Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wild Chervil Gone Wild!

When the New York Flora Association sent me a list of plants that are missing from the NYFA Plant Atlas for Saratoga County, I could hardly believe that Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) had not yet been recorded.  For this is a plant that is truly going wild!  I've been observing the explosion of this introduced Parsley-family plant along the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa for several years now, and every year  I have seen it take over more and more of the creek bank and edges of the nearby open meadow.  I visit this site many times during the growing season, delighting in the variety of beautiful and interesting native wildflowers that grow here, but every year the Wild Chervil pushes more and more of them aside.  When I visited the site today, I was dismayed to see how extensive its invasion had become.

For the moment, these Ostrich Ferns seem to be holding their own against the swells of Wild Chervil attempting to swamp them, but I wonder how many more years they can hold out.

The umbellate flowers of Wild Chervil resemble those of many other Parsley-family plants, like Queen Anne's Lace or Poison Hemlock, but they have a delicate anise-like fragrance all their own.  I can understand why this species was introduced to America's gardens from Eurasia, but I sure wish it hadn't been.

Wild Chervil leaves are really quite pretty, deeply cut and quite fern-like in appearance.  But they spread across the muddy soil of the creek bank so densely that no other plants can get a foothold.

Well, here was one plant that managed to squeeze in among the Wild Chervil.  This is another introduced garden escapee, this one called Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), and it, too, has a tendency to become invasive.  It's interesting to see what happens when two bullies like this jostle for position.  Certainly, Wild Chervil outnumbers Dame's Rocket at this location, but there were many of these pretty purple and white flowers to be seen pushing up among the white umbels.  This too, is a species not yet recorded for Saratoga County, so I was able to collect in this one trip specimens of both of these plants, which I will press and dry and send off to NYFA to become officially documented.

I think of this Kayaderosseras Creek bank as a place where plant bullies battle constantly for position. Some of our most vigorous native plants, like Jewelweed, Giant Ragweed, Wild Bergamot, Pokeweed, and Stinging Nettles have somehow managed to thrive against the onslaught of Japanese Knotweed and other invasives, including the Wild Chervil.  At least, to date they have.  And I bet this meadow-full of Canada Anemone (Anemone canadense), opening now, will push back strongly against the tide of Wild Chervil.  At least, I hope so.

Some people consider Canada Anemone a kind of invasive species, too, but it is a wildflower native to this part of the country, so I would say it has the right to grow abundantly.  Besides, it is awfully pretty!

Monday, May 29, 2017

My Beautiful Home Shores

 Oh, the heavenly fragrance of Early Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum)! I could smell its perfume from way across the road.  These beautiful pink blooms tumbling over the boulders along Spier Falls Road signaled that I was about to have a lovely paddle on the Hudson River yesterday.  It was not the most beautiful day for a paddle, with overcast skies and a looming threat of rain, but I had yet to put my canoe on the river this year to explore my beautiful home shores, and I was not to be dissuaded.

And I'm glad I was not.  How I love these boulder-lined, forested shores of the Hudson between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island Dams!  Here, there are little islands with mossy banks studded with wildflowers (like the Bluets pictured below), and quiet bays where the water lies still enough to mirror the sylvan beauty of the woods that crowd the shore.

For weeks before this, the river had been dangerously rowdy from all the rains and the run-off pouring down from the surrounding mountains, and the water level had been so high, most of the shoreline flowers had been underwater.  But on this day, all was serene, and the shoreline boulders now bore the little Lance-leaved Violets (Viola lanceolata)  I had been longing to see.  In fact, I found many more sites where they have appeared this year, a testament to the power of those high waters to distribute their seed.  A few years back, I found only one patch, but yesterday I found them on almost every rocky bank, right down by the water line.

Another violet hugging the shore was the Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) , bearing its large purple flowers on long slender stalks well above its heart-shaped leaves.

This is one of the violets missing from the record for Saratoga County, so I was happy to see so many plants. There were more than enough to spare a single specimen to be vouchered by the New York Flora Association and documented in the New York Flora Atlas.  Before I collected a plant, however, I examined the hairs on the flower's lateral petals, noting the blunt hairs that distinguish Viola cucullata from other blue ones.

As I paddled slowly along in the almost undetectable current, I delighted in the way the water mirrored this Nannyberry shrub (Viburnum lentago) with its big clusters of tiny white flowers.

If you click on this photo, you might be able to detect that each tiny floret has five petals, a factor that helps distinguish these blooms from those of the several dogwood species (Red Osier, Silky, and Round-leaved)  that will bloom along these shore in the weeks ahead.  The florets of the dogwoods have only four petals.

Here were more lovely shrubs:  The low-growing Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) clinging to the thin soils atop the shoreline boulders.

Here's a closer look at those snowy-white blooms punctuated by their red anthers.

And talk about RED!  These beautiful crimson Columbine flowers (Aquilegia canadensis) were like the cherry on the top of this wonderful river paddle.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Short Trip to the Adirondacks

Pyramid Lake lay still as glass when I arrived at the Pyramid Life Center on Wednesday morning, and I sure was tempted to instantly throw my canoe in the water and glide across its mirroring surface.  Pyramid Lake is surely one of the gems of the Adirondack wilderness, but I was here to sweep up dead flies and mouse dirt, and otherwise ready around 20 guest rooms in the center's main lodge, as this spiritual retreat center gears up for another summer season.  I volunteer to do these tasks twice a year, at opening and closing, out of gratitude for the many blessings I have found here in this place of exquisite natural beauty, and also among people who seek to experience God's love and share it with the world.

As evening came on and most of my chores were accomplished, I again stood on the shore of the lake and marveled at the splendor before me.  How grateful I am that Pyramid Life Center makes a place of such beauty available to all who would seek its serenity.  Normally, I would seek the serenity of such a glorious evening by paddling across the lake's glassy water.  But now I was just too darned tired from all my day's labors!  Sometimes I do feel every one of my aging 75 years. And also, there were the Black Flies.  Not to mention the mosquitoes.  This time of year, one just doesn't linger long in the Adirondack outdoors.

The Black Flies were so bad this year, I didn't venture into the woods at all.  But I did, for just a few moments, pull on a bug net to stand on the center's entrance road long enough to delight in more Wild Purple Clematis (Clematis occidentalis var. occidentalis) than I've ever seen here before.

And I also sprayed on enough bug repellent to allow me to stand by this glorious waterfall on a nearby stream and experience its thundering torrent.

The banks at the base of the waterfall were a riot of gorgeous mosses and ferns and flowers, including these long-stemmed Marsh Blue Volets (Viola cucullata).

Thursday morning came, and I finished my cleaning chores.  But now it was threatening rain. So I packed up my gear and headed for home, but then decided to take a detour to the Hudson River Recreation Area just north of Warrensburg.  Just a year ago, I found the rare Primrose-leaved Violet  (Viola primulifolia var. primulifolia) along these shores, and I wondered if I might find it again.  The state lists this flower as Threatened, and state botanists were surprised that this violet has found a foothold this far from any other place in the state it has been found.

But sure enough, I found it again!  And many more plants of it than I found last year.

But this section of the Hudson shoreline, a stretch called the Ice Meadows, is home to quite a number of rare plants, including the Dwarf Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa), another Threatened species, which today was blooming in marvelous abundance.

Another abundant bloomer along the river today was the spectacular Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).

Most people would never notice this rather scraggly patch of green stuff, but this is a very interesting plant called Selaginella rupestris, or Rock Spike Moss.  It looks like a moss, but it's really more closely related to ferns than to mosses.  I have read that plants of this genus are distinguished by having two different types of spore cones, and I wondered if the tiny yellow dots I could see sprinkled among the scales might be one of those types of spore cone.  When I googled "Selaginella spore cones" I did find an image on Go Botany that looked exactly like these yellow dots.

Here's a closer (although blurrier) image of those yellow spore cones.

I could see a patch of Bearberry's dark green leaves some distance down the shore, but I almost decided not to visit them this spring.  Neither I nor any of my botanical buddies has ever seen a flower in this patch of leaves, so I started to head for my car, as the rain was coming down faster now and I was getting wet.  But oh heck, let's go check one last time, I decided.  And look what I found!  Here and there among the green glossy leaves were these pretty pink-tipped white bells.  I wonder if we had just never thought to look for them this early.  Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is the scientific name.

Of course, I've seen blueberries in bloom many times, but one kind that grows on these Hudson River banks is particularly colorful, with their red-tipped chalcedony-blue bracts and rose-blushed yellow bells.  True to their common name of Hillside Blueberry, they grow up high on the steep banks.  Their scientific name is Vaccinium pallidum.  So pretty! As colorful as confetti.

And WOW, talk about PRETTY!  What could be prettier than the bright purple-pink blooms of Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia) scattered by the hundreds across the forest floor?

OK, those Fringed Polygalas are really pretty.  But they surely have a rival for beauty in the exquisitely elegant Starflowers (Lysimachia borealis) that I noticed blooming in the pine woods as I hurried along the trail toward my car.

I had almost reached my car and its promised refuge from the rain when I drew to a halt to admire these spikes of Mountain Maple flowers (Acer spicatum).  Like the Striped Maple, this species of maple is a small understory tree, but unlike any other maples, Mountain Maple holds its flowers upright and above the leaves.  There's no mistaking this maple when it's in bloom.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

On the Trail, Rain or Shine

Yesterday wasn't exactly the nicest day for a walk outdoors.  In fact it was pouring hard when I set off on the trail surrounding Lake Bonita, in the mountains of Moreau Lake State Park.

Well, the rain didn't really matter, since my legs and feet were already soaked from exploring several other wet sites, trying to find the Painted Trillium I always find in expected places. But not a trace of them had I found.  Ah, but I remembered seeing lots of their leaves last summer along the trail that circles Lake Bonita.  They MUST be blooming there now, I thought, in that hemlock-thick forest along the south shore of the lake.  But alas, they were not. Where the heck can they be, this year?

Oh well.  At least I found some pretty orchids: Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), tucked in beneath Leatherleaf shrubs on the north side of the lake.  So pretty!  Even when wet.

And sharing that shoreline with Leatherleaf, Sweet Gale, and Sheep Laurel shrubs were the pretty white flowers of Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), sprouting their cherry-red anthers.

Carefully making my way along a mud-slicked trail, I drew to a halt to admire a large patch of small Oak Ferns (Gymnocarpium dryopteris), centered by the large rain-wet leaves of Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana).

Here's someone who didn't mind the rain at all.  In fact, Red Efts much prefer a rain-soaked trail to one that is hot and dry.

These tiny Fan-shaped Jelly Fungi  (Dacryopinax spathularia) also thrive in the damp, sprouting up from cracks in wet wood.

Today (Tuesday) was a much nicer day, with a warm sun and dry trails.  Even the grassy trail that runs through a swamp from the Saratoga National Golf Course to Lake Lonely was pleasantly firm. With acres and acres of wooded wetlands surrounding the trail, the forest was full of birdsongs, including that of a single Catbird, who made up a medley of all the other songs. All the unrelenting green of the swamp was punctuated by the cinnamon-brown spore stalks of Cinnamon Fern.

The little stream, a wet ditch, really, that follows the trail, was starred with the shiny yellow blooms of Yellow Water Buttercup (Ranunculus flabellaris), rising from the green wreaths of their feathery floating leaves.

Many different kinds of shrubs line the trail, and I was delighted to find the Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) coming into bloom.  I needed to collect a specimen of its flowers and leaves to record its presence in Saratoga County, and in past years, Viburnum-leaf Beetles had decimated most of these shrubs in the region. I wonder if the worst of this scourge may have passed, since I have seen other healthy-looking Viburnums, including Arrowwood,  this spring.

And here was another of the plants not yet recorded in the New York Flora Association Plant Atlas for Saratoga County.  Amazing, really, considering that I often see acres of Ragged Robin's pretty pink-purple blooms in roadside ditches and across wet meadows.  An introduced species, but a very pretty one, and I don't think it's considered to be badly invasive..  Lychnis flos-cuculi is its scientific name.

This trail is the only place I know of where I am confident I will find Great Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) every year.  It is truly an impressive plant when mature, towering well over my head with giant spherical umbels, bigger than grapefruits, of little white flowers. At present, the plants are merely waist-high, but impressively large, even at that.

I wouldn't be surprised if Great Angelica occasionally gets mistaken for Giant Hogweed, a similar- looking but horribly caustic plant in the same Parsley Family, and thus gets eliminated.  It isn't nearly as gigantic as Giant Hogweed, though, and it also has a distinctive characteristic: these veiny enlarged sheaths that wrap the bases of the leaves.  If you see these swollen, often purple-blotched sheaths, it is safe to touch the plant.

It's also safe to touch this bug with the bright-orange tips to its antennae.  This is a Leaf-footed Bug (Acanthocephala terminalis), and although it possesses a sharp instrument to pierce and consume plants, it is not known to try to bite humans.  I've heard, though, that if harassed sufficiently, it will release an odor that may be unpleasant.  I did not try to elicit that response, content as I was to simply admire those amazingly colorful antennae.

And speaking of amazing color, is there any insect more exquisite than the Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly?  This photo does not do justice to its brilliant blue-green iridescence and the deep black of its ebony wings.  They really do look like flashing jewels as they flutter like butterflies among the shrubbery, always near water, it seems.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bog Meadow: A Shady Trail for a Hot Day

Oh my gosh, the forecast is for close to 90 degrees this coming Thursday!  That's the day I'm leading my friends in the Thursday Naturalists along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, just east of Saratoga Springs.  Thankfully, most of the trail is shaded, as it was the day this past week I went out to preview our route.

I started my preview at the Rte. 29 entrance to the trail, and I had hardly set foot on the trail before I saw the Wild Geraniums (Geranium maculatum)  in full beautiful bloom.

Starring the path as I made my way along were dozens of these tiny white flowers called Grove Sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora).  They are not considered a rare plant in New York, but the only place I ever see them in Saratoga County is along this Bog Meadow Brook Trail.

Of course, I find Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) almost everywhere, from open dry meadows to suburban lawns, to the grassy verge of Bog Meadow Trail.

According to New York's Natural Heritage Foundation, Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) is disappearing from many parts of its original range, but here along Bog Meadow Trail they still find a happy home.

It was only last year that I first found Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus) along this trail, and only one multi-stemmed cluster, at that.  But I'm planning to show my friends this week what a pretty plant it is.  If I can find it again, that is.  It's kind of hiding under some shrubs, but I did mark the spot when I found it earlier this week.

With so many beautiful flowers along this trail, it's hard to say I have a favorite.  But if I did, Star-flowered Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum stellatum) would have to be among the top contenders.  The blue-green leaves alone are really lovely, but that cluster of dainty pure-white, star-shaped blooms sure add the crowning touch.  And in the 15 years or so I've been walking this trail, they have spread from maybe 10 plants in one location to at least a hundred in a hundred-foot stretch of the trail.

Ah, but didn't I just say it was hard to name a favorite flower?  Who could resist the dainty beauty of Starflower (Lysimachia borealis), another top contender.

The small greenish-white bloom of Dwarf Raspberry (Rubus pubescens) probably wouldn't win any beauty contest, but its jewel-red juicy berries are certainly a treat to find along this trail.

Ot the two Baneberries we have, the Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) is the first to bloom, and its flower cluster is more closely spherical than that of the White Baneberry.  Its pedicels are thinner, too, but that's a feature that needs the two species side-by-side to appreciate.

If we were to wander way off the trail, I could lead my friends to masses of Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) blooming at the edge of a wooded swamp.  But here was a single plant blooming right in the middle of the trail.  Whew!  We can save our energy on what promises to be a sweltering day.

How accommodating of this Red Maple tree (Acer rubrum) to bend one bough down low, so I could gaze at the gorgeous red of its seeds.  I hope they're still hanging on for my friends to see on Thursday.

When I reached the spot where the wooded swamp's standing water comes close to the trail, I was surprised to see that Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) was still in glorious bloom.

And here's what I was truly hoping to see:  Bog Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), and with more flower clusters than I have seen in many years.  Some years I can't find any.  I can't wait to show this flower to my friends.

Here's another flower that likes swampy soil: Hooked Crowfoot (Ranunculus recurvatus).  Yes, the flowers are very small, but their glossy bright-yellow blooms shine like stars in the murk of the forested swamp.

Of our two basal-leaved tiny white violets, one of them, Viola pallens, generally prefers wetter soil than does its look-alike, Viola blanda.  Since this cluster of pretty white violets had taken up residence on a hummock of Tussock Sedge (Carex stricta) out in the open water, I guess I will assume it is Viola pallens, sometimes called Northern White Violet.

Another pretty violet, this one the stemmed violet called Dog Violet (Viola labradorica) was carpeting a grassy verge.

Not nearly so pretty as those violets, but worth a closer look if they're still in bloom, are the flowering stalks of Hairy Wood Rush (Luzula acuminata).  They're very small and delicate, so they're very easy to overlook, but I know where a nice big clump can be found.

Another plant I hope is still in "bloom" is the Woodland Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum), which bears its attractive cone-like strobilus (its spore-bearing organ) atop a stem that is whorled with lacy branching leaves.  I really don't know the accurate figures, but it seems to me that only one out of a hundred of these horsetails bears a strobilus.

On our way up a hill to where we have spotted some cars to return us to the trailhead, we will encounter a bank that is shimmering with the lacy, trembling fronds of Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum).  I can't think of a prettier farewell to our walk along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.