Monday, July 16, 2012

Quiet Waters, Rare Plants

Today was a perfect morning for a paddle: cool and calm, with not a single other boat in sight on the Hudson River to mar its serene expanse.   Sue had arranged to meet me at the Feeder Dam in Glens Falls, where we could easily slip our boats into the river above the dam and explore a part of the river there that looked just wonderful on the map.  Here, the broad course of the river is broken up by many islands and coves and quiet backwaters, perfect for ambling along close to shore, searching for whatever interesting plants might be growing there, while delighting in the constant chorus of many kinds of birdsong.  Lovely!

We were sorely tempted to beach our boats and climb out to explore the woodlands and marshy areas. But because the river is so low right now,  we could not reach solid land along the shore, and if we had stepped out into these mudflats, we would have been mired to our knees.  So we stayed in our boats.  Notice the carpet of yellow-flowered Golden Pert that covers the mud, a plant that does not bloom until water levels drop low enough to expose the plant to air.  We saw lots and lots of blooming Golden Pert along this section of river.

When we came to the end of a series of islands, the river widened out to a broad expanse where a breeze was riffling the water.  How odd, this tiny island supporting this single maple tree!

A Black Cormorant was perched on a snag in the middle of the river, sitting as still as if he were carved from the same wood.  That's until we approached, of course, and then he took off across the water with a series of whump, whump, whumps.

We paddled across the broad expanse to reach more quiet calm waters along the far side, and began our return toward the dam.  We were now paddling with the current,  although it was hardly noticeable.  I put down my paddle and lay back in my boat and just drifted along, providing a perching spot for some amorous damselflies.

As we neared the Feeder Dam, we came into this quiet backwater just above the dam on the Saratoga County side of the Hudson.

Here we found mats of Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), a plant that's listed as "Threatened" in New York State but which was flourishing here.  It also flourishes in the waters just downstream from here, below the Feeder Dam, where I first discovered it a couple of years ago.

This little bladderwort has pontoon-like structures that keep it afloat, while its unrooted underwater structures are full of tiny sacs that feed the plant by sucking in and digesting other, even tinier, organisms.

I also found many of these spiky clusters floating around in the shallow water, and I wondered at first  if they might be some kind of Quillwort.  This is the kind of habitat Quillworts prefer, water that is shallow, quiet, warmed by the sun.  But they didn't seem to be bulbous enough at the base.  Hmmm.  A mystery.

I noticed a few snowy-white Arrowhead blooms among the mats of Golden Pert leaves, but because I couldn't see any of the Arrowhead's leaves, I couldn't determine its species.   So I reached down and, worming my fingers into the mud, managed to uproot a single plant.

Well, it didn't have the arrow-shaped leaves of Common Arrowhead or the flat-bladed leaves of Grass-leaved Arrowhead,  but it did have the short spiky leaves, round in cross-section and tapering at the tip,  that resembled those of the Slender Arrowhead pictured in my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide.  (It also looked rather like those Quillwort-like plants I was puzzling over earlier.)  So Slender Arrowhead it must be.  Sagittaria teres is its scientific name.

But when I checked my Newcomb's again, it said this plant is found on sandy shores near the coast.  Huh!  We're a long way in from the coast.   When I got home, I looked on the internet for further information, and discovered that S. teres has indeed been discovered in Warren County, NY (just across the river from where I found it today), although it otherwise is found only in Suffolk County, out on Long Island, and is state-listed as "Endangered."  The USDA and BONAP sites show it existing in only 5 coastal states of the U.S.:  MA, MD, NJ, NY, and RI.  Now I'm really sorry I uprooted this plant, but at least I brought it home so I can press and dry it and provide a vouchered specimen to prove that it does indeed grow in Saratoga County, too.  And abundantly so.

WRONG!  WRONG!  WRONG!  I really jumped the gun about this one, which I will explain in the next blog post.   This is probably NOT Slender Arrowhead, but rather Grass-leaved Arrowhead.

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