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.
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.