Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cherished Surroundings

Imagine being a passionate lover of art, invited to join a group to walk through the Louvre, and finding that no one but you wants to even cast a glance at the art.  That's how I (a passionate nature lover) felt this past week while joining family and friends to hike a mountain trail in Westchester County.  I have visited many nature preserves in this county before, and have found them mostly overwhelmed by invasive species. But this woods was truly remarkable, burgeoning with native species, many in beautiful flower.  I have seen Mountain Laurel before, but never ones of such towering height, their branches heavy with blooms.  What an amazing sight!  It's hard for me to understand how anyone could walk right by and not even notice them.  It would be like passing the Mona Lisa and not even turning an eye in her direction.  But then, I have to remind myself that people enjoy the out-of-doors for many reasons other than botanical investigation, and it was truly wonderful to see my dear son-in-law, only recently operated on for a life-threatening illness, go sprinting up the mountain trail with vigor and joy.

I did stop two of our party to show them the clever little trick that laurels play to achieve pollination, cocking their laden anthers in the little indentations of their blooms, then springing loose to bop the visiting pollinators, who will then carry this flower's pollen off to other blooms.

I don't know if my listeners found that as amazing as I do, but I just couldn't hold my tongue, despite having just been reprimanded for being too intrusive with my comments.  Yes, I know that for folks who don't share my passion for plants, I can be a total pain to walk in the woods with. But I just NEED to tell people about the many wonders that surround us, because I just NEED them to try to protect the endangered parts that remain.  If we can't distinguish our native Mountain Laurel from the alien invasive Multiflora Rose, how will we protect our native woods from being overtaken by invasives?  It was obvious to me that no one in our party appreciated quite how remarkable this habitat was, even allowing their dogs to freely run through the woods, despite a large sign specifically requesting "NO DOGS." Perhaps they didn't realize how significant a factor dogs can be in the spread of invasive species.  Ah well, these were people I dearly love, and happily, we have many other interests in common.

Happily, too, I have my own remarkable habitats closer to home, and I returned to one of my favorite places yesterday, to paddle the Hudson River at Moreau.  The day was rather hot and steamy, but it's hard to feel anything but cool among the deep greens and blues of the water and surrounding mountains and woods.

I love to slip slowly along the banks, edging my way into quiet little bays.  One of these little bays is home to an underwater plant called Water Starwort (Callitriche sp?), which shines out from beneath the dark water as if it were holding sunlight within its lacy bright-green foliage.  The New York Flora Association lists five species of Callitriche in our state, but I have never been able to figure out which one this is.  It does seem to keep to itself in this one little bay, so I'm hoping it's not the species that can be invasive.  I often find tiny fish hiding safely among its sheltering leaves.

Around nearly every turn I was treated to the sight of Blue Flags (Iris versicolor) blooming right at the water's edge, sometimes just a solitary graceful stem, and sometimes massive groups of gorgeous bloom.

I was NOT so happy to find this Yellow Iris (I. pseudacorus), despite its unquestionable beauty. This is a species of iris that has escaped from cultivated gardens to become a seriously aggressive invader of streambanks and riversides, displacing native wildflowers and other vegetation.  Over the 20-plus years I've been paddling these waters, I have never seen it here before.  And after I return with a spadefork, I hope I will never see it here again.  But yes, it sure is beautiful.

If such invasives were to take over, I would dearly hate to lose the dainty Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) with its twin trumpets of waxy white blooms that yield shiny red berries.  Sharing this bank today were the bright-yellow blooms of Small Sundrops (Oenothera perennis), as well as a scattering of tiny Bluets (Houstonia caerulea).

As I passed under overhanging shrubs of Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), I could see that some of its little spherical buds had opened into tiny white flowers.  These with the yellow anthers are the male flowers, which will not produce the bright-red berries this native holly is famous for.  The female flowers -- and berries -- grow on a separate shrub.

For bright-red berries, the Red-berried Elder is nearly unrivaled.  Other shrubs, like the Winterberry, Mountain Holly, or several viburnums may have red berries, but none produce such prodigious clusters as these, nor so early in summer.

Speaking of superlatives, is there any spider native to these parts that reaches the prodigious size of the Fishing Spider?  This one was about three inches across.  They truly do capture tiny fish, dropping down into the water from overhanging boulders, like the one where this handsome specimen was resting.  Because of the club-like pedipalps under its chin, I'm guessing this might be a male.  I also saw an even larger specimen hurry away at my approach, and that one was probably a female.  She was one big gal!

Other creatures were taking their rest on this riverside log.  Before my approach sent them flying, there were over a dozen of these dragonflies arranged along a ten-foot length of log.  I have seen this particular species (Chalk-fronted Corporals) engaged in group resting parties before, sometimes on logs, sometimes on sandy paths, and it's quite an amazing sight.  I wonder if this species has a particular propensity to do this.

What a dazzling sight she was, this shiny-winged Calico Pennant Dragonfly!  She looked so bright and fresh, I wonder if she had only recently emerged from the larval exoskeleton.  The male Calico Pennant is bright-red in all the places the female is yellow, including the veins in the wings and the stigmas near the tips of the wings.

After enjoying all these beautiful sights along this stretch of river that over the decades I have come to know intimately,  it came as a rude shock to see this disfiguring mess of a campsite someone had left on one of the islands.  Since these islands are under the jurisdiction of Moreau Lake State Park, which occupies both banks of the Hudson River here, I took photos and showed them to the park manager, who stated he would send out a party to dismantle this campsite and try to restore the island to its natural state.  There are designated primitive campsites along the river, but they are well hidden within the woods and can barely be seen from the water.

Some 15 years ago, my daughter, 5-year-old granddaughter, and I pitched a tent on this very island and secretly spent the night out here.  We paddled at sunset and watched as the water reflected a sky most gloriously red.  We watched the moon rise over the mountain and heard coyotes howling in the dark forest across the bay. We snuggled close through a cold starlit night and woke to warm ourselves with cocoa we heated over a tiny fire.  When we left the next day, no one would ever have known we had been there, so carefully did we remove every trace of our camp.  But I can still recall nearly every moment of our adventure here, just one of the memories that make this place on the river so cherished by me.


threecollie said...

You have my sympathy..I get pretty much the same reaction to amazing and wonderful birds.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Oh boy, I sure would love to have you point out to me those amazing and wonderful birds! But then, that's exactly what you DO do, on you amazing and wonderful blog, which my readers can access by simply clicking on your name.

The Furry Gnome said...

I sympathize too. So many hikers just walk through the woods looking at their feet and missing the whole experience. And that 2nd dragonfly photo is one of the best I've ever seen!

Sharkbytes said...

Love your descriptions, and for sharing these things. I've never heard of the Callitriche.

catharus said...

Oh my! What a shame! I'm still hoping to some day tag along and you tell me all you can about whatever it is we see!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, dear readers, for all your understanding comments. But I have to remember that many people love nature for other reasons than botanical exploration, and I might have lightened up a bit and just enjoyed a wonderful walk in the woods with a bunch of people I love.

But I still reserve the right to be pissed off about dogs in protected preserves, especially when unleashed. Dogs really are one of the most significant factors in the spread of invasive species of plants, carrying seeds in their hair and paws and then depositing them in the disturbed soil they kick up with their enthusiastic antics. I truly love dogs. But I don't love what they do to native plants.