Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sweltery Day Diversions

Another sweltery day. Too hot and muggy to spend much time outdoors at midday, but I was eager to see if the Goodyera pubescens was blooming along the Bog Meadow Trail just outside Saratoga. Not quite yet, it turned out, but lots of other orchids were blooming today, although it was one that some folks disdain because it isn't a native: Helleborine.

From a standing height, it's not much to look at, but it's worth the trouble to stoop down and take a closer look at its pretty pinky-green blooms.

Here's another flower that's easy to overlook, since it's small and spindly and tends to disappear against the shady forest floor. This is Naked-flower Tick-trefoil, so called because its flowers grow on a stalk separate from its leaves.

Bog Meadow, with wetlands on either side of the trail, is a great place for many different sedges. I love the warm brown color and spiky little bunched heads of this one (name unknown).

Swamp Milkweed was in its glory today, and I came to a halt real quick when I saw this flower head all covered in yellow. At first I thought it might be a fungus or rust, but a closer look revealed that the plant was covered in tiny yellow aphids.

YELLOW aphids! Hmmm . . . . Since this is nothing I'd ever seen before, I searched the web when I got home and discovered that these are Oleander Aphids, a fascinating critter, indeed. See those little black spikes sticking out of their butts? Those are called "cornicles," and they are used to excrete a sweet substance called honeydew, which attracts ants, who protect the aphids against such parasitizing predators as wasps. Other predators would be warned off by the aphids' vivid yellow-orange color, which signals that the aphids have taken up the toxic glycosides of their host plants (milkweeds and oleanders) and thus share that toxicity.

But wait, there's more, and this is really amazing: every one of these aphids is a female -- a female capable of reproducing itself without the participation of a male aphid, through a process called parthenogenesis. Virgin birth! I even found a photo of a big one giving birth to a tiny clone of itself, which you can see by clicking here.

Well, after all that excitement, I was really in a sweat when I got home. My husband took pity on me and offered to take me up to Lake Luzerne for dinner at the Upriver Cafe, a delightful little cafe with a deck overlooking the Hudson River at Rockwell Falls.

After dinner we took a stroll along the river through a pretty little park, with chairs set out for enjoying the river view.

I wanted to check out this little island, where in previous years I have found as many as 20 Smaller Purple-fringed Orchids growing quite happily. Until some fool mowed them all down.
They've never returned to that kind of profusion, but I do find a few each year since then.

I couldn't see any orchids while I was standing on the bridge, so I decided to wade out and search among the grasses. I had almost given up when I spied this lovely specimen right next to the water.

And isn't it a beauty!


Ian said...

Love the orchid photos

June said...

I am charmed by everything about the Oleander Aphids. They look like bright yellow smiley faces with legs and cornicles.
No males, huh? Hmm.

Anonymous said...

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction - the Oleander aphids fall right in that category, even to their 'mummy' experience - fascinating. Great shots, too!

Louise said...

Those aphids are fascinating, and your pictures are great! I enjoyed every bit of your blog today, but especially them.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi friends, thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments. I, too, thought those aphids were pretty amazing. Cute, too.