Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What's Up in the Skidmore Woods

Monday, June 6: Wouldn't you think, that after four days of nature adventures in Concord, I would have had enough of flower-hunting for awhile? Well, if you thought that, I guess you don't know me very well. Especially this time of year, when new species are bursting into bloom, not just every day, but every hour. I had to get out to Skidmore on Monday to see what had come up while I was away. I didn't want to miss seeing the flowers of Orange-fruited Horse Gentian, for one thing, and happily, there they were!

They are small enough to be easy to miss, hiding down there in the leaf axils where the orange fruits will later circle the stem. I had a hard time making my camera focus on them, but it finally did what I wanted.

I also didn't want to miss the blooming time of Green Violet, a plant that probably doesn't grow anywhere else in Saratoga County except in the Skidmore Woods. The plant sure does love it here, growing by the hundreds out of the limestone rocks that litter the forest floor. And yes, I did say violet. They sure don't look like violets, though, do they?

Their flower doesn't look very violetty, either. And you really have to hunt to find it, tucked away under the leaves and also the same color as the leaves.

Well, you don't have to look very hard to see the brilliant pink blooms of Purple-flowering Raspberry! I actually turned down the saturation on this photo, so that it didn't look fake.

I had never noticed before how sparkly the leaves of Hickory could be. Is this sparkly effect due to some resin the leaf itself exudes, or are these leaves just catching droplets falling down from some source up above? I really don't know.

Another thing I didn't know until Ed Miller told me this year, was that the seeds of Bloodroot had these little white wormy things attached. They are called elaiosomes, and they are part of the Bloodroot's strategy to get its seeds planted where they are likely to germinate. Ants just love to eat elaiosomes, and they carry the seeds off to their anthills, where the elaiosomes are consumed and the rest of the seeds discarded -- discarded down underneath the soil, where their chances of germination are enhanced. I found this bulging Bloodroot pod and just had to take a look.

Well now, what's this? Here in the Bloodroot patch, I noticed these white cards with a single seed resting on each, and a yellow flag marking the site of the cards. Must be some kind of experiment, I thought, which would not be unusual, considering that these woods do belong to Skidmore College, and students are constantly performing investigations in here.

Then I saw a fellow with a handful of white cards, so I was able to ask him what he was doing. The fellow turned out to be Josh Ness, not a student but rather a member of the college's biology department, and he was placing Bloodroot seeds under various plants (Bloodroot, Hepatica, and another I don't recall), and timing how long it took before ants carted off the seeds. I believe his thesis was that ants would be hungrier under plant species whose seeds were not yet ripe, and less hungry under species that had gone to seed some days or weeks before. I know I should have taken notes so I would be able to describe the investigation correctly. But I didn't. But I will be back to the Skidmore Woods, and I'll probably see Josh Ness again, and ask him how his experiment turned out.


Anonymous said...

How you find those 'hidden' treasures amazes me! Also makes we want to look even closer and learn even more! Thanks!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

I find these "hidden" flowers, hikeagiant, because I've spent 20 years looking for them, recording where and when they bloom, and going back each year to check on them. Also, I've had wonderful friends and teachers to point them out to me. It pleases me enormously to think my finds could inspire others to go in search. Happy hunting!

Anonymous said...

There's hope for me yet! ;-)