Tuesday, September 22, 2020

I'm Still Here! And Still Out There!

Oh gosh, but I don't think I've ever gone so long without posting a blog!  It's not that I haven't been out exploring the woods and the waterways, it's just that I'm feeling my age these days.  When I get back from hiking or paddling all day, it feels more like it's time for a nap instead of time to prepare a blogpost. I do like to keep this blog going, though, if only to maintain a searchable record of what's blooming where and when. So let me try to catch up.

Canal Park at Lock 4, September 14

More than a week ago, my friend Ruth Brooks and I learned of another rare plant -- Ohio Flat-topped Goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis) -- that once had been found on the banks of the Hoosic River where it joins the Hudson in Rensselaer County.  So back we went to Canal Park to see if we could find it, even though this Threatened species of goldenrod hadn't been reported from here for many, many years. We first searched a low wet area near the junction of the two rivers.  There were many interesting plants here, but no goldenrod that met the description for the rare species we were seeking. 

Our next area to search took us along the north bank of the Hoosic, where we explored the shore until we could go no further without trespassing on somebody's private property.

Before we started that search, however, we stopped to examine the basal rosettes of another super-rare plant, called Provancher's Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus var. provancheri), that were clustered thickly on some steep shale banks.  When I'd found these rosettes a week or so before, I had estimated there were maybe a couple of dozen.  Hah!  Counting more carefully this time, we came up with a count of closer to two HUNDRED!

We never did find any Ohio Flat-topped Goldenrod, but we did delight in many other flowers blooming along the banks now.  Nodding Bur Marigold (Bidens cernua) was among the showier of them.

The radiant blue blooms of Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) seemed to glow among the surrounding greenery.

Even though the big beautiful flowers of Great St. John's Wort (Hypericum ascyron ssp. pyramidatum) had faded long ago, their distinctive plump seed pods were easy to spot atop their tall stems.

At first I mistook the bright-yellow flowers of this Water Stargrass (Heteranthera dubia) starring a sprawling mass of creeping stems as those of a creeping buttercup. But a closer look revealed a slender-petaled flower that looked nothing like a buttercup's. This particular flower was growing on the muddy shore, but others were happily blooming away out in the shallow water just off shore.

Here was a genuine stumper!  Neither Ruth nor I had ever seen this purple-flowered Mint-family plant before.

Those one-sided flower stems thickly clustered with fuzzy florets looked completely foreign to either of us.  And "foreign" turned out to be an appropriate word.  Ruth tried one of her cell-phone plant ID apps, which correctly identified this plant as Vietnamese Balm (Elsholtzia ciliata), a plant that is native to Asia but not to North America.  We later learned that this plant has been tagged as a probable invasive species, so next time we encounter it, we will remove it.  At least there was only one plant at this location.  So far.

Here was the prize of the day!  A healthy plant of Provancher's Fleabane, perfectly in bloom!  All of the other specimens we had found of this Endangered species along this shore had possessed only spent flower stalks. But here was a perfect flowering specimen to submit to the New York Flora Association, proving its presence here in Rensselaer County.

Moreau Lake State Park, September 15
The next day, Ruth joined Sue Pierce and me to hunt for more American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolia) in the vast woods of Moreau Lake State Park.  After seeing my post about finding this rare plant at Moreau some time back, a friend of a park staff-member told him that ginseng was growing in a certain area of the woods. Luckily, Sue was familiar with the location cited, so we set off to see if we could find this plant.

Our hopes rose when we spotted lots of Maidenhair Fern growing along a creek bed, for both this fern and American Ginseng are known calciphiles, growing only where lime is present in the soil.

The abundant presence of Plantain-leaved Sedge (another calciphile) was one more sign that this could be American Ginseng territory.

Alas, we never did find any American Ginseng. We wondered if maybe the person who reported finding it  might have seen Dwarf Ginseng instead, a true spring ephemeral that completely disappears after blooming in the spring. Ah well, we enjoyed the search anyway, especially because it took us through a beautiful part of the woods.  And we also found some interesting fungi.  I don't know the name of this cute little mushroom. I just thought it was very cute.

I am pretty sure, though, that these emerging fungi make up an abundant cluster of Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), a common species and a choice edible. Too young, as yet, to take home for supper!

I don't know the name of the insect that caused this oak leaf to produce such bright-red galls, but they were certainly colorful!

This cluster of tiny urn-shaped growths on the vein of an oak leaf has me intrigued.  Are these galls?  Or could they be egg cases?  I have sent this photo to BugGuide.net, hoping that somebody there can satisfy my curiosity.  If I learn the truth, I will return with an update.

UPDATE:  BugGuide.net comes through again!  These are indeed galls, called Dryocosmus deciduus, caused by a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus that lays her eggs on the midveins of leaves in the red oak group. Each tiny "urn" shelters a single larva.

Satisfied that our ginseng search was in vain, we next headed out to the shore of nearby Mud Pond.  I was curious to see what was growing there on some mud flats I hadn't been able to explore for several years.  The water in the pond had risen all the way to the woods for a long while, and only this year had the water retreated enough that we could walk on the wide flat delta where a stream sometimes enters the pond.

We found abundant numbers of Yellow Loosestrife plants (Lysimachia terrestris), which we could identify from the presence of little red bulbils growing in the leaf axils.  These bulbils will eventually fall off onto the mud, where they will produce clonal offspring. I know there are other plants that use this same reproductive strategy, but the bulbils of Yellow Loosestrife are particularly striking and colorful.

Low Cudweed (Gnaphalium uliginosum) is a plant that prefers open soggy spots, so I wasn't surprised to find it had quickly re-colonized these mud flats that had been submerged for several years.  Not a native plant, and it's probably invasive somewhere, but I never find it in overwhelming numbers at this location.  Probably because it gets drowned here every few years, as water levels rise and fall.

This is exactly the open, soggy habitat that Ditch Stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides) also prefers, and I am always glad to find this native plant with its distinctive chubby pod-like flowers.  The spiky sedge surrounding it here is also a common denizen of such sites, but I am unsure of its name.

Both the muddy flats and the shallow water were studded with the bright-pink flowers of Water Smartweed (Persicaria amphibia), demonstrating how this native wetland plant must have earned the specific part of its scientific name.

Moreau Lake State Park, September 18
I returned to Moreau Lake State Park a few days later,  this time alone and this time to try walking the shore of the lake.  Now that the waters have retreated a bit, I was hoping that some of my favorite shoreline plants were reclaiming their territory.  The weather had suddenly taken a turn toward autumn, and a chilly wind was whipping across the water.  Time once more for long pants and polar fleece tops!

Sadly, the shoreline plants that used to thrive here have not yet ventured back, and I found the going too muddy to continue close to the shore.  So I headed inland and walked the wooded trails that surround the lake. One of the most abundant flowers in the woods right now is Whorled Aster (Oclemena acuminata), and I found extensive patches of them thriving under the trees.

I was quite surprised to find several plants of American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) along the trail, since I think of this plant as signaling a calcareous habitat, and I hadn't thought of these woods as being particularly limey.  But marble occurs in odd spots around here, so maybe this is one of them.

A few of the Spikenard plants had ripening fruit, so I consumed just a few of the blackest berries.  The fruit has quite an exotic flavor, reminding me of the way certain incense smells.

I also tasted just one of the ruby-red berries of Solomon's Plume (Maianthemum racemosum), since they look so tempting when perfectly ripe like this.  They are said to be non-poisonous, but their intense sweetness is touched with a strange bitterness, and I never feel inclined to consume more than one, merely for curiosity's sake. Just never confuse the fruits of this plant with those of Solomon's Seal, which are indeed quite poisonous.

This walk turned out to be quite a tasting tour, since the next plant I encountered was Clammy Ground Cherry (Physalis heterophylla) with its dangling papery-husked fruits that resemble tomatillos in appearance, and taste a little bit like them, too. And lucky for me, one or two of the fruits were perfectly ripe.

As is true for all members of the Solanaceae Family (even tomatoes!), the green fruits of Ground Cherry can be at least slightly toxic, but this toxin disappears when the fruit is ripe. The one Ground Cherry I ate was perfectly ripe and golden yellow and wonderfully sweet and delicious.  This one looked a bit too green to consume.

I encountered one more berry-bearing plant on my walk, this one a native shrub called Round-leaved Dogwood (Cornus rugosa). I have long been puzzled by the fruits of this species.  Earlier in the year, I find clusters of greenish-white berries on these bright-pink pedicels.  Those berries fell off or were eaten by birds some time ago, yet there still appears to be tiny pink berries attached to the pedicels. Does the bush produce a second crop of abortive fruits that never grow any larger or any other color than this? If anyone can explain this phenomenon to me, I would love to know it. Nevertheless, this is one beautiful dogwood, lovely in every season.

Denton Preserve, Washington County, September 20
This past Sunday was cool but sunny, a good day for a brisk walk with my pals Sue and Ruth through an interesting Nature Conservancy site of many acres.  The Denton Preserve consists of a mixed hardwood/conifer forest that has grown up over rolling land previously mined for shale. The preserve also includes both swampy lowlands and open marsh.

Among the most intriguing plants we found here was a patch of what we decided were the creeping leaves of Twinflower (Linnea borealis).  What else could they be, these small round scalloped leaves, borne opposite each other on ground-hugging vines? We were quite excited to find this here, since we've always had to travel some distance north to find this beautiful wildflower up in the Adirondacks.


We also came upon the leaves and acorns of Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) lying on the forest floor. This is a tree that's not uncommon in New York, but it's one we don't come across very often in the places we usually explore. The broad-shouldered leaves and very burry acorns are quite distinctive for this species of oak.

We also stopped off at nearby Stark's Knob, an impressive outcropping of pillow basalt near Schuylerville in Saratoga County and one of the few  places I know of to find Purple Cliffbrake (Pellaea atropurpurea), an evergreen fern that will be found only on calcareous rock.  The fertile fronds of Purple Cliffbrake bear its distinctive brown sori along the inrolled edges of its pinnae, which are arrayed along its distinguishing purple stem. 

Whew!  There, I'm all caught up, ready to head out for more nature adventures later this week.  Lucky for me, I have other things to attend to this week, so I won't have more to report on for a while. Now to file all my photos, and put this blog baby to bed!


Woody Meristem said...

Thanks for the update. Fascinating plants you have up there.

Wilde said...

Thanks for taking the time to keep up with your posts. We all learn so much with every one.

Each time I go in the woods or on a walk with nature around me I see new things to explore and it's so nice to know that you do too - even being so familiar as you are. Wish more people had the appreciation.

Keep on bloggin' as you can. We all love you for it! :)