Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Roadside Wonders

 We were supposed to have rain today.  Possibly, thunderstorms. So rather than commit to one nature preserve or another, I decided to drive around the county, visiting sites where I'd found favorite wildflowers over the years, and just generally enjoying the beauty of our county's rolling rural landscapes.

As it turned out, the weather stayed lovely, warm and sunny with nary a raindrop to cloud my windshield as I slowly drove along roads above Saratoga Lake.  I knew of a bank where wild Columbine grows.  And boy, does it grow there abundantly!  And gorgeously!

Just across the road from that Columbine patch grows an equally abundant patch of the dainty, if far more demure, Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides). With its snowy-white blooms above trembling carousels of tender green leaves, the Rue Anemone offers another way of being exquisitely beautiful.

I had hoped to find Wood Betony at this same site, but it must not be blooming yet, because even the leaves stayed hidden from me, although I remember them as growing there.  But I knew of another place where this fascinating flower grows, so that's where I headed next, three exits up the Northway to visit a powerline right-of-way that cuts through Moreau Lake State Park.

In some ways, these clear-cuts under the powerlines could be considered eyesores, but they're also lifesavers to many species of plants that need open sunny areas to thrive, plants that used to populate areas cleared by forest fires when we used to let forest fires burn themselves out.

I did find that Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis) I was looking for, although it was only in bud.  Never mind, the crinkly purple-tinged leaves of this plant are as lovely as the  flowers will be, if not even lovelier. Both the red and the yellow varieties of these flowers grow here, so I will be back in the next week or so to admire them in full bloom.

I looked around to see what else might be in flower, and it didn't take long to find quite a bounty of blooms.  Clusters of these pristine white violets were nestled among the nooks and crannies of boulders.  Because their stems had a faint reddish cast and their top two petals were sharply reflexed, I'm guessing these are Sweet White Violets (Viola blanda), a species that prefers this kind of dry habitat. (But I could be wrong.)

At least I am confident that this tiny purple violet with its furry-all-over leaves and stems is the aptly-named Ovate-leaved Violet (Viola fimbriatula), which also prefers a habitat that is sunny and dry.

Although my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide tells me that Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia) prefers a moist woods, I often find masses of this brilliantly-colored flower growing in dry open areas like this.  Today was no exception.  Gosh, is there any flower more charming?

At first glance, I thought I saw a tree with bright-red flowers in the woods along the right-of-way, but closer inspection revealed that these colorful clusters were the baby leaves of some kind of oak.

At another site along this same powerline, I came across a patch of small blossom-bearing shrubs, only knee-high and thick with white flowers that were filling the air with their heady fragrance.  The patch was also resounding with the buzzing of dozens and dozens and dozens of bees.

How is it I have walked every inch of this site for the past five years and never discovered this patch of what I determined must be some kind of cherry?   Could it be this species was introduced when the power company replaced the poles a couple of years ago, and only now have I noticed it because the patch has spread to be of significant size?

Because each flower contains but one pistil, that would mean it is likely to be a stone fruit like cherry or plum. After studying my wildflower guides and noting the relative smoothness of the leaves, my best guess is that this is Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. susquehanae).  The sandy, rocky habitat seems right, too.

I've sent photos and a query off to some expert botanists, so I  hope to return to this post at a later date to either verify or correct my guess.  In the meantime, I simply enjoy the beauty of this flower.  And also breathe its exquisite fragrance from a single twig I brought home.

Update:  I did hear from Steve Young, chief botanist with the New York State Flora Association, who confirmed my guess that this is, indeed, Susquehanna Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. susquehanae).  He also mentioned that he had found it growing under powerlines.


The Furry Gnome said...

Another nice selection of observations.

Sharkbytes said...

I don't think that's sand cherry- we have a lot of that in MI. And it's interesting that the powerlines provide sunny habitat, but mostly they just fill up with junk plants and berry bushes. (Although berry bushes are good unless you want to walk through them.)

Sharkbytes said...

OH, and the polyaga (gaywings) grows in dry woods all over the place here

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Furry and Sharkbytes for stopping by. I love hearing from you.

Regarding the Sand Cherry, I did receive confirmation from the chief botanist of the NY Flora Association that this is, indeed, the species Prunus pumila var. susquehanae (Susquehanna Sand Cherry). The growth is very young, so perhaps it doesn't yet look like the Sand Cherry you know in MI. The nearly toothless leaves are one of its distinguishing features.

Yes, powerlines do provide habitat for a lot of unwelcome plants, but where I live they also support such beauties as Wood Lily and Wood Betony and all kinds of interesting mosses and lichens. And tons of Lowbush Blueberries. Strawberries, too.