Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Walking While Wet

Rain, rain, go away!  April's OVER! Now it's MAY!  But the showers continue, day after day. Sigh!

I've begun to run out of shoes that aren't soggy, but I laced the driest ones up this past Monday to dash off to nearby Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, hoping to fit in a walk between showers. And I nearly did, the rain holding off until I had only a few hundred yards left to dash to my car under a downpour. 

This is an old photo of the west end of this two-mile-long trail, before it was raised and paved a couple of years ago to compensate for beaver-caused flooding of the trailside wetland.  

But this photo still shows the birch-lined section of trail where I search for Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernua) each May.  This lovely native wildflower hides beneath the trailside shrubs, and it's always a good idea to locate their early shoots, before the ferns and grasses grow high enough to disguise them.

I didn't really expect to find the Nodding Trillium blooming yet, but considering how cold it has been of late, I was surprised to see them as far advanced as I did, with swelling buds atop fully expanded leaves. (The flower buds will dangle beneath the leaves when they actually open.)

It looks as if it might be a great year for these flowers along this trail.  Here was a cluster of four good-sized plants with buds about to burst.

I found many new trillium plants, some already sporting buds while others might still be too young to bloom this year. A few years ago, a state botanist told me that Nodding Trillium seemed to be disappearing from many of the sites from which it once had been reported, so I am very happy to report that this species appears to be secure along Bog Meadow Brook Trail.

My trillium sleuthing successful, I relaxed and enjoyed an easy walk, noting what wildflowers WERE in bloom along the trail.  The most abundant flowers were those of Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) forming extensive patches of pristine white flowers atop spreading five-parted green leaves.

Wild Strawberry plants (Fragaria  virginiana) dotted the trailside grassy areas, promising a few sweet treats for hikers as the season progresses (if the birds or chipmunks don't eat them first).

Kidney-leaved Buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus) is often overlooked because its flowers are so small, but when these plants grow in abundant numbers as they do along this trail, it looks as if a handful of tiny bright stars were scattered across the ground.

Sessile-leaved Bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) are also easily overlooked, since they dangle their pale-yellow bell-shaped flowers beneath their leaves. It helps to make them easier to spot when they grow massed together in abundant numbers, as these did.

If not for their snowy-white flowers dangling from bright-red budscales, I could easily have walked right by without spotting this isolated tiny shrub of Lowbush Blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium).

But I never could have missed the masses of Dog Violets (Viola labradorica) that carpeted the grass by the side of the trail.  The flowers are such a pale lavender they almost appear to be translucent, which helps to distinguish this native species of violet from the much-deeper-purple Common Blue Violet.  Another distinguishing feature is that these violets bear leaves on their flower stems (the Common Blues have basal leaves only), and the stipules that wrap the leaf nodes are sharply toothed.

The broad green leaves of a patch of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) could be spotted from many yards away, but I had to bend down and peer under the leaves to see its unusual brownish flower resting on the ground.

I wish I had brought some blaze-orange tape to mark this Wild Black Currant shrub (Ribes americanum) so that I might find it later in summer, when it bears its juicy tart fruits. The length of the flowers helps to distinguish this native species from the European garden currants or the native Wild Red Currant, both of which bear flowers that are squatter and more saucer-shaped.

No flowers yet, on this Glaucous Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioca), a vining plant that is one of our few native honeysuckles. I sure hope I can find this vine again when those flower buds burst open into a spray of confetti-colored flowers, orange and yellow and coral.

No flowers on this Red Maple tree (Acer rubrum) either, because the female flowers have faded by now to produce abundant clusters of bright-red winged seeds. I was happy to see this gloriously colorful tree, completing the cycle -- from buds to blooms to seeds --  of beautiful things I found on this pleasant but now growing soggy walk on the Bog Meadow Trail.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Quick Stop-over at Woods Hollow

I was feeling kind of bummed today.  I'd called the Agway in Ballston Spa to see if they had any native shrubs and was told, oh yes, we have TONS of them. Well, they didn't. Even the two I found that were native species -- a Clethra alnifolia and a Kalmia latifolia -- were "nativars," altered from the straight species of Sweet Pepperbush and Mountain Laurel to appeal to gardeners more than to native pollinators or insect larvae.  I guess the person I spoke with at Agway interpreted "native" to mean anything that would grow in this part of the world, no matter how exotic.  Luckily, Ballston Spa is only a few miles south of Saratoga.  And happily, one of my favorite nature preserves -- Woods Hollow -- is located on the way home. So I pulled in there to soothe my grumpy mood.

The first remarkable thing I noticed at Woods Hollow was a large mass of shiny gold bud scales lying on the entrance path:

I suspected what they might be, but I picked up a handful of the sticky scales and took a sniff, just to be sure.

And I was right.  These were the long, skinny, and very fragrant bud scales that had held the glossy green leaves of Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera) now freshly opened on the tree and shining in the sun.

A close look at the back of a leaf revealed the "mudcrack"pattern of tiny veins that clinched the ID.

Balsam Poplar is native to New York State but it really prefers a colder climate than we offer in Saratoga County.  Although this pretty tree thrives in the Adirondack region of New York, we don't see them very often around here.  So this was a nice find today, helping to soothe my irritation regarding a commercial operation that didn't know a native plant from a hole in the ground.  They even offered Burning Bush for sale!  AAARGH!!!

A few more pretty native plants awaited me as I made a quick circuit of a swampy trail that circles the pond at the center of the Woods Hollow Preserve.  The snowy-white bells of Leatherleaf flowers (Chamaedaphne calyculata) dangled on arching stems beneath their leathery oval leaves.

Masses of small white violets prettied a muddy swale.  We have several species of native white violets that are difficult to tell apart, but the damp habitat as well as the rounded leaves led me to believe these were probably Viola pallens, sometimes called Smooth White Violet or Northern White Violet.

The orbs of tiny star-shaped flowers of Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolia) were blooming abundantly beneath the trees in a wooded wetland.

The pure-white flowers of Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) were just beginning to bloom in that same shady spot. The flowers were so newly opened that the curly-tipped green pistils had yet to unfurl from amid the cluster of numerous white stamens, and the club-shaped translucent petals were still rather green and had yet to assume their golden yellow color. What look like the showy petals are actually the sepals of these early spring flowers. Although they are out of focus in this photo, you can see on the ground beneath the flower the glossy compound leaves, divided into three scalloped leaflets.

After I returned home, I took a walk in Saratoga's Congress Park, just a block from my house. And there in the grass, I found dozens and dozens of blooming Cuckoo Flowers (Cardamine pratensis).  Remembering it was May Day, when I long ago used to pick little bouquets of dandelions and violets out of the lawn to present to my mom, I picked myself a little bouquet of these native wildflowers before the approaching mowers could shear off their pale-pink fragrant blooms.

I am discovering great discrepancy in opinion regarding the native status of Cardamine pratensis. Several states, New York, Minnesota, and Missouri among them, count this circumpolar wildflower as a native North American species, as does the Newcomb's Wildflower Guide and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Yet BONAP and GoBotany (and probably others) claim it is not native. Since I am a New Yorker, I will concur with what our state botanists declare.  But why is there so much disagreement? I would love to hear some arguments for both decisions.

UPDATE: I have heard from a number of authoritative sources that there are actually TWO distinct species called Cuckoo Flower, one native and one introduced from Eurasia.  Arthur Haines, author of Flora Novae Angliae: A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Vascular Plants of New England, has informed me that "Cardamine pratensis . . . originated in Eurasia. The problem is that a native and very closely related taxon (Cardamine dentata) has been recognized in the past as Cardamine pratensis var. palustris. Then, some taxonomic authors simply united the species together (considering it one taxon that ranged over North America and Europe). However, the two taxa are readily identifiable. The problem has been that the characteristics are poorly articulated in keys, so that has led to confusion. But, confusion by botanists who fail to accurately describe the differences does not mean these two organisms are not discrete taxa."

According to information I received from several other sources, our NATIVE Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine dentata) has pure-white flowers and is rather rare in this region, being limited to high-pH wetlands. The INTRODUCED Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis) has pale-purple flowers and is found abundantly throughout our region -- including where I found those in my photo above, the spring-dampened grass at Congress Park in downtown Saratoga Springs.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Glowegee Creek Preserve: Southern Section

A couple of weeks ago, when my friend Sue Pierce and I explored the new Saratoga PLAN property called Glowegee Creek Preserve in Galway, we spent so much time in the northern section, we never made it all the way to the southern trailhead.  We were so amazed by the plethora of native wildflowers we'd found at that time, we were eager to see what lay in wait if we entered from the south. So that's where we headed one mostly sunny but cold and blustery day this past week.  

Here, Sue makes her way on a well-constructed stone pathway across one of  the wetlands that abound in this southern tract.

We had found that the northern section of this preserve consisted of a dry-mesic forest absolutely paved with such lime-loving wildflowers as Blue Cohosh and Squirrel Corn.  It was also in that northern section that the trail moved close to the beautiful Glowegee Creek with its picturesque cascading waters.  This time, we found a quite different terrain in the southern section, with fewer woodland wildflowers but much more wetland habitat.  We had barely entered the preserve from the south when we came upon this lovely pool that was bordered by a limestone ridge.

As we progressed along the Green Trail, we encountered a low-lying swamp that was filled to its edges with the brilliant-yellow flowers and emerald-green leaves of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).

Here's a closer look at the beautiful flowers of this spectacular native wetland species.

We never encountered the Glowegee Creek along this trail, but we did cross several smaller brooks.  This little stream surged around a large rock that was carpeted with a beautiful moss holding its pointed spore capsules aloft on reddish stalks.

The muddy ground near this swampy area held the unfurling fiddleheads of several wetland ferns, including this young Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina).  We felt confident identifying this fern, even at this immature stage, by the dark flecks on the stalks. Our mnemonic device, in this case, is "the lady neglected to shave her legs."

We were not so confident, however, in putting a name to these delicate fronds cascading out of the cracks in a limestone ledge. The calcareous rocky substrate led me to suspect it could be Bulblet Fern (Cystopteris bulbifera), although of course it would not, at this juvenile stage, produce the little bulblets that would clinch that ID.  Other newly emerging Bulblet Ferns I have found in other locations had redder petioles, though. So I remain quite unsure.  But who needs to put a name to such a thing of beauty, in order to simply enjoy it?

At least I had no trouble identifying these pretty leaves that had crowded into a niche in a limestone wall.  The "waterspots" on the compound leaves almost say the name, Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), out loud.

As  I mentioned before, we found many fewer wildflowers in this southern section of the preserve, but there were a few, including many Red Trilliums (Trillium erectum) just opening their showy flowers.

Wherever the soil was damp, both species of Toothwort abounded, including this Large Toothwort (Cardamine maxima) just beginning to open its blooms. This species has three compound leaves protruding from the central stem, a feature that distinguishes it from its close look-alike cousin, the Two-leaved Toothwort (C. diphylla). 

We also saw many Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum), although all of their flowers had closed against the rain and cold of the preceding days.  Many Trout Lilies were hiding among the abundant green leaves of Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum), a plant that flourishes here in astounding numbers.  (I'm going to age myself when I confess this, but this solitary lily hiding among the leeks reminds me of a song I heard on the radio growing up, "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch.")

At one point, the trail entered a grove of American Beeches (Fagus grandifolia), a patch of forest that seemed lit with a silvery light.  Here, the forest floor held many tiny Beech seedlings, with gracefully arching baby leaves covered with kitten-soft fur that had just broken free from their sharply pointed bud scales the color of polished copper.

From silvery light and copper buds to golden bark, like that on the otherwise shining bark of this extravagantly shredded Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis). Yes, I consciously use the names of these precious metals to elicit the gleaming quality of this beautiful woods in the spring, before the canopy closes in and takes most of the light for itself.  I am sure that the Glowegee Creek Preserve will be beautiful in every season, but I am glad I had a chance to explore it in the spring, both the north and the south, along with my best nature buddy Sue.  

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Mud Pond Meander

Last Saturday was gray and a little chilly, but that meant I would have the trails around Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park mostly to myself, despite it being the weekend.

I was struck by how low the water has fallen, compared to a year ago.  If not for the channels beavers had dug leading into their bank-side burrows, I could have walked all around the pond down on the flat areas next to the water.

One beaver lodge remains out in the water, and it looks as if a pair of Canada Geese might be turning it into a nesting site once more.

I was eager to see if the masses of Trailing Arbutus were filling the entire steeply pitched south bank of the pond, as they had a year ago.  There were not so many this year, I discovered.  But still a good number of plants adorned the slope, all in beautiful bloom.  Some of the flower were white:

And some of the flowers were pink:

Because the water in the pond was so low, I could walk below the steep bank and lean over to breathe in the marvelous fragrance of arbutus flowers blooming right at face level.

I continued around the pond, remaining close to the shore but moving up into the woods, where the pearlescent downy buds of Striped Maple glowed like candle flames in the dim light.

Red Maple saplings held exploding tufts of red-touched spring-green leaves at the ends of each twig.

Some of the more-mature Red Maples held cascading clusters of female flowers, where pairs of scarlet winged seeds were just beginning to emerge.

In a low swampy section where a creek empties into the pond, I found many hooded clusters of unfurling Cinnamon Ferns.

If I looked really close among the dead leaves, I found the tiny reddish fiddleheads of unfurling Sensitive Fern.

A mass of greenery in the damp woods along the creek invited me to investigate, and that's where I saw the tight purple flower buds of Golden Ragwort atop tall stalks holding fern-like green leaves. The deeply lobed stem leaves of Golden Ragwort look very different from the simple, heart-shaped, and bluntly toothed basal leaves.

Following the creek bed back to the main trail that circles Mud Pond, I saw many tufts of the fine-cut leaves of Dutchman's Breeches, but only a few plants held flowers as yet, and those flowers were still rather greenish, instead of the sparkling white they will turn when fully mature.  This wildflower's show has only just begun!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Wildflower Extravaganza at Glowegee Creek Preserve

The land-preservation organization Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature) recently announced the opening of a new nature preserve near Galway (Saratoga County), and it sounded like this preserve would offer a marvelous woods and waterway to explore.  The Glowegee Creek tumbles along a portion of the trail, and a geological fault runs through the site, bringing limestone to the surface and offering what PLAN describes as "a plethora of spring wildflowers" throughout the forested land. Well, all right!  Gotta check this OUT! So my friend Sue Pierce and I headed over there on a sunny warm day this past week, and we can assure you that that description only begins to describe the amazing wildflower extravaganza we encountered. (The photo below shows Sue ambling along a well-groomed trail that offers about a three-mile round trip through the center of the preserve.)

We had barely entered the woods near the start of the trail's north end when we encountered the first of thousands and thousands of Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) that flourish there,  acres of these native wildflowers solidly covering whole hillsides.

The Early Blue Cohosh leaves turn green as they fully open, and everything you can see that is green in the photo below is Early Blue Cohosh. And this is just a short stretch of the Cohosh-covered hillside that slopes down from a limestone ridge.

Very nearly as prolific in this portion of the woods is Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), and it was certainly in its glory the day we were there!

Such an aptly named flower, Spring Beauty!

These Spring Beauty blooms had popped up amidst the lacy leaves of one more plant that thrives in this woods in extraordinary numbers, the native wildflower called Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis).

We had arrived about a week too early to find the Squirrel Corn in full bloom, but we did find a few greenish specimens of its heart-shaped flowers on their way to turning the pure white they will be at their peak of bloom.


While those first three flowers I mentioned were the most prolific denizens of this limestone underlaid woods, there were other equally lovely flowers that grow here abundantly, too. We found a whole hillside of Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) bearing snowy-white flowers above their beautifully patterned leaves.


We spied the broad green leaves of Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) throughout the woods, and a few of them had opened their buds to display the rich-red flowers within.

At least two species of lime-loving, broad-leaved sedges (Carex spp.) were blooming throughout the preserve, and both bore flowering spikes topped with tousle-haired yellow male flowers. Spindly white threads, the female flowers, protruded along the stems.

We were too early to catch any blooms on the Virginia Water Leaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), but we didn't need to see flowers to recognize these compound leaves that appear to have been spotted by water droplets.  Another limestone lover, this plant will bear clusters of pale-purple flowers later in the spring.

We soon heard the sound of rushing water and promptly arrived at this little bridge that carried us across the picturesque Glowegee Creek, a tributary of the larger Kayaderosseras Creek that eventually empties into Saratoga Lake.

What a lovely rushing, splashing, tumbling stream this is, shaded by tall trees and dappled with whatever sunshine can make it through the tree canopy, causing the still or splashing water to both sparkle and gleam.

Rather than proceeding much further toward the south end of the trail, we dallied along the creek banks, watching the water ripple around moss-covered mid-stream rocks and admiring the exuberant spring-green display of False Hellebore leaves (Veratrim viride).

The Spicebush shrubs (Lindera benzoin) that lined the creekbank bore puffs of vivid-yellow blooms along their slender, wide-reaching branches.

A flat leafy liverwort (Conocephalum sp.?) grew on the damp mossy banks, and most of the patches bore these tiny mushroom-shaped spore-distributing organs.

And what's a good creek without a frog to inhabit it? This Green Frog leapt away at our approach, but it promptly turned to inspect us with its golden-rimmed shining eyes. Perhaps the frog felt well-enough camouflaged that it could safely remain.  And it would be right!  Just look at how perfectly its ripple-patterned back blends with the green-and-gold ripples of the sun-dappled stream.

I'm sure most folks could easily complete this three-mile, there-and-back-again trail in a little more than an hour, but we wildflower nerds have to stop every few feet to examine and photograph our trailside finds.  So the morning was heading toward afternoon now, and we had barely completed half of the distance. Our stomachs were reminding us that we still had nearly a mile-long hike back to our cars before we could head toward the Village Ristorante and Pizzaria in Galway, where we had planned to have lunch.  So we planned to return the first sunny warm day next week, to approach from the south and see what we missed of this truly spectacular preserve.  But first, we had to stop to admire and photograph one more pretty wildflower here, this bright-yellow early-blooming Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia).