Wednesday, May 3, 2017

On the Hunt for the Missing Flowers

Hurray!  Thanks to my pal Sue's coaching, I once again have access to my photo files, as well as to the new photos I keep taking every day.  Some of my readers may remember my anguish last week when a computer update rendered my photos inaccessible to me. Well, problem solved!  At least, sort of.  The new operating system makes me add a cumbersome step or two, but at least I can breathe once more, knowing my decades' worth of photos aren't lost to me forever.

Other readers may remember the challenge I accepted last year from the New York Flora Association, to collect, press, and label plants that have not been documented to exist in Saratoga County, although there's every reason to believe they should be here.  The list of such plants was over 1,000 strong! I know I will never find them all (I really can't tell most graminoids one from another), but I did locate and process over 80 of them last summer and fall, and now I'm on the hunt for the spring-blooming ones I missed last summer.  So that's what I've been doing these days, running all over the county, trying to keep up with the undocumented flowers as they come into bloom.  So far this spring, I've collected 30.  Many more to go.

Many of the missing plants are such common weeds, it's quite understandable that no self-respecting professional botanist had ever bothered to collect them:  Dandelion.  Coltsfoot.  Queen Anne's Lace. Ground Ivy.  Periwinkle.  But others are so spectacular, it's hard to believe they never caught some botanist's adoring eye and roused that collector's heart. I'm talking about such beauties as Large-flowered White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), scores of which are spreading across the forest floor in the Skidmore Woods right now.

It's a good thing I got out to the Skidmore woods a couple of weeks ago, because the beautiful Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was in its glory then.  Most of the plants have gone to seed by now, but not before I captured their sunny loveliness in a photo. And obtained one specimen to prove they really do flourish here.

The dainty-flowered Miterworts (Mitella diphylla) are just coming into bloom this week, but I managed to find a stunning cluster with its snowflake-like florets fully open in a swampy spot along the Hudson at Moreau.

I know a bank where Rue Anemone grows, along the maze of roads that follow the rolling hills above Saratoga Lake.  I sped out there, wondering if I might yet be too early.  But there they were, just where I always found them, starring a steep gravelly bank at the edge of the woods, their fragile blooms held aloft above a whorl of dainty leaves.  Thalictrum thalictroides is their scientific name.

Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) could probably go unnoticed if it bloomed all by its lonesome, its small white flowers and leafy rosettes easily overlooked if hidden among the underbrush.  But it tends to bloom in abundant numbers, creating masses of snowy bloom that stand out against the mounds of green moss that share its spring-watered rocky ledges along Spier Falls Road.  This gorgeous little rock garden stands along a waterfall that courses down the mountain to tumble into the Hudson River.

Ah, and then there are the violets!  Luckily, we still have a few violets that haven't hybridized with other violet species to create new varieties lying in wait to confuse all but the most steeped-in-the-latest-nomenclature collectors.  And luckily, too, I know where to find those few "pure" ones that are on Saratoga County's "Missing" list.  The earliest of them to bloom is the English Violet (Viola odorata), a non-native species probably introduced to the woods where Skidmore College now stands by the Victorian ladies who once lived there and who loved to gather fragrant nosegays.  If not for its exquisite fragrance and its flower's distinctive hooked style, it would probably pass for just another Common Blue Violet.

You have to start looking early in spring to find the lemon-yellow Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia), which I have found on a mossy bank along a stream at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton.  This is a common violet along Adirondack Mountain trails, but I hardly ever see it in Saratoga County.  Maybe because it blooms when most county trails are still so muddy or even icy that I would be loathe to walk them.

The Canada Violet (Viola canadense) insists upon a rich habitat, and the Skidmore Woods in Saratoga Springs is one of the richest woods in all the county.  That's where I find hundreds of these stunningly beautiful stemmed violets, pure white on the face of its petals and purple on the back, with a yellow throat and strong dark-purple veining.  I look for these where limestone boulders litter the forest floor and provide a home for other lime-loving plants like Maidenhair Fern, Goldenseal,Wild Ginger, and Walking Fern.

Okay, this next violet is not on my "Missing" list.  But it's one that is often confused for another that is.  This is the Northern (or Smooth) White Violet (Viola pallens), a small-flowered early violet I usually find growing in damp ground.  Note that its leaves are quite rounded.  That trait, and the fact that it likes wet ground are just about all that distinguishes this violet from a second small white violet called Sweet White Violet (V. blanda), our missing flower.  I think I know where some V. blanda grows, on a drier site and just a week or so later, and with leaves that are kind of more pointy.  Kind of.  But not much more.  I should feel ashamed that I can't tell these two apart at a glance, but many folks more experienced than I still scratch their heads over these.  Maybe I'll manage to collect the right one.  Or maybe not.  I'll try my best.

I did find a photo labeled "Viola blanda" among my old photos.  Maybe I was correct in identifying it.  Maybe not.  Here's what it looked like.  Can you tell the difference?

Update:  I still have two more "missing" violets I've yet to collect, because I have to wait a bit longer for them to come into bloom.  But I might as well add them here, posting photos from my old files.  

The first one is Pale Violet (Viola striata), yet another white one, but easier to ID than those mentioned above, because it has leaves on its stems, unlike our other whites with their basal-leaves-only habit of growth.  It can also be distinguished by its very furry lateral petals and the sharply toothed stipules on its stems.  I have found them in an untended area of Yaddo's gardens (an artists' retreat in Saratoga Springs).  Chances are, someone planted them there years ago, and they have naturalized.

The last violet I need to collect is the stunning Marsh Blue Violet (V. cucullata), but they will have to wait until I put my canoe on the river.  I know where they grow in a marshy spot -- true to their name! I can't walk through the mud to get to them, but I can paddle right up to them there.  They are big and they are tall and they are a vivid blue.

You can't miss the big beautiful Marsh Blue Violets when they are blooming, but you might confuse them with the Common Blue Violet if you didn't peer closely at the hairs on their lateral petals.  Those hairs are stubby, rather than finely tipped as on the Common Blues.  It helps to look for them with a loupe.  Or take a photo with your macro lens.


threecollie said...

Oh, I am so glad you got your computer problems answered. Hooray for Sue! I thought of you yesterday as I walked in our cherry woods up in the heifer pasture. There were violets everywhere and all sorts of things about which I am utterly clueless. I love your posts like this! Did see some good birds though...

Anonymous said...

What a relief that you can access your photos again! Thanks to Sue. (You would think that when an operating system is "improved" it would make things easier for the user.) I admire your boundless energy in documenting the county's plants, as well as your photographs. I know you keep saying they are for documentary purposes, but they are joys to behold.

The Furry Gnome said...

That's quite a project you've taken on! And a great group of pictures. Glad your computer got sorted. And I'm glad to know that violets hybridize. I won't feel so guilty when I can't sort them out!

Ron Gamble said...

Just why do YOU think you should be able to separate these white violets so easily?! :-) !

Looking at the MI Flora key, I *think* I see the described unequal notches adjacent to where the minute tooth should be on the leaf margines. Plus I think I'm seeing what could be surface leaf pubescence in your V. blanda photo.

The photos of the leaves for your V. pallens aren't so clear, but there's hope for seeing more equally sized notches than the V. blanda photo.

As you look at live material, see if you think these notch characters around the leaf margin teeth help, and let me know. I'm really curious to know whether it turns out to be a helpful character, because I'm not claiming to know! Thanks.

Ron G.

Woody Meristem said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.