Thursday, July 30, 2020

Mud Pond, Mid Summer

The days have continued too hot for hiking. Unfortunately, that has usually led to afternoon naps instead.  Before I turn into a lump, I told myself, I've got to get outdoors.  Let's go for a paddle on the nice cool Hudson, I said.  But when I got to the shore, I found that much of the river had disappeared, due to work being done on a downstream dam.  

I would have to cross yards of ankle-deep mud to reach what was left of the water.  And then I'd be paddling out under the sun, far from the forest's overhanging shade and also far from any of the riverside flowers I'd hoped to admire in bloom.  Not what I wanted to do today.  OK, so what's Plan B?

I decided to head to Mud Pond instead.  Not for a paddle -- this water's too shallow and clogged with aquatic plants -- but just to visit the shore. There's always something of interest along this shore.  (Remember all those sex-crazed toads and the thousands of tiny toadlets that resulted from all that ardor?)

Today, the points of interest were floral, not animal, for the shore was crowded with masses of flowering plants.  How pretty these rosy Steeplebush spires (Spiraea tomentosa) appeared in the company of their neighboring (and related) Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba).

The Buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis) were loaded with blooms, perfect orbs of exploding florets shooting out spiky stamens.  Before I moved in close to shoot this photo, this flower head was alive with several nectar-seeking insects. Sadly, they fled before I could snap their photo!

I had arrived too late in the day to catch the now-snoozing Fragrant Water Lilies in open bloom, but other flowers had protruded their flowering stalks among the lily pads. Water Smartweed (Persicaria amphibia) held spikes of tiny pink florets well above their own floating leaves, while leafless stalks of Common Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) held chubby yellow blooms above the water.

Here's a closer look at the flower of Common Bladderwort.  Submerged below these flowering stems were masses of the bladderwort's underwater structures. These structures hold tiny sacs that suck in even tinier aquatic creatures that the plant digests, thus providing nutrients that this leafless plant could not obtain through photosynthesis. 

Sharing the shallow water and muddy shore with many other wetland plants were these spiky leaves and Sputnik-shaped blooms of a species of Bur Reed (Sparganium sp.).

Northern Dewberry vines (Rubus flagellaris) lined the sandy trail leading down to the pond, and many of these vines held jewel-colored fruits in various stages of ripeness.

This open, sandy-soiled area is just the habitat that suits Round-headed Bushclover (Lespedeza capitata), a native Clover-family plant, and I found several just coming into bloom. Granted, this plant can appear rather homely from a distance, but a close look reveals some rather pretty, pink-striped white florets nearly hidden among the plant's bushy green bracts.

There's a huge thicket of Shining Sumac (Rhus copallinum) that stands between the pond and the road, and I was delighted to find the shrubs looking green and healthy, their winged leaves as glossy as this shrub's common name suggests.  (Another common name is Winged Sumac, after the wings along the leaves's stems.) For years, this thicket has been affected by some plant disease that caused the shrubs' leaves to shrivel before the shrubs produced flowers or fruit.  But this year, nearly every shrub held conical clusters of tiny green florets.  I sure hope this good health persists until the flowers can yield their handsome clusters of red berries in the fall.

Passing through a narrow strip of pine woods on the way to my car, I came upon this dark shaggy mushroom that goes by the oddly appropriate name of Old Man of the Woods. Its scientific name is Strobilomyces floccopus, which means something like "woolly mushroom that resembles a pinecone," perhaps a more accurate descriptor! Despite its rather off-putting appearance, this mushroom is said to be edible.

I found some other, more photogenic mushrooms nearby, some very small specimens of what I believe are Cinnabar Chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnabarinus).  This one is also said to be edible, but you couldn't feed many people with this tiny cluster of them.  I was content to leave both mushrooms where I found them.

Monday, July 27, 2020

North to a Shady Woods

My naturalist friends and I want to be outdoors, even on these oppressively hot and humid days.  This excess heat impels our regional wildflowers to bloom and then quickly fade, and we hate to miss finding our favorites.   So Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks and I headed north this week to the Adirondack region near Warrensburg, seeking the deep shade of the Charles Lathrop Pack Demonstration Forest.  Here, old-growth trees grow dense and tall, and the sound of a rushing creek near the trail adds a sense of coolness, even if illusory.

But it was more than the deep shade and babbling brook that drew us to this ancient forest this week.  We hoped to find some Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera repens) in bloom, the smallest member of this genus and one we have never found anywhere else but here, despite the plant not being listed as rare in the state.  One of New York's native orchids, it shares the fickle trait of most orchids, and doesn't always bloom every year or in spots where we'd found it before.  Lucky for us, we did find a number of plants in bloom, although not at all where we'd found them in previous years.

Try as I may, I can never get both the flowers and the leaves in focus in a single photo.  The flowers are shown in the photo above, the vividly patterned basal leaves in the photo below.

I asked Ruth to leave her hands in this photo, just to show how truly tiny this wee little orchid is.

When we lifted our eyes from this wee little orchid, we could sense an enormous contrast in size, for the White Pines (Pinus strobus) that towered above us are among the tallest and oldest in the state, some older than 300 years old and reaching heights of 150 feet or more.

There are actually few flowers that bloom in the deep shade of the summer woods. But thankfully, Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) is one of those, and the trail was lined with many patches of them, their pristine white flowers presenting quite a contrast to the deep-green heart-shaped leaves.

Dwarf Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea alpina) is another shade bloomer, and low mounds of its soft green leaves and delicate white, spidery-fine flowers adorned the edge of the trail.

When we reached a sunlit open area around a pond, masses of Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) put on such a blazing display, our dim-light-dilated eyes needed a moment to take all that dazzle in.

Sharing that same sunny wetland were many plants of Marsh Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata), although I had to search among the Cardinal Flower stems to find their lovely blue flowers.

We saw some pretty amazing fungi along the trail, as well.  Undoubtably the most impressive was this tomato-red Caesar's Amanita (Amanita jacksonii) button, emerging from a snowy-white cup-shaped structure (called a volva) at its base.

Here was another really red mushroom (name unknown), this one truly tiny.  It almost hid beneath the spatulate-shaped fruits of a little cluster of Orange Earth Tongue (Microglossum rufum).

When Sue and I were here in this woods in June, we had been astounded by the numbers of Varnish Shelf Fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) we'd found emerging from tree-trunk after tree-trunk.  The plate-sized fungi had then been a shiny, deep reddish-orange rimmed with cream, but now they appeared to have aged to a glossy red, a color visible only if we removed the rust-colored dust that covered them.

That rusty dust was easily rubbed off.  But what was the source of that dust?  Somehow we found it hard to believe it was the fungus's own spores, since wouldn't those spores have fallen below, rather than wafting upwards to cover the top of the fungi? And wouldn't recent rains have washed it off the tops?  We could see a rusty dust covering the ground beneath.  Could the wind have lifted that much upwards, between the last rainfall and now?  I can't think of any other explanation. Other suggestions would be welcome.

Aside from a few Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies fluttering near the creek, as well as the gorgeous trilling and piping song of a Winter Wren that thrilled us as we walked, we noticed little evidence of animal life today.  But what a treat, then, to find this wee little Spring Peeper adorning a fern frond well within view!  And bless its little heart, it sat there, calm as could be, for the picture taking!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Flowers of a Powerline Height

On again, off again rain on Wednesday.  A thunderstorm predicted.   Not a good day to head out for a day-long wildflower hunt very far from shelter.  But I thought it might be safe to scurry up a mountainside powerline, just a quick hike to check on some favorite plants I know grow there and nowhere else that I know of. So up I went. This powerline follows the Hudson River, carrying power from the hydroelectric Spier Falls Dam, seen in this photo just below that sliver of blue in the distance.

As soon as I cleared the woods and stepped out onto the open area under the lines, these big purple powderpuffs of Pasture Thistle (Cirsium pumilum) caught my eye.  As fragrant as they are beautiful, the flowers are constantly visited by many pollinators, including this Long-horned Flower Beetle.

I have never seen Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) without a Hummingbird Moth sipping nectar from its tubular florets, but I think that moth was lying low on this mostly rainy day.

I've been visiting this particular mountainside powerline for several years, and the population of Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) has exploded extensively over that time. I love the vivid pink of their tightly clustered florets.


The small blue florets of Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) are rather more demure, but equally as pretty.

There are many stretches of exposed bedrock along this powerline, just the kind of habitat preferred by Pale Corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens) with its yellow-tipped vivid-pink flowers.

Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) is not a wildflower that is native to North America, but that doesn't mean that our native insects don't flock to its colorful flowers and sweet nectar.  Its leaves are extremely aromatic, often used in Italian dishes like spaghetti or pizza sauce.

These peppermint-candy-striped blooms of Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) have attracted a small moth to their sweets.  If anyone recognizes this moth, please let us know in a comment.

UPDATE: Thanks to my pal Sue Pierce, who searched through hundreds of moth images on Google, I now know the name of this tiny moth: Thyris maculata (Spotted Thyris).  Thanks, Sue!

This little butterfly was a beautiful blue on the wing, but a muted gray when it landed and closed its wings.  Sadly, it appears its distinctive "tail" was removed when the right underwing got damaged, but I think I see one intact on the left wing, so I will venture that this is an Eastern Tailed Blue.

I usually like to visit this powerline in August, when I can find three different species of bushclovers in bloom.  I did find two of them today, but they were both still only in leaf.  I believe this one is Hairy Bushclover (Lespedeza hirta), since its leaves are rounder and have longer stalks than do the leaves of the one called Round-headed Bushclover, which also grows on this height.   It is distinctively hairy and will eventually have greenish-white flowers.

This is a second bushclover I found today, called Wandlike Bushclover (Lespedeza violacea), distinguished by its shorter stature, oval leaves, and the purple flowers that will be clustered on top when it blooms.

This powerline meadow is also home to four different species of Tick Trefoils (Desmodium spp.), two of which I found in bloom today.  This one, notable for its narrow leaves and widely branching clusters of flowers, is called  Panicled Tick Trefoil (D. paniculatum).

I was quite surprised to find this Prostrate Tick Trefoil (D. rotundifolium) blooming already, since I usually don't see it blooming until well into August.  There is no mistaking this vining species, which sprawls across the stony ground and has large, very round leaves.  I did not find either the Showy Tick Trefoil nor the Large-bracted Tick Trefoil today, although I'm sure I would have if I had searched further.  I am grateful to have a location where I can find several species of both the Desmodium and Lespedeza genera growing close together, making it easy to compare the related plants.

Sigh!  The plant I came up here specifically to find has disappointed me once again.  Oh, I found it all right!  There's no mistaking the spiky leafless stems of Orange-grass St. John's Wort (Hypericum gentianoides) massed in dense patches where the soil is thinnest across the rocky outcroppings.  But again, as on every other trek up here at different times of the summer and at different times of day and under both sunshine and clouds, the buds were closed tight, showing only a tiny trace of its wee little yellow flowers.  Darn!  When will I ever see it in bloom?!

UPDATE:  I picked one plant and brought it home to place in a mini-vase, in hopes that I might catch it in bloom.  And here's what I found the next morning: the itty-bitty flowers wide open! By noon, the flowers had closed up tight again.

Well, I did have some compensation for that Orange Grass disappointment.  Look what I found on the forested trail that led me up to the height! This is a small woodland orchid called Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata), and it was fully in bloom.  I really did not expect to see it today, since it was growing in exactly the same spot we discovered it only in bud late last summer, and then it had been crushed by wheeled vehicles by the time we returned in the hope of seeing its flowers. I sure am glad I decided to venture up this trail today!

Here's a closer view of the floret's spots that suggested both the vernacular and scientific name of this little orchid, the Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata).

Here was another happy moment on my way home: stopping to gaze at the Hudson River where it flows among mountains, its waters mirror-still to reflect the beauty of this scene, unmarred for the moment by any human artifact or activity.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Beautiful Day, Beautiful River, Beautiful Flowers

The day was perfect: high 70s, no wind, no rain, blue skies, puffy clouds.  And so was the river: quiet water to mirror the sky, no power boats to roil the surface, wooded and rocky islands teeming with flowers, forested mountains bringing their green right down to the water's edge, leafy boughs shading the banks.  This is the Hudson River at Moreau.  A paddler's dream! 

This pine-shaded spot with gorgeous views was where we sat to enjoy our picnic lunches.

And to make it even better, I had my good pal Sue with me, a friend who knows how to inch along the shore in no hurry, her sharp eyes alert to fascinating finds along the way. I wonder what she's found here?

Oh my goodness, it's orchids!  Beautiful orchids, with bright-purple florets, a patch of five of them! Believe it or not, these are the Smaller Purple-fringed Orchids (Platanthera psycodes).

Apparently, one of our recent wind-and-rain storms had toppled this top-heavy bloomer.  And yet, the multi-flowered inflorescence had managed to right itself and re-achieve its vertical stature. It still has over half of its florets still to open.

As we continued to mosey along the banks, we found many other flowers to marvel at, such as this hedge of Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) crowding the shore.

Here's a closer look at the Fringed Loosestrife's pretty yellow flowers, their centers ringed with red. (By the way, if you're looking for fringes, they're found on the leaf petioles and not visible in this photo.)

We saw many stalks of Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) towering above the surrounding vegetation, but only a few had opened their frothy lavender blooms as yet.  But this one had.

Several species of wildflowers were remarkably tall, reaching for the light from where they were growing under the trees.  This pink-flowered plant living up to its name is Showy Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense).

This blue-flowered one is Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata).

More pretty blue flowers: these are called Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens), and they have many more buds still to open.

Here's one of our native spiraeas, a deep-pink one called Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) because of its long narrow flower spike. The specific name tomentosa refers to the layer of matted woolly down ("tomentum") that covers its stem and the backs of its leaves. Another vernacular name for this native plant is Hardhack, and I have no idea what suggested that odd name.

And here's the queen of the showy riverside flowers, the magnificent Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), just beginning to open its knock-your-eye-out-red blooms. The riverbank show has just begun!

From the super-showy Cardinal Flower to the modest and oddly made Ditch Stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides)!  I had to peer closely among the surrounding low vegetation to spy its small greenish flowers.  I don't really have the botanical vocabulary to describe these pudgy blooms, except to state that they seem to have no petals at all, just some bulbous female parts in the middle, surrounded by the male stamens. These flowers achieve their true beauty in autumn, when their curving inflorescences (now turned into fruits) take on a deep ruby-red color.

What may look like little green flowers at the center of these smooth leaf clusters are really the bracts that will later hold the royal-blue urn-shaped blooms of Closed Gentian (Gentiana clausa), one of our most beautiful autumn-blooming wildflowers, which thrives along these shores. It's definitely worth a return in September to witness these gorgeous flowers.

And we may want to return much sooner than that, to enjoy not just the beauty but also the taste of these not-yet-ripe Lowbush Blueberries.  Or are they Black Huckleberries? Gosh, I should have examined the plants more closely, but I was distracted by how pretty and pink these berries were. Either species, they promise a tasty treat!

After paddling close to the riverbanks for most of the morning, we next headed out to some mid-stream islands. First, we enjoyed our picnic lunches under the shade of two towering White Pines (see the fourth photo down from the top, above), and then we set out to see what aquatic plants were thriving in the shallow water surrounding the islands.

Hundreds of white dots of Northern Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) decorated these shallows, many of them blooming away underwater, with only a few popping their small white heads above the surface.

Numerous plants of Grass-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) held their pristine-white three-parted flowers  clear of the shallow water, surrounded by the narrow blades of their grass-like leaves.

I don't know if there is a single plant that could be called the most prolific bloomer along this stretch of the river, but if there were, Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) would be a top contender.  Oddly, much of the year you wouldn't even know it was here, as its vivid green leaves quietly cover vast tracts of the river bottom and creep within underwater cracks in the riverside rocks.  But let the water recede and expose the plants to air, and almost overnight, those vast tracts and rocky cracks explode with  tiny, trumpet-shaped bright-yellow blooms.  The river was rather low today, so we were treated to a few massed displays of this truly lovely riparian wildflower.

What a wonderful stretch of the Hudson River, here where it flows past the Palmertown Mountains and forms the northern boundary of Saratoga County!  I feel so at home here, lucky to know this river as if it were my own, and happy to share it with all the creatures who also make it their home.  Creatures like these Canada Geese, a family group I imagine, who must have felt safe enough in my presence to just go on with their dabbling as if I were not here.