Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Beaches are Back! Their Wildflowers, Too!

All last year and most of this summer, I have been deprived of wildflower walks around the shore of Moreau Lake.  Since Moreau is a kettle lake with neither significant inlet nor outlet, the water levels here depend on rainfall and snowmelt -- or the lack of it.  Two years ago, the water had fallen so low, it seemed as if some giant hand had pulled the plug. Broad beaches emerged all around the lake, beaches that were quickly covered with a marvelous diversity of wildflowers. But then came enough rain and snow to not only fill the lake to normal levels, but to fill it so full the lake rose well into the woods, and all the beaches with all their wildflowers disappeared beneath the water. The lake stayed that high all last summer, and quite a bit of this one, too.  I'm sure you can imagine how I felt about that!  But just in the last month or so, some of the sandy and muddy shores have reemerged, and just like magic, many of those wildflowers I was mourning have sprung into life again.  I could hardly wait to see what I would find when I set off around the back bay on a beautiful day last week.

The walking was a bit muddy and damp, but the path was broad enough that I didn't have to wade in the water to keep moving along the shore.

I was thrilled to find that the pretty little flowers called Small-flowered Gerardia (Agalinis paupercula) had exploded into bloom once again.  Once classified as a Rare species in New York State, it certainly belies that classification here on Moreau Lake's shores.

Here's a closer look at the small pinky-purple blooms of Small-flowered Gerardia. Their very short flower stalks help to distinguish this species from the similar Slender Gerardia, which bears its flowers on long slender stalks and also grows along Moreau's back bay (but not as profusely).

The Silky Dogwood shrubs (Cornus amomun) are far enough back in the woods that they doubtless bloomed and fruited along these shore all the time the water was high.  But I couldn't amble past them then, the way I was ambling today, delighted to see the lovely blue berries this dogwood produces each year.

I detected the fragrance of Groundnut flowers (Apios americana) before I sighted the clusters of flowers distributed along this plant's twining vines.

Here's a closer look at the fascinating structure of these unusually shaped flowers.

I was thrilled to discover a single spike of the snowy-white Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes sp.) claiming its territory once more. Just two years ago, I found at least 30 plants of this native orchid blooming near this same spot, and I feared I might never see them here again.  Here's hoping their population recovers if the lake levels continue to fall.  This species used to be known as Nodding Ladies' Tresses (S. cernuum), but recent taxonomic research has determined that this is really another species, called Sphinx Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes incurva). The sharp curve of its floret's lower lip is one of its distinguishing features, as is its fragrance (although it was hard for this old lady to get down low enough to breathe it in!).

Here's a closer look at the beautifully curvaceous florets of Spiranthes incurva.

This next flower surely has been blooming away every year, even if I couldn't walk close enough to see it.  As its scientific name, Persicaria amphibia, suggests, this flower is just as happy floating on the water as it is blooming on the shore. Its vernacular name, Water Smartweed, suggests, however,  that it won't be happy very far from water.

Many Mint-family plants prefer dampish shoreline habitats, and that's certainly true for this one,  American Water Horehound (Lycopus americanus).  The sharply toothed lobes of its leaves help to distinguish this plant from the very similar Northern Bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus), which also has wreathes of tiny flowers circling the stems and shares the same habitat. Neither of these Lycopus species has a minty odor to its leaves.

Here's another Mint-family plant, called simply American Wild Mint (Mentha canadensis), that thrives along Moreau Lake's back bay. Unlike either of the Lycopus species mentioned above, the leaves of this plant have a very strong scent of peppermint.

I eventually reached a part of the back-bay shoreline my friend Sue calls the "Odonata Shore" for the preponderance of dragonflies and damselflies that populate this sunny and sandy stretch.  And sure enough, I saw quite a number of dragonflies darting from perch to perch. Very few, however, would perch long enough for me to take their photo.

I did manage to capture this male Widow Skimmer by standing stock still by the perch he had darted away from as I approached.  Sure enough, he soon returned to the very same spot, and I had my camera already focused on that spot.  Click!  And away he zoomed again!

Nearby was a patch of Woodland Sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus), and look who came to visit its big yellow flowers! I am going to venture that this is an Eastern Tailed Blue Butterfly, aware that I may be mistaken and would welcome a correction if I am.

A big patch of Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) was thriving on this south-facing shore,  its population appearing even larger than it had been before it was submerged for more than a year.

And look who's also back!  This is the Endangered flatsedge called Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush (Cyperus subsquarrosus) we'd discovered back in 2018, only to see it disappear again underwater in 2019 and much of this summer as well. This photo doesn't reveal how truly tiny these plants are.  The largest of these three could have been covered by a silver dollar.

I couldn't wait to tell my friends Sue Pierce (standing) and Ruth Brooks about finding that Sphinx Ladies' Tresses along the shore, and they promptly decided to visit the spot themselves.  We are all trying to parse out a number of different newly-named species of Ladies' Tresses that all require close examination to decipher what makes one species distinct from the others. Here, Ruth is getting a very close look at a floret by examining it through her magnifying loupe.

We also went searching for more of the very rare Pringle's Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza var. pringlei) that grow in Moreau Lake State Park, and our search was well rewarded!  These tiny orchids are very hard to spot, being small and also colored about the same as the forest floor, but thanks to eyes much sharper than mine, we found a couple of patches of them we'd never found before. This is not the clearest photo of them, but I think you can see a few of the broad purple-spotted lower petals that distinguish this variety of Autumn Coralroot from the standard, non-rare variety. (We found some new populations of that standard variety, too.)

Another surprise awaited us when we came upon this Pinesap colored bright red.  I usually think of Pinesap as being yellow and blooming earlier in the summer, but a little research has informed me that this is a different species, called Red Pinesap (Hypopitys lanuginosa). Like the earlier blooming Yellow  Pinesap (Hypopitys monotropa), it has no leaves or any green color to photosynthesize, and it gets its nutrients through fungal mycelia in the soil.

Our search of the forest floor also turned up some interesting fungi, including these Fringed Earth Stars (Geastrum fimbriatum) that looked as if someone had left a couple of Hershey's Kisses cookies in the woods.

The pin-dotted surface of these fungi are likely the feature that inspired their name of Gemmed Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum).

I don't know what to call these wee little mushrooms that have sprouted up from between the scales of a White Pine cone.  Aside from their most unusual choice of habitat, they had very few distinguishing features that would help us put a name to them.

UPDATE: After searching a little further, I discovered there is a species of mushroom, Baeospora myosura, that grows from the decaying cones of spruces and pines and is a common species in northern New York. This tiny mushroom's common name is Conifercone Cap. I bet that's what we have here!

Here was a little friend we have learned to look for when walking through the woods.  Its name is Spined Micrantha, and a very strange-looking spider it is. Aside from being happy to see such an unusual (and quite small) critter, we also hate to push our faces through the orb-webs it hangs between amazingly distant trees.  When that happens, we are not only sorry to have destroyed the spider's handiwork, but also rather annoyed as we peel all that web from our faces.

But peeling spider web off my face is a whole lot less unpleasant than being stung 12 times by Yellow Jackets, which was how my visit to Moreau Lake ended that day.  Four days later, those stings still itch and burn!  For sure, I will avoid that spot when I return to these shores, but return I certainly will.  Especially if the water levels stay low or fall even further, revealing more and more re-emerging flowers. 


Anonymous said...

Those Yellow Jackets are nasty and will attack for no reason

Woody Meristem said...

Fabulous crop of wildflowers. Those spined micrathena and their relatives are a real pain, especially when the sticky parts of the web wind up on my glasses.

suep said...

great photos Jackie esp the Gerardia (er, Agalina) -- it really pops !
and the icky thing for me, when I walk through one of those sticky web strands, is thinking, "now, where is the SPIDER?"

threecollie said...

Oh, I am so sorry about those stings...they just go on and on even if you aren't allergic. One ran me off from one of our favorite bird places last week, but at least it didn't sting me.
Lovely post as always. I too love to see the shorelines and mudflats emerge from their watery coverings, but I am hoping for sandpipers and other shorebirds. The flowers that emerge as well are a nice bonus. Hope your stings heal soon!