Monday, September 28, 2015

Summery Days in Early Autumn

Yes, autumn officially arrived this past week, but except for a chill in the air at night, the days have continued summery warm and sunny, inspiring me to visit some of the beautiful natural areas that surround us here in Saratoga County.

Last Wednesday I stopped by one of our newest preserves, the Round Lake Preserve, which provides car-top boat access to both Round Lake and the Anthony Kill, a creek that runs out of the lake to join the Hudson River at Mechanicville.  A long driveway accessed from Rte. 67 ends at a parking area that contains a number of interesting informational signs.

This preserve, a joint project of the Town of Malta and the land-conservation organization Saratoga P.L.A.N., provides boaters and fishermen easy access to these waters via a substantial boardwalk that crosses acres of wetland to end in a floating dock at the Anthony Kill.

Although I would not be able to launch my canoe from this dock (I need to wade out into shallow water to do so), I certainly enjoyed the expansive view of the many acres of wetland that surround the stream here.  Judging from the beautiful red vegetation, I could assume that the most abundant plant growing here was the native Water Willow (Decodon verticillatus), sometimes called Swamp Loosestrife but no relation to the invasive Purple Loosestrife that dominates many other wetlands. Water Willow does  have spikes of purple flowers earlier in the summer, but those flowers have faded now, to leave clusters of ruby-red seed pods in the axils of the stalks.

Other plants visible from the dock included the large flat floating leaves of Tuberous Water Lily (Nymphaea tuberosa) and the white-flowered stalks of Swamp Smartweed (Persicaria hydropiperoides).  Considering how abundant this Swamp Smartweed is at this location, I am surprised that I have never encountered it on my other watery explorations.  I would love to further explore the vegetation along this creek, but I would have to launch at Round Lake and make my way here to the Anthony Kill, which would be easy to do.

The terrestrial plants surrounding the parking area indicate that these fields were once devoted to agriculture.  One field still produced an ample crop of Alfalfa, distinguished by these purple clover-like flowers.

Not a crop plant, but one that can often be found at the edges of corn fields, is this intriguing weed called Velvetleaf or Indian Mallow (Abutilon theophrasti).   Other common names include Butter Print or Pie Plant, suggested by the crimped top of the seed pod.  Considered quite a pest by farmers when it infests their fields, it is related to our pretty garden Hollyhocks and has a yellow flower that is similar to a Hollyhock flower, although much smaller.

Trails through the woods and along the creek are planned for the future, but are not yet accessible at this otherwise very pleasant Round Lake Preserve.

The following day dawned just as sunny and beautiful, and I was glad that my friends in the Thursday Naturalists had arranged to explore the banks of the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa, an easy drive from my home in downtown Saratoga Springs.  We began our explorations of this site on the mudflats exposed by low water this time of year.

High on the banks we could see abundant thickets of brilliant-yellow Jerusalem Artichokes, one of our native sunflowers that is neither related to artichokes, nor is it from Jerusalem.  You can eat the tuberous roots, however, although I don't know as if they taste like artichokes.

Despite the generous beauty of Jerusalem Artichokes, I often feel just a wee bit sad when I see them, since this is the last wildflower of the summer to come into bloom around here (not counting Witch Hazel, a shrub that sometimes doesn't bloom until late in October).  This pretty little Candystripe Leafhopper has found one of its sunny ray flowers a fine place to perch on.

Earlier in the summer, frothy spires of Wild Cucumber flowers trailed across creekside shrubs, and now we can find the Wild Cucumber fruits dangling from twigs and resting on the sand.  Despite what look like formidable spines covering the inedible fruits, those sharp protuberances are actually quite soft and will not prick your hand if you pick one up to examine its loofah-like interior.

After thoroughly cataloguing all the plants we could find in the mud along the creek banks (compiling a list way too numerous to enumerate here), we climbed the bank to follow a trail that led through head-high (and even higher!) autumn flowers.  What a riot of gorgeous color!

Although many late-summer flowers had already faded, the New England Asters added their brilliant purples and roses and pinks to the trailside beauty and provided late-season nectar to many visiting pollinators.

Another brilliant-yellow sunflower, called Maximilian Sunflower,  added to the glory of the scene, but this one arrived here only recently and is already beginning to dominate the landscape.

 I first encountered this sunflower in September, 2013, as a single specimen sprouting from the rootball of a sapling tree that was planted to re-forest a denuded creekbank.  If you go back to read my blogpost from that date, you will see that even the experts were puzzled as to its identity, although we finally determined it to be the Maximilian Sunflower, native to central states of the U.S., but not native to New York or any nearby states.

From that single specimen we found in bloom two years ago, the Maximilian Sunflower has spread to dozens, if not hundreds, of healthy multi-bloomed plants.  Although our native Bonesets, Vervains, Goldenrods,  Bee Balms, and Asters appear to be holding their own for now, there may be cause for concern that this introduced species of sunflower may well become invasive and supplant the glorious diversity of wildflowers that grow here now.  Yes, this sunflower is beautiful, but not as beautiful as this vibrant mix of native plants that we've come to love along the Kayaderosseras Creek.

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