Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another Year, Another Page in my Wildflower Journal

Trying to think of a theme for a New Year's post, I turned to my wildflower journal to see what new flowers I'd found this past year.  At first, I felt a bit disappointed that I'd recorded only 14 new entries,  instead of the 40 to 50 I'd regularly been listing in years past.  Of course, this is bound to  happen, since I tend to limit my searches to areas close to home where I travel often, and someday I expect I will have identified most of the local flowers.  This year I did extend my searching to parts of the Adirondacks I hadn't visited before, including Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, home to some of the rarest plants in the state, a slew of them all new to me.  But what truly amazes me is how many of my new flower finds occurred on familiar turf where I thought I already knew the name of everything that grew there.  Just goes to show, that Nature is full of surprises.  Who knows what the new year will bring?

Some highlights of the year just past:

Susquehanna Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. susquehanae)

The powerline clearcut above Mud Pond at Moreau is one of my regular haunts.  I frequently scan the sandy soil here, expecting to find my old friends the Frostweed, the Milkweeds, the Wood Lilies, the Hazelnut shrubs, and many others.  So how did this beautiful flowering shrub escape my detection for all these years?  And I might have missed it once again on a sunny day in mid-May, if I hadn't detected its exquisite fragrance and followed my nose to a big low-lying patch of it buzzing with bees.  What a find!  Let's hope I won't miss it again when spring once again comes around.

Naked Miterwort (Mitella nuda)

Okay, I did go a bit further afield to find this dainty plant with exquisitely feathery flowers, following my friends Evelyn Greene and Bob Duncan to a cedar swamp near Minerva, up north in the Adirondacks.  But that doesn't mean it couldn't be found in cedar swamps nearer home.  It's just that I probably wouldn't have found it ANYwhere if knowing friends hadn't pointed it out to me, almost invisible right at my feet.  It's very tiny, and as green as the mossy muck it grows among.  And I have very bad eyesight.  But now that I know what it looks like, perhaps I will find it again.  I sure hope so.

Round-leaved Orchid (Platanthera macrophylla)

Once again, I followed my friends Bob and Evelyn into the Adirondack woods, where we found a nice population of this aptly named orchid with leaves as big and round as pie plates.  Although not outstandingly gorgeous, this orchid's flowers are noted for their extra-long spurs, which distinguish this flower from its almost identical cousin P. orbiculata (also called Round-leaved Orchid).  Any year I find another of New York's nearly 60 native orchids is a good year for me!

Prostrate Tick Trefoil (Desmodium rotundifolium)

Back home in Saratoga County, and exploring another powerline clearcut that climbs up a mountainside at Moreau, my friend Sue Pierce and I discovered a number of plants we had never found before, including this sprawling vine-like Tick Trefoil with dainty pea-like flowers.  Although this section of clearcut was contiguous with others we had explored many times, and ran under the same powerline, we were amazed at what a distinctive plant population we found at this mountainous site.  There was Orange Grass (Hypericum gentianoides) and Venus's Looking-glass (Triodanis perfoliata) up here, too, although both plants had passed their blooming by the time we found them. You can be sure we will return at an earlier time next summer.

Pasture Thistle (Cirsium pumilum)

How lucky that we were NOT too late to find this gorgeous flower under that mountainous powerline I mentioned above.   Pasture Thistle is one of our very few native thistles, and what a spectacular one it is, with bright magenta flowers almost as big as a fist and as fragrant as they are beautiful, with multiple blooms on each compact plant.  Wouldn't they make a lovely garden flower? I can't wait to go back to enjoy them again next August.

Maximilian's Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)

Maximilian's Sunflower is not supposed to grow here in Saratoga County.  It's a Central Plains native that somehow found its way to the banks of the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa, and boy, has it made itself at home among our native goldenrods and asters!  Another burgeoning population has been found a few miles away, along an interstate highway where Department of Transportation vehicles had been disturbing the ground.  That same DOT had denuded and replanted these creek banks two years ago, so it's possible there is a connection, either intentional or inadvertent.  Were these flowers planted on purpose, or did their seeds arrive with the rootballs of new young trees that were planted along the creek?  Don't you just love these kinds of botanical mysteries?  At any rate, it will be interesting to see if these sunflowers persist, or perhaps even grow to be invasive.  For the present, anyway, they are certainly beautiful.

Ram's-head Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum)

Well, this was a find of a lifetime, not just for the year!  And I never would have found these exquisite little flowers without a lot of help from my friends in the Adirondack Botanical Society, who organized a boat trip to Valcour Island in Lake Champlain and then led us right to where these rare tiny orchids had been known to grow.  Even so, I had to get down on my knees to make sure I was seeing what my friends were pointing at.  What a treasure!  This limestone underlaid island is also the home of many other rare and fascinating plants seldom found anywhere else, and I was able to add many other "lifers" to my wildflower life list.  But none more rare or remarkable as these Ram's-head Lady's Slippers.

Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum)

Whorled Mountain Mint was not a new find for me this past year, since I first discovered this very rare plant growing on the shore of Moreau Lake in September of 2013.  But it wasn't until this past July, 2014, that its population was officially documented and assessed by a representative of the New York Natural Heritage Program.  That's when NYNHP's Rich Ring joined Moreau Lake State Park's manager Peter Iskenderian and me to count at least 273 healthy specimens of this endangered species, making it one of the largest and healthiest populations in the state.  Some sources indicate there are only four other extant populations in all of New York at present.  And there it was, growing along a shore where I had walked many, many times before, without noticing anything remarkable about this plant.  Until one September day when I wondered why its leaves were so much wider than other plants of Mountain Mint I had seen.  So, you never know.  Future surprises await, I am sure.  Now I can't wait to see what the new year will bring.

Whatever it is that the next year brings to me, I do wish a Happy New Year to all my readers.  Thanks for coming along with me on my nature adventures and for sharing your own adventures through your own blogs and comments.  Your companionship means the world to me!


The Furry Gnome said...

A wonderful selection of plants! You're quite the botanist. Don't know many of those myself, but we do have the tiny Ram's Head Orchid up the Bruce Peninsula in a secret location I know of. Must get up there this spring and chase down some orchids.

Woody Meristem said...

Ah, you got the ram's-head how fortunate. Like all the lady's-slippers it's a beautiful flower, but it's truly special.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hey Furry Gnome, guess what? I'm coming up to the Bruce Peninsula for a week this coming June with a group of botanists from around the eastern U.S. We'll be renting a house right on the shore of Lake Huron and botanizing to our hearts' content. Maybe you could join us on an excursion or two.

You said it, Woody Meristem! The Ram's-head is spectacularly special! How lucky I am to have been granted this chance to see it here in NY.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

P.S. to Furry Gnome: I'm not a botanist, Furry, just a wildflower hobbyist and total plant nerd who has managed to find some terrific friends who ARE real botanists and are happy to teach me.

Linda said...

Beautiful photos.

catharus said...

Lovely! Thanks for sharing!