Saturday, May 9, 2020

New Trail, New Plants, and a Stumper

I am delighted that my son Philip has inherited some of my trespasser's genes.  Well, it's not that we mean to break the law, it's just that sometimes we wander a stream or follow a deer trail or enter a woods that beckons so persuasively we somehow fail to notice the "Posted" signs.  My son is a restaurant chef, so he has mornings and early afternoons free to wander, and recently he came upon a little-used trail that follows both a powerline clearcut and a wooded streambank that leads to a marsh that was filled with plants he did not recognize.  Bless his heart, he knows who to ask about plants, and he sent me some photos that really piqued my interest.  "Take me there, Phil!" I begged him.  And so he did.

We started our walk on the powerline service road, which was lined with Blackberry bushes and Sweet Fern shrubs,  and the sandy ground was dotted with the bright-purple blooms of Ovate-leaved Violet (Viola sagittata var. ovata). This fuzzy-stemmed violet blooms on very short stems when it first comes into bloom, so its flowers seem very large compared to its small furry basal leaves.

Sharing that sunny roadside were several patches of Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)  just opening its snowy flowers.

There were several small trees bearing white blossoms along this road, and a close look at the flowers revealed the single pistil that signifies a stone-fruit blossom. The reddish twigs and clustered blooms indicated to me that this was most likely a Pin Cherry tree (Prunus pensylvanica).  It will have bright-red sour cherries later in summer. An alternate common name for this tree is Bird Cherry, appropriately enough, since birds devour these cherries. Usually, before we humans can manage to get to them.

After a short while, the trail veered into a mixed hardwood/conifer woods, and here, the forest floor was home to abundant woodland wildflowers.  Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) was one of those in bloom today.

We passed several places where the forest floor was peppered with dozens of the snowy orbs of Dwarf Gingseng (Panax trifolius).

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) also dotted the forest floor, its star-shaped white blooms containing the oddest little yellow jelly-like petals and green spindle-shaped pistils.

Soon to join the floral display will be Starflower (Lysimachia borealis).  We could see its leaves everywhere, and a closer look revealed the tiny flower buds getting ready to open.

The fat pink buds of Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum) have released both large green leaves and dangling clusters of flower buds.

There were so many White Pines in this woods, I kept expecting to see Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), and soon I did, indeed.  A cluster of six of them surrounding a large White Pine. Although not yet flowering, this orchid is immediately recognizable even in bud by its two  large basal leaves, arcing stem, and plump oval bud surmounted by a green bract.

We also surprised a couple of woodland critters as we passed through this woods.  This Garter Snake was coiled in such a convoluted way, I thought it would tie itself in knots if it tried to flee suddenly.  Phil and I kept our distance so as not to disturb its nap.

If this tiny Spring Peeper had frozen in place, we would never have seen it, so well camouflaged it was among the brown leaf litter. But of course, it hopped and hopped and hopped.  Finally, it stopped for just a second so I could snap its photo.

Before long, the trail moved close to a stream, where Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) glowed on the banks and white-flowered Shadblow trees (Amelanchier sp.) leaned their branches over the water, creating a scene so lush and green and gorgeous, I could have stayed here all day.

Here's a closer look at those beautiful Marsh Marigold blooms.

In several places along the stream, sandy flats revealed the tracks of the animals who frequented these woods and waters. Because these Raccoon tracks were both large and small, we presumed that Mama Raccoon had brought her babies down to the water here.

This photo shows both the green leaves of Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) and the web-covered uncoiling fiddleheads of Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), both plants being abundant along the stream.

Water Striders were darting about on the slow-moving water of the stream.  It amazes me how their feet can dimple the water's surface without breaking through.

We finally reached an open marshy area where a number of wetland species of plants were thriving under the sun.  And here was the plant that had piqued my interest so, when Phil sent me photos of it, one I recognized from my guidebooks but which I had never laid my eyes on before.  This is Swamp Saxifrage (Micranthes pensylvanica), with a cluster of flower buds topping a long fuzzy stem.  According to the New York Flora Association, this is a common plant in the state, but I had never encountered it.  Perhaps few people get to see it because it grows on wet muck, not always a habitat easy for folks to explore. But I don't mind muddy feet, if it means I get to meet a new flower for my life list.

There were quite a few Swamp Saxifrage plants thriving at this site, including this one with its baby cluster of buds.  That short stem will grow and grow and grow, becoming quite tall before the buds open into clusters of greenish-white star-shaped flowers.  At least, that's what my guidebooks show me.  I will certainly have to return to this spot to see these plants in bloom for myself.

Here was another plant I want to return to observe, hoping to find it in bloom.  It was growing right IN the shallow water, and I did not recognize it from the foliage alone.  Neither have any of my Facebook friends recognized it, even some experts among them, after I posted photos there showing the leaves and stems in a number of close-up shots. The presence of a flower would sure help a lot.

In some places, this unknown plant formed large mats of rooted plants in the slow-moving shallow water.  I want to know the name of this plant, not just to satisfy my curiosity, but also to learn whether it might prove to be invasive.

This creek and its banks are home to a rich assortment of native species, and it would be a shame to see them supplanted by a non-native plant.  So I will be returning often, hoping to find this mystery plant in bloom for the sake of identifying it.  And also just to enjoy this marvelous trail that my son introduced me to.  What a site!  And we had it mostly all to ourselves, a real plus in these social-distancing times.


threecollie said...

What a wonderful walk! So hard to give up our happy habits of visiting our favorite outdoor spaces. We have found much the same thing with parks and walks full of people...which is not really such a bad thing I guess. We have worked around it by going early in the morning when daily child care duties allow, or finding some great new spots. One swamp we now visit has Wilson's Snipes winnowing overhead a half dozen at a time! Love your photo of of the peeper. They are so hard to even see let along get a shot of one. Also thanks for putting a name to Canada Mayflower. It grows everywhere in the woods where we camp and I have never known what it was.

The Furry Gnome said...

A wonderful trail to find, and a great group of pictures of interesting plants!