Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bog Wandering with Nan and Ed

I'd follow them anywhere, Nan and Ed. These two botanizing buddies have explored just about every botanical treasure trove in the northeast, and lucky for me, they've shared some of their favorite places with me, during the last year or two that we've become friends. So just imagine how pleased I was to have introduced Ed last summer to an amazing bog near Lake George, a bog you can just drive up to and walk right into, no pushing through thickets or wading through waist-deep moats or hauling boats through brambles, just park the car nearby and amble in.

Ed had been eager to share this bog with Nan, and today was the perfect day to do so: pleasantly warm, thin clouds to veil the sun, and not raining for a change. When Ed asked me to join them, I paused for a moment, thinking there might not be very much in bloom just yet. But then I regained my senses. It's ALWAYS a good time to visit a bog, especially with such expert botanizers as Nan and Ed. We'll certainly find SOMEthing of interest, I thought. And boy, did we ever! As soon as we slipped through the hedge that surrounds the bog and came into an open clearing, here's what met our eyes: Calopogons by the dozen!

Calopogon tuberosum, also called Grass Pink, may not be one of our rarest orchids, but it sure is one of our most beautiful. Large and showy, with bright magenta blooms that stand out from the surrounding greenery, it was very easy to see as wandered the bog, exclaiming with delight as we discovered more at every turn.

There was a limit to their abundance, though, we discovered as we wandered further afield into areas so overwhelmed by Leatherleaf and laurels, there was no sunlit space beneath for orchids of any kind. We were able to follow deer paths through the shrubbery, but still, my knees and shins began to complain of pain from all the scratchy twigs. How dumb of me to visit a bog in shorts! Ed out there was smart to wear his jeans.

Much of the bog was much more comfortable for walking, with deep, soft mounds of sphagnum moss cushioning every step. It seems that this is an "anchored" rather than a floating bog, with generations upon generations of sphagnum having grown so deep it hit bottom, so to speak.

The sphagnum was so pillowy, it was tempting to think about lying down in it, except that it was also soaking wet like a sponge. If I stood still for more than a moment, cold water would seep up and bathe my feet. Very refreshing, since the sun was starting to burn through and heat up our backs.

Except for the Calopogon, a couple of Pitcher Plants, and these Large Cranberry flowers pictured below, there was little else in bloom in the bog today, although we saw many White Fringed Orchids in swelling buds, abundant as Dandelions. We'll certainly have to come back to witness their show. They and the Cottongrass should be well in bloom within two weeks.

But as I said before, there's always SOMEthing of interest in a bog, even when nothing's blooming. These pink-flocked fruits of Bog Rosemary, for example, are just as pretty as the pale pink flowers were a month ago.

I was fascinated to find these golden baby cones on some Tamaracks.

Other Tamaracks close by had rose-colored cones, like these that I photographed in another bog two weeks ago. Very curious! Why are some rose and others gold? They will all turn brown, eventually, as they harden.

The day was still young as we left the bog and headed to Dunham's Bay for a paddle in Ed's tandem canoe. That was fun, too, although the plant community along the stream we paddled was rather monotonous, much less interesting than the bog. Anyway, I was too busy paddling to take any photos of the stream. But I did get a shot of these Yellow Swallowtails puddling about in the mud near the parking lot.

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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lilies Along the Line

Remember all those Wood Lilies we found a couple of days ago? Well, then, you can imagine my surprise when my friend Sue learned that there was no official record of Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) growing in Saratoga County. Knowing that the state botanists can't document this lily's presence in the county without having a vouchered specimen, I set out to collect one today. Normally, I have a very strong inhibition about picking any wildflower, but at least I knew there were lilies to spare where we'd found them two days ago.

After safely pressing my lily specimen between two sheets of corrugated cardboard, I decided to explore other parts of the same power line under which we had found all those lilies. That line stretches for miles in the hills above the Hudson River, carrying power from the hydroelectric dam at Spier Falls. I drove to another access point and hadn't walked ten feet from my car when I began to see other lilies. That was also the case at the third site I explored. I wonder what there is about power lines that lilies like? They certainly seem to enjoy the company of Hay-scented Fern.

As for me, I enjoyed very much exploring the open rocky terrain under the lines, always curious to see what might be growing there. And because the maintenance crews keep the area clear of brush, the walking was really easy, despite the ups and downs.

Of course, lots of nice ripe blueberries added to the pleasure of my walk. There were also Red Raspberries.

There's always lots of clubmoss growing on these rocky, sandy spots. This Tree Clubmoss looked especially charming today, with its sprightly spore stalks just forming and surrounded by starry Haircap Moss.

This Bristly Sarsaparilla seemed to be already celebrating the Fourth, with flowerheads like exploding fireworks. Here's another flower that remains undocumented in the official flower atlas for the county. But I didn't collect it, since there were only two plants. What truly astounded me, though, was discovering no record either of the far more common Wild Sarsaparilla, ubiquitous in nearly every Saratoga County woods!

I was really pleased to find quite a large patch of Wood Betony, always recognizable by its crinkly leaves even long after its flowers have faded. I could still see the numerous flower stalks, now gone to seed. Come spring, I'll be curious to see if these flowers are yellow or red. The only other two patches I know of in the county bear yellow flowers.

I had many dragonfly companions along the power line. But only two sat still long enough for me to take their photos. They almost seemed negative images of each other. Anybody know their names?

A very helpful reader, Wayne Jones, has identified these dragonflies as both newly emerged, the top one a Widow Skimmer, the bottom one a Common Whitetail. Check the comments to see what he had to say about them.

On my way between power-line access sites, I stopped at the boat launch to stare in amazement at the Hudson below Spier Falls Dam. Somebody pulled the plug! I haven't seen the river this low in probably 15 years. You can see the normal water line above that nearest rock.

Here's the view looking upstream. Two weeks ago, this catchment between Spier Falls and the Sherman Island Dam was full, while the one above Spier Falls was very low. Now the upper catchment is full, while this one is lower than it's been in many, many years. Where's all the water from all the rain we've had lately? If the water level stays this low for some time, it will be fun to see what wildflowers quickly carpet the mud.

This shrubby wildflower was leaning out over the bank. It's called Meadowsweet. Pretty name for a pretty Rose-family flower.

This is Silky Dogwood, the last of our dogwoods to bloom, I believe. Red Osier is first, then Alternate-leaved and Round-leaved about the same time as Flowering, followed by Panicled Dogwood, and finally, this. Their four-petaled flowers all look pretty much alike, but their berries are different colors. Silky's are the most beautiful deep blue.

Silky Dogwood gets its name from the silky hairs that cover its flower stalks.

Here's a beautiful flower that I believe deserves a nicer-sounding name -- although maybe the name Viper's Bugloss suits its coarse and prickly stem, if not its radiant blue blooms with their startlingly hot-pink stamens. An introduced species that nicely decorates our "waste places," it's lovely to look at, but difficult to pick, because it's really prickly.

Here's a closer look at those very colorful blooms.

I pulled my car over as I approached Spier Falls Dam, eager to examine the spring-dampened boulders close to the road across from the dam. I'd been enchanted by the rock-garden beauty of mosses and spring flowers that adorned those boulders in May. What would I find in mid-summer? Unfortunately, masses of Oriental Bittersweet now curtained the boulders nearly completely, but here and there, this remarkably red moss could be seen, often in very intriguing mixed company. Do click on the photo, the better to see all the shapes and colors.

Have you ever seen a moss so richly red? I mean, other than red sphagnum? I was just delighted! And I'd be even more delighted if some of my moss-expert friends could tell me what its name is.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Seeing the Sites of Saratoga County

I've been traveling pretty far afield this summer in my quest for wildflower sites. But my most recent traveling companions reminded me of a book that could keep me closer to home. I've owned this book, Natural Areas of Saratoga County, for years, but hadn't looked at it in some time. So today I dug it out of a drawer and reviewed the list of 56 possible locations, 21 of which I've visited already at least once. Time to expand my nearer horizons.

Written by Claire K. Schmitt and Judith S. Wolk and published by the Environmental Clearing House of Schenectady, the book contains clear directions to the sites, as well as descriptions of the terrain and special points of interest. One site that intrigued me especially was a Nature Conservancy preserve in Greenfield Center, just a few miles from Saratoga. Without the clear directions in the book, I never would have found the place, since the only indication of the preserve was this sign nailed to a tree quite far into the woods.

There are no marked trails in here, the book informed me, stating that I would have to "just plunge in." And so I did, trusting that the sound of traffic on Rt. 9N would keep me oriented.

"Plunge in" was right! With all the rain this year, most of the woods was really wet, and I couldn't always hop from hummock to hummock.

At one point I was trying to reach a more open swampy area, grabbing onto trees as I teetered along, until I realized I was grabbing Poison Sumac. Oops! I turned around and retreated back to the woods. I found a clear running stream where I washed off my hands as best I could. I think I'm not sensitive to the toxin, but you never know. And here at the stream I found a little reward, this beautiful Blue Flag, still in bloom.

Crossing that stream, I entered a truly charmed part of the forest, with many splendid Canada Lilies glowing like dangling lamps in the light of stray sunbeams.

Are these not one of our most spectacular native wildflowers?

I had hoped to maybe find orchids in here, but except for the lilies and some Tall Meadow Rue, most of the plants were solidly green: mosses and ferns galore. These Painted Boletes certainly stood out with their vivid red.

As did these ruby-hued Dewberry fruits.

My book told me of another interesting area I could visit on my way home from Greenfield, with just a little jog to the west. This site is called "Pipsissewa Woods," and let me assure you, the name is appropriate. At first, though, I thought the place didn't look too promising, being along the kind of power-line right-of-way we usually call a "waste place."

Then I saw this sign that informed me that this was a very special "waste place."

Once again, no trails, you just plunge into the piney woods wherever there's a break in the thick vegetation. And wherever there is the smallest clearing, this is what you will see: hundreds and hundreds of Pipsissewa plants, just coming into bloom, with many flowers still in bud.

Pipsissewa is a flower best appreciated by getting down to mouse height and looking up.

Then I saw this little spider looking back at me.

Wherever there's Pipsissewa, Shinleaf Pyrola is usually present, too. It didn't take very much looking to find it. Then I saw it everywhere.

I'd hoped to find One-sided Pyrola and Striped Wintergreen, too, and maybe some Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain, but I didn't. Then again, I left quite a large percentage of the woods unexplored, since the underbrush was thick with baby pines. And my still-wet shoes were beginning to chafe my feet. Heading out toward the open areas near the power lines, I found lots of Whorled Loosestrife in bloom.

Also, I found a nice patch of Running Clubmoss, with little tufts of white at the tip of each branch. Another common name for this clubmoss is Wolf's Claw, and yes, I can see a resemblance.

This is one of the very few clubmosses that still has its traditional Latin name, Lycopodium clavatum.

Now, here's a complete surprise. Some kind of gall was growing on this grapevine, producing these pale pink "berries." I've never seen anything like this on grapevines before. I thought it was very pretty.

Only 35 more natural areas to explore in Saratoga County (plus newer ones not included in my book). I think that should keep me busy. And closer to home.