Saturday, July 2, 2016

On the Hunt for the Missing Plants

Well, I asked for it! I just never guessed there'd be so many!

Over the years, I've occasionally collected and submitted to state botanists specimens of area plants whose existence in Saratoga County somehow never got recorded.  It's not that nobody knows they grow here; it's just that nobody has gathered, pressed, labeled, and submitted these plants to herbaria for inclusion in the New York Flora Association Plant Atlas.  For many plants, it's completely understandable why they never got collected. Botanists properly get excited about rare or beautiful species, but why would they go to the trouble to collect and process such ubiquitous weeds as Dandelions or Queen Anne's Lace?  On the other hand, some of these unreported plants have been pretty rare, and I'm proud to say that I've found and documented a couple of them, as well as other, more common species previously unrecorded for my home county.  Since this is something I'm pleased to contribute, I recently asked Steve Young, chief botanist of the New York Natural Heritage Foundation, if he could supply me with a list of remaining plants as yet unrecorded for Saratoga County, so I might collect a few now and then as I go about my usual woods walks and paddles.  So he did send me a list.  That list contained ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SIX species!!!  And yes, the list did include such ubiquitous weeds as Dandelions and Queen Anne's Lace, as well as dozens and dozens of other regularly encountered plants.  So now I have a life's work ahead of me.  Many plants I would never be able to confidently identify myself (I'm leaving the grasses and sedges to the experts), but many others are common plants I know well from my usual haunts.  So off I went this week to some of those haunts to start collecting plants.

My first stop this week was along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail just east of Saratoga Springs, which runs for nearly two miles through various wetlands, both forested and open.

The first plant is sought for here is an unusual horsetail, the Wood Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum), that thrives in marshy areas at Bog Meadow, although it has never yet been recorded for Saratoga County.  This species is distinguished by its forking branches, a feature not found in other native species of Equisetum. Yes, I found it, since I know exactly where lots of it grows, right beside a boardwalk, so I didn't have to get my feet all muddy collecting a specimen.

I had forgotten that Pointed-leaved Tick Trefoil (Hylodesmum glutinosum) also grows along Bog Meadow's shady trail, so this Pea-family plant with its tiny pink flowers was a bonus find.

I did know that Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) grows at Bog Meadow, but I thought I was going to have to hike a mile or so to find it.  But this was my lucky day, since I found a tall bush of it right where I entered the trail. Such a gorgeous, incredibly fragrant flower! How could it go unrecorded?

Another plant right at the entrance to the trail was Silvery Cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea), still hanging on in an area packed hard by traffic, polluted by road salt, and frequently mowed.  No, it's not a native wildflower, but it sure is one tough little weed.  And a common one, too, despite never having been reported for Saratoga County. Until now.

Not all the delights of the day were floral.  This Eyed Brown Butterfly may not be the most colorful species, but it does have a subtle beauty all its own.  And it's also a rather friendly butterfly, not seeming to mind when I pressed my camera in close.  Maybe it was really thirsty and hadn't yet drunk its fill from that rain drop.

Some insects actually sought me out.  But not in a friendly way!  That's why I never visit Bog Meadow this time of year without wearing my TRED-NOT Deerfly Patches.  I can't imagine a more useful invention for field naturalists, or anyone who has to spend time outdoors.   You can buy them on-line or at sporting-goods stores, and boy, do I recommend them!

Next stop on my flower-hunting tour was the Hudson River at South Glens Falls, which I visited the following day.  I entered the river via some quiet backwaters once carved out as log-sorting pens during the Adirondack logging era.  The water here is quiet and shallow, and the surrounding forest was filled with birdsong on this day that threatened a coming storm.

A number of the plants on my look-for list will be found in these backwaters later in summer, but today I simply enjoyed the sight of such beauties as the Pickerelweed that thickly lined the shore.

I could see there were many plants of Swamp Milkweed thriving among the Cattails and Buttonbushes, but I did not know whether I should attempt to collect one or not.

On the missing-plant list I was given, the species that remains unreported for Saratoga County is the Eastern Swamp Milkweed  (Asclepias incarnata ssp. pulchra), a sub-species I have no idea how to distinguish.  The Western Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata ssp. incarnata) has already been widely recorded for many counties in the state, including Saratoga.  Well, I collected this one anyway, and pressed it for future reference.  By the time I find out how to distinguish the two subspecies, the flowers may well be gone from the swamp.  At least there were many blooming stems to spare.

UPDATE: Nope, this isn't the sought-after Asclepias incarnata ssp. pulchra, which would be noticeably soft-hairy on its stems and the backs of its leaves and would possess slight differences in the size, shape, and number of its leaves. This flower, pictured above, with its hairless stem and leaves, is instead the much more common A. incarnata ssp. incarnata.  So my search for this particular sub-species continues.

I left the backwaters and headed upstream toward an area of steep shale cliffs, delighting in the gorgeous floral abundance along the forested banks.  On this bank alone I counted the puffy white flowers of Tall Meadow Rue and Silky Dogwood, the small purple blooms of Bittersweet Nightshade, the translucent red berries of Tartarian Honeysuckle, the little blue dots of Forget-me-nots, and two of the flowers I need for my list, the big rosy blooms of Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) and the tall spikes of bright-yellow Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris).

(Some closer views of the Purple-flowered Raspberry and Swamp Candles:)

Nearby, I very nearly missed spying these tiny white orchids called Shining Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes lucida) hiding among the tall grasses.  Here was another flower from my list, and with at least five individual plants in the vicinity, I felt I could collect just one to record it for Saratoga County.  Without the permission of the New York Natural Heritage Foundation, and if the species were truly rare, I would never dream of removing an orchid specimen from the wild.  I did see this orchid growing upstream from here a week or so ago, but I did not collect it then, because I found only one plant at that location.

Before long, I approached the shining black face of the shale cliffs that rise directly from the water's edge, the rock kept constantly damp by seeping springs.

The presence of lime, either in the shale itself or else in the springs that dampen it, is made evident by the presence of Bulblet Fern, its gracefully curving fronds shown here surmounted by another plant missing from Saratoga's record, the large bushy sub-shrub called Spikenard (Aralia racemosa).  Unfortunately, the Spikenard was not yet blooming, but I did collect one branch that displayed some emerging flower buds as well as the large pointed leaves.  I might come back later to obtain a specimen of its small white flowers or its shiny black fruits.

My wanted list contains a number of trees on it, including such common species as Silver Maple, White Oak, Norway Spruce, Sycamore, Balsam Fir, and Yellow Birch.  I know where plenty of all of those trees grow, but most of their branches are well beyond my reach for gathering specimens.  But here on these shale cliffs along the Hudson, the lovely Mountain Maple (Acer spicata) grows directly out of the rock and obligingly hangs its branches low over the water, well within my reach.  And how nice of those branches to now be hung with dangling clusters of pink maple seeds.  So pretty! And so diagnostic.  An interesting note about those seeds:  they were formed from spikes of tiny white flowers that stuck straight up from the branches but which later turned and hung straight down with the weight of developing seeds.

Forget-me-nots are not on my collection list, but I love to see them, especially when they grow in such colorful abundance as this sky-blue riverside cluster.

Another visual delight was this vivid-orange Great Spangled Fritillary, resting on cliffside foliage.

I also was blessed by the sight of a regal Great Blue Heron stalking among the lily pads in one of the quiet backwaters.

And what a treat, to get such an open sighting of a Little Green Heron! They usually skulk much more secretively among the waterside bushes.


Alan said...

With over 1100 species on that undocumented list, how many have been documented? This seems like a very satisfying task. Love going along with you vicariously.

Jackie C said...

Fantastic pictures! What an amazing undertaking! I would love to get out there with you again!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Alan, to see what species HAVE been documented for Saratoga County, click on the link I provided for the New York Flora Association Plant Atlas. The home page will have a map of New York containing all the counties. Use your cursor to find Saratoga County and click on it. The complete list will show up. Many pages of plants. I haven't counted the species, myself. Yes, a very satisfying task, turning every outing into a treasure hunt for the missing plants.

Kathryn Grace said...

Your blog posts so often provide a meditative interlude for me as I sip my morning cuppa. Today I'm energized by your conscious choice to collect and help catalog plants so many of us take for granted. Your photographs, as ever, delight and soothe. Thank you once again for keeping this journal.

threecollie said...

I love visiting your blog! So much to learn and I thank you for it. I thought of you yesterday when we went to Montezuma again. Yet another plant I don't know or even know where to start looking was everywhere. I have pictures.....