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.

1 comment:

Woody Meristem said...

You've illustrated one of the rules of the natural world -- Everything changes, noting remains the same. In most of the east meadows are ephemeral things going through a number of changes until they become woodland.