Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Rare Mountain Mint Thrives and Expands Its Territory

Longtime followers of this blog may recall how excited we were to discover a large, healthy patch of the endangered Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum) on the shore of Moreau Lake a couple of years ago. Since I was the one who first stumbled across it, I feel a kind of proprietary concern for it, and often visit its site in a small cove off the main body of the lake.  Well, it was time to pay a visit once more, as mid-July is when it usually comes into bloom. So on Monday this week I made my way to that quiet cove, its sandy shoreline much wider than usual this year, due to lower water levels in the lake.

I always feel a little rush of excitement when I find "my" Mountain Mints thriving in their usual spot, especially when I see them exploding with abundant, bee-attracting bloom.

I realize that not everybody would feel much excitement about this rather scraggly, unprepossessing plant, but that could be because they don't understand how truly rare this species is (the designation "Endangered" means there are only 5 or fewer populations in all the state).  And also, you have to look really close to see how pretty their purple-polka-dotted white flowers are.  In addition, the leaves smell deliciously minty, too!  (Mmmm!)

Well, this year my excitement was amplified when I discovered how widely their original patch has expanded.  Back in 2014, when Rich Ring,  a botanist from the New York Natural Heritage Program, visited  Moreau Lake to officially document this population, we counted 273 healthy plants in a limited area. Although I didn't count them this week, those plants remain at their original site and certainly appear to be thriving.  But this year, I found a whole new burgeoning patch of several dozen plants, along the same cove shore but separated by many yards from the original site.  They especially seemed to like this location under a Buttonbush shrub, where a sandy spur juts into the cove.

The new plants sure looked happy here!  Good news for a plant that appears to be disappearing in other locations around the state!

There are lots of other interesting plants inhabiting the shore of this cove, and I was especially curious about this pink-flowered one.  On closer examination, I ascertained it was the familiar Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), but blooming in a totally unexpected color.  At least, unexpected by me. Perhaps this is a common color variant in other parts of its range, but its one that I have not seen before.

This vibrant blue is the color I usually associate with Blue Vervain.  And of course, it's this very color that suggested its common name.  It sure is a lovely native wildflower, and it, too, thrives on the sandy cove were the Mountain Mint grows.

How lucky I feel, to have so many different habitats around this part of the world to explore! And who would think, just taking a glance at what appears to be a rather barren shoreline, how many treasures can be found, if only one looks for them?


threecollie said...

Well done! I love your botanical adventures!

suep said...

I have seen the pinkish vervain along the Fox Shore and around Back Bay, but haven't seen it anywhere else in my travels ... a very local variant?