Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Week's Worth of Fascinating Flower Finds

I had a very busy wildflower week, last week.  So busy, I never had time to go through the hundreds of photos I took, or to sit down and compose any blogs about some of the places I visited.  Just to catch up, I'm posting here only a few highlights of the many interesting and beautiful flowers I came across in my woodsy and watery wanderings.

On Saturday, September 9, I paddled with friends on the Hudson River at South Glens Falls, a remarkable stretch of the river that includes both shallow backwater ponds and steep shale cliffs that are watered by mineral springs.  Floating along on the quiet current of this catchment between two dams was this Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), classified as a Threatened (S2) species in New York, but often abundant in this particular section of the Hudson.

On our way upstream toward the Feeder Dam, we found the first clusters of Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca) growing along the riverbank. We eventually found hundreds more of these lovely flowers growing directly out of steep shale cliffs that rise dramatically from the water's edge.

 Another beautiful flower that grows on these cliffs is the radiantly blue Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii). This flower is almost never found except in lime-rich areas that are constantly wet, conditions that are exactly met on this spring-watered shale.

There were many plants of Closed Gentian (Gentiana clausa) hiding under the riverside shrubs in this section of the Hudson. But any flower this strikingly blue cannot stay hidden for long!

The lovely pink-tinged White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is another late-summer wildflower that makes its home along this stretch of the river.

On Wednesday, September 11, I visited the Burl Trail that follows the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa, and I did post a blog about the changing flora along that trail. On that blog post, I mentioned the surprise appearance of Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) at that site, surprising not only because it never grew there until two years ago, but also because Tall Ironweed is classified as  an Endangered species (S1) in New York. With this photo, I wanted to post a closer photo of the flower's involucre, showing that the points of the bracts do not end in long hairs.  We do have a second species of native ironweed in the state, the New York Ironweed (V. novaeboracensis), which does display long hairs on the bracts.  That species is much more common in the state, although it has never appeared along the Burl Trail near Ballston Spa.

On Thursday, September 12, I joined my friends in our Thursday Naturalist group to visit the Woodlawn Preserve in Schenectady, a pine-barrens habitat that supports a marvelous variety of native plants that thrive in that sandy, low-nutrient habitat. Among the most interesting of these plants that we find there and no other place we visit is the Tall Boneset (Eupatorium altissimum). This species can be distinguished from our much more common Common Boneset (E. perfoliatum) by the presence of much narrower leaves that do not cross the stem.  This species has been vouchered from very few counties in the state, and the New York Flora Association has ranked its native origin as Unknown.

I always find it surprising to find orchids growing in such sandy soil as that of the Woodlawn Preserve, but that seems to be exactly the habitat preferred by Nodding Lady's Tresses (Spiranthes cernua),  which we found on our Thursday visit.  I am aware that, recently, this species has been divided into a complex of varieties (or species?), but I still call this flower by the name I learned it by. As an amateur wildflower enthusiast and not a professional botanist, I don't have to learn these new names unless I want to, and Nodding Lady's Tresses will serve me just fine for now.

Some day I hope to find Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia) when it is flowering, for I have never seen its four-parted yellow flower that is similar to other blooms in its Evening Primrose Family. But then, its red leaves and squared-off seed pods found at this time of year are far more distinctive than its flower surely is. It grows in an open, somewhat marshy area of the Woodlawn Preserve, and I find it odd that no one has yet vouchered it as existing in Schenectady County, although it is not rated as a rare plant in the state.

On Friday, September 13, I joined my friend Sue Pierce along the Warren County Bikeway in Queensbury, up in Warren County.  Sue took me to a damp ditch next to where the bikeway runs close to an open field. And here in this ditch, ringed by commercial buildings and near to where heavy traffic goes zooming by, dozens of Fringed Gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) had opened their glorious blooms. One of the amazing things about this ample population of Fringed Gentians is that it is most likely a spontaneously native population, not seeded nor cultivated by human intention.  The only other sites where I have seen this spectacular native wildflower are places where they have been planted and managed by humans.  I wonder how many sites like this still exist? Or how long this one will? What a treasure to behold!

And here was a real oddball (and literally so!), which I found in that same field where the Fringed Gentians thrive.  Masses of Tall Goldenrod  (Solidago altissima) share that field, and I am aware of two galls that are frequently found on that species of goldenrod, a ball-shaped gall on the stem, and a green leafy one that grows on the tip.  But I have never seen a solid, globe-shaped mass like this one,  which was sprouting yellow blooms from its ball of miniaturized leaves.  The growth seemed to have stunted the goldenrod's height, too, since this plant was only about 18 inches high, unlike the other goldenrod stems that waved in the breeze and stood almost shoulder high.  An interesting find, for sure!  But a puzzling one, as well.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sic Transit Gloria Flora!

New England Aster!  Is there any native wildflower to rival it for gorgeous autumn color? I wait all year to witness this beautiful flower in its late-season glory, and I used to know exactly where to go to find it, not only in abundant numbers but also in all three of its color variations: bright purple, vivid rose, and pale pink. That place was the Burl Trail along the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa. The photo below, taken in 2011, shows how this aster used to abound along this trail. But sadly, the photo above shows the single, solitary New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) I found yesterday along the entire three-quarter-mile length of the trail.  What happened to this aster? Why did it disappear here?

I wonder if the sunflower pictured below could have been the culprit.  This photo was taken in 2013,  the first year I discovered a single plant of this Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) along the Burl Trail.  Native to America's central states, this species is definitely not native to Saratoga County.    Perhaps it was introduced to this site when state workers back in 2012 reconfigured the creek banks here to ameliorate flooding and then replanted the banks with trees and herbaceous plants.  Native or not, it sure looked beautiful lifting its gorgeous big yellow blooms among the masses of purple and rose New England Asters.

For the next couple of years, the Maximilian Sunflowers and New England Asters seemed to happily co-exist in an awesome display of floral beauty.

But by 2016, these introduced sunflowers had spread so vigorously, they completely monopolized the site, their numbers increasing as the asters grew more and more scarce.  When I took this photo that year, I could find only three or four New England Asters anywhere on the trail. This situation continued through 2017.

But then, in 2018, I found but two stems of Maximilian Sunflower growing along the Burl Trail. Huh?  Where did they go? Will they come back?  Not yet, anyway, for this year, 2019, not a single one could be found.  Not ONE! Poof!  What I had feared was becoming an invasive species had completely disappeared, over the course of two years.  Along with most of the New England Asters, as well.  As I mentioned above, I found but a single aster this year, the one I pictured in my opening photo.  In the place of both asters and sunflowers, masses and masses of Tall Goldenrod now teem, creating a virtual monoculture along the trail, completely dominating the site.  (Except where it battles for dominance against threatening hordes of Mugwort, a horribly invasive species probably introduced to this site on the rootballs of the newly planted trees.)

Ah well, at least this goldenrod is a species that is native to Saratoga County.  And the numerous Monarch Butterflies I saw feeding on the blooms seemed quite happy they were there.

And then, oh my gosh, look what now has showed up!  Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea)!  Towering to a height that rivals that of the surrounding goldenrods, this species of Ironweed is also a disjunct species in Saratoga County, as well as being a plant that is ranked as Endangered in New York State. This makes the third year I have seen this plant along the Burl Trail, each time in a different location. The first time I saw it here, in 2017, I figured it was a garden escapee and would likely not persist. But here it is, again.  It will be very interesting to observe its progress -- or lack thereof -- here in this ever-changing environment.  Which plants will persist, which ones disappear?  Every year tells a new story.

Meanwhile, some long-time floral residents do persist along the Burl Trail, including vast thickets of Pale Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), their lovely yellow blooms dangling  on delicate stems.

An open damp meadow teems with Arrow-leaved Tearthumb (Persicaria sagittata) bearing both white and pink flower clusters. (This is NOT a meadow you would want to stroll through while wearing shorts, for the stems of this plant are covered with skin-lacerating barbs.)

Wild Cucumber vines (Echinocystis lobata) drape over much of the shrubbery, many of them bearing the spiny egg-shaped fruits.  I was enchanted to find this wee little baby "cucumber" forming from the ovary of the flower.

A few Wild Bergamot plants (Monarda fistulosa) are still producing pretty lavender-colored blooms, and still providing nectar to visiting Silver-spotted Skippers.

And here are a couple of pretty "weeds" that have massed together to form a floral carpet as lovely as any tapestry.  Neither the diminutive Giant Chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum) nor the pink-flowered Lady's' Thumb (Persicaria maculosa) is a native plant, but there's no denying they certainly are attractive.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Return to the Hoosic Shores

A view of the Hoosic River at Lock 4 Canal Park, just upstream from where it joins the Hudson River

Canal Park at Lock 4 in Rensselaer County is a wonderful place for a river walk, since its many acres of woodland and riverbank lie at the junction of the Hudson and Hoosic rivers, just where the Champlain Canal rejoins the Hudson River. And we wildflower enthusiasts know it as a marvelously fertile place to find many amazing flowers.

Although I have visited this beautiful park already twice this year (in June and again in August), I returned once more this past week to see if I could catch the rare Creeping Bushclover (Lespedeza repens) in bloom at last.  And I'm very happy to report that it was!

One of the great features of this park is a low area flowed over by Hoosic River floodwaters each spring, a place where most of its resident plants grow to gigantic size in the rich alluvial soil. Here we find Green Dragon plants (Arisaema dracontium) that reach up to our waists in June.  I wondered if I could still find Green Dragons this late in the year, so I hurried to where I knew they grow in abundant numbers.  At first, I could not find their large leaves among the prevailing greenery. But then the brilliant-red shiny fruits caught my eye.  The leafy parts of the plants were fading fast, but oh, those fruits were certainly in their glory!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Finally Found: A Fungus's Fuzzy Feet!

For years, I've been encountering fallen logs in the forest that were absolutely paved with tiny orange mushrooms, like those in the photo above. This astounding fungal abundance was one of the traits that made this little fungus easy to find in my mushroom guides and learn the name of: Xeromphalina campanella.  My mushroom guides also told me that the scientific name, loosely translated, means "bell-shaped little belly-buttons." Yeah, I get that resemblance.  But I also learned that the common name of this common fungus was "Fuzzy Foot," because of the tiny hairs that were found at the base of the stem. "Found by whom?" I often wondered, since no matter how many stems I observed, I never saw any hairs.  Until this week, that is.

This week, I encountered this little mushroom once again, massed on a fallen log near a stream in Moreau Lake State Park.  As usual, I peered at the base of the stems, but at first (and also as usual) I could see no basal hairs.  But the wood of the log was so rotten it came apart in my hand, and thus revealed a part of the stem I had never seen before.  And lo!  Finally found: this little fungus's truly fuzzy feet!  Ta da!

Finding the fuzzy feet on those Fuzzy Foots would have been enough pleasure for one day, but I also had the pleasure of Nancy Slack's company, as well.    Nancy is an expert bryologist, and we were searching a rocky stream bed for whatever bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) we could find. Nancy, a retired professor of ecology at Russell Sage College,  still teaches a bryology class, and she was collecting specimens of many different mosses and liverworts to show to her students.

Although I am not officially enrolled in Professor Slack's bryology class, I am certainly one of her students, for she teaches me something new each time we venture out together.  And here was a new one for me:  I had assumed it was a moss, but this is a leafy little liverwort called Plagiochila asplenioides that was growing on one of the rocks that were watered by the stream. 

Unlike most species of liverwort, Plagiochila asplenioides does have a common name, which is Greater Featherwort. OK, I see the resemblance.   I had to wonder, though.  If this is the GREATER Featherwort, how much smaller would a LESSER one be?  This one seems pretty small already, to me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Coralroots Here, Coralroots There; Some Ho-hum, Some Really Rare!

Whew!  I had worried that the really rare orchid I wrote about a few posts back -- the Pringle's Autumn Coralroot -- might have been eliminated from its home at Moreau Lake State Park. And oh, wouldn't that have been a shame!  This is an orchid so rare it has been ranked as extirpated from New York.   Since the site where I first took the photos of them had been rendered inhospitable by heaps of leaves piled atop them, I wondered if I would ever see them again.  But thanks to my friends Dan Wall and Sue Pierce and their discerning eyes, more specimens of Pringle's Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza var. pringlei) were found at the park this week, and at sites quite safely distant from where they had met their doom before.  Oh happy day!

Of course, if you saw these tiny orchids in person, you would understand why the groundskeepers wouldn't have known they were smothering one of the state's rarest orchids.  Autumn Coralroots are not exactly showy flowers, even in full bloom.   In fact, they are so cryptically colored and invisibly small,  it's really hard to discern them among the forest-floor leaf litter, even when you know exactly where to look.  And it was even harder to make my camera focus on those features that distinguish the Pringle's variety of Autumn Coralroot from the much more common variety, Corallorhiza odontorhiza var. odontorhiza.

I had to hold a leaf behind this Pringle's Autumn Coralroot stem in order for my camera to stop focusing on the forest floor behind it and home in instead on the ruffly, purple polka-dotted petals that curled from the bottom of each bloom.  This specimen is from a population of more than a dozen that Dan had located earlier this week.

Following Dan's directions, my friend Sue and I visited the group of coralroots Dan had discovered,  where I took the photo above.  Then, with a search image fixed in our heads, we proceeded to a nearby site where we had found coralroots thriving in years past.  Could the ones we found there also be Pringle's? I do believe it is possible, since some of the florets of the plants at this site were open, displaying not only the dotted white lower petal, but also the pollen bundle within. A distinguishing feature of the Pringle's Autumn Coralroot is that the flowers are open, requiring a visit from pollinating insects to reproduce.  The flowers of the common variety of Autumn Coralroot are closed and self-pollinating, and usually do not display a lower petal.  When a rare-plant monitor from the state arrives later this week to assess these populations, I hope we will get a confirmation about which variety these are. Again, there were more than a dozen specimens at this site.

Sue and I have been finding Autumn Coralroots at this park for many years, first discovering them along a trail called the Red Oak Ridge, which heads up into the mountains that rise above Moreau Lake.  We decided to venture up that trail once again, to visit the more mountainous sites where we first laid eyes on them.  If we found them in their familiar spots, would we be able to ascertain which variety they were?

We did indeed find Autumn Coralroots along this trail, and many of them right where we had last seen them.  This quintet of spindly plants was growing out of the damp soil next to a trickling stream bed, and all of the other ones we found along this trail also appeared in soil that was damper than the surrounding forest.  The Pringle's Autumn Coralroots we had seen today all grew in the drier, sandier soil down closer to the lake.

Not a single specimen of the Autumn Coralroots we found up here on the mountain displayed any lower petals, and all displayed the closed florets that are typical of the standard variety, Corallorhiza odontorhiza var. odontorhiza.  I do believe it is safe to say that both varieties thrive at Moreau Lake State Park, although in somewhat different habitats.

Our purposeful search now accomplished, Sue and I enjoyed the rest of our walk along this forested mountain trail, especially the abundant mosses that thrived atop the boulders along the way.  Here was an ample mound of the appropriately named Delicate Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum).

I believe this very leafy, almost translucent moss is one of the Mnium species, possibly Mnium punctatum, which looked like a dense cluster of tiny green flowers.

And this moss was . . . wait a minute!  This is an abundant patch of Porella, a liverwort, not a moss! A close look revealed the overlapping leaves that are typical of liverworts, but it sure had a mossy look about it, didn't it?

Most of the rock that forms the mountains that run through the park is granitic, and thereby somewhat acidic.  But we found evidence along this trail that there must be some marble outcroppings here, because of the presence of many plants that prefer a basic soil.  This trembling patch of Maidenhair Fern was one example.

Ebony Spleewort was one more example, being a fern that often prefers a lime-rich soil.

The same can be said for Plantain-leaved Sedge, whose crinkly leaves have earned it another common name, Seersucker Sedge.

Spikenard, too, is usually found where lime enriches the soil, and we found a few plants along the trail, the berries still quite green.

We found some beautiful fungi today as well, including this finely striped translucent one that is likely one of the Ink Cap group.  One I have seen that most closely resembles this one is called the Hare's Foot Fungus (Coprinopsis lagopus), which is as furry as its common name suggests when young, but with caps that invert as it ages to becoming this smooth and delicate cup before it collapses.

This yellow fungus resembled tiny tuning forks protruding from the earth.  The closest match I could find in my mushroom guides was Calocera viscosa. But it could be something else.  Yellow Tuning Forks would be a good common name.

Yellow Spindle Coral (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) was another colorful fungus we found along the trail.

This is one of the most vividly colored fungi of all, the glossy, deep-orange Mycenia leaiana, which always grows in dense clusters on rotting logs.

This wee little fungus that always grows in crowded masses on rotting wood has a very long name for such a tiny mushroom:  Xeromphalina campanella. Roughly translated, that means "bell-shaped little belly-buttons."

One of the common names of Xeromphalina campanella is Fuzzy Foot, ostensibly because of the fuzz that grows at the base of the stem.   Every time I come upon a patch of this common mushroom I look for that fuzz, but in vain.  Until today, that is.  I finally got a good gander at the fuzzy little patches at the base of the stem.  Not every stem, but at least a few of them.

So.  We sure had a wonderful walk, Sue and I, through a beautiful park surrounded by many wondrous things.  Some of the most wondrous (apart from the really rare orchids, of course) were the numerous Red Efts that shared our trail up the mountain, little wriggly newts that avoid being stepped on by advertising their presence by their vivid color. Could any little critter be any cuter?