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.


wash wild said...

Why don't my photos turn out as gorgeous as yours? Maybe you could do a workshop to help us bumblers sharpen our skills. Do have to point out that the Hudson River shot
'without human artifact' would look a little different without the downstream dam. Generally I'm in favor of free flowing water but the dams sure make it fun to paddle here.

Lynn Cremona said...

Nice finds. Thanx for taking us along !

threecollie said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful finds! I love wild marjoram and harvest and dry it from where it grows along our driveway every year. Also transplanted some up near the house, but it seems to prefer the gravely, rather barren soil down there.

The Furry Gnome said...

Well, it was worth bringing that plant home! Nice picture of the tiny Coralroot too.

Woody Meristem said...

That small blue butterfly certainly appears to be an eastern tailed blue. Very nice flower photos.

voiceofthefair said...

As always, a lovely selection of your finds in the wild.
I might suggest you try iNaturalist for unknown moths. I put a cropped screenshot of the tiny moth in and the top suggestion was Thyris maculata (Spotted Thyris). But of course, having knowledgable friends seems to work well for you. Thanks again for sharing.