Wednesday, August 7, 2019

In the Valley of Delight

 How did I come to be so blessed?  To live in one of the loveliest parts of the world and to have the health and strength and leisure to be able to immerse myself completely in its wonders any time I wanted to!  These were the thoughts that entered my mind yesterday, as I slipped my little lightweight canoe into the quiet waters of the Hudson River at Moreau and gazed at all the serene beauty surrounding me.  Here, where forested mountains rise directly from the water's edge, no houses or boat docks or resort hotels intrude to destroy the illusion of wilderness, even though I know that a busy road lies hidden behind the trees, and dams both upstream and downstream churn out dozens of megawatts of electric energy each.  But standing here at the Sherman Island Boat Launch and gazing both upstream and down, all I could see was a blue sky ornamented with puffy white clouds that were mirrored in the quiet water, as well as the billowing contours of emerald-green hills. I could even pretend that I was the first to ever stand on this placid shore in this gorgeous river valley.

And I also saw the beckoning presence of a trio of tiny islands not far offshore, islands whose bouldered and muddy shores support an exciting variety of interesting plants that always inspire my attention.  So these islands were my destination on this beautiful day.

But before I headed straight across the river to reach the islands, I first had to mosey along the banks, checking on plants I had visited not many days before.  The Smaller Purple Fringed Orchids (Platanthera psycodes) I had last seen in bud were now in full open bloom, their vivid purple quite evident from many paddle strokes  away.

The tight buds of Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) had opened into puffs of spiky white flowers.

The sprawling vines of Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) had opened their snowy blooms to offer tufts of pollen-laden stamens to visiting wasps and bees.

This steep bank was strung with Dewberry vines (Rubus flagellaris), offering glistening deep-black fruit to any who could enjoy a juicy jolt of tartness.

And here was a jolt of brilliant red no other riverside flower could match!  A single spike of Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) glowed like a flaming torch from within the shaded woods along the bank.

Now, out to the islands!  The water level had lowered since I last paddled out here, and masses of emergent and shoreline plants were making up for lost time, erupting quickly into bloom lest rising water overwhelm them once more.  This carpet of green and gold glowed at one island's edge.

The green and gold of a carpet of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) was dotted with the tiny white tufts of Pipewort flowers (Eriocaulon aquaticum).

Here's a closer look at the bright-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers of Golden Pert.  This is a plant whose green leaves happily thrive underwater, carpeting the muddy river bottom.  Let the water recede and expose the plants to air, and almost overnight the plants erupt into bloom. 

This week, the Golden Pert shared its shoreline mud with a number of stems of Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta), a species of bladderwort that anchors itself in wet mud rather than floating free in deeper water.

In a watery area filled with sedges, two species of Arrowhead were blooming now.  This one is Grass-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminifolia),  its leaf a flattened paddle instead of the arrow-shaped leaf that suggested the Arrowhead genus's common name.

Close by were some other Arrowheads with the typical arrow-shaped leaves (Sagittaria latifolia).

Almost hidden among the sedges were these tiny flowers of our native Small Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis laxa), little dots of sky-blue amid a sea of green.

You sure couldn't miss the ruby-red seed pods (achenes) of Pale St. Johnswort (Hypericum ellipticum) held high above ankle-deep water.

But this last flower was so tiny, I almost DID miss it! And when its wee little bright-yellow bloom did catch my eye, I thought at first its was Canada St. Johnswort, one of our tiniest flowers to grow along the river.  But no, a closer look revealed it was the three-petaled flower of a Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris sp.).  Ah, but which species was it?

I have seen the species of Yellow-eyed Grass called Northern Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris montana), a common wildflower of bogs and fens and waterway shores, but wow, this one was so much smaller than any of that species I have seen.  Could it be the much rarer species called Slender Yellow-eyed Grass (X. torta)?  It did have twisted, very narrow leaves and a somewhat broadened base.  Or perhaps another more common species called Bog Yellow-eyed Grass (X. diformis)?  I confess I do not know.  Nor did an expert botanist I sent photos to, although he thought it most likely to be our most common species, the Xyris montana.  I have sent him a specimen to examine more closely, and if he can positively ID it as to species. I will return with an update.


threecollie said...

Lovely, as always. I can't tell you how many times I think of you when I see an unfamiliar plant out in the wild. Your knowledge is awesome!

The Furry Gnome said...

Wonderful excursion! I love the Cardinal Flower.