Friday, April 27, 2012

Kids in the Woods

I'll be 70 next month.  I guess that makes me officially an old lady.  But whenever I'm wandering the woods with my friends in the Thursday Naturalists (some of whom are a good deal older than me), I feel like a kid again.  And I think my friends do, too, since they sure have a lot of fun, bringing a marvelous sense of childlike wonder to what they find in nature.

They sure know a lot of great places to botanize, too, and this Thursday they took me with them to a place that a New York Chief Botanist once called the richest wildflower site in the entire state -- Joralemon Park, in a limestone-rich area about 15 miles south of Albany.

This was the third time I've visited Joralemon Park, and I do believe that this site is becoming ever more endangered because of the masses of Garlic Mustard that have infested the woods, creating severe competition for many of the native plants -- some of them quite rare -- that once thrived in this limestone-rich woods.

Happily, many native plants are holding their own for the time being, such as this vividly colored Wild Columbine.

The woody plants also seemed to be barely threatened by the alien invasion, and I was delighted to find American Bladdernut fully in bloom.

This is a shrub that I rarely find in Saratoga County, especially now, since the groundskeepers at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs cut all their bladdernut shrubs to the ground to install security lighting.   I felt almost sick when I found them destroyed, since I know of no other place in the county to find them.  I'm sure the people who did it had no idea of the rarity of those shrubs.

After exploring the western side of the Joralemon preserve, we next headed across the road to our lunchtime destination, a series of limestone ledges that overlook a beaver pond.  Here we sat to enjoy a picnic while watching Tree Swallows swoop and dive over the water.

A labyrinth of caves underlies the ledges we sat on, and while examining the opening of one of these caves, our friend Win discovered a large pile of bear scat, indicating that a bear had likely holed up for the winter inside that cave.

This part of the preserve appeared to be free of the Garlic Mustard infestation, for Miterwort and violets covered the forest floor instead.

A highly unusual low-growing shrub called Creeping Shadblow hung over the ledges, and we were delighted to find it still in bloom.

We were also delighted to find Fragrant Sumac now in bloom, although the leaves (which are indeed fragrant) had yet to emerge.

Carpeting the rocks where we sat to picnic were sprawling patches of a rare "fern ally" called Selaginella rupestris.   Although this mossy-looking plant is also called by the common name of Rock Spike Moss, it is more closely related to ferns than mosses.

Clinging to the sides of the ledges was another highly unusual plant called Purple Cliff Brake (Pellaea atropurpurea).  Although this photo doesn't show them well, this small fern of sunny calcareous rocks has dark purple hairy stalks.

Purple Cliff Brake bears its sporangia along the inrolled margins of its pinnules, and I did manage to capture a photo of that.

I was also happy to capture in a photo the little red glands that stud the petioles of Black Cherry leaves, a distinctive feature of most cherry species.  I would have thought they were some kind of gall, but my friend Ruth Schottman, a walking encyclopedia of botanical knowledge and a longtime member of the Thursday Naturalists, informed me that these little red bumps were a normal part of healthy trees, perhaps serving as decoys to prevent ants or other destructive insects from attacking the fruit.

That's one of the great things about joining this friendly and extremely knowledgeable group of friends on their nature walks.  There's almost always somebody who can answer any question I may have.  Even if I didn't know enough to ask it.


hikeagiant2 said...

How cool to have like minded friends to explore with you! Thanks for taking us where we can't go ourselves! ... How sad about the bladdernuts; when a tree is gone, its gone forever ... it IS like losing a friend

catharus said...

Looks and sounds like a fantastic outing! I've gotta join you one of these times!

Anonymous said...

Have you asked the custodians of Yaddo, to stop cutting the bladdernuts?

"Auntie" sezzzzzz... said...

An early Happy Birthday wish!!!

I was so surprised that you are "Olden" like I am. (But 75 here) I haven't read your blog for long, but figured you to be a young gal. Good for you! Still so active.

From the wistful sound of that, can you tell, I am not hardly so active. A wimp, am I. -sigh-

Mmmmm, wondering if you know you have that *dreaded* awful 2 word Word Verification Setting on? Please don't be mad at me, for asking. I ask, because I've found that some bloggers don't even know that that Setting is on their blog. Unless someone says....

"Among the changing months,
May stands confest
The sweetest,
and in fairest colors dressed"

~James Thomson

Raining Iguanas said...

Another great post, thanks for sharing your day.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Someone brought us two gallon bags of bladdernut pods for planting - which we've been told are enough to cover the whole county...possibly two counties. Would you like some?

And the cliff brake is another great find. I recall someone telling me that they are quite rare in the Adks, and along the cliffs at Ausable Chasm is one of the only places they are found. I don't know if this is the purple variety or not, though.

Around here the soil is quite alkaline, so I'm finding a lot of the plants you introduced me to back there in Saratoga - keeps you close in my memory!

Woodswalker said...

Sorry to take so long to respond to all your welcome comments, dear readers. As you can see by my posts, I've been very very busy. But I do so appreciate you stopping by and love to hear what you have to say.

catharus, by all means let us know when you come this way, and we will certainly welcome you along on our adventures.

Auntie, I eliminated that word verification and now I am getting all kinds of spam on my blog comments. Can't win!

About the bladdernuts, I did talk with some of the Yaddo staff and they said they would do what they could to protect the young bladdernuts that are sprouting like crazy around the stumps of the shrubs that were cut down. So Ellen, I don't think I need those seeds. But thanks for asking. I'm glad to know you keep me in memory.