Monday, September 9, 2013
A Surprise Find Along the Shore
After yesterday's blogging marathon, I had no intention of looking for new material when I went for a walk today around Moreau Lake. I even thought about leaving my camera at home. I just wanted to go for a walk, and I mean a WALK: striding along, swinging my legs, breathing deep, feeling the breeze on my face and the sun on my back on this brisk bright beautiful day. Not the halting pace I usually keep, dropping every ten feet or so to examine floral finds along the way. Besides, I already know all the plants that grow along the shore here at Moreau. No distractions today. Just walk!
Well, dear readers, I'm sure you can guess what happened next. What could cause a flower-obsessed amateur botanizer to fall to her knees in amazement? Why, spying a brand new plant, of course. I hadn't gone more than a quarter mile when I spotted these little green Sputniks that I recognized as the spent flower heads of Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemun sp.). But wait! These weren't the needle-thin leaves of Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (P. tenuifolium), the only other Mountain Mint I'd ever encountered here. No, these leaves were broader, and they smelled a whole lot mintier than those of the narrow-leaved species. What could they be?
Well, I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that this is Virginia Mountain Mint (P. virginianum), just judging by the shape of the leaves. My Newcomb's Wildflower Guide says nothing about hairs on the stems or the leaves, but I took a close-up photo of these details to show to botanists who might be able to positively identify this plant. Whatever species it is, it was new to me, and it's also one not yet recorded as existing in Saratoga County. I'll return to collect a specimen next summer when the flowers bloom.
Update: I was mistaken in my guess, for several botanists have informed me that this is NOT P. virginianum, but most likely P. verticillatum var. verticillatum (formerly known as P. pilosum), a plant that is considered endangered in New York. I'm really happy to report a healthy population of around a dozen plants right here on the shore of Moreau Lake. I'm adding one more photo, of the calyx lobes, just to complete the picture.
Second Update: As Andrew Gibson's comment to this post reveals, other botanists believe that the overall pubescence (downyness) of stems and the underside of the leaves indicates that this is instead the pilosum variety of P. verticillatum. Time will tell, as I returned on Tuesday to collect a specimen to send to the botanists at the New York Flora Association for close analysis. Whichever species it turns out to be, this is undoubtedly the rarest species of Mountain Mint I have ever come across.
As I continued around the lake, I kept looking for more Mountain Mint. I never found any more, but I did spy this beautiful patch of Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) in radiantly purple full flower.
Here's another colorful patch of flowers that caught my eye: a thick stand of deep-pink Lady's Thumb (Persicaria maculosa). Sure, this is just a common alien weed that grows in every vacant lot and sidewalk crack, but here on the beach at Moreau Lake it had achieved its pinnacle of lovely color.
Far less showy were these tiny florets of Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza), although for a typical coralroot, they were remarkably flamboyant. In all the years I have been finding this wee little late-blooming orchid, this is the first time I have ever seen one with open blooms. Look close, and you can see one minute white petal dotted with purple. That's apparently as good as it gets for Autumn Coralroot.