Saturday, September 8, 2012

Elusive Orchids Along the Red Oak Ridge

Summer's end.  All the kids are back in school, and the beach at Moreau Lake State Park was absent of even their footprints yesterday morning when Sue and I met at the park to go searching for Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza), one of the last of our native orchids to bloom.

We had found this diminutive orchid last fall along the Red Oak Ridge trail in the park, so that's where we headed today, soon to be joined by our friend Laurie.  With a flower so inconspicuous, it's good to have extra eyes along to look for it.  Also, Laurie's a geologist, and she always has interesting information about the rocks that line this beautiful woodland trail that heads up into the mountains overlooking Moreau Lake.

Because I have such poor eyesight, I can't believe that I was the one who saw it first.  Sure enough, it was right in the same spot we found it last year, but it sure can hide in plain sight.   There it is, right in the center of that red circle.  Plain as day, right?   Then,  after spying that one, we found a few more close by.

Since there's no botanical record of this orchid growing in Saratoga County, we had hoped to collect a specimen in full bloom to send to the state herbarium.  But we couldn't figure out if these were in bud or had already gone by, so we didn't collect any plants.  It was only later that we learned that this particular coralroot often bears no open blooms, ever.    This may be as much flower as we were ever going to see.

Now that we had a search image in our minds, we continued to look for the leafless reddish stems hung with pale green pods, walking up and down the streambed where we found our first plants.  If there were others growing here, we couldn't find them.

It was only after we had given up searching that we found several other specimens, in locations quite some distance apart, and in every case, just a single plant.  Since the population seemed so sparse, we decided not to collect even one, although I did mark each location with a GPS device.  I hope someday our state herbaria will accept photographs and signed affidavits as proof of a plant's existence in a county, rather than insisting on actual specimens.  Especially in the case of native orchids, all of which are protected by law.

Even if we had not found our sought-after plant, we would have had a marvelous time exploring the heaps of limestone boulders  that are a prominent feature along the Red Oak Ridge trail.  And even if we had not had our geologist friend along to identify these rocks, we could have guessed their mineral content from the abundance of such lime-loving plants as this Walking Fern meandering across the moss.

Another indicator of rich soil was this Rattlesnake Fern scattered about the forest floor.

We found evidence, too, that porcupines were also fond of these boulders, when we spied this opening in the rocks that was littered with quills and piles of feces distinctive of porcupines.

If you clicked on the link to our last fall's hike along this same trail, you would be struck by the wonderful abundance and variety of fungi we found.  This year, following one of the hottest and driest summers on record, we found hardly any fungi at all.   This marvelous mass of white-edged ruffles was an exception.  At first, I did not recognize this dark brown fungus as Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor),  but after searching the internet, I was astounded to see the incredible color variations this beautiful shelf fungus can exhibit.

Here was another of the really scarce fungi we found, and it looks like this hungry slug was very happy to have found it, as well.  I must confess, this is the first time I have ever noticed slug poop.  Sue saw it first and pointed it out to me, or I wouldn't have seen it.  Dedicated naturalists as we are, we are often delighted to find stuff that most folks would have no interest in.

Most folks, however, would be happy enough to notice these pretty wildflowers, Nodding Bur Marigold (Bidens cernua),  which were blooming along the sandy south shore of the lake, where we sat to eat our picnic lunch.  We were fascinated to also find miniature specimens of this same species growing in other areas of the beach, and wondered what would cause such a diminishment in size.

Peering closely to admire the Bur Marigold's blooms, I discovered this beetle, whose black-spotted yellow coloring provided quite effective camouflage while it sat on the flower.   A google search for black-spotted yellow beetles immediately informed me that this is a Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), considered quite a pest by gardeners and farmers.  Its appetite for flowers is certainly evident in the tattered petals of this Bur Marigold bloom.


Raining Iguanas said...

You certainly make a simple hike something special. This was a wonderful post for anyone who loves nature's way.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Slug scat - another first for me, too!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Ellen and Raining Iguanas. I've come to imagine you guys always accompanying me on my nature adventures.