Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Plant People Tour the Skidmore Woods

There sure were lots of plant people in town this week! And they came from all over the country, as well as a few from across the sea, to attend a joint conference sponsored by the North American Invasive Species Management Association, together with the New York Invasive Species Research Institute.  I probably wouldn't have known anything about it, except I was asked to co-conduct a tour of Skidmore College's North Woods as an outing for conference participants.  Steve Young, chief botanist with the New York Natural Heritage Program, knows that this woods is my personal bailiwick, and he asked me if I would help him lead a group of about a dozen conference participants through these remarkable limestone underlaid woods on Wednesday.

The day was a bit drizzly, but that didn't deter the woodswalkers, who might have been happy to turn their attention from concentrating on the problems of invasive species to just enjoy a walk through a woods renowned for its abundance of native and rare plants.  Unfortunately, the Skidmore woods has its own share of invasive species -- most notably Burning Bush, Buckthorn, Barberry, and Bittersweet -- but once we had noted the occasional presence of these invading plants, we were able to enjoy the native plants that continue to thrive in this woods in healthy numbers.

When I lead a walk, I rarely have the time to take photos, but Steve Young and I had a chance to preview our walk on the preceding Monday,  and I did take a few then, some of which I'm posting here.  I also gathered a few from my photo files. But what I am posting here is just a sampling of all the marvelous variety of plants, both woody and herbaceous, that we encountered on our walk.

Aside from lots of woodland asters and goldenrods, the only other plant we found actually blooming today was Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a common understory tree in the Skidmore woods.

This next photo is not of a flower, although it does kind of look like a cluster of tiny green dahlias. And it does have the flowery common name of Rose Moss (Rhodobryum ontariense). This is a real lime-loving moss, and we found it abundantly covering some of the limestone rocks that litter the forest floor in this woods.

One of the most abundant spring wildflowers here in this woods is the Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba), and although its flowers have been gone for months, its leaves remain on the plant all winter, often assuming beautiful shades of red.

Probably the rarest plant I was able to show our walkers today was the Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor),  acres of which thrive in the Skidmore woods and nowhere else in the county, that we know of.  This is a plant that looks very little like other members of the Violet Family, except for its three-parted seed pods that split open to reveal the little orbs of seeds inside.

One of the most frequent shrubs we encountered was Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which this time of year bears shiny red fruits that do indeed taste similar to the spice called Allspice and can be used (I've been told) as a substitute for that sweet spice in baking. The twigs also have a sweet aromatic smell, which we could detect by scraping a bit of the bark.

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) is a lime-loving plant that thrives in this woods and is one of our earliest flowers to bloom in the spring.  By this time of year, the flowers as well as most of its leaves are long gone, but its beautifully-blue seeds, held stiffly erect, persist on the plants well into the winter. They look like berries, but they are hard seeds encased in a thin blue skin.

Orange-fruited Horse Gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum) is not listed as an uncommon plant in New York State, but most people I show it to have never seen it before.  Perhaps they pass by this tall, big-leaved plant without noticing the bright-orange fruits arrayed around the stem in the leaf axils. I made sure our walk participants got a chance to see it today.  And yes, several folks had at first walked right by it without noticing the fruits.  The fruits ARE pretty showy, once you peer down into the plant to get a gander at them.

On this drizzly Wednesday, we did not see many bees or butterflies flying around.  But on Monday, the sunny day when I previewed this walk with Steve, I did see many butterflies, including this slightly tattered Painted Lady sipping nectar from a Spotted Knapweed bloom (Centaurea maculosa). I'm sorry our walk participants didn't get to see the butterfly. But I confess I'm glad they didn't have to note that the last blooming flower we passed on our walk was one of our most invasive species!

1 comment:

threecollie said...

As always, much to learn about plants. I too have never seen horse gentian even though we are outdoors all the time. I will keep my eye out now.