Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Another Adventure with Ed

Ed Miller's a native-plant enthusiast of great renown throughout the Albany/Adirondack region, a man of exhaustive botanical knowledge to whom many professional botanists turn when they want to know what grows where. A few posts back I recounted our trip to the Landis Arboretum, where Ed has almost single-handedly created a collection of New York native woody plants. Today, Ed took me to another of his remarkable spots: Joralemon Park in Coeymans, NY, a small town south of Albany. Adjoining this community park is a nature preserve that a former state chief botanist once called the best area he knew of for its botanical riches. Thanks to Ed's generosity (he personally put up the funds for the Nature Conservancy to purchase the land), this wooded area with a limestone substrate is now protected from further development.

The place reminded me a lot of the Skidmore woods, which has a similar limestoney soil and many of the same plants, including such rarities as Green Violet, Goldenseal, and Ginseng. One plant I've never found at Skidmore, though, is Virginia Waterleaf, which was growing abundantly in the Joralemon preserve. As was true for most of the woodland flowers, the waterleaf was long past its blooming time and was now bearing fruit.

One of the very few deep-woods blossoming plants was Lopseed, a flower I have never been able to photograph clearly, because it's so tiny and grows where the shade is so dark. A little sun filtered in to light up this one, but even so, it's not as clear as I'd like. The plant gets its name from its blossoms' habit of turning down to cling to the stalk when they form their seeds.

We found a large patch of Wild Leeks, a plant I found earlier this year up north in Warren County. Its deliciously edible leaves, also called Ramps, have long withered away so that all that remains by now are the flower stalks, going to seed.

This cluster of Harebells was crowning a limestone cliff overhanging an open marsh, the water below completely covered with several shades of green duckweeds. The spindly-stemmed Harebell normally grows as isolated individuals. I have never before seen it gather together into such a large clump.

Those limestone cliffs yielded many more remarkable botanical treasures. We found Creeping Shadblow and Fragrant Sumac (two shrubs I have never seen before in the wild) and many species of mosses and ferns. I was very glad to have Ed as my guide as we scoured the rocks, for he could point out to me many plants of interest, such as this tiny asplenium fern called Wall-rue. I'm certain I would never have seen it if Ed had not pointed it out. The whole clump was maybe two to three inches across.

That Wall-rue was a sure sign that the underlying rock was calcium rich, since it requires that nutrient for its very existence. The same could be said for a number of other ferns we found, such as Bulblet Fern, Fragile Fern, Walking Fern, Maidenhair Spleenwort, and the Ebony Spleenwort pictured here, so slender and gracefully curving.

I assumed this furry, spiky stuff was a moss, but Ed most kindly corrected my misunderstanding, explaining that this Rock Spikemoss (Selaginella rupestris) was more closely related to ferns than it was to mosses.

I won't go into the complicated botanical explanation -- it has something to do with it having a true vascular system, which mosses don't have and ferns do. Ed also had me look into its greenery with my magnifier to detect minute specks of bright yellow spores, another feature of the spikemoss's structure that sets it apart from regular mosses.

When I go on adventures like this one, with wonderfully knowledgeable folks like Ed, I become so aware of how much I still have to learn about the botanical riches that surround us. But I am also struck by how kind most plant-people are to students like me, how eager they are to share what they know with folks who express an interest. Thanks so much, Ed. I had a wonderful time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Sometimes it's a good idea to take your cue from your kitties. On Tuesdays I rise before 5 to take the early shift at a Hospice home, so later today I was feeling mighty sleepy. One glance at these cats was all it took to convince me to stretch out on the chaise next to them. So this was my outdoor adventure today: ZZZZZZZZZ

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hollyhock Memories

What a sweet surprise: our one Hollyhock bloomed today with our favorite color, a deep, deep ruby red. We never know what color we're going to get. They can be pale pink or bright rose or dark magenta or yellow or white, but this is the hue we love best. We used to have lots of Hollyhocks, and they'd bloom in all the colors at once, but over the years our Box Elder tree shaded their patch of ground and they petered out -- with the help, too, of some kind of insect that ruined the buds before they even bloomed. We had thought our Hollyhock summers were gone for good, but one seed seems to have found its niche and sprung up in the only sunny spot we still have. Welcome back, dear Hollyhock.

Probably more than any other, this flower speaks to me of summer and all its carefree connotations. For several years as a child, I spent my summers at my grandmother's farm, an apple orchard on a Michigan lake. My bed was on a screened porch facing east, so I woke each day with the bird-chorus dawn and after breakfast dashed out the door to the morning's waiting delights. I can still hear that screen door banging behind me, my bare feet feeling cool dew in the grass before I reached the sunlit path that led to the lake and the day's adventures. Tall stalks of Hollyhocks, buzzing with bees, guarded that door that led to that happiness. Sometimes in the cool of the morning the bumblebees would still be asleep, sheltering in those ruffled-taffeta blooms, and I would feel so exquisitely privileged to sneak a finger in to caress the bee's furry back. No wonder I love Hollyhocks.

Another memory I have of those summers was the Hummingbird nest in the Spiraea shrubs just outside the screens where I woke each day. That tiny lined-with-lichens nest, no bigger than an egg cup, held eggs the size of green peas, and oh, what excitement when those wee hummers hatched! Such a buzzing and coming and going as mom flew off to fetch the nectar and bugs to pump into those babies, who doubled in size in about a week and soon crowded the nest with downy adorableness. I hadn't been able to witness such wonders again until this week, when I found that Robin's nest in the Trumpet Vine behind my front porch swing. Today, I caught Mom Robin hurling some egg bits out of the nest and ventured a peek: there was a second baby! (Hardly a nestful of downy adorableness, but hey, that cuteness will come.)

But still two eggs to go. How long does this whole process take? So far, Mom mostly stays on the nest to keep those naked babies warm. I haven't yet seen any feeding going on.

There've been lots of Mallard Duck babies in Congress Park this summer (as every summer), and most are getting pretty big by now. This duckling still had its fuzzy down and its baby-voice peep, peep, peep.

Housekeeping duties kept me at home today, but I did take time for a turn around the park, just a block from my house. Although Congress Park is famous for its Olmsted-designed formal gardens, I go there to visit the weeds -- the many wildflowers that bloom unbidden in the marshy spots and unkempt edges where the mowers can't reach. Two Willow Herbs were blooming today, the tiniest one and the giant. Here's the wee one, called Northern Willow Herb, and it's so small you have to hunt for it.

And here's the giant: Hairy Willow Herb, which towers well over six feet tall and has beautiful showy flowers.

Here's another showy-flowered giant, and one that comes well-armed with prickles: Bull Thistle.

I've never loved Day Lilies all that much, especially the orange ones, but they do put on quite a show in Congress Park.

Like Hollyhocks, Day Lilies are not really wildflowers, although left to their own devices they sure can run wild. I think it's grand to see such showy flowers grow like weeds.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Long Day's Walk

Six miles in about six hours. Gosh, we sped right along today, Sue and I, as we walked the Warren County Bikeway from Glen Lake to Lake George. Last fall, when we did a slightly shorter walk along the same route, it took us seven hours. But back then we had a birding buddy along and spent many pauses listening to birdsong and craning to see what flitted about in the trees. We did a little of that today, but most of our stops were to photograph plants and bugs and puzzle over stuff we couldn't name. Here Sue stops to get a shot of Monkeyflower growing by the pretty little stream that accompanied us much of our way.

The day started out damp from last night's rain, so that all of the trailside plants were heavy with droplets. As the sun broke through from time to time, most of the plants dried off, but the droplets persisted on Spreading Dogbane leaves, so they looked as if they were spangled with tiny lights.

We were quite amazed to find a Dogbane Beetle resting on one of those leaves, since we don't expect to see this beautiful beetle until much later in the season. I love those antennae that look like strings of tiny Black Onyx beads.

We found other pretty bugs as well, such as this Candystriped Leafhopper.

And this brilliantly colored Milkweed Beetle, eating a milkweed leaf.

The air was filled with the scent of cloves from the many Common Milkweed flowers in bloom along the trail. The open flowers are pretty and fragrant, yes, but this cluster of still-closed buds has a velvety beauty all its own.

Roses, too, added their fragrance to the humid air. Most of their flowers tended toward the pale side of pink, but one I found exceptionally vivid.

Baby leaves contributed vivid color, too. Here's a cluster of baby Red Maple.

And an equally brilliant cluster of Red Oak leaves.

As we walked along, we found lots of berries to snack on. The Red Raspberries were deliciously ripe.

The Low Blueberries, too, provided an abundance of ripe fruit.

Here's another beautiful berry, but a poisonous one that nobody should ever eat. Its name should warn anyone off. It's called Red Baneberry.

We found a number of things that puzzled us. We may never know the name of the insect that caused Virgin's Bower to produce this bright orange gall. Or is the color caused by some kind of fungus growing on the surface of the gall and shedding its orange dusty stuff all over the leaves? We found lots of these strange-looking growths on many different plants of this native clematis vine.

We were also puzzled by this fern that grew among giant boulders along the shady trail. It looked so much more slender than similar ferns we were familiar with. When I picked up a frond to examine it more closely, tiny green nubbins fell into my hand. This photo shows them attached to the underside of the frond. Aha, I thought, little bulblets! I'll bet this is Bulblet Fern.

We had to haul the Newcomb's out to figure out which wild geranium this was, and we're still not sure. We're leaning toward Bicknell's Cranesbill because of the length of the flower stalk.
But what was most remarkable about this flower today were the beaked seedheads. This photo shows the beak split and curled up from the bottom, having hurled the contents of those seed packets far afield.

And here's what those seedheads looked like before they split and curled. You can see how they got the name cranesbill.

My macro lens has allowed me to see how hairy those little seed packets are. If I hadn't enlarged this photo on my computer screen, I never would have seen this kind of detail with my naked eyes. And if I had never met Sue, I probably never would have hiked all the way from Glen Lake to Lake George. What a great day with a great friend. Thanks for making it happen, Sue.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Mountain Pool Covered with Calla

With storms predicted for this afternoon, I abandoned my plans for a river paddle and chose instead to hike to a mountain pool. The pool lies high up in the Palmertown Mountains of Moreau Lake State Park, and my friend Laurie had showed me how to get there this spring. I remembered large mats of Sphagnum Moss surrounded by outcroppings of quartzite -- conditions, I thought, that might be right for orchids.

The trail led up, up, up through dark woods, much higher up than my weary legs remembered climbing before. I guess summer's heat and humidity and bugs make every hill feel steeper. Eventually, I saw a brightening up ahead, then at last a clearing, and there was the pool. But what had been open water last spring was now a solid mat of shiny green heart-leaved plants, ones that I didn't recognize.

Looking about, I found some of those plants in bloom with flowers that looked like Calla Lilies. Could this be Wild Calla, I wondered, thumbing my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide to the page that said, yes, that's indeed what they are. Calla palustris, to be exact. Also called Water Arum. A new flower for me.

Newcomb calls this a bog plant, so I searched around for other bog dwellers, but that Wild Calla had crowded out all other plants but itself. No orchids, alas. At the sunlit edge of the pool, however, I did find an interesting sedge that looked like none I had seen before.

Then the rain began, so I hurried back down the trail to my car, regretting I'd not brought a plastic bag to keep my camera dry.

But I did have to stop to photograph this Indian Pipe, with a much rufflier bloom than is usual.

Blessed Event!

What's up, Mama Robin? I saw her sitting on the side of her nest this morning, and when I approached just a little bit closer, she flew away. That gave me free rein to peer into the nest, and look what I found: one brand-new baby robin!

Oh gosh, I thought, this tiny creature's not moving, is it alive? But as soon as my camera clicked, that wee little wobbly naked neck craned up and a tiny mouth opened wide.

I know this photo's not focussed. But I didn't want to have that baby waste its energy lifting its head to me while I tried for a clearer shot, so I got out of there fast in the hopes that Mama would soon be back to stuff something into that gaping maw. Now we wait to see if the other eggs hatch.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two Friends, New Flowers at Pyramid Lake

My friend Evelyn has been sharing her special plant places with me this year, and today I got to take her to one of mine: Pyramid Lake in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area. Evelyn's actually been on the lake before, hiking in from state trails for more than a mile, carrying her canoe on her shoulder. But I have an easier access to this spectacularly beautiful lake, through my association with Pyramid Life Center, a spiritual retreat center that provides the only road access to the lake. So we were able to drive right up and plunk our boats right in the water.

We were glad to save our energy for what we had come to do: climb over snags and sink into the muck exploring a cedar swamp that lies at one end of the lake. Here are Evelyn and Bonnie (another friend and flower lover) approaching our destination and looking for a likely spot to land our boats.

We had barely stepped out of our boats and entered the swamp when we found this remarkable flower: a Greenish-flowered Pyrola (Pyrola virens). (Oops! I forgot to update the Latin names of some of these pyrolas. This Greenish-flowered one is now called P. clorantha.)

This was a new one for me, as were two other pyrolas we found in another cedar swamp this week, the One-sided (P. secunda) and the rare Pink (P. asarifolia). Both of these other two were flourishing in today's swamp, as well. Here, masses of P. secunda share their damp turf with Dewberry. (Once again, I used an out-of-date Latin name. P. secunda is now called Orthilia secunda.)

And here's the very pretty pink one, Pyrola asarifolia.

Evelyn knows the names of most mosses, and she did tell me the name of this one, but I didn't write it down because I was struggling to free my foot from having sunk up to one knee in muck. Since I can't remember its official name, I'm calling it Little Fan Dancer.

One of my blog readers, plant expert Ruth Schottman, wrote to tell me the name of this moss: Hylocomnium splendens, or Staircase Moss. She also told me that each of those layers represents a single year's growth.

Sharing a soggy log with that moss was this craggy fruticose lichen, topped with pink fruiting bodies.

After a couple of hours getting scratched by branches, sucked into the mud, and snacked on by deerflies -- and having a wonderful time despite all that -- we miraculously found our way back to our boats and set out to tour the lake. A pair of loons seemed as curious about us as we felt delighted to see them.

Our next destination was another swamp on the opposite end of the lake. I had found Small Bur Reed (Sparganium natans) there in previous years and I was hoping it was blooming today. This little water plant, while not particularly showy, is a rare treasure to find, since it's listed as a "threatened" species in New York State. Well, it was blooming profusely today, so I'm happy to say that it feels very much at home in Pyramid Lake.

Another plant (maybe a reed, I don't know its name) shared the warm shallow water where the bur reed grew, and this one had very fine underwater leaves that gracefully swirled with the current, like mermaid's hair. Its stiffly emergent stalk possessed a single nub of a bloom that, from a distance, just looked like a quarter-inch bump in the stem, but up close it looked like ghostly white fingers wrapped around the stalk. (Got a note from NY State chief botanist Steve Young IDing this as Water Bulrush [Scirpus subterminalis].)

It was a beautiful day to be on the water, and everywhere we looked we found some kind of treasure. Here, dainty Wood Sorrel clings to the shoreline rocks with lush green ferns.

Huge boulders lie at the water line beneath a monumental cliff, and many are colored with pink and green lichens and crowned with Rock Tripe.

The Rose Pogonias were still in bloom, adding their pretty pink accent to the green plants.

A water-logged fallen tree has served as a nursery log for this lovely arrangement of grasses, mints, and moss.