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.


Woody Meristem said...

What a great spot. Looks like it would be well worth exploring earlier in the year as well.

The Furry Gnome said...

Now that's some serious botanizing! When you get to identifying species of Sphagum moss and liverworts, you're far beyond me. But what a beautiful place to go exploring.