Thursday, September 18, 2014
Back to the Banks of the Kayaderosseras
For the fourth time in less than two weeks, I returned to the banks of the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa today. A floodplain area enriched by silt, this is a wonderfully rich site I never get tired of exploring, and to explore it anew with my super-knowledgable friends in the Thursday Naturalists was a chance I could not pass up. Besides, I just couldn't wait to show my friends the amazing mix of gorgeous wildflowers thriving there. I knew they would be just delighted. And so they were!
All of us have seen the deep-purple variety of New England Aster many times, but for some of us, this was the first opportunity to see this spectacular native wildflower in its rosy pink variety. What a show they put on, filling the open meadow along the banks of the creek with a brilliant mix of colors, mixed in with accents of Boneset and Joe-Pye Weed and bright-yellow sunflowers.
We found several different species of aster, as well, including Smooth Aster, Arrow-leaved Aster, Tall White Aster, and this big showy cluster of Purple-stemmed Aster, so beautifully intermixed with Tall Goldenrod and the bright pink puffs of Arrow-leaved Tearthumb.
Various species of sunflowers lifted their bright-yellow faces toward the sky on this crisp but sun-warmed day at the close of summer. We found many towering plants of Jerusalem Artichoke just coming into bloom, as well as the more diminutive (and now fading) Thin-leaved Sunflowers here and there. But the star of the sunflower show today was the willowy Maximilian's Sunflower seen in the photo below, a prairie native that somehow got introduced to this flood-plain site and has made itself very much at home here.
What a lovely combination of colors -- the Maximilian Sunflower and the New England Asters.
Such a pretty little bug, the Twelve-spotted Lady Beetle! This Ladybug, which is native to North America, is a predator of many plant pests, but also likes to dine on pollen, a food abundantly supplied by this sunflower's disk flowers.
This big yellow composite bloom sure like a sunflower, but the presence of those curling pistils at the base of each ray flower indicate that this is instead the species called Oxeye, or False Sunflower. None of the genuine sunflower species have such fertile ray flowers. Most of the Oxeye flowers we found today were nearly spent, but we found enough remnants of bloom on some to be able to determine their identification.
Another yellow non-sunflower, this pretty plant is Nodding Bur Marigold, which was growing close to the water, its preferred habitat. Although its newly opened flowers are held erect, as it goes to seed it begins to assume the nodding habit that gives this Bidens species its distinguishing name. We found another Bidens species nearby, called Beggar Ticks, a flower that usually produces only disk flowers, without the yellow "petals" (actually, ray flowers) seen on its showier cousin.
Not all the interesting plants we found today were so colorful, but that doesn't mean they weren't intriguing to look at. Note how the prickly outer skin of this Wild Cucumber fruit is peeling back to reveal the webby structure within. It looks like the loofah sponge you can buy for your bath, which is also another member of the gourd family, as is the Wild Cucumber.
Cockleburs are one of the very sturdy plants that grow here along the creek, plants that are robust enough to hold back the encroachment of Japanese Knotweed that also thrives here but can't make a dent in the thickets of this burly plant. These prickly pods contain two seeds, and our friend Ruth Schottman told us the most fascinating thing about them: after ripening, only one of the two seeds will germinate this year, while the other will lie in wait and germinate the following year. This is its strategy for increasing its chances of survival under changing weather conditions. Isn't Nature amazing?
Another bit of botanical knowledge Ruth imparted today, was to show us the tiny glandular hairs that cover the bracts of New England Aster. This distinguishing characteristic is something I had never paid attention to before, since this species' size and color of bloom are so distinctive for identifying the flower that I looked no further.
It was such a wonderland of beautiful blooms today, it's hard to believe that this is what this creekside site looked like less than two years ago, in December of 2012.
I happened to come upon this scene of complete devastation while taking a pre-Christmas walk that year, and couldn't believe my eyes. As luck would have it, I did encounter one of the operators of the earth-moving equipment, and he was able to tell me about this excavation project. The project involved restructuring the banks for the purpose of flood control downstream. The previously steep banks at this particular curve of the creek had been beveled back to allow flood waters to flow up over the land and dissipate their energy, rather than charging forcefully downstream, where they could cause erosion damage. OK, I could acknowledge that this might be a good idea, but oh my, what a horrible mess! This had been one of my favorite sites for wildflower walks. How could it ever recover?
Well, it did. I shouldn't have worried. Many native species of trees and shrubs were planted, and in less than a year (when I took the photo below in September, 2013), the banks were completely covered again, and with mostly native wildflowers like goldenrods, asters, sunflowers, Evening Primrose, Wild Bergamot, and Blue Vervain. Unfortunately, some invasive species like Mugwort were introduced along with the dirt surrounding the new trees' rootballs, but so far they don't seem to have monopolized the site.
I took this photo below a few weeks ago in August, 2014. Compare these lush green banks with the muddy bald banks in the above photo of the identical site, taken less than two years ago.
And here's what was once a muddy plain scraped bare of all vegetation, now abounding with beautiful flowers. As it happens, those towering Maximilian Sunflowers are not really native to New York State, being a prairie native most likely introduced to this site either on the rootballs of the young trees or on the tires of the excavation equipment. They were not here three years ago, and now they are becoming abundant. It will be interesting to see if they persist.
In the meantime, the diverse mix of wildflowers continues to thrive and grow ever more robust. Plants that were hip-high last year are now of shoulder height or higher, enriched by the floodwaters that wash over the land each spring. Other wildlife abounds as well, including the Monarch Butterfly my friend Kay is trying to capture a photo of here.
Lucky for me, the butterfly found a flower worth lingering on, allowing me to creep close enough to snap its picture.