Thursday, August 9, 2018

Lots of Duckweed and Decodon, But Nary an Orchid

Regular readers of this blog may remember my photos of a rare Bicolor Orchid a few weeks ago, a hybrid of the White Fringed Orchid and the Orange Fringed Orchid.  This bicolor's white progenitor surrounded it abundantly in the bog where we found it, but no one has seen its orange progenitor in years.  The last sighting was many years ago in a Washington County pond called Carter's Pond, so when my friend Bonnie suggested we go paddle around this pond and look for it, I lashed my canoe to my car and met her there.

We met Wednesday afternoon, defying a forecast of thunderstorms, and set off to circle the pond under blue skies adorned with fair-weather clouds. 

Well, it was kind of slow-going around Carter's Pond, for the duckweed here was as thick as green slush.  The water was open out in the middle, but we needed to creep along close to the shoreline if we were ever to catch a glimpse of any orchids.

The duckweed was kind of pretty when observed up close (note the big and small species of it), but it clung to our paddles and often slowed our progress.

We were hoping we might find some bog mat (the habitat our missing orchid prefers), but our hopes were soon rendered futile.  Carter's Pond is completely ringed by shrub swamp rather than bog mat, and the shrub that completely dominates the shoreline is this purple-flowered one, called Waterwillow or Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus).  This shrub has pretty purple flowers, gorgeous fall color,  and it is a native species, but at this pond it sure was a bully, crowding out almost every other wetland plant.

We were growing weary of seeing nothing but Waterwillow, when these brilliant hot-pink spikes of Scarlet Smartweed (Persicaria coccinea) hove into view, reaching high above the shrubby shoreline.

Here's a closer look at those deeply colored flower spikes, quite showy for this generally more demure genus.

These pale-pink little Mild Water Pepper plants (Persicaria hydropiperoides) are more typical of the Persicarias.  We found a patch of these pretty plants in a shaded area near the canoe launch site, the only area on the pond that was clear of the Waterwillow.

Here's a closer view of the Mild Water Pepper's delicate pale blooms.

As I said before, we found very few flowers among the Waterwillow shrubs, so we were delighted when we found a hummock that supported an ample clustering of Marsh St. Johnswort plants (Hypericum virginicum).  And we just happened to be there on time to witness this flower's regular  3:30 pm opening.

We may not have found many flowers, but we did find some pretty graminoids.  I do not know the name of this one, but I love the red and tan herringbone pattern of its spikelets.  It reminds me of a flatsedge that grows on the shore of Moreau Lake, so perhaps it, too, is a species of Cyperus.

Update:  Thanks, Zihao Wang, for naming this lovely flatsedge:  Umbrella Flatsedge (Cyperus diandrus).

Here was another graminoid, this one with fluffy-looking yellowish inflorescences.  A beautiful species that I do not know the name of.  Perhaps one of our readers does.

Update:  Again, thanks go out to Zihao Wang for providing a name for this showy flatsedge: Red-root Flatsedge  (Cyperus erythrorhizos), a plant that is on the watch list for New York State and considered rare in some New England states.

Oh gosh, these rotting stumps looked like some kind of statuary expressing the agony of life!

We also came upon an area where the stench of the water was attracting hordes of tiny black flies.  Bonnie wondered if surrounding pastures were allowing cow manure to leach into the pond, since that was what the water smelled like.

A rumble of thunder warned us we had better head back to land.  Ah well, we were growing weary of pushing our canoes through this green sludge on this sweltering day, so we headed back to the boat launch site, the only place on the entire shore where we could leave the water unimpeded by the shrubs.

Once we had loaded our canoes on our cars, we decided to check out the nearby woodland trails of the Carter's Pond Wildlife Management Area.   Many of the trails at this many-acred preserve are accessible to the handicapped, and even the more rugged trails offer boardwalk over the wetland parts of the trail.

This beautiful doe must be used to folks walking through her woods, for she seemed in no hurry to run away when she heard us coming.  She did sort of disappear quietly into the trailside shrubbery, but it wasn't until we were nearly close enough to touch her did she flip up her white tail and bound away.

The trails gave us more views of the pond than would have been accessible from our boats.  No sign of any bog mat here, only lots and lots more shrub swamp dominated by Waterwillow.  If our Orange Fringed Orchid ever grew here (as records indicate it once did), it is highly unlikely it would grow here now.  So the mystery of how those orange-orchid genes made their way to the white-orchid bog will remain a further mystery for us.

We did find lots of other orange stuff though!  Like this brilliant Chicken of the Woods fungus only just emerging on this moss-covered log. 

Here was a veritable explosion of tiny orange fungi, almost completely covering this rotting log.  Remembering that I had encountered this species before, I searched my blog when I got home and found its name: Xeromphalina campanella, which means (loosely translated) "small bells with little dry navels."  Huh!  What a funny name for a fungus!  And what a lovely treat for our eyes as we went our way toward home.


threecollie said...

Sorry you missed your orchid, but it seems as if every trip you make is full of wonder and delight. Thanks

wash wild said...

There was a report for orange fringed orchid in southern Washington County from before 1932. The problem is that Carter's Pond is an impoundment of Whittaker Brook and the dam has changed water levels and shorelines. Eutrophication of the watershed probably comes from both ag and second home development around Cossayuna Lake. You can access Whittaker Brook on foot as it flows towards Carter's Pond, albeit with some difficulty.
Eldridge swamp along Rt. 313 east of Cambridge might be worth a look. It's an extensive wetland that has been combed over by botanists for many years so I wouldn't expect any surprises, but you never know. You could also query Jerry Jenkins. He's the go-to source for plant info in this part of the world.
Love your duckweed photo - it's like an abstract painting. References call these the smallest of flowering plants but I've never seen the flowers. I know there are Great and Small species as well as Watermeals and Water ferns...all doing their part to keep the world green.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

threecollie, I really am incredibly blessed to have so many wonderful natural places to explore. I love knowing you share my enthusiasm for these wonders and delights.

wash wild, the information you gave me about this area is wonderfully useful and encouraging. Thank you! Regarding Jerry Jenkins, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that his information about Orange Fringed Orchids might be what inspired my friend Bonnie to suggest this paddle to me. I believe she was referring to state records, and I know Jerry has contributed much to those records.

Lynn's mom said...

What an adventure! Glad you found so many feasts for your eyes (and noses?) Jane