Saturday, April 30, 2011

Arbor Day Under Tall Pines

What better way to spend Arbor Day than wandering around under ancient pines in the Adirondack forest? Especially with a group of people steeped in knowledge of the woods. On Saturday, I attended the founding meeting of an Adirondack botanical society (yet to be named) in Ray Brook, New York, way up in the high peaks region between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The meeting, organized by botanist Steve Young of the New York Flora Association, attracted many of the foremost names in the Adirondack plant world.

According to Steve (pictured here in the red shirt), there already exist botanical societies representing other parts of the state, but this would be the first organization to represent the vast Adirondack region, with all its varieties of terrain and remarkable plant communities.

Although the direction this group will take in the future is not yet set in stone, a clear consensus was a desire for lots of field trips. Happily, one member of our group was familiar with a nearby forest harboring ancient old growth pines and volunteered to take us there for our first adventure together.

No doubt about it, ancient trees are awe inspiring, towering over the rest of the woods as if standing guard over stretches of time that none of us can even imagine. I always feel very privileged to be invited into their presence. And I also felt very privileged yesterday to be in the presence of folks who notice the tiniest plants growing underfoot, such as this fruiting liverwort growing at the base of a stump. What's even more amazing to me is that they immediately know the plant's name: Ptilidium pullcherinum, a very big name for such a wee little plant!

One of those liverwort experts was my friend Evelyn Greene, who kindly offered to drive me up to the meeting yesterday. The long drive was certainly made more enjoyable by the pleasure of her company. Also, our road led us through some of the most beautiful lands in the state, such as this view of Owl's Head Mountain, which we passed on our way home.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Flood of Flowers and Other Wonders

While out checking the state of floodwaters today, I was also trying to keep up with the flood of wildflowers now coming into bloom. For flower nuts like me, every day is like Christmas now, as I hurry out to see what marvels Mother Nature has left for me under the trees. Along Spier Falls Road in Moreau, these Christmas-Ribbon-Red Trilliums were massed on a steep bank rising over my head, so that every one of their gorgeous nodding flowers was faced in my direction. What a sight!

Trout Lily always averts its gaze, so you have to put your finger under its chin to lift its face. But today I was happy to notice the back of its bloom, where all three sepals were tinged with pink to distinguish them from the pure-yellow petals.

Early Saxifrage is already in bloom, and I did find their bright-white clustered flowers today, but I love even more these chubby little bunches of buds set off by their wreaths of scalloped leaves.

The twin trumpets of American Fly Honeysuckle are dangling now from single stalks.

Dog Violets, with their pale-purple flowers that grow on leafy stems, were starting to carpet the woods at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve.

Also at Orra Phelps today, the Dutchmen had hung their Breeches above their clumps of lacy leaves.

Massed along this rushing stream, Sessile-leaved Bellworts were trying to hide their pale-yellow blooms beneath their stem-clasping leaves. I think this photo demonstrates how I manage to get tick bites in my eyebrows, since I had to lie down on my stomach to get this shot.

There were other marvels besides flowers beautifying the woods today. Wherever the sunlight shone down through the trees, the translucent baby leaves of Red Maple lit up like stained glass.

Ferns of every kind are now unscrolling their fiddleheads. I think this may be Wood Fern, since I see all those fronds surrounding this clump, still green although flattened by winter's deep snow.

For the same reason, I'm pretty sure that these fuzzy coils belong to the Christmas Fern that lies there so green beside them.

Speaking of green . . . . This beautiful bright-green moss was decorating the huge damp boulders that lie at the foot of the cliffs opposite Spier Falls Dam.

Some of that moss was sprouting a dense coat of hair-fine spore stalks.

Inhabiting those same damp boulders were mats of brown Dog Lichen, with a wee little tan-colored mushroom hiding out amid the similarly colored "ears" of the lichen.

Not every flower that's beautiful is a delight to see. At first I thought these shiny yellow blooms might be Marsh Marigold, except I didn't remember any of that plant growing along this particular stream at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve. Then a closer inspection (involving very muddy shoes) revealed that this is Lesser Celandine, a dreaded invasive alien that, left to its own devices, could soon take over the area, supplanting all the rich diversity of plants now found there.

Here's a closer look at its flower, pretty enough, with shiny yellow petals.

I hope that's the last of its pretty face we will find at Orra Phelps, since I promptly pulled it out. Luckily, there was only one clump. But now I'll be watching for it, in case it returns. To learn more about this invasive plant and how to help eradicate it, go to the New York Flora Association's blog by clicking here.

Scenes of a Flooded Hudson

I haven't heard the official numbers, but I did hear that the Hudson River has never been so high above flood stage as it went this week. As the waters start to recede, my friend Sue and I drove around to some of our riverside haunts to document what this once-in-our-liftime flooding looked like.

We started at the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls, where we could not park in the beach parking lot, because it was under water.

Nor could we sit on this deck at a bend of the river, since we hadn't worn hip waders.

We probably could have continued along the Byway in our Wellies, but we weren't quite sure exactly how deep that water was. Plus, it was running fast across the walkway.

This goose had the walkway all to himself.

These geese were wandering around like lost souls, since, according to a fellow who feeds them daily, the flood had washed away the nest they had built on an island that now wasn't there.

Because we couldn't get there on foot along the Byway, we had to drive around to the falls that gives Glens Falls its name. Normally, the falls is just a dribble over spectacular rocks, since most of the river here is diverted to a hydroelectric plant. But today the Hudson was roaring over every one of the floodgates.

We climbed down to where sluices feed the turbines and got very close to the river's roar and roil.

We next drove to the Sherman Island boat launch along Spier Falls Road in Moreau, and found the river here had made its way back into the woods, inundating a picnic area and fishing dock.

You can still see the trees out there, but the islands are well under water.

The roiling dark waters were swirling with foam, and a big heap of it had collected along a bank.

The Spier Falls Dam was going full throttle, the river plunging through all of the gates and exploding around the far end as well.

Well, I wasn't really planning to take a dip today, anyway.
I was hoping to get my canoe in the water this week, but I guess I will wait a while. State conservation officials are advising paddlers to stay off the icy cold and swiftly moving waterways, and are also asking hikers to stay off muddy mountain trails. Many roads throughout the Adirondacks still remain impassable.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bad New, Good News in Lake Luzerne

We'd heard that the Hudson had reached record levels of flooding today, but had no idea what that meant for homeowners along the river at Lake Luzerne until we crossed over the Rte. 9N bridge this afternoon on our way to Rockwell Falls. Never in all the years I've been living in Saratoga County (41 years) have I seen the river so high. I sure hope the folks who lived in these houses got safely away. Just tonight, I learned that a dam upstream in Indian Lake is in danger of giving way, which would flood the Hudson with millions more gallons of water. That would be very bad news, indeed, for all the communities along the river.

The Hudson falls through a narrow gorge at Lake Luzerne, and today all that excess water came charging down the gorge with unparalleled ferocity, the watercourse so filled that the falls was completely drowned beneath that raging water.

Here are a couple of still photos of that ferocity, but do continue down to my previous post to see some videos that capture more of the river's sound and fury.

Not all the news was bad in Lake Luzerne, however. We were delighted to find our favorite ice cream parlor, Papa's, has reopened under a new name, Upriver Cafe, after having been closed all last year.

There's no finer way to spend a summer afternoon or evening than here on this beautiful deck overlooking the Hudson, enjoying a full meal or an ice cream treat.

You can also get breakfast here, Wednesday through Sunday for now, but seven days a week as the summer comes on. We ordered a chocolate malt to share, and our waitress told us the cafe will be open all year, not just during the summer season, as in past years. (There's cozy seating inside.) Let's all get up there and help keep this one-of-a-kind restaurant going strong.

Another relatively new attraction in town is the Adirondack Folk School, located in what was once the Lake Luzerne Town Hall. Now in its second year, the AFS is the only school of its kind in the country dedicated to teaching the arts, crafts, and culture unique to the Adirondack region, according to a brochure I picked up in the town's very pleasant little library.

One of the librarians there, Roberta Games, also teaches a class at AFS called "Adirondack Floral Art," using native plants, twigs, birch bark, feathers, and other natural materials to create arrangements that represent the beauty of the Adirondacks. Looking through the course listings Roberta gave me, I was astounded by the variety and quality of the offerings, from the expected pack basket and rustic furniture courses, to instruction in fly fishing, canoe-paddle carving, and even classes in how to make toboggans or a traditional corn broom. To learn more about this remarkable year-round school, visit their website at

A few minutes after I posted this blog, I received a note from the Adirondack Almanack's John Warren regarding major flooding in many parts of the Adirondacks. The Almanack has published a regularly updated round-up of flood conditions throughout the area, which my readers can access by clicking here.

Sound and Fury: The Hudson at Record Heights 4/28/11

These videos of the Hudson River at Rockwell Falls, Lake Luzerne, were taken on April 28, 2011. Rapid snowmelt and torrential rains had caused the river to rise to record levels. The first video was taken from the riverbank just below the Lake Luzerne library, at the site of Rockwell Falls. The second was taken from the bridge between Lake Luzerne and Hadley.

Mud Mystery Solved!

Remember my pondering the cause of these mysterious snaky-shaped piles of mud? I sent some photos off to a wonderfully informative site called Ask a Naturalist, and today I learned that the likely cause was a Star-nosed Mole. I never would have dreamed that a mole would choose to inhabit such a mucky habitat, but now I know that that's exactly the kind of place this amazing critter calls home. For all kinds of information about Star-nosed Moles, including a fascinating video, click here to visit Ask a Naturalist. It's a great site, worth bookmarking, for answers to all kinds of questions about nature. The naturalist in question is a man named Tom Pelletier, and I sure do thank him for finding the experts able to answer my question.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Trilliums and Tickbites

Just for the record, I found this spring's first Red Trillium today, and also had the first tick of the season pulled from my head this morning. Too bad this Wake Robin (another name for Red Trillium) seems to signal the waking of critters other than robins. Time to break out the DEET.

Here was another critter scrambling about the leaf litter today. I sure wish it feasted on ticks, but unfortunately, these Green Stink Bugs are vegetarians and eat only fruits and vegetables.

Field Horsetail Reeds are also up and in "flower" -- or at least, the fertile stalks are. I only saw these pallid spore-producing stalks (called strobili), which will wither and disappear once their spores are dispersed, and none of the bright-green sterile stems, which will grow and thrive through the summer, creating whole miniature forests of feathery green.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Buds Are Busting Out All Over

A summer-like heat descended on us today, shocking a bunch of buds into bloom at last. As I drove around the county today to check on the burgeoning botanica, I was delighted to see that almost every marshy roadside was carpeted with the brilliant yellow flowers of Marsh Marigold.

My first stop was at the Yaddo rose gardens, not to check out the formal plantings, but rather to see what marvelous weeds had sneaked into the beds and were blooming their heads off before the gardeners could yank them out. Here's one of my favorites, a pretty Mint-family plant with the awful name of Purple Dead Nettle. The "purple" part of the name is obvious, and yes, the leaves could be said to resemble those of nettles, but what's "dead" got to do with one of the first flowers to return to life in the spring?

Lots of TWJs (tiny white jobs) were happily making their home beneath the Privet hedge guarding the formal gardens, including this Common Chickweed. As its name implies, chickens just love this stuff, and for good reason. The tender little leaves are really quite pleasant to taste, used raw in a salad.

Several different kinds of small-flowered mustards were thriving here, including this one called Shepherd's Purse, with its pretty basal rosettes of deeply cleft leaves. Its triangular seed pods supposedly resemble the purses carried by ancient shepherds. This is also an edible plant, but the greens should be harvested before the flowers arise.

This is probably Small-flowered Bittercress, another Mustard-family plant with the four-petaled flowers typical of this family. I say "probably," because there are a lot of small white-flowered mustards that bloom this time of year and not all of them are described in Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, or Peterson's, either.

For example, I can't find in my books any flower that exactly matches this one, with its amply-leaved basal rosette, hairy stem, cluster of blooms on top, as well as additional flowers that grow from the axils of the few leaves that grow alternately along the stem.

All I can say for sure is that it's some kind of small white mustard. Anybody know its name?

I wasn't sure of the name of these tree flowers, either, although I suspected they might be Box Elder, having a mapley look to them and sprouting from a twig with a bluish bloom. A female Box Elder grows right outside my kitchen door and it doesn't have any flowers that look like this, so could this be the flower that grows on male trees? An internet search for "box elder male flowers" quickly confirmed my guess. That's quite an elaborate structure, reminding me of a many-tiered fountain with cascading waters.

I didn't really expect to find Rue Anemone blooming today, since the first year I found them at this site was in mid-May in a normally warm spring, not a long cold spring like the one we've had this year. But wonder of wonders, there they were! And with lots of buds yet to open, so the show will continue for some time. Such an exquisite flower! And one I rarely find in Saratoga County.

I did expect to see these English Violets (Viola odorata) in full bloom, since I've been watching their buds for almost two weeks. I found Common Blue Violets blooming today, as well, but I particularly wanted to visit these violets, just to breathe in their fragrance. Aaaah!

If you didn't notice their fragrance, you might mistake them for Common Blues, but a closer inspection reveals the long-conic style with a hook on it, which is diagnostic for this violet. That was something I learned from noted violet authority Harvey Ballard, who helped me identify this species, after it had puzzled me for years.

Normally, I have a strong aversion to picking any wildflower, but today I succumbed to temptation and gathered a little nosegay to bring home with me to perfume my rooms.

I read somewhere once that the more you pick violets, the more they bloom. I hope that's true for these lovely little flowers. At least I left hundreds behind.