Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sharing a Favorite Shoreline

This is the perfect time of year to enjoy the open-field wildflowers that thrive on late-summer sunshine.  And there's no better place to find such flowers than the wide sandy shore that circles the back bay of Moreau Lake.  That was the promise I made to a group of nature enthusiasts from the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady (ECOS) that I led on a walk this past Tuesday.  And we were not disappointed.

The group of walkers was large and enthusiastic, and I was especially pleased to have both Ed Miller and Nancy Slack along, since both are extremely informed about plants and could add their insights to every plant we found.  We couldn't have asked for better weather, either: sun-warmed but cool,  just perfect for a mid-morning stroll along a quiet bay.

Even before we moved to the shore, I had an opportunity to point out some interesting nature sights right next to the parking lot at Moreau Lake State Park's beach.  There in the woods just beyond our parked cars was a patch of both Solomon's Seal and Solomon's Plume, two woodland plants that are often confused, because their leaves are similar.  But today, both plants were bearing fruit, making their differences quite evident. The first one we looked at was Solomon's Seal, which dangled blue-black berries from each leaf axil beneath the leaves.

And just a few feet away we found the Solomon's Plume, also in fruit, but instead bearing its red berries in a cluster at the end of the leafy stalk.

As we walked toward the beach, we halted at a patch of milkweed plants, so I could show our group the flies that had been glued to the milkweed leaves by a fatal fungus.  These are the same fungus-attacked flies I wrote about in a recent blog post, and I related the same tale again to the folks who gathered around to examine the many dead-fly-dotted leaves.

When we reached the beach, we were greeted by an abundance of late-summer flowers, chief among them the bright-yellow flowers of Grass-leaved Goldenrod and the creamy tufts of Boneset blooms.

Here and there in the damp sand, we found other clusters of shoreline plants, including the yellow Nodding Bur Marigold and the green leafy stalks of Northern Bugleweed, its axils wreathed with tiny white flowers.

We had the unusual opportunity to examine two species of Gerardia (Agalinis spp.) with look-alike flowers,  growing right next to each other in abundant numbers along the shore.  One of these plants was Small-flowered Gerardia (A. paupercula var. paupercula), which bears its small bright-purple flowers close to its stems, with very short flower stalks.

Bearing very similar flowers was Slender Gerardia (A. tenuifolia), but as this photo shows, these flowers are borne on long slender stalks that hold the flowers some distance from the stem.  Although both these Gerardias were growing mixed together and side-by-side, they did not appear to hybridize at all, which is why they are considered to be two distinct species.

Before we began our circuit of the bay, Nancy Slack presented a short tutorial on various asters that we were likely to encounter this time of year.  And yet even she could not decide which aster this small-flowered white one was.  Nor could our other aster-expert friend Ed Miller, although he later informed me (after considerable study of his manuals at home) that he thought this might be the species Symphyotrichum racemosum (Small White Aster), which was previously called Aster vimeneus.   Although this is an aster that is not widely reported from around New York State, it is not considered a rare plant by state botanists.  Whatever species of aster this was that we found,  it was certainly abundant here, being the most common flower along many stretches of the shore.

Although many of our group had encountered Sweet Everlasting before, some were quite surprised to discover its interesting fragrance, which I would describe as smelling like maple syrup.

I would have walked right by this itsy bitsy yellow flower if Ed had not called it to my attention.  At first I thought it might be the Dwarf St. Johnswort, due to its minuscule size.  But then I noticed its long, fine leaves, quite different from the oval ones of Dwarf St. Johnswort, and I realized this was a very small specimen of Canada St. Johnswort instead.


Here's another photo of it to demonstrate its small size.

Small as it was, though, there were even smaller flowers on the Dwarf Forget-me-nots that were scattered along the shore.

And smallest of all were the miniature blooms of Humped Bladderwort that sprouted from the black mud at the water's edge.

Although plants were our focus as we strolled the sandy beach, we were also thrilled to see this Little Green Heron perched on a fallen tree close to shore.  It allowed us to get quite close to it, so that many were able to get a good view of it, even without binoculars.

We also were able to study this little Red Eft up close, as Nancy pointed out how its bright orange color was trending toward the green it will become when it enters its watery stage of life as a Spotted Newt.  We find Red Efts in the woods, but the Spotted Newts live in the water, where they breed.

Our group left the lakeshore and entered the woods, where we took a trail to return to our cars.  On the way, we noted the White Wood Aster,  which has much broader leaves than open-area asters do, the better to thrive in the low-light conditions in the shaded forest.

We also admired the blue-black berries that dangled from the tops of the Maple-leaved Viburnum, another woodland plant.

Most goldenrods bloom under sunny skies, but the Blue-stem Goldenrod is a forest denizen, blooming even in the darkest shade of the woods.

I had hoped to show folks this little woodland orchid called Autumn Coralroot, but there wasn't much of it to see by now, since the minute little spotted petals were already shriveled.  This orchid is never what you would call "showy," even in its prime.  In other years, I used to find about a dozen of them growing around this tree, but this year, only two. Ah well, an orchid is an orchid, and I'm glad we found at least one, fading though it may have been.


The Furry Gnome said...

You always manage to find such interesting plants!

Monomi said...

Just discovered your blog while googling "spotted wintergreen". What a delightful surprise! Beautiful format, great photos and a wealth of information. Thank you.