Thursday, July 21, 2016

Wetlands in Bloom

This late in summer, you have to look long and hard for blooming flowers in the deep shady woods. This is the season for the sun-lovers instead: the roadside weeds, the meadow bloomers, the riverside flowers that like wet feet, and the bog denizens that bloom amid soggy masses of sphagnum moss.  I visited those last two wetland habitats this past Tuesday: first, a large bog at an undisclosed location near Lake George, and later that day, a wide shallow stretch of the Hudson River above Rockwell Falls at Lake Luzerne.

When I first slipped through the thick hedge that surrounds the bog near Lake George, I was immediately disappointed.   In past years when I've visited here, this expanse of multi-shades of green has been punctuated with bright splashes of pink from the hundreds of Grass Pink Orchids I always find here.  I'm sure they're still here, but past their blooming already.  Darn!

Oh, but wait!  There's one!  And yes, there's another!  I did have to peer around a bit, but I did find just a few of these gorgeous Grass Pinks (Calopogon tuberosus) still in beautiful bloom.

Thankfully, the other orchid I came here to find -- the White Fringed Orchis (Platanthera blephariglottis) -- was very much in evidence. In some sections of the bog, these spikes of pure white flowers with the fringed lower lips were as abundant as dandelions on a suburban lawn.  They also had many unopened buds, so I'm hoping they'll still be in presentable bloom when my friend Andrew Gibson comes visiting again in a couple of weeks.  He's a passionate orchid aficionado, and this is a species of wild orchid he is not likely to find in his home state of Ohio.

Unlike most other bogs I visit, the Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is barely in evidence here, and I really have to search to find its vase-shaped leaves hidden among the Bog Rosemary shrubs and the Leatherleaf.  It helps when it holds its huge red flowers high above the surrounding vegetation.

Sure enough, when I peered down at the base of the flower stalk, I did find the Pitcher Plant's red-veined green "pitchers" nestled within mounds of sphagnum moss.  A few delicate wisps of Small Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) leaves sprawled across the moss, bearing the pale-green fruits that will later turn deep red.

Here are a couple more of the small unripe cranberries, lying on a vivid patch of Red Bog Sphagnum.

A real treat for me on this hot sunny day was finding the Highbush Blueberry shrubs (Vaccinium corymbosum) thickly laden with huge, sweet ripe fruit.  All I had to do to obtain a large handful of them was place my hand within the bush, and the berries tumbled right into my palm.  And oh, were they delicious!

Sustained by many handfuls of those blueberries, I decided to take a wide detour on my way home from the bog, and headed to the village of Lake Luzerne.  Here is where the Hudson River falls through a gorge at Rockwell Falls, and just above the falls the river widens into some stony mudflats. These mudflats would normally be under water, but lack of normal amounts of rainfall this summer has exposed much of the river bottom, now colonized by many wildflowers.

The ribbon of vivid green and gold along the shore is a Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea), a plant that can thrive for years under water, only to burst into bloom as soon as it is exposed to light and air.

The tiny dots of bright yellow starring the mud are the flowers of Creeping Spearwort (Ranunculus reptans), a minute buttercup, no bigger around than a pencil eraser, that also will lie in wait under water until diminishing water levels expose it to air, after which it blooms profusely.

I just adore this tiny buttercup with its miniature flowers and its sprawling tendril-like stems and leaves.

Thronging the banks of Mill Creek where it enters the Hudson are hundreds of plants of Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata).

Oh, what a treat!  Is there any flower more gloriously red than Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardenalis)? These are the first I've seen this year, displaying their brilliant scarlet blooms along the banks of the Hudson at Lake Luzerne.

In contrast, these pale-lavender blooms of Bouncing Bet massed high on the banks prove that a flower doesn't have to be brilliantly colored to be beautiful.

A closer look at the Bouncing Bet blooms revealed this pale moth dangling among the florets.  How odd, I thought.  How could a moth get an antenna stuck on a flower's anther?  Oho!  See that little spider on the petal just above the moth? I'll bet that spider paralyzed that moth with venom and then, using its silk, attached it on the bloom for later eating.  Sound likely?

Wading out into the shallow pools, I noticed these brushy little plants under the water.  They sure looked like the leaves of Narrow-leaved Bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia), but I also thought they might be some other aquatic species, like a miniature Coontail.  So I plucked one for closer examination.

Bladderwort it is!  See the tiny brown sacs?  All bladderworts bear this kind of sacs on their underwater structures, using the sacs to suck in the tiny organisms that provide these plants with nutrients.

Walking back to my car from the river, I passed a large stand of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) bearing their fuzzy red fruits, and I stopped in my tracks.  How beautiful they are, I thought, while also admitting I often overlook the beauty of such a common shrub as this.  Certainly not as rare as bog orchids, but just as lovely in their own right.  (And probably far more beneficial to wildlife, too!)


Woody Meristem said...

A good day for getting your feet wet.

The Furry Gnome said...

Very interesting habitats o visit. I'm amazed how you keep finding new places to share with us.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Woody and Furry, for your kind comments. It WAS a good day for getting my feet wet, which had a nice cooling effect on that hot day. And yes, I do have an amazing variety of places to explore for beautiful and unusual plants, all within short drives from my home in Saratoga Springs. I'm really lucky that way.