Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Botanical Adventures at Pyramid Lake

For a paddling trip that didn't work out quite as planned, it sure was a fine adventure. I had offered to lead members of the Adirondack Botanical Society on an exploration of Pyramid Lake last Saturday, but by the time the date rolled around, only three other folks besides me were able to make the trip. But lucky for me, those three were the best of companions: noted botanists Ruth Schottman and Nancy Slack, and also my good friend with the excellent eye for nature finds, Sue Pierce. Here's Ruth setting off toward the site of our morning excursion, a cedar swamp at the western end of the lake, on a day as fine as a summer day can be.

And here's the swamp. It's a good thing there were not more boats than ours. We had enough trouble finding places to land where our feet didn't plunge into muck.

But land we did, and then pushed on in through cedar and hemlock boughs to a mossy, swampy interior where the rare pink Pyrola asarifolia was sure to be blooming by now. Or so I thought. There was lots of this threatened species growing here last summer, when I took this photo of one on June 23, 2010.

Unfortunately, not a one could be found this year. Not even one in bud.

We did find three other pyrolas, however. There was plenty of Shinleaf still in bud, and also abundant numbers of this Green Pyrola.

A few plants of One-sided Pyrola were still in bloom.

So was I disappointed? Well sure. The chance to see one of New York's rare species was a major reason for planning this trip, and it's worrisome that not even a trace of the plants could be found. Ah well. I'll be back on the lake in a couple of weeks, so I'll check again.

I had also advertised a second rare plant, a small bur-reed (Sparganium natans, also called S. minimum) that just a year ago (when I took this photo) had been filling a shallow area at the eastern end of the lake.

At least in the case of this species, we did find many, many plants, the tips of their leaves just beginning to emerge from the water. Unfortunately, we would need to closely examine the flowers to determine the distinctive features of this species.

But how could we stay disappointed on such a splendid summer day in one of the most beautiful lakes in the Adirondacks? We had the whole day to paddle its pristine wilderness waters under a high blue sky, slipping quietly under the shade of overhanging cedars, birches, and pines; gazing at the majestic height of sheer mountainous cliffs that plunged to the water's edge; and pushing through patches of Fragrant Water Lilies, some of which were so dainty and small, we wondered if they might be another species altogether.

Paddling close to a jumbled shore of monumental boulders that had tumbled down from the mountain above, we were surprised to come across these two brilliant Fireweed blooms, sheltering under a giant slab of rock.

Fireweed is a plant I usually think of as growing in masses along Adirondack roadsides and burned-over clearings. It's really a puzzle how just these two plants came to find a home here on this boulder.

Did I mention before that Sue had a marvelous eye for nature finds? It was she who caught sight of this small water snake taking a snooze on the branch of a shoreline bush, just at her eye level as we paddled by. It just looked like another branch, to me.

It was also Sue who spied this mass of transparent jelly floating just under the surface in a marshy end of the lake.

How on earth could she see this water-colored blob down under the water? Note that there is some kind of translucent green structure encased in this loose, almost liquid, jelly. Could this be a bryozoan, an ancient kind of moss animal? Ruth suggested it could be Pectinatella, but it doesn't look much like the photos that we later googled. (If I ever find out what it is for sure, I will come back to add its name to this post.)
Update: Elizabeth adds a comment to this post stating that she thinks this might be the leftover egg mass of spotted salamanders, after the eggs have hatched. After looking at photos of similar jelly blobs on the internet, I tend to agree with her. Thanks, Elizabeth!

We could count on Nancy, a moss expert, to discover this unusual moss growing on a rotting tree stump out in the shallow quiet water. She called it a spear moss, but wasn't sure of its exact species. I've sent her this photo, so she can confer with her fellow moss folks and perhaps put a name to it. "Spear Moss" seems about right.

Nancy got back to me to identify this moss as a Calliergonella species. After looking at photos of various species of Calliergonella, I'd say this was C. cuspidata, otherwise known as Spear Moss.


Anonymous said...

Gliding along on a perfect summer's day! Does it get any better? That jelly ooze - how interesting!

“The world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.” Irish poet John O’Donohue.

All we have to do is pay attention! Grateful that I am in a position to do that.

You've inspired me to go join the Ct. Botanical Society and to sign up for a 'swamp walk' on Saturday. Thanks.

squirrel said...

I envy you your swamps, that are so full of interesting things. I loved the moss! And of course I noticed Sue was wearing a long sleve shirt! Cool eh?

Elizabeth said...

I've said this before, but I love your posts -- what a great thing to wake up to in the morning, and I'm learning so much from you!

Regarding the mysterious jelly mass, my guess is that it might be a hatched-out amphibian egg mass, maybe from a salamander. If you google "spotted salamander eggs", there are a bunch of pictures that look similar to your jelly, although they all have baby salamanders inside their green blobs.... It's a possibility, though!

Your trips to bogs are so interesting. Thanks again!

Louise said...

While it is too bad that you didn't see what you had come to see, I'm glad that you had such a wonderful day, anyways. There's nothing better than to be out in the wilderness with people who enjoy it as much as you do. Thanks for sharing.

Carolyn H said...

Sounds like a lovely ramble to me!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, friends, for all your kind comments. I wish I could take you all along with me to this beautiful lake.

Elizabeth, I did look at internet photos of salamander egg masses, and I do believe that's what we found -- but one from which the baby salamanders had all hatched. Thanks for the suggestion.