Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The River in Bloom

This chilly morning sounded a warning:  Summer is speeding by! That was all the spur I needed to grab my canoe on this sweet sunny day and head to the Hudson, especially now as the high-season flowers are turning the riverbanks into Mother Nature's spectacular garden.  Time to go see what's in bloom.

My favorite stretch of the Hudson lies between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams, where the river runs back into quiet bays sheltered from the wind.  I've been paddling these waters for more than 20 years, marveling at the wonderful variety of native wildflowers that ornament these banks, thriving despite frequent flooding as water levels rise and fall with dam operations.

Over all these years, I've developed a sense of stewardship toward these native flowers, and I've pulled every stalk of Purple Loosestrife I could find, hoping to quell the spread of this very invasive alien species along these shores.  By now, I hardly ever see it here, but today I thought I spied one of its tall purple spikes at the back of a bay, and I hurriedly paddled over to pull it out.  But as I drew near, my determination turned to delight, for instead of Purple Loosestrife, here was a single spire of the beautiful Smaller Purple Fringed Orchis (Platanthera psycodes).  I had thought I had missed its bloom time this year, but here was one lovely late-bloomer!

Orchids are fickle bloomers, so I can never count on finding a Purple Fringed Orchid at the same site or time each year, and some years I fail to find any at all.  But I certainly CAN count on finding Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) along these banks each year, and I was delighted to see that this gorgeous flower's season has just begun.

Individual spires of this super-saturated red flower blaze like beacons along the shore now, but it won't be long before masses of them crowd the banks in spectacular display.

The flowers of Arrow Arum (Peltranda virginica) exist at the opposite end of the spectrum of spectacular, although the foliage clumps possess their own kind of beauty.  And the flowers are quite interesting, if you can find them.

I had to search among the leaf stalks to find the Arum's flower, which consists of a cream-colored spadix tucked within a green spathe with ruffled edges.

Sharing the edges of this watery habitat are the pretty blue blooms of Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens).

Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) not only doesn't mind getting its feet wet, it doesn't mind going in over its head, either.  The water level in the river was relatively low this afternoon, but if it were to rise at a later time to completely cover this rock-wreathing clump, the little yellow trumpet-shaped flowers would just keep on blooming underwater.

Bright sunlight illuminates tall stalks of purple Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) against the dark shade of the forest.

It amazes me how every year the landscape of this marshy area undergoes change, although the individual flowers remain the same.  Looking through my photo files, I found a shot from four years ago that shows a parade of Steeplebush spires (Spiraea tomentosa) populating the very same rock where the Pickerelweed blooms this year.  There was Steeplebush blooming in this marsh today, but not in as spectacular array as four years ago.  What a lucky event that was, with the water, the light, and the flowers all caught at the perfect moment.  Sometimes the beauty of this place just takes my breath away!

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) was adding its own charms to the landscape today, with its vivid-pink bicolored blooms.

I often search among milkweed to see if any unfortunate insects might need to be freed from the florets' legtraps, but this Long-horned flower Beetle was too far gone for my help to avail.  And besides, spiders need to eat, too.

Another critter surprise was this colorful Northern Water Snake, which dived underwater and lay very still, hoping (I'm guessing) that maybe I wouldn't see it.  I have never seen such a brightly colored pattern on this snake before.  They often look just dark brown.  I had to google images of this species to be sure it was a Northern Water Snake.

Ultimately, I DID find some Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), but just one plant.  And it wasn't there very long.  I often wish I could leave it to add its beauty to the mix of marvelous wildflowers, but I'm afraid its invasive habit could eventually drive all other flowers out.

I'm wondering if Purple Loosestrife might be evolving to mind its manners.  On a visit to Woods Hollow Nature Preserve near Ballston Spa yesterday, I found it joining a mix of flowers blooming in a wet meadow, and it wasn't dominating the site.  There were healthy plants of Tall Goldenrod and Boneset among this mix as well, and when these species open their buds they will add their own blooms to the riot of colors.  I've been observing this meadow for several years, and the native plants do seem to be holding their own to keep the alien loosestrife in balance.

Another encouraging sign was the presence of these Japanese Beetles chowing down on the loosestrife.  One alien invader has found another!


threecollie said...

Lovely, thank you for this moment of tranquility!

catharus said...

Wonderful paddle! And thank-you for being a steward (wherever you go)!

You Get The Picture said...

Very nice shots! Regards

Raining Iguanas said...

You are a steward of admirable proportions. The Hudson and I thank you! Another beautifully sculpted post.

Carolyn H said...

Lovely photos today, as always. Around here, pretty-patterened water snakes like the one you photoed are juveniles, but yours looks fairly large so I'm not sure.

The Furry Gnome said...

Great botany info and wonderful pictures. Saw some Swamp Milkweed myself yesterday for the first time.

Sharkbytes said...

Well, that would be awesome if something we already have would chew on the loosestrife. Love the snake. I've never seen one so pretty either.

Don Butler said...

paddled river today, sunday, 8/3 yellow sneezeweed starting to bloom abundant meadowsweet cardinal flowers in full riot need help with geology: are the cream-crystalline rocks calc-silicates?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, dear readers, for stopping by to leave your oh-so-welcome comments. Your appreciation plays a large role in my continuing to post this blog.

Don Butler, if your river is the same as the one I paddle, the Hudson between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams, most of the rocks along that shore are granitic gneiss, although there might be a few marble outcroppings. I wish I was better informed about the geology there. I have heard, however, that there is a calcareous talus slope above the Spier Falls Dam, just upstream from where the river takes a sharp turn toward the northeast, We have found some lime-loving plants like Showy Orchids along those shores.