Friday, August 12, 2011

Riverbank Blooms and a Butterfly

The air was clear and cool, the sun was bright, and the river was smooth as glass when Sue and I launched our boats in the Hudson this morning. Our goal was to find the Wild Senna plant that Ed Miller showed us last summer, on the far bank a ten-minute paddle upstream. Only, for us, a ten-minute paddle can take two hours, if we find enough to fascinate us along the way. And of course, we always do. (There was a Hummingbird among those Cardinal Flowers that Sue is photographing.)

I think I have never seen such a profusion of Cardinal Flowers, their brilliant-red spikes setting the banks ablaze.

Well, we did find that Wild Senna we were looking for, and not just one, but two healthy plants down close to the water, mid way between the boat launch and the Spier Falls Dam. If I recall correctly, we found just one plant last year. It would be hard to miss these school-bus yellow blooms, visible from some distance away. But their fascinating anatomy deserves a closer look (Click on photo to enlarge).

Are all the dark parts staminate, both the little elephant-trunk-shaped protuberances above and those banana-shaped prongs below? Does the pollen spill from the holes on the ends? And is that green wormy thing in the middle, the one with the fluffy petticoat, the pistil? I'm just guessing!

Mother Nature's summer garden was fully in bloom in all its variety along the banks: Tall Coneflower, Joe Pye-weed, Boneset, Monkey Flower, Blue Vervain, Fringed Loosestrife and Helenium, to name just a few. But the queen of them all was the vivid Cardinal Flower, here shown to best advantage with the dark woods as its foil.

Almost as radiantly blue as the Cardinal Flower is blazingly red, Narrow-leaved Gentian was just coming into bloom where the river meets the shore.

The Closed (or Bottle) Gentian, a close relative, won't be blooming for several weeks yet. We found some budding plants of Closed Gentian and puzzled and puzzled over what these five-petaled green "flowers" could be, until we saw the tiny blue-tinged nubs within, where the real flower buds are pushing through.

And here comes pretty Sneezeweed -- oops! I mean Helen's Flower, a much nicer name for such a lovely plant. This is a flower much maligned by that other name, since it depends on such pollinators as that tiny approaching bee (hover fly?) to disburse its pollen, rather than wafting it on the air.

I just love the dusty rose blooms of Joe Pye-weed, and this Great Spangled Fritillary was attracted to them, too.

That butterfly was so busy exploring every single floret, it paid very little attention to me as I poked my camera ever closer. Not until I was nearly on top of it did it take again to the air.

Farewell, pretty creature! I hope you enjoyed your morning on the river as much as I did.


Ellen Rathbone said...

Wow! Those cardinal flowers are VERY impressive. In fact, the ones we have here are doing quite well, too. Must be all those late summer rains that did the trick.

We have a huge wild senna in the wildflower garden around our building here at work. I love the flowers - they are a bit odd, but lovely.

I was hoping to hit the prairie today with our maintenance man, who really knows his flowers, but it's looking awfully dark and like it's going to rain...we may have to postpone our trip. :(

Anonymous said...

It was such a calm day that the reflection of the cardinal flowers was almost as eye-popping as the real thing! The senna plants are quite unusual - in fact, I think that many of the 'common' flowers get more amazing as one zeroes in on them! Yesterday really was a special day to be out - thanks for sharing - and amazing butterflies!

Louise said...

The river looks lovely, so clear and smooth. Looks like you had another successful day's adventuring.

Took a hike at the Cummings Nature Center today (will be writing about it on Monday, as I have some flowers to check on.) I saw some of the same flowers. What a joy to be out and about on such a beautiful day.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Ellen. Yes, the Cardinal Flowers are extra lovely this year, despite (or maybe because of?) the heavy flooding of their banks this spring.

Hello hikeagiant, thanks for your comment. You're right about how amazing some flowers are, if only we look at them closely.

Louise, it's always good to hear from you. I've enjoyed your blog posts about various nature centers, and I encourage my readers to click on your name here to see your photos of them.