Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Botanical Bingeing

It was quite a weekend for botanical bingeing, ranging from an orchid-studded bog to a lily-lined roadside and ending with a riverbank search for all the St. Johnsworts blooming now.

The weekend started early, when my friend Sue Pierce had Friday off from work and our mutual friend Nancy Slack was able to join us to explore a sphagnum bog near Lake George.  Nancy is an ecology professor with extensive knowledge of northeast flora, but she had never visited this particular bog, so we were delighted to share our secret place with her.

This particular bog is known for its profusion of orchids, and we knew we were in for a treat when we slipped through the hedge that surrounds the bog and were greeted by the sight of dozens of vivid  Calopogon tuberosus orchids, also known as Grass Pinks.

The other orchid we'd hoped to find was present, too, and in abundant numbers.  The White Fringed Orchis (Platanthera blephariglottis) was still in tight bud, however, so we planned to come back in a week or so to see it in glorious bloom.

There was another bog-dwelling plant we looked for, too, but without much hope of finding it.  Needle-thin and green-as-grass, Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica) literally resembles the proverbial needle in a haystack, which is why I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a nice patch of it surrounding the trunk of a young tree.  Even though it was still in bud, we could recognize its stiff five-angled stem and its opposite branched clusters of flower buds.  When it's in full bloom, it won't look very much different from this, for its four-petaled pale-yellow flowers barely protrude above its green bracts.

Saturday saw the arrival of other botanical friends, when the wildflower photographer Carol Gracie drove all the way up from Westchester County with her husband Scott Mori to photograph Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense).  Author of the beautifully illustrated book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History, Carol is now at work on a book of summer wildflowers and finds many of the subjects of her new book hard to find in her home county because of over-browsing by deer, among other factors.  I was delighted to be able to escort her to a magnificent display of these beautiful lilies, growing abundantly in a roadside ditch.

Another friend, Bob Duncan, also drove a considerable distance, from his home up north in Pottersville, to join our photography party.  Although we had found one plant of Canada Lily while hiking together in northern Warren County last week, Bob told me that that was the first time in all his wildflower explorations he has found this plant that far north.

Obviously, the lilies had found a happy home in this roadside ditch at the edge of a forested swamp, for many of the plants held multiple blooms.  This one had produced ten large flowers of a vibrant orange.

Other plants had yellow flowers.

And one plant held a single bi-colored bloom combining both orange and yellow.

Once Carol had accomplished her photography task with the lilies, we still had time for further photo-botanizing, so I suggested we head up to Moreau Lake State Park.  Our friend Sue had reported that the little native orchid called Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata) was beginning to bloom along the path that circles Mud Pond.  We had to search a little, for this tiny orchid can hide very well on the forest floor, but we did indeed find some with a few open blooms.

Another find in the woods at Mud Pond was a single Blunt-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in perfect flower.  Bob isn't really offering prayers to the flower gods in this photo, but he is taking the time to admire its deep-rose bloom, which he said was one he had never seen before.

Sunday brought the threat of thunderstorms, but I took a chance that they might hold off until I had paddled out to an island in the Hudson River to see if the Great St. Johnsworts (Hypericum ascyron) were in bloom.  They certainly were, and in greater numbers than ever before.  I'm very happy to see that this beautiful flower, classified as "Rare" in New York State and either "Threatened" or "Endangered" in most surrounding states, has found a congenial home where I may visit it each year to admire its remarkably showy flowers.

Compare the size of those blooms above with the wee little flowers I'm grasping in the photo below.  These are the minuscule blooms of Dwarf St. Johnswort (Hypericum mutilum), a species of St. Johnswort that also grows on the same Hudson islands as H. ascyron.

I'm adding a second photo of H. ascyron, this one including my hand in the photo to provide scale.

I found three other species of St. Johnswort in the same area, Canada (H. canadense), Spotted (H. punctatum), and Pale (H. ellipticum).  All were in bloom today, although my photos of them turned out too poor to publish.  I did manage to take a clear photo of the ruby-red achenes of H. ellipticum arrayed in the grass beneath the bud clusters of Buttonbush.

 A fourth St. Johnswort, a pink-flowered species called Marsh St. Johnswort, also grows nearby, but it was not blooming today.  Although still considered a member of the St. Johnswort Family, Marsh St. Johnswort has recently been removed from the Hypericum genus and assigned the name Triadenum virginicum.

With the storms holding off, I continued my paddle around the islands and into a swamp where Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) ornaments the muddy shore.

Tucked in amid the Pickerelweed and other emergent plants that don't mind having their feet wet, a nice patch of Mermaid Weed (Prosperpinaca palustris) had come into bloom.  I first found this plant last fall when it was in fruit, so I was delighted to be able to find it in flower, although I did not recognize it at first, since its leaves were not as feathery as when I found them last fall.

Here's a photo I took of this plant last fall, with those remarkably feathery leaves:

At a glance, Mermaid Weed resembles another denizen of such swampy spots, Water Horehound, with its sharply serrated leaves and reddish stem.  But a closer look reveals that its leaves are alternate on the stem, while the Water Horehound's leaves are opposite.  Also, these flowers are greenish and borne singly in the axils, unlike the circlets of tiny white flowers that surround the stems of Water Horehound.

A rumble of thunder in the distance set me hurrying toward the shore, but I did pause for a moment to admire this little glowing patch of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) sprouting out of a crack in the rock.

I also had to stop to notice these blooms of Grass-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) protruding from shallow water near the shore.  Usually, these flowers are pure white, but these were striped with pink.  Very pretty!


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Ah...this post really takes me back to a couple years ago when you showed me that spectacular bog and Moreau woods. I still think of those experiences often and hope to see them renewed some day :). SO good to see Bob out with you guys too; him showing me the Hooker's orchid last May puts him on a special list of special people. Please tell him I said hello next time you see him! :)

Sharkbytes said...

Several plants there I do not know. Very nice.

Raining Iguanas said...

You do such a great job documenting your walks. They bring back the joy of Friday field trips in grade school.