Sunday, April 18, 2021

Wildflower Extravaganza at Glowegee Creek Preserve

The land-preservation organization Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature) recently announced the opening of a new nature preserve near Galway (Saratoga County), and it sounded like this preserve would offer a marvelous woods and waterway to explore.  The Glowegee Creek tumbles along a portion of the trail, and a geological fault runs through the site, bringing limestone to the surface and offering what PLAN describes as "a plethora of spring wildflowers" throughout the forested land. Well, all right!  Gotta check this OUT! So my friend Sue Pierce and I headed over there on a sunny warm day this past week, and we can assure you that that description only begins to describe the amazing wildflower extravaganza we encountered. (The photo below shows Sue ambling along a well-groomed trail that offers about a three-mile round trip through the center of the preserve.)

We had barely entered the woods near the start of the trail's north end when we encountered the first of thousands and thousands of Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) that flourish there,  acres of these native wildflowers solidly covering whole hillsides.

The Early Blue Cohosh leaves turn green as they fully open, and everything you can see that is green in the photo below is Early Blue Cohosh. And this is just a short stretch of the Cohosh-covered hillside that slopes down from a limestone ridge.

Very nearly as prolific in this portion of the woods is Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), and it was certainly in its glory the day we were there!

Such an aptly named flower, Spring Beauty!

These Spring Beauty blooms had popped up amidst the lacy leaves of one more plant that thrives in this woods in extraordinary numbers, the native wildflower called Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis).

We had arrived about a week too early to find the Squirrel Corn in full bloom, but we did find a few greenish specimens of its heart-shaped flowers on their way to turning the pure white they will be at their peak of bloom.


While those first three flowers I mentioned were the most prolific denizens of this limestone underlaid woods, there were other equally lovely flowers that grow here abundantly, too. We found a whole hillside of Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) bearing snowy-white flowers above their beautifully patterned leaves.


We spied the broad green leaves of Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) throughout the woods, and a few of them had opened their buds to display the rich-red flowers within.

At least two species of lime-loving, broad-leaved sedges (Carex spp.) were blooming throughout the preserve, and both bore flowering spikes topped with tousle-haired yellow male flowers. Spindly white threads, the female flowers, protruded along the stems.

We were too early to catch any blooms on the Virginia Water Leaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), but we didn't need to see flowers to recognize these compound leaves that appear to have been spotted by water droplets.  Another limestone lover, this plant will bear clusters of pale-purple flowers later in the spring.

We soon heard the sound of rushing water and promptly arrived at this little bridge that carried us across the picturesque Glowegee Creek, a tributary of the larger Kayaderosseras Creek that eventually empties into Saratoga Lake.

What a lovely rushing, splashing, tumbling stream this is, shaded by tall trees and dappled with whatever sunshine can make it through the tree canopy, causing the still or splashing water to both sparkle and gleam.

Rather than proceeding much further toward the south end of the trail, we dallied along the creek banks, watching the water ripple around moss-covered mid-stream rocks and admiring the exuberant spring-green display of False Hellebore leaves (Veratrim viride).

The Spicebush shrubs (Lindera benzoin) that lined the creekbank bore puffs of vivid-yellow blooms along their slender, wide-reaching branches.

A flat leafy liverwort (Conocephalum sp.?) grew on the damp mossy banks, and most of the patches bore these tiny mushroom-shaped spore-distributing organs.

And what's a good creek without a frog to inhabit it? This Green Frog leapt away at our approach, but it promptly turned to inspect us with its golden-rimmed shining eyes. Perhaps the frog felt well-enough camouflaged that it could safely remain.  And it would be right!  Just look at how perfectly its ripple-patterned back blends with the green-and-gold ripples of the sun-dappled stream.

I'm sure most folks could easily complete this three-mile, there-and-back-again trail in a little more than an hour, but we wildflower nerds have to stop every few feet to examine and photograph our trailside finds.  So the morning was heading toward afternoon now, and we had barely completed half of the distance. Our stomachs were reminding us that we still had nearly a mile-long hike back to our cars before we could head toward the Village Ristorante and Pizzaria in Galway, where we had planned to have lunch.  So we planned to return the first sunny warm day next week, to approach from the south and see what we missed of this truly spectacular preserve.  But first, we had to stop to admire and photograph one more pretty wildflower here, this bright-yellow early-blooming Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia).

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Another Day, Another Bunch of Wildflowers

Another sunny warm day in Saratoga County!  So off I sped to both the North Woods at Skidmore College here in Saratoga Springs, and then a few miles north to the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton. I was betting new flowers would be blooming today, and I was not mistaken!

North Woods at Skidmore College

Could Trout Lilies be blooming already?  I was here just a few days ago and saw only a few of the mottled leaves protruding above the leaf litter.  But rain and warmth had worked their magic, and today, the forest floor was teeming with these lovely yellow lilies (Erythronium americanum):

Unfortunately, the Red-necked False Blister Beetles had discovered the Trout Lilies' pollen-rich anthers almost as soon as the flowers had opened their buds, and the beetles were gorging on the pollen already. 

Within a day or two, all those velvety red anthers will be turned into wrinkled black threads. Luckily, though, Trout Lilies don't depend to any great extent on sexual reproduction, relying mostly on vegetative cloning to create their extensive patches of plants. Although many of the plants that thrive on this and other forest floors never bloom, there certainly was no dearth of flowers to be found in the Skidmore woods today.

Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) is another of the early spring bloomers at Skidmore, and many of this plant's slender purple-leaved stalks were standing tall above the leaf litter today.  

The above photo demonstrates two of the traits that distinguish the C. giganteum species of Blue Cohosh from the daintier, later-blooming species, C. thalictroides.  These flowers are a dark purple, for one thing,  and they are already fully in bloom while the leaves are not yet unfurling.  The greenish-yellow flowers of C. thalictroides do not open before their leaves do.

The buds of these tiny Dwarf Ginsengs (Panax trifolius) had not yet opened to reveal their spherical clusters of starry white flowers, but their soft-green, reddish-stemmed leaves made them easy to find, tucked in among the sheltering roots of a tree trunk.

In all of the Skidmore woods I walked today, I found only this one single violet of any species.  The Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata) is quite common in this lime-rich woods, so I would expect to see many more of them in the days ahead. But most will not be this mottled purple/white pattern. This violet is typically a pale lavender color that darkens toward its throat. But all will have the distinctive long spur.

Whoa! Now, this Hepatica flower is PURPLE!  Quite a rich, deep purple, too, while most of the other examples thriving now in this woods were much paler shades, as well as pure white. Both the Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) and the Round-lobed Hepatica (H. americana) can be found in this lime-rich habitat.

I'm not sure how many people would recognize these tousled yellow threads and twisting white threads on these grass-fine stalks as genuine flowers, but that is indeed what they are: the yellow threads are the staminate males of a species of sedge (Carex sp.), and the white threads lower on the stems are the pistillate female ones.  But as to what species of sedge this is, I confess I don't know, since I am woefully ignorant in how to tell one sedge from another.

Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, Wilton

How interesting, that the first blooming flowers that greeted me when I reached the Orra Phelps Preserve belonged to another species of sedge.  And this sedge species I DO know! Or, I think I do.  The wide, slightly rumpled leaves are a clue that this is the Broad-leaved Sedge (Carex platyphylla). Again, yellow staminate flowers surmount stems that sprout with tiny white pistillate ones.

Those tousle-headed sedges are fun, but this is the flower I really came to Orra Phelps to see today: the lemon-yellow, basal-leaved violet known as the Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia).  A nice cluster of these short-stemmed violets stars a section of a dark-green-moss-covered bank along the stream that runs through this preserve. I believe that this is the earliest of our native violets to bloom, and I always count on finding them here at the same spot every year.  I was not disappointed today!

Another native early-blooming wildflower I can count on finding at Orra Phelps is the Sessile-leaved Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia), and again, I was not disappointed.  There were many still tightly in bud along the creek bank, but a few were dangling their dainty pale-yellow bells with slightly flaring petals.

Did I say slightly flaring? Well, that's usually the case, so these few specimens with sharply retracted petals were quite an unexpected surprise.

Two different Toothworts (Cardamine spp.) grow in the mucky, moss-covered soils at Orra Phelps, and I was once told that the sharply toothed leaf on the left in this photo belonged to the Large Toothwort (Cardamine maxima), while the bluntly toothed leaf on the right belonged to the Two-leaved Toothwort (C. diphylla). Now that I'm reading various guides to try to confirm these IDs, I realize I have to look at how each of these divided leaves is attached to the main stem of the plant.  So I'll have to go back to examine the entire plants more carefully.  In the meantime, it's obvious that the leaves do look quite different, no matter what species they are.  And they do both have 4-parted whitish or purple-tinged flowers, so I do know they are certainly Toothworts!

UPDATE:   OK, I found the two species of Toothwort today and photographed the number of compound leaves attached to the stems of each species.  Here's my photo of C. maxima showing the 3 compound leaves:

And here is my photo showing the 2 compound leaves attached to the stem of C. diphylla:

Uh oh!  I DO know exactly what species of plant THIS is, and I sure wish I hadn't found it here! For this is Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), one of the most aggressively invasive species around, and I found some extensive patches of it growing along the creek at the Orra Phelps Preserve. I have seen acres and acres of this yellow-flowered plant along other creeks downstate, supplanting any native plants that once made those creekbanks their home.

Over the past five years, I occasionally had found single specimens of this alien invader along this creek and promptly dug them out, hoping never to see them here again.  And I never did, until now. And this wasn't a single specimen, but several rather extensive patches. Darn!

Luckily, I keep a sharp-pointed weed-digger in my car (I use it in winter to knock snow out of my car's wheel wells). I quickly retrieved that long-shafted digger and started digging.  It took me about half an hour and several broken fingernails to fill a garbage bag with what I hoped was every trace of these nasty plants. But I'm sure enough little pieces remain to regenerate over time, so I alerted the volunteer stewards of this preserve to watch for any resurgence.  And of course, I'll be watching, too! This small nature preserve contains so many beautiful native creekside flowers, it sure would be a shame to lose them to this horrid weed.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Whoa! Spring Races Forward!

Hold on there, heat! It was over 80 degrees, yesterday! I can't keep up with all the wildflowers a whole string of over-warm days have pushed into blooming this past week.  Here's a brief report, just for the record.

Tuesday, April 6: Lake Bonita at Moreau Lake State Park

Last Tuesday, I joined my friends Sue and Nadine to continue an inspection of the Eastern Hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis) that constitute much of the forest along the shore of this pretty little lake atop Mt. McGregor in the Palmertown Mountains.  Both Sue and Nadine have been trained in how to identify Hemlock Woolly Adelgids, the white woolly insects that pose a truly dire threat to our northern forests, and I came along to assist.  I am very happy to report that we found not a single sign of these insects or their damage on any of the representative sample of trees we inspected.  We did find this pretty little object dangling from a hemlock twig, however.  Some insect-expert friends have suggested it could be the pupal case of one of the Geometridae moths.

We found no blooming wildflowers in the parts of the lakeshore deeply shaded by hemlocks, but when we reached a sunlit stretch along the south-facing northern shore, we were delighted to find some snowy-white blooms of Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) newly emerged from their buds.

We also found some animal life along the way, including a number of Red-backed Salamanders hiding out under fallen logs that littered the forest floor. I replaced this one to its hiding spot after momentarily placing it on some dry oak leaves, the better to photograph it.

The Spotted Newts certainly weren't hiding!  At least, not successfully.  There were such astounding numbers of them basking in shallow water close to the sun-warmed shore, that even when they quickly wriggled into the leafy muck on the lake bottom, their thrashing roiled the water so, we easily detected them.  The one in this photo was quite the exception, floating quietly along, unmoving, as if mesmerized by the warmth of the sun's rays and seemingly unconcerned about the camera lenses pointed in its direction.

Thursday, April 8, North Woods at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs

The hepatica explosion is upon us now, for sure! And the limestone underlaid woods at Skidmore College provides habitat for both the lime-loving Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) pictured above, and the more habitat-tolerant Round-lobed Hepatica (H. americana), pictured below. I found abundant numbers of specimens in nearly all the pretty colors this early-blooming native wildflower comes in, from sparkling white through pale lavenders and pinks to deep purple.

I found no other herbaceous flowers this day, but the bare twigs of Northern Spicebush shrubs (Lindera benzoin) were brightened by tufts of yellow flowers bursting into bloom.

All the Leatherwood shrubs (Dirca palustris) were now festooned with dangling clusters of bright-yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. Last week, I had to search for a shrub that might have opened one or two buds, but today all I had to do was glance around to witness their floral abundance.

It will be a few more warm days before we begin to see the flowers of the hundreds of Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) that thrive in the Skidmore woods, but I could see many of their brown-mottled green leaves poking up from the leaf litter -- including the one pictured here, within the uncoiling length of an Eastern Garter Snake.

Friday, April 9, Denton Wildlife Sanctuary, Washington County

Another warm sunny day, and I joined my friend Sue Pierce for a shirt-sleeves-only walk through the Denton Wildlife Sanctuary, a Nature Conservancy preserve that lies along Route 4 between Schuylerville and Fort Edward. Deep gullies remain of what once was a site for shale mining, with the shale now overgrown with a forest of oaks and maples and conifers.  Sue and I know this preserve as THE place to visit each spring to witness uncountable numbers of Spring Beauties carpeting a portion of the forest, and our hopes were high we might find them here this day.

Well, we did find a few.  But only a few of the pretty pink-striped, pink-anthered Carolina Spring Beauties (Claytonia caroliniana) poked up from amid the dry leaves.  It will take a few days yet before their floral explosion occurs. At least we didn't miss it entirely.

As a kind of compensation, we found a Round-lobed Hepatica (H. americana) that displayed a remarkably vivid hue of purple.  Most other hepaticas we found were either white or very pale in color.

Lots of Red Maple trees (Acer rubrum) were blooming in this woods this day, and most of the trees held vividly red clusters of pistillate flowers, so striking against the deep blue of the sky. But here was a tree with clusters of yellow flowers, all of them the staminate flowers of Red Maple.

As we neared the end of what seemed like a very long up-and-down trail, we came upon a deep-shaded moss-carpeted swale that held pools of very shallow water. Carpeting the surface of that water were the small round leaves of the aptly named Water Carpet.  This native wetland plant is also called Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum), and today it was actually in bloom! You have to look very close, however, to see the tiny but bright-red anthers that constitute all the flower you will get from this interesting shady-wetland species.

Sharing that shady swale was this lovely clump of Tree Moss (Climacium americanum) sprouting from a patch of smaller moss called Atrichum undulatum. In the lower left quadrant of this photo, you can see some examples of how Atrichum moss shrivels up when cold or dry. It will open again when wetted or warmed.

I don't have a photo of what we saw later, while picnicking at a small park along the Champlain Canal near Fort Miller.  But I sure wish I did!   While following the antics of a pair of iridescently plumaged Tree Swallows guarding a nest box,  Sue looked skyward and chanced to see a pair of Bald Eagles directly overhead, swooping and swirling as if in a dance. It was quite a show, it lasted quite a while, and we were there to see it!  Lucky us!

Saturday, April 10, Shenantaha Creek Park, Ballston Spa

My thermometer in Saratoga read over 80 degrees when I left my house to drive about 10 miles south to Shenantaha Creek Park, so I was pretty certain I would find Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) blooming there, where I've always found them. And I sure did!

But I certainly wasn't expecting to find Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) blooming yet, as I made my way along the bike path that runs through this park.  All of my previous photos of this native spring wildflower were taken toward the end of April. But seeing is believing!

When I saw the still-rolled-inward leaves of Wild Ginger in the verge along the bike path, I never dreamed these leaves would already be sheltering the fully-opened brownish flowers.  But I did take a peek, and this is what I found!

I also spied some Early Meadow Rue plants (Thalictrum dioicum) nearby and assumed they were still in bud, since I didn't see any slender anthers dangling down and shimmying in the breeze.  But a closer look revealed these were female plants, with buds fully open and already erupting with stubby, pinkish pistils.

OK, you native-plant purists and weedless-lawn obsessives, ignore this photo of a plant you may hate but I do love.  Or at least, I love it more than the useless and equally non-native turf grasses of the lawns that Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) usually invades, to the consternation of groundskeepers. As for me, I would rather my backyard were paved with these lovely blue flowers and ruffly aromatic leaves that never grow more than ankle high and --in the rare case they ever need mowing -- release their minty fragrance with every swath of the mower. This patch was blooming under spruces that lined the park's parking lot.

The previous four photos were flowers that were actually in bloom, but I also found some flowers showing buds that were close to opening.  The solitary bud of this Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) was already showing the deep-red petals of the flower within.

I believe it will be only a matter of a day or two before the white four-petaled flowers of both these species of toothwort (Cardamine spp.) emerge.  This first photo is of the Two-leaved Toothwort (C. diphylla).

And this is the aptly named Cut-leaved Toothwort (C. concatenata). Both toothwort species thrive in certain areas of this large park.

There were also many trees and shrubs with close-to-opening flower buds. In fact, I wonder if I could say that these ruddy-anthered male Box Elder flowers (Acer negundo) were already in bloom.  They were certainly quite showy!

Just starting to open their scales to release their floral parts, these Cottonwood flower buds (Populus deltoides) were already large and impressive, and the leaf buds were sticky and fragrant.

Very soon, every wooded hillside will be studded with snowy drifts of bloom from the various species of Shadblow (Amelanchier spp.) that are native to our region. I think I can see partly opened blooms among this furry cluster of buds.