Monday, July 31, 2017

Another Bog, Lots More Orchids

Recently, a friend suggested we go look for flowers in the woods. Nah, I said, there's not much happening in the woods right now, just mushrooms and mosquitoes.  And that's pretty much the case.  This is the season for sun-lovers, mostly, for flowers that bloom in the light along rivers and ponds, or sprout from the cracks in the sidewalks, or grow by the thousands in open meadows or along the side of the road.  And oh yes, out in the bogs!

I went to another bog today, this one a classic peat bog thick with spongey wet sphagnum moss,  studded with Tamaracks and Black Spruce, and thick with skin-scratching shrubs like Leatherleaf, Laurel, and Huckleberry.  (Please don't ask me how to get there.  I'm sworn to secrecy about this bog's location, because it's on private land.)

Now, why would I want to endure the discomforts of making my way through such an unaccommodating place (especially on a hot muggy day like today)?  Well, the short answer is:  it's ORCHID season!  Specifically, it's the time of year when the White Fringed Orchids (Platanthera blephariglottis) bloom in amazing profusion when they find a place they like.  And they certainly like this bog!    I only explored a small portion of it today, and I counted over 75 in full glorious bloom.

I'm sure there were even more, hidden among the shrubs, like this duo I missed until I peered over the top of that baby Black Spruce.

Most of the orchids were in full bloom, with florets even starting to fade at the bottom of the inflorescences, but here and there I found a few with some buds that were yet to open.

As happy as I was to see all those orchids, I really wasn't surprised to find them there.  They're big and showy, after all, and truly hard to miss when they're in bloom.  But here was a flower I'm always surprised to find: the tiny greenish-flowered Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica).

I know they're supposed to grow in here, because I have found them before.  But it's always only by accident I happen to see them.  They're very small, almost as fine as the grass they hide among, and their tiny yellowish flowers barely peek out from among their green bracts.  I had actually given up on finding them today and was making my way to where I could exit the bog, when --Voila!  A stray ray of sunlight happened to pick out their spindly shapes against some shadows.  A nice little treat to cap off my bog excursion.

There were other treats, too.  Like finding a single blooming stem of one other orchid, the Grass Pink (Calopogon tuberosus).  When a friend and I were here nearly a month ago, we found over a hundred of these gorgeous orchids in bloom, but I had already given up hope of seeing any today. And then I found this one.  Only one, in all the area I explored.

I found one other brightly-colored flower, called Water Willow or Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus), which in some ways was a bit surprising to find in a bog.  I see this native perennial wildflower quite often along lake-shores and streams, so it doesn't really require the acidic habitat of a sphagnum bog. But I was glad to see it blooming here.

Here's one more thing I was REALLY glad to see: Black Huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata) that were absolutely laden with fruit.   These berries were so big and ripe I could just reach out and tap the twigs, and the berries fell into my hand.  I made a kind of basket from my bandana and spent a happy half-hour gathering enough to take home for my husband, devouring quite a few as I went along.  Don't they look good enough to eat?  Indeed, they were!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Archer Vly -- A Second Lake Desolation Destination

When our Thursday Naturalist group came up to Lake Desolation last Thursday, not all of our friends felt up to slogging through mud and pushing through thickets in the trackless peatland the rest of us endured.  But we did have an alternative destination that provided for less punishing exploration:  a New York State Conservation Easement property called Archer Vly, just a mile or so up the Lake Desolation Road, which two of our friends opted to explore.

Archer Vly is a pretty pond set amid thousands of acres of forest preserved by New York State for hiking, hunting, snowmobiling and other outdoor activities, including camping in certain designated spots. There are trails around the pond that lead to two primitive campsites, and a launching ramp provides easy access from a parking area for car-top boats like kayaks and canoes.

When we gathered at Archer Vly last Thursday to reconnoiter with our friends, my friend Ed Miller and I were so struck by the beauty of the place we decided to return with our canoes on Friday to fully explore the pond and its shoreline.  And so we did, along with our friend Nan Williams, who took the bow in Ed's boat.

We set off in a counter-clockwise direction around the long pond, which found us moseying slowly along the north-facing shore, enchanted by the marvelous array of shade-loving plants that adorned the moss-covered, rocky banks.

Many sections of this shoreline offered textbook examples of many of the plants that define an Adirondack woodland.  Here's a little challenge for my readers: See how many of these woodland plants you recognize, and if you like, list them in the comments to this post. I'm not sure I could name them all, but it would be fun to try.

I'll start by naming the most obviously recognizable one, the little dwarf dogwood species with bright-red berries called Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis).  I'll even take a stab at naming that underlying moss as Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens).  Okay, now your turn . . . .

What truly astonished us here along this shore were the uncountable numbers of the Small Green Wood Orchid (Platanthera clavellata) that grew just EVERYwhere, down close to the water!

There were so many of these orchids, growing thickly in bunches and all in perfect bloom, that we finally stopped counting them, after we'd reached 100.

These snowy-white Dalibarda blooms (Dalibarda repens), peeking out from their carpet of dark-green, heart-shaped leaves, were among our most delightful finds.

These little white waxy bells dangling down from shiny green leaves will later yield the bright-red Wintergreen berries (Gaultheria procumbens) we love to snack on.

I usually have a hard time distinguishing this Stiff Clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum) from the similarly spiky Shining Clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula) I find in my regular haunts at lower altitudes and latitudes.  But the clubmoss I saw today, a more boreal species, displayed the long cone-like strobili (spore-bearing organs) at the tip of each spike, a feature that helps to distinguish this species from the Huperzia, which bears its spores in the axils of its leaves.

We found some glossy, green-and-black liverwort adorning a stump, and that liverwort (Pellia epiphylla) was itself adorned by one little Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and the small heart-shaped leaves of a species of spring violet.  (Thanks go to Ed's friend Nan Williams for providing this liverwort's name.)

The shoreline of Archer Vly is edged with masses of emergent aquatic plants, the most abundant of which was a stiff-leaved Bur-reed that sported orbs of fuzzy white flowers and seed-laden spheres of spiky nutlets.  I wish I could tell you which species of Bur-reed this is, but my guidebooks are contradictory.  Perhaps it is American Bur-reed (Sparganium americanum). Or it might be Large-fruited Bur-reed (S. androcladum).  Or some other species entirely.  Darned if I know.

One of the most common shrubs along the shore was Sweet Gale (Myrica gale), which was studded with the spiky little cones that will yield the seeds.  The cones also yield the marvelous fragrance this shrub is noted for, and I never resist the urge to crush a few to release that wonderful smell.

The snowy-white blooms of Common Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) decorated the shallow waters at the shoreline.  This particular clump displays the variety of size and shape the arrow-shaped leaves can assume. Note the broader leaves at the back of this cluster, and the almost hair-fine leaves that can be seen at the front.

These deep-rose spikes of Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) were adorning a shrub-covered beaver's lodge that lay close to the sunnier south-facing shore we next moved along.

We found quite different plants along this sunnier shoreline.  Or as in the case of this cluster of royal-blue Narrow-leaved Gentian (Gentiana linearis), we found some plants here fully in bloom that we'd seen only in bud on the north-facing shore.

The shoreline here was also muddier, rather than rocky, providing hospitable habitat for such mud-lovers as these white-dots of Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) and the two tiny bright-yellow, star-shaped blooms of Canada St. John's Wort (Hypericum canadense).

There were stands of the purple-flowered Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) on both shores of the pond, but as we returned toward our launching site, I saw this cluster of them in a quiet cove, where the dark still water perfectly reflected the elegant beauty of these stately flowers.

At this end of the pond, where construction of a road and a parking lot had disturbed the soil, we found a colorful melange of both native and introduced plants. Alien species like Brown Knapweed and Common St. John's Wort were mixed with our native Meadowsweet, Common Milkweed, and Wild Clematis to put on quite a marvelous show, joined by some Black-eyed Susans that might have escaped from a nearby garden.

After beaching our boats and loading them on our cars, Ed and Nan decided they wanted to return to the peatland our group had explored the day before, while I was yearning to see what treasures lined these pond-side trails through the woods.  So we parted temporarily, agreeing to meet for lunch at the wonderful Tinney's Tavern back in the village of Lake Desolation.  And I set off around the pond on foot.

The first sight that halted my steps on the path was a patch of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis).  A few of the plants were holding clusters of the shiny blue berries that give this plant its second common name of Blue-bead Lily.

I also had to stop to admire the shiny green orbs atop the leaf clusters of Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana).  These fruits will turn a shiny blue-black later toward fall, when the top tier of leaves will also be blushed with red.  This plant was surrounded by low-growing branches of Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), a conifer species common to the Adirondacks and other parts of the boreal forest.

Here's another north-woods plant, a Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum), surrounded by low-growing Balsam. Note the short petioles attaching the three leaves to the stalk, a feature that distinguishes this species of trillium from the others that grow around here.  The green fruit in the center of the leaves will eventually turn a bright red.

I wish I had come upon such a patch of Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana) earlier in the summer, when such a mass of pretty shamrock-like leaves would be studded with lovely pink-veined white flowers.

Lots of Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) has sprung up in all of the woods I have wandered this rainy summer, and this woods was no exception.

The Adirondack forest provides a perfect habitat for  Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides), and again, the forest surrounding Archer Vly was no exception.  I found many shrubs with their leaves already turning wine-red, and a few, like this green-leaved one, with clusters of colorful fruit.

The lovely star-shaped flowers of Starflower (Lysimachia borealis) produce in turn these equally lovely seed pods, tiny chalk-white orbs set among golden bracts, held aloft on hair-fine stalks. I was delighted to find these along my path.

And oh, what adorable little fungi these are!  I can't find an exact match in my mushroom guides, but little matter.  I don't need to know their name to adore them. There were many of these dainty white cuties growing atop damp dead leaves.

And here was the cherry atop this perfect sundae of an excursion!  While I waited for Ed and Nan to arrive at Tinney's parking lot, this beautiful Fritillary butterfly flitted from flower to flower in a patch of Joe Pye Weed that lined the parking lot.  And then it spread its lovely wings and sat still for the picture-taking!  Just one more amazing treat for what had already been an amazingly pleasurable morning.  (And the food at Tinney's Tavern was pretty amazing, too.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Very Wet Wetland

I, personally, wanted to go up to Lake Desolation last week to explore a lakeside bog for some plants I was hoping to find, and I hoped my friends in the Thursday Naturalists would like to join me.  Surprisingly enough (considering it's not an easy walk, even in the best of weathers), some of them did.  When Thursday came, though, it was hardly the best of weathers. In fact, it was raining hard and rather chilly.  But these are dedicated plant nerds (I mean that name admiringly), and so we all pushed into this rain-soaked forested wetland, excited about what we might find.

Lake Desolation lies high in the mountainous northern regions of Saratoga County, and it's a small, quiet lake surrounded by miles of state forest preserve.  The wetland we wanted to explore lies on a thickly forested shore of the lake, and although this wetland does not fit the classic definition of a true bog, many of the plants that inhabit it are what typically grow in the kind of acidic peatland we often refer to as boggy.  And with the rain pouring down on Thursday, we could also have referred to this wetland as soggy.

My friends Sue and Ruth and I had previewed this wetland the week before, on a warmer and sunnier day, and were able to entice our friends with reports of what we had found.

The prize plants were, of course, the two orchids we found pushing up from the damp mossy ground.  Ragged Fringed Orchid (Platanthera lacera) was the first one we found, an orchid with blooms that certainly fit the descriptive terms of ragged and fringed.

The second orchid we found also lived up to its name, that of Small Green Wood Orchid (Platanthera clavellata), with flowers that are small and green and growing in the shade of the woods.  Another distinctive feature of this orchid is the long, curving spur that extends from the bottom of each floret, suggesting another of its common names, the Club-spur Orchid.

Our Thursday Naturalist group rarely gets to explore this kind of wetland, since most sphagnum bogs and fens require over-water paddles to get to.  But this one we could just walk into, even though we had to jump some puddles and push through thickets to find such peatland denizens as this Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) with its oddly shaped leaves and tall flower stalk sporting one big green bloom.

We also saw lots of the tiny carnivorous plant called Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) spreading across the forest floor.

If there is one single plant that best symbolizes our northern peatlands, it would have to be the shrubby Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum).  Here on the shore of Lake Desolation, we found lots and lots of Labrador Tea, with its orange-flocked stems and aromatic leaves.

As the rain fell harder, soaking the shrubs we had to push through (there are no nicely groomed trails through this wooded wetland), we, too, grew soaked, with pant-legs wet to the thigh.  But did I hear a single peep of complaint?  Oh no, not one peep!  Only shouts of surprise and joy at all the amazing plants we were finding.  This is one game bunch of botanizers.

One of my favorite finds of the day was the abundant number of Mountain Holly shrubs (Ilex mucronata), each shrub thick with berries of the most beautiful super-saturated red that seemed to glow through the rain-dark gloom.

Mats of bright-green sphagnum moss lay everywhere, but this mound of pink sphagnum (Sphagnum capillifolium) came as quite a surprise.

We also saw lots and lots of mushrooms, but this large patch of intensely vivid Orange Waxcaps certainly stood out from all the rest.

The button stage of this mushroom is even more intensely colored.

There were two plants I was determined to locate, needing both to add to my collection of specimens missing from the Saratoga County plant atlas.  Previous trip reports for this location indicated I might find Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) here.  And so I did.  I found no flowers or fruits on the few stems I did manage to locate, but there was no mistaking the blue-green color of its small lance-like, under-rolled leaves that were silvery on the back. (Ignore those brown-stemmed twigs I am also holding, which I think may have come from a Bog Laurel shrub, but I never found enough evidence -- like flower clusters --  to confirm my suspicion.)

The other plant I sought for the county atlas was the Virginia Chain Fern (Woodwardia virginica),  distinguished by its habit of growing in single fronds along a ropy underground rhizome instead of in multi-frond clumps.  These ferns with their dark stalks and widely spaced pinnulae appeared to fit the description.

The clincher assuring me that this really was the Virginia Chain Fern appeared when I looked on the back of the fronds.  There I found the signature worm-shaped spore cases (sori), as well as the distinctive "chain-link" veining of the pinnae, both of which are definitive for this species of fern.

Those two finds alone were, for me, well worth the discomforts of slogging through mud, soaked to the skin and scratched by the Black Spruce branches I had to push through to find them.  And I'm happy to report that my other companions also had a good time, judging from their smiles and their cheerful chatter about all our remarkable finds.