Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Rare Plant? Could Be. Let's Find Out!

Regular readers of this blog may remember this photo I posted last Wednesday, confessing I didn't know what this plant was.  In that same post I then described how some plant-expert Facebook friends suggested it was probably a state-listed Threatened species called Borodinia missouriensis (or Boechera missouriensis, as some other sources call it).  This photo shows the plant gone to seed, displaying its distinctive arching siliques.  Could I find the same species in flower?

Well, yes!  I could!  So I returned to the site and collected another specimen, one that still had its tiny four-petaled white flowers just peeking out of its clustered buds.  And while I was there, on a powerline trail that runs along the top of Mud Pond at Moreau, I counted over 40 individual plants along a stretch of trail maybe 50 yards long. Wow!  If this truly is that threatened Borodinia missouriensis (also called Green Rock Cress), it isn't exactly a rare plant at this location! I will send both specimens -- one in seed, the other in flower -- to a state botanist who will ascertain this plant's identity for sure.

Meanwhile, I remembered finding a plant that looked like this along the sandy shore of a cove at Moreau Lake, so I went there today to see if I could find it.  I was planning to walk along the shore, the same shore where a few years back I found another rare plant called Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum), that one an Endangered species and really rare.  This would be a good time to also check on that population.  Or so I thought.  But when I reached where that shore once was, I had to think again.  This year, the lake is so high the water reaches all the way into the woods.  There remains no sandy shore.

I remembered exactly one location where that mountain mint had thrived by the hundreds.  Today, that location was well under water, thanks to a spring and summer when it has rained nearly every day. (And since Moreau Lake is a kettle lake with no inlet or outlet, whatever water falls into it, stays in it.)  Oh dear!  Will our Whorled Mountain Mint population survive this flooding?

Probably it will.  I still found many plants of Whorled Mountain Mint on higher ground, so I imagine this native plant will spread out again once the flooding recedes.

Also there, on what little remained of a shore between water and steep forested banks, I found the other plant I believed I might find here, the Mustard-family plant we believe could be Borodinia missouriensis, its distinctive arching seedpods reflecting the afternoon light.

I counted at least a dozen there along the shore, and then when I continued on, I found quite a number more of the same, back in the shady woods.   I'm SO glad to know that, whatever its name, this plant is happy here!

And was I happy, too?  Well, what do you think this certifiably nutty plant nerd was?  Ya, you betcha!  Oh heck, I'll even be happy enough if this mystery mustard turns out to be just another common weed.  At least I will then know its name and I can enter it on my life list.

In the meantime, I also delighted in all the pretty pink Pasture Roses (Rosa carolina) that were blooming along this shore, wafting their incredible fragrance on the warm humid air of this muggy day. I could distinguish this low-growing rose from similar roses by its solitary flower, narrow stipules, and the few straight slender thorns on the upper branches.  Mmm, I can almost detect its scent just by gazing at this photo!

I also enjoyed finding the yellow trumpets of Bush Honeysuckle flowers (Diervilla lonicera), the leaves glossy-green in the rain that was falling steadily by now.

Here was a Painted Turtle!  Was she out of the water, wandering the shore, looking for that broad sandy beach where she laid her eggs last year?

Sorry, Mama.  That broad sandy beach is well under water this year. I hope you find another spot to your liking.

Does anyone remember resting on this bench, watching the sun go down behind the mountains that rise from the western shore?  Or does anyone remember how we feared that Moreau Lake was draining out through a crack in the earth's crust or something awful like that, its water level having dropped four feet --FOUR FEET!!! -- in just a few years?  I wonder now how many years will pass before we can sit on this bench once again.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Oh, but Monday was a lovely day for a paddle on the Hudson!  It was warm and calm and the sky was actually much bluer than this photo makes it out to be.  One other thing this photo doesn't reveal, is that the current was swift and strong beneath that smooth calm surface.  It took quite an effort to paddle against the constant pull of the current, so when my arms grew weary I found a resting place in one of the quiet coves that can be found along this stretch of the river between the dams at Spier Falls and Sherman Island.

As soon as I entered this calm and shaded cove, I was delighted by this cluster of native Blue Flags (Iris versicolor), their vivid amethyst blooms glowing among a foil of green ferns and swirling grasses, the beauty of this arrangement mirrored in the dark, still water.

And look!  I wasn't the only one drawn to these beautiful blooms.  Do you see the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly landing on one of the flowers?

Here's a closer look at that spectacular butterfly.

I am super grateful for the many Blue Flags that abounded along the river banks, for they were just about the only wildflower I found today.  With all the rain we've had this spring and summer, the river has risen well up the banks to even enter the shaded woods, and the variety of sun-loving wildflowers that in other years line the banks were nowhere to be found.  Luckily, Iris versicolor doesn't seem to mind.  Out on the flowing river, I found many patches of Iris looking as splendid as this  one.

Unfortunately, I also found several clumps of Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus), an introduced species that is proving to be extremely invasive along riverbanks and streambeds.  Since I did not carry a shovel or pickaxe with me to dig out the stubborn roots, I broke off every flower I could find, including developing buds, to prevent this clump from producing seed that would float to other parts of the riverbank and produce new plants.  I ask my readers to do the same, if they find this invasive species on their paddling adventures.

Those Yellow Iris flowers can be seen in the stern of my canoe, which I've pulled up onto the shore of one of the islands that dot this stretch of the Hudson.  In past years, this island was teeming with a huge variety of native wildflowers: four different species of St. Johnswort, two different species of Arrowhead, masses of Golden Pert, the bristly little orbs of Branching Bur-reed, carpets of Bluets and Blue-eyed Grass, and two native orchids that bloom in June, the tiny Shining Ladies' Tresses and the greenish-yellow Tubercled Orchis.  Today, I found not a one.

I did, however find a small patch of Small Sundrops (Oenothera perennis), a species of Evening Primrose that opens its flowers during the day.

I was so glad to find these bright-yellow native beauties, I had to take another photo of them!

And here was another native plant with yellow flowers, our native Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), this one a woody shrub that grows high up on the bank, far from the rushing river that has drowned most of our waterside wildflowers this year.

While still producing buds for new flowers, this Bush Honeysuckle shrub is already sprouting seed pods.   I always get a laugh out of seeing these funny-shaped pods.  They look as if they could have been designed by Dr. Seuss!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

New Flower for My Life List!

 After some 20 years of documenting all the wildflowers I find, it's not that often these days that I come upon one I have not yet recorded in my wildflower journal.  But on Thursday this week, I found one I'd never noticed before,  the big white Morning-Glory-like bloom in the photo above, called Low (or Erect) Bindweed (Calystegia spithamaea).

 I was walking with my friends in the Thursday Naturalists at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, and we had almost returned to our cars after a full morning's walk through the woods of the park's Fox Parcel when we spied this really large white flower protruding from a general carpet of lupine and dewberry in an open meadow.  It was so large and so stunningly white, we wondered how we could have missed it on our way into the preserve along this same trail. Perhaps, as is true for Morning Glories on days that are gray and threatening rain, the flower had not yet opened when we passed this way three hours before.  But we sure noticed it now!

At first sight, I assumed it was the very common Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium), which usually has pinker flowers but occasionally ones of pure white. But as soon as I saw our flower's leaves, I knew it could not be that.   These leaves were not only of a quite different shape from those of Hedge Bindweed, they were also quite furry, with hairs on both the front and back of the leaves as well as along the short stem.  We also noticed that it was not blooming on a long trailing vine but rather on a shorter, more erect stalk.

  One of our group, Lois Klatt, expertly followed the key in Newcomb's Wildflower Guide to find a perfect match for our flower on page 198.  Low (or Upright) Bindweed it was!  A new one for me, as well as for most of us fellow wildflower enthusiasts in the Thursday Naturalists.  And a native plant, to boot!  Low Bindweed is demonstrably secure in New York, so it is not classified as a rare plant by any measure, but it was still a new one for me.  Hurray!

Just for comparison's sake, here are two very similar flowers we considered at first, the pinkish Hedge Bindweed I mentioned above (also a native plant in New York), and the pure-white Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), an introduced species.  Both of these plants grow on long vining stems and often entwine other plants, growing so rampantly as to be considered invasive at times. (Low Bindweed has too short a stalk to entwine any other plants.)

Also for comparison's sake, I show the leaves of these two ostensible look-alikes.  The leaf of Hedge Bindweed, with its tapering point and deep squared-off lobes, is on the left.  That of Field Bindweed, with its more oval shape and sharply pointed flaring lobes, is on the right.  It is such differences that help us find a correct identification for many of the plants we find, especially those with flowers that look so much alike.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Wildflowers Abound in our Mountains

 Come on up to the Grant Cottage Visitor's Center on Mt. McGregor this Saturday, June 22, at 1pm, where I will be giving a photo presentation on the many wildflowers of the Palmertown Mountains, those of the deep forest as well as those of the open meadows and even those of the sphagnum-carpeted islands in Lake Bonita. And more!  Even a few pretty critters!

The Palmertowns are a range of mountains that follow the northern boundary of Saratoga County, NY, with the Hudson River flowing below in the valley. Although not contained within the "blue line" that defines the Adirondack Park, the Palmertowns are within the same geological uprising (the Laurentian Shield) as the Adirondack Mountains, and their ecology is similar to that of the Adirondacks.

The photo above was taken from high up in the Palmertowns, looking across the Hudson valley to a group of peaks called the Luzerne Range.

We will see many of the beautiful flowers that thrive in the deep forests that grow in this mountainous habitat, including the Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum).

Blunt-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) and Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) are just two of the species that love the sunlit meadows under the powerlines that cut through the Palmertown Mountains.

One of our prettiest native orchids, Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) grows out on the sphagnum-covered islets in Lake Bonita, one of the small pristine lakes that nestle within the Palmertown Mountains.  Although boating is forbidden on Lake Bonita in order to protect its pristine waters, I was granted a permit from the state to paddle out to these little islets and document the amazing variety of bog-loving plants that flourish there. So I have lots of photos to share with you!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Powerline Perambulations

Two days in a row without rain!  Tuesday this week was warm and dry, and a good thing, too, because I knew it was time to check on some favorite flowers that grow along a powerline at Moreau.

This powerline stretches for miles, but the section I wanted to explore on Tuesday lies right along Spier Falls Road, where I could easily park my car and venture in.  And the place I wanted to search especially carefully now is signaled by the nearby presence of a huge patch of Hay-scented Fern, a lime-green carpet that stands out from all the other plants that thrive in the sunny expanse beneath the power lines.  When I see that vivid patch of ferns, I know it is time to leave the sandy lane and head into the adjoining pine woods. 

And here are the plants I was searching for: the Green-flowered Pyrola (Pyrola chlorantha), a pretty little native wildflower that thrives in abundant numbers under just this particular grove of Pitch Pines and very few other places I have found in Saratoga County.

Here's a closer look at those flowers, which are, indeed, quite a bit greener than our other pyrola  species.  This species is also distinguished by its small roundish leaves that are a plain green, without notable pale veining.

A frequent associate of many pyrola patches is this pretty little Common Speedwell (Veronica officinalis) with its spikes of blue-striped florets.  It's not a native species, but I have not witnessed it behaving invasively, and I do love its dainty little blue flowers.

More dainty little flowers!  But these are yellow and they belong to one of our native plants called Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia).  These plants thrive by the thousands in the sunny, sandy area under the powerline.

Here's another denizen of sunny, sterile soils, the beautiful Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis).  I was surprised to see it so perfectly in bloom at this late date, for these flowers have already gone by at other sites I visit.

And what the heck was THIS?!  I had never seen anything like this little orb of tiny five-parted papery florets adorned with needle-fine spikes.  How was I going to key this one out in my Newcomb's?

Turned out, I didn't have to key it out.  All I had to do was follow its long slender stem down to its ring of sharply toothed green basal leaves, where newly opened yellow flowers of Virginia Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica) had yet to ascend to their allotted height and produce the puffy seed heads that would leave behind spiky husks like those in the photo above.

Another treat awaited me in this sandy, piney habitat, exactly the kind of habitat that one of our most impressive local snakes desires.  This was a Hognose Snake, and it wouldn't have coiled up and flattened its head and puffed up its body like this if I had let it slither off the way it had wanted to.  But I jumped in its path and blocked its escape because I wanted to take its picture.  I don't get to see these snakes often enough, so I definitely wanted to record this encounter.

The Hognose puts on an impressively menacing appearance when accosted like this, sometimes even striking at the person impeding its escape.  But even if it connected, its teeth are so far back in its mouth it could not deliver a damaging bite.  Only toads -- its usual diet -- have reason to fear those gripping teeth as they get swallowed.  You can see the Hognose's cute little turned-up nose in this photo below.

My mission accomplished in that particular powerline segment, I next walked across Spier Falls Road to enter the stretch of powerline clearcut that runs across the top of Mud Pond, which is part of Moreau Lake State Park.  Hundreds of yellow-flowered Common Hawkweeds starred the grass along this narrow sandy trail.

I found lots of flowers, too, on a low-growing patch of our native American Climbing Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens).  This native species of bittersweet can be distinguished from the invasive Oriental Bittersweet by its flowers that bloom as terminal clusters, instead of in the leaf axils along the vine.

Nearby, I found two budding plants of Clasping-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), right where I usually find them.  Sadly, these two were the only ones I found at this site this year. In other years, I have found three or four more, spread out along a hundred yards or so of trail. It will be worth a return visit to see these in bloom, when their deep-rose flowers are as exquisitely fragrant as they are beautiful.

Here's another non-native wildflower, the vividly colored Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides).  This pretty flower is commonly seen in abundant numbers starring the grass along the road, but note how non-invasive its behavior is here, politely sharing its turf with the bright-yellow Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex).  What a pretty combination of blooms!

Another bright-yellow denizen of this sandy-soiled clearcut is Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense), and I was early enough in the day to catch its wide-open flowers before they dropped. (New ones will open tomorrow.)  One interesting thing I always note about Frostweed flowers is that the majority of its orange-tipped stamens always seem to flop to one side of the bloom.  (To see how this plant acquired the common name of Frostweed, visit my blog from one of the first frosty mornings of fall.)

Here's that yellow-flowered Common Cinquefoil again, only this time sharing its turf with two stems of our native Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum), their deep blue-purple flowers hinting at their family relationship with our native Blue Flag.

Here was a plant that really had me stumped.  Even without its flowers, I knew from its habit of growth it must be a Mustard-family plant, but none of my guidebooks hinted at any plant from this family that had such distinctive seed pods (siliques), long and arching, arrayed like the falling waters of a fountain.

I have Facebook friends who are far more botanically expert than I am, so I posted this photo on Facebook (along with close-up photos of leaves, stem, and basal rosette) and asked for feedback.  It didn't take long for some highly knowledgeable folks to chime in, and after some challenging back and forth, the consensus was that this is Green Rock Cress (Borodinia missouriensis).  Well!  If this really IS Green Rock Cress, that would be another great find for Moreau Lake State Park, because Green Rock Cress is ranked as a Threatened species in New York.

Hey, you just never know WHAT you might find, on a walk along the power line!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Here and There on a Day Without Rain

Wow!  A warm sunny day! And it did not RAIN!!!  So off I went to visit some of my favorite plants that should be blooming today.  First stop was the Skidmore woods, where I found the delicate little milkweed called Four-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia).  But I sure didn't find many! Their abundance definitely varies from year to year.  I count myself lucky that I found this one, for when I looked for others in their usual spots, I found not a trace of them.

I did find a number of non-blooming Four-leaved Milkweeds, though.  But there wasn't a bit of a bud on any of them!  I wonder if they rest a year between bloomings.  I really don't know much about this species of milkweed except that it grows in the deep shade of the June woods, unlike most of our other milkweed species that thrive under sunny skies.  Also, I have never found a seed pod on Four-leaved Milkweed, after the flowers have faded.  I wonder if they are as difficult to cultivate as they are elusive in their natural habitat, which is a rich woods like the one at Skidmore College.

Next stop was the new trailhead for the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail just off of Meadowbrook Road, a few miles east of Saratoga Springs.  This new section of trail abuts an open marsh and connects with the older parts of the trail a few hundred yards along.

My friend Dan Wall had told me of finding numerous plants of the little green orchid called Loesel's Twayblade (Liparis loeselii) along this new section of trail, but I sure didn't find any here. Perhaps they were hidden too well under burgeoning sedges and ferns.  That Dan is a master at finding orchids, but I had to wait until I reached an old site where I'd found them before.  At least they were in perfect bloom today.  And luckily, this one was lit up by the sun, or I might not have found them after all.  Being small and green sure makes it easy to hide among trailside greenery.

This one was hiding way back in the shade, and I had to push ferns and grasses aside before I could see it.

You don't have to search to see Wild Blue Flag (Iris versicolor), though!  Such a lovely, big, vividly colored flower, it's hard to believe it's a native wildflower and not a cultivated hothouse beauty. This beautiful flower is much at home in this wetland it shares with the Royal Fern and Water Horsetail that also appear in this photo.

Here's another beauty, this one of an edible kind!  Dwarf Raspberry (Rubus pubescens) thrives in the mucky soil along Bog Meadow Trail, and today its ripe fruits were glowing like rubies in the bright sunlight. They tasted as delicious as they were beautiful!

The most abundant shrub along the new trail section is Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), and today it was in full bloom, with crowded clusters of tiny 5-petaled flowers. Clouds of various insect pollinators winged away when I moved my camera in close to take this shot. But one little wasp decided the goods were worth the risk of staying.

Other insects were feasting on the 4-petaled flowers of this Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa). This species of dogwood can be reliably identified by the comparative narrowness of its leaves and the pyramidical shape of its flower clusters, not flat across as are those of most of our other native dogwoods.

Here was another beautiful small tree, with vivid red twigs and dangling clusters of greenish-white flowers.  But you'd better admire this one from a distance, for this is Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).  If you get a rash from Poison Ivy, you'll probably get an even worse one from this tree.  Happily, birds are impervious to its toxins, so they are free to feast on the fruits that ripen in the fall and stay on the tree well into the winter.  And we are free to feast our eyes on its beauty.  From afar!

I didn't find many other flowers blooming along Bog Meadow Trail today, but these seed pods of the Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) were just as interesting as any flower.  Cute and amusing, with those long styles tipped with star-like stigmas and tiny furry seed-balls clustered at the base, they look as if they might have been designed by Dr. Seuss.

Here were more fascinating seedpods, these belonging to Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).  The clustered pods are about to split open to shed the seeds that are crowded within.

I found an old photo in my files that shows what these Marsh Marigold seedpods will look like when they split open:

In the wooded area near the parking lot for this new section of trail, Canada Anemones (Anemone canadensis) thrive in the shade, their snowy-white flowers dazzling against their dark-green foliage.  Just one more floral treat to delight me on this beautiful day!