Thursday, September 6, 2018

Tiny Treasure Along the Shore

Another sweltering day today.  I would have preferred to remain in air-conditioned comfort somewhere.  But I had agreed to meet Rich Ring, rare-plant monitor for the New York Natural Heritage Program,  to help him assess a rare-plant population along the shore of Moreau Lake.  So off I went to the lake to meet him, and oh, am I glad I did!

I'm also glad we got there early enough to still find some shade along the shore.

I had alerted Rich about the teeming numbers of Small-flowered Gerardia (Agalinis paupercula) that crowd Moreau's lakeshore.  Rich informed me that this species had recently been removed from the Rare list, but because it was still on the Watch list, populations as large as what I was reporting were certainly worth an assessment and documentation.  And we sure did find LOTS of it, growing in uncountable numbers.

Sometimes we found almost pure stands of it, as in the photo above, but other times we found it as part of the marvelous mix of shoreline plants that decorated the sandy stretch between the water's edge and the forest behind.

I was delighted to find Noddding Bur Marigold (Bidens cernua) blooming now, such a sunny little flower!

To me, this Toothed Flatsedge (Cyperus dentatus) is as pretty as any flower, with those bicolored seedheads arranged in a herringbone pattern.

Rich asked me to keep an eye out for other flatsedges, most notably a tiny one called Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush (Cyperus subsquarrosus), an Endangered species that last had been reported from Lake Moreau in 1961.  He said he had searched for it here another year, to no avail.  So we didn't have very high expectations that we would find it today.  I did find other tiny flatsedges , though (like the one pictured below that I don't remember the name of).  But nope, this wasn't the one that Rich was looking for.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Steve Young, chief botanist with the New York Natural Heritage Program, for suggesting the name of this little flat sedge: Cyperus bipartitus or Shining Flat Sedge.

Hmmm?  How about this one, Rich?  It looked so different from the other small graminoids scattered along the damp sand, with these curving stems and squat little seedheads that almost looked like miniature clover flowers.

And oh my gosh, this was IT!  This was indeed the Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush that no one had seen on these shores for 57 years!  I don't know if anyone but other plant nerds can understand how elated we felt to have found it.  There were no other folks on the shore to see and hear us, but if there had been, we certainly would have attracted attention with our whoops! and hurrays! and high-fives!

Okay.  Settle down.  So we found this one.  And yes, there's another.  Two more, in fact.  How many others are there?  Rich went back to where we had begun our plant search to see if we had missed any back there.  Oh yes, we sure had!  (They are really very tiny!)  So Rich started counting individual specimens from back at our starting point (he's the tiny figure in the photo below), while I continued along the shore to see how far this population extended.

By the time I reached a place on the shore where I could find no more plants, Rich already had counted 750 specimens, and he still had many more yards of shoreline to assess before he caught up with me.  So there must have been at least a thousand.  A THOUSAND individual plants of a species rated as Endangered, and on just this limited stretch of shoreline! We had only begun our search.

Unfortunately, a thunderstorm blew up with drenching rain and threats of lightning, so we were forced to terminate our botanizing for today.  But we will be sure to come back to explore other sandy stretches of shoreline along Moreau Lake.  A few years back, the water level in this lake was much higher than it is today, and there were fewer stretches of broad sandy beach than there are today.  So it's possible that seeds of this extremely rare tiny flatsedge had just been biding their time underwater, waiting for water levels to fall and restore them to their place in the sunlight and air.  Where one happy day,  a couple of plant-obsessed people like Rich and me would come along and find them.


Uta said...

I can feel the excitement you described. I'm recovering from knee surgery and can't get out to explore yet, but you got me interested in giving it a go tomorrow. Thank you for all the pictures and education.

threecollie said...

I truly understand the excitement you felt! Congratulations on this remarkable find!

Woody Meristem said...

Great find, it's not very often that a tiny endangered plant is that easy to locate. I remember when I found curly grass fern in the New Jersey Pine Barrens -- whoopee!