Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Familiar Flowers and Other Fun Finds: The Thursday Naturalists Visit Woods Hollow

It was raining so hard last Thursday morning, I didn't know if any of my friends in the Thursday Naturalists would venture out to Woods Hollow Nature Preserve for our weekly outing.  But these friends are indeed a dedicated bunch, the few who showed up,  and nature rewarded that dedication by diminishing the downpour to merely a wispy mist while we explored the meadow, sandplain, and forested habitats of this extensive nature preserve near Ballston Spa.

We entered the preserve through the wet meadow, a large open area abounding with such familiar sun-lovers as Boneset, Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susan, and way too many Purple Loosestrife, a beautiful but invasive species that so far seems to be held somewhat in check by the sturdy natives around it. Proliferating in the edges of this meadow were masses of Slender Gerardia, a pretty little purple flower whose delicate appearance belies its tenacious ability to thrive in hot sandy areas of sterile soil.

This next flower was hiding among shrubs and tall grasses, but the deep musky fragrance of Groundnut alerted us to its presence before we even caught sight of its oddly convoluted florets.

When we reached the drier sandplain area of Woods Hollow, we were greeted by the sight of dozens and dozens of plants of Blue Curls, all still holding on to their dainty blue flowers that, on a sunnier day, would have dropped to the ground by mid-day.

This is a flower that deserves a closer look, to observe the gracefully curving anthers that suggested this species' common name, as well as to admire the pretty speckles on the flower's lower lip.

Horsemint is another denizen of such dry sandy habitats, and we were surprised to see so many still blooming at this late date.  The actual flowers, yellow blooms covered with red spots, hide in the axils between the far showier pinkish bracts of this extremely aromatic plant.

It was easy to miss the slender blooming spikes of Sand Jointweed, almost invisible against the sand, but once we saw one, we found them again and again.

Winged Pigweed is a bushy plant of sandpits, roadsides, and other "waste places," and it's certainly thriving at Woods Hollow.  Three years ago, I found here just a single specimen of this plant, a native of America's central plains that has made its way east in recent decades, and by now, the plant has established quite a colony.  As it matures, it will break off at its central stalk and roll away like a tumbleweed, dropping its many seeds along the way.

When Butterfly Weed is in bloom, its bright-orange blooms are impossible to overlook, and its distinctive spiky seedpods are also easy to spot from some distance away.

In addition to finding many of our favorite late-summer flowers in bloom and in seed, we enjoyed spotting some interesting fauna among the flora.  I can't believe I actually captured an image of this Praying Mantis, it was scurrying so quickly among the blades of grass, trying to escape my prying lens.

Ooh, what's this colorful spiky bug that's crawling across this oak leaf?  Someone in our group suggested it might be a Ladybug larva, and when I googled that guess, I found many images that looked exactly like this.  Yes, the larval form of the Seven-spotted Ladybug.  Isn't it amazing how different the adult looks from its larva?

Yes, and the adult Milkweed Tiger Moth, with its dusty gray/brown wings, certainly looks quite different than its larva, too, seen here in this photo below.  This rather soggy furry caterpillar was feasting on a milkweed leaf, absorbing the toxins that will protect it from predators, warning them off by its vivid tiger-striped orange and black coloration.

We found a number of interesting fungi sprouting up from the wet sand, but this hard knobby one was by far the most fascinating.  It didn't look like much at first, just a sandy-brown ball sitting atop the similar-colored sand.  When we picked it up, we saw that it had no stalk, no gills, and no pores.  And then Tom took out his knife and cut it open.

Wow!  What a fascinating structure of tiny spheres packed inside!  We had never seen anything like it, but later we heard from our friend Lois, who had sone some research and suggested it might be the fungus called the Dyemaker's Puffball (Pisolithus tinctorius).

After searching various sites on the internet, I do believe Lois is correct.  To learn all about this fascinating fungus, which has indeed been used to produce a dark reddish dye for wool, visit Tom Volk's Fungi.  He has some funny stories to tell about finding this fungus.

1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

Another fascinating botanical walk! You always come up with plants I've never actually seen, so I always learn something. Now, if only there was a naturalists' group around here.