Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hidden Treasure in the Cedar Swamps

Teetering along over moss-covered logs, pushing through clawing gauntlets of jagged branches, sinking deep into boot-sucking mud if you slip from tree roots bridging the soggy spots -- there's a reason the treasures of cedar swamps tend to remain undiscovered.  But Evelyn Greene knows where to find such treasures, and (as I think I have said before) I would gladly follow Evelyn anywhere.  So would my friends Sue Pierce and Bob Duncan, who joined me Saturday to follow Evelyn into the depths of two cedar swamps near Minerva, on a hunt for the kind of lime-loving plants that can only be found in such habitats.  The presence of cedars indicate that this wetland overlies a calcareous substrate, either of marble or limestone, which enriches the soil.

The lure that Evelyn held out to tempt me into this difficult terrain was the promise that we would find Naked Miterwort (Mitella nuda) in bloom, and so we did.  But not right away.  It takes some real hunting to actually SEE this tiny plant with its leafless fine-as-filament stems and with blooms that look as if they were spun from spider silk, and whose green-yellow color renders them invisible against the surrounding mosses and ferns.  We had been walking right over dozens of them before we finally detected them.

As hard as this flower is for our human eyes to discern, it was even harder for our cameras to capture in clear photos.  Dear Evelyn showed incredible patience as each of us photographers (Sue and Bob and I) tried again and again and again to urge our cameras to focus on the flower's delicate beauty.

I threw 68 shots away before I found one that more-or-less clearly revealed the intricate fringes protruding from the petals.  The prettily scalloped rounded leaves grow separately from the flower stalk and, as both photos above reveal, pretty much carpet the soggy ground of the cedar swamp.

I wonder if it's the yellow-green color that my camera's auto-focus just can't read.  I also took dozens of photos of this Early Coralroot (Corallorhize trifida), one of our native orchids and another cedar-swamp dweller, before I managed to achieve a single almost-focussed shot.

There were other beautiful flowers, a bit more easily photographed.  This is Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus), with flowers that dangle on twisted peduncles, hidden beneath the sheltering leaves.

Most of the Painted Trilliums (Trillium undulatum) have shed their flowers by now, so we were surprised to find this one still in bloom.  Even after the flowers are gone, we can identify this trillium by the petioles of its leaves.  Wake Robin (T. erectum), the only other Adirondack trillium, has stemless leaves.

And of course, there were lots and lots of mosses, including several species of lime-loving Sphagnums, colonizing the soggy ground and covering fallen trees and rocky ledges.

Another prominent species was Stairstep Moss (Hylocomium splendens), which each year produces another tier of delicate fringey growth.

This is the aptly named Knight's Plume Moss (Ptilium cristacastrensis), which resembles the plumes a knight might have worn on his helmet.

And this moss is . . . oops!  Tain't a moss at all, although it sure looks like one from a standing height.  As Evelyn corrected me, this is the liverwort Trichocolea tomentella, also known as Handsome  Woollywort or Hairy Liverwort.

A closer inspection reveals the delicate structure of this liverwort.  If it hadn't been so wet, it would have better displayed the woolliness that suggests both its Latin and common names.

After mucking about in two cedar swamps for most of the day, Sue and I headed home together in my car.  Although we were tired, we just couldn't pass up the chance to stop off at the Hudson River Recreation Area just north of Warrensburg.  We guessed that the multitudinous carpets of Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) that perfume those piney woods might just be  releasing their heady fragrance right now.  And oh my, were they EVER!

We had to make one more stop in that forest, remembering how our botanist friend Andrew Gibson had discovered a mother lode of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) while visiting here last year.  Our timing was right, and we found those same masses of yellow-green blooms encircling that same old Red Pine.  Aside from delighting in this vision, we also recalled the great pleasure we'd had when Andrew was with us last spring, and how excited he had been to see these flowers, now rare in his home state of Ohio.  So Andrew, this photo is just for YOU!


The Furry Gnome said...

Another fascinating exploration! And I'm so glad to hear you threw away 68 photos to get one good one! Makes me feel right at home. But I can't believe that's a liverwort.

Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Ah...even before I saw my name mentioned towards the bottom, all the memories of both sight and smell came rushing back. What an incredible time we had and I will never forget my time spent with you and Sue in the Adirondack wilderness. I hope to come back out again soon to relive those glorious days in the field :)