Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Rare Plants, New Finds in the Betar Backwaters.

 Another sweltering day, after a whole string of them.  Soggy and hot.  Not a good day for a hike through a woods where clouds of gnats come to suck the sweat off your face.  But a paddle on a nice cool river might be okay.  So off I went to South Glens Falls, where the Hudson River flows back into quiet backwaters, ponds once carved out of the banks for sorting logs sent downriver from the Adirondacks.  No logs in these quiet ponds anymore (aside from those that topple in naturally), but some rare plants thrive here instead, and I was eager to check on their populations this year.

I wasn't really expecting to find Water Marigold (Bidens beckii) blooming yet,  but here was one nearly in bloom.  Classified as a Rare plant in New York, this species certainly thrives in these shallow waters, where most of their leaves trail in brown whorled clumps underwater, with just a few green leaves attached to the emergent flower stalks.

I could see uncountable numbers of the Water Marigold's emergent flower stalks, and this year they have spread far beyond the bay where they used to remain isolated.  Today, I found them ready to bloom in many places I had not found them before.

I was happy to see that the second rare plant I'd come here to check on, the Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), is continuing to thrive.

Classified as a Threatened species in New York, you would never guess that U. radiata was  considered rare when you see how many merrily bob along in the barely detectable current that moves through these backwaters.

Looks like a Mayfly found that a bladderwort bloom was a good place to molt.

At the same time these backwaters serve as a refuge for some rare plants, they also are far too hospitable to the terribly invasive Buckthorn shrubs (Rhamnus cathartica) that line the banks and crowd the islands that separate the ponds.  A few native dogwoods and viburnums manage to hold their own among them, but the Buckthorn, now heavy with berries, is the dominant species here.

But despite that Buckthorn dominance, Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) thrives on one of the islands, and I was delighted to find their branches still heavy with clusters of yellow blooms today.

Here's a close look at the very distinctive Wild Senna flower.  These flowers will produce the bean-shaped pods that contain the seeds that are used to produce the laxative called Senecot.

In the shadow of the banks, the dark water looked as if it were strewn with popcorn puffs today.

But a closer look at those puffs revealed the female flowers of Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana), an aquatic grass with long slender underwater leaves.  These female flowers are held exactly at the surface of the water on curlicue stems that expand or contract as the water rises or falls, prepared to receive the male flowers that are floating free with the current, ready to drop into the first female flowers they encounter.  After pollination, the curlicue stem sharply recoils and deposits the flower in the muddy bottom of the river, where it will produce a new plant.

In places, the surface of these backwater ponds is almost completely covered with the leaves of aquatic plants: Fragrant Water Lilies, Yellow Pond Lilies, and these in the photo below, the oval leaves of Water Shield (Brasenia schreberi).  From the presence of all these holes, it's obvious that some creatures must find the leaves quite nutritious.

As I paddled out into the open river, I passed through populations of Water Bulrush (Schoenoplectus subterminalis), its hair-fine leaves swaying like mermaid's hair in the river's current.

The pure-white flowers of Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) were arrayed on their vines across the branches of many riverside shrubs.

In years past, Arrowhead shrubs (Viburnum dentatum) were a favored target of the Viburnum Leaf Beetle, and we rarely saw one with leaves that hadn't been chewed down to shreds.  But the wave of the beetle's infestation appears to have passed, for the few Arrowheads I found today looked beautiful, with intact green pleated leaves, and with branches heavy with ink-blue fruit.

Oh oh!  The sky darkened and the wind picked up ominously as I heard the rumble of thunder. I don't mind being rained on at all, but I didn't want to risk being struck by lightning, so I quickly headed to shore and pulled my boat up on land by the public beach.  I could take refuge in the bathhouse there if a storm came raging through.

As I waited to see what the storm would do, I waded along the shore, seeing what shoreline plants I might find.  And I found a new flower to add to my life list!  At first, I didn't associate these paddle-shaped leaves with the Arrowhead (Sagittaria sp.) flowers I recognized. But it soon became clear that they went with the flowers, so out came my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide to see if that guide included an Arrowhead with such paddle-shaped leaves.  And it did!  So until I find information to contradict my assessment, I think that this is the Sessile-fruited Arrowhead (S. rigida).  As I mentioned above, a  new flower for me!

I was also happy to find an old friend blooming along the shore, one of the first plants that captivated me when I first started obsessing about wildflowers more than 25 years ago.  This is Golden Hedge Hyssop (Gratiola aurea), an amazingly prolific plant that can carpet mud flats and spring from rock cracks in astounding numbers when conditions are right, meaning when the river recedes and reveals its muddy bottom to the air.  And then when the water rises again, these sunny-yellow trumpet-shaped blooms will keep right on blooming under the water.

And finally, here was a plant that totally mystified me.  Masses of these spiky-leaved plants were growing right in water that was only about an inch deep.  They didn't look like any plant I had ever seen before.

The alternately arranged spiky leaves were stiff and stuck straight out from the stem.

A close look revealed that tiny, whitish, 4-parted flowers grew in the leaf axils, maturing as they descended the stalks.  And as the flowers matured, the white parts faded and the reproductive parts asserted themselves, the fuzzy pistils a bright ruby-red and the quivering yellow anthers protruding on hair-fine filaments above the pistils.

These flowers reminded me of those I had seen a few years ago on a native milfoil.  So I'm guessing that this could be some species of milfoil (Myriophyllum sp.).  Whatever it may be, it will be another new flower for my life list.   So, thank you, thunderstorm, for driving me off the river.  The storm never really developed, but if I hadn't come ashore, I never would have found these plants I had  never seen before.

When I came home, I posted photos of this plant on the Flora of New York Facebook page, asking for help with identification.  One of the suggestions (and from a very knowledgable source) is that this could be the Cutleaf Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum pinnatum), an Endangered species in New York.  It's still too early to know for certain, but it wouldn't surprise me that I found another rare plant at this location.  Quite a few live around here already.


The Furry Gnome said...

Fascinating post. I'd love to get out in those backwaters exploring.

Woody Meristem said...

Great finds.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Furry and Woody. So great of you to stop by with your comments.

Furry, I am so sad to learn of your now limited mobility. I carry you with me on my explorations, hoping you enjoy them vicariously.