I'd been to the Ice Meadows only about two weeks ago. I hadn't planned to return quite yet to see what might be blooming now along this remarkable stretch of Hudson River shore north of Warrensburg. But when a Facebook friend and passionate young botanist named Scott Ward asked me if I would accompany him there, how could I refuse? After all, he was willing to drive about three hours from western New York to get there, having heard about what a remarkable site it was. And since his particular botanical passion is sedges and other graminoids, here was my chance to learn some things about a botanical area I'm woefully ignorant of. So we met up on Wednesday morning and headed out to explore this remarkably diverse habitat that supports some of the rarest plants in New York State.
I was truly delighted to focus more attention on sedges, rushes, reeds, and grasses this trip, especially since many are now in bloom or in fruit, which makes them even more rewarding to peer closely at. Just look at all the floral details in this flowering head of Big Bluestem Grass (Andropogon gerardii). Be sure to click on this photo, the better to see the yellow staminate flowers and the wee little white bottle-brush-shaped pistillate organs that later will yield the seeds.
One of the most abundant graminoids at this site was Smooth Sawgrass (Cladium mariscoides), with its chestnut-brown spikelets, which, in the case of this photo, were sprouting with pale-ivory pistillate flowers.
Here is another graminoid in bloom, but darn, I didn't take notes! So I can't remember what Scott told me it was, having focused all my attention at the time on trying to capture all the details of its spiky and fuzzy florets. I've sent Scott a query, so when I get a reply, I will return to affix a name to this pretty inflorescence.
Same goes for this second inflorescence (on the left) that Scott was comparing with the one on the right. Similar, but different, that I can see. I just wish I knew its name!
This one I do know, for I seek it out every time I visit the Ice Meadows, one of the few places in the entire state where we can find this rare sedge called Brown Bog Sedge (Carex buxbaumii), classified as a Threatened species. I think it a little odd that a sedge that is said to typically prefer a calcareous site would be called a "bog sedge," since I usually associate the word bog with acidic habitats.
Scott showed me quite a few other sedges, grasses, and rushes throughout the Ice Meadows, and he found it amazing that both acid-loving and calciphile species were inhabiting areas very close to each other. But that is one of the most remarkable features of this site, that soil pH can vary significantly within a confined area, probably due to seeps and springs that deliver either acidic or basic water, depending on the underground minerals that the water passes through on the way to the surface .
Of course, we also surveyed the remarkable variety of forbs that flourish here, as well as the graminoids. One of the most noticeable flowers blooming now was Canadian Burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis). It would be very hard NOT to notice the long, white, fluffy inflorescences waving back and forth on long slender stalks.
We couldn't miss the Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), either, so brilliantly red it is -- even when it was hiding in a niche in the riverside rock, accompanied by the tiny white Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum).
Here was a shy little flower hiding down in the grass, the dainty Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii).
An even smaller shy little flower was the diminutive Marsh Bellflower (Campanula aparinoides).
Sticky Tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa) is another small flower, and one that abounds on these shores in unexpectedly large numbers, considering that this is a state-ranked Endangered species. So many grow here in the damp sand near the water's edge, we had to be careful not to trample them. Even though they have now gone to seed, they were still easy to spot, despite their small size, because of their bright-red seed pods.
I am not sure which species of Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris sp.) grows here, either torta or montana. But whichever species it is, it certainly thrives -- and in numbers this summer that I have never seen here before.
Here is a closer view of the flower of the Yellow-eyed Grass, which despite its name, is not a grass at all.
Lucky for us, the Lesser Purple Fringed Orchids (Platanthera psycodes) were blooming here this year. On other years, I have searched for them in vain, but this time we were blessed to find not just one, but two of them, and both in perfect bloom.
The Green Wood Orchids (Platanthera clavellata) were also blooming, and we found several of them.
We were truly surprised to find these two Rose Pogonia Orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides), since according to all expectations, they should have ended their blooming season by now. But what a treat, to find one of our prettiest orchids still lingering here in the grass!
But talk about unexpected! Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) still blooming in AUGUST! And what a spectacular display of them: three robust blooms on a single stem. It's possible that the huge heaps of ice that pile up on these shores each winter, chilling the soil by not melting until mid-June some years, have helped to prolong or forestall the growing season of flowers that normally bloom much earlier in the year.
Scott took some beautiful photos of the lilies, including a video that showed the anthers trembling in the slightest breeze, which he posted on the Flora of New York Facebook page.
Here's Scott again, exploring some of the sedges that thrive in an area of the Ice Meadows where little pools, watered by springs, collect in the bedrock boulders that line the river here.
Branches of the fragrant shrub called Sweetgale (Myrica gale) hang over the edge of a pool, while the leaves of an aquatic plant called Flat-leaved Bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia) populate the rocky bottom. A wetland sedge called Three-way Sedge (Dulichium arundinaceum) also shares this pool.
Here's a closer view of that bladderwort's leaves. This is one of our earliest blooming bladderworts, so we didn't expect to find its flowers this late in the summer.
After a couple of hours exploring the section of Ice Meadows on the west bank of the river, we next traveled to another section a few miles downstream and on the opposite bank. This particular stretch of riverbank is noted for extensive marble outcroppings, which contribute considerable nutrients to the soil. Below, Scott is photographing one of the rare sedges found in this habitat, the Whip Nut Sedge (Scleria triglomerata). Scott, who once lived down south, remarked on how this species grows "like a weed" in Florida, while here in New York State, it is classified as Endangered, the rarest ranking.
Here's a closer view of that Whip Nut Sedge, showing the tiny spheres of its seeds, green now but later to become a pearly white.
Although there is some overlap of species on both banks of the river, the Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) thrives on this eastern shore in much greater numbers.
That is also true for this species called Starry Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum stellatum), which I have found on both shores but more abundantly here on the east side. Although the small, white, star-shaped flowers have long ago fallen off, the candy-striped fruits are equally attractive.
Strong spring floods had ripped away many of the herbaceous plants that normally grow among the rocks on these banks, and I had despaired of finding any Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). But Scott pointed out a patch of it growing high up on the banks where the floods had not reached. How could I have missed seeing its brilliant orange blooms?
Some of the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) that grows here had withstood the flooding, and today we found three large Monarch Butterfly caterpillars happily munching away on the leaves.
This Yellow Woolybear Caterpillar, the larva of the Virginian Tiger Moth (Spilosoma virginica) had found its happy eating place among a stand of White Sweetclover (Melilotus albus).
This Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) was resting on one of the Woodland Sunflower blooms.
I had found this beautiful pink and yellow Primrose Moth (Schinia florida) head-down in an Evening Primrose bloom (Oenothera biennis) by the side of the road that leads along the west bank of the Hudson.
Our explorations of both banks of the Ice Meadows completed, Scott wondered if we might visit the bog where I'd found a rare hybrid orchid last week. And of course we could, especially since it was basically in the direction we were each heading to go home. It began to rain at this point, but a little rain never deters a determined botanizer, especially when he has a poncho to shield his camera while he photographs the orchid in question.
This bog is full of White Fringed Orchids (Platanthera blephariglottis), which is considered to be one parent of the hybrid Two-colored Fringed Orchid (P. xbicolor), shown in the photo below. But the closest historical record of a location for the other parent, the Orange Fringed Orchid (P. ciliaris), is over 20 miles away. Diligent searching has not turned up any P. ciliaris in the same bog. And yet, the Two-colored Fringed Orchid now lives in this bog. (Some orchid people call it the "creamsicle orchid.") As yet, nobody knows how it got here.
While Scott was photographing the "Creamsicle Orchid," I wandered the bog mat searching for the wee little Gentian-family plant called Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica). Fine as the grass it hides in, and mostly green as well, Bartonia hides itself almost as completely as that proverbial needle in the haystack. Ah, but look how this patch of it showed up against the red of the sphagnum moss. And more of it than I had ever seen before in one place!
I could not tell with my bare eyes if the Bartonia was in bloom, especially since its yellow petals never protrude much beyond it green sepals. But my camera could. Yes, it was definitely in bloom. My lucky day!.
A lucky day indeed, and for so many reasons. Having a kindred spirit to botanize with, and then having some of the richest habitats in the state to explore, are two of those reasons. And then to find the huckleberry shrubs thick with sweet fruit in the bog? What a great treat to top off this wonderful day!