Saturday, April 3, 2021

Spring, Interrupted, Resumes

A bit prematurely, I closed my last post with great celebration: "The wildflower season is now upon us!" Then wintry weather returned for several days, with 20-degree nights and 30-degree days and even a brief blizzard as an April Fool's Day prank. Thankfully, the snow didn't last, and today the sun shone and the temps rose into the 50s once more. But it sure was a see-saw week, weatherwise. At least I did get out to the woods a few times.

Tuesday, March 30, Lake Bonita at Moreau Lake State Park

The sun was warm but the breeze was chilly the day I joined my friends Sue and Nadine as they checked the Eastern Hemlocks along the shore of Lake Bonita for signs of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. Both Sue and Nadine had attended an information session about this significant threat to our northern forests and had been assigned this stretch of state-park lakeshore to look for any signs of infestation. I came along to observe, and to check a few hemlocks myself.

The day was certainly sunny and bright, but with significant quantities of ice remaining on the lake, the breeze carried remnants of winter's chill as it moved across the icy expanse.

We could hear geese honking at the far end of the lake. I wondered why this solitary goose was keeping to itself near our shore.  At least it was obvious that its feet were not frozen into the ice, since the goose was ambling quite freely on the icy surface.  Beyond this goose, you can see the ruddy-hued little sphagnum-covered islands that dot Lake Bonita and support a wonderful variety of interesting acid-tolerant plants, including masses of Leatherleaf shrubs, whose rosy leaves lend their color to the islands all winter long.

I am very happy to report that we did not find a single sign of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid infestation on any of the hemlock needles we examined.  We did, however, find an amazing population of Snow Fleas hopping about on the forest floor and gathering in masses on this fallen tree limb.  Snow Fleas are amazing and perfectly harmless creatures, not fleas at all, nor is the creature even an insect, despite its six legs. They exist, apparently, in a class all their own, called Collembola. Here's an article from the magazine Northern Woodlands with lots more information about this fascinating animal.

Our hemlock inspections completed, we ambled along a rushing stream that carried us deeper into the many acres of forest that surround Lake Bonita.

There's something deeply joy-producing about being in the presence of tumbling mountain streams. That's actually a scientific fact and not just a personal feeling of mine.  I have read that water droplets flung into the air by turbulence produce negative ions in the surrounding atmosphere that promote good health and a sense of well-being. (Here's an article about this.)  I can certainly attest that we felt very happy to be there.  It might have been the water, and it also might have been because we had found no immediate threat to these woods from those Hemlock Woolly Adelgids.

Wednesday, March 31, Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, Wilton

This mild but overcast day encouraged me to return to the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, where I had found Snow Trilliums (Trillium nivale) in bud just a few days earlier.  Would they have opened their snowy-white petals by now?  They certainly had!  At least, one of them had, and a few more, still in tight bud, had emerged from the ground. Since this preserve is the only place I know of in the entire state to lay my eyes on this lovely little flower, I always make sure not to miss it when it blooms.

I found no other wildflowers blooming in this preserve today, but I was excited to see many fat buds on a Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) that leans over the creek. The presence of these buds promises to be be a good year for finding these gorgeous flowers blooming in late June/early July.  Last year, I did not find a single flower on this shrub.

There was one more sure sign of spring at Orra Phelps this day: sprouts of Wild Leeks, also called Ramps (Allium tricoccum), were shooting up from the muddy ground. I'm glad this plant is protected in this preserve, since other populations of this tasty wild onion are in danger of being over-collected by foragers. 

Saturday, April 3, The North Woods at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs

After a stretch of below-freezing days -- and even a snowy one last Thursday! -- it felt great to see a clear blue sky and a bright warm sun that promised to push today's temps up close to 50. My friend Sue came down from Hudson Falls to Saratoga today, seeking more signs of spring down here than she'd been able to find 20 miles north.  We met at Skidmore College to explore the marvelous limestone underlaid woods that lies adjacent to the campus. The same geological faults that bring mineral springs to the city of Saratoga Springs have created great rocky ridges throughout these woods. All kinds of fascinating plants -- including some that are truly rare -- can be found tucked in among these rocks. Would we find any today?

We did find some Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum), a known lime-lover, making its way across these moss-covered boulders.

On the same moss-covered rocks, we found many plants of the gracefully curving Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) tucked in among the cracks.

Those two ferns were certainly interesting, but we were craving some flowers! Just as we were wondering if we'd find any flowers today, we spied these fat purple flower-bud clusters of Red-berried Elder (Sambucus racemosa) springing forth from among the unfurling leaves. These colorful flower buds are actually more attractive than the rather spindly off-white flower clusters they will produce.  But still.  These were just the buds.  Not the flowers.

At last, we did find some actual flowers.  The pale-lavender flower of this Round-leaved Hepatica (Hepatica americana) was still sheltering from the morning's chill beneath its fur-covered bracts, but it was fully in bloom, as we could see when we gently lifted it up.  Lots of fuzzy buds were clustered beneath, waiting their turn to bloom.

I also had to lift this bloom of English Violet (Viola odorata) in order to espy the hooked style within, a definite diagnostic feature of this non-native early-blooming violet. This is the white-flowered variety of this sweet-smelling violet, which bears a purple spur behind a pure-white face that is unlined with the dark veins so typical of other violets.  A deep-purple patch of this same species grows on the opposite side of the Skidmore campus.   I have always believed that both varieties of these extremely fragrant flowers were planted long ago by Victorian ladies who carried small nosegays of them to ward off less pleasant odors.

Another exciting find today were several Leatherwood shrubs (Dirca palustris) dangling small yellow trumpet-shaped flowers below their very furry, newly opened brown buds. I did a little happy dance to celebrate finding one of my favorite native shrubs in bloom.

Saturday, April 3, Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, Wilton

After Sue and I had explored several trails through the Skidmore woods today, we headed a few miles north to see what we could find at the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve.  This is a small (1.8-acre) preserve but a lovely one, with a mixed hardwood/conifer forest covering its rolling terrain and two branches of a tumbling creek rushing over rock-lined courses.

Aside from the Snow Trilliums I had found earlier this week and hundreds of huge purple Skunk Cabbage plants, we found no new flowers in bloom.  But we did enjoy seeing this beautiful patch of Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens), with its glossy green leaves and bright-red berries looking as fresh today as they had last fall before they were covered by winter's snow.

The exciting find today was not a flower, but rather a liverwort -- and a liverwort with the perfectly wonderful vernacular name of Handsome Woollywort (Trichocolea tomentella)!  Sue is the one who found it, wandering a swale punctuated by hundreds of Skunk Cabbage spathes and carpeted with pretty mosses like Delicate Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum).  Sue noticed first its yellow-green color, which set it apart from the darker-green Thuidium that surrounded it. She knew right away it was nothing she had ever seen before.

It just happens that I had once -- and only once -- seen it before, in a cedar swamp up in the Adirondacks.  Our mutual friend Evelyn Greene had been with us that day, and she had corrected me when I called her attention to this pretty "moss."  No, no, she said, that's a liverwort!  Evelyn told me its scientific name, which led me to finding its absolutely delightful vernacular name of Handsome Woollywort.  I took this close-up photo today, which shows pretty clearly how it got that "woolly" part of its name.  

Great find, Sue!  What a fun way to cap off our truly wonderful day in the woods!


suep said...

Hi there, yes it was Time Well Spent just rambling around like a couple of kids in the woods ... I must add to your comments here, true to form I had trouble remembering the name of the "new" liverwort, so did a search of your blog. Apparently two years ago you saw it on the Waterfall Trail in the fall --although it was more mature and darker green then. It was still a discovery for me, and I look forward to finding it again !

Woody Meristem said...

Interesting plants you have there. Good finds and good photographs.

The Furry Gnome said...

Your blog really helps me 'get back to the woods' since I can't do it myself anymore. We had the same snow on Thursday.