Saturday, June 28, 2014

Flower-hunting With Friends On the Ice Meadows

Every year, some time past mid-June, my friends in the Thursday Naturalists plan a field trip to the Ice Meadows, a botanical wonderland of many rare plants along the Hudson River north of Warrensburg.  This year, we were lucky the torrential rains stopped by dawn and the sun came up to grant us a perfectly wonderful day along this stretch of riverbank kept clear of forestation by massive heaps of frazil ice that mount up along the shore each winter.

This site is such a remarkable habitat that the Nature Conservancy has set aside a good stretch of it for permanent protection, and it was at this preserve on the west side of the river that we started our explorations this past Thursday.  Here we could find both arid stretches of rocky sand as well a series of small pools and swampy ground kept constantly watered by running springs.

We can always count on finding a number of orchids thriving here, and the first one we found today was the wee little Shining Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes lucida).  This is the earliest of the Spiranthes species to bloom, and its tiny white flowers are distinguished by the bright yellow of its lower lip.

The most populous orchid species to thrive along these shores is the dainty Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), which, despite its diminutive size, is easy to find among the tall grasses because of its bright pink color.

Rose Pogonia is such a pretty little thing, it always deserves a closer look.

The Tubercled Orchid (Platanthera flava) also deserves a closer look, less because of its beauty, but rather to notice the tiny bump on the flower's lower lip -- the "tubercle" that is the reason for this greenish-yellow orchid's common name.

Possibly the rarest plant we would find today was Sticky Tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa), classified as "Endangered" in New York State and "Threatened" in many surrounding states. And yet there were many of these fluffy clusters of tiny white flowers scattered around the damp sand.  The stems of this flower are covered with short black hairs that exude a sticky substance.

I did not photograph every fascinating plant we found today, but I did try to capture the beauty of some of them, such as this deep-rose Racemed Milkwort (Polygala polygama), a small flower that would be easily overlooked if not for the vibrancy of its color.

The lovely Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) have such a delicate beauty, it's hard to believe they could withstand the harsh conditions of crushing ice, roaring floods, and scorching sun of this challenging habitat.  And yet, here they thrive, finding a foothold among the cracks in the rocks.

The clear-yellow short-lived blooms of Frostweed (Helianthemum canadense) are always a pleasure to find, and we found many here, on both sides of the river.  I often notice that the bright-orange anthers are frequently asymmetrically arrayed to one side of the pistil, but I have never noticed this feature mentioned in any description of this plant.

Many bright-pink wild roses were adding their fragrance to the air.  A close examination of the leaves and stems revealed the narrow stipules and slender thorns that distinguish the Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina).

On rocks surrounding the spring-fed pools we found both species of Sundew native to this part of New York.  Both species use the sticky drops that bejewel their spiky leaves to trap insects, which the leaves then enclose in order for the plant to digest them.  This one with the oblong leaves is called Spatulate Sundew (Drosera intermedia).

This one, with larger and rounder leaves, is called Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).

After a picnic lunch in the welcome breezy shade of Snake Rock, a huge wooded boulder on the west side of the river,  some members of our group made our way across the Hudson to a stretch of shoreline remarkable for its impressive outcropping of marble.

Here, Ruth Schottman points out certain features of this remarkable geology, which appears as if the molten rocks had congealed in their pattern of flow.

This cluster of vibrant Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa var. interior) has made itself at home among the large crystals of the exposed marble.

The Butterfly Weed is one of the plants we found today that appeared to inhabit the east side of the Ice Meadows only, for we did not find any across the river during our morning explorations. Another plant that seems to prefer the east side to the west is Rock Sandwort (Minuartia michauxii), which spread its starry clumps across the rocks high up near the edge of the woods.

Quite likely the rarest plant that inhabits this marble-shored section of Ice Meadows is the sedge-like plant called Whip Nutrush (Scleria triglomerata), an endangered species very much at home along this stretch of the Hudson.  Today it was already producing its little spherical seeds, some of which had matured to pearly white while others were still glossy green.

We were accompanied along our path through the woods by a seemingly friendly White Admiral Butterfly, which kept fluttering all around us and landing right at our feet.  This gave us many opportunities to capture its beauty in photographs.  I am glad to have this photograph that displays the red spots along the edge of the hindwings, which I had never noticed while the butterfly was in the air.

The presence of these red spots is a clue to a fact that has often mystified me, that the White Admiral Butterfly is the same species (Limenitis arthemis) as the Red-spotted Purple Butterfly.  Here's a photo of the Red-spotted Purple I took some time ago.  Yes, I can see some similarities, but they obviously look quite different.  And yet, all the butterfly guidebooks tell me that these are just two color variations of the same species.  Amazing!  (By the way, this second butterfly's red spots would be visible on the underside of its wings.)

I don't know what kind of creature created this bumpy little packet we found today suspended from a flower stem.  I imagine it is an egg case that will soon break open to release whatever baby creatures are packed tightly within.  I've sent a photo to and have yet to receive an ID.  My guess is that these will be spiders.  Anybody?


A.L. Gibson said...

How wonderful! I cherish the two times I was lucky enough to visit those treasured shorelines, albeit before and after this time period. I'd love to have been with you this day!

The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful expedition! Botany, geology and butterflies! I really enjoy reading about your botany excursions, which inspire me to look more closely at plants myself.

Sharkbytes said...

Sure would love to botanize with you. I just looked at a pic of Frostweed I took last week and, yes, the anthers are more to one side than the other!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Andrew, I too cherish the times we explored this shoreline together -- or any of the great sites where your terrific talents as a botanist added so much to the experience. Readers, click on A.L. Gibson's name here, and prepare to be amazed at the wonders he records in his blog.

Thanks for your comment, Furry. I love reading about your excursions too, exploring the wilds of Ontario. My readers can follow Furry Gnome around by simply clicking on his name here and visiting his fine blog.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Sharkbytes, I bet we could have a terrific time together, judging from the hiking and paddling adventures you record on your blog, which my readers can access with just a click of the mouse on your name.