Monday, October 7, 2019

Meadows, Mosses, Fruits, and Flowers

There's a high ridge of rolling hills I like to walk this time of year, where the Palmertown mountains make their way down to the shores of the Hudson River.   Here, a power line follows the voluptuous curves of the land, and the grasses, flowers, ferns, and forest take on the gorgeous colors of autumn.  These colors will doubtless intensify in the week or so to come, but they already glowed green and gold and rose and cinnamon when I walked there yesterday afternoon, under a soft gray sky.

Acres and acres of Grass-leaved Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia) spread across the hillsides, interrupted by patches of ruddy Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium), and masses of Hay-scented Ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) glowed ochre and green and burnt sienna against the deep shade of the surrounding woods.

While Little Bluestem makes up the preponderance of meadow grasses along this ridge, occasional bursts of Big Bluestem Grass (Andropogon gerardii) reach for the sky in towering tufts.

The Palmertown ridge is mostly composed of granitic rock, with occasional outcroppings of marble or quartzite.  When I noticed a patch of bare bedrock here on the powerline, I promptly examined it for clues to its origin.

A translucent, almost glassy quality of this outcropping led me to believe that it must be quartzite, a very hard rock that is formed when quartz sandstone is metamorphosed by heat and pressure. Much of the surface of this outcropping was covered by a pretty variety of mosses and lichens that had taken root in the quartzite's cracks and crevices.

A nearby ledge of rock that was striped with shades of gray and ivory appeared more typical of the granitic gneiss that forms the bulk of these mountain ridges.  A little stream tumbled over parts of this ledge, watering the various mosses that spread across the surface.

Where water actually flowed on the rock, patches of vivid-green Fountain Moss (Philonotis fontana) had found a happy home.

One pillowy patch of Fountain Moss appeared to be competing with an incursion of Haircap Moss (Polytrichum sp.) for its spot on the rock. I wonder which moss got there first.

A feathery patch of Big Red-stem Moss (Pleuozium schreberi) was draped over a drier spot on this ledge, with only a tiny tuft of what looks to be a species of Broom Moss (Dicranum sp.) for possible competition.

There were a number of Hawthorn trees (Crataegus sp.) standing out away from the forest edge, which I could see were hung with fruit, despite being nearly swamped by invading Oriental Bittersweet vines.

The Hawthorn fruits are a brilliant red and serve as a valuable food source for birds and other wildlife.  I have read that the fruits of some species of Hawthorn are palatable to humans as well, but since we have dozens of species of this circumpolar genus, I would not be able to tell you the species of this particular Hawthorn tree.  Whether or not the fruits were tasty, they sure were a feast for the eyes!

To judge from all the seedheads protruding above the meadow grasses,  abundant numbers of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) must also have presented a feast for the eyes up here, when all these flowers were in beautiful lavender bloom.  I can just imagine, too, the throngs of hummingbirds and clearwing moths that would have been sipping their nectar.

And lo!  Here were some flowers that looked as fresh and pretty as others of their kind had appeared last spring!  Dear little Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), such a faithful flower that starts blooming early and stays with us right to the end of the growing season! I have even seen it blooming away, well after frost, in sheltered nooks of a sun-warmed stone wall. And its lacy green foliage is almost as pretty as its perky little purple flowers.

And Lo, once again! Just LOOK at the gorgeous colors on this beautiful Marbled Orb Weaver!  She looks as if she's covered her pumpkin-shaped abdomen with Jack-o'-lantern markings for Halloween. Or is that a black cat I see etched on her back?

I know she's a she because of her globular shape -- her mate's abdomen, while equally colorful, is more ovate than globular.  Since she normally weaves an orb web for catching prey, I'm wondering why she is wrapping this milkweed leaf with web.  Is she making a snug nest to house herself over the winter? Or a safe place to leave an egg sac that will yield tiny spiderlings in spring?  I guess I'd better read up on the  Marbled Orb Weaver's life cycle. But in the meantime, other suggestions are welcome.

UPDATE:  I have now learned that this species of spider does not rest on its orb web, but rather it retreats to an adjacent lair it constructs nearby, either made completely of web or of a folded leaf.  A thread leads from the lair to the orb web, so the resting spider can detect when a prey insect has been trapped.


suep said...

I can see the black cat !
Some wintry day, it would be good to start researching the human history of that area as well, when many people lived here while working on the Dam ... stone walls, cellar holes and hawthorne trees are all that's left of that time. Old photos I have seen show both sides of the river almost bare of trees.

Woody Meristem said...

Although I dislike powerlines because they fragment woodland, they do provide habitat for different species.