Thursday, May 10, 2018

Hiking the Trails of Hawkwood

 Sure, it rained a little today. But not enough to dissuade my friends in the Thursday Naturalists and me to meet as planned to walk the wooded trails of the Hawkwood Preserve south of Ballston Spa.  This nearly 250-acre preserve, now called the Anchor Diamond Park, includes several miles of nature trails as well as the foundation remains of the old mansion (called Hawkwood) that once belonged to one of the area's wealthiest families.

As usual, our quest was to observe the various plants, both herbaceous and woody, that grow along the trail, whether blooming or fruiting or just leafing out.  One of the first flowering plants we encountered was the diminutive Dwarf Raspberry with its little white flowers folded into a shape distinctive to this low-growing plant.

Even more diminutive are the glossy, yellow, star-shaped flowers of Small-flowered Buttercup, and we found many of them starring our path through the woods.

I think without doubt that the most numerous flower we found today was Jack-in-the-pulpit,  hundreds of them, stiffly lifting their distinctively striped spathes straight up from the forest floor.

We encountered several baneberries blooming along the trail, and we agreed that the almost spherical flower clusters were those of the Red Baneberry.   The species called White Baneberry usually blooms a bit later than the red-berried one, and it has a more elongated cluster of flowers with thicker pedicels. I believe it takes some years of observing the two almost identical plants before one can become confident about identifying them accurately.

In most wooded areas around this site, the Red Trillium has had its day, and most specimens are fading fast.  But here was one -- a giant one at that -- that still looked quite robust.  Most of us agreed that it was the biggest specimen we had ever seen.

I'm glad that some of our group lifted their eyes from the forest floor, or we might have missed seeing these towering trees, their branches adorned with snowy-white flowers.  Because of their size alone, we did not mistake them for Shadblow trees, but guessed they were some kind of fruit tree, quite possibly apple. 

With some difficulty (and a little help from some friends) I managed to snag a flowering twig that seemed quite beyond our reach at first. These flowers don't look like the apple blossoms I'm used to seeing, but a close examination revealed a cluster of several pale-green pistils surrounded by anther-tipped stamens.  This would indicate a multi-seeded fruit anyway, like an apple or a pear, and not a single-seeded fruit like cherry or plum.  Whatever they were, they were certainly pretty.

We also found another pretty puzzle today when we came upon a flowering plant none of us had ever seen before, neither in any of our woodland walks nor in any of our wildflower guides. Here, Ruth is studying the flower while the rest of us ponder the mystery.

It certainly was a pretty flower, with dangling snowy bells adorned with spots of green.

Despite all the botanical experts among our group, none of us could come up with a name for this plant.  I surmised it must be a garden plant that has escaped to this woods and now is thriving here, as this extensive patch can attest.

When I got home, I googled "white bell-shaped flowers with green dots" and discovered a match in Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake), an introduced species commonly planted in gardens. This patch was far away from anyone's garden, along a small stream in the middle of the woods. Concerned about finding these alien plants in the middle of a nature preserve, I showed photos to the New York Flora Association's chief botanist, Steve Young, and he told me there is cause for concern, since he himself had recently come upon a half-acre patch in another wild area in a different part of the state. So perhaps we have another species (remember Purple Loosestrife?) introduced for its beauty that could possibly become a problem for our native plants.  I can certainly see why folks would love to grow this flower in their gardens. I just hope we can find a way to keep it out of our woods.

1 comment:

threecollie said...

We saw some trilliums at Yankee Hill Lock that were like nothing I have ever seen. They were a bold, dark crimson, much redder than the usual maroon ones. I wish I had tried for some photos, but they were on the other side of lock canal from us. Sure were pretty.