Thursday, August 13, 2009
Up to the Hudson Ice Meadows
I carried my search for Creeping Spearwort up to Warren County today, to explore a remarkable habitat along the Hudson. There's a stretch of the river that runs about 8 miles north of Warrensburg that constitutes one of New York's rare native grasslands. A grassland along this rocky river, you ask? Well, yes. And one that gets mowed every year by moving ice.
Up here the Hudson tears down from the mountains with a current too swift to ever freeze solid, despite winter temperatures that run to more than 30 below. Instead, the ice forms rolling masses ("frazil ice") that heap up on the banks all the way to the trees, removing any woody growth that might shade out the remarkable variety of native flowers that flourish along these "ice meadows." Also, all those ice piles on the shore chill the land well into the spring, creating habitat for rarely-found plants that would normally grow much farther north.
I didn't find any "rare" plants today -- nor that Creeping Spearwort, either -- but I did find a really wonderful mix of lovely summer flowers. The asters were out in full force: clumps of tall Flat-top Aster bending in the breeze . . .
. . . sturdy Purple-stemmed Aster studding the beach with pretty lavender blooms . . .
. . . and tiny-flowered Calico Aster poking up among the rocks.
That Canadian Burnet I'd sought for years along "my" stretch of the Hudson at Moreau, flourishes abundantly here, along with all kinds of goldenrod. Another golden-flowered plant, Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa), grows happily here, and I was happy to add this heretofore unfound plant to my wildflower life list.
Those were the showy plants anyone could see at a glance from the road. But pushing my way through tall sedges and grass and teetering along the boulder-strewn beach, I found a number of little blooms hiding among the overgrowth. Most abundant was Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), which grew just everywhere, its slender stems and needle-fine leaves seeming too delicate for this harsh open habitat.
Equally dainty, the pale-blue Marsh Bellflowers (Campanula aparinoides) . . .
. . . and vividly purple Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) sprawled everywhere among the grasses and out on the open rocks.
I found just one plant of Slender Gerardia (Agalinus tenuifolia) and I'm very glad I did. I used to find this flower growing abundantly at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, but trees have grown up to shade its habitat there, so it disappeared. That frazil ice keeps the trees from growing up here.
And here's another flower the trees have shaded out of Orra Phelps: Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua). My wildflower journals tell me I don't usually find this dainty little white orchid until September, but here it was just coming into bloom. I found about ten plants in different places along the shore, so it seems to like it here. Hooray!
Right next to the water, with its feet in the wet, I found Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta) standing straight up on delicate stems. Unlike its cousin bladderworts, which float unrooted on water, this species actually grows on land -- damp land, but land, not water. Hmmm. I wonder how it eats? Its tiny leaves grow beneath the soil and it doesn't have inflatable bug-eating bladders, as its cousins do. Or does it? Anybody know the answer?