Monday, August 13, 2018

Flowers on a Rocky Height

 Finally!  Late last week, we had a day when the humidity fell low enough to dry my sweat, even when I exerted myself mightily.  And the temperature dropped below the 90s, too, so I decided to venture up a rocky height where a powerline climbs a mountain above the Hudson River.  In addition to enjoying some spectacular views of the river valley, I was seeking some late-summer flowers I have found only in this location and nowhere else in Saratoga County.

One of those flowers is the big beautiful Pasture Thistle (Cirsium pumilum), one of our few native thistles,  which abounds up here on this sunny open height.  I feared I might be a bit late to find them this year, but a few still bore their fist-sized purple blooms, while others had exploded into puffs of silky thistledown.

Here's a closer view of one of those blooms, as fragrant as they are beautiful.

A second flower I have to climb this rocky height to see is the Round-leaved (or Prostrate) Tick Trefoil (Desmodium rotundifolium), a sprawling plant with big round leaves that thrives in the thin soil that covers bare rock up here.  I always find the leaves, but only once in a while do I find its pretty little purple, pea-family flowers.  I did find some of the flowers this day, but they were nearly withered, so I found this photo in my files to better display the flowers.

A number of other Desmodium species can be found up here as well, including the Large-bracted Tick Trefoil (D. cuspidatum) with its dense racemes of blue-violet blooms.

Another inhabitant of these heights, the Panicled Tick Trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum), bears rosier-colored flowers in much more diffuse inflorescences.  I know of no other place I visit where I can see all these Desmodium species growing at the same location.  (The Showy Tick Trefoil [Desmodium canadense] also grows up here, but it was well past bloom by now.)


Several different species of Bush Clover also can be found in these open meadows, but the only one I found today was the Wand-like Bush Clover (Lespedeza violacea), with its compact cluster of pinky-purple blooms.

I was surprised to learn that this Bush Clover's specific name had been changed recently from intermedia to violacea, since I once had learned from Newcomb's Wildflower Guide that L. violacea was a different plant called the Violet Bush Clover.  But here's how the folks at the New York Flora Association explain this change in nomenclature:
"This taxon has recently gone by the name L. intermedia. The nomenclatural history of Lespedeza frutescens, L. intermedia, and L. violacea has been complex. The type of Hedysarum violaceum L., which is the name Lespedeza violacea is based on, is a specimen of what has recently gone by the name L. intermedia. The specific epithet violaceum has priority and therefore L. violacea is the correct name for what has recently been called L. intermedia. Lespedeza intermedia becomes a superfluous name and is relegated to synonymy of L. violacea (Reveal and Barrie 1991). The name Lespedeza frutescens is the correct name for what has recently been called L. violacea. Lespedeza violacea is considered a misapplied name of L. frutescens and is also the correct name for what has recently been called L. intermedia (Reveal and Barrie 1991).

But we can still call this plant by the common name of Wand-like Bush Clover.  That hasn't changed.

I was glad to discover that this next plant I find only here on these heights, called Orange Grass,  is still called by its old scientific name of Hypericum gentianoides (meaning, "gentian-like St. Johnswort).  I was surprised, when I first learned about it, that this virtually leafless plant was considered to be a St. Johnswort, since it looks so different from most other members of the Hypericum genus.  Different, that is, until it blooms, with its tiny yellow five-parted flowers that do resemble the flowers of other St. Johnsworts.

Ah, but when will I find it in bloom?  I keep venturing up this mountainside at different times of the late summer and fall, always hoping to see those tiny yellow flowers.  And every single time, I find only the green, grass-thin stems tipped with little yellow buds and the dark red pods that I assume are the seed pods.  I was lucky to find this plant in bloom only once, near the shore on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, so at least I do know what it looks like.  And I do have this photo of it, taken some years ago in mid-September.

It's not like I can stop by every day to see if that Orange Grass St. Johnswort is in bloom.  It takes quite an effort to climb this rocky powerline to the height where I find the plants.  And I still haven't climbed it to where it reaches the top of the mountain.  Each time I reach a height, I discover yet a higher one beyond the one I just climbed.  Eventually, the going gets too precipitous for me to attempt on my own, especially with my still-weakened knee.  This photo shows as far as I could go on my own.

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