Sunday, April 30, 2017

Budding Beauty

I still can't access any new photos, thanks (NO thanks!) to a recent computer update installing a photo program I haven't a clue how to use. But on my walks through the woods this week, I kept seeing beautiful budding leaves that looked exactly like ones I had photographed over the years.  I still have access to my old photo files, so I searched through them to find images to match what I was seeing now.  This is the time of year when the newly unfolding leaves are as lovely as any flowers.  Let me show you.

The Red Maple buds (Acer rubrum) are especially vivid, leafing out in gorgeous sherbet hues.

This Red Maple branch looks as if a flock of colorful birds has landed on it.

Backlit by the sun, these maple leaves glow like stained glass.

I always wax ecstatic about the big velvety buds of Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum), and I'm equally delighted by what happens when those buds open to release two big green leaves.  Then they look like green-winged, pink-velvet-gowned fairies wafting through the woods.

Talk about big fat buds!  I think the apricot satin buds of Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) take the prize for enormousness before they erupt in an explosion of shiny-red pinnate leaves.

The male flowers of Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) look like tiny bright-yellow bouquets held in dark-red vases.

These newborn, deeply grooved leaves of Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) have an elegant, subtle beauty all their own.

The fire-colored baby leaves of Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) always make me think of flickering flames.

When the stork-billed buds of Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) open to release the brightly colored leaves, they also reveal the infant flower cluster, still tightly closed, nestling down in the center.

The flower cluster of Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolia) is also tightly closed as yet, but its shiny quilted leaves have opened into a beautiful study in symmetry.

The leaf and flower buds of Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) became fully formed way last fall and made it through the winter protected only by a thin layer of brown flocking.  So they were ready to burst out of their confines as soon as the days grew warmer.

The flower buds of American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) resemble a couple of handfuls of green peas.  If hands were green, of course.

The staminate flowers of Northern Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) look as spiky as tiny porcupines climbing the twigs.  And those twigs are certainly prickly.  This is not the most beautiful shrub we have, but it's the only citrus native to our northern climes, and as such it is the only possible food for the larvae of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.  So please tolerate it if you find it on your land.

We've seen the copper-penny-bright pointed buds of American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) all winter, but now those sharp spindle-shaped buds have opened to release finely pleated leaves made downy with baby-fine hairs.  I always want to pet them, they look so kitten-soft.

Talk about soft and furry!  How about these baby oak leaves?  And a pretty pink color, to boot!

If you're walking a sandy, open spot, look down to discover the burgundy-red miniature starbursts of baby Wild Lupine leaves (Lupinus perennis), covered with downy fur.  That down keeps the leaves from wetting, so morning dew has collected in the center to form these diamond drops.

Update:  I posted a few of these photos on Facebook, and one of my Facebook friends commented with this beautiful commentary on spring buds by Hal Boland, a naturalist and staff writer for the NY Times who chronicled the seasons in memorable prose.  He died in 1978.  I share this passage here.

The New Leaves

The early flowers are bright in meadow and woodland, but the overwhelming beauty as May begins is in the new leaves on trees and bushes. We take leaves for granted; but when they are seen individually and fresh from the bud they are in 
no sense commonplace.
Is there a more beautiful sight than a Pin Oak fringed with the pink of freshly opening leaves? 
Or a sugar maple when its blossoms have begun to fade, its keys are forming, and its leaves are new and miniature? A Willow leaf fully grown is a long, slender parcel of chlorophyll, but fresh from its bud it is a delicate spear of fragile fabric subtly colored. The big leaf of any tree is so familiar that the wonder of it is lost. See it young and that wonder is new again.
Most buds seem to infuse new leaves with some subtle coloring. When leaf and blossom come from the same terminal bud, as they often do, one can almost believe there was uncertainty until the last moment which would be which. Watch a Lilac bud open and see the flower packet, each pinhead floret pale green, surrounded by infant leaves suffused by color that belongs to the flower itself. Watch the slow unfolding of a big hickory bud and you are half persuaded that some exotic flower of vast complexity is emerging from that pearl-pink bud sheath.
Even the texture of new leaves is new and strange - Birch and Poplar leaves soft as gauze, Beech leaves delicate as a fluff of silk, pine needles soft as kitten fur. And all new leaves have a special touch, as though waxed and polished specially for the light of a May day.

Hal Borland
Twelve Moons of the Year
May 1976

Friday, April 28, 2017

Disaster Has Struck My Photo Files!

Oh horrors!  My computer got updated to a new operating system, and now I can't process my photos.

 The old photo program was rendered obsolete by the update, and I don't have a clue how to work the one that arrived in its place.  The photos appear on my computer screen when I download them from my camera, but I can't do anything with them.  I can't name them, edit them, trash the duds, crop or reduce or enhance them,  or file them where I can import them to my blog or share them on Facebook or attach them to an email.

The new program offers no guidance on what to do, and everything I've tried on my own has led nowhere.  Luckily, my pal Sue Pierce told me she knows what to do and will come to show me on Sunday.  In the meantime, I can't even look at my photos or I will start sobbing hysterically.

It has been brought home to me quite viscerally how this blog and my photography have become an important center of my life, and being stripped of my ability to operate as usual has thrown me into quite a tizzy.  Please send positive energy and good thoughts and prayers my way, that I will soon recover my cool head and, with instruction, figure out how to share our wonderful natural world once again through my photos on this blog.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Here and There

My flower hunts today were truly wide-ranging, from Moreau at the northern border of Saratoga County, to Galway in the county's western region. And I found some real treasures! 

I know lots of places to find the occasional patch of Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens), but never have I found such a teeming profusion of this beautiful flower than on the southern bank of Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park.  This photo represents only about a quarter of the entire expanse of the patch.  What an abundance of fragrant loveliness!

Here's a closer look at the Trailing Arbutus.  I only wish I could share its exquisite fragrance as well as its pristine beauty.

While walking around Mud Pond, I found occasional patches of Northern White Violet (Viola pallens) starring the damp ground near the water's edge.  You have to look close to notice them, they are so very small.

Later in the day, I accompanied some friends to Galway in the western region of Saratoga County to explore some new properties obtained by the land conservation organization Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature).  Underlaid by limestone, this wooded property was teeming with lime-loving plants, including numerous patches of Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis).  I have seen this plant in gardens before, but never growing wild in the woods.  A real find for me!

A tumbling stream falls through this woods, and along that stream I found several clumps of the liverwort Conocephalum conicum.  Now, this is a very common liverwort, and I have seen it many times.  But never had I seen these little mushroom-shaped structures rising from among the liverwort's leaves.  Why, blow me down!  These must be its reproductive parts!

Or maybe they're really tiny green mushrooms sharing the stream-side mud with that liverwort.  But nope!  When I turned those little caps over to see the underside, I found no gills or pores that would be found on the underside of a mushroom.  Instead, I found these tiny black balls.  These are the liverwort's sporangia, organs that contain the spores that, once shed, will create new plants. Very cool, indeed!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

O Glorious Sunday!

 Oh my!  Days don't come any more glorious than this one!  Shirtsleeve warm, with a clear blue sky, and a beautiful Moreau Lake to walk around, with clouds of Shadblow drifting out of the forest on all sides!

It was so beautiful today, my husband Denis agreed to come walking with me.  That's he in the first photo, hurrying ahead.  His idea of a walk around the lake is to do it at a fast clip.  I did agree not to stop every few feet to take pictures, but I did manage to sneak in just a few.  How could I resist stopping to photograph this splendid array of snowy-white Shadblow and ruby-red Red Maple flowers against a cobalt-blue sky?

Or this graceful bough leaning over the water of the back bay, the epitome of serene beauty?

Others were out enjoying this splendid warm and sunny day, including this Painted Turtle.

Aside from the Shadblow, the only flowers we found blooming along the shore were abundant patches of Coltsfoot.  This American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) was enjoying them even more than we did.  This is one of our butterfly species that hibernates over the winter, which probably explains why its wings looked a bit worse for the wear.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Those Are Flowers?

It would be really easy to miss the flowers of Hairy Wood Rush (Luzula acuminata var. acuminata).  For one thing, they're very small, and for another, they don't look very "floral."  Unless you look very close.  Then they do look kind of like little lilies. You can certainly see their stamens and pistils.

I came to Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail today in search of this little graminoid, specifically to collect a specimen for the New York Flora Association.  This is hardly a rare plant in the state, since NYFA's Plant Atlas shows it growing in nearly every county of New York.  Except for Saratoga County.  Time to remedy that omission.  But how do I know this is Hairy Wood Rush?  Well, among other reasons, one thing is certain: its leaves and stems certainly fit the description of "hairy," wouldn't you say?

While out at Bog Meadow, I found some other "flowers" along the trail.  Well, technically,  these strobili (spore stalks) of Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) can't be called flowers, since they don't produce seeds.  But they do perform the reproductive functions of seeds, since the spores they shed will produce new horsetail plants.  Once those spores are shed, these non-photosynthetic fertile strobili will wither and disappear, while the separate sterile green stalks will persist through the growing season, depending on their chlorophyll to photosynthesize nutrients the same way other green plants do.

Here is one of the sterile green stalks of Field Horsetail, many of which were sprouting up all around the area where the fertile stalks were growing.

I found a second species of horsetail, the Woodland Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) sprouting up in a nearby wet area.  Note that this species bears its strobilus atop its green-leaved stalk.  Once the spores have ripened and been shed, this cone-like structure will wither and drop off as the rest of the plant continues growing, producing multi-branched leaves, a distinguishing feature of this species of Equisetum.

Another odd flower: the staminate flowers of a sedge (Carex) species, which look like a wild blond hairdo.  Possibly Carex pensylvanica, but other sedges also have narrow leaves like this.  I don't know how to tell one sedge from another.

All spring I've been looking for the bright-red female (pistillate) flowers of Hazelnut (Corylus sp.) and haven't been able to find any.  These sure look like them, accompanied by the dangling staminate catkins, but instead of growing on a head-high shrub, these were growing on a tall slender tree that had bent over to bring its branches close to the ground.  I have never seen either Hazelnut species as tall and rangy as this.  I found no hairs on the twigs, so for sure it's not American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), but could it be Beaked Hazelnut (C. cornuta)? Does any other tree or shrub bear little red sprouty flowers that look like this?

OK, here are some flowers that actually look like flowers:  Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).  Most of the plants were still in tight bud, but way out in the mucky marsh I could see these bright yellow blooms. I couldn't get close to them, but my camera's zoom lens could.   Soon every roadside ditch and swamp and swale will be filled with their golden glow.

Ta da!  The Red Trilliums (Trillium erectum) have opened their fat buds to reveal these stunning lipstick-red blooms.  Just one or two were gracing the forest floor at present, but soon we will find their big beautiful flowers in abundance.

A tiny brook runs along the trail at Bog Meadow, and where its flow calms to form little pools of quiet water, I often see Water Striders zipping across the smooth surface, dimpling the water with their finely-haired legs that don't break the surface-tension.  This one seemed to have caught some stars in its front feet.

Finally, here's a puzzle.  I found several examples of where the still-unfurled leaves of either Skunk Cabbage or False Hellebore had pierced through a dry tree leaf.  How the heck can this happen?  I would think that the coiled leaves, as they rise, would just push the leaf out of the way. How is it that the soft tissue of these leaves can cut through the leathery fabric of the dry leaves?  I cannot imagine how this takes place.  Has anyone ever seen a time-lapse film of this phenomenon?

Say It With Flowers!

Happy Earth Day!  What better way to celebrate than with a bouquet of wildflowers?  Here are a few that are blooming now in the Skidmore Woods.

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum). Some Trout Lilies have red anthers and some have yellow. The ones that grow in the Skidmore woods have red, but that Red-necked False Blister Beetle will eat all the pollen away and leave just withered black threads.  If you want to see these lovely lilies in their prime, better look for them before the beetles eat their fill.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Those wrap-around leaves will grow larger, and on rainy days will shelter the closed flower to protect its pollen.  Bloodroots have a very brief bloom time, but they bloom profusely, and I often find gorgeous patches of them right along country roads.

Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum). This species of Blue Cohosh has purple flowers that open and shed pollen even before the leaves have completely unfurled.  A second species of Blue Cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides, can also be found in the Skidmore woods, but that species will bloom a week to 10 days later, with yellow flowers that wait to open until its leaves have opened too. The two species can be found growing side by side, with no evidence of hybridizing.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Scratch just a bit of the bark to detect its spicy smell. The ripe berries can be dried and powdered to substitute for Allspice.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), just sprouting its fuzzy leaves above its equally fuzzy baby flower bud.  Not related to the ginger we buy in little spice jars for our pumpkin pie, or the knobby roots we grate into our Asian cooking.  But the thick juicy rhizomes of Asarum canadense do taste quite a bit like that spice, without being nearly so fiery.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mud Pond, Rainy Day

Dark, damp, and cool today, but not raining hard enough to keep me indoors. I have to keep moving these days to keep up with the wildflower surge, so I headed over to Mud Pond at Moreau to see what I could see.  Well, the first thing I saw when I got there was that the pond was full of water! The spring rains have done their duty!

For a couple of years now, the water level in Mud Pond has been so low, the pond lived up to its name by being mostly mud.  Here's what it looked like last summer.  No open water at all!

I didn't find many flowers today, but these Shadblow boughs, hanging over the water with their fat pink buds, looked as pretty as if they were blooming.

And I DID find a few Shadblow flowers in bloom, although the dark dampness kept them from opening wide. I love how fuzzy their bracts and pedicels are, like little wooly coats to keep the blossoms warm.

I guess I missed the American Hazelnuts female flowers this year.  I've been searching for them each week all month, and not a single tiny red female tuft could I find, although the male catkins swung from every twig.  But today I was lucky to find quite similar tiny red female tufts on the Sweetfern shrubs.

I also found some rosy-red female flowers of Red Maple gracefully arcing away from the twigs.

On the way home, I took Parkhurst Road past the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton, and there in the woods just off the road, a big patch of Bloodroot thrust up from the forest floor.  Their sunny-centered flowers were closed to protect their pollen from the rain, but their snow-white blooms still shone in the dark of the woods.