Sunday, July 29, 2018

Wandering Woods Hollow in the Rain

It wasn't the nicest day for a walk in the woods, with intermittent showers and solid gray skies.  But it wasn't swelteringly hot, either, and no raging thunderstorms or drenching downpours were predicted, so a few of my hardier friends in the Thursday Naturalists showed up to explore the varied habitats of Woods Hollow Nature Preserve near Ballston Spa last week.

It is these varied habitats -- open wet meadow, dry sand plain, mixed hardwood/conifer forest, and woodland pond with a sphagnum shore -- that make this particular preserve so rich in botanical possibilities, whether in rain or in shine.  So donning various kinds of raingear, we set off to see what we could see. 

We first entered the preserve through what used to be an open wet meadow filled with Boneset and Joe Pye and Tall Goldenrod, and edged with Slender Gerardia and Nodding Ladies' Tresses.  But just over the past few years, this meadow has grown up into a thick pine woods instead of an open meadow.  The land surrounding this young woods is now dry, supporting masses of Scouring Rush (Equisetum hyemale) and Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) in the sandy soil.

One of the more interesting trees that border this meadow is Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera), a tree that usually grows further north.  If you turn over the glossy green leaves of this tree, you can see the fine pattern of "mudcracks" that cover the surface, a distinguishing feature of this species' leaves.

As we entered an area that once was mined for sand, we noticed stands of Black Oak (Quercus velutina) with their broad, glossy, dark-green leaves.  Little saplings of this species abound in the sandy soil.

Our friend Ed Miller told us we could ascertain that these leaves were those of Black Oak by noting the hairiness of the leaf's midrib on the underside.  Sure enough,  this midrib is definitely hairy!  My camera's macro lens could see this feature better than my eyes could!

Another inhabitant of this sandy area is Spotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata), which possesses a complicated array of purple-spotted yellow flowers layered between wreathes of green-tipped pink bracts.  It also has a powerful minty scent.

Here was another Mint-family plant, the Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), with terminal clusters of tiny white flowers that are also spotted with purple.

This kind of dry sterile soil is exactly the place you are likely to find Winged Pigweed (Cycloloma atriplicifolium), and sure enough, we did.  Just little sprouts of it so far, of what will eventually be large spherical growths atop single stems that will eventually break off and go rolling and tumbling across the land, spilling seeds as they roll. Now in flower, the plants already had a few of the distinctive segmented circular seed pods that are edged with pale wings.

A very pretty yellow moth was moving among the plants nearby.  I once learned that it is extremely difficult to ID this moth as to species without examining its genitalia.  Since I did not do that, it will have to suffice to say that this moth is in the genus Xanthotype.  That's according to the experts at, who examined my photo of it.

We next climbed a sand dune to enter the extensive wooded habitat of Woods Hollow, a mixed hardwood/conifer forest that is criss-crossed with many wide trails.  In this photo, we have stopped to examine an American Chestnut sapling, a scion of one of the majestic trees that once populated our northern forests.  New growth continues to sprout from the stumps of long-dead trees, killed long ago by the Chestnut Blight that will eventually kill the scions as well, once they mature. 

Now we began to see those plants that inhabit the shaded forest floor.  Indian Cucumber Root  (Medeola virginiana) is one of those plants, and we noted how the little spidery flowers that once dangled beneath the top tier of leaves have now produced the green fruits that will eventually turn blue-black.

We had to lift the glossy green leaves of Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) to discover the pretty white bell-shaped flowers that dangled beneath.  These flowers will later produce the shiny red berries that taste like Teaberry chewing gum.  (That's a reference that certainly dates me, doesn't it?)

Along the wide trails that move through the woods we found patches of Deer-tongue Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum), with delicate seed heads that reminded me of exploding fireworks.

Here was a strange-looking growth on the trunk of a Black Birch (Betula lenta), some kind of gall or canker that caused leaves to sprout directly from knobby masses that form on the bark.

Low shrubs of New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) can be found along the trails, their clusters of white flowers now replaced by clusters of colorful seed pods.  I know that the flowers are powerfully attractive to many different pollinators, but I wonder if this odd-looking bug has found something to its liking among the seed pods.

In the deeper shade of the woods, we found the ghostly pale stems of Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) emerging from the duff of the forest floor.

The beautiful star-shaped flowers of Starflower (Lysimachia borealis) have now been replaced by what I think are the equally pretty seed pods, tiny powder-blue spheres set among star-shaped bracts.


We came upon extensive patches of Dalibarda (Rubus repens), the bright-white, five-petaled flowers strewn across the forest floor like stars in the sky.  Another common name for this flower is Dewdrop.

Here was a prize I was not expecting to see, since in my preview search I had not found any of the little native orchid called Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata).  But one of our group spied it some distance off from the trail and called our attention to it.   I am so glad he did.  There are other parts of this preserve where this orchid abounds, but rarely do I find it where we were walking today.

Finally, we came to the pond, with its tree-lined shore and banks that proliferate with many wetland species.

Parts of the pond's shore are markedly bog-like, with extensive mats of sphagnum moss and thickets of such peatland denizens as Leatherleaf shrubs.  In this photo, the shiny green leaves of Swamp Dewberry punctuate the paler green of the sphagnum moss.

One of the flowering plants that prefers this wetland habitat is Mad-dog Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), with its small purple flowers strung like beads along its flower stalks.

As we circled the pond on narrow paths, we came upon a large patch of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis), its yellow, lily-like flowers now replaced by the blue berries that suggest this plant's other common name of Blue Bead Lily.

As we passed a particularly damp place on the trail, I plucked a stem of Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle americana) to show my friends the tiny green flowers that bloom in the axils of its pretty,  almost circular scalloped leaves.

You have to peer pretty close to discern the tiny pad-like leaves of Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)  hiding down among the moss, but because I knew where they were likely to grow, I was able to point them out to my friends.  Usually, the tiny hairs that rim the leaves are tipped with beads of a sticky fluid, a fluid that unsuspecting insects mistake for an easy meal of nectar, only to be trapped by the sticky stuff and then enfolded by the leaves that close over them.  This plant obtains its nutrients by digesting the insects it traps.  I wonder if it is nearing the end of its growing season, and thus no longer needs to lure insects to its traps.  It was producing flower stalks now, which were still in bud (and also very hard to photograph!).

Here was the final prize of our botanical tour:  the slender stalks and tiny green buds of Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica).  I had despaired of finding this wee little plant on this trip, since my preview search of areas where I had found it before had proved fruitless.  But there it was, right next to the patch of Sundew in its typical peaty habitat.  This is not considered to be a rare plant in the state, but it is certainly easy to overlook, being so small and colored like its surroundings.  I am so glad we were able to find it at last!


threecollie said...

I love your walks in woods and along waterways. So interesting! Thought of you often at camp as we enjoyed the many woodland plants that aren't seen here in our river valley.

Daniel Wall said...

I love that Bartonia. Ever since I saw you talk about it on your blog a few years back I've always gone in search of them. So inconspicuous but such a delight to find.

The Furry Gnome said...

You sure founnd a lot to see on that walk. The Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain is a great find. Can't recallr if I've ever seen that one. Nice to be back reading blogs!

Woody Meristem said...

What a place! Tremendous variety of habitats and plants and excellent photos to illustrate.

Adirondackcountrygal said...

Very nice, it has inspired me to get out to Wood's Hollow and take a nice, long walk!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

threecollie, I can't tell you how pleased I am to know that you think of me when you enjoy the woodland plants. You have justified me in this sometimes onerous task of blog-keeping.

Dan, I'm so glad to know a fellow Bartonia lover. Who else but a fellow wildflower nerd would cast a glance at such a spindly little thing and be enchanted?

FURRY!!!! You are BACK!!! Oh, but I have missed your blogs as well as your always so-welcome comments. I have often thought of you in your long illness and hoped you were making progress toward recovery. When i saw your name, I quickly checked your blog and learned of how horrid your ordeal has been. I am so sorry. but happy to hear you are on the mend.

Woody, you are right, this is quite the place, with its variety of habitats and the various flora they support. All in a compact area that can be explored in just a few hours. Thanks for your appreciative comment, dear loyal reader, you.

Adkcountrygal, you make me happy, knowing my blog might inspire a walk in the woods. That's the major reason I keep plugging away at it, to lure folks off the couch, away from the screens, and out to experience the wonders that lie all around us. Thanks for coming by and leaving your comment.