Friday, June 30, 2017

Plant People Along the Powerline

When the program coordinator of our Thursday Naturalists group asked me to lead a walk at Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park this past week, I was delighted to do it. But I wondered if there would be enough to interest this group of extremely knowledgeable plant people along this powerline that, at first glance, appeared to hold little of interest.  Well, I shouldn't have worried.

There is ALWAYS something of interest to engage my lively and perceptive friends who belong to our Thursday group.  We had hardly emerged from where we parked our cars along Spier Falls Road, when Ed Miller pointed out the gorgeous stand of Shining Sumac (Rhus copallinum) that lined the road. This species of sumac is noted for its glossy leaves, as well as the winged stems of its compound leaves.

And these friends never dismiss our common roadside "weeds" as just weeds of no account, but take the time to distinguish their species -- as well as marvel at the beauty that some introduced plants like these Maiden Pinks (Dianthus deltoides) add to the otherwise neglected roadsides. One of our group was careful to point out the dark ring that surrounds the center of each of these flowers, a mark that distinguishes these pinks from the similar Deptford Pinks that also appear now along roadsides.

As soon as we entered the wooded area that led to the powerline clearing, we were greeted by a pretty patch of Shinleaf Pyrola (Pyrola elliptica) just opening its white blooms.

Out under the sky that now sprinkled a few drops of rain, we began to see the plants that are adapted to such sandy, sun-baked terrain as powerline clearcuts.  New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) is one of these plants, and its flowers that look like clusters of exploding stars were well in bloom.

The Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) was just beginning to open its vivid orange buds.

Ah, but the even more vividly orange Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) were beautifully open, holding their gorgeous blooms toward the sky for all to see!

Amazing!  What a great gift from Mother Nature's garden!

Not nearly as colorful, but infinitely more fragrant, several stalks of Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) stood by the path, attracting lots of bees and bugs and butterflies to its perfumed blooms.  Note the stem-clasping leaves with their wavy edges, and also the erect, rather than drooping flower cluster, two factors that distinguish this milkweed from others of its genus.

When we came to where our powerline ended atSpier Falls Road, I urged my friends to cross the road and walk a ways on another stretch along the line.  We will see Greenish-flowered Pyrolas  (Pyrola chlorantha) down there, I promised.  And so we did.  The ones we found were well past their prime, but I had taken this photo last week, and we did find a few that looked almost like this.

And here were more Wood Lilies, poking their stunning blooms skyward from an otherwise monocultural stand of lime-green Hay-scented Ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula).

One of those lilies was making the most of its crowded space by producing three blooms on one stem!

On our way back the way we had come, I guided my friends over to where the woods edged the powerline, a shady stretch where patches of Intermediate Wood Fern (Dryopteris intermedia) thrived beneath oaks and pines.

We turned the fern's fronds over to see the ripening spore clusters (sori) on the backs of the pinnae.

After walking the sandy, hard-beaten track under the powerline, it felt marvelous to feel our feet sink into thick carpets of soft moss as we walked along the edge of the woods.

Here where the White Pines grew thick in the woods, we found the leaves of more Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) than we could count, scattered among mats of Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune).

There were fallen logs here, and stumps that were covered with liverworts, mosses, lichens, fungi, and slime molds.  This particular stump was home to the liverwort called Lovely Fuzzwort (Ptilidium pulcherrimum) and was being visited by some bright yellow Scrambled Egg Slime Mold (Fuligo septica).

We found more of that Scrambled-egg Slime Mold on some pine needles scattered across the Haircap Moss.

And here was a lovely clump of moss colored chartreuse and pink, set among some tufts of Tree Club Moss.  I failed to get the name of this moss, although I think I heard one of our group refer to it as a false sphagnum.

Here's a flower that was quite a surprise, even for me.  I've visited this powerline at least three times in the last week, and never once did I spy this wee little flower, called Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica), until this Thursday.  Maybe it wasn't yet in bloom.  Or maybe it's really easy to overlook, it being so very small.  Those little yellow flowers were only a quarter inch across, and they grew very low to the ground.

There were other plants, too numerous to mention, but I can't leave this post without mentioning the abundant shrubs of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) that thrive in this sandy open area.  The shrubs were thick now with the ruffly green nut clusters that resemble green carnations.  And one of those ruffly nut clusters was providing a shelter for this little baby Marbled Orb Weaver, one of our prettiest spiders, with its yellow-and-black striped legs and intricately patterned abdomen.

Oh, and I can't forget to mention the other babies, hundreds of them, the itty-bitty, wee little American Toads, just out of the tadpoles and hopping all over the place.  We thought they might be crickets until we took a closer look.  Adorable!

Well, we had had quite a walk, on our feet for nearly three hours, and we were getting hungry and tired.  And look what we found as our reward, just as we were leaving the powerline to reach our cars:  some Lowbush Blueberry bushes, loaded with ripe fruit!  We spent a few more minutes here, plucking and eating ripe berries, and feeling lucky to be alive in such a beautiful world.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Out to the Orchid Island

I've been paddling this stretch of the Hudson River at Moreau for nearly 25 years, noting every flower that grows along these forested banks. So very few surprises await me when I launch my canoe onto these beautiful waters each year.  Or so I used to think.  Just a year ago, I WAS surprised, when I found a new patch of Tubercled Orchids (Platanthera flava) thriving on the grassy verge of an island just off the boat launch site.  When I set off to revisit the site yesterday, I wondered: Are those orchids still thriving there?  

Oh boy, ARE they!  At least twice as many stems as I found last year!

This orchid gets its common name from the little bump, called a tubercle, that protrudes from its lower lip.  Here's a close-up look at this orchid's floret, showing that tubercle.

Not only was that original patch on the grassy bank at least twice the size as it was last year, I also found some new specimens growing in a nearby, but disjunct area under a Silky Dogwood shrub.

This little island is also home to many other flowering plants, including the pretty little Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum).  I see the remains of a dragonfly nymph among them.

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia terrestris) also thrives here, finding its place among the alders and huckleberries.  This flower is also called Swamp Candles, for its clusters of bright-yellow blooms that light up the shadows beneath the trees.

Sweet little Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) gather in clusters along the banks.

Bluets and Sundrops together spangle the grassy open areas.

Here's a closer view of those Small Sundrops (Oenothera perennis), along with its visiting tiny bee.

More bright-yellow flowers will grow in teeming masses on this island, once the Pale St. Johnsworts (Hypericum ellipticum) open their dark-orange buds.

The dominant shrubbery that almost completely covers these islands is Silky Dogwood,  but a second shrub manages to find a niche here as well.   Both the dogwood and this Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) bear clusters of small white flowers, but the Elderberry's clusters are bigger and flatter.

In late May, these islands are dotted with the bright-pink, extravagantly fragrant flowers of Early Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum), the shrubs now long past blooming but still recognizable by their whorled leaves.  Later next month, there will be both Black Huckleberries and Lowbush Blueberries ripe for the picking.

Because these little river islands are frequently inundated as the river rises and falls, many wetland-loving sedges thrive along the shores.  I don't know many sedges by name, but that doesn't mean I don't delight in their beauty.  This sedge grows wands that are decorated with golden stars.

Here's one with a sturdier stem that is topped with spiky yellow inflorescences.

This one I do know:  Tussock Sedge, which looks like an exploding fountain of graceful grass.

Update:  Wow!  It's a good thing I went to explore my orchid island the day I did!  I passed by this stretch of the Hudson River below the Spier Falls Dam just a day later, to find that someone had pulled the plug!  

The water level is now so low, I never would have been able to reach the shore where those Tubercled Orchids grow. (What looks like hard sand in these photos is really knee-deep mud.) They must be working on the next dam downstream (Sherman Island Dam), requiring a lower water level.  If the water stays low for more than a few days, it will be interesting to see the flowers that will spring into bloom.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Visit to Pyrola-ville

My pal Sue still had another day free to wander with me this week, and on Thursday we chose another favorite nature haunt, one that we've made up our own special name for.   We call it Pyrola-ville. This is a section of the many-acred Cole's Woods in downtown Glens Falls, where five years ago we came upon a large population of One-sided Pyrola (Orthilia secunda), a flower we'd found nowhere else in our regular wanderings. We try to revisit this wooded plot each year, and I'm happy to report that One-sided Pyrola continues to thrive where we've always found it, in our special Pyrola-ville.  Here's what it looks like when it's in bloom, as it was this week:

One-sided Pyrola (another common name is Sidebells Wintergreen) is not at all easy to find on the crowded forest floor, being small and greenish and hiding amid lots of other low green plants with similar leaves, such as this Shinleaf Pyrola (Pyrola elliptica) pictured below, which was just coming into bloom this week.  But since Shinleaf Pyrola is bigger and whiter of bloom than our little Orthilia, we can spy it first,  and that's when we know to start searching for the Shinleaf's more minimal cousin.

Another common denizen of Pyrola-ville is the glossy-leaved Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), which this week is dangling small rosy orbs, the buds of its pink-tinged white flowers.

More glossy green leaves belong to the masses of Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) carpeting this and many other sections of Cole's Woods.  This week, those glossy green patches are spangled with the tiny white twin trumpets that will eventually produce the bright-red berries.  This is the only plant I know of that requires two fertilized flowers to produce one berry.  Plenty of last year's berries still decorate these beautiful patches. Can you see how each berry possesses two blossom ends?

As for red berries, now is the time to be dazzled by the spectacular display put on by Red-berried Elder shrubs (Sambucus racemosa).  Go look for them in a woods near you, or stop by for a walk in Cole's Woods.  We passed by many of these gorgeous shrubs on our way to Pyrola-ville.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Midsummer's Day on the Mountain

The first day of summer is not just a mark on the calendar for my pal Sue.  It's more like a religious holiday for her, and she always takes vacation on Midsummer's Day.  And lucky for me, she's wanted to spend that holy day with me for the past number of years, and we almost always head up to the mountain overlook pictured above.  This is a view of the Hudson River taking a sharp turn on its way from Corinth to Glens falls, and the trail up to this overlook is within Moreau Lake State Park.  Happily, this year the day was spectacularly lovely, cool and dry, with a blue sky swept by rolling white clouds and a light breeze to waft any bugs away.

About halfway up the mountain, we paused to explore the open area under a powerline, always hoping to find Wood Lilies blooming here on this date.

This year, thanks to a cold wet spring, the lilies are late, and we had just given up on finding any today when, behold!  Do you see that tiny dot of bright orange in that sea of green Hay-scented Fern?

Yay!  We found one Wood Lily (Lilium philadephicum)! It was missing one petal, but hey, a five-parted Wood Lily is better than none at all!

There was certainly no dearth of Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) under the powerlines, with masses of it, all in lovely bloom.

Abundant shrubs of Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) were releasing their lovely scent on the sun-warmed air.

Despite its name, Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare) has no detectable herby scent, but it's certainly pretty enough without it.

On the hard-packed dirt beneath the powerlines, the tiny little bubble-gum-pink lollipops of Pink Earth Lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) sprout from a gray-green thallus.

How wonderfully appropriate!  We found the bright-yellow blooms of Common St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum), an introduced but widely naturalized medicinal plant that is the very symbol of Midsummer's Day, the feast day of St. John.

And we also found one of our native St. Johnsworts, the Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense).  What a marvel that we found it, it is so very tiny!  But my friend Sue has amazing eyesight, and she was the first one to spot it, hiding down in the grass.

But talk about TINY!  The wee little red flowers of Deer Tongue Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) take a really sharp eye to see them.

There were lots of the sunny little flowers of Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) blooming away out here in the open area under the sky. And almost all of them hosted one kind of bug or another, warming itself under the sun.

Uh oh!  Somebody else was lurking within these Oxeye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare):  a Goldenrod Crab Spider, just waiting for some tasty bug to stop by.

We continued up the mountain trail, which is quite steep in spots but it levels off as it nears the rocky clearing that offers a view over the Hudson River to the Adirondack Mountains beyond.

Here's where we sat to enjoy our lunch, gazing off at tier upon tier of mountains against the far horizon.

After lunch, we climbed yet higher to where huge bedrock boulders hold all kinds of fascinating plants in their rugged niches.

In places where the rock was watered by springs, we found a marvelous mix of mosses and liverworts, like this mantle of starry Haircap Moss surmounting a thick blanket of Scapania Liverwort.

In the midst of that blanket of Scapania Liverwort, we found a beautiful bright-green heart composed of Sphagnum Moss.

A puffy mound of Pincushion Moss was host to some fruiting yellow slime mold, possibly Fuligo septica, familiarly known as Dog Vomit Slime.

A pure-white slime mold called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa was fruiting on rotting logs.  This species of slime mold has two varieties, including this C. fruticulosa var. fruticulosa, which consists of tiny white rods.

On another log, we found the domed honeycombs of  the other variety, C. fruticulosa var. porioides.  Both of these varieties were so fragile, they melted at a touch.

We found some spectacular Amanita mushrooms along the wooded trails, this one as large as a coffee saucer.  With its pale yellow stem and darker yellow cap, I'm not sure whether this is Amanita flavoconia or A. frostiana, but I'm pretty sure it's one of those.  The similar Amanita muscaria has a white stem.

On our way down the mountain, we spent some time exploring this sunny area under the giant pylons that carry electricity away from the nearby hydroelectric Spier Falls Dam on the Hudson River.

Here we found one tall stalk of yellow-flowered Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria), a flower we more often encounter with white blooms.  I often hear this introduced species described as invasive, but I have never seen it except as isolated individuals.  That was certainly the case at this location.

The gorgeous rose-like blooms of Purple Flowering Raspberry were thriving here at the edge of the road.  I find it odd that this flower with the scientific name of Rubus odoratus has no detectable scent.  At least, I have never detected any.

As inconspicuous as that Purple Flowering Raspberry was showy, this little Bicknell's Cranesbill (Geranium bicknellii) was flowering in the shade of other, taller roadside plants.

A look at that Bicknell's Cranesbill's seeds reveals the source of its common name.

We saw many beautiful butterflies today, but only this Yellow Swallowtail remained long enough at one flower (in this case, Red Clover) for any chance of taking a picture. Its "tails" had actually been torn away, but those tatters were hidden by the clover leaves.

We did get lots of opportunity to photograph this fascinating caterpillar, which was chowing down on some poplar leaves.  Sue and I had encountered this species (Cerura scitiscripta, the larva of the Black-etched Prominent Moth) on another occasion, but it had been in a later instar then, and we did not recognize it today.

But when it protruded those red tendrils from its rear-end and whipped them around, we guessed it might be related.  I have read that it sprays out acid from a gland on the venter of its first thoracic segment when it gets mad, but luckily, we escaped unscathed.

One might think that we'd had enough nature adventures for the day, but this was Midsummer's Day, and the day was still young.  There's a lovely little swamp by the side of Corinth Mountain Road, and this swamp lies along our routes home, so Sue and I decided to stop and see what might be happening in there among the ferns and the deep dark mud.

I coaxed Sue into stopping here with the promise of orchids, and I knew just where to look for them, having seen their dead remnants last winter.  Here was the spot, on a log protruding out into the water.  And there they were!  Just leaves and buds as yet, but soon to be Small Green Wood Orchids (Platanthera clavellata).  Their signature is two slender stem leaves, one larger, one small.  See them?

Here's a closer look.  I'll give them a couple of weeks before I come back to see them in bloom.

And wouldn't you know it, but Sue searched around and found yet another orchid!  This one had already bloomed, to judge from the withered remains at the tips of the pods.  Those pods looked enough like those of Late Coralroot that I guessed they might belong to Early Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida), which normally blooms in May.  Another distinguishing feature was that there were no evident leaves at all, which would be true of Early Coralroot.  So I'm going to go with Early Coralroot. This is the first time I've found that species in Saratoga County.  What a nice way to cap off an already perfect Midsummer's Day!