Sunday, August 14, 2011

Away to Vermont, Home Again to Wilton

Yesterday was a lovely day for a drive through the verdant mountains of Vermont to Brattleboro, where we met family members for lunch at a restaurant called Marina, overlooking the confluence of the West and Connecticut Rivers. After lunch, we walked along the river where many boats were docked, and I stopped to marvel at this magnificent patch of Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) growing along the shore.

Named for the way its lower leaves grow together to form a cup, this big, bright-yellow flower is one I will probably never see in the wild in Saratoga County. A native of the more central states, Cup Plant has now been introduced to eastern states, but it still hasn't made its way to any places close to my home.

Tall Ironweed has, though. As I mentioned in last Thursday's post, one specimen of this native of more southern and central states has found a foothold at Wilton Wildlife Preserve, where, towering above all surrounding plants, it waves its vivid magenta blooms to all passersby on the nearby road. This is a section of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park that is called the Old Gick Farm, with a parking area directly off Rte 50.

I returned to the site today to collect a specimen that will document its occurrence in Saratoga County, and I was interested to note the presence of dry dead stalks surrounding the plant. This would indicate that the plant has been here at least since the previous year. It sure would be fun to know how it got here, since the nearest documented present population is hundreds of miles west of Wilton in Cattaraugus County, New York.

While wading through the tall weeds to reach the ironweed, I almost stepped on this little aster hiding in the grass. The flower itself was of a good size, but the whole plant stood only about a foot high.

This isn't one of the asters I immediately recognize, and neither could I find one just like it in my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. I'm posting photos of some of the aster's features, hoping that maybe one of my readers may recognize it and tell me its name. So here are the bracts, dark-tipped and curling away from the involucre.

Both the broad tapered leaves and the single stalk are rough, the leaves covered with hairs and clasping the stalk so completely that they appear at first sight to be pierced by the stalk.

If anyone knows this aster, I hope you will share its name with us.
Update: Readers of the comments to this post will learn that Steve Young, chief botanist for the New York Natural Heritage Program, has suggested that this is Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens). After searching the web for photos and descriptions, I tend to agree with him, even though it's hardly late in the aster season, is it? I also discovered that there's no record of this aster growing in Saratoga County. I wonder if it sneaked into the county along with that ironweed?

Aside from that ironweed and aster (and perhaps a zillion goldenrods), the most abundant flowers to be found at the Wilton site today were Round-headed Bushclover (Lespedeza capitata), a native Pea-family plant. On the whole, this is rather a homely, coarse plant, but the pink-touched individual florets are quite pretty when observed up close.

This Gick Farm site consists largely of Pine-Oak Savannah, an open, sandy habitat that New York's Department of Environmental Conservation is maintaining with controlled burning and the planting of native grasses, certain grassland flowering plants, and such appropriate trees as Pitch Pine and various species of oak. I love oaks for all kinds of reasons, and one of those is how hospitable oaks seem to be to galls of all kinds and colors. I've seen lots of different galls on oaks before, but never this pink furry one. At first I thought it was a curled-up caterpillar.

On the same little oak, I found this other tiny gall, a perfect sphere with a red pimply surface.

Wow! Look at these! Yet another kind of oak gall, this one a lovely marbled red.

Aha! There's yet another gall, I thought, before I looked closely enough to see that that small red oval was instead a Ladybug.

I don't know the names of any of these galls, but I sure would like to learn them. Anybody know of a gall guide you could recommend?


Anonymous said...

Oak galls...what an amazing variety! One more thing to be on the look-out for! :-)Gone are the days when I 'just' hiked ;-)! Thanks for opening my eyes to new wonders!

Louise said...

Of course, I can't help with the aster. I'm still thrilled when I recognize a turtlehead. I'm going to keep checking back to see if anyone can identify it. The oak galls are beautiful, but the little ladybug is even more so. I can picture you, along the drive, stopping by the roadside, because you've seen a plant that you have to look at closer.

Susan said...

I hope you don't find any cup plant in Saratoga County!Here in Essex /Clinton/Franklin counties it is considered an invasive along the AuSable River from Keene to Lake Champlain.In its native prairie habitat it isn't aggressive but along our moist ,rich riverbank/floodplain soil it takes over.You can find more info on it at the AuSable River Association find it fascinating that a native is not always a good thing.

Raining Iguanas said...

Another enjoyable and educational post. Thank you.

Steve Young said...

T me the aster looks most like late purple aster, Symphyotrichum patens. It might be a new record for Saratoga County.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Oh yes, hikeagiant, there sure is a lot of stuff out there that demands that we stop and look more carefully. And how annoying that is to fellow hikers who are hurrying to get to the mountain top!

Louise, you can picture me pulling over to look at plants, but only if I am in the driver's seat. When my husband drives, all I get is a fleeting glance.

Sorry to hear that Cup Plant is making such a pest of itself, Susan. So far we've been spared here in Saratoga County, although we've got plenty of invasives of our own.

And thank YOU, Raining Iguanas!

Steve, I'm so glad I can count on you to come through with plant information. I did pause over the drawing of Late Purple Aster in my Newcomb's, but then thought, Nah, it's barely EARLY aster season. That's what I get for depending on common names.

suep said...

Oh Louise, instead: picture driving somewhere with Jackie, and suddenly she grabs your arm and starts yelling frantically, "pullover pullover !" and you, the driver, are thinking, "ohmigod what did I hit??" -
and it's all about some ladyslippers that she spotted 30 yards back along the roadside ...!
Sue P

Ellen Rathbone said...

Do you consider Keene nearby? Cup plant is apparently taking over much of the banks along the Ausable River up there. It was because of this (and the Nature Conservancy staff who told me about it) that I, with heavy heart, ripped it out of my garden in Newcomb. On the plus side, it is native here in Michigan, so I can finally have it without it weighing heavily on my conscience!

swamp4me said...

Two books that we have found very useful in IDing galls and such:

Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species by Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney (Charley also writes a blog called Bug Tracks)


Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw.

Both are excellent books and full of interesting information.