Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Hunt Continues: Along the Kayaderosseras

As I stated in my last post, I know I will never manage to locate all 1,176 plant species that are missing from the New York Flora Association's Plant Atlas for Saratoga County.  But I also know that everywhere I usually hike or paddle will offer up sought-after species almost everywhere I look.  That was certainly the case when I visited the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa yesterday, walking a trail that follows the creek closely before  moving across an open meadow filled with beautiful wildflowers.

The trail is called the Burl Trail, and it can be found at a place called Gray's Crossing along Northline Road, a canoe-access site that is actually part of the Saratoga Spa State Park, although it is disjunct from the main holdings of that state park.  I certainly couldn't have had a lovelier day for ambling along a creekside, with a radiant blue sky reflected in the quietly moving water.

I almost immediately happened upon one of the trees on my list, one that would surely be hard to miss: the spectacular Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), with its gigantic heart-shaped leaves and huge clusters of fragrant orchid-lovely flowers. I see this tree in many locations around the county (including a volunteer that arose in my own yard), but the rich soil along this creek apparently nourishes most of the plants that grow here to especially enormous size.

Ubiquitous along the sandy bank were masses of Giant Chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum), their starry white flowers spangling the tangled dark-green foliage like stars in the sky. Although this introduced species can form dense patches along riverbanks and streamsides, it has so far not been reported widely across New York State.  Or at least, it has not been recorded in the plant atlas.  It will be now, for Saratoga County, at least.

Oho!  Here was a new species for me!  This is Water Speedwell(Veronica anagallis-aquatica), and at first I thought it was the very similar native speedwell called American Brooklime.  But the way the upper leaves clasp the stem is a feature that distinguishes this species, so I was happy to add this pretty plant to my own life-list of plant finds, as well as the list of not-yet-reported Saratoga County plants.

I don't have to go searching to find Spiny Sow-thistle (Sonchus asper), since I can think of at least a dozen other places I've seen this spiky dandelion-on-steroids-looking plant.  But since it was standing right there by the creek bank, sunny-flowered and nearly as tall as I am,  I went ahead and collected it to add to my growing pile of sought-after plants.  (So far, I have found and pressed 51 in just one week!)

I don't know how on earth I am going to collect a specimen of Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) when it's mature enough to bloom.  It's already about 7 feet tall, and already just one of its gigantic three-lobed leaves would over-fill a typical specimen sheet.  I have seen this ragweed with stalks as thick as axe-handles and flower-heads towering almost twice my height over me.  I'll have to ask one of the state botanists how to prepare this plant for herbarium storage.  At least I know where it grows.

Here were some more Swamp Milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata), a different population from the ones I found previously along the Hudson at South Glens Falls.  But could they be the sought-after subspecies, A. incarnata ssp. pulchra?  Let me see if the stem is "noticeably pilose"  (meaning, with slightly stiffened distinct hairs ascending from the surface).

Hmmmm. . . .?  Well, if I look really close, I do see some hairs on the stem.  But I wouldn't call this stem noticeably pilose.  I would say the stem looks more "puberlulent" (a botanical term meaning covered with very short fine erect hairs).  Ah well.    Guess I'll just keep looking until I find some A. incarnata  specimens about which there is no question as to their degree or type of hairiness.

As I continued my walk along the creek, I encountered no more of the listed plants I was seeking, but I did see many beautiful ones.  Actually, this sunflower (species unknown) many very well be on that list.  I have a hard time telling sunflowers apart, so I am consciously neglecting to look for them.  Whatever this one's species, it was certainly showy and bright, and there were many of them growing along the Burl Trail.

I always expect to find Blue Vervain here, and I was not disappointed.

Another dear familiar flower friend was just starting to bloom here, too.  This is Wild Bergamot, and there were many of them.

Here and there I noticed the pure-white blooms of White Beardtongue peeking out amid the tall grasses.

After following the creek closely for maybe a quarter mile, the trail curves around to pass through an open grassy meadow on the way back to the starting point.

Hiding down among the grasses were clouds of a tiny-flowered species of bedstraw, with the much larger blooms of Lesser Stitchwort seeming to float, invisibly stemmed, among them.  Because this bedstraw had prickly stems, I am guessing it is Rough Bedstraw (Galium asprellum).

Rough Bedstraw is not on my "missing" list, but a few other Galium species are, including this Yellow Bedstraw (G. verum ssp. verum), which grows in abundant masses in this meadow, sharing its turf with thousands of Canada Anemones.

I was very grateful for a gentle breeze on this very hot day, especially since it wafted the exquisite scent of many Common Milkweeds my way. I stopped on the trail to just breathe their beautiful fragrance.

While breathing deeply next to a Common Milkweed bloom, I noticed this bee moving from floret to floret sipping nectar.  Over and over again, the poor thing would get a leg stuck deep in the slits of the florets (a strategy the milkweed uses to deliver its pollen).  Over and over again, she managed to free her leg, but only after madly yanking and tugging, with ferocious buzzing of wings. I noticed that her wings were frayed, and I wondered if she was damaging them in her repeated attempts to escape.

After the fourth time I saw the bee get her leg trapped (but who knows how many times this had happened before I noticed?), her strenuous efforts seemed to fail her.  Perhaps it was simple exhaustion, or perhaps her wings were now too tattered to beat strongly enough to free her.  Determined to help her, I reached in my pocket and took out my Leatherman tool, which contains some tweezers.  I meant to pull apart the floret trapping the bee's leg, but the bee's frantic twirling impeded my efforts.  Finally, I slipped the tweezers beneath her abdomen and gently lifted her free.  She flew to a leaf and rested there.  I don't know if she will call it a day or go back and get trapped again.  Ah well, I did what I could.

I took a video of the bee's frantic thrashing to free itself. While I was doing that, a deerfly stung the palm of my hand, which is why the image goes haywire.  But that's when I put my camera away and pulled out my Leatherman tool.  I often find dead insects, or sometimes only their legs, dangling from the florets of milkweed.  Look up milkweed pollination strategies on-line.  Nature isn't always kind.

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