Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Wildflowers Keep Me Running!

After several long days of wildflower hunting this past week, I was feeling kind of botanized out. Take a rest, I told myself.  Clean your house.  Weed your garden.  But then I thought, "Whoa!  It's JUNE! The Four-leaved Milkweed might be blooming now in the Skidmore woods.  Gotta go see it!" And so I did.

I never want to miss seeing this lovely little shade-growing milkweed, Asclepias quadrifolia. It's such a dainty thing, and kind of fickle, too.  The Skidmore woods is the only place I have ever found it growing in Saratoga County, and I can't always count on finding it here, either.  At least, not always in the same place I found it last year. But today, I did! Yay!

Not only are the pink-tinged flowers very pretty, they're also quite fragrant, if you make the effort to bend down close to take a sniff.  It helps to gently lift the dangling flower cluster up toward your nose.

Before I found the milkweed, I had a few false alarms, mistaking other white-flowered plants that I spied from a distance.  There was lots of Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) blooming now in the woods.

The Round-leaved Dogwood, too, was bearing clusters of pretty white florets.  Cornus rugosa is the scientific name for this native woodland dogwood.

But there were a couple of plants bearing colorful flowers, too -- although I had to peer closely to see one of them. This wreath of rosy-red trumpets surrounding a stout hairy stem will later produce a circle of small orange fruits.  It's those fruits that suggested the common name of Triosteum aurantiacum, otherwise known as Orange-fruited Horse Gentian.

Here's another plant that hides its colorful flowers among its leaves, the Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora).  When I first discovered this plant with its fuzzy yellow tufts some years ago, I had to search a mucky pond edge to find two or three.  But today, numerous plants not only thrive on the muddy bank, dozens more are growing out in the standing water.

There was one more plant I hoped to find today in the Skidmore woods, and that was a shrub-high sapling of Yellow Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), also called Chinquapin Oak. According to the New York Flora Association's Plant Atlas, this oak species is known to prefer the calcareous soils of a limestone woodland, exactly the habitat found in the Skidmore woods.  I once located mature Yellow Oaks in the surrounding forest, but this miniature version allows me to take a close look at its distinctive leaves.

A close look at the Yellow Oak's leaves reveals a tiny sharp point at the end of each lobe, and it is these sharp points that help to distinguish the Yellow Oak's leaves from the similar leaves of Chestnut Oak.

There are lots of oaks in the Skidmore woods, and that increases the chances I'll come across the odd cone-like flowers of American Squawroot (Conopholis americana), a plant that contains no chlorophyll but which obtains its nutrients from parasitizing the roots of oak trees. It is said to be a favorite food of bears emerging from hibernation, which suggested this plant's alternate name, Bear Corn.

Next stop, the Spring Run Swamp

Regular readers of this blog might recall me finding a puzzling water plant in a swamp that borders the Spring Run Creek in Saratoga Springs.  I've received a number of suggestions about its identity from knowledgeable plant people, the most frequently suggested name being Water Speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica).  If I have hesitated to accept that suggestion, it's because I have never seen Water Speedwell as big as this plant.  When I first found it, back in early May, it was maybe 10 inches tall, with broad sessile leaves on a sturdy stalk.  When I measured the ones I found today, they were about 50 inches tall.  Some stalks were even taller, but they had flopped over onto the mud.  I brought one stalk home, hoping to observe it daily.

Now that spikes of four-petaled flowers have begun blooming on stalks that emerge from the leaf axils, there's no doubt that this plant is some kind of a Speedwell.  Those small purplish flowers that are striped a darker hue are distinctive of all species of the Veronica genus. So at least we know that much.  And some of the florets have matured enough to begin producing seed, so those seeds might yet provide another clue. I think we might be getting close to solving the mystery of this plant's  ID.

This little hoverfly doesn't care what this plant is called, so long as it can visit the flowers to feed on them.

A few other interesting bugs were hovering near, including this Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly resting on a fern.  No photo can accurately capture the brilliant shine of its colorful abdomen, so you will just have to imagine how it glittered like a jewel when the sun lit up its iridescence.

There's a tiny brook that runs into the Spring Run Creek at this point, and the streambed is colored a deep orange right now, probably because of some kind of algae I haven't yet discovered a name for.  A number of Water Striders were zooming across the surface of that orange water, and at first I was puzzled by the number of legs this one was displaying.  Water Striders are insects that normally carry their front pair of legs stretched forward, so they usually look as if they had only four legs .  These critters are constantly zooming around, so it's hard to get a good glom onto them, but even with my bare eyes I could see that this Water Strider had acquired some extra legs.  Luckily, my camera can see things better than my eyes can, and thus it showed me that this was not just ONE Water Strider, but rather TWO.  And I don't think the one on top of the other was just hitching a ride for a rest.


threecollie said...

How I love your walks! So glad you are not completely botanized out. lol. Love learning about the plants and it is a real treat to see the jewelwing. They always remind me of Gettysburg where we saw a great many of them.

suep said...

oh so great to see all these --
the Yellow Oak - like a chestnut oak and a scrub oak had a baby !

Up here, have seen maybe 2 Jewelwings so far ...they are a little behind, this year

save the water strider photo for our Collection !