Saturday, June 8, 2013

Where Has All the Milkweed Gone?

After two days of solid rain, it finally dried out a bit today.  No rain, just rather damp and chilly all day, but not inclement enough to keep me from going for a walk in the Skidmore Woods.  Checking back through my wildflower journals, I noted that it was time for the Four-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) to be blooming out there, and I hoped I would find it this year.  It seems to be getting scarcer and scarcer as the years go by.  Five years ago or more, I would find dozens of specimens of this dainty little milkweed on only a half-hour's walk, but today I walked and walked for a good two hours and found only one, and a rather bedraggled plant, at that.  Because it grows only ankle high, I had to lift one of its two umbels in order to see the flowers and assure myself it wasn't just a low-growing branch of Maple-leaved Viburnum (which WAS growing abundantly throughout the Skidmore Woods).

I wonder what could be causing such a decline in its population.  The only place I know to find it in Saratoga County is here in the Skidmore Woods, so I certainly hope it doesn't disappear from this site completely.

 If it had been present, it would have been easy to spot, such bright white flowers (sometimes tinged a bit pink) in an otherwise solidly green environment.  I swear, the very AIR is green in the woods right now.

At least the Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora) was where I expected it to be, although once again, there were fewer plants than in previous years.  I was glad to see a few of its bright yellow tufts.  An aptly named plant!

I truly breathed a sigh of relief when I found the last remaining patch of Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) that I knew of still intact and as yet undiscovered by foraging herbalists.  Its flower was still in tight bud, but even fully open it isn't much showier than this.  I'm glad it's so modest in its bloom that it's still able to hide.

Squawroot (Conopholis americana) is quite a bit showier, standing out in the dark woods even without being all that colorful.   It doesn't even need to have chlorophyll-filled green leaves,  since it gets its nutrients by parasitizing the roots of trees, usually oaks.

Most of the velvety jade-green seedpods of  Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) were well hidden beneath the broad green leaves, but I spied this pair standing out in the open where I could see them.

I was tempted to open one of the pods to see the fleshy little attachments to the Bloodroot seeds called "eliasomes," but then I remembered I had a perfectly good photo of them in my files, so I didn't have to destroy another pod.  These little white wormy growths are irresistible to ants, who carry off the seeds to their underground nests, where they consume the eliasomes and then discard the seeds, thus planting them in optimal conditions for new growth.  Darned clever, these Bloodroots!

I didn't see any ants carrying off Bloodroot seeds, but I did see a few other interesting critters.   This snow-white moth with green stripes on its frosty wings was exceptionally beautiful, seeming almost luminescent in the dark woods.

Update: Thanks to Lutya for commenting on this photo and telling us the name of this pretty moth.  It is a Pale Beauty (Compaea perlata), also known as a Fringed Looper.

When I first saw these big white fungi growing on a tree trunk,  I bent over, thinking that if they were Oyster Mushrooms I would take them home for supper.  But then I saw that some slugs were already making a meal of them.  They're all yours, guys!

Many plants in the open area around the parking lot showed evidence of the presence of Spittlebugs, with globs of foam bubbling out from their stems.

I often feel guilty for disturbing the tiny green creatures that hide out in all this foam, protected from the elements, but I can't resist unveiling at least just one of these adorably cute little Toadhopper nymphs.  I hope it was able to whip up more foam for its protection.

There's one species of milkweed that's certainly not in decline, and that's the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) that was growing abundantly around the parking lot.  Although it was not yet in bloom, I always peek down into its flower buds to see who might be hiding in there.  How appropriate that I should find this beautiful red and black Milkweed Bug.


JosephAlsarraf said...

Cool, nice pictures of the plants. It might be a change in weather, maybe because of the unseasonably cooler weather that most of the U.S. has been experiencing. Maybe they'll show up later.

Barbara said...

Would you be willing to share how you keep/organize your wildflower journals? I want to learn more about native plants and have been thinking about how best to organize and record what I see.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for your kind comment, Joseph. I don't really hope to find any more plants later, since I already found one, and they usually all bloom at the same time. But I'll keep looking, maybe gather seeds from the one I did find and attempt to propagate them in my own woodland garden.

Barbara, my wildflower journals are very informal. I carry little notebooks and write down the date and place (with a code) for every flower I find. I have notebooks going back about 12 years, each contining two years' record. But my photos are also automatically dated by my computer, and I've filed them alphabetically, so I can look through these files and see when a flower bloomed. A major record now, though, is my blog. Although I don't record every flower I find on my blog, if I'm wondering when or where I found a certain plant, I type the name into my blog's search bar and I'm shown every post I ever wrote about it. Have fun with your journals, but be careful. Before you know it, you'll be obsessed with naming every plant you come across, and you'll find yourself screeching to a halt to examine flowers you see by the roadside, or you'll be dropping to your knees on city sidewalks to look more closely at what's growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...Milkweed ! We travel out to Ephratah every year around this time, to Saltman's Restaurant as they cook it as a side dish.

catharus said...

Can the Bloodroot eliasomes be planted directly, or do the seeds need to be retrieved in some way from the eliasome before planting?
'Great story and pictures as always!

Lutya said...

I believe your moth is a Pale Beauty:

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Anonymous, my grandma used to cook milkweed sprouts, and I thought they were delicious. You have to pick them VERY young, though. Older leaves contain the toxins that make Monarch butterflies so poisonous to would-be predators.

Hi catharus. I don't know if the eliasomes need to be removed before the seeds can germinate. I would think not, but only an experiment would tell us the truth. Or maybe Google!

Thanks, Lutya, for the moth ID. I will amend my copy to give the moth a name. I do appreciate you stopping by to add that information.