Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pity the Lilies!

Canada Lily (Lilium canadense), photo taken along Bog Meadow Brook Trail on July 4, 2015.
Well, it's almost the Fourth of July, and you know what THAT means!  Fireworks! But not the kind that send our pets into hiding.  I mean the kind that send me off to Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail in search of Canada Lilies exploding into brilliant bloom, as spectacular as any "rockets' red glare!" (See how beautiful they can be, in the photo above.) Hoping to locate a few of these gorgeous native wildflowers at least in bud, I hurried over there today. But I did not find any gorgeous blossoms.  Nor any buds starting to bloom.  The Scarlet Lily Beetle larvae got there first. These disgusting poop-covered larvae had already eaten all the leaves of this lily and were starting to destroy the bud.  Looks like once again, we will have no Canada Lilies this year. Alas! I have read that a tiny wasp that predates on these larvae has been released in parts of the northeast, but it sure looks like they haven't yet found their way to the larvae chowing down on this Bog Meadow lily.

Ah well, at least we can expect a spectacular display of another beautiful flower, to judge from the massive numbers of Showy Tick Trefoil plants that are lining the trail this year. In all the years I've  been walking this trail, I have never seen so many of these plants, which later in July will bear thick spikes of pretty purple flowers.  This species isn't called "showy" for no reason!

Peering closely at the Showy Tick Trefoil plants, I could not detect any flower buds as yet. But I did see that a brief shower had decorated each leaf with crystal drops of rainwater. Very pretty!

At least I did find some flowers this trip, including several blooming shrubs.  The flat clusters of Elderberry blooms appeared a startling white against the deep-green of their leaves.

Even more lovely than in the flower clusters, the Elderberry florets were dropping off and spangling the Sensitive Ferns that thrive in the marshy soil beneath the shrub.

Other flowering shrubs along the trail included this Silky Dogwood, holding dense clusters of four-petaled, creamy-white flowers.

I had to peer close to appreciate the tiny flowers that clung tight to the twigs of a Winterberry shrub.  All of the wee little flowers on this shrub were staminate, holding pollen-tipped anthers above the waxy white blooms. The pistillate flowers bloomed on a separate shrub, open to the pollen that will waft on the wind from these yellow anthers, or be carried there by pollinating insects.

The warm humid air helped to carry the marvelous fragrance of this Common Milkweed blooming nearby.

Unfortunately, many of the flowers and shrubs that line this trail are not native species.  That is true for this showy Daisy poking up through the Tick Trefoil leaves, but that non-native designation did nothing to detract from the perky charm of the flower.

Deptford Pink is another non-native flower that likes it here, and again, its vividly colorful beauty helps to quell any disdain regarding its lack of native status.

The dainty flowers of Marsh Bedstraw are so tiny they might be overlooked, if not for how brilliantly white they are against the dark-green surrounding foliage.

More itty-bitty flowers, the tiny blue blooms of our native Small Forget-me-not.

A few weeks ago, this trail was lined with the showy purple flowers of our native Spotted Geranium.  The plants have long shed their blooms, but these geranium seeds are every bit as interesting as the flowers.  The "cranesbill" has split, releasing the "spring-loaded catapults" that have flung the ripe seeds all around.

Despite the preponderance of many invasive species along this trail that once was a railroad bed, many native species manage to thrive  Yes, there are way too many shrubs of Tartarian Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, and Glossy Buckthorn, but native shrubs like American Hazelnut, Choke Cherry, Red Osier Dogwood, Gray Dogwood, Sweet Virburnum, Swamp Rose and others still manage to hold their own.  And a glance at the grassy verge beside the trail reveals many more native plants.  How many of these can you name?  (I'll be back in a couple of days to reveal the ones I could find.)

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense); Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense); Mouse-ear Chickweed seedpods (Cerastium fontanum); Rattlesnake Root sp. (Nabalus sp.); Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana); Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta);Grove Sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora); Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis).
Long slender leaves, possibly Aster?
Low plant with shiny green opposite leaves, Prunella?
Small whorled leaves, Bedstraw?
Oval leaves with slender tips, No idea!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Some Floral Finds, Redux!

I was just about to post a new blog about this week's visit to the secret bog pictured above, when a Facebook Memory presented me with a link to a blog I posted 2 years ago on this very same date, containing photos of the very same plants I encountered this year in the very same places.  Somehow, in the midst of so many crises occurring in our world right now, I found this quite reassuring. Whew!

I realize that climate change will in time affect this phenology, but at least just for today, all's right with the world in my neck of the woods. Thank God for small blessings! And I'm also grateful my blog has preserved such a record of so many wonders that surround me here in northeastern New York.  Here are two photos (Grass Pink and Sheep Laurel) from that old post, plus a link to that entry posted on this same date 2 years ago, with photos and an account I would have repeated almost exactly word for word if I had composed a new one today:

Grass Pink (Calopogon tuberosus)

Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Week's Worth of Floral Finds

It's that time of year.  The flowers are coming fast, and I've been charging around the region this past week, checking on some of my favorites and even finding a new plant (thanks to my pal Sue's eagle eyes!).  What follows is only a partial list, but it's already a long one, so I am foregoing lengthy commentary and just attempting to create a record of some of what's blooming now, and where.

June 18, Powerline Clearcut at Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park

Despite the power company's effort to keep this powerline clear of impinging vegetation with periodic applications of herbicides, this hot dry sandy area somehow still supports an amazing abundance of interesting plants. Some are even quite beautiful. The Pink Lady's Slippers and Susquehanna Cherry shrubs have long dropped their flowers, but many other lovelies are just coming into bloom.

The Blunt-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) has deep-rose florets that are as fragrant as they are beautiful.  Ostensibly secure in New York State but rare in much of New England, it appears to be rather choosy about where it will grow.  I myself have found it in only one other site besides this, and the population here is not exactly abundant, consisting of no more than 8 individuals in a stretch of sandy powerline over a hundred yards long.  A. amplexicaulis has another common name, Sand Milkweed, which explains its predilection for such a sun-baked, low-nutrient site as this.

The Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) is certainly one of our showiest native wildflowers, rivaling even most horticultural creations for beauty and splendor.  And yet, it is no hothouse weakling that requires special pampering to thrive. Time and again, its population under these power lines has been blasted with herbicides, and over and over again, it revives.  Not nearly as abundant, unfortunately, as it once was, but still we find ample numbers of these vivid-orange beauties surprising us again every year, almost always by Midsummer's Eve (Summer Solstice).

Not as showy as those Wood Lilies, but every bit as pretty in their shy diminutive way are the peppermint-candy-striped florets of Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium). Demonstrating a preference for thin soils, this wildflower thrives in nearly every county of New York State.

Another denizen of low-nutrient habitats is the woody plant called Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina), a ferny-looking shrub with marvelously fragrant leaves. A very early bloomer, its tiny red tufts of female flowers have now been succeeded by these bristly yellow-green fruits.

The same goes for the American Hazelnut shrubs (Corylus americana) that thrive here in abundant numbers. The Hazelnut's ruffly green-bracted seedpod is far more showy than its tiny red pistillate flowers were way back in March.

June 19, A Private Bog Trail Near Chestertown

My friend Nancy Slack told me about this private bog up in Warren County.  She was excited about it because of its abundant population of Wild Calla (Calla palustris), a plant she didn't usually associate with bogs.  But my interest was piqued when she told me it had a raised trail leading right into the heart of the bog.  No leaping or wading across a moat, or shoving through skin-clawing shrubbery to reach the special plants that such acidic sphagnum-carpeted habitats are famous for.

Nancy was right  about that Wild Calla.  There sure was a LOT of it.  Its floret-covered spadices had actually gone to seed by now, but its spathes were as showy-white as ever.

Sadly, the plant I was dearly hoping to see also had gone to seed. No thousands of tiny white starry flowers spread like a firmament across the sphagnum  -- Sigh! But the myriad Three-leaved False Solomon's Seals (Maianthemum trifolium) had replaced those starry little blooms with the tiny green orbs of their unripe fruits. A different kind of pretty, but pretty nonetheless.

I could find neither flowers nor fruits on the sprawling round-leaved stems of Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), but what a beautifully patterned carpet they made with the tufts of sphagnum moss!

The unique bulbous flowers of Northern Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) stood high on tall sturdy stalks above their pitcher-shaped leaves.

I was glad to see that Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum) still held clusters of white flowers atop its orange-furred stalks.

The few small shrubs of Bog Laurel I found had long gone to seed, but many of the larger shrubs of Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) still held clusters of deep-rose flowers.

June 21, Cole's Woods, Glens Falls

Not many small cities have such an extensive natural forest at their center as does Glens Falls, with its green and leafy Cole's Woods.  I have read that this forest comprises about 35 acres, but it seems much bigger than that, with its seeming miles of trails that wind through the woods and cross the brook at its center about eight times.  I am always glad to have my pal Sue as my guide through here, for even while trying to follow a trail map (which looks like a plate of spaghetti!), I often lose my way. But Sue seems to know exactly how to reach where we want to go.  And our destination today was a patch of woods we call Pyrola-ville, named by us for the incredible abundance of both Shinleaf Pyrola (Pyrola elliptica) and One-sided Pyrola (Orthilia secunda) that grow there.

The day was hot, over 90 degrees, so we were grateful for all this leafy green shade. And throughout this shaded  woods, the bright-white flowers of Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) spangled the forest floor almost as abundantly as stars across the night sky.  A few of this plant's fruits had persisted through the winter, punctuating the carpets of dark-green leaves and snowy blooms with their tiny orbs of bright red.

We passed sections of the woods where uncountable numbers of Pipsissewa plants (Chimaphila umbellata) dangled rosy-tipped flower buds above their glossy-green leaves.

When we started to see the white-flowered Shinleaf Pyrola, we knew we were approaching Pyrola-ville. Most of the plants of this species (P. elliptica) still held tight buds, but here and there we found a few newly opened blooms.

And then we were there!  Right where we knew we would find them.  Once we had spied our first One-sided Pyrola, with its bent-over stem dangling greenish blooms, we couldn't stop seeing them!  They were everywhere!

OK, we weren't the least bit surprised to find those One-sided Pyrolas.  We find them there in the same place every year.  But we sure DID get surprised when Sue spied this tiny moonwort, a  plant neither of us had ever laid eyes on before. And I don't know how Sue managed to see it, this spindly little green thing hiding among all the other greenery.  Sue also looked up its likely name: Daisy-leaved Moonwort (Botrychium matricariifolium), probably the most commonly found moonwort in nearly every county across New York State. Huh! If this plant is so common, how come we have never found it before?  Could it be that it's just so small, we simply overlooked it all this time?

June 23, Hudson River Islands, Moreau

 The sweltering heat continued today.  Too hot for a hike, even through a shady woods. But not too hot for a paddle across a breeze-cooled Hudson River out to some little islands. These islands are covered with interesting plants, and they're also rimmed with rocky banks from which I could slip right up to my neck into cool clean river water.

I also wanted to check on some little orchids that grow on one shore of one of these islands.  When last I looked, I counted about a dozen Tubercled Orchids (Platanthera flava var. herbiola), but today I found only six.  Six in bloom that is.  The others had had their flower spikes snipped off.  How did that happen?  Do deer swim all the way out here to nibble a few little orchids?

I was pleased to find another little orchid, the Shining Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes lucida), even though it was already fading.  I could still see enough of its florets to detect the yellow lower lip that distinguishes this species, along with the fact that this is the only Spiranthes species that flowers in June around here.

Here was a flower that bloomed right on time: the Pale St. John's Wort (Hypericum ellipticum). Like all the other species of the Hypericum genus, this flower was named after St. John the Baptist, whose feast day is celebrated on June 24, the mid-summer date when most members of this genus are beginning to bloom. I have always puzzled over the "pale" part of this flower's name, though.  There is nothing pale about these bright-yellow blooms, nor their bright-orange flower buds, nor the scarlet seed pods that form when the flowers are spent.

A lovely breeze was blowing across one little island, carrying with it the heavenly fragrance of these large-flowered wild roses.  After assessing their narrow-but-flaring stipules and their slender straight thorns arranged sparsely on the lower twigs, I believe these may be the species called Pasture (or Carolina) Rose (Rosa carolina). But I'm not sure.  And as the saying goes, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Two more pretty pink flowers, these being one of our native Morning Glories called Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium).

These tiny flowers, called Marsh (or Bedstraw) Bellflower (Campanula aprainoides) are no more than a quarter-inch across and would be easily overlooked if they didn't tend to flower in groups like this. They are the faintest shade of blue, and often appear white from a distance.

Some Maleberry shrubs (Lyonia ligustrina) were hanging their branches over the water, which gave me the opportunity to look up into their almost spherical white flowers. This shrub gets its common from the fact that it produces hard, inedible capsules instead of fleshy fruits.

These blueberry fruits (Vaccinium sp.) may be hard now, but they will mature into soft sweet berries before long.

A Spotted Sandpiper appeared to resent my presence on one of the islands, since it kept stalking quite near me, piping plaintively all the while.  I figured it might be trying to lure me away from where a nest might lie hidden on the shore, so I promptly ended my explorations of this particular island and pushed off in my canoe.

My botanical explorations completed, it was time to immerse my sweating self into that clear cool water.  Ahhhh! That felt good! And what a beautiful spot to go for a dip. And to cool my heels before heading off to my next adventures.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Thousands of Tiny Toadlets

 Remember my blog post of just one month ago (May 18) reporting a mass-mating frenzy of American Toads along the shore of Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park (see photo above)? Well, I visited that same shoreline today and discovered what that mass mating had brought about:  thousands and thousands  and THOUSANDS of tiny toadlets, massed on the muddy shore as far as my eye could see!

Here's a closer look at some of the itty bitty individuals congregated in this incredible assembly, teeny tiny toadlets no bigger than crickets. I have often found these wee creatures hopping about on the sandy trail that follows the shore of Mud Pond, but never have I seen them gathered in such astounding numbers.  Much of the local wildlife -- birds, snakes, otters, minks, snappers, etc. -- will not go hungry this week. (Sorry, little guys, but all God's children gotta eat!)

I did manage to take a video of this amazing amassing of toads, a sight I have never encountered before in all my life. Maybe not in yours, either : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIfVdaD69i0&feature=youtu.be