Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Down South to Shenantaha Creek
Who would think that heading just 10 miles south, I could find many flowers already in bloom that are yet to be seen this spring in Saratoga? That's what I discovered on Tuesday this week when I visited Shenantaha Creek Park, just south of Ballston Spa. For years I paid no attention to this park, with its tennis courts, bike trail, playgrounds, and picnic tables, thinking it offered little to a wildflower enthusiast. But that was before my friends in the Thursday Naturalists showed me how to find the forested nature trail that follows Shenantaha Creek (also known as Ballston Creek) through steep shale gorges to one of the richest wildflower sites in all of Saratoga County.
Even though the day was dark and damp, I very much enjoyed my walk along this beautiful trail, listening to the music of the rushing creek as well as the pitter-pat of occasional raindrops striking the leaf-strewn forest floor.
When the trail reached a site where a steep shale bank was watered by springs and rounded by a tiny stream, I began to search for the flowers I knew should be here. I could see the bright-green leaves of Toothwort at a glance, but it always amazes me that flowers as colorful as Red Trillium and yellow Trout Lily can hide out among the fallen leaf litter.
I somehow looked straight through a mini-thicket of purplish Blue Cohosh plants before my eyes finally spied the yellow anthers circling the centers of their brownish-purple blooms. I believe that this is the species Caulophyllum giganteum, with flowers that open the same time as the leaves. There is another very similar Blue Cohosh species, C. thalictroides, with flowers that are more yellow-green and which open after the leaves have fully unfolded.
This pair of Red Trillium should have been easy to see, except that I approached them from behind and it wasn't until I turned around that I saw the deep red blooms dangling from drooping peduncles. The big green leaves were much easier to spot.
The speckled Trout Lily leaves were all over the place, but only a few plants sported the pretty yellow lily dangling down. Perhaps if it hadn't been raining, the pendant petals and sepals might have been recurved, or perhaps this is a bud just beginning to unfold.
When I reached a flat area further downstream, I was amazed to see dozens of Dutchman's Breeches plants fully in bloom, the drooping stalks of snowy-white pantaloons dangling above dense clumps of frilly blue-green leaves.
As the rain threatened to grow more persistent, I ascended a path up a steep ravine to the paved bike trail, a straighter, faster route back to my car. I remembered this part of the woods from a previous visit as being just carpeted with all colors of Hepatica blooms. Sadly, most of the plants had folded their blooms to protect them from the rain, but I did find a few still open, including one this lovely shade of purple.
There were Bloodroot plants in the woods along the bike trail, but they, too, had folded their flowers to protect their pollen from the increasing rain. This made them look like diminutive white tulips.
As I hurried along, clutching my raincoat over my camera, I drew to a sudden halt when I came to this thicket of shrubs so thick with bright chubby buds they seemed to be strung with Christmas lights.
A closer look revealed that these "lights" were clusters of tiny flower buds encircled by sheathing leaves. Well, what the heck are they? Some kind of Viburnum? Maybe a Dogwood? I confess I do not know. I brought a branch home and placed it in water, hoping it might open its blooms, and then I might be able to make a better guess. Anyone?
Update: As his comment to this post reveals, my friend Andrew Gibson has suggested that this shrub is American Bladdernut (Staphlea trifolia). Other botanical experts agree.
Second Update: As both Andrew and others suggested, these buds have opened (as of May 1) to reveal the little greenish-white bells that prove they are, indeed, American Bladdernut.