Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fresh Woods and Pastures New

 The single most wonderful benefit to come my way from keeping this blog is the terrific bunch of friends I have made through it.   Many of these friends not only have far more botanical knowledge than I, but they also know of marvelous natural places I would never know about unless they took me there.  That was certainly the case this past Thursday, when my friends in the Thursday Naturalists met to explore the Boice Family Park near Rock City Falls.  As with the Canal Park in Stillwater the Thursday Naturalists explored the week before, I had not known about this Boice Family Park until I met my friends there to walk through beautiful woods to a trail that follows the Kayaderosseras Creek.

Although our view of the creek was often obscured by trailside thickets, we could constantly hear the gentle music of water running over stones in the nearby creek, and here and there the view opened up to reveal banks covered with heaps of late-summer flowers in all their glory.

Our trail was crowded close with many other summer flowers: Pale-leaved Sunflowers, Tall Goldenrod, Green Coneflowers, Spottted and Pale Jewelweed, Boneset, Virgin's Bower, and both Wild Cucumber and One-seeded Bur Cucumber, the two gourds each now in fruit as well as in flower.

This is the bristly three-parted fruit of One-seeded Bur Cucumber.

And here are the  equally bristly but larger egg-sized fruits of the Wild Cucumber, strung in the branches of trailside shrubs by tightly coiled tendrils.

The season of "mellow fruitfulness" is well upon us, with many shrubs heavy with berry clusters.  Here was a pretty coincidence of bright-red Highbush Cranberry fruits intermixed with branches bearing the deep-blue fruits of Silky Dogwood.   A bit of Joe-Pye Weed added its rosy color to the mix.

Nearby, near the water's edge, a cluster of brilliant red Jack-in-the- Pulpit fruits was easy to spot from the trail many yards away.

 More subtle in their coloration (for now), the berries of Maple-leaf Viburnum are turning their deep blue-black.  This small shrub will be very easy to spot in a month or so, when its foliage turns a most distinctive shade of purplish coral, a color unmatched by any other foliage in the woods.

The ample rainfall we've had this summer should spell a fine season for fungi, and we are already off to a good start.  This coral fungus (a species of Ramaria) had a particularly beautiful golden color.

We found dozens and dozens of these gold-capped buttons throughout the woods.  I believe they are Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), an edible species.  But since I wasn't sure, I did not gather any to take home.

This photo shows my friends making their way along the trail that has been mowed through thickets of shrubbery.  Unfortunately for me (I was wearing short pants and low socks), the Wood Nettles had grown back to mid-shin height in many places, and my ankles suffered the rest of the day from many stings.  Next time, I will take my cue from my friends and wear long pants and heavy socks.

At least I knew enough not to get stung by this furry creature, a Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar.  It may look all soft and furry, but those hairs can deliver a sting that causes quite a rash.

One of the highlights of our day's adventure was the solving of the lily riddle.  For some reason, we got off in a wrong direction while puzzling over the identity of the dried stalks pictured here in the foreground.  We eventually determined they were False Hellebore (a likely habitat, that's for sure), but the fun was watching and listening to all these well-schooled wildflower experts pose their questions and seek for answers, and then share their delight when at last they arrived at Aha!

Next week, the Thursday Naturalists will meet again to explore "fresh woods and pastures new,"  and I can't wait to see what wonderful woodlands they will lead me to next.

One of our group, Barbara Connor, has also published an account of our walk through Boice Family Park, with lots of lovely photos, and you can see her blog "Bee Balm Gal" by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Savoring Summer's Last Days

Despite the return of high-summer heat the past few days, I'm very much aware that this last week of August spells the real end of summer.  Yes, I know the calendar states that official fall doesn't start until late September, but the truth is that once Labor Day rolls around (Yikes!  Labor Day is next MONDAY!), autumn's chill is soon to follow.  Realizing this, I also realized that I'd hardly spent any time at all this summer on my own dear Hudson River.  Time to remedy that situation.  So off to the river I went today, carrying my little canoe through the woods to the sheltered coves and islands I return to again and again.


I was afraid I had missed many favorite summer flowers, but there they were where I always find them,  adorning the river banks with ravishing color.

The Helenium and the Cardinal Flower seem to vie with each other for which can put on the most dazzling display.

More muted in their dazzle, the Pipewort nevertheless have their charms, dotting the shallows with masses of puffy white buttons.

This stretch of the Hudson, just upstream from the Sherman Island Dam at Moreau,  offers many beautiful vistas, as the river flows around islands and in and out of quiet coves.  Paddling close to this convoluted shoreline, I visited all of my favorite sites, including this pretty little bouldered island surmounted by three tall White Pines.

It's always rewarding to peer under the water to see what's growing down there, especially this time of year, when Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana) sends up the shiny spiralling stems that hold its tiny white flowers just at the water's surface.

Granted, Wild Celery is not a particularly showy flower, but it sure is an interesting one.  The white ones we see are all female flowers.  The even tinier male flowers grow at the base of the plant way down underwater, rising to the surface when ripe to float on the currents until they spill into the waiting female flowers.  Those corkscrew stems recoil or relax as the water level rises and falls, holding the female flower right at the surface where the male flower can fertilize them.  After fertilization, those same stems sharply retract and bury the developing seed in the mud at the bottom of the river.

After paddling back into a swampy spot where low water had uncovered a muddy shore carpeted with normally emergent plants, I came upon a plant I had never noticed before.  Its finely cut leaves, resembling green feathers, rose from stalks that grew along rope-like roots.  I could find neither flowers nor fruits.  

It's very hard to identify plants with no flower or seeds, but a friend later suggested Mermaidweed (Proserpinaca palustris), and after looking at Google images, I tend to believe that that is what this is.  If so, it would be a new record for Saratoga County.

As the afternoon wore on, the breezes quieted and the river grew still as glass, mirroring the rocks and trees and flowers in perfect reflection.

Almost perfect reflection, that is.  Actually, this floral display was mirror perfect before I shifted my weight in my boat and sent ripples to shimmer the image.

Slipping along very close to the shore, I had perfect opportunity to enjoy the sight of these deep-blue berries on the overhanging Silky Dogwood shrubs.

There they were!  A lovely patch of Closed Gentian in all their royal-blue radiance!

I was afraid I had missed the Gentians this year, since I found not a one at other sites where I look for them each late summer.   But maybe I just didn't look close enough.  I find it amazing that such a vividly colored flower can hide so well, disappearing against the leafy banks unless the light is angled just right to reveal their remarkable blueness.   There were many, many reasons I was glad I came to the river today, but seeing these beautiful flowers provided the crowning moment of delight.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Where the Hoosic Meets the Hudson

Naturalist Ed Miller consults his wildflower guide, seated where the Hoosic River meets the Hudson River at Stillwater.

Since I was away in New Hampshire last Thursday, I missed my chance to accompany the Thursday Naturalists on their outing to Canal Park at Lock 4, on the Champlain Canal across the Hudson River from Stillwater.  But my disappointment didn't last long, for the very next day Ed Miller called to invite me to return to the site to review some of the naturalists' botanical findings he wasn't quite sure of.  I jumped at the chance to do this, first, because an outing with Ed is always an educational adventure, and second, because I had never visited this particular site, where the Hoosic River meets the Hudson at a place of remarkable beauty.

We began our adventure on trails along the Hudson River shore, where we found lovely views of the quiet water on this sparkling day, as well as a number of interesting plants.  I'm always interested in plants that I've never encountered before, that's for sure, and that was certainly the case with this Hairy Bush Clover (Lespedeza hirta), top-heavy with rounded clusters of closed white flowers that leaned over the trails where we walked.

Hairy Bush Clover is not a particularly showy or beautiful plant, I will grant, but it was a new one for me.  A close look at the hairy stems confirmed the ID, while also revealing the aptness of this plant's  common name.

After puzzling over the botanical details of what we finally determined were Pale-leaved Sunflowers, we then encountered another bright-yellow flower we also assumed was a kind of sunflower.  But a closer look revealed that we were mistaken.  Although it closely resembles plants of the Helianthus genus (the sunflowers), this was instead Heliopsis helianthoides, also called Oxeye or False Sunflower.

In the case of sunflowers, only the disk flowers are fertile while the ray flowers are sterile, containing no sexual parts.  But in the case of Oxeye, the ray flowers are also fertile, each containing a pistil, as this close-up photo reveals.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) was another bright-yellow flower that was blooming nearby.  This highly aromatic plant with fuzzy button-like heads is an old-fashioned garden flower that has escaped cultivation to thrive along roadsides and, in this case, river banks.

What an amazing creature this was, big and fat and covered with bright-green clusters of bristles!  This Io Moth caterpillar was clinging tightly to a Bush Clover stalk, and I'm glad I didn't try to disengage it.  I later read that those bristles contain a stinging venom that can cause a painful and persistent rash. 

Where the Hoosic River emptied into the Hudson, the trail took a turn to continue through sun-dappled woods as we followed the Hoosic upstream.

Scattered along the woodland trail were numerous plants of the dainty Slender Gerardia (Agalinus tenuifolia).

Here, too, were many plants of the Wand-like Bush Clover (Lespedeza intermedia), with its pretty pinky-purple pea-like flowers borne in a cluster at the top of a long slender leafy stem.

At first, I thought it might be one of the related Tick Trefoils,  but then I noticed the unbarbed  oval seedpods consisting of a single pod.  Tick Trefoils (Desmodium ssp.) have jointed multipart pods that are barbed to attach to the hide (or pantlegs) of passersby.

We found a few mushrooms along the trail, including this shaggy-looking Bitter Tooth (Sarcodon scabrosus), one of the toothed fungi. 

Its appearance is quite similar to that of another fungus called Old Man of the Woods, except that the underside of that mushroom, a bolete,  is covered with tubular pores, while the underside of this mushroom was covered with pointed teeth.  Many of the toothed mushrooms are quite palatable, but as its name suggests, this mushroom is too bitter-tasting to eat.

Our wooded trail soon led down to a sunny open area near the water's edge,  where we found a whole other set of summer flowers, including a few that the naturalists had missed last Thursday.  Because of time constraints, they had turned around before exploring this sunlit habitat.   But Ed and I had as much time to spare as we wanted, delighting in many floral discoveries.

Abundant numbers of Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) were easy to spot among the surrounding grasses because of their radiant royal-blue blooms.

Although the pink-flowered American Germander (Teucrium canadense) was looking a little past its prime, we did find a few stalks of this native Mint-family plant with newly opened florets.

 American Germander's florets are remarkable for their sharply curving long stamens, as well as the lack of an upper lip.

I'm surprised we noticed this single spike of Marsh Hedge Nettle (Stachys palustris), since it was surrounded by a patch of Germander with similarly colored flowers.  A close inspection revealed that the beautifully striped Hedge Nettle floret's structure was quite different from that of Germander.

The large pale-purple flowers of Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense) are really quite pretty, but don't try to pick them.  Every other part of this weedy plant is covered with sharp thorns, including the backs of the leaves.  We found only one single plant growing near the edge of the river.

 It was easy to spot this single plant of Great Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida), since it towered over all nearby vegetation, including the surrounding Joe Pye-weed, which is rather tall in its own right.  Even so, this is a miniature version of this native plant, which I have seen grown as tall as 15 feet, with stalks as thick as my wrist.  This plant is related to the much more common (and much smaller) Common Ragweed, the bane and torment of allergy sufferers everywhere.

Just like its smaller cousin, the Great Ragweed produces vast amounts of airborne yellow pollen from thousands of small green florets amassed along its greenish flower spikes.  Luckily, neither Ed nor I suffer sensitivity to its irritants.

Our return trail back to our cars took us through a leafy green woods, where we could gather handfuls of Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) leaves and press them to our noses, breathing in its aromatic scent.  Ed pointed out the tiny balls along the speckled twigs, the shrub's flower buds that will persist throughout the winter to open into some of the earliest blooms of spring.

Affixed to one of the Spicebush leaves was this dainty cluster of tiny white eggs, dangling from a transparent filament.

I consulted the marvelously informative site and found similar egg clusters there, attributed to the insect Green Lacewing.  The lacewing usually deposits her eggs singly, each one on a separate filament spaced far enough apart that the new-hatched larvae do not devour one another.  But occasionally, the eggs are found in clusters that look like this.  That was the experts' best guess, anyhow. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

On Golden Squam

 Squam Lake in central New Hampshire was the setting for the 1981 movie On Golden Pond, starring Henry and Jane Fonda as estranged father and daughter.    Happily for my family, we get along better than those two did.  In fact, we had nothing but fun together this week when my husband and I came to spend four days with my daughter and her family in a rambling old cottage on this spectacularly beautiful lake.  Although Squam is a huge lake surrounded by mountains and studded with many islands, from our prospect at the back of a quiet cove, with our view framed by the embracing arms of pine-wooded points, the lake seemed quite intimate, almost as if it were ours alone.  Ours and the loons, that is, whose haunting calls could be heard all evening  and again at dawn, when we woke to one warm and sunny day after another. (There's actually a loon floating directly beyond my canoe in the photo above, although it could be difficult to make out.)

Our daughter and her husband have three teen-age daughters and two large Bernese Mountain Dogs, and the oldest daughter had invited one of her college friends to vacation with her this week.  But there was still plenty of room for my husband and me in this spacious old house, one of several lake houses in a private compound owned by the same family for generations.   Our daughter's family is lucky to be friends with one member of this family, and that is how they have come to rent this wonderful place for several years in a row.

Although the house is very large, it is simple and rustic, with a dark interior that smells of old wood and many generations of woodsmoke from the huge fireplace that is the centerpiece of the comfortable living room.  There is also a grand piano in one corner, which our granddaughter's friend put to wonderful use, accompanying another one of our granddaughters as she serenaded us with many beautiful songs.

With our son-in-law at the helm, we enjoyed a tour of the lake, speeding across its vast expanse of blue water, wind in our hair, cool spray in our faces as we bounced across the wakes of other power boats.   These sensations powerfully revived many memories of my own girlhood in my family's marina, roaring across the lakes of my youth in the sleek mahogany Chris-Craft inboard boats my father used to sell.

At this point in my life, I generally prefer to move across the water more slowly and quietly, and I was able to do that, too, slipping along the shore in my canoe.  I was interested to see how the shoreline plants differed from those of the Adirondack lakes I usually paddle.  Most of the plants were the same, with the exception of an abundance of large rhododendrons leaning over the water.  We don't see rhododendrons in the Adirondacks, aside from those planted in people's gardens.

The more familiar Mountain Holly was also abundant, its fruit a rich saturated red.

I puzzled quite a while over this shrub, which I eventually decided must be Witherod, also called Wild Raisin (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides),with its leaves so obscurely toothed they appeared almost entire.  Distribution maps show it as present nearly everywhere in northern New York, but I seldom come upon it in my paddles.

 On the second full day of our stay, we all drove to another point on the lake where we accessed a trail up a mountain.  It was a relatively easy climb through a lovely forest, but I think even the dogs were glad to rest a while once we reached the summit.  My oldest granddaugher, though, sought an even higher prospect and climbed a nearby pine.

The views of the lake were breathtaking.  I like looking at my pretty daughter, too.

 As our visit drew to a close,  we were happy to take in just one more of the many attractions the area has to offer, the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, with many educational exhibits of wildlife native to New Hampshire.  In the heat of the middle of the day, most of the animals (including two large Black Bears) were sleeping in the shade.  These two River Otters were sleeping, too, but one of them obliged us by rolling his sleek and slinky body all over his immobile companion.

Two splendid Pumas were also among the exhibits.  One was soundly asleep with its back to us, its tawny coat hard to detect against the rocks, but this one was merely dozing a bit, holding its head erect so that we could see its beautiful white-muzzled face. 

Once native to all the New England states as well as New York,  the Puma is not known to currently inhabit the northeast, although occasional sightings do occur.  I'm not sure I would want to encounter one of these powerful cats on my walks in the woods, but I certainly would support any efforts to welcome them back.  And I'm also glad I was able to lay my eyes on one as I said goodbye to Squam Lake.  I hope to return some day.

P.S.:  Although the animal exhibits at the nature center were wonderful, I noted many missed opportunities to inform visitors about the local flora as well as the fauna.  So of course I had to speak up to center staffers, encouraging them to think about improving their botanical presentations.  All it would require would be some plantings of native flowers along the trail, accompanied by identifying labels.