Saturday, June 25, 2011

To Ithaca We Came

Let me tell you, if you had to be locked in a small room for a long time with four other people, those folks in the photo above are the ones you'd want to be stuck with. That's (l-r) Ruth and Frank and Nan and Ed, four of the nicest people in the world, still smiling contentedly after five long days together, including nearly five-hour drives to and from our destination in Ithaca, New York, with Ed gallantly taking the center of the back seat between Ruth and me. Nan did all the driving, while Frank was the navigator and map decipherer (although he may not want me to tell about that). We were off to an American Botanical Society field meeting to explore many different habitats in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York. This was maybe the 30th or 40th "botsoc" meeting for the rest of this group, but it marked a marvelous first experience for me, thanks to my friends' invitation to join them -- and their delightful companionship.

We arrived in Ithaca early enough on Sunday afternoon (June 19) to meet Ruth's charming granddaughter Morgan, a student at Cornell University, who showed us around Beebe Lake at the heart of the beautiful Cornell campus. Here's Morgan examining the first of the flowers we found along the lakeshore, a Flowering Rush.

Here's a closer look at that Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus), a beautiful plant and a new flower for me, since it's not a common plant in Saratoga County, although it is considered invasive in several surrounding states and Canada.

Here was another new flower for me, growing around the lake. This is Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), a big, rather coarse plant with leaves that join around the stem to form a cup. Native to more western states (and now a threatened species in Michigan), Cup Plant has become invasive in some of the New England states to which it was introduced. It surely seemed at home around Beebe Lake.

After dining with Morgen at a very pleasant Greek restaurant near Cornell, we next headed uphill to the other side of Ithaca, where we moved into our rather Spartan dorm rooms on the campus of Ithaca College for the duration of the field meeting. It was early to bed in order to rise for breakfast at 7, then off on a bus at 8am for the first of our adventures, a trip to Lime Hollow Nature Preserve to explore rich woods, limey ponds, and an acidic bog. It was here in the rich (meaning limey) woods that I found my third new plant of our trip, the Broad-leaved Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense). At first glance, I thought it was Goldenseal, until I saw that cluster of bright-white, long-stamened flowers hiding beneath.

Over the course of the meeting's three full days, we explored so many bogs and marshes and other damp spots that my two pairs of water shoes never did dry out. I had to place them outside my room each night to prevent their oozy reek from gagging me as I slept. But was it worth it? Well, it sure was to me! Just look at this gorgeous Large Purple-fringed Orchis, blooming away in the darkest dampest spot in the woods, lit up like a beacon by a stray ray of sunlight. My fourth new flower of the trip. I do find the Small Purple-fringed Orchis along my home stretch of the Hudson, but never this larger one. (My fifth new flower was the Northern Jack-in-the-Pulpit, which looks pretty much like the regular one, except that it blooms much later. Sorry, no photo.)

Now, I would have been able to chart a whole bunch of new plants if I'd noted all the sedges this very knowledgeable fellow, David Werier, introduced to us on our wanderings. But I must confess that I'm saving the sedges and other grass-like plants until I have mastered the wildflowers, woody plants, mosses, lichens, ferns, and liverworts. So it will be a while before I pay really close attention, but I did manage to listen politely and notice a few details. I now know enough to hope that sedges CAN be distinguished one from the other. Occasionally.

David Werier was also our helpful and instructive guide up a trail that led to an overlook of Taughannock Falls, with many beautiful views of cliffs and creek along the way. It wasn't that long a climb, but it took us quite a while, botanizing as we went. (We just can't help ourselves!)

That climb had quite a payoff!

Thursday morning arrived too soon, and we had to pack up and turn in our dorm-room keys. But before we left Ithaca for home, we stopped to explore the Cornell Plantation, an amazing and hugely extensive area containing collections of native and exotic plants, including many trees, which are Ed's particular passion. Ed is curator of a collection of woody plants (trees, shrubs, and vines) at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, N.Y., and he was really hoping he might find a native Cork Elm here at Cornell, but all he could find were exotics. To his great chagrin. I felt sorry for Ed, but nevertheless couldn't help but be pleased to find Tulip Trees here in bloom -- and with blossoms close enough to the ground for easy viewing. We have one (!) Tulip Tree that I know of in Saratoga Springs, but it towers way above the White Pine and Norway Spruce that surround it, so I never see its flowers. And they sure are something to see!

I'm sure all those super-knowledgeable botanists would scoff at me, but I do love the tiny alien weeds that spangle the grass. While others were scouring the area for rare and elusive species, I was down on my hands and knees adoring the almost-invisible beauty of these Persian Speedwell flowers, so dainty and darling and blue as the sky they turn their pretty faces upwards to mirror. Who cares if they're not native. (My sixth new flower of the trip.)

Ditto for these tiny Storksbills, another introduced species (aka alien weed) that adds its little bits of bright color to the otherwise boring grass. These are a miniature version of our native Wild Geranium, and marked my seventh (and last) new flower of our trip to Ithaca.

Only seven new flowers? Can that be all, for all our exploring of such a wide variety of habitats in and surrounding Ithaca? It sure makes me realize how lucky I am, living in Saratoga County, with rich woods, acidic bogs, upland forests, pine barrens and sand plains, calcareous talus slopes, mountain ridges, marble outcroppings, sedge meadows, etc., etc, etc., all within an hour's drive from home. I did have a wonderful time in Ithaca, guided by lots of extremely knowledgeable people, tromping the woods, slogging through bogs, wading through marshes, and climbing to heights overlooking the spectacular Taughannock Falls. I saw so many fascinating plants, it seems hard to believe that that only seven of them were new to me. And many of those seven were not even natives, but rather, introduced species.

Another introduced species is Scarlet Pimpernel, but this one was being cultivated in one of the Cornell Plantation herb gardens set aside for medicinal herbs. Hmm. I wonder what it would be good medicine for? I hope it's a better medicine than it is a weather predictor. Another name for this plant is Poor-man's Weatherglass, and it's supposed to bloom only on fair-weather days. It had rained the whole night before and was due to do so again. We were very, very lucky that, despite many showers during our stay, the rain seemed to stop for each of our forays, saving its drenchings for while we were riding or sleeping.

I find Scarlet Pimpernel growing out of a crack in the sidewalk in downtown Saratoga Springs, but it sure looks a whole lot prettier in a cultivated garden.

Not all of our fascinating finds were flowers. Or grasses or sedges or ferns or trees or liverworts or mosses. Just look at this spiky fellow with the toothbrush-bristled back and spots of brilliant red fur. (I've submitted its photo to and will add its name when I know it.) It was crawling on a leaf of Dwarf Chestnut Oaks that were planted in hollowed-out boulders as part of a Holocaust Memorial Garden at the Cornell Plantation. This remarkable arrangement of oak and rock was created by the artist Andy Goldsworthy, known for his use of natural -- and often ephemeral -- materials for his sculptural works. I think he would have been overjoyed to find this colorful creature adorning his creation.

Thanks to a comment from Carol, I now know that this is a White-marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar. It's a good thing my thumb didn't get any closer, since the hairs of this caterpillar can cause quite a skin reaction.


suep said...

ohh, that photo of the falls just takes your breath away! does it have a name?

and tulip trees have a special place in my heart,I had them in my backyard, in Pennsylvania where I grew up.

Now I wish I had gone to Cornell instead of a college in North Jersey!

Louise said...

Unfortunately, the only time I have been to Cornell was to take a sick horse to the Vet hospital there, years ago.

It sounds like your visit was much more enjoyable and rewarding. It sounds like you made some beautiful finds, and had a great time with good friends. What more can anyone ask of a trip?

Welcome home!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jackie,
Thanks for introducing me to your blog this week at Ithaca.

Your toothbrush caterpillar is a white-marked tussock moth. I wouldn't recommend using it as a toothbrush since its hairs are irritating and can cause a rash.


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Great post! While the large purple fringed orchid is extirpated in Ohio I did get to see the small purple fringed one at a local fen the other day. Such a gorgeous plant! Glad you had a great time, I'll be getting some of my Bruce peninsula posts up soon :)

June said...

I am so glad you have a very good camera and the good skills to go with it. The details of those plants/flowers are just amazing, especially the Persian Speedwell and the Storksbills...simple little pretty things.
What luck to have gotten your forays in between the downpours!

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! Have missed your posts and enjoyed the re-cap. You've inspired me to check out forays with the Ct. Botanical Society. I am suffering from a case of 'identification fugue' - guess I'll go out with knowledgeable to get a better handle. Glad you had a good time!

threecollie said...

Glorious! Wow! What a wonderful trip. I had speedwell in my rock garden, but alas, this past winter it froze out. I miss it and have no idea where to get more.

Bee Balm Gal said...

As always, your posts are inspiring, informative, and oh so lovely. Thanks for sharing what you do and see.

Wayne said...

Looks like a wonderful trip. In addition to the new plants, I'm glad you got to see the falls. It's one of the best. What a pleasant suprise to see my old friend Frank in your opening photo! I can tell you had great company.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Yes, Sue, it's Taughannock Falls. And hey, watsamatta wit Nort' Joisey?

Louise, I bet that sick horse was glad you took it to Cornell. But yes, you should return just to enjoy the beauty of the campus and surroundings.

So good to hear from you, Carol! And great to have spent such good times with you in Ithaca. Now I'm off to try to locate your wonderful book, Wildflowers in the Field and Forest.

A.L., i was pretty excited to see that big orchid, myself. Now I'm waiting to learn all the treasures you found on the Bruce.

Hi June, thanks for your kind comments. I'm very grateful to my little Canon Powershot S95, which takes amazingly clear photos in low light. I'm glad to know you love those little lawn weeds, too.

Greetings, hikeagiant, thanks for stopping by. Yes, it sure is fun to go flower hunting with folks who know the names by heart. But sometimes they only know the Latin ones, and look at me with a bit of disdain when I ask what the common name is. But just keep asking. Turns out the common names are changing less often than the Latin ones.

Thanks, threecollie, I'm so glad you enjoyed the trip. Look for wildflower nurseries online to find speedwells. I bought some Birdseye Speedwell from one, but I've never found Persian. It's probably one of those weeds most folks try to eradicate from their perfect (and perfectly boring!) green lawns. Personally, I can't figure out why one would want grass when these lovely little weeds will cover the ground much more prettily -- and for free!

Thank you, Bee Balm Gal. I'm always glad to have you along with me, and to click on your name to see what's blooming where you live.

Hi Wayne, thanks for your comment. You bet I had good company. The BEST! Not only full of knowledge, but also full of fun. I hope Frank sees your comment. And clicks on your name to see the gorgeous photographs you take.