Saturday, July 7, 2012

Disappointment and Discovery at Lake Luzerne

Nope.   Not a sign of them.  I drove up to Lake Luzerne today, just to look for some Purple Fringed Orchids I always find on a little island there.  But not this year.  Not even a bud.  That's the way it goes, with orchids.  Let's hope they're just resting up this year for some burgeoning bloom in the future.  In the meantime, though, it's hard to stay disappointed long in such a beautiful place as Lake Luzerne.  It's here that the Hudson River, having ambled its way down from the Adirondacks, with plenty of room to spread out as it makes its way through the Ice Meadows north of Warrensburg, is suddenly crowded by high rocky banks and forced to plummet through a gorge at Rockwell Falls.

Today, because of a summer unusually hot and dry, the river is low enough to allow me to walk right up to the edge of the falls and not only hear but feel the roaring power of all that plunging water.

You may hear it, too, it you like.

While climbing around on those rocks, I was pleased to greet many of my old flower friends that I always expect to find here.  One of the daintiest is the pretty blue Kalm's Lobelia.

Another inhabitant is Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint, which today had opened all of its puffy clusters of bloom.

This is a flower that looks completely white from a distance, but a closer look reveals a sprinkling of purple polka-dots.

Whats this?!  Goldenrod already?!  Yes, I know, this is called Early Goldenrod for a reason, but early July?!  Looking back through the last 10 years of my flower journals, I see that this is really really early for this flower.

The same can be said for Purple-stemmed Aster, the earliest of our large purple asters to bloom.  But in past years, early meant late July.  But there it was, blooming away on the banks of the Hudson today.

The same snowless winter and extra-hot, low-rainfall summer  that has brought many flowers to blooming at least two weeks early this year, has also dropped water levels in the Hudson.  As I looked upstream from Rockwell Falls, I could see dry land below the banks, where in other years there would only be rushing water.  Hmm, I thought, let's see what might have popped into bloom along here.

Hah!  Here by the hundreds were the little rascals that elude me for years at a time, or grant me maybe one tiny yellow blossom after weeks of searching.  I'll bet these myriad Creeping Spearworts have been waiting for years under all that water, and now is their day in the sun.

As I made my way upstream along the muddy banks, I came to large mats of the most amazing green.  Oh my, I thought, that particular color of green sure looks like Golden Pert.  I wonder if I will find any blooming here.  I have never found it upstream from Moreau, but then, I've never found mudflats here above Rockwell Falls, either.

Yup, Golden Pert is indeed what it was!  Its little yellow trumpets were just starting to open, but the bright yellow-green of its leaves was already spreading a golden glow along the river bottom.

A little ways upstream, and that green-gold glow was amended by tawnier carpets of another plant that was taking this advantage of low water-levels to grow abundantly.

A closer look at those tawny carpets revealed a plant with many reddish buds and fuzzy white puffs along the leafless stems that just might be flowers.

An even closer look reveals what look like oblong anthers dangling on fine filaments, and perhaps that's a pistillate structure in the middle of them.  Are those fluffy little clusters then the fruits?  I really have no idea what this plant is, because I have never seen it before and I can't find anything like it in any of my wildflower guides.

Update:  Thanks go out to wildflower expert Carol Gracie for recognizing this mystery plant as some kind of milfoil, then to Ohio botanist Andrew Gibson for pouring through the manuals to determine that this is Slender Milfoil (Myriophyllum tenellum).  Following up on their suggestions, Garrett Crow,  co-author of the two-volume Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Northeastern North America, has clinched the ID, explaining that this species ONLY flowers when the water level drops enough to expose the plants.  Professor Crow added this is always a difficult plant to find, because it is usually submerged, and that he has NEVER seen this plant in bloom.  So it was quite a find, after all.

One plant I was NOT happy to find here was Purple Loosestrife.  At least there were only a few, and those few were spread out as individual plants, rather than in the mass invasions we sometimes see in roadside ditches and open marshes.   I was about to yank out this solitary plant when a Monarch arrived, so I went on my way and left the butterfly to enjoy its meal.

Then a second butterfly came and graced me with its presence.  Is there any creature more lovely than a Tiger Swallowtail?  Just one more compensation today for not finding that Purple Fringed Orchid.


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Bummer on not finding the purple fringed orchids but as you said they are very fickle plants. I've never seen golden pert before nor do we have the creeping spearwort in Ohio! Very cool plants!

I am as perplexed and stumped by that mystery plant as you are! I'm bringing along my Gleason & Cronquist manuals with me and they have 99.9% of every plant in New England in there so perhaps we can solve this mystery while I'm there unless a friend is able to help before!

Liz young said...

Thanks Jackie, felt like I took a walk in the woods (vicariously) today... Beautiful

June said...

I am thrilled that you happened across a plant you couldn't identify. Not because I am in such awe of your ready knowledge, but because that means Nature still has some mysteries up her sleeve.

Auntie sezzzzzz... said...

Oh my! The Mountain Mint, with a sprinkling of purple polka-dots. So, so beautiful...

"Long ago--say thirty-five years ago--a little girl used to wake on Sunday morning feeling that a whole life of happiness lay before her in the day."
~~From an excerpt from "Three Houses," Angela Thirkell's 1931 memoir

Ellen Rathbone said...

OH, look at all that wonderful water! It may be low to you, but to me it is surely an excess of water! Send it here!!! Had terrific lightning and even some thunder yesterday morning...and not a drop of rain!!! Grrrr.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for your comments, dear readers. I apologize for not responding sooner. It's just that nature is burgeoning so right now, I hardly have time to keep up with what's new and so I neglect to look back at previous posts. I do so love to know that you like to come along with me. And I just LOVE reading your comments.