Saturday, August 10, 2019

Lose One, Find Some

Just one year ago, I found what might be an Endangered aquatic plant called Cut-leaved Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum pinnatum) in very shallow water near the shore of the Hudson River at South Glens Falls.  Today seemed a good day to go and see if I could find it again, so off I went to South Glens Falls and the town's beach on the Hudson.  Here's what the milfoil looked like on this date in 2018.  As you can see, it was very small!

Sadly, I found no trace of this wee little milfoil today.  Last year, when I submitted a specimen of it to a state botanist to be identified, I was told it sure looked like the rare Myriophyllum pinnatum, but molecular examination would be needed to be absolutely sure.  So far, I haven't heard whether this examination has yielded any results, but in some ways it doesn't matter any more, since the plant seems to have disappeared from this location.  I suppose it might reappear one day when conditions are just right, but today was not that day.  Darn!  It really had the cutest little fuzzy pink pistils, and I'd hoped to see them again:

Was I disappointed?  Sure.  But my disappointment didn't last long, replaced almost immediately with curiosity when I spied some pink-and-yellow wings protruding from a nearby Evening Primrose bloom (Oenothera biennis).

Sure enough, when I folded back a petal, there was a lovely Primrose Moth (Schinia florida), whose larvae are known to feed only on our native Evening Primrose.  There are many other beautiful moths, but none any prettier than this!

And I found LOTS of these lovely moths today.  Sometimes more than one on a single plant.

I also found quite a bit more fascinating stuff in the thickets of greenery along the river.  Look at these cute little mud pots stuck to the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf. These are the larval nests of the Potter Wasp (Family Eumeninae), with each tiny pot holding a single egg, along with paralyzed insects for the larvae to feed on after they hatch . When the larvae emerge from their pots, they will feed on other denizens of milkweed plants, including our beloved Monarch caterpillars.  As well as other insects we love less.

What was THIS?  A yellow BERRY on a willow tree? Nope.  Not a berry at all!  A closer examination revealed that this yellow orb was really a gall grown from a willow leaf.  I have seen many different galls on willow twigs -- pinecone galls, tip galls, spindle galls, etc. -- but never a yellow one like this.  After searching Google, I decided that the most likely cause was the sawfly Euura viminalis, whose larvae feed within yellow galls that look like this and grow from willow leaves.

Here was a butterfly larva already hatched! And what a cutie, with that shiny brown head and tiny orange "eyes"! This is a baby Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus), happily feeding on the leaves of Hog Peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata), one of the Pea Family plants this species of larva feeds on.

So even though I did not find the plant I came looking for, I sure did find some fascinating critters.  And the day wasn't over yet!

On my way home I swung by the Spring Run Trail within the city of Saratoga Springs, and I hurried to a bridge across the creek that follows that trail.  Would the beautiful Great Blue Lobelias be blooming yet?  Oh yes, they certainly were!  There were many of them, all clustered in the damp ditch that empties into the creek, and most of them bearing the royal-blue flowers this species (Lobelia siphilitica) is famous for.  And the show has only begun, with many candy-striped buds still to open.

Here's a close look at the interesting structure of these lobelia flowers. Note how the top lip of the flower is split in two, with the pollen-laden anther arching out of and above the split.  When an insect seeking nectar lands on the white "landing pad," its weight causes the anther to plunge down through the slit and deposit pollen on the back of the insect.  Pretty tricky!

There were also many plants of Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) sharing that ditch with the Great Blue Lobelia, and I was delighted to find that many of its flowers had already gone to seed.  Even though this plant has pretty yellow flowers, I think its seedpods -- shiny green orbs set within red-tipped stars -- are just as pretty as its flowers.

One more treat for the eyes today!  I know that Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is an introduced "weed," and as a native wildflower champion I'm supposed to disdain it.  But goodness, aren't its multicolored fruits a beautiful thing?


Woody Meristem said...

The lobelia's flowers and pollination are just about as complicated as an orchid's.

threecollie said...


Kim Kelly said...

Hi there! I really love your blog. I work for the North American Invasive Species Management Association and we're holding our annual conference in your neck of the woods at the end of September. I would love to use some of your photos for our conference program and other communications. Would you grant us permission? I'd credit you of course. Please contact me at to talk further. Thanks for all the inspiration!