Friday, May 31, 2019

Lots More Good Stuff at Bog Meadow!

Less than three weeks ago, I almost canceled a wildflower walk at Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail. At that time, hardly any wildflowers had yet to come into bloom along the trail. Well, they're sure making up for lost time now!  I went back there on Wednesday this week, planning to take a quick walk to obtain a specimen of one of those oddball trilliums I found there on May 16.  Yes, I found one of those trilliums, but a heck of a lot more other flowers too!   My 10-minute goal-directed dash turned into a two-hour amble.

The Spotted Geraniums (Geranium maculatum) were the first beauties to halt my steps, as I stopped to admire their large lavender blooms.

The next flowers to catch my eye were far smaller than those geraniums, but just the sheer numbers of these tiny little Grove Sandworts (Moehringia lateriflora) made them hard to miss, spangling the trailside like handfuls of stars cast down among the young Sensitive Ferns.

A close look at one of the Sandwort flowers reveals its intricate parts, the base of each stamen tufted with fine hairs.

The trailside swamp was exploding with ferns spearing up from amid the giant Skunk Cabbage leaves. The warm brown color of Cinnamon Fern's spore stalks sure do suggest how this native fern got its common name.  Its scientific name is Osmunda cinnamomea.

I know neither the common nor scientific name of the pretty moss tucked into the crotch of this lichen-crusted tree, but that didn't stop me from admiring how pretty it was, especially with a rosy Red Maple seed resting atop its cushiony mound.

I was not expecting to find many Nodding Trillium flowers today, since they'd reached their peak  of beauty more than 10 days ago. But here was a pair of them looking as fresh and lovely as ever.

This trillium, however, sure was showing its age, with its petals curling and also faded from the pink they had been 10 days before.  But this one --apparently a hybrid of the Nodding Trillium (Trillium  cernuum) and the Red Trillium (T. erectum)  -- was precisely the flower I had come here to find on this day.

 I had heard from a prominent state botanist that there was no official record of hybrids like this from anywhere else in the state, and he had asked me if I could collect a specimen to be vouchered for inclusion in the New York Flora Association's Plant Atlas. So collect it I did.  I hope its faded condition, plus the fact that it has four parts instead of the typical three for this genus, don't disqualify it for inclusion. If it does, we will have to come back next spring to seek a more representative specimen. I have found a number of hybrids along this trail, this year as well as other years.

Mission accomplished, I continued along the trail.

When I reached where the trail passes open marsh, I was struck by a small tree sprouting sprays of compound leaves and flower buds.  How pretty, I thought.  But I sure didn't want to reach up and pull down one of those sprays for the picture-taking. No, I used my zoom lens instead to capture this spreading cluster on the end of a Poison Sumac branch.

Not everyone appreciates Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), since contact with any part of it can cause an itchy rash in those who susceptible to its toxins.  I'm happy to say that I seem to be immune to its ill effects, but I'm even happier to know that this tree is exceedingly valuable to wildlife, offering fruits that persist well into the winter, when hungry birds find other food sources  quite scarce.

The next shrub I encountered also bears abundant fruit that birds love to feast on, and sadly, that's the problem.  This is the terribly invasive shrub called Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), introduced to North America, I'm sure, because of its silvery foliage and extremely fragrant flowers.  And although gardeners may plead that they can control its spread on their own properties, they sure can't control where birds poop out its seeds along untended roadways and streambanks ,where it thrives to the detriment of native shrubs.  (I have to admit, though, that the fragrance of its flowers is heavenly!)

But for fragrant flowers, no other shrub can compete with our native Early Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum). I wasn't sure I would find it, though, since the shrub I remembered from previous years grows far back in the woods, some distance from the trail.  But its fragrance alerted me to its proximity, even before I saw its gorgeous rosy blooms, radiant amid the otherwise green understory.

It's hard to imagine a shrub with lovelier or more fragrant blooms, whether cultivated or wild, as this one is.  One of Mother Nature's sweetest gifts to us!

More demure, although equally lovely in their quiet way, were the dangling yellow flowers of Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata) that decorated the path through a thickly wooded part of the trail.

Somewhat showier yellow flowers grew atop the wide green basal leaves of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis).  This plant is also known as Blue-bead Lily, because of the radiantly blue berries that eventually replace the lily-like flowers.

Yikes!  Look at the Deer Ticks I found when I bent to photograph the Clintonia flowers.  Perched with outstretched legs, they were posed to hitch a ride on any passerby.  I was glad I was wearing my tick-repellant pants and socks.

The last time I visited these Star-flowered Solomon's Seals (Maianthemum stellatum), their flower buds were barely opening,  and now they were starting to fade. Alas!  But a few of the waxy white flowers still retained their dainty beauty.

Could there be any flower more exquisite than the aptly named Star Flower (Lysimachia borealis)? Every part -- the whorled slender leaves, the thread-fine flower stalks, the pristine white flowers with their sprinkling of golden anthers -- expresses a floral perfection.  I delighted to find them thriving along the wooded stretch of the trail.

There's a stretch of Bog Meadow Trail where the watery swamp moves close to the path, and here in the standing water rise hundreds of slender stalks of Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) with their whorls of spiky branches.

Some of the Water Horsetail stalks bore cone-like strobili, the spore-producing organs of this ancient plant.  I think the strobili are quite beautiful, like a jeweled Easter egg. 

Surveying these dark pools of standing water, I could see many three-leaved plants of Bog Buckbean  (Menyanthes trifoliata).  But search though I did, I could not find a single flower stalk among the many plants. How disappointing!  The clusters of star-shaped white flowers with remarkably hairy centers are really something to see.  They bloomed profusely last year.  I'm hoping they will again while I'm still able to walk this trail.

There's another flower I hope to find once more along Bog Meadow Trail, and that is the Canada Lily (Lilium canadense).  For years, I came to this trail every mid-July to witness the profusion of gorgeous orange and yellow and red lilies that thrived in the damp soil here.  But two years ago, an infestation of Scarlet Lily Beetle larvae destroyed them all, consuming leaves and flower buds before they even bloomed.  Last year I found just a few feeble specimens, dangling only one lily instead of the carousel of six to ten blooms I'd found in past years.  I truly despaired that we'd ever see them again at this site.  But this year I found many young Canada Lily plants pushing up and starting to climb. My fingers are crossed that the beetles won't return to destroy these too.

Thankfully, even if the lilies never return to their former glory,  many other floral treasures still remain along this remarkable trail.

Monday, May 27, 2019

With a Little Help From a Friend . . .

I feared I would never see them again, the spectacular Yellow Lady's Slippers I used to find in an area woods.  One by one they had disappeared from where I once saw them.   But my friend Dan Wall told me not to worry.  He knew where many were blooming now, and he graciously led me right to them.  What a pal you are, Dan! And what joy I felt to see these gorgeous native orchids again, and to know they still had a secure home in the same woods where I always found them.

I was happy to note that most of the plants Dan showed me grew way off the trails that wind through these woods, and some were well hidden among massive boulders on steep rocky ridges that required considerable scrambling to explore.  May these factors suffice to repel any poachers!

Although we were almost too dazzled by the sight of these golden beauties to notice much else in these woods today, I did note the presence of Walking Fern among the mosses that covered some  of the boulders. I have found Walking Fern in this same woods before, but never had I seen these unusual ferns sprouting these wee little fiddleheads.  So cute!

And it certainly would have been hard to ignore these golden beauties, as well.  Especially when a beam of sunlight picked out the bright-yellow flowers held high above the rosettes of rounded basal leaves.  I knew I had seen this species of Ragwort before, on a similar limestone substrate, but it wasn't until I got home and checked my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide that I remembered the name. This is Round-leaved Ragwort (Packera obovata), a species I find less frequently than the related Golden Ragwort, although they are not a rare plant in the state.  As with the Yellow Lady's Slippers, I hadn't seen Round-leaved Ragworts in quite some time, so I was delighted to make their acquaintance again.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Abundant Wonders Along the Way

Returning from a visit to Moreau Lake State Park this past week, I decided to skip the interstate and take the local roads home, pulling off into several botanical "hot spots" along the way to see what treasures might await me there.  And I sure wasn't disappointed!

Turning onto Spier Falls Road, my first stop was the powerline clearcut above Mud Pond.   Here I found a small Chokecherry shrub (Prunus virginiana) absolutely abuzz with bees -- all of which flew away when I bent to take the photo.  Sorry, bees! (They didn't take long to come back to sip these flowers' abundant nectar.)

This nearby clump of Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) was not quite yet in bloom, but it had a spiky beauty nevertheless.  All kinds of pollinators visit these flowers for their nectar, but its leaves provide the only food the Karner Blue Butterfly's larvae can feast on. Lots of this lupine species thrives in the sandy soils around here, so this Federally Endangered butterfly has a secure home in Saratoga County.

Continuing along Spier Falls Road, I next pulled into a parking area at the Summit trailhead for the park's Western Ridge Trail.  The same powerline that passes Mud Pond cuts across the mountains at this height, creating just the kind of habitat Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis) must love, since I often find many plants of it thriving among the rocks at this site. Only a few were blooming this year, but at least this one was open enough to display its red and yellow florets.

Another boulder-lover at this site is Pink Corydalis (Capnoides sempervirens).  Despite the vivid color of its blooms, the delicacy of the plant often makes it hard to spot.  But spot it, I did!  So pretty!

This bumble bee also found the Pink Corydalis and spent some time feasting on its nectar and pollen.

Here was a Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum) in full bloom at the edge of the woods that borders  this stretch of the powerline.  The small tree made quite a lovely sight, with all of those dangling floral clusters dancing in the breeze.

Here's a closer view of those pretty Striped Maple flowers.

Many patches of Running Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) sprawled among the boulders, tucked in among carpets of Big Red-stem Moss (Pleurozium schreberi).

A close look at the tips of this clubmoss's stems reveals how it came to earn one of its common names, Wolf's Paw.

Further along Spier Falls Road, well past the dam that inspired the road's name, I turned into the parking area for the Spring Trailhead of the Western Ridge Trail.  One of the first delights I discovered here was a big patch of Foamflower crowding the base of a tree.

A second big patch of flowers climbed a steep bank near by, the star-shaped yellow blooms of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) shining out against the dark background.


A tiny hoverfly rested on one of the Clintonia flower's peduncle.

A few yards up the trail, in an open area under the powerline, masses of Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) held their tiny blue faces toward the sky, mirroring that azure radiance in the grass.

Here's a closer look at those sweet little Bluets, also called Quaker Ladies.

Masses of tiny white violets, quite likely the species called Sweet White Violet (Viola blanda) spread across another bank along the trail.

The sound of a trickling stream beckoned me to enter the trailside woods and follow its series of mini-waterfalls downstream.

When the stream reached the road, I crossed to the other side and followed a woodland path that led down to the Hudson River. But I halted my steps when this magnificently plump Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule) caught my eye.  What a surprise!  At the first place I explored today, the lady's slippers I found there held only the tightest green buds.

Time to head home over Mount McGregor, as Spier Falls Road turned onto the Wilton Mountain Road.  But I had to pull over for one more stop, at a little swamp that lies close to the road about halfway up the mountain.  Would the tiny little orchid called Early Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida) be blooming about now?  At first I could not find any, but then a stray beam of sunlight lit up these minuscule yellow flowers, glowing amid a mass of emerald-green moss.

Now that I knew what to look for, I found many more of this orchid in this little roadside swamp. New York State is home to nearly 60 species of native orchids, but I bet many of us walk right by orchids without ever seeing them.   Especially when they're as small and greenish as Early Coralroot is.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Turtle Encounter on World Turtle Day

Well, whadda ya know? Guess what I found on World Turtle Day (May 23)? A nice big Snapping Turtle right in the middle of a parking lot at Moreau Lake State Park. I assume it was a mama turtle returning from laying her eggs somewhere and now waddling back to the lake. She was heading in that direction,anyway. But school buses were driving through the parking lots and a playground full of small children lay between her and the lake. It seemed a bit perilous for both her and the children, so I found someone with a bucket we could push her into and carry her right to the shore. She took off in a hurry once she hit the water!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Surprise Finds Along Bog Meadow Trail

On a break in a long stretch of drenching days, I returned to the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail last week, where a few surprises awaited me.  The first surprise was to find the water level in the trailside marsh considerably lower than it was just the week before, despite days of pouring rain.

When I reached the bridge a few yards further along the trail, I discovered why the water level had lowered so dramatically from just the week before. Over the past couple of years, beaver dams had completely blocked the stream that empties this wetland, but in just the past few days, work crews had performed the monumental task of opening parts of the beaver dam to let the marsh waters flow downstream.  It appears the crew also placed strategic barriers to prevent the beavers from blocking the stream once more.  It will be interesting to observe just how long these preventive measures succeed!

Continuing along the trail, I was not really surprised to find Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) now blooming under the trailside shrubs, since this trail is one of the very few places in Saratoga County where I can count on finding this native wildflower.  But I WAS impressed to find this species thriving in greater numbers than I had ever found them before. And some plants had achieved a remarkable size, both in individual blooms and in numbers of plants in a cluster.  Here were SIX all growing together, and each plant of remarkable vigor.  I usually think of this species as being more delicate in appearance than our other trilliums.

Another surprise awaited, just a few steps away.  Here was another vigorous multi-stemmed clump of trilliums, but instead of them having the expected white blooms, these were a deep rosy red. But the flowers somehow seemed different from those of the red-flowered species called Trillium erectum,  a plant that also inhabits this trail but whose earlier-blooming flowers were now mostly faded.  For one thing,  these reddish flowers were more drooping and with petals more reflexed than would be typical for the flowers of T. erectum. And the flowers were a more rosy color than the dark red typical of T. erectum.

When I picked up one of the blooms to examine it more closely, my puzzlement increased.  Trillium erectum is known to have a dark-red ovary, while this one had a white one, although it was tinged with pink toward the curling stigma.  Another anomaly could be observed in the filaments holding the anthers.  The anthers of T. erectum are virtually sessile to the base of the ovary, while these anthers were held on the longer filaments that would be typical for T. cernuum.

For comparison, here is a close-up photo of the corresponding parts of T. cernuum.  Note the pure-white ovary and the dark-red anthers held on longish white filaments.

And here is the flower of T. erectum, with its dark-red ovary, sessile anthers, and less-reflexed, darker-red petals than those of our mystery trillium.

Taking all these factors into account, I believe that our mysterious trillium is quite likely a hybrid of the two species.  Since the two species grow close together at this site, it seems that cross-pollination would frequently occur.

Continuing along the trail, I noticed some other anomalous trilliums that beckoned me to closely examine them.  The shorter peduncle and yellowish-white flower suggested this might be the white-flowered variety of Trillium erectum, a not uncommon find at other sites, but one I had never encountered along this trail.

But WHOA!  While the back of this trillium appeared to be whitish, the face was assuredly PINK!

And again, I found an ovary more white than red, and anthers held aloft on longer filaments than would be typical of T. erectum.  Seems like we might have another hybrid here!

There were two trilliums close together here, and when I raised the second flower to examine it, yet another surprise awaited! Do we call a four-parted trillium a quadrillium? Wow, but there sure seems to be a lot of Trillium hanky-panky along this trail!

As further evidence that Bog Meadow Trail is a real hotbed of trillium miscegenation, I recalled that five years ago I posted a photo of another oddball trillium, this one with a snowy-white flower but with a dark-red ovary:

I had assumed that this was simply a white-flowered T. erectum, but here's what my friend Andrew Gibson (a great botanist who really knows his stuff!) had to say about it:  "I have to wonder if that isn't a hybrid expressing some genes from a T. erectum. The red ovary and more sessile-looking anthers says T. erectum, but the pure-white petals, their reflexed nature, and the drooping fashion of the flower says T. cernuum. I've seen the white colored form of T. erectum plenty before, and its flowers have more of a greenish or yellowish cast.   What you have there strikes me as something quite different and very suspicious of some back crossing!"

After all these surprises, it was wonderful to find an old friend that remained unchanged: the beautiful Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus).    There's little chance this plant will hybridize here with any other of its genus, since this is the only location in all of Saratoga County where I have found this single specimen, let alone any other plants of the Streptopus genus.

I suppose it's possible there are other specimens of Rose Twisted-stalk in the county.  If so, I could very well have missed them all the years I've been roaming here, because its leaves could pass for several other woodland wildflowers.  You have to lift up a stem to realize the true beauty of its flowers.