Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Another Year in the Woods and on the Water

New Year's Day, 2018, marked the start of my 10th year of keeping this blog, and I'm truly amazed at how much my life has been enriched by doing so.  I've come to know so many wonderful friends who share my interest in nature, who have taught me so much, who have loyally followed my blog and encouraged me by their comments, who have shared their own lives and discoveries through their own fascinating blogs, who have introduced me to many botanical treasures, who have joined me on numerous nature adventures near and far.  You know who you are, and I can't thank you enough for your many ways of being my friends.

As each new year begins, I like to look back over the year just past, recalling the highlights of the year's adventures.  Unfortunately, the year 2017 was marked by adventures I did not get to go on.  In the spring, I had planned to explore the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, led by one of the South's leading botanists, but a huge wildfire closed the swamp to all visitors just days before our trip was to begin.  Later in the summer, I was scheduled to join two trips led by outstanding botanists, one to the summit of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks, where rare alpine species abound, and the other to a remarkable limestone island, Valcour Island in Lake Champlain, home to some of the rarest plants in New York.  But both trips were cancelled because of violent thunderstorms.

Thankfully, I am surrounded by wonderful nature habitats closer to home, and I'm happy to report the discovery of three sites that were new to me in the year just past.  The first was Archer Vly,  a secluded pond absolutely abounding in orchids and other northern woodland flowers along its rocky forested shores, located in the northwestern highlands of Saratoga County.

I also (thanks to a friend's suggestion) discovered in the same part of the county a second secluded pond called West Vly.  Although this pond lay only a mile or so from Archer Vly, the shoreline here was amazingly different, ringed as it was with low-lying sphagnum peatlands, which supported the distinctive acid-loving plants that typically inhabit peatlands like this.

The third new site -- a true bog near Chestertown -- was not exactly new to me, since I had visited it on a previous year in autumn.  But this was the first time I had visited this peatland when its expansive sphagnum mat was abounding with flowering bog plants like Labrador Tea, Northern Pitcher Plants, and the beautiful starry-flowered Three-leaved False Solomon's Seal.

Another way I like to review the year just past is to recount those plants that I newly added to my wildflower life list.  Even though I had seen the dried leaves and fruits of the Three-leaved False Solomon's Seal some years before, I did not add it to my life list then, because it was not in bloom.  Well, it sure WAS in bloom on that Chestertown bog, scattered across the sphagnum mat as seemingly numerous as stars in the sky. So this year it went on the list.  Maianthemum trifoliata is its scientific name.  It was blooming in early June.

A second flower that was added to my life list this year was Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).  Again, this was a plant whose glossy green leaves I had found in years before, but only in this past year (in late May along the Ice Meadows) had I ever seen it in bloom.  Such pretty pink-tipped white bells!

Here's a third new addition to my wildflower life list,  although it is a flower I'd seen for years.  I had mis-identified it all those years as Common Toothwort, not realizing that distinctive features of its leaves determine that this is really the species known as Large Toothwort (Cardamine maxima).  It shares a muddy swale with the more common species of Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla) at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, blooming in late April.

This species of Toothwort (C. maxima) was one of two Toothwort species (C. concatenata, Cut-leaf Toothwor,t is the other one) that had never been reported to the New York State Flora Association as existing in Saratoga County.  This year, I continued collecting as-yet-unreported flower species for NYFA, contributing nearly a hundred  more, which should eventually appear in the NYFA Plant Atlas as present in Saratoga County.  Many of my new-flower finds this year were among those still missing from the county record.

Not all of my new life-listers and yet-to-be-reported plants were native species, though.  The wee little Least Hop Clover (Trifolium dubium) is, like almost all our naturalized clovers, an introduced species not native to North America.  I had never seen it before, until I walked out onto a Mt. McGregor overlook and found masses of its sunny little blooms carpeting an open meadow in mid-June.

Just because a flower is an alien species doesn't mean it's not a pretty one.  A case in point is the diminutive Red Sand Spurry (Spargularia rubra), which I almost missed seeing sprawled in  hard-packed roadside dirt near Ballston Lake, because it was so small.  Somehow its pretty pink blooms managed to register on my vision,  and, kneeling over it, I realized I had never seen this wee little flower before.  It was a new one for the county record, as well.  It blooms in late July.

In September, I found a third alien species, and a very undesirable one, at that.  It was one I had never seen before, and to date, the very invasive Nepalese Smartweed (Persicaria nepalensis) had not been reported in Saratoga County until I found patches of it growing along Spier Falls Road at Moreau.  So far, the patches are limited to just a few feet deep abutting a mile-long stretch of the pavement, and the county invasive-species management people have been notified of its presence.  Let's hope they can eradicate it before it spreads.

Two of the new-to-me species I found this year are considered quite rare in New York State, but neither really counts as a genuine "find,"  since neither was found in what would be considered its native territory.  For example, the woody shrub Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata var. trifoliata) does exist in a native population near the shore of Lake Erie, but the three shrubs I found on a bluff in Saratoga's Congress Park were undoubtably planted there by gardeners and thus cannot be considered as naturalized.  But I was glad to find them there, knowing that this citrus-related shrub is one of only two northern species known to be larval food for the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.  I found these shrubs in mid-July, after their flowers had yielded the distinctive "wafer-shaped" winged seedpods.

Here's a second new-to-me plant I found that is native to parts of New York but not to Saratoga County, nor any county nearby.  This is New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), classified as a Threatened species in the state but which somehow made its way to the banks of the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa, where I found a single stem towering over masses of goldenrod in early September.  This particular creek-bank was denuded a few years ago and then replanted with trees that were brought in from other parts of the state, a process that introduced a number of disjunct herbaceous plants that rode in the the saplings' root balls.  I will be watching this site to see if this Ironweed becomes naturalized here.

Finally, here's a flower that truly belongs in Saratoga County, even though it's classified as an Endangered species in New York State.  Despite that designation, signifying the rarest plants of all, a state botanist and Moreau Lake State Park staff found uncountable numbers of Large-leaved Avens (Geum macrophyllum var. macrophyllum) along one of the park's many trails.  This is a flower I have found thriving in Essex County for many years, and only this year reported finding it in Saratoga County.  It was only after I submitted a specimen from Saratoga to state botanist Steve Young that he informed me of its Endangered status, and the hunt was on to discover the extent of its population, much larger than any of us expected.  I didn't find a lot of new flowers this year, but at least I did find one truly rare one.


threecollie said...

Thanks for sharing your adventures and your great knowledge...and your wonderful photos. Hope 2018 brings many more trips and great plants.

Ron Gamble said...

I'm seconding threecollie! Thanks so much for all your effort with the interesting/educational and fun posts with photos!

The Furry Gnome said...

Thanks so much for all your posts this year and before. I always look forward to them, and always learn something new. Sometimes my limited botany even recognizes a plant or two! I feel like I've had to step sideways out of my normal outdoor life this year, and will be until my next surgery is over. In the meantime 2 or 3 blogs including yours keep me connected. Thanks, and post lots!

Woody Meristem said...

Jacqueline, your blog is a joy to read -- thank you. Many, many ,many years ago I spent some time at Pack Forest near Warrensburg but that was the extent of what I know of your area, otherwise it's just been a matter of passing through on the way to somewhere else. Thank you for letting us vicariously explore a fascinating area.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

My dear friends, I do thank you for your kind and encouraging comments. Even if not a single other soul ever saw my blog, I would probably keep posting because I am so amazed and delighted by what I find in nature. But knowing you follow and enjoy my accounts increases my delight many times over. Shared delight is multiplied delight. I certainly do delight as well in the blogs my readers post themselves.

Furry, I wish you well on your upcoming surgery and a rapid recovery after. I do so enjoy your reports from your beautiful region in Canada.