Friday, November 9, 2012

Fun With Friends in the Forest (and Other Fascinating Spots)

We lucked out again here in Saratoga.  That Nor'easter that dumped nearly a foot of snow on already storm-ravaged areas south of here didn't touch us at all.  What was forecast to be a nasty cold day on Thursday turned out to be sunny and pleasantly cool, perfect for a hike with my good friends in the Thursday Naturalists as we explored Rowland Hollow, a 45-acre property on the western edge of Saratoga Springs that is managed as a nature preserve by Saratoga P.L.A.N. (Preserving Land And Nature).

 Only a few steps from a parking area off Grand Avenue, we found ourselves on a forested trail loop that runs for less than a mile through mixed hardwood/pine woods and wetlands, with a short side path to the banks of a creek.  Along the way we encountered evidence that this property once served as farmland in generations past.  Here, we took some time to see what might be growing in the mossy rocks of an old stone wall.

The creek was running quietly today, but heaps of sand and beaten-down grasses along the banks gave evidence that this calm little stream was a raging torrent not too long ago.

Of course, we found no flowers today, but these Swamp Milkweed pods were a reminder  of what had bloomed along the creek last summer

The presence of this charcoal-black fungus called Clinker Polypore (Inonotus obliquus) is a sure sign that the tree it is growing on is certainly dying.  We find them not infrequently in the woods, but it's a rare event indeed to find one with a fruiting surface like the chocolate-brown patch covering the bottom of this one.  Another common name for Clinker Polypore is Chaga, and it is known to have some very powerful medicinal properties.   Update: NO, NO, NO, this is NOT Inonotus obliquus, but rather Phellinus igniarius, otherwise known as Iqmik or Indian Tobacco.  It doesn't have the medicinal qualities of Chaga, but many native peoples of North America would burn the conks and mix the ash with tobacco to create an especially potent smoke.  Thanks to mycologist Sue Van Hook for correcting me about this fungus's identity.

 When my friend Ed Miller learned I had never been to Lester Park, a fascinating geological site very close to the Rowland Hollow Nature Preserve, he insisted that we go there together after the morning's outing.  And I'm very glad I did.  Here's Ed standing on one of the wonders of the ancient world, the fossil remains of some of the earliest life forms to inhabit the planet.  The next photo is of  a placard at the site that provides a brief explanation of the site's importance.

 Here's a closer look at those stromatolites, which resemble sliced-open cabbages turned to stone.  I remember attending a lecture many years ago, where the speaker asserted that the cyanobacteria that formed these rocks were instrumental in creating the atmosphere essential to advanced life forms.  In the process of forming these limestone structures, the cyanobacteria depleted the carbon dioxide that predominated in the primordial atmosphere, allowing for the development of the oxygen-rich air we all now need to breathe.

It amazed me that such a fascinating and important site was just sitting there by the side of the road, so easily accessed just by pulling your car over onto the shoulder.  And there were other interesting sites just across the road.  Here are the remains of what was once a kiln, where lime fertilizer was produced by heating the limestone from an adjacent quarry.

Of course we had to explore that limestone quarry, poking about among the rocks in search of those plants that must have lime to thrive.

We found lots of Herb Robert and a few still-green Columbine leaves, but we'll have to come back in the spring to see what other flowers grow here.  We did find a very pretty patch of mixed liverwort and moss.

Update:  My friend, Bob Duncan, has suggested that this liverwort is Preissia quadrata and the moss is one of three Encalypta species, all of which only grow on lime-rich rocks.


The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

I have learnt so much this morning, and its real and accessible, unlike most of David Attenbrough. As one day i plan on visiting your part of the woods and having a look myself.

catharus said...

Fascinating spot, that Lester Park!