Compared to that vision of desolation pictured above, this is what the same habitat looked like just a year ago, with Blackberries and Sweet Fern providing a lush green foil for the lilies' vivid explosions of orange.
Under another section of powerline nearby, it was Hay-scented Fern that provided the lush greenery last year.
But this year, the whole powerline right-of-way has been turned into a desert of dead and dying plants that have been sprayed with herbicide, evidently applied in the last few weeks, after the trailside plants and adjacent shrubs had already put out their leaves.
Happily, a few plants seem to have been spared a deadly dose of the poison. One of the few remaining Hazelnut shrubs had actually managed to form fruit clusters. Look closely and you can see that a similarly-colored caterpillar had found a snug shelter in one of the clusters.
As I hurried to the site where I knew Blunt-leaved Milkweed should be blooming, I breathed a sigh of relief when I spied its deep-pink, very fragrant flowers.
Near where the milkweed was growing, a flower-laden shrub of New Jersey Tea also appeared to have escaped destruction.
Since this shrub, as well as the milkweed and surviving Hazelnut, lie directly above the north end of Mud Pond, I wonder if this limited area was spared from spraying, for fear of poisoning the water plants with runoff containing herbicide. What a disaster it would be if the wonderful variety of Water Lilies and Water Smartweed, Bladderworts and Cattails and many other plants that make up the pond's ecology were to be wiped out. Obviously, it's not only the plants that would suffer.
I hope the herbicide residues that remain in the soil do not spell harm to the eggs this Mama Painted Turtle was laying on Saturday afternoon.
I did find a very few Wood Lilies struggling to bloom amid the blight, their flowers almost as full and bright as ever, but their foliage severely stunted. In the same stretch of right-of-way where I counted over 85 lilies last year, I could find only 5 on Saturday.
Can this spraying of herbicide really be the only economical way to keep powerlines free of plant growth that could entangle wires or impede maintenance of utility poles? I certainly hope not. These open areas under power lines serve as an alternative habitat for many plants that in other eras would have thrived in clearings created by forest fires. We don't let fires clear forests anymore, so these powerline clearcuts are some of the only places certain plants like these beautiful lilies can find a home.