Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Another Day, Another Bunch of Wildflowers

Another sunny warm day in Saratoga County!  So off I sped to both the North Woods at Skidmore College here in Saratoga Springs, and then a few miles north to the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton. I was betting new flowers would be blooming today, and I was not mistaken!

North Woods at Skidmore College

Could Trout Lilies be blooming already?  I was here just a few days ago and saw only a few of the mottled leaves protruding above the leaf litter.  But rain and warmth had worked their magic, and today, the forest floor was teeming with these lovely yellow lilies (Erythronium americanum):

Unfortunately, the Red-necked False Blister Beetles had discovered the Trout Lilies' pollen-rich anthers almost as soon as the flowers had opened their buds, and the beetles were gorging on the pollen already. 

Within a day or two, all those velvety red anthers will be turned into wrinkled black threads. Luckily, though, Trout Lilies don't depend to any great extent on sexual reproduction, relying mostly on vegetative cloning to create their extensive patches of plants. Although many of the plants that thrive on this and other forest floors never bloom, there certainly was no dearth of flowers to be found in the Skidmore woods today.

Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) is another of the early spring bloomers at Skidmore, and many of this plant's slender purple-leaved stalks were standing tall above the leaf litter today.  

The above photo demonstrates two of the traits that distinguish the C. giganteum species of Blue Cohosh from the daintier, later-blooming species, C. thalictroides.  These flowers are a dark purple, for one thing,  and they are already fully in bloom while the leaves are not yet unfurling.  The greenish-yellow flowers of C. thalictroides do not open before their leaves do.

The buds of these tiny Dwarf Ginsengs (Panax trifolius) had not yet opened to reveal their spherical clusters of starry white flowers, but their soft-green, reddish-stemmed leaves made them easy to find, tucked in among the sheltering roots of a tree trunk.

In all of the Skidmore woods I walked today, I found only this one single violet of any species.  The Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata) is quite common in this lime-rich woods, so I would expect to see many more of them in the days ahead. But most will not be this mottled purple/white pattern. This violet is typically a pale lavender color that darkens toward its throat. But all will have the distinctive long spur.

Whoa! Now, this Hepatica flower is PURPLE!  Quite a rich, deep purple, too, while most of the other examples thriving now in this woods were much paler shades, as well as pure white. Both the Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) and the Round-lobed Hepatica (H. americana) can be found in this lime-rich habitat.

I'm not sure how many people would recognize these tousled yellow threads and twisting white threads on these grass-fine stalks as genuine flowers, but that is indeed what they are: the yellow threads are the staminate males of a species of sedge (Carex sp.), and the white threads lower on the stems are the pistillate female ones.  But as to what species of sedge this is, I confess I don't know, since I am woefully ignorant in how to tell one sedge from another.

Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, Wilton

How interesting, that the first blooming flowers that greeted me when I reached the Orra Phelps Preserve belonged to another species of sedge.  And this sedge species I DO know! Or, I think I do.  The wide, slightly rumpled leaves and the reddish base of the stalks are clues that this is the Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginea). Again, yellow staminate flowers surmount stems that sprout with tiny white pistillate ones.

Those tousle-headed sedges are fun, but this is the flower I really came to Orra Phelps to see today: the lemon-yellow, basal-leaved violet known as the Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia).  A nice cluster of these short-stemmed violets stars a section of a dark-green-moss-covered bank along the stream that runs through this preserve. I believe that this is the earliest of our native violets to bloom, and I always count on finding them here at the same spot every year.  I was not disappointed today!

Another native early-blooming wildflower I can count on finding at Orra Phelps is the Sessile-leaved Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia), and again, I was not disappointed.  There were many still tightly in bud along the creek bank, but a few were dangling their dainty pale-yellow bells with slightly flaring petals.

Did I say slightly flaring? Well, that's usually the case, so these few specimens with sharply retracted petals were quite an unexpected surprise.

Two different Toothworts (Cardamine spp.) grow in the mucky, moss-covered soils at Orra Phelps, and I was once told that the sharply toothed leaf on the left in this photo belonged to the Large Toothwort (Cardamine maxima), while the bluntly toothed leaf on the right belonged to the Two-leaved Toothwort (C. diphylla). Now that I'm reading various guides to try to confirm these IDs, I realize I have to look at how each of these divided leaves is attached to the main stem of the plant.  So I'll have to go back to examine the entire plants more carefully.  In the meantime, it's obvious that the leaves do look quite different, no matter what species they are.  And they do both have 4-parted whitish or purple-tinged flowers, so I do know they are certainly Toothworts!

UPDATE:   OK, I found the two species of Toothwort today and photographed the number of compound leaves attached to the stems of each species.  Here's my photo of C. maxima showing the 3 compound leaves:

And here is my photo showing the 2 compound leaves attached to the stem of C. diphylla:

Uh oh!  I DO know exactly what species of plant THIS is, and I sure wish I hadn't found it here! For this is Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), one of the most aggressively invasive species around, and I found some extensive patches of it growing along the creek at the Orra Phelps Preserve. I have seen acres and acres of this yellow-flowered plant along other creeks downstate, supplanting any native plants that once made those creekbanks their home.

Over the past five years, I occasionally had found single specimens of this alien invader along this creek and promptly dug them out, hoping never to see them here again.  And I never did, until now. And this wasn't a single specimen, but several rather extensive patches. Darn!

Luckily, I keep a sharp-pointed weed-digger in my car (I use it in winter to knock snow out of my car's wheel wells). I quickly retrieved that long-shafted digger and started digging.  It took me about half an hour and several broken fingernails to fill a garbage bag with what I hoped was every trace of these nasty plants. But I'm sure enough little pieces remain to regenerate over time, so I alerted the volunteer stewards of this preserve to watch for any resurgence.  And of course, I'll be watching, too! This small nature preserve contains so many beautiful native creekside flowers, it sure would be a shame to lose them to this horrid weed.


Momo said...

Beautiful and informative, Jackie. The flared petals of the bellwort are so graceful. I had not been aware of the invasive Lesser Celandine!

The Furry Gnome said...

Seems early for those Dogtooth Violets. I recorded my wildflower presentation today.

Woody Meristem said...

Beautiful photographs -- your flowers are earlier than ours even though we're further south.