Thursday, June 15, 2017

To the Ice Meadows, Once Again!

My friends and I in the Thursday Naturalists could not have had a more beautiful day than today to return to the Ice Meadows for our annual plant pilgrimage.  This stretch of Hudson River bank north of Warrensburg is known far and wide as a place for rare and unusual plants, a habitat maintained by heaps of ice that pile up on these banks to prodigious heights each winter. That's how this area gets the name Ice Meadows.   It takes nearly to June for all of that ice to finally melt, after which the gravelly shores explode with flowering plants that are particularly suited to these harsh conditions. So as we came down through the woods to the sunny shore, we were prepared to be delighted.

The first flowers to greet us were tall stalks of what looked to be wild strawberry flowers on steroids: Tall Cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta).  Although this is not a rare plant in New York, I hardly ever see it anywhere other than the Ice Meadows, and I understand that it is rare in many surrounding states.

The sunny shore was brightened even more by the bright-yellow flowers of Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense).

I'm always surprised to find such a delicate-appearing flower as Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) thriving out here among the rocks in this barren soil.

I recognize Tall Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) by its long stems (not evident in this photo, I realize), but also by the points on its petals and the profusion of green fluffy anthers at its center.

This little cinquefoil was sprawling all over the sand among the rocks, and a close examination revealed that its leaves were serrated from the middle only, leading me to identify this as a Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis).

No one would mistake this sweetly fragrant flower for any thing but a wild rose, but more knowledgable folks than I have told me that this is a Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina), to be exact. I personally did not examine it to see if its thorns were slender and straight, or if its stipules were narrow, two of the Carolina Rose's diagnostic characteristics.

There were lots and lots of these two flowers scattered across the shore and nestling among the shoreline rocks:  the bright-yellow Small Sundrops (Oenothera perennis) and the dainty blue Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)

After thoroughly exploring the flat, dry, sandy and gravelly shoreline, we headed upstream to where running springs gather in little pools among shrub-lined boulders, expecting to find a different kind of flora inhabiting this more well-watered habitat.

We found many tufts of Spatulate Sundew (Drosera intermedia) clinging to boulders at the edge of little pools.  Sundews trap insects with those sticky hairs, then fold them into their leaves to digest them.  I can see the remains of one unfortunate insect's wings still stuck to the leaves.

We also found the Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), although less frequently.  This plant uses the same strategy to trap and consume insect prey.

Many of the flowering shrubs surrounding the spring-fed pools were bearing blossoms today.  These small yellow trumpets belong to our native Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera).

Most of the woody shrubs that grow out on the Ice Meadows are considerably dwarfed by the enormous weight of winter's ice.  This Winterberry shrub (Ilex verticillata) is obviously mature enough to bloom, and yet it barely reached my shin in height.

We found both the male and the female flowers of Carrion Flower (Smilax herbacea) growing among the rocks.  Here are the tiny anthers of the male flower cluster, releasing the stench this flower is famous for.  We may not like the smell, but it sure does attract the pollinating flies!

The pistillate flowers of the female Carrion Flower also reek, and also draw pollinators to their smell, ideally those that are dusted with pollen from having visited the male flowers not far away.

There are numerous species of grasses, sedges, and rushes that thrive on the Ice Meadows, some of them found in few other places in the state.  The Alpine Bulrush (Tricophorum alpinum) that flourishes in the damp soils around the pools may not be rare, but it certainly is remarkable looking, with those wild white "hairdos" appearing to blow in the wind!

We found a number of other plants today that I did not take photos of, but I had to go back into my photo files to find images of some of the rare beauties we did NOT find today, much to our disappointment.  I guess those weeks of rainy cold have delayed some of our favorite flowers, such as Sticky Tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa), a threatened species in New York that we have formerly found growing here so profusely, we had to watch where we stepped.  We did find some leaves and tiny buds, but nothing that looked like this:

Nor did we find any sign of this gorgeous little orchid, Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), that usually thrives by the dozens on the Ice Meadows by mid-June.

Not a trace, either, did we find of the yellow-lipped Shining Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes lucida), another of the several native orchids that we normally find on our early-summer pilgrimages to this special place.  I guess if we want to see them here this year, we're going to have to return in a couple of weeks.

Same goes for the Tubercled Orchids (Platanthera flava var. herbiola) we found no trace of as yet.

Was I disappointed to miss these flowers?  Well, sure, a little, but I can come back. Or wait until next year.   I felt most of my disappointment for my dear friend Ed Miller, who so looks forward to sharing these rare beauties with our group when we visit here, arranging to time our visits for maximum flowering plants.  He's having some issues with his eyes right now that will limit his driving for a while, and heck, now that Ed is 92 years old, I expect he likes to make the most of each day remaining to him.  Which he did today.  I hope that if I ever make it to 92-plus, I'll still be able to scramble over boulders the way Ed does, full of eager excitement over what treasures may be found.


The Furry Gnome said...

What a unique habitat. I've never heard of ice meadows anyplace else. We saw Sundews and Rose Pogonia up at Dorcas Bay this week, among others.

Woody Meristem said...

Fascinating places, you're fortunate to have them nearby.