Friday, June 28, 2013

In Praise of Roadside Weeds

All spring and summer and into the fall, I drive many miles criss-crossing the region to seek out rare and beautiful native plants.  And along every road, in generous abundance,  are blooming many other plants, none of them rare, few of them native, all of them beautiful.  Yesterday, struck by this glorious mix of Daisies, Maiden Pinks, and Birdsfoot Trefoil, I pulled  my car over to pay these flowers some of the closer attention they deserve.

Could any other flower live up to its name as well as does the vividly pink Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides)?

Another very aptly named flower is the butter-yellow and eggyolk-orange Butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris).

What horticultural strain of flower could fill a meadow as generously as does the sunny-yellow Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima) ?

Far more subtle in its coloration is the jade-green and snowy-white Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), with its swollen calyx that reminds me of fine Japanese porcelain.

Although many plants of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syrica) are already blooming and filling the air with a heady fragrance,  I was drawn to admire the pink-velvet beauty of this cluster of buds.

"Heavenly" is the only word to describe the way Chicory (Cichorium intybus) mirrors the color of the sky with its cerulean blooms.

I was not the only admirer of Chicory flowers. This iridescent-winged hoverfly (Toxomerus geminatus) with its intricately patterned abdomen was feasting on the flower's pollen while I was feasting my eyes on the beauty of both the blossom and the bug.  I love to see how the Chicory's  styles curl back after pushing their way through the dark-blue pollen-filled stamen tubes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer Flowers Along the Shore

Boy, Summer wasn't kidding when the sun rolled up to that Tropic of Cancer last Friday!  All of a sudden, after weeks of chilly rain, the days turned HOT.  So hot, in fact, I almost didn't want to go outside.  But Nature still beckoned to me, and knowing there's almost always a cooling breeze on the lake, I headed to Moreau Lake State Park yesterday to walk around the back bay.

As soon as I set foot on that damp sand, I forgot about how unpleasantly steamy it was, for all around me were some of Summer's prettiest flowers.  The first to greet me were these sunny little Rough Cinquefoil blooms (Potentilla norvegica ssp. monspeliensis), the only one of our commonly encountered cinquefoils to have three leaflets instead of the typical five.

Scattered across the sand were thousands of tiny blue Smaller Forget-me-nots (Myosotis laxa),  a native species that is much smaller than its introduced cousin, M. scorpioides.

This next photo gives a better idea of just how small those Forget-me-nots are:

Competing with the Forget-me-nots for which flower could be the truest blue were these pretty flowers called Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montana).

I know they're called Blue Flags (Iris versicolor), but I would call these stately and lovely flowers more purple than blue.  They were blooming abundantly all along the shore.

The flowers of New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) looked like tiny fireworks explosions, with stars shooting off in all directions.

These Indian Pipes (Monitropa uniflora) were so pale and translucent they seemed to glow with their own light in the dark shade of the woods.

The flowers of Racemed Milkwort (Polygala polygama) are so small they would probably go unnoticed, if not for the vivid pinky-purple of their clusters.

A really close look at the individual florets reveals how much they resemble the flowers of another vividly pink milkwort that blooms along this shore earlier in the spring,  Fringed Polygala.

Well, it sure was my lucky day!  Not only did this splendid Slaty Skimmer sit still for his portrait, but also my camera actually focused on the dragonfly and not the grass beyond him.   I had many chances to capture his likeness, too, since every time he would fly away, he would return to exactly the same spot on this twig.

So I was even able to get TWO photos of him!  Maybe he knew how handsome he is and was posing deliberately for me.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Celebrating Summer Solstice

Summer celebrated her birthday today with bright blue skies and sweet warm air, and my friend Sue and I were happy to attend her party.  Summer Solstice found us enjoying a slow walk around Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, rejoicing in all the pleasures of a fair summer day in a setting of exquisite beauty.  Just since the last time we were here, only a few days ago, the Fragrant Water Lilies had opened their perfect blooms, and the bright-yellow flowers of Common Bladderwort were  perching on stalks above the dark still water.  The air was abuzz with zooming dragonflies of many kinds, baby Wood Ducks were making themselves invisible among the lily pads, and to top off the day's excitement, a majestic Bald Eagle flew over our heads not once, but twice, and then perched in a tall pine across the pond in full view of our binoculars.  A very good day, indeed!

After wending our way through the pine-scented woods, we made our way down to the sunny mudflats on the western shore.  Recent heavy rainfall has filled the pond and brought water way up onto the shore, refreshing the many plants that thrive here under just such conditions.

Although this flower is not yet in bloom, the bright-red leaves of Dwarf St. Johnswort created a brilliant display.

Tall stalks of Blue Vervain were just beginning to uncurl their flower clusters and open their lovely blue blooms.

Most of the dragonflies would not sit still long enough for their picture to be taken, but this pair of Eastern Pondhawks did stop to take a rest from their mating flight.  This is the typical copulatory posture for many dragonflies, where the male (he's the blue one) grasps the back of the female's head, and then she curls her abdomen forward to receive the sperm.   They will then fly out over the water, her head still grasped by claspers at the end of his abdomen, and, dipping her abdomen into the water,  she will deposit her fertilized eggs into the pond.

Eastern Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) are among our most beautiful dragonflies, the male a lovely powdery blue except for his bright green face, and the female a vivid emerald green with  jet-black markings.  For clearer photos of each, click here.

Longtime readers of this blog might remember my previous posts about masses of a liverwort called Ricciocarpus natans covering the mudflats along this shore.  Today, because of the risen waters, these liverworts had been lifted up and were now floating free in the pond.

I floated a specimen in the palm of my hand, the better to see the dark purplish tendrils that hang down from the underside of this chubby green liverwort.

Before we left the park today, Sue and I drove over to the main entrance and then into the camping area (Loop A).  We wanted to see the magnificent new public restrooms that were only recently completed.

Both Sue and I had contributed landscape photos to the park, which were then reproduced on ceramic tiles and installed in the walls of these new restrooms.  We opened the door of the ladies' room, and sure enough, there were our photos, in magnificent full color!  What a lovely addition to this utilitarian facility!

Here's Sue with her photo of Moreau Lake in summer.

Here's me with my photo of Moreau Lake in autumn.

There were four photos in each of the restrooms (yes, we peeked in the men's room, too).  There may be more in the family restroom, but that one was occupied and the door was locked.  We shall have to return another day to see.

Update:  I went back later and took photos of the rest of my photos on the bathroom walls.   If you're up at the park, stop by and see this beautiful brand-new bathroom building that includes hot showers for campers.  Then you can see Sue's photos, too.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Another Lucky Day!

Another lucky day today!  First, the weather was gorgeous:  Bright.  Cool.  Sunny.  NO RAIN!!!  Second, we found the flower we were looking for in Cole's Woods.  If you don't know this woods, adjacent to Crandall Park in downtown Glens Falls and crisscrossed by seeming miles and miles of trails,  you would not understand that finding this flower was like finding that proverbial needle in that haystack.  But I was three times lucky today, because my eagle-eyed friend Sue Pierce was with me, and she was the first to spot the One-sided Pyrola (Orthilia secunda) hiding out amid the Pipsissewa and the Shinleaf a good dozen feet off the trail in the darkly shaded woods.

One-sided Pyrola (also called Sidebells Wintergreen) is not a rare plant in New York State, although it is in several surrounding states.  But it IS kind of hard to find in the woods, being small and greenish and growing among other low plants with similar leaves, such as Canada Mayflower and Partridgeberry.  We had found it last year at Cole's Woods but couldn't remember exactly where.  Sue had one inkling of where to find it and I another.  It turned out that my inkling was correct, but I never would have seen it without Sue pointing it out to me.  We make a good flower-finding pair.  This year, we marked on a map where to find it again.

But even if we had not found the flower we were seeking, we would have enjoyed our woodswalk enormously.  One of our pleasures was finding large areas of the woods just carpeted with the snowy twin trumpets, dark round leaves, and bright red berries of Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens).  This is the only plant I'm aware of that requires two flowers to make a single berry.  In fact, both of the blossoms that join to one ovary need to be pollinated to produce the fruit, which close inspection reveals to have two blossom ends. 

Another delightful find was the fruit of Starflower (Trientalis borealis), tiny green balls set among starry bracts, as pretty as if they'd been crafted by a master jeweler.

Ha!  Here's another lucky event!  It wasn't until I looked at this photo on my computer that I realized I had also included the leaves of Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) in the same photo (upper right corner).  These are two plants about which I am often confused when I see only their leaves, since both have long tapering leaves that join in a whorl about the same height from the forest floor.  But seeing the two side-by-side reveals the obvious difference in the veining of the leaves.  The Starflower's veins branch out from a central rib, like a feather, while the Indian Cucumber Root's veins run parallel to each other, starting from a central point and terminating at the leaf tip. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Lilies Make a Comeback!

Today was a lucky day!  It didn't seem to start out that way, for I'd intended to go for a paddle on the Hudson, but when I reached the river along Spier Falls Road, the water looked so turgid and muddy from all the recent rains, I really didn't want to risk launching my tiny little canoe onto its raging waters.  So I settled on walking the powerline easement at the top of Mud Pond instead.  And who should I find there already, but my good friend Sue!  Together we walked the dry sandy areas under the poles, searching to see if any Wood Lilies had recovered from the applications of herbicide the power company had sprayed on this site last year.  Sue was the first to spot this lily in big fat bud.  Then another, and another, and another!  We found at least a dozen, so far.  Not the big numbers we used to find here, but at least these gorgeous native lilies seem to be making a comeback.

We even found one in bloom!

Another plant we were delighted to find was the Blunt-leaved Milkweed, almost ready to bloom, and several more  than we'd ever found here before.

We next explored the piney woods adjacent to the powerline easement, searching for evidence that Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain might be ready to come into bloom.  Yes!  We found some with budded flowerstalks.  Sue did, that is.  I never would have seen this tiny little sprout on my own.

I DID see these tiny toadlets, however, although at first I thought they were crickets, they were so small.  There were dozens of them hopping about on the sunlit trail, but it wasn't until I captured and held one in my hand that I could be sure they were really toads and not insects.  Cute!