Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sic Transit Gloria Flora!

New England Aster!  Is there any native wildflower to rival it for gorgeous autumn color? I wait all year to witness this beautiful flower in its late-season glory, and I used to know exactly where to go to find it, not only in abundant numbers but also in all three of its color variations: bright purple, vivid rose, and pale pink. That place was the Burl Trail along the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa. The photo below, taken in 2011, shows how this aster used to abound along this trail. But sadly, the photo above shows the single, solitary New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) I found yesterday along the entire three-quarter-mile length of the trail.  What happened to this aster? Why did it disappear here?

I wonder if the sunflower pictured below could have been the culprit.  This photo was taken in 2013,  the first year I discovered a single plant of this Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) along the Burl Trail.  Native to America's central states, this species is definitely not native to Saratoga County.    Perhaps it was introduced to this site when state workers back in 2012 reconfigured the creek banks here to ameliorate flooding and then replanted the banks with trees and herbaceous plants.  Native or not, it sure looked beautiful lifting its gorgeous big yellow blooms among the masses of purple and rose New England Asters.

For the next couple of years, the Maximilian Sunflowers and New England Asters seemed to happily co-exist in an awesome display of floral beauty.

But by 2016, these introduced sunflowers had spread so vigorously, they completely monopolized the site, their numbers increasing as the asters grew more and more scarce.  When I took this photo that year, I could find only three or four New England Asters anywhere on the trail. This situation continued through 2017.

But then, in 2018, I found but two stems of Maximilian Sunflower growing along the Burl Trail. Huh?  Where did they go? Will they come back?  Not yet, anyway, for this year, 2019, not a single one could be found.  Not ONE! Poof!  What I had feared was becoming an invasive species had completely disappeared, over the course of two years.  Along with most of the New England Asters, as well.  As I mentioned above, I found but a single aster this year, the one I pictured in my opening photo.  In the place of both asters and sunflowers, masses and masses of Tall Goldenrod now teem, creating a virtual monoculture along the trail, completely dominating the site.  (Except where it battles for dominance against threatening hordes of Mugwort, a horribly invasive species probably introduced to this site on the rootballs of the newly planted trees.)

Ah well, at least this goldenrod is a species that is native to Saratoga County.  And the numerous Monarch Butterflies I saw feeding on the blooms seemed quite happy they were there.

And then, oh my gosh, look what now has showed up!  Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea)!  Towering to a height that rivals that of the surrounding goldenrods, this species of Ironweed is also a disjunct species in Saratoga County, as well as being a plant that is ranked as Endangered in New York State. This makes the third year I have seen this plant along the Burl Trail, each time in a different location. The first time I saw it here, in 2017, I figured it was a garden escapee and would likely not persist. But here it is, again.  It will be very interesting to observe its progress -- or lack thereof -- here in this ever-changing environment.  Which plants will persist, which ones disappear?  Every year tells a new story.

Meanwhile, some long-time floral residents do persist along the Burl Trail, including vast thickets of Pale Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), their lovely yellow blooms dangling  on delicate stems.

An open damp meadow teems with Arrow-leaved Tearthumb (Persicaria sagittata) bearing both white and pink flower clusters. (This is NOT a meadow you would want to stroll through while wearing shorts, for the stems of this plant are covered with skin-lacerating barbs.)

Wild Cucumber vines (Echinocystis lobata) drape over much of the shrubbery, many of them bearing the spiny egg-shaped fruits.  I was enchanted to find this wee little baby "cucumber" forming from the ovary of the flower.

A few Wild Bergamot plants (Monarda fistulosa) are still producing pretty lavender-colored blooms, and still providing nectar to visiting Silver-spotted Skippers.

And here are a couple of pretty "weeds" that have massed together to form a floral carpet as lovely as any tapestry.  Neither the diminutive Giant Chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum) nor the pink-flowered Lady's' Thumb (Persicaria maculosa) is a native plant, but there's no denying they certainly are attractive.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Return to the Hoosic Shores

A view of the Hoosic River at Lock 4 Canal Park, just upstream from where it joins the Hudson River

Canal Park at Lock 4 in Rensselaer County is a wonderful place for a river walk, since its many acres of woodland and riverbank lie at the junction of the Hudson and Hoosic rivers, just where the Champlain Canal rejoins the Hudson River. And we wildflower enthusiasts know it as a marvelously fertile place to find many amazing flowers.

Although I have visited this beautiful park already twice this year (in June and again in August), I returned once more this past week to see if I could catch the rare Creeping Bushclover (Lespedeza repens) in bloom at last.  And I'm very happy to report that it was!

One of the great features of this park is a low area flowed over by Hoosic River floodwaters each spring, a place where most of its resident plants grow to gigantic size in the rich alluvial soil. Here we find Green Dragon plants (Arisaema dracontium) that reach up to our waists in June.  I wondered if I could still find Green Dragons this late in the year, so I hurried to where I knew they grow in abundant numbers.  At first, I could not find their large leaves among the prevailing greenery. But then the brilliant-red shiny fruits caught my eye.  The leafy parts of the plants were fading fast, but oh, those fruits were certainly in their glory!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Finally Found: A Fungus's Fuzzy Feet!

For years, I've been encountering fallen logs in the forest that were absolutely paved with tiny orange mushrooms, like those in the photo above. This astounding fungal abundance was one of the traits that made this little fungus easy to find in my mushroom guides and learn the name of: Xeromphalina campanella.  My mushroom guides also told me that the scientific name, loosely translated, means "bell-shaped little belly-buttons." Yeah, I get that resemblance.  But I also learned that the common name of this common fungus was "Fuzzy Foot," because of the tiny hairs that were found at the base of the stem. "Found by whom?" I often wondered, since no matter how many stems I observed, I never saw any hairs.  Until this week, that is.

This week, I encountered this little mushroom once again, massed on a fallen log near a stream in Moreau Lake State Park.  As usual, I peered at the base of the stems, but at first (and also as usual) I could see no basal hairs.  But the wood of the log was so rotten it came apart in my hand, and thus revealed a part of the stem I had never seen before.  And lo!  Finally found: this little fungus's truly fuzzy feet!  Ta da!

Finding the fuzzy feet on those Fuzzy Foots would have been enough pleasure for one day, but I also had the pleasure of Nancy Slack's company, as well.    Nancy is an expert bryologist, and we were searching a rocky stream bed for whatever bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) we could find. Nancy, a retired professor of ecology at Russell Sage College,  still teaches a bryology class, and she was collecting specimens of many different mosses and liverworts to show to her students.

Although I am not officially enrolled in Professor Slack's bryology class, I am certainly one of her students, for she teaches me something new each time we venture out together.  And here was a new one for me:  I had assumed it was a moss, but this is a leafy little liverwort called Plagiochila asplenioides that was growing on one of the rocks that were watered by the stream. 

Unlike most species of liverwort, Plagiochila asplenioides does have a common name, which is Greater Featherwort. OK, I see the resemblance.   I had to wonder, though.  If this is the GREATER Featherwort, how much smaller would a LESSER one be?  This one seems pretty small already, to me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Coralroots Here, Coralroots There; Some Ho-hum, Some Really Rare!

Whew!  I had worried that the really rare orchid I wrote about a few posts back -- the Pringle's Autumn Coralroot -- might have been eliminated from its home at Moreau Lake State Park. And oh, wouldn't that have been a shame!  This is an orchid so rare it has been ranked as extirpated from New York.   Since the site where I first took the photos of them had been rendered inhospitable by heaps of leaves piled atop them, I wondered if I would ever see them again.  But thanks to my friends Dan Wall and Sue Pierce and their discerning eyes, more specimens of Pringle's Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza var. pringlei) were found at the park this week, and at sites quite safely distant from where they had met their doom before.  Oh happy day!

Of course, if you saw these tiny orchids in person, you would understand why the groundskeepers wouldn't have known they were smothering one of the state's rarest orchids.  Autumn Coralroots are not exactly showy flowers, even in full bloom.   In fact, they are so cryptically colored and invisibly small,  it's really hard to discern them among the forest-floor leaf litter, even when you know exactly where to look.  And it was even harder to make my camera focus on those features that distinguish the Pringle's variety of Autumn Coralroot from the much more common variety, Corallorhiza odontorhiza var. odontorhiza.

I had to hold a leaf behind this Pringle's Autumn Coralroot stem in order for my camera to stop focusing on the forest floor behind it and home in instead on the ruffly, purple polka-dotted petals that curled from the bottom of each bloom.  This specimen is from a population of more than a dozen that Dan had located earlier this week.

Following Dan's directions, my friend Sue and I visited the group of coralroots Dan had discovered,  where I took the photo above.  Then, with a search image fixed in our heads, we proceeded to a nearby site where we had found coralroots thriving in years past.  Could the ones we found there also be Pringle's? I do believe it is possible, since some of the florets of the plants at this site were open, displaying not only the dotted white lower petal, but also the pollen bundle within. A distinguishing feature of the Pringle's Autumn Coralroot is that the flowers are open, requiring a visit from pollinating insects to reproduce.  The flowers of the common variety of Autumn Coralroot are closed and self-pollinating, and usually do not display a lower petal.  When a rare-plant monitor from the state arrives later this week to assess these populations, I hope we will get a confirmation about which variety these are. Again, there were more than a dozen specimens at this site.

Sue and I have been finding Autumn Coralroots at this park for many years, first discovering them along a trail called the Red Oak Ridge, which heads up into the mountains that rise above Moreau Lake.  We decided to venture up that trail once again, to visit the more mountainous sites where we first laid eyes on them.  If we found them in their familiar spots, would we be able to ascertain which variety they were?

We did indeed find Autumn Coralroots along this trail, and many of them right where we had last seen them.  This quintet of spindly plants was growing out of the damp soil next to a trickling stream bed, and all of the other ones we found along this trail also appeared in soil that was damper than the surrounding forest.  The Pringle's Autumn Coralroots we had seen today all grew in the drier, sandier soil down closer to the lake.

Not a single specimen of the Autumn Coralroots we found up here on the mountain displayed any lower petals, and all displayed the closed florets that are typical of the standard variety, Corallorhiza odontorhiza var. odontorhiza.  I do believe it is safe to say that both varieties thrive at Moreau Lake State Park, although in somewhat different habitats.

Our purposeful search now accomplished, Sue and I enjoyed the rest of our walk along this forested mountain trail, especially the abundant mosses that thrived atop the boulders along the way.  Here was an ample mound of the appropriately named Delicate Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum).

I believe this very leafy, almost translucent moss is one of the Mnium species, possibly Mnium punctatum, which looked like a dense cluster of tiny green flowers.

And this moss was . . . wait a minute!  This is an abundant patch of Porella, a liverwort, not a moss! A close look revealed the overlapping leaves that are typical of liverworts, but it sure had a mossy look about it, didn't it?

Most of the rock that forms the mountains that run through the park is granitic, and thereby somewhat acidic.  But we found evidence along this trail that there must be some marble outcroppings here, because of the presence of many plants that prefer a basic soil.  This trembling patch of Maidenhair Fern was one example.

Ebony Spleewort was one more example, being a fern that often prefers a lime-rich soil.

The same can be said for Plantain-leaved Sedge, whose crinkly leaves have earned it another common name, Seersucker Sedge.

Spikenard, too, is usually found where lime enriches the soil, and we found a few plants along the trail, the berries still quite green.

We found some beautiful fungi today as well, including this finely striped translucent one that is likely one of the Ink Cap group.  One I have seen that most closely resembles this one is called the Hare's Foot Fungus (Coprinopsis lagopus), which is as furry as its common name suggests when young, but with caps that invert as it ages to becoming this smooth and delicate cup before it collapses.

This yellow fungus resembled tiny tuning forks protruding from the earth.  The closest match I could find in my mushroom guides was Calocera viscosa. But it could be something else.  Yellow Tuning Forks would be a good common name.

Yellow Spindle Coral (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) was another colorful fungus we found along the trail.

This is one of the most vividly colored fungi of all, the glossy, deep-orange Mycenia leaiana, which always grows in dense clusters on rotting logs.

This wee little fungus that always grows in crowded masses on rotting wood has a very long name for such a tiny mushroom:  Xeromphalina campanella. Roughly translated, that means "bell-shaped little belly-buttons."

One of the common names of Xeromphalina campanella is Fuzzy Foot, ostensibly because of the fuzz that grows at the base of the stem.   Every time I come upon a patch of this common mushroom I look for that fuzz, but in vain.  Until today, that is.  I finally got a good gander at the fuzzy little patches at the base of the stem.  Not every stem, but at least a few of them.

So.  We sure had a wonderful walk, Sue and I, through a beautiful park surrounded by many wondrous things.  Some of the most wondrous (apart from the really rare orchids, of course) were the numerous Red Efts that shared our trail up the mountain, little wriggly newts that avoid being stepped on by advertising their presence by their vivid color. Could any little critter be any cuter?

Monday, September 2, 2019

Paddling With My Pals

I sure am one lucky lady!  Not only do I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, I still have the health and strength and wherewithal to enjoy exploring the waterways of the Adirondack region of New York -- one of those being Oliver Pond, the isolated Essex County pond pictured above.  And even more important, I have the kind of companionable pals who love to explore these waterways with me.  Pictured below are Ruth Brooks, Nancy Slack, and Sue Pierce, who joined me this past Saturday to mosey around the shore of Oliver Pond, proceeding virtually inch by inch as we paused to examine each fallen log that was covered with fascinating botanical treasures.

I don't believe I have ever seen so much Sundew -- both the Round-leaved (Drosera rotundifolia) and the Spatulate (D. intermedia) -- as we found decorating log after log at Oliver Pond.  Both species were growing together,  shoulder-to-shoulder, atop nearly every log that lay in the water near the shore.

This little clump of Spatulate-leaved Sundew looked especially charming silhouetted against the dark water.  But charm is part of the sundew's strategy, tempting insects with its glistening drops that look like a sugary treat. But the drops are actually a sticky fluid that traps and holds the insect in place while the leaf folds over it and then digests and devours it.

The mosses were also gloriously colorful, heaped up in mounds atop the fallen logs they shared with the sundews and other  plants.  I believe this golden mound was made up mostly of Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens).

I am not sure what this very curly moss is called (possibly one of the Dicranums), but it made a beautiful foil for the little sprig of white-flowered Northern Bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) that shared the log with it.

I loved the two-tone effect of this tightly clustered sphagnum that had grown to surround the base of each miniature Leatherleaf shrub.

Here was another mound of sphagnum, this one a deep blood red.  The three spiky balls at the lower right are the fruits of an emergent plant called Bur Reed (Sparganium sp.), a genus of plants I find difficult to narrow down as to species.

Here's a close look at a bright-green sphagnum that Nancy (a professional bryologist)  identified as Sphagnum squarrosum.  Also called Spiky Bog Moss (for obvious reasons).

Nancy also identified this sundew-spiked clump of curly green stuff as one of the Pellia liverworts.

This lichen with the  descriptive name of Lipstick Powderhorn (Cladonia macilenta) had almost completely taken over one fallen log with its red-tipped fruiting bodies.

A population of Swamp Beggar Ticks (Bidens connata) had found a home along this fallen log.

This one lonely flower of Water Smartweed (Persicaria amphibia) had a whole log all to itself!

Aside from a few past-their-prime Pickerelweeds, very few flowers grew on the actual shore of Oliver Pond, but the grasses and other graminoids were just as appealing as any flowers would be.   The cascading flowering heads of Rattlesnake Manna Grass (Glyceria canadensis) looked particularly beautiful as they waved in the breeze.  The spiky stalks of Three-way Sedge (Dulichium arundinaceum) made an attractive yellow-green frieze between the water and the tall flowering grass.

None of us had ever seen a wetland grass with leaves of such a purple hue, but we all agreed it looked quite beautiful.

The floating leaves and trailing stems of Watershield (Brasenia schreberi) were also beautifully colorful.

These spindly stems of Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta) were some of the few actual flowers we found along the shore.

But if we found few flowers along the shore, we sure found plenty of THESE flowers -- a white- flowered Purple Bladderwort (Utricularia purpurea var. alba) -- crowding the surface of the water in a quiet bay at the end of the pond.

When I last visited Oliver Pond nine years ago, these white-flowered bladderworts were so thick along the shore and nearly all around the pond, it was difficult to paddle through them.  But this year, we would have missed seeing them completely if our friend Sue had not detoured into that bay and discovered this ample population.  Here's a closer look at the small white flower.

Here's a little frog who seemed to be trying to get a closer look at ME, by climbing up on that Watershield leaf and fixing me with its froggy gaze.

I really could not name the species of this frog, since it had no spots nor stripes nor visible ridges that ran the length of its body, just very smooth skin that was a yellowish-green mottled with black. Anybody know?

UPDATE:  Thanks to a friendly herpetologist I know, I can now call this little frog by its proper name: Mink Frog.  Al Breisch identified it by noting that "the webbing on the hind feet extends to the tip of the fifth toe and the last joint of the fourth toe." He also stated that the webbing is not that complete on the similar-appearing Green Frog.

Here is the pair of Loons whose loud calls sounded across the water almost all the time we were on the pond. For sure, there's no sound like the call of a Loon that more aptly epitomizes the experience of paddling a pond in the midst of the Adirondack forest.  As I mentioned above, I sure am one lucky lady!  What a great day on Oliver Pond.