Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sweet Home Saratoga

As I contemplate the tragic, terrible weather in Texas, I count my lucky stars I live in Saratoga County, NY.  Aside from an occasional 30-below day in the dead of winter,we seem to be spared such weather extremes -- floods, droughts, scorching heat, hurricanes, tornadoes -- that afflict other parts of our country and the world.  Our summer this year was rather rainy and cool, but nothing so bad that it ruined anyone's life or livelihood.  And the past week has been nicer than any weather all summer: sunny and pleasant, perfect for outdoor explorations.  I have been out every day, revisiting some of my favorite haunts around the county.  My last blog post described my friend Sue's and my search for that endangered plant at Moreau Lake State Park last Saturday, and here is a digest of some of the other beautiful places I've visited on these lovely late-summer days.

Friday, 8/25, Woods Hollow Nature Preserve near Ballston Spa

This wonderful preserve provides us with multiple habitats:  wet meadow, oak/pine grassland, sand plain, pine woods, and a pretty pond with its surrounding wetlands, all within easy walking distance from any of its multiple parking areas.  I chose the Northline Road parking lot this day because it gave me immediate access to the sandy-soiled grasslands, where fields of Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) are turning the ruddy hues they assume this time of the year.  The beauty of this grass is enhanced by the tufts of fluff that ornament its multi-colored stems.

Punctuating those open field of grass are numerous patches of Spotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata). Although most of its purple-spotted yellow flowers have faded by now, its distinctive pale, pink-tinged bracts are showier than its flowers ever were.

Not very many flowers thrive in bone-dry sand, but Sand Jointweed  (Polygonum articulatum) is one of them.  You have to look very closely, though, to find their tiny white or pinkish flowers on wiry stems as fine as grass.

And here is a mushroom that also thrives in bone-dry sand, the Sandy Laccaria (Laccaria trullisata). From above, it looks the same color as the surrounding sand, but break open a cap and cut into its bulbous sand-coated stalk and find gills and flesh of a lovely purple color.

Not far from all this dry sand lies a green and lovely pond, surrounded by pines and lined by banks that are lush with shrubs and ferns and mosses.

Sprouting out of a surprising patch of Sphagnum moss along the pond's banks are numerous stems of Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica), a plant so tiny it's very easily overlooked.  Both the Sphagnum and the Bartonia are usually associated with acidic peatlands, so I was amazed when I discovered both of them here on the shore of this pond a couple of years ago.  I was pleased to find them still thriving here.

Sunday, 8/27, Spring Run Trail, Saratoga Springs

This popular in-town trail runs about a mile along an old railway right-of-way, and it's rare to find a long stretch like that pictured above without runners, bikers, dog-walkers and baby-stroller-pushers in view.  I didn't walk the entire length of the trail today because I had a particular destination in mind, a patch of Great Lobelias (Lobelia siphilitica) that I knew to grow just beyond this bridge that crosses a trailside creek.

And there they were!  This is such a gorgeous plant, it's hard to believe it's a native wildflower. And it's also amazing to see it thrive in such an invasives-infested site as this former railroad bed. But the Joe Pye-weed, Boneset, and Spotted Jewelweed that share this plot are all sturdy natives that help to keep the Purple Loosestrife and Japanese Knotweed at bay.

What a spectacularly beautiful flower!

Monday, 8/28, Hudson River at Moreau

Monday was just a gorgeous day to be on the river, the weekend's boat traffic gone, the blue sky ornamented with cottony clouds, and barely a breeze to ruffle the silvery surface of the water.  And to top it off,  this is the time of the year when Mother Nature adorns the banks with the most spectacular wildflower of all, the almost impossibly vibrant Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

Almost as lovely were the Tall Coneflowers (Rudbeckia laciniata) surmounting the shrubs along the shore, surrounded by Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) with its pretty blue berries.

The bright-yellow flower called Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) seems to vie with those other riverside blooms as to which is the showiest one of them all.  I'd say they were pretty evenly matched! (That bright-red leaf floating beneath the Sneezeweed dropped from an overhanging Black Tupelo tree [Nyssa sylvatica], a tree that turns a brilliant scarlet long before its neighboring hardwoods begin to turn their autumn colors.)

A bit more subtle in its coloration, the elegant Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) still holds its own when it comes to floral beauty.  And this year these flowers were truly abounding along the banks.  I can't remember any other year when I've seen so many of these pink-tinged white blooms standing out against the dark foliage of the river banks.

Tuesday, 8/29, Back Bay of Moreau Lake

Tuesday was not a sunny day, but it didn't rain, either, and that pearl-gray sky cast an even, shadowless light across the masses of Boneset and Goldenrods that lined the back bay of Moreau Lake.  Tucked in among those taller plants were uncountable numbers of the little Small-flowered Gerardia (Agalinis paupercula) with its vividly pink, nearly stalkless blooms.

I mention the flower stalks of the Small-flowered Gerardia, since the length of these stalks is just about the only way for the casual observer to distinguish the Small-flowered from the Slender Gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia), which also grows along the shores of Moreau Lake, but bearing its almost identical flowers on much longer stalks.  The two species often grow side by side, yet never seem to hybridize.

I was delighted to see both Gerardias, of course, but the flowers I was really determined to find were the Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) I once had found blooming on the far shore of this back bay.  Like most other orchids, Spiranthes cernua can be quite fickle, blooming profusely one year and not at all the next.  I had set my course for about three-quarters of the way around the bay, but I'd hardly gone a quarter that distance when, there on the sand, almost 40 stems of these little white orchids astounded me by their abundant presence.  Every year, I walk this shore several times in late August, and never once had I seen Nodding Ladies' Tresses at this spot on the shore.  As I said:  orchids are fickle.  They either delight or disappoint.  This was a delightful find!

Here was another delight:  the lovely little moth called Pale Beauty (Campaea perlata), clinging to a stem of Toothed Flat Sedge.  I would say that was a perfect common name for this beautiful pale moth.

And here is a very aptly named shrub (at least by its common name): the Round-leaved Dogwood (Cornus rugosa), which was growing right by the fishing bridge that divides the main lake from the back bay.  This shrub certainly has very round leaves, compared to other dogwoods.  But what we notice most about it this time of year, long after its fruits have fallen or been devoured, are its vividly pink clusters of pedicels topped by equally vibrant little orbs.  Pretty!

Wednesday, 8/30, Hudson River at South Glens Falls

Just above the dam at Glens Falls lies a section of the Hudson River that is marked by a series of bays.  These bays were carved out of the riverbanks during the era when loggers floated timber down the Hudson from the Adirondack forests, the bays to serve as sorting ponds for each lumber company's logs.  They don't float logs down from the mountains anymore, but the sorting ponds remain:  quiet and shallow, home to emergent and floating plants, and a refuge for basking turtles and stalking herons.

Some of these floating and emergent plants are among the rarer species in the state, including the bright-yellow flowers poking up from the water in the photo below.  These are Beck's Water Marigold (Bidens beckii), considered a Threatened species in New York, but obviously not threatened at all in these waters.  This is truly a banner year for this plant.  In the same water I used to see maybe three or four plants, I'm seeing hundreds this summer.

These pools are also where I know I can come to find a second Threatened species, the Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata).  And sure enough, here they were!  Not so many as I've seen in past years, but enough to know that their population here remains secure.  They freely float on the river's currents, so vast numbers of them could be hiding out in some pocket backwater anywhere along the banks.

I came here specifically on this date because I was pretty sure I would find the beautiful Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca) growing directly out of some steep shale cliffs that rise from the river a ten-minute paddle upstream.   And I wasn't disappointed!

I find it hard to obtain an optimally exposed photo of Grass of Parnassus, especially when its brilliant-white flowers are backed by coal-black shale.  I could take multiple exposures and layer them, I suppose, but that would require mounting a tripod and capturing identical images at different exposures.  Not so easy to do from a canoe that the river current keeps pushing downstream!

At least this photo seems clear enough to reveal the interesting structure of the blooms and the pale-green lines that ornament each petal. (Are they petals or sepals?) That ring of yellow dots surrounding the pistil I assume are the flower's nectaries.  Can anyone tell me if that is correct?

These same shale cliffs are also home to these pretty blue flowers called Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), named after Pehr Kalm, the protege of the famed 18th-century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. I have read that Kalm traveled to the Lake George area as he botanized the eastern region of North America when it was still very wild and he had reason to fear both rattlesnakes and angry natives.  Perhaps Kalm paddled these very waters and passed these same shale cliffs and saw these same beautiful blue flowers blooming right out of the rock, and he was struck by their beauty then, just as I am today.

I was also struck by the royal-blue beauty of the Closed Gentians (Gentiana clausa) blooming along the banks.  How lucky I was that a ray of sunlight lit up the blooms and enhanced their color just as I came along to take their photo!


Uta said...

Oh, wow what a trip. Amazing pictures of our wildflowers. Love every picture.
Thank you so much.

wash wild said...

I find that shale outcrop a fascinating place to visit. If my memory serves me there are bands of light grey limestone embedded in the shale. This source of calcium along with a constant source of moisture and spring scouring of the cliff seems to create a unique rock garden environment. In Kalm's time the river was obviously not damned so water levels and flow patterns would have been different. Interesting to think how that might have affected the botany.

Woody Meristem said...

Beautiful country you live in and with an abundance of interesting plants.

The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful bunch of interesting botanical finds! You have been a busy explorer the past week!

Wayne said...

A great bunch of finds and photos from your busy week! Since I usually wind up kneeling or laying on the ground on my trips, today's Saratogian was a new reminder for increased vigilance regarding ticks. Front page news was about ticks carrying the potentially-deadly Powassan virus in the county. Ticks seem to be particularly abundant this year. Last month my wife picked up a dog tick from my car after sitting where I had previously laid my camera bag. Be careful out there!