Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fungi and Flora at Canal Park

My friends in the Thursday Naturalists and I love to go to Canal Park at Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal.  Located in Rensselaer County where the Hoosic River joins the Hudson, this nature preserve offers trails that follow both rivers, wend through the woods, and lead down onto an alluvial plain where springtime floodwaters enrich the soil and create a habitat for unusual species of plants.  There are plants that grow here that we never find anywhere else we explore, so we were looking forward to revisiting them when we arrived last Thursday morning.  However, it took us a while to reach those flowers.  The mushrooms grabbed us first.

Thanks to recent rains, the forest floor was a virtual mosaic of fungi of many shapes and colors, and we just had to stop to marvel at them.

If any of us had brought a mushroom guide, we would probably still be there on the trails, trying to decipher the species.  As it was, I could name only two of them as to species,  but almost all of the mushrooms we found fell into two basic groups: the Boletes and the Amanitas.  The Boletes are distinguished by possessing pores instead of gills as their spore-producing organs on the underside of their caps, and the Amanitas are gilled mushrooms distinguished by possessing bulbous cups at their bases and remnants of a veil indicated by rings of tissue on their stalks and patches of tissue on their caps.

Here are a few of the Boletes.

This spectacular one is called Frost's Bolete (Butyriboletus frostii), distinguished by its cherry-red textured caps, red pore surface, and coarsely reticulate stems.  This mushroom would be very hard to mistake for any other.  Or just hard to miss, period!  It really stands out.

Another Bolete, with velvety caps the color of orange sherbet.

This may be the same species of Bolete as those above, but I was struck by how much it looked like a miniature pumpkin pie!

This Bolete had a huge bulbous stem, very fine pores, and a  velvet cap the color of old port wine.

Another red Bolete, but a softer red and with a yellow rim.

This is the underside of the one above, showing the vivid yellow of it pore surface.

This was the most common Bolete of all we saw today, many of which were as big as dinner plates, and all had this soft suede tan-colored cap and cream-colored pores.

Another Bolete that is easily distinguished from all the others, this shaggy one has the whimsical  name of Old Man of the Woods (Strobilomyces strobilaceus).

Here are some of the Amanitas we saw, all distinguished by little patches on their caps, the remnants of the veil  that once encased the button stage.

This one was almost pure white, with only a sooty smudge at the center of its cap.

An Amanita the color of caramel and topped with golden patches.

A chrome-yellow Amanita, with larger patches than usual, and a quite pronounced ring on the stem.

A softer-yellow, rather glossy Amanita, with white patches.

This was a real odd-ball among the Amanitas.  It belongs to a type of Amanita called Lepidella, which has patches that are pyramidical and that cannot be wiped away the way the flatter veil-remnants of the caps of other Amanitas can be. Members of this Lepidella group sometimes look like bar-bells in their button stage (as does this one) because their cups can be bigger than the caps.

Finally, we made it to the flowers we had come here to find, the ones we find nowhere else but Canal Park.  When we were last here in June, the Green Dragons (Arisaema dracontium) were protruding long skinny spadices from their stems.  Today, we found the clusters of shiny green berries that will later turn bright red.

There's a beautiful patch of Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides) growing on the riverbank.

Sometimes called False Sunflower, the Oxeye can be distinguished from genuine sunflowers by its fertile ray flowers.  A close-up view of the flower head reveals the tiny Y-shaped pistils protruding from the base of each ray.  Only the disk flowers of genuine sunflowers  (Helianthus species) possess reproductive organs.

One of the reasons we like to revisit Canal Park late in summer is to find all three species of Bush Clover (Lespedeza) growing in one place.  The first and most populous one we found was the Hairy Bush Clover (L. hirta) with its terminal clusters of pink-throated white flowers and very hairy stems and leaves.

The second Bush Clover we'd hope to find -- the Wand-like Bush Clover (L. violacea) -- had passed its blooming time, apparently, because we only found plants with their distinctive small seedpods and none with the expected clusters of pink flowers.  But we were pleased that we could locate and identify this plant, even without its pretty flowers.

The third species of Bush Clover we hoped to find, called Creeping Bush Clover (L. repens) ,was also not blooming, except for a few little spent flowers that still showed a bit of bright-pink petals.  But its sprawling habit of growth and small rounded leaves provided us enough clues to verify its species. At least, I think we properly identified it.  There's a very similar species that looks almost identical, except it has "soft hairy" stems.  That species (called Trailing Bush Clover [L. procumbens]) is supposedly a more common species, while L. repens is state-ranked as Rare.  I can't quite tell from my photo whether these stems are hairy or smooth.  Guess I'd better go back to this site and take a closer look.

Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum) is another plant we come here to Canal Park to find, enjoying its pretty, bell-shaped flowers in May and, late in the summer, the sight of its aqua-colored fruits that dangle on long stems. Although these berries were not quite ripe this week, they will retain that lovely shade of blue-green even as they mature.  They will never taste very good to us humans, however, no matter how ripe they get.  The deer are welcome to them.

This wee little wispy plant was one of the true highlights of our trip this day, for here was a flower we had never found before, not here in Canal Park nor anywhere else in our explorations.  I was kneeling down to tie my shoe when I suddenly spied these tight conical clusters of tiny white flowers touched with pink and green.  They immediately spoke "Milkwort" to me, but it took our friend Lois's searching her Newcomb's to come up with a likely species: Whorled Milkwort (Polygala verticillata).

But wait a minute!  Most of the needle-fine leaves are alternate on the stem and not whorled.  How can this be Whorled Milkwort?  Well, Newcomb mentioned in his description of this species that there is a variety that has mostly alternate leaves.  I later learned that the variety is called ambigua.

Some taxonomists have elevated the variety ambigua to a species, but there is disagreement among botanists about this move.  Our New York Flora Association calls this flower Polygala verticillata var. ambigua.  Since I am a New Yorker, I will go with that.  And I will also come back to Canal Park to search it out again, just one more of those plants we Thursday Naturalists find here and nowhere else.

1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

What an amazing collection of fungi!