice Meadows are a sedge nerd's idea of heaven. Lots and lots of different ones, and some of them are rare.

Update: A very knowledgeable reader, A.L Gibson, has suggested that this is Yellow Sedge (Carex flava), rare in his home state of Ohio but abundant in New York. Thanks, A.L.

Well, well, look what else I found out here! I've had Wood Lilies on my mind for days, and it was really sweet to see this one growing in such a splendid setting.


Anonymous said...

Lovely! Much better than housework! ;-)

Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Another excellent post! Loved seeing some plants I've yet to get the chance to see. I think a visit up to your neck of the woods is in my future sometime!

I'm no Carex expert but I believe your sedge to be Carex flava, the Yellow Sedge. It's state listed and rare in Ohio but looking at the NY distribution I'd say it's quite common. It's a sedge of wet, calcareous situations such as fens and wet prairies back in Ohio.

Louise said...

I think you made a good decision to leave the housework behind. I really enjoyed seeing the orchids, but I must say that I got the most enjoyment out of the swamp milkweed. That's on my "someday" list, for sure. Thanks, once again, for taking us along and teaching us all more about the what we so often overlook.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, friends, for your kind comments. I'm glad to know other folks have their priorities straight about housework vs. hiking.

Thanks, A.L., for the Carex ID. And if you do come north some day, I hope we can meet for some adventures. I could show you some really interesting spots.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Ah...memories! Seems like years since I've seen the ice meadows, but it's not even quite been a full year yet. Good to see some old friends there.

Sticky tofieldia was spotted here in our fen this week - a new plant for the folks here (as well as blue-jointed grass), so I was happy to be able to help ID it to staff.