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!


Woody Meristem said...

Wonderful place, I haven't been thee in many years and spent a month on the Pack Forest in 1962. I envy you for having it nearby.

Uta said...

Thank you for the amazing walk you had and for us to enjoy. The pictures are beautiful.