Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Three-Day Festival of Flower Finds

Wow!  What a week it has been!  My dear friend and fellow flower nerd Andrew Gibson came all the way from southern Ohio, where he monitors rare-plant populations for Ohio's Department of Natural Resources, to join me and my fellow nature buddy Sue Pierce on a three-day whirlwind tour of our favorite regional hotspots for rare and amazing plants.  And just as when he visited our area last year, he brought along not only his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and his amiable companionship, but also his truly uncanny luck for finding flowers in bloom.

 Tuesday, May 28:  Bog Meadow, the Ice Meadows, and Cole's Woods

Andrew had a list of plants that he hoped to find during his visit,  plants that are either extremely rare or outright extirpated in Ohio.  One of those on his list was Water Avens (Geum rivale), and I happened to know exactly where to find some along the Bog Meadow Nature Trail just outside Saratoga.  So that's where we started our marathon of botanizing on Tuesday morning, and it took us only a moment of looking to find them.

Believe it or not, these Water Avens flowers are in full bloom.  Its flower doesn't open any wider than this.

Another Ohio rarity that Andrew hoped to find and photograph here was Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernua), which also grows along Bog Meadow Trail, although it is getting scarcer as the years go by.  I had found only a couple when I previewed our search a few days before Andrew's visit, but wouldn't you know it, with Andrew and Sue doing the looking, we found many more than that, at least a dozen or more.

The flowers were a bit past prime, but they were still in good enough shape that Andrew could point out the features that distinguish this trillium from the very similar Drooping Trillium (T. flexipes), namely, the pinkish anthers on long thin filaments and the sharply recurving petals.

While Andrew and Sue were concentrating on taking photos of trilliums, my attention was focused on this cluster of teensy tiny golden spiders, all gathered into a mass.  Soon they would shoot out filaments of web and be individually wafted away on the wind.

Botanizing along the two-mile Bog Meadow Trail took up most of our morning, and after lunch we headed north to Warrensburg and the eight-mile stretch of Hudson riverbank that's known as the Ice Meadows.  It gets that name from the enormous heaps of frazil ice that build up along the banks each winter, and this past winter saw the ice mount up to unprecedented heights.  We were amazed to find deposits four feet deep or more still heaped on some north-facing slopes near Snake Rock, surrounded by the ravages of pushed-over trees and shredded shrubs.  

Out on the shore of the river, however, the ice was all gone, but so recently so, the plants were only just beginning to bloom.

Dwarf Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa), though, was abundantly in flower and adding its sweet fragrance to the air.  This prostrate cherry, which is considered a rare plant in New York, thrives in the harsh conditions caused by the massive heaps of ice that cover this shore each winter, suppressing the growth of taller trees that would compete with it.

Another threatened plant that thrives at this site is the beautiful Buxbaum's Sedge (Carex buxbaumii), and we found abundant numbers of it standing at the edges of spring-fed pools in the rocks.

There were very few flowers blooming out on the stony shore, so these tiny Ovate-leaved Violets (Viola fimbriatula) would have stood out even if their petals were not so vibrantly purple.

After exploring the western shore of the Hudson, we crossed the bridge at The Glen and drove south to a state forest preserve, where we walked through tall pines on our way to an area of riverbank known for its marble outcroppings.

We had no sooner left the main trail to explore the woods than we were met with the sight of dozens and dozens of Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), all in beautiful bloom, wherever we looked.

This was truly an enchanted forest, with the beauty of the Lady's Slippers complemented by the heady sweet fragrance of thousands upon thousands of Canada Mayflowers (Maianthemum  canadense) thickly carpeting the forest floor.   Until experiencing such masses of these tiny white  Lily-family flowers all blooming at once, I had never realized that they were indeed so fragrant.

While Sue and I lingered among the Mayflowers, breathing their delicious fragrance that smelled rather like grapes, Andrew wandered ahead.  We knew he had found something special when we heard him exclaim  "Oh...My...God!"  We hurried to see what he had found.

Well, it was the most spectacular clump of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) any of us had ever seen, skirting the trunk of a large Red Pine.  Its fully open yellow lily-like flowers extended for yards around, with individual blossoms shown to lovely advantage against the dark tree bark.  Although Clintonia is one of the most common wildflowers in northern New York, it is extremely rare in Ohio, so Andrew was truly transported by this spectacular sight.  As were Sue and I.  So lovely!

Evening was drawing near, but we had one more site to visit before we called it quits for the day, and that was Cole's Woods in the heart of Glens Falls.  Two weeks ago, this woods was carpeted with more Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolium) than I have ever seen anywhere else in my life, and this was one of the flowers that Andrew was hoping to find and photograph.  Most of the plants, unfortunately, were faded and limp, but we did come upon a spot where we found a few with still-perfect blooms.  That Andrew, he just brings good luck with him wherever he goes!

Day one ended for us three tired hikers with a delicious dinner at a Thai restaurant in Glens Falls.  Then early to bed to rest up for further adventures to come on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 29:  Dorset Mountain near Manchester, Vermont

Low-lying rainclouds shrouded the peaks of Vermont's Green Mountains on Wednesday morning, and a downpour dampened our trail to a mountain top, but that didn't daunt our group of hardy nature enthusiasts ready to lead us up to an old marble quarry near Manchester.  We just donned our raingear and up we went. Up and up and up.

Although a thick fog obscured any views from the top, the saturated air only served to amplify the  sweetness of the birdsong chorus resounding through the forest. We heard warblers and vireos and thrushes of many kinds, with members of our hiking party calling out the name of each bird as its song was detected.  This photo shows Andrew and others straining to catch a glimpse of the Scarlet Tanager that was thrilling us with its loud and rollicking song.  The bird remained heard but unseen.

We found hints to the botanical riches awaiting us at the top as soon as we started up the trail, so we knew that our climbing efforts would soon be rewarded.  Sure enough, just as we began to feel out of breath,  we came upon this splendid cluster of Yellow Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium parvifloram var. pubescens) blooming right next to the trail.

Climbing higher and higher, we passed beneath rocky outcroppings studded with many rare plants, including a healthy population of Slender Cliff Brake (Cryptogramma stelleri), a fern that can only be found on lime-rich substrates like marble.

This unprepossessing little white mustard-family plant proves the point that rarity doesn't necessarily equate to showiness.  We might have passed by this rare Rock Draba (Draba arabisans), dismissing it as just another common weed, if we hadn't peered closely at it to see its distinctive twisted seed pods. This plant is listed as "threatened" in New York, although it is more abundant, if also uncommon,  in Vermont.  True to its common name, we found it growing directly out of a rocky substrate.

When we finally reached the quarry sites, we were rewarded with spectacular views of sheer cliffs left over from long-ago mining of marble. 

Rain and thick fog interfered with my taking good photos of these old quarries this year, but I did have one that I took last year that shows something of the beauty of the site, with the old rock faces grown over with mosses and ferns.

All around these old quarries, the forest floor was thickly carpeted with beautiful and fascinating wildflowers, including masses of Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis) so abundant we could hardly avoid trampling them.

Even more abundant were the masses of Smaller Yellow Lady's Slippers (C. parvafloram var. makasin) that extended for acres throughout the woods.  In addition to its smaller size, this variety is distinguished from the Larger Yellow Lady's Slipper by the purple color of its petals, which are greener in the larger variety.

The real prize for serious botanists, though, was a population of extremely rare moonworts (Botrychium ascendens), plants so tiny we would never have seen them if previous investigators had not marked the location of each plant with a little numbered flag.  This flagging was also useful to prevent our stepping on them, because from eye level, they were invisible.

I have heard that there are only five records of these particular moonworts in all of eastern North America -- and only two in the United States, including this site --  so I was glad that Andrew had a chance to document his encounter with them.

Here's one of the larger ones, set off quite nicely by a nice fat Morel mushroom, which we of course took home to fry up in butter for supper, along with other Morels we gathered nearby.

I had promised Andrew that we would find Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis) as we descended the mountain trail to go home, but we had nearly given up on them when Lo!  There they were!  A little past prime and battered a bit by the rain, but still vividly colored.

Speaking of vividly colored, this little Red Eft was easy to see among the moss covering a rock.  These pretty little creatures were everywhere along the trail today, enjoying the dampness created by all the rain.  If not for their brilliant orange color,  we probably would have trod upon many of them, especially as our weary steps grew heavy toward the end of our day's wonderful adventure on the mountain.

Many, many thanks go out to Ed Miller and Nancy Williams for inviting us to join them at this truly remarkable site.

Thursday, May 30:  Orchid Hunting in the Adirondacks

By Thursday morning, the rain clouds had cleared and the sun came out.  It was perfect weather for a paddle on a secret Adirondack pond to hunt for the rare and beautiful Dragon's Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa).  I hauled my spare Hornbeck canoe out of the basement so Andrew could tie it to the top of his car and then follow me north to meet up with Sue, who was bringing her own canoe.  Together we traveled to meet our guide Evelyn Greene, who would escort us in to this privately owned pond where dozens and dozens of Arethusas have been counted in the past.

After hiking a quarter mile or so through the woods, we came out onto this serene pond surrounded by mountains, launched our boats, and set off to paddle among the floating bog mats, with Evelyn leading the way.

Almost immediately, we began to spot the vivid pink blooms of Arethusa, one of New York's most beautiful orchids, and one that grows ever more rare, to the point that it is now listed as "threatened" in our  state, as well as most states that surround us.

Since Andrew was finding it difficult to take the quality of photos he's known for with a hand-held camera in a rocking canoe, I believe he was very grateful when we found a good place to pull our boats up onto the bogmat.  Although the spongy and soggy sphagnum was hardly solid ground, it was solid enough for Andrew to set up his tripod and focus clearly on the various plants we found growing there.  In this photo, he is capturing the pretty pink blooms of Pale Laurel (Kalmia polifolia).

I was elated for Andrew's sake when I saw the Bog Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) in full and magnificent bloom, for I knew that this was on Andrew's list of the flowers he'd hoped to photograph during his visit, those that are rare or extirpated in his home state of Ohio, where Buckbean is listed as "threatened."

As for myself, I was particularly delighted to find the bright-yellow flowers of Flat-leaved Bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia) protruding above the dark water near the edge of the bogmat.  It's not that this bladderwort is all that rare, but because it blooms so early, I hardly ever see it.  And it really is a pretty one, too, with those fine red lines decorating its plump little blooms.

There were other bright-yellow objects protruding above the dark water, but these were the tiny sac fungus called Swamp Beacon (Mitrula elegans), also known as Matchstick Fungus.  For obvious reasons.

As wonderful as our morning paddle was, with its many rare and beautiful flower finds,  the prize of all botanical prizes awaited us later in the afternoon.  That's when another friend, Bob Duncan,  led Andrew and Sue and me for over a mile through deep Adirondack forest to the rarest of all the rare plants Andrew dreamed of finding and photographing, the Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri).

Bob had very kindly scouted the site where these orchids grow several days before, and he was not very hopeful that we would find them in bloom, since he had found only a single flower stalk, which was still in tight bud the last time he had seen it.  Because of this, we had all prepared Andrew to not be too disappointed if all we would see would be buds -- a rare enough sight in its own right, since as far as anyone knows, these particular plants (there are four of them at this site) are among the only five specimens known to exist in the entire state.

I wish I had taken a video when Andrew discovered the Hooker's Orchid in open and perfect bloom.  Rarely have I ever witnessed such elation!  I know that he is not a religious man, but on this occasion I saw him clasp his hands and fall to his knees, speechless with elation.  This is the plant he had driven 11 hours from Ohio to see, and the flower gods had granted him his wish.  As I have said before, Andrew has amazing luck, when it comes to finding flowers.  And I feel I also have amazing luck, when it comes to having such generous and amiable friends as Ed Miller, Bob Duncan, and Evelyn Greene, so willing to spend the effort and time to escort my friends and me to amazing sites like this.

Of course, Bob was also elated to find the Hooker's in bloom. 

Andrew was so eager to share this discovery with his botanical buddies back home, he promptly took shots with his Iphone to send over the internet immediately (or as soon as he could locate a signal, that is).  Then he set up his tripod to help him capture this moment in perfect photos.

We all took turns, Sue and I included, recording this wonderful discovery.

For once, my own camera cooperated in focusing in on the flowers.  I could even see the ripening pollinia (bundles of pollen) within the open blooms.

Although the Hooker's experience was the definite highlight of our afternoon's adventure, we also encountered other delights along the trail to the orchid site, including two more plants on Andrew's list of hoped-for plants.  Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) was just beginning to bloom and still showed more green than white on its opening sepals, but that was good enough for Andrew to count it among his captured prizes.

And finally, there was Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum), a trillium species that loves the north woods and rarely shows its beautiful face as far south as Ohio.  Andrew was the first to spot it growing along our trail to visit the Hooker's.

This was a flower that we feared would no longer be in bloom, expecting that it would have faded by now.  But the ones Andrew found on this day were as fresh and lovely as could be desired.

We even found a Quadrillium!  Even more than a Four-leaved Clover, this Four-leaved Trillium must have brought remarkable luck to Andrew, for he found nearly every flower he was hoping to find on his trip to visit us here in northern New York.  I hope it's a sign that Andrew will come back again, for further adventures and fabulous floral finds.

Now I can't wait to see Andrew's and Sue's photos and read their accounts of our adventures on their respective blogs.  Andrew's is The Natural Treasures of Ohio, and Sue's is Water-lily.


Raining Iguanas said...

WOW! x 10.
You have assembled a masterpiece of photos and information in just a few days. Well Done!

Caroline said...

I was hoping that you would find lady slippers, and you did! I miss those and the little red eft of the Adirondack spring woodlands of my childhood. Our Black Hills wildflowers are beautiful, but your photos are a piece of home and good memories.

Barbara said...

Just love learning from your north country adventures. What amazing finds. Thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth said...

Gorgeous photos of SO MANY amazing plants! These tiny flowers are certainly lucky to be getting so much (well deserved) love and attention. :) The small orchids are awesome, but I have to say, the cluster of yellow lady's slippers is my favorite!

catharus said...

What a super trip! Yeh, a quadrillium!! Wow!

Ron Gamble said...

Very Nice! And thanks for taking the time/effort to share all this!

Ron Gamble

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Dear friends, I do thank you for letting me know you've enjoyed this account of our adventures. Yes, it took some work to put it together (editing hundreds of photos was just the start!), but you help me to believe it was all worth while. But also, I am glad to have a record I can look back on in years to come.

Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Oh, much fun and so many memories I have to look back on for years and years to come. I can't wait to come back out and make you write up a big, long post all over again :)

P.S. mine are coming soon! I just now got all my photos edited so it's just a matter of sitting down and writing them out.