Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Off to the Other Side

I don't venture over to "the other side" very often.  Meaning, the Warren County parts of Moreau Lake State Park.  There are some really nice trails over here, as this map displays, but the access road to the parking area can be daunting, especially since I don't own a high-axle car to carry me safely over the boulders and ruts. But at this time of year, it's the only place I know of to find three interesting plants in particular, so on Sunday I geared up my courage and made the trip.

My friend Sue met me at the Hawk Rd. entrance near Lake Luzerne, and together we survived the jolting half-mile drive to the parking area.  I was eager to show her the three plants I find over here, where the soil has a somewhat different composition than it does in the Saratoga County parts of the park.  And who could know what else we might find as we walked the pleasant old road that still provides access to the Spier Falls Dam?  We took this old road instead of the wooded trails, mostly because it offered easier traveling on this brutally hot and humid day, and also because we might find more blooming along this open roadway than we would in the dark shade of the forest.

The first flower we found, almost as soon as we stepped from the car, were dozens and dozens of Purple Milkwort flowers (Polygala sanguinea), a plant that prefers the dry, thin, rocky soil that surrounds the parking area here.  Some years I find only a few, but this year they were abundant.  State distribution maps indicate that this flower is not rare and occurs widely across the state.  But I never find it anywhere else but here.  And I do get around!

Here's a closer photo I took from my files, the better to show the beautiful structure of the Purple Milkwort blooms, like miniature bouquets of multicolored flowers wrapped in purple tissue paper.

Here is another flower, American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) that state records indicate is a common and widespread plant.  But I have never found it anywhere but here on the Warren County side of the Hudson River.  And I have looked for it elsewhere for years.  I grant it would be easy to overlook, tiny as it is, with flowers that fall from the three-toothed bracts at a touch.  But all you have to do is pass near a patch of it, and the strong minty fragrance reaches out to tell you "Here I am!"  Some years I search and search this site, only to find a couple of struggling plants, but this year the patch was vigorous and plentiful.

Slender Three-seeded Mercury (Acalypha gracilens) is probably not as uncommon as the NY state floral distribution map would indicate. I think it is more likely just overlooked by botanists, little nondescript weed that it appears to be. Its flowers are just little ruddy nubbins borne in the leaf axils, but they are surrounded by winged bracts that are far more interesting to look at than the almost invisible flowers. After all, these winged bracts, resembling the wings on the heels of the Roman god Mercury, are what inspired this plant's common name. Nestling within those bracts are tight little clusters of three seeds, contributing inspiration for the other part of the common name. I have found this little native American plant in only two places in all my years of wildflower hunting, but I bet it's hiding out in lots of other places, too. I'm happy I consistently find it over here on the Warren County side of the park, and this year the plants looked healthier than ever (if always a little bug-eaten).

This photo reveals the tiny glandular hairs on the winged bracts, a feature that distinguishes this Acalypha gracilens from the much more common vacant-lot weed, Acalypha rhomboidea.

The tiny cluster of three seeds contained within the winged bracts are doubtless what inspired this plant's name of Three-seeded Mercury.

We managed to walk at least a couple of miles this day, there and back again, finding lots of beautiful mosses and colorful fungi as well.  But not many other flowers, aside from Tall Goldenrods and the ubiquitous Bonesets that crowded the road.  We might have gone further, but I began to feel absolutely enervated from the heat and humidity and begged to go home.  I was too tired to even take more photos, so I'm posting this photo from an earlier outing to Moreau Lake the Friday before.  This was the first Monarch Butterfly I had seen all summer, one of at least three I saw feeding on the Bonesets that grow on the shore of the lake.  Let's hope that populations are recovering, now that people are becoming more aware of the importance of nurturing milkweeds for their larvae.

And this was a lovely Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum) I found growing along Bog Meadow Trail last week.  We have five thistles that are native to New York, and this is one of the prettiest.  I think its buds are beautiful, too, finely interwoven with fibers as fine as spider silk and with a texture that is reminiscent of elegantly jeweled Easter eggs.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

One Beautiful Mushroom

Drenching rains over the past two weeks have stimulated an amazing abundance of mushrooms. On every woods walk I take these days, one fabulous fungus after another decorates the forest floor, from the itty-bitty white Marasmius species peppering the leaf litter to the giant chrome-yellow Chicken-of-the-woods erupting in monstrous proportions along soggy fallen logs.   But if there's one single species that causes me to drop to my knees in wonder, it's got to be this gorgeous mushroom called American Caesar Amanita (Amanita jacksonii).

I doubt that there's any other American mushroom that could be confused with this one, with its bright scarlet egg-shaped cap emerging on a golden stalk from a snow-white cottony-textured cup.

As this mushroom matures, it spreads out into red-centered bright-orange disks, with reddish striations decorating the rims.

Unlike almost all other members of the Amanita genus, which have white gills, A. jacksonii has yellow-orange gills.  The remnants of the veil that once covered these gills persists as a ring of tissue around the stalk.

Also unlike almost every other species of Amanita, this mushroom won't kill you or even make you sick if you eat it.  I have read that it's quite delicious, but I have never tasted it.  Nor have I ever found it in such quantity that would merit gathering a mess to cook for supper.  No, I always leave it where I find it, marveling at its singular beauty and hoping that others who pass its way will also be moved to drop to their knees in wonder.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On the Hunt for a Rare Liverwort

I think I have said several times before that I would follow my friend Evelyn Greene anywhere. Well, that was certainly the case today, when Evelyn, a noted Adirondack naturalist, led our friend Lucy and me straight to a spot on the upper Hudson River where probably the rarest liverwort in all the state can be found.  And yes, it was a straight path right to it, following a railroad line until we came to the site that Evelyn remembered from previous visits.  (No worries about train traffic on Wednesdays, we were told.)

And what a beautiful site it was, along a swiftly flowing stretch of the Hudson north of Warrensburg. And we sure couldn't complain about the weather, either!

Here, where a tiny stream trickled into the river, the rocks were covered with a variety of bryophytes of various colors.

And here it was, the only population of Jungermannia exsertifolia ssp. cordifolia recorded in all the state!  I'm referring to the very dark, almost black, liverwort that is nestled among bright-green mounds of the moss Philonotis fontana and slimy patches of some kind of green algae.

This is the blackest liverwort I have ever seen!

Held close to my eye and with light passing through the translucent leaves,  I could see that the liverwort was really not black, but rather a very dark green.  (Ooh, are those tiny pale-green spheres the Jungermannia's fruiting bodies?  I really don't know!)

In places where the stream's water covered the liverwort, we could see that its leaves were exuding tiny bubbles.  Evelyn told us the leaves were respiring oxygen, the byproduct of photosynthesis.  This liverwort may be very rare, but it definitely was alive!

Decorating several rocks in the stream were a few plants of Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).

Nearly hidden among the tall grasses near the shore were a number of the little orchid called Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua), their bright-white florets hard to miss against the dark green of the grass.

Contented to find the Jungermannia exsertifolia ssp. cordifolia thriving at its known location, we next moved downstream to a remarkable site on the Hudson Banks called the Ice Meadows.  Here, massive heaps of a special ice called frazil pile up on the shore during winter, keeping the trees from encroaching and creating a habitat for many rare species of plants.  I was not looking for rare species today, just some specimens of the Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris sp.) we usually find blooming around these spring-fed pools this time of year.

Well, no luck finding that Yellow-eyed Grass.  Maybe it hasn't yet come into bloom at this site and thus is invisible among all the other grassy plants.  One thing I did find were the bright-red fruits of Dwarf Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa), a truly rare plant that thrives along these shores despite its listing as a threatened species in the state.

We also found lots of Cranberries (Vaccinium sp.) just beginning to color up in various shades of pink.

In this section of the Hudson, the water is quite turbulent, producing lots of white foam.  There are places among the boulders that line the shore of the Ice Meadows where this foam swirls in the most entrancing patterns.  Although I was somewhat disappointed not to find the Xyris species I was looking for, I could still stand on the rocks and enjoy not only these mesmerizing swirls, but also the thought that I'd had a close look at the rarest liverwort in all the state. Not a bad way for a plant nerd like me to spend a beautiful late-summer morning together with the best of companions!

Here and There

I've been to nature sites all over northern Saratoga County this past week, some days dodging thunderstorms,  on others, wilting from the heat.  In the process I've taken hundreds of photos: WAY too many photos!  I was just about to chuck them all, but decided instead to post just a few, if only to demonstrate the wide variety of wonderful places to visit around here, whatever the weather.

These first photos were taken last Thursday, August 18, around the back bay of Moreau Lake. When I left Saratoga just after lunch, the day was sunny, but by the time I reached Moreau, I could hear thunder rumbling and see dark clouds looming.  Oh well, I thought, maybe I can make it around the bay before the storm.  But I was wrong.

Down came the rain!  Lots of it!  I took refuge back in the woods, worrying every moment that lightning might strike the tall trees I stood under.  Luckily, it didn't. And I got only a little bit wet.

I suppose it was unwise of me to venture around the lake that day, but I was on a quest.  One of the flowers that remains unrecorded for Saratoga County is Small-flowered Gerardia (Agalinus pauperculus var. pauperculus), and I knew for a fact that this little purple flower grows by the hundreds along the back bay's beach. And it was blooming NOW!

So I was able to obtain a specimen.  Kind of a wet one, but at least it was intact.

While standing under those trees as the rain beat down, I had quite a while to study a log that lay on the shore before me.  Just look at all the different fungi growing on it!  These tawny, striped ones, I believe, are Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor).

But I don't know what these creamy-white ones are.

Or these chocolate-brown ones edged with white.  Maybe they're both color variations of Turkey Tail.

At least I did recognize these colorful ruffly ones as a Stereum species, probably S. hirsutum.

And these brilliant orange ones are called Cinnabar Polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus).

Back in the woods, sprouting in uncountable numbers from last year's fallen leaves, were these very tiny fungi called Marasmius capillaris.  As if by magic, they will pop up by the thousands every time we have a soaking rain and promptly disappear when the woods dries out again.

At last the rain stopped and the swirling black clouds and grumbling rumbles moved off, leaving behind rising clouds of mist from within the forested mountains.


And then the sun broke through, picking out patches of emerald green on the freshly watered land.

Sunday afternoon brought more rain, just as I ventured along the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa.   I was seeking two more plants unrecorded for Saratoga County, Purple-stemmed Aster and Nodding Beggar Ticks, neither of which I found.  But what I did find was a landscape lovely and colorful even under gray rainy skies.

The major contributors of color to this landscape were the bright-yellow Tall Goldenrod and the dusty-rose  Joe-Pye Weed.  The vibrancy of their blooms only seemed enhanced by the grayness of the day.

I'm curious why this large bee did not seek out better shelter from the rain.  It seemed to be immobilized by being wet.

The most prolific flowers along the creek this week were the misty-white-flowered and starry-leaved vines of Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata).  Although this native plant swarms over other plants as it vigorously grows, it apparently does no real damage to the shrubs and floral stands it drapes with its multitudinous frothy blooms.

I did not find the Purple-stemmed Aster I sought, but I did find the vivid purple blooms of a single plant of New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), blooming here long before I expect to see it along every local road.  I found it in the very same spot where I find it every year, this solitary anomalous early bloomer.  Being drenched with rain did not diminish its stunning color.

Tuesday, August 23, brought the coolest, driest weather we'd had all summer, with a bright blue sky, a gentle breeze, and temperatures only in the 70s.  It seemed a perfect day for a paddle on the Hudson River at Moreau.  I launched my canoe along Spier Falls Road and paddled out to explore the little islands that lie just offshore.

The late-summer blooms of the brilliant-red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia canadensis), the bright-yellow Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) and the creamy-white Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) have transformed the riverbanks into a colorful garden.

This little cluster of golden-yellow Boletes also did their bit to enhance the riverbanks' late-summer beauty.

After several heavy rains these past weeks, the river was higher than it's been all summer.  I was hoping to find lots of mud-flat bloomers, but high water levels had eliminated all mud flats.  But I did find these white dots of Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) blooming away well under water, lit by golden ripples of sunlight as little wavelets moved over them.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Return to Lake Bonita

I sure couldn't have asked for a lovelier day to return to Lake Bonita than last Friday, a sunny but not-too-hot day with clear skies and calm waters.  I went there to continue my survey of plants that grow on this property acquired just this year by Moreau Lake State Park, and I couldn't have asked for better companions than Nancy Slack and Sue Pierce, the paddle-ready boaters pictured below.  As I noted in a previous post, New York State Parks has granted me a permit to paddle this pristine lake studded with boggy islands for the purpose of identifying the plants that grow here, and both Nancy and Sue made for valuable research assistants.  Sue is a naturalist and nature photographer with an uncanny ability to see things I would miss, and Nancy, a professor of ecology at Russell Sage College, is an expert bryologist who came along on this paddle to help identify some of the mosses and liverworts.

We focused on exploring the little islands that dot the lake's surface, their boggy nature made immediately evident by the profusion of Pitcher Plants holding their spectacular big blossoms above the Leatherleaf shrubs and White Beak Sedge and other vegetation typical of a bog or a fen.

All of the islands are thick with shrubs often found in bogs, including Leatherleaf, Myrica Gale, and Sheep Laurel, and underlying this shrubbery are thick mats of sphagnum moss of various species. On my own, I could not name the various species, but Nancy was able to tell me that this bright gold and brown moss is Sphagnum papillosum.

We found two different species of sphagnum on the islands that were a vivid red, one with large leaves called Sphagnum magellaticum and also the smaller one pictured below, called Sphagnum rubellum.  These two go by the common names of Big Red and Small Red, respectively.  (Not very many moss species have common names.) Note the tiny trailing leaves of Small Cranberry and the larger, red-veined leaves of Marsh St. Johnswort, two of the flowering plants very common on all the small islands of Lake Bonita.

Not all mosses can be identified with only the naked eye, which was the case with this gracefully long-leaved green sphagnum which was covering a stump along the lake shore.  Nancy took a specimen home with her to examine more closely, and also to consult her moss reference books too cumbersome to bring along in a small canoe.  Whatever its name, it certainly was beautiful.

I think Nancy called out the name of this moss with very tiny curls on its leaves, but I couldn't always hear her voice from around the other side of an island.  I will try to put a name to it later, after I show Nancy this photo.  I see there are some broader liverwort leaves included in this clump.

Update: Nancy has identified this moss to the genus Drepanocladus, but she would need to view it microscopically to determine its species.  Well, I think for most of us, Drepanocladus will be adequate!  Thanks, Nancy!

I do remember that Nancy called this ruffly green liverwort by the name Pellia.  Note the tiny cluster of Round-leaved Sundew lying atop the clump of liverwort.

This Marchantia polymorpha is one of the few liverworts I can recognize on my own, especially when fruiting with those tiny umbrella-shaped fruits, but both Nancy and I were surprised to find it growing out on these islands.  It's usually found covering the soil in potted plants, much to the dismay of nurserymen.

In addition to the mosses and liverworts, we found a few new herbaceous flowering plants to add to the flora list for these islands, including a number of patches of the tiny wetland plant called Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris sp.).

I was unsure of which species of Xyris this was until I let my camera's macro lens reveal its twisted stem, a feature that identifies this flower as Xyris torta (Slender Yellow-eyed Grass).  When I checked the New York Flora Association's Flora Atlas, I discovered this species has been reported in only six counties in New York, none of them Saratoga County.  So this was another new plant we can add to the record for Saratoga County, found growing on an island in Lake Bonita.

Update:  OOPS!  I was mistaken regarding the ID of this plant.  Nancy took a specimen with her for close examination, and she has informed me that this is Xyris montana (Northern Yellow-eyed Grass) and NOT Xyris torta (Slender Yellow-eyed Grass), citing both the lack of fringe on the sepals as well as the lack of a bulbous base at the root.  I have since learned, too, that the "torta" in this plant's scientific name refers to the LEAVES being twisted, not the flower stalk.  It is still an interesting and unusual plant to find in Saratoga County, but Xyris montana has been reported as present in this county before.

In addition to the shrub islands in Lake Bonita, there are a number of Water-Lily-root mats floating about, providing a home to a number of other flowering plants.  These itty-bitty bladderworts were sprouting all over this particular mat.  They were the tiniest bladderworts I had ever seen.

In this photo, my finger lies next to one of the larger flowers, which I recognized as Humped Bladderwort (Utricularia gibba), a very small bladderwort, indeed, distinguished by a pronounced hump at the center of the bloom.

Here's the Water-Lily-root mat where this tiny bladderwort sprouted around the wet edges.  The mat was also home to a number of Spatulate-leaved Sundew plants, the tufts of red leaves scattered across the surface of the mat.

More easily seen, of course, were the lovely blooms of Fragrant Water Lily, an aquatic plant that can sometimes be invasive, but on Lake Bonita it grows in limited numbers and areas and is always a delight to come upon.

I had never seen a Water Lily bud rising from the lake bottom and making a bee-line for the surface.  The sunlight picked out its white stem and ruddy bud, making it easy to see below the water.

After a morning spent closely surveying the islands, we made our way to the east end of the lake, where a bench and a picnic table provided a beautiful spot where we could climb out of our boats, stretch our legs, and enjoy our lunches overlooking this pretty scene.

In the afternoon, we continued our circuit of the lake, keeping close to the shore, where we could enjoy the cool shade of the overhanging trees and the beautiful reflections in the water.

The shoreline vegetation is quite different from that which grows on the islands, and we constantly paused to closely examine what was growing there.

Sometimes we paused simply to enjoy the beauty of what we found along the shore:

A lovely rose-colored mushroom sprouting amid a mat of emerald moss.

A cluster of Northern Bugleweed with its tiny white flowers, dangling over the quiet water.

A bank solid with Buttonbush shrubs bearing the spherical bon-bons of their seed-heads.

A grassy verge dotted with the snow-white blooms of Common Arrowhead.

The pink satin flowers of Marsh St. Johnswort, coming into bloom at their expected mid-afternoon hour.

And wonder of wonders, an American Chestnut tree grown mature enough to bear the bristly spheres containing its seeds.