Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Canal Park in Early June: A Virtual Walk Where Two Rivers Meet

The annual explosion of spring and summer wildflowers is well underway! In normal times (meaning, before this pandemic) I'd be very busy leading nature walks for various conservation groups. But this spring, all have been canceled.   One of those groups, the Schenectady County-based organization called ECOS (The Environmental Clearinghouse), plans to offer would-be participants a virtual experience of what they might have expected to encounter on these walks.  This blog post, then, attempts to portray something of what we would have experienced if our June 2 walk at Canal Park  had proceeded as originally planned.

Canal Park, located in Rensselaer County just across the Hudson River from the Saratoga-County village of Stillwater, is known as a wonderful site for botanical exploring.  Here, where the Hoosic River joins the Hudson just below Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal, rich alluvial flats and steep shale cliffs provide not just a beautiful woodsy place to walk, but also habitat for many remarkable plants.

Our adventure would start here (see the photo below) after parking our cars in the ample paved area adjoining Lock 4.  We are looking downstream toward where the canal rejoins the main river and where the Hoosic joins the Hudson. The trailhead for our walk lies just beyond where the fence ends. On several occasions, my friends and I have seen Bald Eagles soaring over these waters in search of prey or perching in treetops along the banks.We have also watched as boats -- from canal barges to luxury yachts -- pass through the lock, bypassing the rapids roiling the main course of the river.

Our trail promptly leads us into the deep shade of the woods, where trees lean over the canal from steep rocky heights.  Here,  we can search among soft green mosses for such low-growing woodland plants as Partridgeberry, Wintergreen, or Pussytoes.

A number of woodland shrubs can be found along this shaded woodsy part of the trail, among them the blueberry relative called Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), which we usually find in bloom in early June.

The Deerberry flowers are wider and more open than blueberry flowers would be, and the long needle-thin pistils and protruding brown stamens are distinctive features of these blooms.  When ripe, the Deerberry fruits are a lovely shad of aqua, faintly dotted with white.  While not poisonous, they are too hard and sour to be considered palatable.  Perhaps, as their name suggests, they are best left to be consumed by deer.

We shortly arrive at the junction of the two rivers, where the sunlit shale-lined shore provides habitat for many sun-loving plants.  Among those blooming in early June is White Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), its pretty white flowers tinged with purple.

We then turn and head upstream along the Hoosic River's high steep banks, the river rushing over rapids far below.

Almost as soon as we make the turn, we encounter the bright-yellow blooms of Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense). This summer flower gets that wintry-sounding name because of the distinctive curls of frozen sap that form around the stems the first sub-freezing mornings of autumn.

Almost directly across the trail from the Frostweed we find a patch of low-growing Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) with its clusters of beautiful hot-pink blooms.

Further along this riverside trail, if we're lucky we might find our lovely native orchid, the Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule).  Only one or two of these beautiful flowers do we find at this site each year in early June.

Eventually, our elevated trail slopes downward until we arrive at a low-lying area where the Hoosic makes a bend. This low flat area is flooded each spring, creating an alluvial plain with very rich soil, where many interesting native plants thrive and grow to prodigious size.

Among those plants that grow here not only abundantly but also to unusually large size is the Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium).  Related to Jack-in-the-Pulpits, the Green Dragon produces a long thin spathe that contains the cluster of florets (spadix) within.  Although the New York Flora Association's Plant Atlas indicates that this is not a rare plant, neither I nor any of my botanically interested friends have seen it growing anywhere else but here.

Many other remarkable native plants thrive in this rich alluvial soil later on in the summer:  Joe Pye Weed, Giant Ragweed, Great Lobelia, Great St. Johnswort, American Germander, are just a few I could name.  One could search this blog for posts about "Canal Park" to discover what other plants I have photographed here in other months, but in the meantime I will end this walk with just one more flower I've found blooming here in June.  Who could have guessed that a flower called Canada Onion (Allium canadense) could be so pretty? And those dainty little pink blooms emerging from a pod-full of bulblets are meant to be attractive to pollinators, not just to us. When it comes to reproduction, this little plant doesn't mess around. Those bulblets will fall off into the mud to produce new clones of the plant, while the flowers will sexually produce seeds after pollination.  Quite a feat for a little onion!


Unknown said...

Wonderful virtual walk. Thank you. I learned 3 new plants.. :)

Vagabonde said...

My first visit here. I saw your comment in Seasons in the Valley. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk near the rivers and all the pretty wildflowers. You are very knowledgeable. My late husband worked for the Georgia Wildlife Federation and he also knew all the names of wild flowers in our area, trees and even could tell what animals had walked on a path by their foot prints. Me, I just enjoy looking, but cannot name much. Your photos are very nice, too.

The Furry Gnome said...

A virtual walk would suit me just fine!

virginiabt28 said...

This is so beautiful with colorful wildflowers that we can anticipate arriving in a month or two. I have not been to this park. Thanks for posting a walk from a past year.

Kay MacLaury said...

Lovely. Thank you, Jackie.
-Kay M.

Spare Parts and Pics said...

What a lovely hike, and beautifully photographed!