Joralemon Park, Thursday, May 17
I turned 76 years old this week. I guess by anyone's definition, that makes me an old lady. But whenever I'm wandering the woods with my friends in the Thursday Naturalists (some of whom are a good deal older than I am), I feel like a kid again. And I believe my friends must feel that way too, for they sure seem to have a lot of fun, bringing an almost childlike wonder to what we find in nature.
They sure know of a lot of great places to botanize, too, and this past Thursday we visited a place that a state botanist once called the richest wildflower site in the entire state -- Joralemon Park, a limestone-rich area about 15 miles south of Albany.
I've been asked not to name some of the rarest plants in this preserve, for fear of attracting poachers, but I'm happy to share some of the unusual ones that are less rare, like these dangling clusters of American Bladdernut flowers (Staphylea trifolia). These flowers will later produce the inflated three-lobed fruits that inspired the name of the shrub.
Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum), a single-leaved fern that travels by rooting new plants from its long narrow tips, is always a sign of a rich habitat. Sure enough, we found masses of it growing on moss-covered limestone boulders.
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) is one of the least commonly encountered members of its genus, but we found it growing on rocky cliffs overlooking a pond. It's the leaves and stems, not the small yellow flowers, that inspired this low-growing sumac's specific name. The leaves have a pleasant citrusy fragrance when crushed.
Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is not the most abundant flowering plant at Joralemon. That designation would have to go to the masses of Virginia Waterleaf that carpet the forest floor there but was not yet blooming at the time of our visit. But Rue Anemone would have to be a close second. I found more of these snowy-white-flowered plants here than I have ever seen anywhere else I've explored.
Rue Anemone may have been among the most abundant plants, but there was certainly no contest as to which was the most colorful: the spectacularly scarlet Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) took that prize! How lovely that Columbine appeared when mixed with carpets of Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) out on the rocky promontory where we sat to enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking a pond.
The Skidmore Woods, Saturday, May 19
Wild Columbine was also displaying its gorgeous red flowers when I led a small group on a walk through the woods at Skidmore College on Saturday. The day was chilly, and rain began before we ended our walk (which was sponsored by the local chapter of the Audubon Society), but the sight of these lovely flowers was our reward for braving the rain and the cold.
As I mentioned before, the early spring flowers had faded already, but the Sharp-leaved Hepaticas (Hepatica acutiloba) had replaced their flowers with bright-green new leaves and seed pods just as pretty as their flowers had been.
A few colorful new flowers had opened their blooms, such as this Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) that an airborne bee was arriving to investigate.
We missed the first full flush of Large-flowered White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) when masses of them were as white as their common name would indicate. But we did find a few, including some whose once-snowy petals bore traces of pink as the flowers began to decline.
One flower just coming into bloom was the Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis), whose fern-like leaves are nearly as ornamental as its flowers.
The Large-flowered and Sessile Bellworts that grow in the Skidmore woods had already gone to seed, but we found a small patch of Perfoliate Bellworts (Uvularia perfoliata) just opening their buds. We even found one flower that had opened enough to reveal the dark-yellow interior granules that distinguish this species from the flowers of the other two bellworts.
Cole's Woods, Sunday, May 20
Cole's Woods is an extensive many-acred forest that lies right in the heart of the city of Glens Falls. A network of trails, designed for competitive cross-country skiing in the winter, offers miles of nature walking when not covered with snow. Right now, the snow is gone (at last!), and it's the snowy little orbs of Dwarf Ginseng flowers that line the trails in astonishing abundance.
Another lovely flower that abounds along these trails right now is Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus). It would be easy to miss these pretty pink bell-shaped flowers, since they dangle on twisted pedicels below the leaves. You have to lift the stalk to see them.
A spectacle not to be missed each May is the marvelous mix of snow-white Staflower (Lysimachia borealis) and vivid-purple Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia) spangling the forest floor.
We found another lovely mix of flowers on a soggy log at the edge of a brook: The vivid purple Marsh Blue Violets (Viola cucullata) punctuated by a few bright-yellow blooms of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris). Marsh Violets usually can be distinguished from a distance by the way the flowers are borne on long slender stems that hold the blooms well above the leaves.
We found several little American Toads hopping among the grasses beside the trail, but this one was kind enough to cling to some lichen-covered tree bark and sit quite still for the picture-taking.
This gorgeous Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) was not growing at Cole's Woods. I found it growing along a road not far away from Glens Falls, in a spot where I've found numerous plants of this showy native orchid before. I was much relieved to find them all still undisturbed this week, especially after discovering that the ones I used to find in the Skidmore woods appear to have been poached. So sad, since the chances of any orchid surviving transplant to a garden are very slim. I'm so grateful I know of a very few sites in the wild where I can still enjoy the splendor of this beautiful flower.