You might think that rare plants would prefer to be found in lush, super-accommodating places. But that's often not the case. During this past week, the rarest, most interesting plants I encountered were thriving at two different locations that, at first sight, appeared unlikely to support any plant but perhaps some waste-place weeds. One location was the rugged, rocky, ice- and flood-ravaged shore of a northern stretch of the Hudson River. The other was a herbicide-blasted, low-nutrient, sandy-soiled clearing beneath some powerlines at Moreau Lake State Park. Here is a digest of some of the rare and interesting plants I found in these two places.
A Hudson River shoreline called the Ice Meadows
The Sticky Tofieldia not only thrives in the sand near the shore, but it also grows in large populations around the many spring-fed pools that collect among the bedrock. Some really rare sedges populate these pools as well, and I think I see the Threatened species called Buxbaum's Sedge (Carex buxbaumii) protruding from this large patch of Tofieldia.
A number of our state's native orchids also make this shoreline their home. This little orchid, called Shining Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes lucida), is not a rare one in New York, but I found only this single plant, down near the water's edge. Our earliest Spiranthes species to bloom, it can be easily identified by its florets' yellow lower lips.
Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) is not only one of our state's prettiest orchids, it's also one of our commonest ones. It certainly thrives along this rocky riverside in abundant numbers.
When I visited this site in early May, the fragrance of Dwarf Sand Cherry's blossoms filled the air. This state-listed Threatened species (Prunus pumila var. depressa is its scientific name) sprawls in great numbers across the rocky shore, its low branches thick now with ripening fruit.
Although this next flower, Creeping Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula var. reptans), is really tiny, it makes its presence known by growing in great numbers, sprinkled across the damp sand like stars in the sky. This Hudson shore is one of the very few places I can count on finding it.
Here's another plant that thrives on sandy shores, but higher up where the sand is dry. It's called Canada Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense), and although it is quite showy in early summer, it's at its most interesting on the first sub-freezing mornings in fall, if the mornings are snowless and still. That's when its stems split from the cold and release lovely curls of frothy frozen sap through the cracks in the stem. It was looking very sunny now, bright yellow and with orange-tipped anthers that always seem to flop to one side.
Even after witnessing all these other fancy flowers, I was nevertheless smitten with the Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare) teeming along the pathway back to the road. This is a very common wildflower of weedy sites, but it's still a native (if also circumboreal) plant. I just love its unique structure, with adorable pinky-purple florets sprouting up from wreathes of spiky bracts.
A Powerline Clearcut near Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park