Thursday, May 14: Where the Hoosic Meets the Hudson
On as many Thursdays as I can, I love to meet my friends in the Thursday Naturalists for excursions to various nature preserves throughout the region. This week we met at Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal, in Rensselaer County just across the river from Stillwater, close to where the Hoosic River runs into the Hudson.
Our Thursday group had explored this site late last summer, when we had discovered the fading leaves of Green Dragon, a far less common relative of Jack-in-the-Pulpit. We were very eager to find it now in flower, since few of us had ever seen it before. A preliminary search failed to turn up any specimens, but then Ed Miller spied it growing right by the path where we had passed several times. But oh, it was really wee! Less than a foot high, whereas the plants we had found last year were well above knee high. But at least its long skinny spadix was evident, even though not yet in open bloom.
It was a truly lovely day to be walking along the river. We even got to see a barge being pushed by a tugboat through the locks as we sat to enjoy our picnic lunches in the warm sunshine. And of course, we found many other plants of interest beside the Green Dragon. American Bladdernut shrubs, for example, still held some of their bell-shaped blooms that will later become the hollow bladders this native shrub is named for.
We were quite surprised to find Pink Lady's Slippers already blooming here, since the day before I had found them barely out of the ground just a few miles away. And what a deep pink they were! Gorgeous!
Not all our neat finds were flowers. This fuzzy pink-polka-dotted sphere is a gall on oaks caused by the wasp Callirhytis seminator. Oaks have the most incredible number of galls, of many shapes and colors and textures.
We were lucky to have our eagle-eyed pal Sue along today, since she not only spotted THREE Bald Eagles soaring over the river, she also spied this little Nut Weevil appearing to sip from a Witch Hazel twig. I would say it was well camouflaged, with its shiny wood-colored body and a proboscis that looks like a leaf stem.
Friday Morning, May 15: Scouting the Skidmore Woods
Lucky for me, my friends Sue and Emily were free on Friday to help me scout the Skidmore woods for a nature walk I was due to lead on Saturday. Sue is known for her super-keen eyesight that notices all kinds of things I would miss, and Emily runs a native-plant nursery and so is extremely knowledgeable about the kind of rare plants that thrive in Skidmore's limestone-underlaid forest. And of course, both women are just great pals to hang out with.
When I lead a nature walk in these woods, I always like to point out several plants that grow nowhere else in Saratoga County (and rarely elsewhere, as well). The Green Violet is one of those. Not a very violetty-looking plant, it bears these little green nubbins in the axils of its large ovate leaves.
Another rarity is Goldenseal, nearly extirpated from many areas of the country because of its use in herbal medicine. But it thrives in certain areas of this woods, although I do have to keep its location a secret from most people. Perhaps my attendees tomorrow, members of the Adirondack Botanical Society, would be the kind of folks who could keep this kind of secret.
That same need for secrecy extends to American Ginseng. I wouldn't say it actually thrives in the Skidmore woods, but I do know one place where it grows. I used to find more, but too close to the public trails for its own good, unfortunately. This plant, too, is often poached by herbal collectors.
It would be hard to keep the location of Yellow Lady's Slippers a secret, since their bright color announces their presence from some distance away. I was happy to find two specimens exactly where I found them a year ago.
The Botrychium called Rattlesnake Fern seems to be more abundant than ever this year. We noticed its lacy fronds and vertical fertile stalks over and over again.
I'm glad that some of the Wood Betony flowers will be blooming on Saturday. Most people are delighted to see this unusual plant with its leaves at least as beautiful as its flowers.
Canada Violet thrives in this limey woods, along with this pretty fern I don't know the name of. Both plants thrive among limestone boulders. The fern has a red stipe and green rachis, smooth and not hairy. Can anyone help me put a name to it?
I just couldn't believe that the Large-flowered Bellwort had already finished blooming and was setting seed so soon. This was the only one with a remaining flower we could find in all the woods. At least we could see its interesting leaves that appear to be perforated by its stems.
Another bellwort with perforated leaves, the Perfoliate Bellwort, was just beginning to open, so I will be able to show our walkers plenty of these pale yellow flowers with an orangish grainy interior, a feature distinctive to this species of bellwort.
Oh dear, that spectacular sea of Large-flowered White Trillium I found not long ago has now withered and crumpled from lack of rain. But we might still see a few weakening plants, the snowy petals aging to pink.
We found lots of Sanicle Snakeroot, not in bloom but in bud. Not that the tiny greenish-white flowers look that much showier than these green buds. This plant has a very handsome foliage. We also found the foliage for two other members of the genus Sanicula: the Clustered Snakeroot and the Long-fruited Snakeroot.
I was REALLY excited to find this plant, even though it's not yet in bloom. This is the foliage and flower buds of the beautiful woodland species of milkweed called Four-leaved Milkweed, more diminutive and dainty than most other species of milkweed that grow in sunlit areas. It will have clusters of pink-tinged white flowers on plants not even a foot high. I think I will print out one of my photos of this lovely flower to show to my walkers tomorrow.
What a blazing beauty is Wild Columbine! I can't wait to show my ABS group a spectacular site where this brilliant flower grows in masses along with the slender stems of Miterwort. Sue and Emily and I enjoyed that sight today as we wound up our morning tour of the Skidmore woods and moved on to another afternoon activity.
The trail to the Calla pond was steeper and longer than I had remembered, and populated by swarms of mosquitoes drawn to our panting and sweat. But what's a little discomfort when the trail is surrounded by the treasure of lovely wildflowers like these bright-pink Fringed Polygalas?
We found more Wood Betony here in the park, but these plants had red flowers while the ones in Skidmore bore yellow ones.
High up on the mountain where a stream crossed the trail, we found numerous clumps of these Marsh Blue Violets with their distinctive super-long stems.
Also inhabiting the damp areas along the stream were dozens of Red Efts, the juvenile form of the Spotted Newt, including this little guy who sat still for the picture-taking.
I was able to show this group all the plants that Sue and Emily and I had found on our scouting tour the day before, and even more. These tiny red flowers in the leaf axils of Orange-fruited Horse Gentian had not been open the day before, but they were today, just for us!
Over and over again, I heard my friends comment that they had never seen most of the plants I was showing them today. That's understandable, since most of the Adirondack woodlands grow on granitic substrate, instead of the limestone substrate that underlies the Skidmore woods and provides the nutrients these rare and unusual plants require. Not every plant that grows here, though, was new to them. They had all seen Wild Columbine and Miterwort before, but I knew of a spot where they grew together in spectacular display, and this is where we ended our tour today. I heard oohs and aahs all around, as someone described this scene as like the grand finale of a fireworks display, all the starbursts and rockets exploding at once!
We had a few other, non-botanical treats today, as well, such as watching a ground-dwelling bee fly into her nest, carrying the pollen with which she will pack these little holes, creating sustenance for the eggs she will lay within.
The highlight of the morning for me was seeing this amazing little creature, a Star-nosed Mole, scampering through the woods. Feeling threatened by our presence, it tucked its head beneath a leaf and lay still, perhaps believing it was hidden from our view. When I lifted the leaf, it did not move, but froze in position, allowing us to see its wondrous starry snout -- the most sensitive organ on earth, I have read -- as well as its wide, long-clawed tunneling front feet, and its velvety fur I longed to touch but didn't want to frighten it further.
The flower's petals are snowy white, but its stamens and pistils are tinged with pink. One distinctive aspect of this plant is that its anthers are born on long filaments, which this photos clearly shows.
Well, this was quite a surprise! Who ever heard of a PINK Nodding Trillium? I suppose it's possible that it has hybridized with nearby Red Trilliums. I shall have to ask some of my botanists friends if they have ever heard of this. Hmm. . . . Very interesting! A nice puzzle to end this long stretch of busy botanical days.