What a botanical treasure-lode we have in Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail! Located just east of Saratoga Springs, the trail runs for about 2 miles along an old railroad right-of-way and passes through three different habitats: forested wetland, swamp, and open marsh, each with its distinct group of plants. If you just want to walk it, you can cruise right along and complete its length (one way) in much less than an hour. But if you want to stop every few feet or so to marvel at all the array of fascinating plants, you'd better plan on quite a bit longer than that. When I led a group from the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady there on Tuesday, we barely reached the half-way point before some of our group had to leave for prior appointments. Ah well, at least we had seen some of the special plants I had promised we would find.
Right at the start of our walk, I could point to the masses of tiny white flowers that lined the path, a wee little thing called Grove Sandwort. This is not considered to be a rare flower in the county, but Bog Meadow is the only place I know where to find it, and none of our group today had ever seen it.
Adding its own bigger brighter color to the patches of sandwort was the lovely purple Wild Geranium.
We didn't have to go far before we saw the first of many Mayapples, with their single big white flowers half hidden beneath the umbrella of their giant leaves.
Only a bit further along we began to see the flower that this trail is famous for, the elusive Nodding Trillium. Although some botanists have expressed concern that this trillium seems to be disappearing from its traditional sites, so far it thrives along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail. In fact, I counted many more here this year than ever before, and our group was delighted to find so many in full glorious bloom.
We were a little bit too early to find the pretty yellow Clintonia in full glorious bloom, but we did find a few just warming up for the big show to come.
Speaking of shows to come, I was delighted to find dozens and dozens of Canada Lily shoots lining the path. I don't know how many of these young plants will bloom this year, but if only a portion of them do, there will be a spectacular display of these lilies, dangling their orange, yellow, and red fireworks around the Fourth of July.
When it comes to floral fireworks, it would be hard to surpass the flowers of Glaucous Honeysuckle for gorgeous multi-colored blooms. I was SO excited when one of our group pointed to this confetti-colored flower cluster and asked what it might be. I had found Glaucous Honeysuckle here years ago, but not in quite some time.
It was just about at this point on the trail that some of our group had to turn back. I offered to continue the walk for those who would like to remain, and several did. And wouldn't you know, we hadn't gone more than 20 feet before we entered a section of trail that held some of the most interesting finds. I almost hollered at our departing friends to quick come back and see these beautiful Star-flowered Solomon's Seals, but they might have already been beyond earshot. The friends who remained were certainly delighted by these sweet starry flowers held on lovely blue-green leaves.
These beautiful and prolific flowers stayed with us for quite a while as we proceeded along the trail, until we drew to a halt to examine the next population of remarkable flowers, a large patch of Perfoliate Bellworts.
Now we were entering a darker forest, where the trees met over the trail and water pooled on either side, creating a deep-green swamp filled with Marsh Marigold and Skunk Cabbage leaves and the long slender wands of Water Horsetail, wreathed with their spiky branches.
It was here in these dark still pools, maybe 15 years ago, that I first found the only bog plant I've ever known to grow along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, a plant called Bog Buckbean. For the past three years I have missed finding it, for not only its flowers, but also its leaves just seemed to have disappeared. Well, you can imagine the squeal I let out when I spied the distinctive cluster of Buckbean's three leaves protruding above the muck. And that was just for spying the leaves. On Wednesday I returned and discovered the bright-white cluster of flowers in the very same spot. I wonder how on earth I could have missed them the first time around. I am just so happy to see they are back where I always used to find them, the only place I know of in all of Saratoga County.
Just a few yards further along, it was my friends' turn to squeal with delight, as we spied the bright pink flowers of Early Azalea off in the woods, its presence announced in advance by the heady fragrance borne on the warm humid air.
Such an incredibly beautiful native shrub, it's hard to believe it just grows wild in the swamp, with no gardener or groundskeeper to tend it.
And now it really was time to turn back, if any of us hoped to have lunch before it was time to start dinner. What a fine time we had all had together, enjoying not only the floral surprises but also the songs of many birds, from the loud liquid peals of a Scarlet Tanager hiding from sight in the treetops, to the sweet sibilant silvery spiral of song from a Veery way off in the forest. Not to mention the great pleasure of each other's fine company. I hope we can walk together another time. When we have more time.
Well, I had more time for Bog Meadow the next day, when I returned to enter the trail from a different access point midway along its length. I knew there were still more botanical treasures to be found, and I wanted to find them before their bloom-time was over.
I encountered the first flower I was seeking almost as soon as I entered the trail, at a place I have always found it before, along a tiny brook. The plant's name is Water Avens, and true to its name, it likes to grow in wet places. Although it looks as if it were still in bud, this is actually as far as its blossoms will open.
I next crossed the trail and entered the woods, moving in closer to a vast wetland that supports massive growths of Sensitive Fern and Skunk Cabbage.
I could walk through an open woods close to this wetland, and here I found abundant numbers of the bright-yellow flowers of Golden Ragwort, a plant that likes its feet rather damp.
I was now exploring a part of this nature preserve I had never traveled through before, so I had never seen this particular section of wetland completely taken over by a single species of sedge. Luckily, I have a friend with far more extensive knowledge of sedges than I ever hope to have (Thanks, Andrew!), and he has informed me that this is quite likely a sedge called Carex lacustris. Possessing some of the largest leaves and fruiting bodies of any sedge, this is a common denizen of wetlands in New York State.
I have never thought of Bog Meadow as a particularly lime-rich habitat, but the presence of masses of Maidenhair Fern in both the wetlands and upland forest cause me to believe there must be some source providing the lime that this beautiful fern requires.
I also have found an occasional Rattlesnake Fern in these woods, which is a species of botrychium that also usually indicates the presence of lime in the soil.
Well, I searched and searched and I never did find a flower I had located several days ago when I scouted this trail in preparation for leading the ECOS group here. How could I miss this sizable clump of Rose Twisted Stalk with its pretty pink bells dangling down from arching leaves?
I know it's in there, and I am determined to find it again. Which means I will have to come back before next Thursday, when I lead my friends in the Thursday Naturalists along this same trail in search of all we found this week, and possibly others. I just hope that most of these botanical treasures will still be in bloom by then.
One thing is certain, the trail will be in good shape for walking, thanks to the efforts of this gentleman, Geoff Bournemann, whom I met hard at work repairing silted-out sections caused by erosion. Geoff has been stewarding this trail for many years, and I can't thank him enough for easing my passage along one of the richest botanical sites in all of Saratoga County.