Friday, May 13, 2011

Exploring a Great Site with Grand Companions

Thursday, May 12:
What would make for a perfect day for a wildflower fanatic like me? Beautiful spring weather, a whole bunch of folks both amiable and expert, and a trip to explore one of the richest native plant sites in New York State. That's what. Too bad I can't say exactly where that site is, since some of its most interesting plants are among the most endangered, and I would not want to tempt unscrupulous collectors. I can say, though, that it was Ed Miller who led our group of Thursday Naturalists through a woods whose limestone substrate supported abundant growths of such rarities as Ginseng and Goldenseal, which were growing there like weeds. And we sure had a lot of expert eyes searching the ground to find them. Among lots of other plants. (Can you find the Columbine and the Miterwort in this photo?)

I was very interested in noting the difference between this limey woods, which lies south of Albany, and the Skidmore Woods here in Saratoga, which has a similar geology, although it lies about 50 miles to the north. One plant I found down there, but I don't in Saratoga, is Virginia Waterleaf, shown here in bud. (Its leaves have not yet developed the pale patches resembling waterspots that give the plant its name.)

Here's a closer look at that remarkably hairy bud, which will soon erupt in a cluster of pretty pale lavender flowers.

We have lots of Toothwort up north, but here the common variety was the species called Cutleaf Toothwort. The flowers were spent, but the leaves were still very pretty.

I have never found American Bladdernut in the Skidmore Woods, but that doesn't mean it's not there. There is some at Yaddo in Saratoga, but its buds were still tightly closed on Thursday, while down south of Albany, the buds had opened into dangling greenish clusters. This will be my first year of observing this interesting native shrub. I wonder how many of those flowers will develop into the inflated seed-filled bladders that give this plant its name. Stay tuned!

Here's that Goldenseal, a plant that has been nearly extirpated across its natural range, because it is so sought after by herbalists. Here in this woods, however, it appeared as common as Mayapple, with which it shared its territory. That spiky little flower is all stamens surrounding a pistillate center; it has no petals.

Well, this was an unexpected surprise! This Yellow Lady's Slipper (only one!) was blooming earlier than usual. Unlike the Pink Lady's Slipper, which prefers more acidic soil, the yellow variety loves limey woods like this.

Not all our surprises were botanical. This spectacularly colored millipede kept scurrying away faster than my camera could follow, so I grabbed it and placed it on my palm, where it promptly curled into a disk, exuding some brown goo in the process.

A strong smell like almond extract met my nostrils as the creature released minute quantities of cyanide gas, a defensive measure. This almond scent, similar to that found in peach pits, is what gives this millipede its common name, Peach Pit Millipede (Apheloria virginiensis corrugata). Thanks go to naturalist Nancy Slack for this information.

Here's our group taking a lunch break on cliffs overlooking a pond. Ed (red shirt) is searching the ground for some of the rare mosses and fern allies that grow on these boulders.

We didn't have to search to find this Creeping Shadblow, an uncommon Amelanchier species that never grows very tall. Lucky for us, it was still in flower where it clung to the limestone boulders. (Another uncommon shrub, Fragrant Sumac, was just coming into bloom nearby, but my photos did not turn out.)

Isn't it fun to say the name of Fringed Polygala? Almost as fun as the flowers are pretty. Another common name is Gaywings. Very descriptive!

Starflower. What else could it be called? It often grows intermixed with Gaywings, and I can't think of any lovelier sight.

All in all, it was a wonderful day for lovers of native plants, both common and rare. We wandered the woods for several hours, so wouldn't you think I'd had enough botanizing for one day? Well, not quite. I had to stop off at Yaddo on my way home to check the progress of MY American Bladdernut (as I mentioned above, still in bud), and while I was there I also went to search for Cream Violet where it used to grow in a Lily-of-the-Valley patch. I couldn't find it last week, but voila! It had bloomed at last. This is the only place I have ever found this species of stemmed violet.

Also at Yaddo I found this fertile stalk of Woodland Horsetail, its spore-bearing cone surmounting a stalk ringed with whorls of multi-branched leaves. Other, more common species of horsetail have fertile stalks that grow separately from the green leafy sterile stalks.

I looked at the USDA plant distribution map and discovered that this horsetail is not included in the listings for Saratoga County. But I know that it grows at Bog Meadow as well as at Yaddo.


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Lovely post! I absolutely loved the Gaywings. It's a major life species for me as it is endangered in my home state of Ohio. Really enjoyed the ground creeping Amelanchier species as well, new to me!

Ellen Rathbone said...

You do have all the luck with finding beautiful millipedes!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, A.L. I was surprised to learn that Gaywings could be endangered, since it's common and widespread up here in northern NY. That Creeping Shadblow was also a new one for me.

Ellen, so good to hear from you. Yes, didn't we decide that the millipede was my totem animal? But I suppose that anyone who spends lots of time with their nose an inch from the ground (as I do) would find lots of millipedes, too. But this one was really a beauty!

Anonymous said...

today's millipede and the caterpillar last week - you DO find very fashionable creatures, all decked out in vibrant colors! :-)
The Polygala is such an unexpectedly exotic color to find in north eastern woods - a delight!
When I read your posts I always find something new to look for, although location, as you point out in your 'hidden' wildflower area, is everything! :-)