Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Botanical Marathon

Well, I'm a little tired tonight, having spent three activity-packed days escorting Andrew Gibson, a 25-year-old incredibly knowledgeable botanist with Ohio's Department of Natural Resources, on a whirlwind tour of most of my favorite sites within an hour's drive from Saratoga.  Andrew and I became friends through our blogs (he does the wonderful Natural Treasures of Ohio) and by sharing news and photographs on Facebook.  When I learned he was longing to see certain flowers that are nonexistent in Ohio but which bloom abundantly here in New York, I invited him to come here and look for them.  If I wearied myself a little this week, it was all my own doing, since I was the one who set the agenda, not wanting Andrew to miss out on any of our local wonders.

An orchid enthusiast, Andrew came here specifically to find and photograph two orchids he had never laid eyes on, nor is he ever likely to in Ohio:  White Fringed Orchis (Platanthera blephariglottis) and Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata).  He was in luck, because both were blooming in sites very easy to get to.  But we also lucked out in so many other ways, with perfect weather and serendipitous finds of flowers we never expected to see, some of them "lifers" for Andrew. Many happy accidents came our way.  I think this young man brings luck wherever he goes.  He certainly brought an amiable attitude and vast stores of botanical knowledge.

I'd intended to post a blog about our adventures each day, but each night I fell asleep with my computer mouse in my hand before I had even finished filing my photos.  Tonight, I am fully rested up, so here goes a marathon account of our three long days in botanical wonderland.

Monday:  A Secret Bog, the Hudson Ice Meadows, and a North Creek Cedar Swamp

Here's Andrew with the orchid he was most excited to see, the beautiful White Fringed Orchis.  I'd been watching this bog (I can't tell where) or sending my scouts to check on the orchid's progress, and as luck and weather would have it, the week of Andrew's visit was the week it was in its prime.   In one small clearing, we counted around 25 in near-full bloom.

Look closely and you can see another creature who likes this orchid a lot, as a place to lurk almost unseen while waiting for prey.

We were quite surprised to find so many Grass Pinks still beautifully in bloom, since this orchid started its flowering weeks ago.  The Bog Rosemary surrounding the orchids here is a plant that Andrew had never found in his home state of Ohio.

An even bigger surprise than finding those Grass Pinks was encountering our dear friends Ed Miller and Nan Williams entering the bog (my friend Sue Pierce was already with us).   I was so pleased and excited to introduce Andrew to these folks, both of them prominent personages in the regional botanical community.  Our days of nature adventures were surely getting off on the right foot.

After a nice lunch with Sue in a restaurant overlooking Lake George, the next stop for Andrew and me (Sue had to go to work) was the stretch of Hudson riverbank north of Warrensburg called the Ice Meadows, a habitat renowned for its botanical diversity.

As for me, I am quite used to the bounty of rare and beautiful plants that thrive in this place and almost take them for granted, but Andrew just kept shaking his head in wonder at all the botanical treasures to be found.  I kept telling him he should have been here 10 days ago, when so many other flowers were blooming, but he seemed excited enough by what was currently blooming here, including these cute little flowers called Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris torta). This is a plant that is pretty uncommon in New York State, but which is listed as actually Endangered in Ohio.

Such an odd arrangement of what look to be insect eggs! We later learned they were the eggs of the Green Lacewing, and that the eggs are suspended on threads like this in order to prevent the newly hatched larvae from cannibalizing one another.  I also learned that gardeners buy these eggs in bulk so that the Lacewings will consume many insect pests.

Did I mention that Andrew seemed to be a walking lucky charm?  We had searched and searched to no avail for a Smaller Purple Fringed Orchis (Platanthera psycodes) and would have walked right by this one hiding in the bushes, but I happened to pick up a Wild Clematis leaf to see if it was blooming, and lo and behold, there was this orchid, right before our eyes!  So far, then, we had had a three-orchid day.  And more were yet to come.

Our next stop was to visit Evelyn Greene in North Creek.  Evelyn had told us she had two different species of orchids blooming near her home right now, and she would be glad to show them to us.  She also showed us her private little island set in a cedar swamp, just big enough for her folding chair, where she could sit and let birds come to her. What an appropriate throne-room for a woman known as the queen of Adirondack botanizing!  If you want to know where anything grows, just ask Evelyn.

The first orchid Evelyn led us to was Northern Green Orchis (Platanthera aquilonis), growing in a dry cedar woods.  Although their coloration makes them blend in with the forest floor, we found quite a number of them.

To get to the next orchid that Evelyn had promised us, we had to make our way through a swamp on a hidden trail that Evelyn herself had laid.  And it was a very hidden trail, one that would have been very hard to follow if Evelyn had not been leading the way and showing us where to grab onto trees so we didn't fall in the muck.

But oh, the effort was worth it!  Neither Andrew nor I had ever seen such robust specimens of Ragged Fringed Orchis (Platanthera lacera) as those that were growing abundantly in Evelyn's secret swamp.   We counted about a dozen, and Evelyn has since reported that she has found even more.

I believe I mentioned that Andrew seemed to possess a lucky aura about him.  He must have sent a charm in the direction of my camera, because it took a very clear shot of this orchid's raggedy flower, even in the low light of the cedar swamp.  My camera NEVER performs this well!

So far, FIVE orchids, and this was just the first day of Andrew's visit!

* * *

Tuesday: Mud Pond, the Hudson River at Moreau,  the Mudflats at Rockwell Falls, and the Warren County Bikeway

Today we stayed a little closer to home, meeting my friend Sue Pierce at Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park.  Our destination plant was the second "lifer" orchid for Andrew, the Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata), but first we had to stop and admire the emergent flowers right at the start of our hike around the pond.  Here Andrew is photographing a conveniently clustered group that includes Water Smartweed, Common Bladderwort, and Fragrant Water Lily.

Of course, Andrew wasn't the only photographer in our little group, and we all spent plenty of time on our knees.

Both Sue and I were startled to learn that our common, everyday, everywhere ubiquitous little insignificantly flowered Cowwheat is considered a rare plant in Ohio.  OK, then, let's show it a little respect!

Ah, but here's what Andrew drove 12 hours from his Ohio home to see!  It's hard to believe that an orchid so unshowy as Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain could matter so much to a guy, but don't you know, that's botanists for you.  He's never going to find one in Ohio.  But we could show him dozens.

My eyes could see the flower spike, but my camera always looked right past it to focus on the pine needles and oak leaves on the forest floor.  I had to use tricks to bring the tiny white flowers into focus.  Well, kind of into focus.

So that made Andrew's sixth orchid.

There were plenty of other flowers blooming around Mud Pond, and we did eventually make it all the way around.  One of the flowers I just had to stop for was this lovely Blue Vervain, decorated at the time with a red-striped, snowy-white crab spider.

Wow!  Talk about color coordination!  What could be a lovelier visitor to bright-orange Butterfly Weed than a bright-orange American Copper Butterfly?

Once again, Sue had to leave us to go to work, but Andrew and I had the rest of the day to play on the Hudson, and we'd brought along two canoes.  We put in at the Sherman Island boat launch and paddled out to a series of little islands not far offshore.  Here we got out of our boats to explore the wet verge where many different water-tolerant flowers were growing.

Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) is a plant that happily grows well under water, where it forms extensive carpets near the shore.  But Golden Pert won't bloom unless the water falls low enough to expose the plant to air, a circumstance that happens frequently on this river where water levels rise and fall with dam operations.  On the day we were there, the shoreline of this little island was a wash of gold, punctuated by the snowy blooms of Grass-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea).

I always search for Marsh Speedwell (Veronica scutellata) at this site, and it's often difficult to find, because it is so tiny.  But this day those little blue blossoms just seemed to be winking at me.

Another tiny plant of such damp places is Dwarf St. Johnswort, which this day was blooming abundantly.

We might have stayed on that catchment of the river the whole afternoon, but threatening clouds -- plus Andrew's I-phone-accessed weather report -- caused us to think we might better get off the water.  And sure enough, just as soon as we put our canoes on our cars, the rain began to fall. Hard! Oh well, it looked to be just a passing shower, so I decided to drive us up to Lake Luzerne to visit Rockwell Falls.  And sure enough, by the time we got there, the rain had nearly stopped and we could climb out on the rocks to experience the falls.

I wanted to come up here not just to visit the falls, but also to collect some specimens of that Slender Milfoil I had found upstream from the falls a few days ago.  Turns out, this milfoil hardly EVER blooms, since, like the Golden Pert, it has to be out of the water to do so.  So a couple of water-plant botanists would like to have some specimens of this plant while it's blooming to place in their herbarium collections.  I don't think Andrew minded accompanying me to walk on the mudflats.

I did manage to collect some specimens of the Slender Milfoil, but the fuzzy flowers I'd found before were now sodden from the rain.  Oh well, let's hope they'll do, after they're pressed and dried.

Andrew happened to remark that he'd love to see Beaked Hazelnut, a species that's very rare in Ohio but abundant here in New York.  Well, that should be easy, I told him.  We'll just head east to Glen Lake Road and the Warren County Bike Path, where Sue says there are many bushes.  So off we went, and our search turned out to be successful.  Another lucky happenstance.

* * *

Wednesday:  Giant Pines and Tiny Orchids at Pack Forest, Paddling on Pyramid Lake

Tuesday's passing shower was the only hitch in a stretch of perfect weather during Andrew's stay.  (Did I mention this fellow brings luck along with him?) When Wednesday dawned bright and clear after a refreshingly cool night, I was really glad I had planned to show Andrew the splendor of the Adirondacks at Pyramid Lake.  I also wanted to let him experience the majesty of old-growth White Pines, those towering giants of the northern forest that have long been lumbered to extirpation in Ohio, if ever they were found there in the first place.  And wasn't it lucky (!!!) that the Pack Demonstration Forest containing a wonderful stand of old-growth pines was right along the road to Pyramid Lake?

Here's Andrew stretching his arms around the "Grandmother Tree,"  considered to be the largest White Pine standing in the Adirondacks.

From the hugest trees to one of our smallest orchids, the Pack Forest is where you will find them.  Maybe.  I thought I knew where the Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantains (Goodyera repens) would be found, since I searched them out earlier this year when I came here with Evelyn Greene.  At that time, the plants consisted only of rosettes of tiny leaves lying close to the ground.  Would we find the spikes of tiny white flowers if we searched the same area this day?  Um . . . .  Well, I couldn't even find the leaves, this time.  Andrew was searching another part of the woods, and he, too, thought we might as well give up.  Let's get on up to that lake!  And just as he turned to leave, guess what he saw?  Another lucky break!

See, didn't I say the leaves were tiny?  There's a reason this is called DWARF Rattlesnake Plantain.

Only the lowest flower was yet open on the spike.  And look at that!  My camera focused again!  You can even see the tiny yellow pollinia!

So let's see, I guess that makes it seven orchids for Andrew during his visit.  So far.  And this was another one he had never seen.  At least, not in bloom.  Like me, he had only seen the leaves.  So this was a new one for me, as well.

Our elation over finding that tiny orchid followed us all the way up to Pyramid Lake, and there the beauty of the lake and mountains and trees and rocks and sky and clouds and sunlight dancing like diamonds on the water took over and filled us with even more joy.

Since I volunteer frequently in support of the spiritual retreat center that sits on the shore of Pyramid Lake,  I don't feel shy about asking to borrow a kayak or canoe for my friends when I come to visit.  But I certainly never expected the center's director, Sister Monica, to offer Andrew the use of her personal Hornbeck Kevlar canoe.  That Andrew, he just has a way about him!

Andrew had promised one of his friends a specimen of  Water Bulrush (Schoenoplectus subterminalis), which he'd seen a photo of on one of my earlier blog posts.  So we headed  down to the east end of the lake to a marshy area where this water plant grows abundantly.  I believe Andrew told me this rush is rather rare in his home state.

And here's a plant that's really rare right here in New York State:  Small Bur-reed (Sparganium natans).  It's hard to believe it could be state-listed as Threatened, when I see how it grows by the hundreds in the east end of Pyramid Lake.

We paddled completely around the lake, taking in the majesty of soaring cliffs and the charm of tiny pine-steepled islands.  I think, though, our favorite parts of the lake were the quiet backwaters where we could push our canoes far back into the swamp, examining the spontaneous gardens of Round-leaved Sundew, Small Cranberry, and Horned Bladderwort that sprout on every fallen log, or hummocks cushioned with centuries of sphagnum moss, fountained with ferns.

It was absolutely amazing to find back here in these narrow channels Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) still coming into fresh bloom.  This little orchid, one of our prettiest and yet most common, started blooming weeks ago.  In most places where we find it, its flowers are long faded.   Andrew, it must have waited just for you, so you could now chalk up the eighth orchid of your New York visit.

Heading back to camp after exploring the lake, we passed under banks where Mountain Holly (Nemopanthus mucronatus) hung over our heads, decorated as if for Christmas in July with its super-saturated red berries.

After loading canoes back where they belonged, we stretched our cramped legs with a walk through the woods to a place where I thought we might find Green Wood Orchis (Habenaria clavellata).  In past years the mossy banks we walked along were home to dozens of these little shade-loving  orchids.  But not this year.  We were lucky we found just one.  Once more, the botanical gods were pulling for us,  granting Andrew the ninth orchid of his three-day stay.  Oh wait, we also saw Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) in bloom along the shore!  Who cares if it's not a native, it's still an orchid.  So that makes ten for Andrew.  Hurray!

I mentioned above that I felt kind of tired after all these nature adventures.  Well, I think I tired Andrew out a bit, too, since he just couldn't keep his eyes open as we made our way south along the shores of northern Lake George.  Now, this is the most spectacular part of one of the most beautiful lakes in the whole wide world.  So when we reached this overlook that offered a splendid vista, I poked him awake and told him he had to get out and take a photograph, just do it for his mother.  His mother, who lived in Albany when she was young, used to come up to Lake George for recreation.  I was sure she would want him to bring her this souvenir of his visit to northern New York.

I got out of the car myself, and would you believe, Andrew's lucky botanical charm worked its magic once more!  There in the dry packed dirt by the side of the road were many plants of Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta), a plant I've been looking for for many years.  There's nothing rare or wonderful about this plant, it's just one I used to find and then it disappeared and it never showed up in any of my many haunts.  Until Andrew came along.  OK, Andrew, let's start making plans for you to come back next spring.

PS:  Be sure to check our friend Sue Pierce's blog Water Lily for  her wonderful account of our mutual adventures with Andrew.


Ian said...

What a fantastic tour and finding so many beautiful orchids; no wonder you feel so good. Love the magnificent photos.

catharus said...

What a wonderful time by all! Thanks for the stories and photos.

Ellen Rathbone said...

A magical stretch of days. I really love those lacewing eggs!

Raining Iguanas said...

I can't imagine why you would be tired? Seriously, I needed to take a break simply thinking about this stretch of adventure. You did an execeptional job sharing it all. I am guessing Andrew enjoyed his visit as much as you enjoyed sharing your treasures with him. I know all of us who visit your well done blog enjoyed it.

Jeff Nadler said...

As always, gorgeous photos and story. Let's meet at the Ice Meadows again in the near future!

Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Oh, Jackie...what an amazing post! I had SO much fun and am still going through all my photos trying to get some blogs together. So many photos, so much fun, SO many orchids and plants I hardly know where to begin.

Thanks again for hosting me and I can't wait to come back, it truly was the experience of a life time :)

PS, I'm sure you won't mind but I'd love to borrow a few of your shots of me for facebook and my blog!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thank you, dear readers, for stopping by with your comments. I do love hearing from you. And yes, Andrew, feel free to use any photos you like for Facebook and your blog. I certainly enjoyed our botanizing adventures together.