But the sky and the mirroring water weren't the only true-blue treasures we sought today, for here we knew we would find thousands of royal-blue Narrow-leaved Gentians (Gentiana linearis) adorning nearly every foot of shoreline, all around the pond. I often find this species of gentians blooming along other waterways, but never in the astounding abundance with which they bloom along these shores. A truly amazing sight!
With every stroke of the paddle, another abundant patch of bright-blue gentians came into view.
This particular pond is long and narrow, with a generally east/west orientation. This means that the south-facing shore is almost always in sunlight, and the north-facing shore is almost always in shade. The gentians were equally abundant on either shore, but they did exhibit some differences in appearance, depending upon the amount of sun they received. Note how stiffly erect these sunlit gentians grow, tucked in here among a patch of Arrowhead leaves. These plants never have to search for the light by bending their stems away from the shadows, and so they grow right straight up.
But here are some gentians that grow on the shore that is nearly always in shadow. See how they lean away from the bank, seeking the sun from beneath the shade of the shoreline trees. This habit of growth is typical for those that grow on the north-facing shore. We also noticed that all of the gentians along this shore were fresher and more deeply blue than those of the opposite shore, which had bloomed a few days earlier than these and were already starting to fade.
Some of the leaning Narrow-leaved Gentians rested their heavy multi-bloom clusters atop the shoreline rocks.
Some of the stems had actually fallen right into the pond, but the flower clusters floated atop the surface, their beauty multiplied by the watery reflections.
We were quite surprised to see these Narrow-leaved Gentians that appeared quite white, seeming to glow as if lit from within, lifting their luminous blooms from amidst a thicket of dark-green ferns.
A closer look at these "white" flowers revealed they were actually touched with the faintest tinge of blue.
The Narrow-leaved Gentians seemed to exert some kind of monopoly over most other pondside flowering plants. We found very few other flowers blooming today, aside from some towering Flat-topped Asters (too windblown to photograph) and these smaller plants of Northern Bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) that bore wreaths of tiny white flowers in their leaf axils. But just a few weeks ago, when we paddled this pond in July, the banks had been teeming with Little Club Spur Orchids (Platanthera clavellata), whose pod-laden stalks we could still find in abundance today.
While other flowers besides the gentians were difficult to find, there were many fruiting plants in abundance. These Bunchberry fruits (Cornus canadensis) were especially easy to spot on the bouldered slopes of the north-facing banks, since their bright-red translucent berries seemed to glow like Christmas lights.
Higher up on the banks, where Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) sprawled across the forest floor, clusters of ruby-red berries had sprung from amid leaves that were already turning their autumnal burgundy hues.
The boughs of this Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana) were so heavy with colorful fruit they hung down low enough to almost touch the water.
After we beached our boats and walked the trails that circle this pond, we came upon some fungi that were just as pretty as any flowers. The most abundant mushroom was this brilliant-orange pixie-capped one called Salmon Entoloma (Entoloma quadratum).
These Earth Tongue fungi (Geoglossum difforme) were so small I probably wouldn't have noticed them, had they not sprung up from amid a patch of Big Red-stem Moss (Pleurozium schreberi) that provided a feathery-green foil for their glossy-black shapes.
Before we loaded our boats and left, we explored a patch of Common Milkweed and other plants growing along the road, and we were delighted to find quite a few Monarch caterpillars chomping away on some milkweed leaves.
There were also a number of Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillars enjoying the milkweed bounty.
I can't recall what kind of leaves this White Marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar was consuming because I was so intrigued by the creature's complex coloration and amazing texture. This is one of those "look but don't touch" caterpillars, because it has stinging hairs somewhere among all those poufs and tufts and bristles.
I remember reading somewhere that this Brown Hooded Owlet Moth Caterpillar is probably the most photographed caterpillar of all, and I wouldn't be surprised if that were true. It certainly is a beauty, with all those colorful stripes. This one was feeding on aster stems, I believe. Or maybe goldenrod. I was so distracted by this cat's beauty, I confess I failed to notice its host.
I DO recall what this pretty bug was consuming, because the Milkweed Leaf Beetle eats nothing BUT milkweed. A pretty little beetle it is, displaying the bright coloration most milkweed-consuming insects possess, the better to warn potential predators that it is as toxic as the leaves it consumes.