Saturday, May 29, 2021

A Lupine Extravaganza -- and Mine Alone!

Cold and rainy today.  But did that dissuade me from going outdoors?  Not a chance!  I had heard that the Wild Lupines (Lupinus perennis) had been putting on their annual show at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park for nearly a week now, and I sure wanted to catch it before these gorgeous native wildflowers faded.  The rainy cold only meant that few other people would likely be crowding the trails today (this renowned mass flowering draws lots of spectators from miles around). And I was right.  I had the park and its glories all to myself!  And what a show it was!  This was the scene that met my eyes after just a few yards along the preserve's Gick Farm trails:

Wild Lupines are not really a rare plant in Saratoga County, with vast regions of sandy, low-nutrient soil abounding in many areas.  Lupines, like all Pea Family plants, can actually produce all the nutrients they need out of the air! I know of several places to see these flowers, including stretches right along the highway.  But rare are the places one can see just acres and acres of land simply carpeted with masses of them in all their purple glory.  The Wilton preserve is one of those sites, because the managers groom the habitat there specifically for lupines, and then they plant masses of them.  After nearly swooning with amazement at the scene pictured above,  I set off along the trail to see what other glories awaited further afield.


I didn't have to walk far. Almost every turn in the trail brought scenes like these below into view:

Now, as much as we humans appreciate the magnificent floral show the Wilton Wildlife Preserve puts on with these mass lupine plantings, they really don't do it for us.  As it happens, the leaves of Lupinus perennis provide the only food that the larvae of the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly is able to eat, so this wildflower site is managed specifically to support a thriving population of this rare butterfly. These butterflies actually abound at the Wilton Preserve, but the cold rain today kept them lying low and out of sight. Luckily, on a sunnier day a few years ago, I managed to capture in a single photo both sexes of Karner Blues (the male a bright blue, the female a dark brown) as they fed on the nectar of Blackberry flowers, another floral species that thrives at the Wilton Preserve. While their larvae can feed only on lupine leaves, the adults can feed on any flower that offers nectar.

There's little doubt that the Wild Lupines are the star that attracts the crowds to this preserve, but there's another beautiful plant that many wildflower-lovers travel here to see.  That's the Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), one of our showiest native orchids, and it thrives in the sandy soil of the pine woods that surround the open meadows where the lupines grow. Just a few steps into the woods reveals how abundant their population is at this site.

Every few steps along the trail reveals yet another specimen of this deep-pink orchid,  each one encountered seeming even lovelier than the last.

Masses of fragrant Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) also thrive in the shade of these woods.

I missed the bloom-time of another exquisite spring wildflower that abounds in these woods, which is called Starflower (Lysimachia borealis) because of its star-shaped, pure-white blooms. But I love the equally exquisite Starflower seedpod, a perfect tiny sphere set within star-shaped bracts, held aloft on a stem so thread-fine it seems that the seedpod just floats in the air.

The rain was beginning to fall in earnest now, as I hurried back in the direction of my car.  But I had to stop to admire the glossy green leaves and bright-yellow flowers of this lovely patch of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis).  Another name for this native wildflower is Blue-bead Lily, suggested by the royal-blue, perfectly round fruits that replace those yellow flowers later in summer.

I also paused to delight in the glittering diamond drops that had formed at the center of each rain-watered lupine leaf.

The vibrant orange of these Pitch Pine flowers (Pinus rigida) also caused me to halt to capture their strange kind of beauty in a photo.  They also reminded me to mention that the particular habitat I'd explored today is called an "oak/pine savanna," and aptly so, since several species of oaks and pines inhabit the site.  Another name for it is "sand plain grassland," also an apt name for this site in which several species of native grasses are being restored.

This Bear Oak (Quercus ilicifolia) is only one of the oaks that thrive in this oak/pine savanna, and it's also the smallest one. Its small size suggested another of its vernacular names -- Scrub Oak -- and the shape of its leaves are the reason it's also called the Holly-leaved Oak (which is what the specific epithet "ilicifolia" actually means).  The "bear" of its other name, I've been told, has to do with its acorns being so bitter, only a hungry bear laying on fat before hibernation would consume them.  So many names for such a small tree!

And oh my gosh, such a huge tree for a dogwood species! I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) towering almost as tall as its neighboring birches. I had only encountered this dogwood before as a head-high shrub.

The Alternate-leaved Dogwood got that name because of the alternate branching of its twigs (all other dogwoods have opposite branches). This species is also known as Pagoda Dogwood, a name suggested by its tiered horizontal branching. Today, every one of its branches was holding large floral clusters aloft.

I plucked one of those floral clusters to better examine its florets, and the cluster assumed the shape of a heart.  What an appropriate sign of love, for such a lovely outing I had, even despite (or maybe because of) the rain!


Anonymous said...

Wonderful visit. Thank you for taking us along too!!

The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful group of plants. I've seen those orchids but never in a group like that. We see masses of lupines in the Maritimes.

Anonymous said...

It's been decades since I saw more than one or two lady slipper specimens in a small area. What a treat!

threecollie said...

Oh, I just love your photos and tales of plants! Fascinating every single time.

Elle said...

I was also at Old Gick Farm on Saturday and dancing in delight at the abundance of pink lady slipper. I stopped counting at 50!

On a somewhat related note, can you connect me with information about the Thursday Naturalist group? That's how I found your beautiful blog.