Naturalist Ed Miller consults his wildflower guide, seated where the Hoosic River meets the Hudson River at Stillwater.
Since I was away in New Hampshire last Thursday, I missed my chance to accompany the Thursday Naturalists on their outing to Canal Park at Lock 4, on the Champlain Canal across the Hudson River from Stillwater. But my disappointment didn't last long, for the very next day Ed Miller called to invite me to return to the site to review some of the naturalists' botanical findings he wasn't quite sure of. I jumped at the chance to do this, first, because an outing with Ed is always an educational adventure, and second, because I had never visited this particular site, where the Hoosic River meets the Hudson at a place of remarkable beauty.
We began our adventure on trails along the Hudson River shore, where we found lovely views of the quiet water on this sparkling day, as well as a number of interesting plants. I'm always interested in plants that I've never encountered before, that's for sure, and that was certainly the case with this Hairy Bush Clover (Lespedeza hirta), top-heavy with rounded clusters of closed white flowers that leaned over the trails where we walked.
Hairy Bush Clover is not a particularly showy or beautiful plant, I will grant, but it was a new one for me. A close look at the hairy stems confirmed the ID, while also revealing the aptness of this plant's common name.
After puzzling over the botanical details of what we finally determined were Pale-leaved Sunflowers, we then encountered another bright-yellow flower we also assumed was a kind of sunflower. But a closer look revealed that we were mistaken. Although it closely resembles plants of the Helianthus genus (the sunflowers), this was instead Heliopsis helianthoides, also called Oxeye or False Sunflower.
In the case of sunflowers, only the disk flowers are fertile while the ray flowers are sterile, containing no sexual parts. But in the case of Oxeye, the ray flowers are also fertile, each containing a pistil, as this close-up photo reveals.
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) was another bright-yellow flower that was blooming nearby. This highly aromatic plant with fuzzy button-like heads is an old-fashioned garden flower that has escaped cultivation to thrive along roadsides and, in this case, river banks.
What an amazing creature this was, big and fat and covered with bright-green clusters of bristles! This Io Moth caterpillar was clinging tightly to a Bush Clover stalk, and I'm glad I didn't try to disengage it. I later read that those bristles contain a stinging venom that can cause a painful and persistent rash.
Where the Hoosic River emptied into the Hudson, the trail took a turn to continue through sun-dappled woods as we followed the Hoosic upstream.
Scattered along the woodland trail were numerous plants of the dainty Slender Gerardia (Agalinus tenuifolia).
Here, too, were many plants of the Wand-like Bush Clover (Lespedeza intermedia), with its pretty pinky-purple pea-like flowers borne in a cluster at the top of a long slender leafy stem.
At first, I thought it might be one of the related Tick Trefoils, but then I noticed the unbarbed oval seedpods consisting of a single pod. Tick Trefoils (Desmodium ssp.) have jointed multipart pods that are barbed to attach to the hide (or pantlegs) of passersby.
We found a few mushrooms along the trail, including this shaggy-looking Bitter Tooth (Sarcodon scabrosus), one of the toothed fungi.
Its appearance is quite similar to that of another fungus called Old Man of the Woods, except that the underside of that mushroom, a bolete, is covered with tubular pores, while the underside of this mushroom was covered with pointed teeth. Many of the toothed mushrooms are quite palatable, but as its name suggests, this mushroom is too bitter-tasting to eat.
Our wooded trail soon led down to a sunny open area near the water's edge, where we found a whole other set of summer flowers, including a few that the naturalists had missed last Thursday. Because of time constraints, they had turned around before exploring this sunlit habitat. But Ed and I had as much time to spare as we wanted, delighting in many floral discoveries.
Abundant numbers of Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) were easy to spot among the surrounding grasses because of their radiant royal-blue blooms.
Although the pink-flowered American Germander (Teucrium canadense) was looking a little past its prime, we did find a few stalks of this native Mint-family plant with newly opened florets.
American Germander's florets are remarkable for their sharply curving long stamens, as well as the lack of an upper lip.
I'm surprised we noticed this single spike of Marsh Hedge Nettle (Stachys palustris), since it was surrounded by a patch of Germander with similarly colored flowers. A close inspection revealed that the beautifully striped Hedge Nettle floret's structure was quite different from that of Germander.
The large pale-purple flowers of Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense) are really quite pretty, but don't try to pick them. Every other part of this weedy plant is covered with sharp thorns, including the backs of the leaves. We found only one single plant growing near the edge of the river.
It was easy to spot this single plant of Great Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida), since it towered over all nearby vegetation, including the surrounding Joe Pye-weed, which is rather tall in its own right. Even so, this is a miniature version of this native plant, which I have seen grown as tall as 15 feet, with stalks as thick as my wrist. This plant is related to the much more common (and much smaller) Common Ragweed, the bane and torment of allergy sufferers everywhere.
Just like its smaller cousin, the Great Ragweed produces vast amounts of airborne yellow pollen from thousands of small green florets amassed along its greenish flower spikes. Luckily, neither Ed nor I suffer sensitivity to its irritants.
Our return trail back to our cars took us through a leafy green woods, where we could gather handfuls of Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) leaves and press them to our noses, breathing in its aromatic scent. Ed pointed out the tiny balls along the speckled twigs, the shrub's flower buds that will persist throughout the winter to open into some of the earliest blooms of spring.
Affixed to one of the Spicebush leaves was this dainty cluster of tiny white eggs, dangling from a transparent filament.
I consulted the marvelously informative site BugGuide.net and found similar egg clusters there, attributed to the insect Green Lacewing. The lacewing usually deposits her eggs singly, each one on a separate filament spaced far enough apart that the new-hatched larvae do not devour one another. But occasionally, the eggs are found in clusters that look like this. That was the experts' best guess, anyhow.
You're an amazing botanist, and manage to find the most interesting plants. Your photos are great, and the real close-up ones are amazing! It's almost like being there. Thanks for the walk.
Oh Furry, you are too kind! I'm actually not a botanist at all, but happily, I have wonderful friends who are, and who are generous and patient to teach me. I, too, find my camera's ability to look closely into things truly amazing. My camera's macro function can see details I would never notice with my naked eye. Thanks for coming along on my walks with me.
that horse nettle is all throughout my garden! where did it come from? every year its more invasive, and so ouchy to pull out!
I'm so glad you occasionally include a finger in your photos. Some of these beauties are far smaller than I would expect, or know to look for.
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