Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Flowers Are Coming Fast!

In all my years of wildflower hunting, I have never found spring ephemerals blooming in March.  But with several days in a row of summer-like heat, I thought I'd better start looking now, or they'd come and go without me.  So my friend Sue and I met at Moreau Lake this morning to look for some early bloomers.   A thick fog rendered the morning chilly and gray, but by the time we reached the back bay of the lake -- where we thought we might find Trailing Arbutus -- not a trace of fog remained to obscure a radiant sapphire sky.

There were ducks on the bay too far away for my camera to capture, but Sue with her excellent birding skills was able to tell me immediately what kind they were, including two pairs of Ring-necked Ducks and a pair of Wood Ducks.  Sue was also the first to spy this just-opened arbutus blossom growing on a sandy bank.  Peering close, I noticed that the petals were edged with brown.  Could it be that our snowless winter has made the flower buds vulnerable to damage?

As we walked along the sandy shore, we came upon a fallen log covered with a wonderful mix of colorful mosses and lichens and liverworts.  At least, I think that these mats of reddish stuff are a liverwort.   But it's not one I know the name of.

Looking closer, I didn't find the braided sacs I usually associate with liverworts, but I did see those shiny black spheres on stalks that I do associate with liverwort fruiting bodies.

Here's an even closer look at those fruiting bodies, very tiny, emerging from cylindrical cases.

I've sent these photos to some friends who are very knowledgeable about bryology, so I hope I will eventually have a name for this fascinating organism.  Update:  Evelyn Greene suggested this might be the liverwort Ptilidium pulcherrimum, which I googled and found photos that look quite similar.  This is one of the few liverworts with common names:  Naugahyde Liverwort is one name, and Lovely Fuzzwort is another.  Guess which one I'll be calling it.  Love that Lovely Fuzzwort!

Down the beach from that liverworty log was a beautiful mound of Haircap Moss, its starry green stalks crowned with rusty-colored cups that hold the ripening sperm.

Overhead, yellow-and-red puffs of male Red Maple flowers showed their colors to best advantage against that blue, blue sky.

On the same sandy bank where I found that Draba verna the other day, Sue saw these wild-haired yellow heads in the grass, the flowers of some kind of sedge, but a rather small one.  The flowers look just like those of Plaintain-leaved Sedge, but the leaves are much narrower.

As we rounded the lake and reached the road that would take us back to our cars,  we noticed that some of the roadside posts were polka-dotted with tiny bumps, like  nothing we'd ever seen before.

A closer look revealed that each of those bumps was affixed to the post with a very fine thread so that they dangled down about an inch from the attachment site.  Also, the bumps turned out not to be spherical, but rather flattened, like teensy bowls.  Very strange!  I've never seen anything like this.  Is it a fungus?  Maybe a slime mold?  I sure don't know.

Update:  Thanks to Heather and her comment regarding these little blobs, we have an answer to our mystery:  these are the rain-splashed "eggs" (reproductive sacs called peridioles) of bird's nest fungi that attach themselves by threads to surrounding structures like shrubs and fence posts, the better to disperse their spores on the air.  And sure enough, all over the ground around these posts are masses of White Bird's Nest Fungus (Crucibulum laeve), now emptied of all their "eggs," as the following photo, taken yesterday,  reveals.

Here's another photo of this fungus, taken last September when the nests were still full of eggs.  (You can see my original blog entry about them by clicking here.)

Sue had to leave to go to her job, but I was free to continue my day in the woods.  After stopping at home for lunch, I then headed out to the Skidmore woods, where I found Hepatica just opening its beautiful flowers, a good two weeks earlier than I have ever seen them.

The tightly pleated leaves of False Hellebore have thrust up from the ground like green rockets.

The fuzzy buds of Leatherwood have split open to dangle their bright-yellow trumpets, so lovely against the sky.

I didn't expect to find English Violets today, and almost didn't bother to take a detour to find them.  But the day was still young, and very warm, so I decided to make my way to the other side of Broadway on the chance that they just might be in bloom.  And so they were.  Or rather, so IT was.  Just one, but with many buds soon to open.  And oh so fragrant, as its Latin name, Viola odorata, would suggest.

I wasn't the only creature enjoying the summer-like warmth of the woods today.  A Mourning Cloak Butterfly spends the winter as an adult, sheltering under leaf litter with its blood charged with glucose to prevent it from freezing.  On warm days in early spring, it emerges to feed on plant sap and spread its dark velvet wings to absorb the energy of the sun.  This one kept teasing me by lighting too far away for a photo,  but my patience paid off as it landed at last by my feet. 


A.L. Gibson said...

Lovely and beautiful as always, Jackie! I love your posts and hope you have a very fun and colorful spring! What are the temperatures like up in northern NY? We have had temps in the 80's for over a week straight here in southern Ohio and I'm seeing plants blooms 4-5 weeks early! I love seeing my friends so soon but at the same time I find the trend very troubling and worrisome...

Heather said...

Could the small disks on the wood be peridioles from bird's nest fungi? They are rain splash dispersed and attach to nearby objects with thin threads. ? Here is an article with some pictures. There are many species. Not sure which may grow up there though.

catharus said...

Same story with the warm temps here in central PA. I still have to wonder what some cold nights will do to these early risers and bloomers. Like you said, I don't recall anything like this before, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the face of freezing temps.

Elizabeth said...

Wow, I think your flowers might actually be ahead of ours here in southern Connecticut! On my walk this morning, I found some hepatica buds, and tiny violet leaves, but no blooms just yet. How interesting!

Ian said...

Superb photos of the flowers and fungi plus a truly beautiful butterfly

Anonymous said...

Hi there. That Haircap Moss photo looks very 'pineapple-y' to me. Great shot! (I'm in NYC M-F, outside Corinth otherwise. Your blog saves my sanity sometimes!)

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to thank you for all the detail you put into your blog. I no longer live close to the big outdoors and reading blogs like yours helps with the cope with what I'm missing :)

Thank you,

Woodswalker said...

Hi A.L., thanks for your kind comment. Yes, we had a warm spell with temps in upper 70s to mid-80s, but by 3/27 a freeze was predicted. Some flowers are blooming a whole month early and will doubtless be harmed by this freeze.

Heather, I sure do appreciate your very informative comment. As you can see by my update, they were indeed peridioles from bird's nest fungi. By the way, are you by any chance the Heather who lives in Georgia, a botanist married to our nephew John Donnelly? Just curious.

Hi catharus, always good to hear from you. As I mentioned above, our warmth has turned cold, so we shall see how the plants will fare. Stay tuned.

Hi Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by to comment. It's funny, but I found flowers blooming early in some places but not others. The violets I picture are not our native violets, but a very early blooming species introduced from England. Our native violets don't even have buds yet. But the Bloodroot, a native, is blooming a whole month earlier than I have ever recorded it.

Thanks, Ian, good to hear from you. I think it's amazing that a fragile-looking butterfly could survive our winters (which are ordinarily VERY cold) and then start flying about in early spring.

Richard, thanks for taking the time to leave your comment. Yes, there's quite a contrast between life in Corinth and life in NYC. I'm glad to be able to give you a dose of nature when you need it. It certainly saves MY sanity!

Rachel, how kind of you to leave such a welcome comment. I am so happy that you like to visit nature with me through my blog. I have learned so much from helpful comments from readers, as well as from knowledgeable folks I have befriended because of my blog.