Saturday, May 30, 2015

Up the Marble Mountain for Moonworts and Many More Marvels

For the third time in as many years, this past Friday I followed my friends up a trail to old marble quarries on the top of a mountain in Vermont.  And it sure never gets old, finding the botanical rarities this lime-rich habitat supports, as well as gasping in wonder at the beauty of these old long-abandoned quarries, now taken over by ferns and mosses and all the wonderful plants that thrive in just such a site.

When I say "rareties," I'm really not kidding, either.  According to some botanists who study these things, this particular mountain is the only known site in the United States, east of the Mississippi, to support the tiny moonwort, Botrychium ascendens.  Here in this photo, my friends Kathy and Nancy are gazing, not just in wonder at this amazing rarity, but also in astonishment that ANYone could have found this itsy bitsy fern in all this grown-over woods.

Yeah, I doubt very much you can see the moonwort in the photo above, so I took another shot with my hand behind it, to give it scale.

We had orchids as well as moonworts to delight in up here, and this Showy Orchis was in the best shape I have ever seen it, each pretty flower fresh and rosy and unblemished.

Here's a closer look at those exquisite little orchids:

Other orchids we always expect to find up here are the Yellow Lady's Slippers, both the large-flowered variety and the small-flowered ones, as well as some that appear to be in-between, when the larger and smaller ones share the same site.  Note that the largeYellow Lady's Slipper has side petals that are yellow-green, while those of the smaller ones are deep purple.

The Small Yellow Lady's Slipper is so abundant up here, it was hard to walk through the woods without stepping on them.  What a sight!

Another rarity, easily overlooked because it is just about the opposite of showiness compared to those lady's slippers, is the tiny Mustard-Family plant called Rock Draba (Draba arabisans).  True to its name, it was growing among the boulders that were scattered throughout the woods, as well as in cracks in marble cliffs that lined the trail.

This photo better displays the twisted seed pod that is distinctive to Rock Draba.

Of course, we also found many of the more common inhabitants of rich woods, such as Sweet Cicely, Virginia Waterleaf, Wood Betony, Canada Violet, and Large-flowered Bellworts, among others.  In addition, we halted at every moss-covered cliffside to explore the varieties of mosses and ferns that grew there, including this dainty Slender Cliff Brake.   We were lucky to find both the fertile fronds (the long slender ones) and the infertile ones (the chubbier fronds) in the same location.


Woody Meristem said...

Wow, what a spot! That's definitely a place to visit and enjoy those wonderful plants.

Uta said...

You have the most interesting trips and very educational for me. Since I became a Master Gardener in 2007 I have learned more about plants and their environment and you are a great teacher. Thank you.

The Furry Gnome said...

Wow! Ferns are my favourite! Haven't seen either of those species in a very long time!

Uta said...

So sorry to hear about your fall, hope you recover very quickly. God speed.

The Furry Gnome said...

Jackie, so sorry to hear about your fall. Hope you're back on your feet soon! They say that getting moving afte knee surgery is the best thing, so maybe you'll have to go walking for therapy!

Andrew L. Gibson said...

This takes me back to that soaking wet, pea soup fog day in late May two years ago when you took me to this place. I still think about it often and hope to return one day. Thank you for so perfectly capturing its beauty and allowing for a fun walk down memory lane.