I hadn't walked here in quite some time, even though this wetland trail lies only a couple of miles east of my home in Saratoga Springs. The last time I stopped by, the trail was underwater, due to beavers clogging the culverts that channel the water under the trail. But thanks to the diligent efforts of trail steward Geoff Bourneman and other volunteers from Saratoga PLAN (the land-conservation group that supervises the maintenance of this trail), the clogs have been cleared and impediments put in place to discourage further beaver interference. For the time being, anyway. We all know how resourceful those beavers can be!
This trail is only about two miles long, but it's home to many marvelous native plants that thrive in just such a wetlands environment. I set myself a little exercise today, trying to name some of these plants in their winter disguises.
One of the most abundant inhabitants here is the Flat-top Aster (Doellingeria umbellata), and its fluffy seed-heads could be easily seen all over the marsh.
I love how the pods of Wild Bean (Apios americana) twist in a spiral, revealing the reddish bean-like seeds within. Another name for this climbing vine is Groundnut, referring to the edible tubers that form among the roots.
Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) has some of the most beautiful seed-pods of all, great fluffy clusters of swirling silvery threads that suggest this native vine's alternate name of Old Man's Beard.
The tall skinny stalks of Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) are topped by thimble-shaped seedpods that have now split open to offer their fluffy seeds to the wind.
Northern Willow Herb (Epilobium ciliatum ssp. glandulosum) has tiny pink flowers that turn into long skinny seed pods that split open and then turn all twisty-curly, reminding me of the touseled locks of a towhead.
I just could not get all the seedpods of this carousel of Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense) included in one well-focused photo. There's yet a sixth pod soaring above these five. All were soaring well above my head on a tall thin stalk. When these flowers bloom, they dangle down like bells, but eventually the brilliant flowers of red or yellow or orange turn upward as they go to seed.
Here's a closer look at the Canada Lily's seedpod, revealing the delicate stitchery that holds the three parts of the pod (now empty of seeds) together.
I have no idea what plant produced these paired white bracts dangling from stems that were crowded on the same hummock as these slender green leaves growing out of the frozen water. The fact that they're dangling on stalks rules out most other marsh plants I could think of, like Skullcaps or Bellflowers. Guess I'll send this photo to some plant experts I know, but I sure would welcome any guesses in the meantime.
Update: In his comment to this post, Andrew Gibson weighs in for Mad-dog Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), which was my first guess, as well. But I was put off by the length of the pedicels, since when blooming, the flowers appear to be stalkless.
I had no trouble at all recognizing the bright red fruits of Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) leaning over the frozen water of the open marsh.
Rivaling that Winterberry for redness were the ripe hips of a wild rose. I'm guessing that this is Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris), since I remember that fragrant species blooming at or near this very site during the summer. Another clue is the lack of thorns on most of its twigs.
While pushing my way through a streamside thicket, I was glad that this Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) advertised its species by its dangling clusters of white berries, so that I could avoid grabbing its branches when I broke through the frozen mud. Even though I seem to have outgrown my sensitivity to the toxins of Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac, there's no sense pushing my luck about it. Happily, birds are immune to the toxins and will devour the fruits before spring.
Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) already has a jump on spring by sending up spathes even before winter arrives.
It's not hard to recognize Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), with branches that live up to its name in every season of the year. Some other dogwoods may also have reddish branches, but none as richly ruby red as these.
Here's another plant, a liverwort called Frullania, that looks about the same, no matter what season of the year. At least, its leaves do, those dark-brown spidery branches that spread across the bark of trees. But those reddish bumps could be fruiting bodies, and I don't recall ever seeing them before. Nor am I certain they ARE fruiting bodies.
I confess that my knowledge of liverworts is very scant. I certainly couldn't tell you the species name of this Frullania, of which there are several hundred, I've been told. I do know that these dark, almost black liverworts grow abundantly in almost every woods I walk in, but until my friend Evelyn Greene pointed them out to me a couple of years ago, I never noticed them. And now I see them everywhere. In every season of the year.