Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Powerline Perambulations

Two days in a row without rain!  Tuesday this week was warm and dry, and a good thing, too, because I knew it was time to check on some favorite flowers that grow along a powerline at Moreau.

This powerline stretches for miles, but the section I wanted to explore on Tuesday lies right along Spier Falls Road, where I could easily park my car and venture in.  And the place I wanted to search especially carefully now is signaled by the nearby presence of a huge patch of Hay-scented Fern, a lime-green carpet that stands out from all the other plants that thrive in the sunny expanse beneath the power lines.  When I see that vivid patch of ferns, I know it is time to leave the sandy lane and head into the adjoining pine woods. 

And here are the plants I was searching for: the Green-flowered Pyrola (Pyrola chlorantha), a pretty little native wildflower that thrives in abundant numbers under just this particular grove of Pitch Pines and very few other places I have found in Saratoga County.

Here's a closer look at those flowers, which are, indeed, quite a bit greener than our other pyrola  species.  This species is also distinguished by its small roundish leaves that are a plain green, without notable pale veining.

A frequent associate of many pyrola patches is this pretty little Common Speedwell (Veronica officinalis) with its spikes of blue-striped florets.  It's not a native species, but I have not witnessed it behaving invasively, and I do love its dainty little blue flowers.

More dainty little flowers!  But these are yellow and they belong to one of our native plants called Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia).  These plants thrive by the thousands in the sunny, sandy area under the powerline.

Here's another denizen of sunny, sterile soils, the beautiful Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis).  I was surprised to see it so perfectly in bloom at this late date, for these flowers have already gone by at other sites I visit.

And what the heck was THIS?!  I had never seen anything like this little orb of tiny five-parted papery florets adorned with needle-fine spikes.  How was I going to key this one out in my Newcomb's?

Turned out, I didn't have to key it out.  All I had to do was follow its long slender stem down to its ring of sharply toothed green basal leaves, where newly opened yellow flowers of Virginia Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica) had yet to ascend to their allotted height and produce the puffy seed heads that would leave behind spiky husks like those in the photo above.

Another treat awaited me in this sandy, piney habitat, exactly the kind of habitat that one of our most impressive local snakes desires.  This was a Hognose Snake, and it wouldn't have coiled up and flattened its head and puffed up its body like this if I had let it slither off the way it had wanted to.  But I jumped in its path and blocked its escape because I wanted to take its picture.  I don't get to see these snakes often enough, so I definitely wanted to record this encounter.

The Hognose puts on an impressively menacing appearance when accosted like this, sometimes even striking at the person impeding its escape.  But even if it connected, its teeth are so far back in its mouth it could not deliver a damaging bite.  Only toads -- its usual diet -- have reason to fear those gripping teeth as they get swallowed.  You can see the Hognose's cute little turned-up nose in this photo below.

My mission accomplished in that particular powerline segment, I next walked across Spier Falls Road to enter the stretch of powerline clearcut that runs across the top of Mud Pond, which is part of Moreau Lake State Park.  Hundreds of yellow-flowered Common Hawkweeds starred the grass along this narrow sandy trail.

I found lots of flowers, too, on a low-growing patch of our native American Climbing Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens).  This native species of bittersweet can be distinguished from the invasive Oriental Bittersweet by its flowers that bloom as terminal clusters, instead of in the leaf axils along the vine.

Nearby, I found two budding plants of Clasping-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), right where I usually find them.  Sadly, these two were the only ones I found at this site this year. In other years, I have found three or four more, spread out along a hundred yards or so of trail. It will be worth a return visit to see these in bloom, when their deep-rose flowers are as exquisitely fragrant as they are beautiful.

Here's another non-native wildflower, the vividly colored Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides).  This pretty flower is commonly seen in abundant numbers starring the grass along the road, but note how non-invasive its behavior is here, politely sharing its turf with the bright-yellow Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex).  What a pretty combination of blooms!

Another bright-yellow denizen of this sandy-soiled clearcut is Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense), and I was early enough in the day to catch its wide-open flowers before they dropped. (New ones will open tomorrow.)  One interesting thing I always note about Frostweed flowers is that the majority of its orange-tipped stamens always seem to flop to one side of the bloom.  (To see how this plant acquired the common name of Frostweed, visit my blog from one of the first frosty mornings of fall.)

Here's that yellow-flowered Common Cinquefoil again, only this time sharing its turf with two stems of our native Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum), their deep blue-purple flowers hinting at their family relationship with our native Blue Flag.

Here was a plant that really had me stumped.  Even without its flowers, I knew from its habit of growth it must be a Mustard-family plant, but none of my guidebooks hinted at any plant from this family that had such distinctive seed pods (siliques), long and arching, arrayed like the falling waters of a fountain.

I have Facebook friends who are far more botanically expert than I am, so I posted this photo on Facebook (along with close-up photos of leaves, stem, and basal rosette) and asked for feedback.  It didn't take long for some highly knowledgeable folks to chime in, and after some challenging back and forth, the consensus was that this is Green Rock Cress (Borodinia missouriensis).  Well!  If this really IS Green Rock Cress, that would be another great find for Moreau Lake State Park, because Green Rock Cress is ranked as a Threatened species in New York.

Hey, you just never know WHAT you might find, on a walk along the power line!


anne said...

I love your photos and your passion! Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I am always learning from your blog ! Nature is so amazing....LOVE the snake photos. I haven't seen a Hog Nose in 35+years. So inspiring to know they're still around.
Thank You for sharing your trips & knowledge.

Jane Trentin said...

Thanks for prompting me to go to your blog!

Anne Kane said...

What a treat to wander the Powerline with you on this dreary morning! Thank you, Jackie, for sharing your joy and knowledge.

The Furry Gnome said...

Another great botany lesson!

suep said...

Can we go back there next week to look for Wood Lilies ? did you see any up at all?

Woody Meristem said...

Great photos of the hognosed snake. Beautiful photos of some really unusual flowers as well.