Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Traveling Plants

I think of Rte. 50 going north out of Saratoga as "Disjunct Highway,"  since it's along this stretch of rural road that I've found several species of plants that really don't belong in Saratoga County, even though they may be native to other parts of New York State. On this beautiful blue-sky day, I decided to visit these plants again and see how they might be prospering.  Or not.

The first oddball that caught my eye back in 2011 was a single stalk of Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), towering over all other plants at the Gick Farm parking area for the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park.  Friends from more southern states like Ohio or Pennsylvania can hardly believe that this plant could be classified as "Engangered"  in New York, since it's a very common, even invasive weed where my friends live.  I suppose it might eventually make its way north in time, since it certainly appears to be thriving here at this single spot in Saratoga County, quite possibly introduced with the native grass seeds sown at this grasslands restoration site.

Each year since I first saw it, it has grown another sturdy stalk, so that this year there are four, each bearing a thick cluster of fluffy magenta blooms.  All four stalks, though, appear to be growing from a single plant, and I find no other plants nearby.  So its shed seeds haven't traveled far, it seems, or haven't germinated wherever they might have fallen.

The same year I found the Ironweed, I discovered a second disjunct plant growing almost at the foot of the Ironweed.  This was a single bloom of Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens), a species of aster native to more southern parts of New York State but not at that time recorded for Saratoga County.  When I returned to the site in 2012, I found again just a single plant, but this time it had two blooms, as well as a healthy cluster of other buds.  So it looked as if it might be thriving.  Here's what it looked like then:

I was disappointed when I returned in 2013 and found no trace of this aster at all.  So I wasn't really expecting to see it this year, either, and it certainly wasn't holding any pretty purple blooms above the grass.  But a quick search of the area did reveal the presence of two plants that bore the distinctive soft-hairy ovate leaves completely surrounding a wiry rough stem.  No sign of any flowers, though, and the plants did not look that robust.  I wonder if I will ever see them in bloom again.

In 2012, I had found a third disjunct plant a few miles south, where a huge patch of bright-yellow Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) was completely filling a ditch at the intersection of Rte. 50 with Ingersol Road.  After using my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide to key it out, I discovered that this was a wildflower native to the northeast, but a search of the New York Flora Association floral atlas informed me that it was not native to New York, although it had been introduced in just a few counties.  As it apparently had been here.  The same patch I found two years ago was continuing to thrive today.

As I passed this Wingstem ditch and noted that the flowers were blooming, I cast my eyes around the neighboring landscape and noticed another patch of tall yellow flowers on the opposite side of the road.  Pulling over, I got out and climbed a bank to investigate, and, sure enough, here were the swept-back yellow composite blooms and distinctively flanged stems that could only belong to Wingstem.

A little further investigation revealed that Wingstem was everywhere to be found on this little farm.

Hoping I might find the inhabitant of this charming property who might be able to tell me how this Wingstem came to thrive here, I continued along a path that took me past a vegetable garden as well as some buzzing beehives.  Then I found a small white house with a table of garden produce arrayed for sale, and I thought, Aha!  Here's the excuse I need to knock on the door.

Well, I didn't even need to knock before Mr. Donald Tooker emerged from the house to greet me at his small produce stand.  Of course, I bought a few items to take home for supper, but what I was even happier to take home was Mr. Tooker's tale of how he had spent his whole life on this farm and the various ways he had farmed it.  We spent a good half-hour conversing about dairy farming and beef cattle and bee-keeping and how the surrounding landscape had changed since he was born right here in this very place.  And he seemed quite happy to chat with me and answer my every question.

Mr. Tooker seemed to be quite amused when I asked him how the Wingstem came to thrive here.  "Why yes," he said, a bit amazed that I knew the name of this flower,  "the Wingstem was for the BEES!"  Did I not know that Wingstem was famous among beekeepers for making wonderful honey?  Indeed, I did not, but I wasn't surprised, considering how many bees I had seen buzzing among its towering blooms.  Mr. Tooker had found the seed advertised in a beekeeper's publication, and it was he himself who, oh maybe 30 or 40 years ago, had plowed up the patch across the road and scattered the seed.  He had planted more around the honey-processing shed, and from there it just grew like a weed.


DeniseinVA said...

Very interesting post. Mr Tucker has a lovely warm smile. Those wild flowers are very pretty.

Uta said...

What a wonderful story. I love stoping at farm stands and talking to the owners, always lots to learn.

The Furry Gnome said...

Great story!

threecollie said...

What a fantastic story! I am so glad that I stopped by to read! i love seeing the changes wrought by bees and beekeepers. If Ralph were amenable I would have my brother house one of his hives here, but alas, he has a horror of them, so I haven't even asked.