Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rocky Outcrops, Colorful Moss

Feeling a little better today but still a little snuffly, I chose an easy hike: the Spier Falls Dam access road on the Warren County side of the Hudson, a road that also leads to some limestone outcroppings and the interesting plants that inhabit them. I started my trip in sunshine, then we had just a little sprinkle, then the rain stopped. Some cobwebs in the grass retained a few raindrops.

Our old familiar asters and goldenrods lined the dirt road, as did Pilewort (Erechtites heiracifolia), a plant just about as homely as its name. Its flowers never seem to really open, until they go to seed, and then, POUFF! they turn into silken puffs as pretty as can be. Well,kind of pretty.

What was really pretty today were the meadowy spots, with tall grasses turning their autumn colors, the ferns still green but starting to turn golden.

Some of the grass was as fine as baby's hair. I wonder what kind it is.

Many outcroppings were edged with multi-colored sphagnum moss, which puzzles me a bit. I usually associate sphagnum moss with acid bogs, not limestone rocks. But the rocks are watered by seeps and springs and surrounded by baby white pines. Perhaps they neutralize the alkaline soil. I don't know. I'll have to find out. Maybe this isn't really sphagnum moss. In the meantime I just enjoyed the beautiful colors the moss was turning.

In among the moss were tiny leaves that had turned a brilliant red. Are these baby tree leaves, or some other plant?

Here's a starry green moss adorned with brilliant red leaves, a few sprigs of Reindeer Lichen and one very tiny, brand-new baby White Pine.

I found a new (for me!) flower today, or rather, I discovered one that was not what I had thought it was. This tallish cottony-leaved plant with pussy-toe-like blooms I had assumed was Sweet Everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium). The flowerhead sure looks the same. But today I saw the real Sweet Everlasting blooming right next to this one and noticed a subtle difference. This plant has leaves that widen at the base and clasp the stem. Why then, this must beClammy Everlasting (G. macounii), also called Macoun's Cudweed. It has another Latin name, too: Pseudognaphalium macounii. Does that make it a false everlasting? These changing Latin names are kind of puzzling. I hope Newcomb's Wildflower Guide comes out with an updated edition soon. (This picture is turned sideways. I could fix it but it would take an hour and the plant is not that pretty.)

Then here's another puzzle: Who knows what this plant is? It has many resemblances to the common vacant-lot weed, Three Seeded Mercury (Acalypha rhomboidea), except it's much smaller and daintier, with narrower leaves and thinner stems. It was only about six inches tall. Here's what it looks like from above:

And here are the distinctive fringed bracts that supposedly look like the winged shoes of the Roman god Mercury.

And here is the cluster of seeds (buds?), three of them, that nestle inside those bracts. But what is that red puffy thing? Is that the staminate part of the flower and the green buds are the pistillate part? Boy, I hope somebody knows and lets me in on the secret. Could it be A. virginica, which my Peterson's guide seems to indicate would grow further south?

Every day, something new to learn.

Update: I heard from New York Natural Heritage botanist Steve Young, who helped me ID that plant with the winged bracts. It's Slender Three Seeded Mercury (Acalypha gracelens), which is distinguished by the glandular hairs on the bracts (click on the photo and you can see each tiny hair is topped with a drop of fluid), as well as by the shape of the bracts and their size in relation to the leaf petioles. As I said, something new to learn every day.

Steve also told me those tiny red leaves among the mosses are baby Red Maple leaves and that the fine grass is most likely a Panicum species.


Carolyn H said...

Wow, those mosses are amazing. I've never seen colors like that on mosses around here. Wish I had some of those.

Carolyn H.

squirrel said...

Just wanted to say that I checked out the Jewelweed while hiking yesterday and thanks to you I opened them up and saw that beautiful blue. In the past I just looked at the flowers and someone would comment about poison ivy and we moved on. You have added a whole new dimension to this plant for me. Thanks again. Oh BTW I was out looking for moss and trying to ID them. Very hard.

Diesel said...

I like the meadowy would be nice to weave through them. As a Midwesterner by birth, your mystery grass reminded me of switch grass at first but I'm thinking it might in the Agrostis? Depends on what it looked like standing there...Redtop? Upland Bent? Hard to be sure...

Glad you are feeling better!

Tom Arbour said...

Jackie- The grass looks it might be one of the Panicum species. And your moss definitely looks like sphagnum. I think I've caught your cold! Hopefully it goes away soon!


Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Carolyn, I agree those mosses are amazing. I've seen some red and some white sphagnum before, but never these "autumn" colors.

Squirrel, I'm glad you enjoyed the blue seeds. Did you taste them? They taste a little like walnuts. As for IDing mosses, I think I will wait until I have cataract surgery before I take that up. Some are quite distinctive, though, and once you learn them you will easily recognize them. Problem is, few have common names, just long Latin ones that are hard to memorize.

Diesel, I BET you love those meadowy spots: lots of little mousies in there! As for the grasses: my kitties love to eat them. Do different species taste different to you? Do you throw yours up, too?

Tom, thanks for the hint about Panicum grasses. My grass book, by Lauren Brown, says this genus "is a large and confusing one." Uh huh. I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't learn to distinguish them all. I still have about 800 wildflowers I have yet to find and learn the names of. Sorry about your cold. Zinc swabs and those little Aladdin-lamp pots for pouring warm water through your nostrils seem to help me get better fast.