Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Back to the Bladderworts and the Willow-herb

Another unbearably steamy day, reaching into the 90s. Good thing I had plans today to return to the river where I found those odd bladderworts, since it's always so much cooler on the water. Plus, I can always jump in. I went back to the same place I paddled on Monday, wanting to look more closely at what I believe might be Small Inflated Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), a rare bladderwort that has never been reported to grow in Saratoga County. This time I got out my tape to make an accurate meaurement. Or close to it.

My hand also helps to provide perspective. The larger Inflated Bladderwort (U. inflata), which is now considered to be invasive in some parts of the state, would likely extend farther beyond my palm. This photo also shows quite clearly the three-lobed lower petal, a distinctive feature of U. radiata.

I also was able to obtain a pretty clear photo of the plant's underwater stems, bearing the tiny bladders (utricles) that give plants of this family their name.

I found lots of these underwater structures all along the river, close to the shore, wherever bur-reeds and water shield were growing in quiet water. In the quarter-mile or so I paddled, I counted at least 25 flowering stalks, holding their bright yellow blooms above the water.

My bladderwort investigations complete, I then revisited the steep cliffs that rise above the river, noting that Grass of Parnassus was still very much in bloom.

These cliffs, which appear to be made of limestone and black shale, are watered by tiny springs that dampen the surface, producing a cooling effect as I paddled by and making a happy home for beautiful green mosses and liverworts. Or is that fluffy green stuff a green alga, like that fluffy orange stuff I pictured in my last post? And what, I wonder, are those pretty leafy rosettes?

Other plants that were happy along the river include these radiant blue Bottle Gentians.

Winterberry shrubs, thick with red berries, leaned over the water where I pulled in close to the bank to escape the hot sun.

I came upon the same Spikenard berry clusters I'd passed by without tasting on Monday, and today I decided to try one. Hmm. Not bad. Very sweet, with a kind of piney edge that made me think of incense. I ate a couple more.

On the way home I stopped by the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve to reexamine the willow-herb with the very narrow leaves I'd found there on Monday. After studying my Britton and Brown, the three-volume bible of North American botany, I was looking for several particular features that would help me determine the plant's species. For example, this stigma appears to be entire, that is, not notched.

I also noted that the leaves were sessile to the stem, without any stalks.

A closer look at that stem and those leaves reveals that both are covered with minute downy hairs.

I may yet be mistaken, but all these features (plus others) lead me to believe that this is a Downy Willow-herb (Epilobium strictum), rather than the Narrow-leaved Willow-herb (E. leptophyllum) I had originally thought it to be. My original error could be because my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide has a drawing of the E. leptophyllum, but none of E. strictum.

Come to think of it, my Newcomb's doesn't have an entry, either, for Small Inflated Bladderwort. State botanist Steve Young told me about one of his colleagues who joked that he was going to write a "Not in Newcomb's" field guide, since that's a phrase he hears quite often while on botanical field trips. But Newcomb's is still the best guide for general botanizing, I believe. And unlike that Britton and Brown, it fits in my camera bag.

Update: Well, so much for my diagnostic skills. I got a note from State Botanist Steve Young informing me that if this willow-herb were E. strictum, the stem hairs would stick straight out from the stems, rather than lie down. So it looks to be E. leptophyllum, or Narrow-leaved Willow-herb, after all. The hairiness on the tops of the leaves is another attribute of E. leptophyllum as well. I am very happy to stand corrected. I am also happy to add that Steve has confirmed my conclusion about the bladderwort: This one is indeed U. radiata, a threatened species in New York State.


Anonymous said...

You are one cool lady, JD! And those cool blue boat shoes!!!

Louise said...

Hah! I noticed those neat blue boat shoes, too. Another great trip. Thank you.

Virginia said...

And did you go for a swim? Maybe the perfect ending to studying all the beautiful plant life.

My mother and I have secret locations for finding winterberry in December. It sure is beautiful now when it is fresh with the deep green leaves.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Linda and Louise, glad you liked my boat shoes. Land's End sells them, and they're less than $40. You notice how I artistically placed their photo next to that of the similar-colored gentians.

Hi Virginia. No, it got too late to go for a swim, but I got pretty wet from leaning my canoe so far over to look more closely at the flowers, it filled with water. And yes, Winterberry is lovely in every season, holding its bright red berries well into the winter, when we can use it for Christmas decorations.

Ellen Rathbone said...

HM...I've now ordered a set of Britton and Brown for myself. Not really a field guide, though, eh? I can't wait to look at it and put it to work!

Steve Young said...

Those pretty rosettes in the moss remind me of Sedum ternatum.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for the sedum suggestion, Steve. The leaves didn't seem quite fleshy enough to suggest a sedum to me, but I'll have to go back in the spring to see if they produce sprays of small white flowers.