Friday, July 19, 2019

Midsummer Flora of Sunlight and Shade

There's a good reason not many wildflower walks are offered this time of year -- at least, not walks that pass through the woods. With the tree canopy fully closed over now, only a few flowering plants can set bloom in the deep shade.  But a few still do, as I discovered on a walk yesterday in the woods surrounding Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park.  As this photo below reveals, the pond is so full this summer, there's no way to walk close to the water now, so I had to stay on trails that led through the deep woods.

I find it interesting that most of the woodland flowers that DO bloom in deep shade are those that have evergreen leaves.  Could it be because they've had all year to store up the energy to bloom, so perhaps they have no need to depend on direct sunlight to produce their mid-summer flowers? (This is just a ponder of mine, not based on any science I have read.)   One of those evergreen plants blooming now is the native orchid called Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata), and I hadn't gone far on the trail through the woods before I came upon this specimen.  Its small white florets were beautifully displayed against the dark wood of a fallen log.

I was sorry to see I had missed the bloom-time of another evergreen woodland plant called Pipsissewa.  But its closely related cousin, called Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), was just coming into its glory, dangling multiple waxy-white blooms above its pale-striped dark evergreen leaves.

Here's a photo of the underside of the Striped Wintergreen flowers:

I soon found another evergreen plant now in bloom, the glossy-leaved, aptly named Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), dangling its snowy-white bell-shaped flowers on red pedicels.  So pretty!

OK, here was a plant that tested my hypothesis about evergreen leaves and summer blooms.  Pointed-leaved Tick Trefoil (Hylodesmum glutinosum) does not have evergreen leaves.  But it does have nice broad ones, and lots of them, to capture whatever sunlight might penetrate the deep woods where I always find it. Its small bright-pink flowers on long slender stems certainly stand out in the gloomy shade.

And here's a flower with no leaves at all!  But Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) doesn't need any leaves to obtain its nutrients, for it is a parasitic plant that gets its energy, not by photosynthesis, but rather by soil fungi that deliver nutrients to it from nearby photosynthesizing trees.  Often mistaken for a fungus itself, it is indeed a flower.  And its ghostly whiteness sure makes it stand out against the dark leaf litter of the deep woods.

What a contrast, then, to step out from the deeply shaded woods into the brilliant light beneath the powerline that runs just north of Mud Pond.  It's here we will find those midsummer flowers that thrive in full sun, like the abundant stands of Early Goldenrod (Solidago juncea) just now coming into bloom.

Another sun-lover found here is Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa).  This native milkweed species is distinguished by clusters of brilliant-orange blooms.

Here's proof of how attractive these flowers are to butterflies, in this case the little American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas), with wings as orange as the florets.

Not a flower, but rather a cluster of ripening American Hazelnuts (Corylus americana) with bracts as ruffly as any bloom.  The nuts seem extra-large this year, so I'm wondering if the size could be affected by the abundant rainfall we've experienced all spring and early summer.

The Northern Dewberry fruits are ripening now, offering a juicy tart treat as I walked beneath the hot sun.  Rubus flagellaris is this common low-growing plant's scientific name.

Much sweeter than the Dewberries were the abundant Lowbush Blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) that also populate this open clearcut. Hot and sweating beneath a relentless midday sun, I was delighted to find refreshment by popping quite a few of these into my mouth.

I had parked my car by the side of the road, and as I made my way there, I was amused by all the fluffy little flowerheads of Rabbit-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense) that were carpeting the roadside.  I can't think of a more appropriate common name for this plant, with its chubby oblong flowerheads covered with pink-gray silky hairs.  The tiny florets are nestled within all these hairs.

Like most other clovers, Rabbits-foot Clover is not a native species, having arrived in North America  from Europe with some of the earliest European settlers.  And like all other clovers, it enriches the soil it grows in.  Its roots form nodules that house certain bacteria that take in nitrogen out of the air.  This nitrogen becomes part of this annual plant, and when the plant dies and decomposes each year, the nitrogen enters the soil and enriches it. This ability to make its own nutrients, combined with its tolerance for drought, allows this pretty plant to grow where many other plants can't.  But even so, I doubt it could grow in the deep shade of the midsummer woods.  I've certainly never found it there, only along sunny roadsides where few of our native plants could thrive and become competition.

1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

Wonderful pictures of those flowers!