Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Late-Spring Finds on the Ice Meadows

On my way home from Pyramid Lake last Sunday, I made a detour to visit the botanical wonderland called the Ice Meadows, a remarkable stretch of Hudson River banks north of Warrensburg. During the winter, this 8-mile section of river bank is where massive heaps of a particular kind of ice (called "frazil") mount to prodigious heights, creating a distinctive habitat where many rare plants can thrive.  On this day, I kept to the eastern shore of the river, visiting a site where marble outcroppings create a spectacularly beautiful shoreline.

As soon as I stepped from my car and entered the wooded trail that leads through pine woods to the shore, I was met with the sight of hundreds of Pink Lady's Slippers burgeoning among the pine needles and masses of Canada Mayflowers.

Some areas of the woods were virtually carpeted with thousands of Canada Mayflowers, adding their own delightful fragrance to the already pine-scented air.

Down on the shore, sprawling along the sand and among the rocks, was one of the woody plants this area is famous for, the low-growing shrub called Dwarf Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa), one of New York State's threatened species.  Although most of the flowers had shed their petals already, I did find a few still in flower, adding their own fragrance to the warm summer-like air.

Except for those Pink Lady's Slippers I found in the woods and a few clumps of blue violets, all the flowers blooming out on the sunlit marble shore this day were white.  Most impressive for their sheer abundance were masses of Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata), growing high on the shore near where the woods began.

The showiest, just for the size of their flowers, were tall stalks of Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) with their bright-white petals and puffy green centers.  Their common name derives from the thimble shape of their seed heads in the fall.

This flower that looks like a strawberry flower on steroids is Tall Cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta).  It's hard to believe that such a weedy looking plant could be counted as a rare species in many surrounding states, especially since it grows abundantly out here on the Ice Meadows.

I was searching the shoreline down close to the water for Lance-leaved Violets, a small white violet with slender leaves that I had found here once before, when I came upon this white violet.  At first I was disappointed:  Darn it, those leaves aren't right for Lance-leaved Violet!  But then I looked more closely at the leaves, comparing them with the drawings in my guidebook, and I wondered if this plant might instead be the state-listed rarity called Primrose-leaved Violet (Viola primulifolia var. primulifolia).  Well, I still don't know.  I have sent photos off to some experts I know, and I am still waiting to hear their assessment.  As yet, the Primrose-leaved Violet has not been documented for Warren County. Or for any county nearby.

Here's the leaf of that violet in question.

Update: I have heard from two of my most knowledgable plant-expert friends, who both concur that this IS most likely the Primrose-leaved Violet, a plant that is listed as "Threatened" in New York State.  Although this location is far out of the expected range for this violet, that would not be unusual for this remarkable stretch of Hudson River bank, home to a number of other plant species usually not found this far inland.  I returned and relocated this violet on Wednesday, obtaining better photos, GPS points, and an actual specimen from the more than a dozen plants found after further searching.

Because it was searingly hot and dry out on the river banks this day, I was surprised to find almost all the Wild Strawberry leaves beaded with water droplets, one droplet for each tooth of the serrated leaves.  But then I recalled once reading about "guttation," a process by which some plants can expel excess water pressure  through the points of their leaves.  Wikipedia has a site that clearly explains this process.  Whatever the scientific explanation, the process surely adds some extra beauty to already beautiful plants.

Here was another example of guttation beading, this time on the serrated leaves of young plants of Canadian Burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis).  So sparkling and pretty!

I was amazed that this brightly striped dragonfly did not fly away when I moved in close with my camera.  But then I noticed that it was very busy chowing down on its prey, another insect nearly half as big as itself.  The closest match I could find in my dragonfly guide for this colorful critter was a clubtail of the Hagenius genus called Dragonhunter -- a most appropriate name for a dragonfly that often feeds on other dragonflies, sometimes almost half as big as itself.   But this prey specimen did not look like another dragonfly.

Update:  Thanks to Wayne Jones, who in his comment to this post corrects my misidentification of this dragonfly.  As Wayne explains, this is not a Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus), but rather another clubtail in the genus Gomphus. He points out that the yellow markings on this dragonfly's thorax are thicker than they would be on the Dragonhunter.

My guess is that that dragonfly was feasting on one of these: a Giant Stonefly.  On one of the nearby shrubs, almost every leaf held a resting Giant Stonefly.  Perhaps they had all just emerged from their nymphs and were resting up for the urgent search for a mate.  These stoneflies are born without mouthparts, so before they starve they have to hurry and find a mate and reproduce before they die. Or before they get eaten by other dragonflies!


The Furry Gnome said...

What a fascinating habitat! And discovering a new rare species at the same time, a bonus! Don't think I have ever heard of 'guttation', but that second pocture of it is amazing! I'll have to look more closely next time I see water droplets.

WendyFromNY said...

You take THE MOST AMAZING pictures! It must be so exciting to find an unexpected plant. I am curious what the white gravel is behind the dragonfly consuming his breakfast. Is that gravel marble?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Furry and Wendy, for your generous comments.I truly am blessed to have such ready access to a place of such amazing diversity, and also to have my little camera so capable of documenting it. This digital technology makes it easy! Regarding your question about the white marble, Wendy, yes, those are marble crystals. The whole shoreline at this site is a spectacular marble outcropping, with crystals of pretty colors like pink and green as well as white.

Wayne said...

Oh, you always find the most fascinating things! The Primrose-leaved Violet is a wonderful find, and your photographs of guttation on those leaves are marvelous. I have noticed it from time to time, but never realized the phenomenon had a name. That clubtail dragonfly is certainly ambitious eating the large stonefly, and your photograph captures the story well. However, it is not a dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus). The thing that strikes most people about that species is that it is exceptionally large, especially for a clubtail (family Gomphidae). The dragonhunter has much more narrow stripes on the thorax behind the head. Those thick, yellow markings that look like the number 7 looking in a mirror identify your clubtail as one of the species of the genus Gomphus.

Linda said...

Beautiful photos. You have a lovely blog. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)

Jilly said...

I read your blog regularly. Just got back from camp in the western foothills of the ADKs. I've always known many of the ephemerals names, but you've really schooled me on so many more! Your photos and beautiful way with words really inspire me. The woods on my side of the park were quite dry this time, but lots of starflowers, canada mayflowers, bluets, painted trillium, only a few lady slippers, and the wild azaela were just blooming. Glorius! Now if I could just find bastard toadflax!! Thank you so much for this blog :))