Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Lupines and Lady's Slippers, Oh My!

Some folks travel the globe to see the wonders of the world.  I only have to drive a few miles from my home in Saratoga to see one of the most magnificent sights in the world: the masses of Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) that carpet the rolling oak/pine meadows of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park in nearby Wilton.  The Gick Farm Parcel off of Rte. 50 offers particularly astounding lupine patches.

At every turn of the path, another glorious floral vista is revealed.  Here, the lupines thrive under oaks.

Here, they have made their home under pines.

I tend to doubt that this native wildflower would grow so abundantly if left to its own devices, although, as a Clover-family plant that can produce its own nutrients, it is happy to thrive in sandy sterile soils where few other plants can grow. It's not at all uncommon to see it blooming along barren roadsides.   But here in the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, the land is managed specifically to promote the growth of Wild Lupine, with seasonal burning to eliminate competitors, and also with  the widespread planting of its seeds. The results of this management are truly astonishing!

Why would this preserve go to the trouble to propagate such numbers of this common wildflower?  It all has to do with the tiny butterflies pictured here, male (blue) and female (brown) individuals of the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterflies.  Although the adult butterflies can feed on any nectar -producing flowers (such as the blackberry blooms they are feeding on here),  there is only one plant that this butterfly's larvae can feed on, and that is Wild Lupine.  Thus, the more lupines, the more Karner Blues.

Today was hot, and with the sun beating down on the open meadows where the lupine grows, I was happy to enter the cooler shade of the pine woods that surround these meadows.  I hadn't walked more than a few steps into the woods when I spied this beautiful Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule) picked out from the shadows by a stray ray of sunlight.

As I glanced around, my eyes lit upon more Pink Lady's Slippers in every direction.  This native orchid really does seem to thrive in a piney woods.

The lady's slippers often shared their space on the forest floor with masses of Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense).  The fragrance of these tiny white flowers mingled with the scents of pine and adjacent patches of Sweet Fern to create a perfumed air that was as delightful as the flowers were beautiful.

I just couldn't stop taking photographs of these gorgeous flowers!  Every direction I looked, I found one or two or three more beautiful than all the others.

Not as showy, perhaps, but equally as beautiful were the little Starflowers (Lysimachia borealis) scattered across the forest floor.  After the showy extravagance of all the lupine and lady's slippers, it was almost restful to gaze upon the demure beauty of this charming little flower.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Beautiful Lake, an Amazing Bog, and a Ravaged Riverbank

Each Memorial Day Weekend, I volunteer to help open the facilities at Pyramid Life Center, a spiritual retreat center on Pyramid Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the Adirondacks. As we mourn those who have fallen in war, whether soldier or civilian of any nation, I can think of no better place to contemplate a world at peace.  Far from the noise and noxiousness of human greed and violence, here we can experience the world as beautiful as God has made it.  Pyramid Life Center is also a place for loving human companionship, and I am happy to come here each year to join with other volunteers as we ready this wonderful place for another season of programs, some with a spiritual focus, some with a focus on nature, some just for family fun.  As I go about my tasks, I carry my camera in my pocket to capture some of the exquisite beauty that surrounds us here.

Pyramid Lake at dawn (I can hear the Loons calling across this still water!)

A flower-lined path through rugged boulders  (The pink flowers are Moss Phlox [Phlox subulata].)

A quiet cove, where long-ago-fallen logs support a variety of wildflowers

Tiny white violets (Viola pallens) thrive on a moss-covered log.

Leatherleaf flowers (Chamaedaphne calyculata) dangle over the water.

Vines of our native Wild Purple Clematis (Clematis occidentalis) trail across marble outcroppings.

A spectacular waterfall roars over jagged boulders.

*  *  *
There's a marvelous bog that lies between Pyramid Lake and my home in Saratoga Springs, and late May is the time to catch its most beautiful flowers in bloom.  Stopping off on my way home,  I was able to find a narrow place in its moat and leap onto the sphagnum mat.

As the photo above reveals even from a distance, Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia) abounds in this bog.  Here's a closer view of its beautiful deep-pink flowers,

Equally abundant is Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum), which was just beginning to open its snowy-white flowers.

But my very favorite flower that I've never found anywhere else but here is the tiny Three-leaved False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum trifolium).  They thrive in immense numbers here, spangling the sphagnum like stars in the sky.

Here's a closer view of the tiny star-shaped flowers of Three-leaved False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum trifolium).  They are almost as fragrant as they are beautiful.  They are not rare in New York State, but I bet they are rarely seen by most folks.  You have to get your feet wet, usually, if you want to find them.

* * *

There's a place you can easily see Maianthemum trifolium's  almost look-alike cousin, though, and that place -- the Hudson River Recreation Area just north of Warrensburg -- also lies on my route toward home. Here thrive masses of Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) in uncountable numbers beneath the pines, and I just had to stop to witness their extravagant profusion today. And breathe their delightful fragrance filling the humid air.

Not quite as numerous, but amazingly abundant beneath those same pines were the big, beautiful native orchids called Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule).

It started to rain, and as I hurried back to retrieve my raincoat, I happened upon a generous cluster of Clintonia plants (Clintonia borealis), yellow flowers dangling above glossy green leaves.

The path through this pine woods leads down to the shore of the Hudson River, and a remarkable shore it is.  Enriched by marble outcroppings and kept free of woody plants by the crushing weight of enormous heaps of frazil ice each winter, this shoreline supports some of the rarest wildflowers in the state, and I was here to find them today.  But when I reached the shore, it looked as if it had been ravaged by raging floods, leaves ripped from the shrubs and most of the riverbank plants swept from the sand.

Other years at this time, the air would be fragrant here from the proliferation of Dwarf Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa), one of our state's rarest plants.  But today I had to search to find just two remaining plants in a several-hundred-yard stretch of riverbank.

Two years ago I found the rare Primrose-leaved Violet (Viola primulifolia var. primulifolia) most unexpectedly growing here on this gravelly shore, and last year I returned to find its population had expanded significantly.  So imagine my disappointment today when this sad little plant with a single bloom was the only specimen of Primrose-leaved Violet I could find.  I sure hope it can rebound.

Here was another disappointment. For years, I would pass a big patch of Bearberry's (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) glossy green leaves and never find a single flower among them.  But last year I started looking a few weeks earlier than usual and found the patch in beautiful bloom.  So I was full of hope that I was early enough to see those lovely white-and-pink flowers again this year as I hurried to where I knew the patch grew, well up high on the bank, surely out of any flood's reach. Or so I thought.  And I was certainly wrong.  A few green leaves were left to struggle to regain a footing here, but much of the patch had been ripped from the roots, as evidenced by tangled strings of brown dead leaves.

So what plants DID survive what must have been a massive flood?  Lots of Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) did, that's for sure, including this clump with fiery-red flowers that had sprung up from where the flood must have been raging the worst.  How the heck did they DO that?

This cluster of Columbine, anyway, was growing way up on the bank where the rocks meet the woods, holding their beautiful heads up high, atop gracefully curving stems.

As I said:  lots of Columbine.  They were burgeoning right at the high-water mark of the flood, while a wide stretch of flotsam and detritus covered the rocks from here to where the river now peacefully flowed.  It will be interesting to see how rapidly the damaged plants can recover.  Here's hoping they do.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Protecting Bog Meadow's Beauties

We couldn't have had a lovelier day (or, in my opinion, a more important task) when Greg Redling and I walked Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail today.   Greg is Stewardship Coordinator for the land preservation organization -- Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land and Nature) -- that will be managing the projected trail work that I feared might endanger some of the more unusual plants that grow along this trail.  I had posted a blog about my concerns for these plants, and Greg responded by offering to walk the trail with me and mark those plants that needed to be protected.  I am extremely grateful to Saratoga PLAN for their sharing my concern, and I'm also glad to have had Greg's good company along the trail on this gorgeous late-spring day.

The projected trail work involves creating an eight-foot-wide, raised and crushed-stone-paved path from the parking area along Rte. 29 to the bridge that crosses Bog Meadow Brook.  These renovations should go far to eliminate the problems often caused by flooding along this section and will also prepare this part of the trail to connect with a projected Greenbelt Trail for use by bikers as well as hikers sometime in the future.  (At present, Bog Meadow Trail, due to underlying railroad ties and frequent flooding, is not conducive to biking.)  The remainder of the trail that lies beyond the bridge and passes by open marsh and through wooded wetlands will remain untouched by these renovations.

I have many reasons to applaud these trail renovations, but I feared for the safety of two species of flowers in particular that lie within this work area, especially since I have found these plants growing nowhere else in Saratoga County.  The first of these plants that we encountered today was Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus), a plant that usually prefers a more northerly location but which has found a happy home well beneath the trailside shrubbery here.

The plant's location well beyond the trail's projected width and also hidden beneath the shrubs should help to keep the Rose Twisted Stalk out of harm's way.  Also, Greg assured me that protective barriers will be installed between the trail and the woodlands and wetlands on either side.  He also tied red tape to a shrub to mark this plant's location.  Before the work starts, he assured me, he will return to place protective stakes around the plant.

I think Greg might have been wondering why I cared so much for such a plain green plant, but then I lifted up the leaves and showed him the beautiful pink bells that dangle from the stalk.

Greg was kept very busy tying those red tapes to mark the locations of the second plant we were concerned with protecting, the numerous Nodding Trilliums (Trillium cernuum) that proliferate along an extensive but defined stretch of trail before reaching the bridge.  Since I had first found these trilliums blooming at least 10 days ago, I was surprised to find many specimens still in perfect flower.  I was glad for Greg's sake that he got to see this beautiful flower, but I would have had a hard time distinguishing the leaves from those of the Red Trilliums that share this location.

Again, these flowers prefer to hide well under the shrubs, so our hope is that they will remain well out of harm's way during the renovations.  But Greg's tapes will alert the workers to be extra careful to protect these plants.  Although they are abundant at this particular location, state botanists have classified this species as one "of concern" because it has been disappearing from many places where it used to be found. It is also protected by state law as "exploitably vulnerable," due to its attractiveness to poachers.

Our primary task accomplished, we also enjoyed seeing other beautiful flowers that abound along this trail.  Among the most abundant bloomers today was the purple-flowered Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).

Just as numerous were the tiny blooms of Grove Sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora) spangling the grass by the side of the trail.

Also vying to be called the most numerous were the hundreds and hundreds of little Dog Violets (Viola labradorica) lining the trail beyond the bridge.

We were constantly serenaded by the "banjo twangs" of Green Frogs as we passed between wetlands, and after Greg and I said good-bye, one hopped right in front of me and then sat still for the picture-taking.

Greg had to return to his workplace to obtain some signs warning hikers of the pending work on Bog Meadow Trail, but I was free to continue along the trail to greet many of the beautiful wildflowers I come to this trail this time of year to see.   Water Avens (Geum rivale) is one of those flowers, and it's easy to miss, with its small nodding flowers that never open any wider than those in this photo. But obviously, I managed to find them, just where I remembered them growing in past years.

The flowers of Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) are easy to see, since they bloom on branches right at eye level

Certainly, Mayapple leaves (Podophyllum peltatum), being huge and abundant, are always easy to spot, but it's not always easy to glimpse the big white flower that hides beneath those big leaves. This was my lucky day!

The bright yellow flowers of Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) are held on tall stalks high above  the heart-shaped basal leaves. This is a wildflower that definitely likes damp soil.

Do I have a favorite wildflower?  No, there are too many beautiful ones to choose just one.  But the elegant Starflower (Lysimachia borealis) would certainly be among my top ten.

The yellow flowers of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) are nodding now above their shiny green leaves.

Here's the last of the bellworts to bloom, the dainty Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata), which has leaves that look as if they were pierced by their stems.

Most of the wetlands that surround Bog Meadow Trail are not technically "bogs,"  but rather swamps and marshes and wooded wetlands that are not particularly acidic.  But there is one trailside area of standing water lined with sphagnum mosses where Bog Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) thrives.  I was delighted to find it blooming today with its furry white flowers.

I detected the fragrance of Early Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) well before I spotted its beautiful pink flowers blooming well off the trail.  There used to be a particular arrangement of railroad ties that would alert me when I was near to this wonderful native shrub's location, but this year those ties had been moved by trailworkers, so I had been afraid I would never find this shrub again.  Well, it called to me by its clove-scented fragrance, so now I know I can find it again using my nose.  What a treat to cap off my walk along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail!

Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail will soon be closed to hikers for most of the month of June, while trail work progresses -- including the creation of a new access trailhead from Meadowbrook Road.  I'm glad I was able to visit these delightful wildflowers while I still had the chance.