Monday, August 12, 2013

Flower Finds, Here and There

What a lovely string of clear, bright days and crisp cool mornings we've had this past week!  That touch of autumnal chill each morning has awakened a bit of urgency in me, although I'm not sure why.  I love the autumn and winter and spring as much as I love the summer, after all.  But for flower hunting, the season does draw to a close with first frost, so this week I made a special effort to get out there and look for certain flowers I find only in certain places, while I still have the chance.  None of them is a rare or important species, except that I don't know any other places to look for them.  So I made the rounds.  These plants are important to me, if not necessarily to the record books.

August 8:  The Bog Meadow Nature Trail

Actually, I DO know other places to find Downy Rattlesnake Plantain  (Goodyera pubescens) in addition to the Bog Meadow Nature Trail.  But this trail is really easy to get to,  just east of Saratoga, and I've been observing a patch of this small native orchid for many years.  Last year, there wasn't a single flower stalk in the entire patch, while the year before there had been over a dozen.  Orchids are like that, I've heard.

At first sight, I didn't think there were any flowers again this year, but then I saw just a few of the tiny white florets topping a stalk on the plant to the farthest left in this photo.

See?  Here they are, as downy as their name suggests.  A little past their prime,  I'm afraid, and only three blooms instead of a long, full spike, but I was delighted to see them, hoping they're a sign that the plants are recovering enough strength to maybe bloom again next year.

Newcomb's Wildflower Guide describes our native Swamp Thistle  (Cirsium muticum) as "common," but I sure don't think of it as all that common, since Bog Meadow is the only place I have ever encountered it. And I explore quite a few swamps.   It wasn't quite in bloom on my visit this week, but it did have a fringe of its beautiful purple petals pushing out of its distinctive flower heads.  If you click on this photo, you may be able to see the fine white hairs that give a cobwebby appearance to them.

Having found the flowers I was seeking, I was really ready to flee this swampy trail, tormented as I had been by clouds of gnats and whining mosquitoes, sucking them up my nose or getting them caught in my throat with each breath.   But I did have to stop to admire the bright-yellow shiny tops of the White Pine Bolete (Suillus americanus) growing along the trail.  Another common name for this edible fungus is Chicken Fat Suillus, although my personal name for it, with its brown crusty edge around a yellow center,  is Lemon Pie.  And it actually has a rather tart flavor when cooked, as if a bit of lemon juice had been added.

Another edible Suillus, called Painted Bolete (Suillus spraguei)  had fruited nearby.  I've tasted this one and found it not so tasty.  It sure is pretty, though, with that rusty red cap that looks like it's made out of mohair.

August 10:  A Bog in Warren County

The Cottongrass was waving in the breeze when I stepped through the hedge and onto the sphagnum mat where I hoped to find the Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica) my friend Evelyn had told me was blooming here.  I'd found it here before, but only by happenstance.  It's so very tiny, it disappears against the surrounding grasses and sedges, especially when the one who is looking for it has eyesight as bad as mine.  But Evelyn had given me careful directions, which I carefully followed, and LO!  There it was!   And lots of it!  It helped that a ray of sunlight picked it out against a shady background.

Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus) was much easier to spot, with its vivid pink flowers and large green leaves.   Although this pretty plant is related to the highly invasive Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), and even resembles it, Swamp Loosestrife is a native plant and a welcome inhabitant of swamps and shores.

August 11:  The Hawk Road Trail of Moreau Lake State Park

They don't call me a nature nut for nothing.  Only someone who's a little bit crazy would risk a broken axle to drive on this Warren County-side, rutted and rocky trail in a Toyota Corolla just to see some Purple Milkwort (Polygola sanguinea).  Distribution maps show it as growing just about everywhere in New York State.  But hey, if that's the case, how come the only place I've ever found it is here on some rocky outcroppings it shares with Wild Strawberry and Haircap Moss?

Anyway,  to me it's worth the risky trip to see these flowers, even if most of what you see are actually the bracts.   To find the true blooms, you need to peer inside those tiers of purple layers, and what a colorful mix the blossoms are.  I'm not exactly sure what's what among these tiny structures colored yellow and orange and rose, except that they're as pretty as Easter eggs in a basket

Well, I doubt many people would think of this next plant as all that pretty, especially when riddled with holes.  But it is kind of special to me.  This is Slender Three-seeded Mercury (Acalypha gracilens), and distribution maps show it as having been reported in only a few counties in New York State.   Now, that may be because it's easy to overlook, rather than because it is rare.  But I got kind of excited when I first identified it four years ago, because I was the first to have reported finding it in Warren County.  My very first specimen collection.  And I still find it every year, right where I found it first.

A close look at the bracts surrounding the tiny flowers reveals the wing-like shape, similar to the wings portrayed on the Roman god Mercury's heels.   You can also see the tiny glandular hairs that set this Acalypha species apart from its much more prevalent cousin, the common Three-seeded Mercury (A. rhomboidea) that grows in just about every vacant lot and sidewalk crack.

Close by that rather sparse patch of Acalypha, I always find a nicely abundant patch of American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides), a tiny blue Mint-family flower with extremely aromatic leaves.  A source for pennyroyal oil, which is used as an herbal  medicine, this plant is probably abundant all over the Northeast, but over here in Warren County along this rocky trail is the only place I have ever seen it.  But with flowers so small, it could easily be overlooked.

I almost overlooked this next flower, not because it wasn't showy, but rather because  I just assumed it was the ubiquitous and invasive Spotted Knapweed and therefore to be shunned.  But then I noticed the brown fringes on the bracts beneath the petals, plus the rosy color and abundant size, and decided it must instead be Brown Knapweed (Centaurea jacea), also an introduced species but not considered to be as invasive as its similar cousin.  The bees were certainly happy to find it here.

As it happened, there were many specimens of Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe ssp. micranthos) in the immediate vicinity, so I could hold the two side-by-side and note the differences.  The Brown Knapweed is on the left.

August 11:  Rte. 50 in the Town of Wilton 

I took a bit of a detour on my way home from Moreau Lake State Park, heading north on Rte. 50 toward the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park.  As soon as I approached the pull-off for the park's Gick Farm parcel, I could see my next sought-after plant rising well above all other surrounding flora.  This is Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), a plant that certainly lives up to both its common and Latin names.

In fact, this plant is so super-tall and showy, I know I would see it if it were growing anywhere else I have traveled in Saratoga or surrounding counties.  But I haven't.  Further south and west, toward Ohio or Pennsylvania, this plant is as common along roadsides as Queen Anne's Lace is here, but here in Saratoga County it is truly disjunct from its native territories.  I'm wondering if its seeds were introduced along with the grass seed that was planted at this site as part of a native grassland restoration project.  However it got here, it seems to be thriving.  There are three sturdy plants this year, where last year there were only two, and the year before that, only one.

 Just a few miles south, along this same route, is another healthy population of a native American but completely disjunct species, Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), a flower that rather resembles Sneezeweed on steroids.  Once again, this is a plant so tall and showy, it would be hard to miss, if I had seen it growing anywhere else in the area.  Which I haven't.  Botanists haven't reported it growing anywhere closer than many counties away.  Perhaps it was planted, perhaps it fell off a truck.  Who knows?  All I know is that it is thriving at the intersection of Rte. 50 and Ingersoll Rd. in the Town of Wilton in Saratoga County, and I expect I will find it there for many years to come.


Carolyn H said...

Now I'm jealous, not only of your lovely bogs, but of the clear, crisp days you mention. I've had fog and damp all summer, with only a rare day of sunshine.

The Furry Gnome said...

Your blog is a never-ending treat with the unusual plants you find.

Raining Iguanas said...

I just caught up with all your posts. They bring nature and it's glory to my laptop and fool me in to thinking I'm drinking my morning coffee at a picnic table on the beach at Moreau Lake. I appreciate every step you take and each post you share.

Ellen Rathbone said...

I love your swamp thistles...they look like little woven baskets!