Saturday, July 9, 2016

Midsummer Wildflower Finds

I can't believe how lucky I am, to live amid so much natural beauty here in Saratoga County. Each day I have many different choices of where I could walk or paddle:  Lake or river? Marsh or meadow? Creekside ramble or mountain trail? Oak/pine savanna or rich woods?  How can I choose?  This week I let my photo files guide my choices, noting what should be blooming now and where,  and heading out to see if I could find those flowers again.

Woods Hollow Nature Preserve

My first choice this week was the Woods Hollow Nature Preserve near Ballston Spa, on the hunt for the tiny white-flowered orchid called Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata).  Woods Hollow is known for its extensive pine woods, the favored habitat for this native orchid.

I did find quite a few spikes of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain, their small pale-green leaves well hidden beneath the pine needles, but their narrow flower stalks protruding well above the forest floor. The tiny white florets were just beginning to open.

Sharing that same pine-needled open woods were many blooming plants of Pipsissewa (Chimaphila unbellata), holding whorls of pale-pink waxy flowers dangling above glossy green leaves.

Woods Hollow is also home to a dense mixed hardwood/conifer forest surrounding a small pond, and many of my favorite wildflowers grow along the pond's damp shady banks.

The first flower I saw as I started my circumambulation of the pond was the little Swamp Dewberry (Rubus hispidus), carpeting the banks with its glossy green leaves and small white blooms.

Leaning over the quiet water were several stems of Marsh Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata), bearing twin blooms of pretty blue flowers.

The Hudson River at Moreau

We've had so many perfect paddling days this past week, it's hard for me to remember exactly which day I carried my boat down to the Hudson River, putting in at a quiet cove where the river runs back behind an island, and the rocky banks are covered with deep green mosses.  My photo files tell me I took these photos on July 6, which would be last Wednesday, a lovely day to be on the river.

I had chosen this spot so that I could easily check on a patch of Great St. Johnsworts (Hypericum ascyron ssp. pyramidatum) that grow on one of the islands that dot this section of the river.  Perhaps they are blooming a bit later this summer than my photo files had indicated, because I found only one in full bloom, and not many others even in swelling bud.  A couple of years ago these flowers, which are considered a rare species in New York, were grazed by deer, so I surely hope this population will continue to thrive despite this ill treatment. They have truly impressive blooms for this genus, with flowers more than two inches across.

While paddling back in a marshy area behind another island, I noted several mats of floating vegetation that were supporting masses of colorful blooms and deep-red leaves. The little yellow flowers were those of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) and the red-leaved stems belonged to some species of St. Johnswort (Hypericum sp.) I couldn't identify without their flowers.

I found that same Golden Pert massed in other areas along the shore of the river.

Another destination today was a backwater above the Sherman Island Dam, where I knew of a patch of Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus) that I hoped would be blooming in standing water along the shore.  And so it was, or at least it was in bud.  It bears its "flowers" on this odd finger-shaped protuberance called a spadix, which doesn't look much different whether it's in bloom or in bud. This is a plant with a long history of medicinal uses, and it's said to have a wonderful smell, although I've never been able to detect much aroma from its leaves or flowers.  I needed to collect a specimen for my list of plants not yet recorded for Saratoga County, and so I did.  But I do wonder how to prepare this rigid spadix for the herbarium files!

Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park

After leaving the river on Wednesday, I stopped by Mud Pond at Moreau, amazed to see how little water remains in it.  I guess this pond is living up to its name by becoming all mud, and only mud!

It's always fun to see what plants pop up on mud that was once well under water.  These chubby little dots of bright-yellow belong to the Humped Bladderwort (Utricularia gibba), a carnivorous plant that can either float free in the water or become affixed to the mud beneath the shallow water.  Tiny sacs on its underwater (or under-mud!) branchings can suck in even tinier organisms and digest them for nutrients. I tried to get a little closer to take a better photo of these interesting flowers with their humped lower lips (hence their name), but I promptly sank up to my shins in loose mud as I approached.  After a moment's genuine concern about whether I would be able to free my feet, I did manage to struggle to firmer ground.  If you go to Mud Pond these days, STAY OFF THE MUD!!!

Safely back on firmer ground, I could look around and enjoy the bright-blue blooms of Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) peeking out from among the tall grasses.

I had to look really, really close among the grasses to detect the itsy-bitsy flowers of Three-petaled Bedstraw (Galium trifidum ssp. trifidum), which, as its name implies, has just three petals, unlike most of the others of its genus, which have four. This is another of the flowers not recorded for my county, so of course I wanted to collect a specimen to be pressed and submitted.  Easier said than done!  The hair-fine and somewhat prickly stems of this plant all stick together in a matted tangle, and untangling a few strands with their flowers and their whorls of four leaves intact proved quite difficult. Oh well, it's not considered a rare or even unusual plant, so maybe the recording botanists don't really need a perfect specimen.


washbwild said...

I love paddling the Hudson River spots you describe and try to visit Spier Falls and the Sand Bar at South Glens Falls at least once every season. I always gravitate to that shale ledge with the thin beds of limestone - it's scenic even for those of us who can't identify the plants it harbors.
Earlier this week Gwenne and I slipped away for a few hours of paddling on Minerva Stream. It's in southern Essex County with a put in at a canoe access in Olmstedville. A dam creates a pleasant flatwater where it's easy to go out and back for a few miles. As we were weaving up the tight meanders I said to Gwenne, "The Flower Lady (that's you) would love it here".
It's like drifting thru a lush garden with all kinds of submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation plus a variety of flowers, shrubs and trees along shore. Kingfishers are everywhere and we even had a beaver swim alongside us. There's nice views of Moxham Mountain and you can eat at The Owl at Twilight when you're done. This is an outing I'ld recommend to you and your readers.
P.S. Stopped to explore the Hudson Ice Meadows on the way home. Thanks for alerting me to this fascinating botanical and geological site. The swimming isn't bad either...

The Furry Gnome said...

You really do have a wonderful variety of places to explore, on land or on the water!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, washwild and Furry, for stopping by to leave your most welcome comments. I'm so glad you enjoy reading my posts. That Minerva Stream paddle near Olmsteadville sounds like one I would like to do. Thanks for the suggestion. And I'm happy to hear The Owl at Twilight is still in operation. We ate there at least 12 years ago and it was terrific.