Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Perfect Day and Place for Riverside Botanizing

Sunday, August 24, dawned as purely perfect a day for paddling as anyone could hope for:  a radiant blue sky, the air sun-warmed but not too hot, and hardly a breath of breeze to ripple the glassy surface of the Hudson River in the catchment between the Feeder Dam at Moreau and the dam downstream at Glens Falls.  We were planning to be a party of eight members of the Adirondack Botanical Society exploring for riverside plants, but as injury, illness, and daunting distance caused some participants to drop out, we ended up as just three happy paddlers, wondering how we could have lucked out, to be blessed with such a delightful day as this.

For being so close to a busy urban area, this stretch of the Hudson offers quite a surprising abundance of rare and unusual plants, most of which come into bloom in late August and early September.  Two distinct areas within this catchment provide particularly good habitat for unusual plants.  One area consists of several shallow quiet backwaters created during the historic lumbering era as basins for sorting river-driven logs. A second area consists of steep shale cliffs that are constantly watered by mineral springs, providing a cool rich habitat for many calciphile plants.

As we started our explorations, we entered a quiet backwater and immediately stopped to listen to all the birdsong emanating from many surrounding trees.  Denise Griffin, a knowledgeable birder who had come all the way from near Saranac Lake, commented on how unusual it was to hear such a chorus of birds as late as mid-morning.  Our friend, Sue Pierce, an Audubon member who visits these waters frequently, assured us that this area is renowned among birders as a wonderful place to see and hear birds.

One of the first unusual flowers we encountered in this backwater was the Water Marigold (Bidens beckii), which holds its bright-yellow composite blooms well above the shallow water, while trailing long masses of hair-fine leaves underwater.  Although this is ranked as a rare plant in the state, it can be abundant in areas where it has found a happy home, and this Saratoga County backwater is one of those happy homes for it.  (We also found one flowering individual when we paddled along the opposite Warren County shore of the Hudson.)

I was afraid we might miss seeing the rarest inhabitant of these waters, the threatened species called Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), since  I had found it blooming here over a month ago.  But there it was, holding its bright-yellow blooms above the water and drifting with the current on radiating inflated "pontoons."

Trailing along beneath the blooms and pontoons were the underwater structures consisting of hundreds of tiny bladders that can suck in and digest the minute organisms that provide the food for this leafless plant.

Although many of these riverbanks are crowded with too many shrubs of the very invasive Buckthorn, a number of native shrubs still manage to hold their own.  One of these native shrubs is Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa), which had completed its blooming some weeks ago but could still be recognized by its locust-like leaves and long bean-like pods.

Another native shrub that persists along these banks is Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum), which now holds clusters of beautiful royal-blue fruits.  Two different Viburnums, Nannyberry and Wild Raisin, also bore clusters of fruits, but their berries were still unripe.  We also found Winterberry shrubs with fruits that had yet to turn their beautiful scarlet.

Along with other streamside plants like Cardinal Flower and Pickerelweed (which were also abundant along the shore), the Common Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) doesn't mind having its feet wet at all.

Higher up on the banks were tall stalks of Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) just beginning to open their spikes of chubby pink-tinged blooms.

We found just small patches of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) in this catchment where we paddled today, perhaps because the banks are more steep and wooded than those that occur upstream above the Feeder Dam, where wide mudflats are carpeted with glowing masses of these tiny golden trumpets set among bright-green leaves.

The small white female flowers of Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana) rest just at the water's surface, held there as the water levels rise and fall by the coiling and uncoiling of their curlicue stems.

After slowly moseying around the edges of the backwaters, we headed out into the open river and leaned a little harder into our paddles to make our way upstream to where sheer cliffs of black shale rise steeply from the water's edge.  These north-facing cliffs are constantly dampened by dripping mineral springs, creating a cool, wet, rich habitat for many lime-loving plants.

It was here where we found a profusion of snowy-white Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia glauca) growing directly out of the shale and set among gracefully curving fronds of Bulblet Fern.

The Parnassia also shared its space with masses of leafy green liverworts and clumps of dampened mosses.

(If somebody knows the names of this moss and these liverworts, I would love to have you leave this information in a comment.)  Update:  Be sure to click on the comments to learn what Bob D. had to say about these liverworts.

Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii) was holding its dainty blue blooms on fine wiry stems.

Big bunches of Spikenard berries (Aralia racemosa) hung over our heads as we paddled beneath the cliffs.  I have heard that the presence of Spikenard is almost always an indicator of lime in the soil (or in this case, the underlying rock).  These green berries will eventually ripen to a deep shiny black.

We were surprised to see the leaves of Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum) already edged with red, reminding us that summer is indeed coming to a close very soon.

Also providing a patch of color among the cliffs was this abundant growth of the green alga called Trentepohlia aurea, a bright-orange lime-loving alga that contains a chemical that masks its green chlorophyll, which allows the orange to emerge.

After marveling at all the wondrous variety of plants that make these cliffs their home, we paddled directly across the river to the spacious lawn of a riverside park.  Here we sat on the grass to enjoy a picnic lunch, savoring not just our food but also the delights of this beautiful late-summer day with congenial companions on a lovely stretch of river.  And to top off our enjoyment, we heard the cheerful music of an ice-cream truck pulling into the park, and treated ourselves to an ice-cream bar for dessert.

As we made our way back to our put-in place, we drew to a halt to savor the sight of these brilliant orange mushrooms that had sprung up at the base of a tree.

I believe that this is the Jack O'Lantern fungus (Omphalotus olearius), often found clustered at the base of stumps.  Sometimes confused with the edible Chanterelle, it would be a bad mistake to eat it, since this fungus is quite poisonous.  I'm often tempted to pick it, however, and take it home to see if it really does glow in the dark, as all my mushroom guides tell me it does.  But today I decided to leave it where it was, as part of the many riverside attractions that made this day on the river so delightful.


catharus said...

How wonderful!!!

The Furry Gnome said...

Beautiful pictures nd great botany!

Anonymous said...

I always learn such much when I read your postings. The color change on the maple was lovely. Thank you

Carol Gracie said...

What a lovely vicarious trip on the river. Thanks Jackie.
Carol & Scott

Woody Meristem said...

Wow, what great botanizing.

Mike Corey said...

Amazing photographs. Wow. Grass-of-Parnassas growing out of a ledgy area - wonderful stuff for sure. Looks like you had a terrific trip!

Bob D. said...

Your usual great post, Jackie, great pics! The larger lobed liverwort is either Reboulia hemishpaerica or Preissia quadrata. I'm leaning towards Preissia. The liverwort in the lower right corner is a Pellea. I have no idea about the moss. Evelyn and I have seen water marigold (not in bloom) on the Kunjamuk in Speculator.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Dear readers, I do thank you for all your kind comments. And a special thanks to Bob D. for adding some names to the liverworts. I feel truly blessed to have such amazingly rich and beautiful habitats for botanizing so close to home, and I sure love sharing these places with folks who recognize how special they are.