Who would think that an old industrial site would provide the habitat craved by multitudes of native orchids? Until I visited Putty Pond, site of a now-drained water supply for a garnet mine up in the Adirondacks, I never would have believed that. But my friend Evelyn Greene introduced me to Putty Pond (a wet meadow now, instead of a pond) some eight years ago, where we found uncountable numbers of a native orchid called Hooded Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) in bloom, as well as equal numbers of the earlier-blooming Tubercled Orchid (Platanthera flava), already gone to seed. I hadn't planned to revisit this site this year, but then Evelyn informed me that there were more Hooded Ladies' Tresses blooming at Putty Pond this year than ever before. So of course, I had to go see for myself. My friends Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks also joined me. Here we are, emerging from the woods onto the wide open meadow called Putty Pond.
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Before we laid eyes on any of the orchids hiding down in the grass, we were struck by the sea of Three-square Bulrush (Schoenoplectus pungens) that filled nearly every inch of the open meadow. This tall sedge-family plant is also called Chairmaker's Rush, because its tough three-angled stems were traditionally used to weave rush seats for chairs.
Just as Evelyn had reported, we found Hooded Ladies' Tresses everywhere, scattered across the meadow and made quite visible because of their bright-white blooms.
At first glance, this Hooded Ladies' Tresses looks quite a bit like the more familiar Nodding Ladies' Tresses, except that the florets might be a tad more uplifted and less nodding. I must confess, though, that if folks more expert than I had not told me the name of this species, I would not have been able to identify it on my own. The fact that this species is blooming in early August would be my only clue that this was an earlier blooming species than Nodding Ladies' Tresses.
I was told that one of the key features that distinguishes the romanzoffiana species is how the lower lip is somewhat fiddle shaped, narrowing in the middle before flaring out at the end.
The uncountable numbers of Tubercled Orchids might also have been difficult to identify if I didn't already know them well, for their distinctive "tubercled" florets had by now yielded clusters of seedpods along the tall stems. Their tapered stem leaves, now slightly yellowing, could be sighted almost everywhere we looked.
Alpine Bulrush (Trichophorum alpinum) is another ubiquitous plant at Putty Pond. This sedge-family plant is easily identified by the cottony heads that produce long flowing threads. This late in summer, those threads are tossed on the wind to waft on the air, becoming tangled on such neighboring plants as this Tubercled Orchid seed head.
We were exploring Putty Pond too early in the day to catch any blooms on the multitudes of Marsh St. John's Wort (Hypericum virginicum) that shared this wetland habitat. In my experience, I never see this plant open its pretty pink flowers before mid-afternoon. But Marsh St. John's Wort is beautiful even before it blooms, with its purplish leaves and glossy scarlet flower buds.
We also missed seeing the Swamp Goldenrod (Solidago uliginosa) blooming, but even in bud, this species can be distinguished by its stiffly erect flower clusters, smooth stems, and slender lance-shaped leaves. And of course, Putty Pond's wet meadow is exactly the kind of habitat Swamp Goldenrod prefers.
And where but in a goldenrod patch would we be likely to find a Goldenrod Hooded Owlet Caterpillar (Cucullia asteroides)? I had nearly given up on my Google search for a "pink caterpillar with yellow stripes" until I happened upon a site that showed many different color variations for this species. Most were green, all were varied in intensity of stripedness, but at least one photo revealed exactly a glossy pink cat with yellow stripes and fine black lines. If anyone has a better guess than mine, please chime in!