Friday, May 10, 2019

Bog Meadow's Mid-trail Bounty

When I lead a nature walk at Bog Meadow Brook Nature Preserve just outside Saratoga Springs, I usually direct participants to meet me at the Rte. 29 trailhead, simply because it's the easiest trailhead for newcomers to find.  Problem is, at this time of year there's not much of botanical interest for nearly a mile along this part of the trail, where invasive honeysuckle predominates and the few plants of interest are not yet in bloom.  So when I met a group from the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady this past week, I invited them to follow my car as I drove along a convoluted route to a trailhead that led us directly into a middle section of the trail that's richest in fascinating plants this early in the season.  Shortly after we entered the woods at this trailhead, we descended into a lush wooded wetland traversed by a convenient boardwalk that conducted us over the mud.

We immediately had the opportunity to observe and distinguish these two plants with huge green leaves that are sometimes confused with each other, especially since they share the same wetland habitat. The broader leaves with pinnate veining are those of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), while the narrower leaves with parallel veining are those of the Lily-family plant called False Hellebore (Veratrum viride).  Skunk Cabbage produced bulbous spathes containing the earliest of our spring flowers way back in March, while the False Hellebore won't produce its tall stalks of small, greenish lily-like flowers until later in the summer.

We also had the opportunity here along this boardwalk to encounter three different species of native Horsetail (Equistem spp.) growing close together.  The lacy-looking one in the foreground with the forking branches is Woodland Horsetail (E. sylvaticum), while the three spiky stalks to the right belong to the species called Field Horsetail (E. arvense).  Note that the Field Horsetail has branches that do not fork. The green branches of both species will continue to elongate and will also continue to photosynthesize throughout the growing season. These Horsetails are not invasive, but instead occupy this habitat surrounded by many other native plants.

 This third, very different-looking species of Horsetail was sprawling across the mud a little distance away. This is Dwarf Horsetail (E. scirpoides), with very slender squiggly branches that often appear in knotted masses.

A number of ferns were just emerging along the boardwalk.  While it is often difficult to identify juvenile ferns, the emerging Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is distinctive enough, with its furry fiddleheads, that we could already call it by name.  Of course, it helped that last years' fronds, fading but still green, lay all around the base of this unfurling clump.

This baby Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) looked so much like its adult frond it was also easy to identify it at this stage.

This next fern, Lady's Fern (Athyrium filix-femina), was recognizable even at this stage by the black hairy-looking scales  on the stalks.  I remind myself of this distinguishing trait by noting that "this lady neglected to shave her legs!" Mnemonics help!

I'm not quite sure what this spindly fern is, but I'm guessing it's Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris) because of how far apart the narrow pinnae are arranged on the stipe.  Plus, the wet habitat is appropriate.  The lovely moss is a species of Mnium, a type of moss that has quite translucent leaves that are often no more than a single cell thick.

Towering over our heads in this swamp were numerous American Beeches (Fagus grandifolia), but lying all around our feet were clusters of fluffy beech flowers and pleated leaves on short woody stems that looked as if they had been nipped off by sharp teeth, most likely by squirrels. All of the flowers appeared to be staminate. None in our group, including myself, had ever seen beech flowers littering the forest floor like this. Anybody have a clue what's happening here?

Here, at last, were some wildflowers!  These lovely little plants with their snowflake-like florets are called Miterwort or Bishop's Cap (Mitella diphylla).

Close by were some small white violets, most likely the species called Northern White Violet (Viola pallens), an early white violet that prefers a damp woodland like this one.

From a standing height, it was difficult to see that this mat of American Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum),  held dozens of tiny flowers.  It was easy, though, considering its habit of sprawling across low muddy pools, to understand how it acquired its second common name, that of Water Carpet.

Here's a closer view of those tiny Golden Saxifrage flowers, just rings of red dots set amid wee glossy leaves.

Our boardwalk ended when we reached the main part of Bog Meadow Brook Trail with its dryer footing. Here we turned and continued our search for interesting plants, amid the green glow of the surrounding spring forest.

The first flowers we noticed here were masses of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), which were growing abundantly in an open marsh some distance from the trail.

A few of the Marsh Marigold plants lay close enough to the trail that we could get a good look at their beautiful flowers.

Growing closer to where we were walking were several plants of Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum), a species that bears pistillate and staminate flowers on separate plants.  The first one we found had produced flowers bearing clusters of pistils, with no surrounding petals or sepals.

Eventually, one of our group found a second Early Meadow Rue, this one bearing only staminate flowers, with anthers dangling down in trembling fringes that shimmied in the slightest breeze.

This lovely pale-lavender violet lined the trail in places.

I plucked a single stem to demonstrate how to distinguish this species of violet, called Dog Violet (Viola labradorica), from other violet species that bear purple flowers. I noted that this violet shares its flowering stem with its leaves, unlike some other violets that bear only basal leaves.  Also, each leaf node is wrapped with a thin tissue called a stipule. Then I pointed out that the stipules are sharply toothed.  Those sharp teeth make me think of canine teeth.  And canine makes me think of dog, which reminds me that this violet is called Dog Violet. See? Easy to remember, now.

From Dog Violet to what some people call Dogtooth Violet, although I sure wish they wouldn't.  In my opinion, there's nothing about Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) that remotely resembles a violet, with its six-parted obviously lily-like flowers and long pointed speckled leaves.  Why not call a lily a lily? And boy, did we see a LOT of them along Bog Meadow Trail!  Dozens of them, both close to the trail as well as off in the woods. Finding this lovely flower is one of the greatest joys of spring wildflower walks.

We were also lucky enough to find a few Red Trilliums (Trillium erectum) with unfaded flowers. Most of these flowers had passed their prime, but some looked better than others.  This cool rainy spring has probably helped to extend their bloom time.

This Mustard-family plant called Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla) was just beginning to open its four-parted white flowers along the bank of the brook.

Here was another wildflower that was just opening its buds along the brook, the lovely Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). I think that its bright-green leaves are as beautiful as its starry flowers.

If not for a sharp-eyed member of our group (Thank you, Nancy!), I would have entirely missed seeing this shrub growing some distance off the trail.  Called American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis), it is one of the very few bush honeysuckles we have that are native to our part of the world.

Here's a closer look at American Fly Honeysuckle's dangling twin yellow flowers, which are joined at the base.  The twin red fruits they produce will also be joined at their bases.

Most grasses have flowers that most of us wouldn't recognize as flowers, but this Hairy Woodrush  (Luzula acuminata) bears clusters of six-parted, pale-yellow flowers that resemble small lilies (if you look close enough!).  A close look at the leaf nodes reveals the abundant hairiness that suggested this native woodrush's common name.

Our group will have to return to Bog Meadow in a week or more to see the flowers of some of the plants we found on this walk.  These shiny purple buds of Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) give no hint as yet that the flowers tucked inside will be a vivid yellow.  And hundreds of them will soon be brightening the woods where we walked on this day.

I do see a tiny bud ascending from the center of this Starflower's leaves (Lysimachia borealis), so it won't be long before this plant's star-shaped flowers further beautify this already marvelous trail.

But we'll have to wait until nearly August to see if any stalks of tiny white orchids arise from the centers of these gorgeously patterned Downy Rattlesnake Plantain's leaves (Goodyera pubescens). As is the case with many native orchids, if this plant produces flowers one year, it may not bloom again in the same place for quite a long time, maybe years.   At least in the case of this little orchid,  the leaves are the prettiest part of the plant, even when it's in bloom.  And we were lucky enough to see them on our walk this day.

We got to see these adorable little golden-hued mushrooms, too.   Dozens of this wee little fungus  called Xeromphalina campanella crowded a moss-covered rotting log.  Although its genus name means "little dry navel" and campanella means "little bell,"  it has the common name of Fuzzy Foot, due to the presence of orangish hairs at the base. I have yet to detect those hairs, but perhaps they are too small for my nearsighted eyes to see. Whatever they are called, these pretty little mushrooms added one more dollop of delight to what turned out to be a wildflower walk of many pleasures.


The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful walk in the woods! Thank you.

Bill and dogs said...

I have so far been unable to get out into the woods this spring. I thank you for a wonderful post on the wonders of spring plant life. I always learn much from your blog and, since we are at least two weeks behind you, I may yet experience some of what you saw on your walk. Thanks for the virtual tour.

Woody Meristem said...

Great place for botanizing -- with an abundance of plants to see and photograph.