Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Dodging the Rain, Here and There

I just cannot remember a July when it rained so many days in a row! I'm glad I have so many places near my home where I can run out for an hour or (if I am lucky) two, just to see what's in bloom.  This week, I was especially eager to check on a population of an Endangered species called Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum) that grows on the shore of a cove of Moreau Lake.  For nearly two years, its site had been under water as the lake rose right up into the surrounding woods.  And despite all the rainfall this summer, the lake is back down to almost as low as it was the year I first discovered the Whorled Mountain Mint back in 2013. Would this really rare plant have made a recovery by now? I was eager to find out as I approached its site along the low sandy shore.


Before I reached the Mountain Mint site, I was delighted to see another truly rare plant -- Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush, also rated as Endangered -- thriving in great numbers in the sand beneath my feet. 

Called by the scientific name Cyperus subsquarrosus, this tiny flatsedge had not been reported from the shores of Moreau Lake since 1961 when we chanced upon it here back in 2018.  That was a year when the lake water had fallen extremely low, allowing the seeds long waiting beneath the water to once again sprout and bear fruit.  Then in 2019,  Moreau Lake rose once again, sending the thousands of plants we had counted in 2018 back underwater. And here they were, back again, as thriving as ever, now that their seedbed has once again resurfaced.

In this next photo, you can see the stubby little brown spikelets getting ready to produce new seeds. With my hand in the shot, you can also get some idea of how truly tiny this flatsedge with the very long scientific name really is.

Continuing along the shore, I pushed through a Buttonbush thicket to the exact spot where, back in 2013, I had first encountered the Whorled Mountain Mint. I had had no idea, back then, how truly rare this plant was, only knowing it looked a bit different from the Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint I was quite familiar with.  At that time, there were only 5 other sites in all the state from which this species had been reported. Now that I am aware of this plant's Endangered status, I breathed a great sigh of relief when I saw once again, right where I'd found it before, this blooming specimen of Whorled Mountain Mint, its terminal clusters of spiky buds just opening into purple-spotted white florets.

But wait!  Where were the rest of them?  Back in 2018, a state rare-plant monitor and I had counted 273 blooming specimens along the shore of this cove, signifying the healthiest and most abundant population of Whorled Mountain Mint in all of New York.  This day, however, I could find only 19 blooming plants in two separate locations many yards apart: 10 where I found the first plants behind some Buttonbush shrubs, and another 9 where they clustered at the base of a Cottonwood tree.

I sure hope that, as with the case of the little flatsedge, the seeds might still be extant in the soil and just taking their time to regenerate. I also have hope that this year's flowering specimens will produce the seeds to rebuild the size of the population that once grew so abundantly here.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the beauty of other flowering plants that thrive along this shore, like this deep-rose Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) offering its nectar to a lovely Spangled Fritillary butterfly.

If this Rough Cinquefoil plant (Potentilla norvegica) was blooming, its yellow flower was hidden by the presence of this colorful female Calico Pennant dragonfly. Since dragonflies eat other insects, it might have been feasting on whatever small insect might have been visiting the flower to consume its pollen or nectar.

What a cute little American Toad, decorated with reddish spots and barely more than an inch long!

Although I'd been disappointed to find the Whorled Mountain Mint population so depleted, I was happy to find on this shore an abundant patch of this native plant called Slender Three-seeded Mercury (Acalypha gracilens). 

Although the New York Flora Association plant atlas shows this plant as having been reported from fewer than a dozen counties state wide, it still rates it as Ostensibly Secure in New York. It is not exactly a showy plant, with teeny-tiny flowers that hide in the leaf axils along the stem, so it's probably not a plant many folks would pause to admire or even take notice of (or collect and report to be vouchered by state botanists).  I happen to love its gracefully slender green leaves and the furry little nubbins of its three-seeded flowers. I was just attempting to photograph these tiny, just-developing flowers when the third rainfall of the day started to threaten my camera, so I packed it away and saved that attempt for another less-rainy day.

The Hudson River at Moreau

Storm clouds towered high in the sky and rain spattered the windshield of my car as I drove to the shores of the Hudson River along Spier Falls Road today. But then the rain stopped, just as I reached the river. Should I chance a paddle before the next storm? Well, maybe just a short one, since the water lay so calm and serene and the beautiful view upstream beckoned to me like my own personal Bali ha'i.

And here was the first flower that made it worth taking that chance!  Could there be a flower more gloriously red than the Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)?

These Spotted St. John's Worts (Hypericum punctatum) were lovely, too, with clusters of bright-yellow flowers topping graceful stems that leaned over the dark water.

The radiant blue of these Marsh Skullcap flowers (Scutellaria galericulata) seemed to glow in the dim light of the rain-clouded sky.

And here were the flowers that tempted me here today despite the threat of storms! This trio of gorgeous Smaller Purple-fringed Orchids (Platanthera psycodes) had achieved the near-perfect bloom I was hoping to find.

What a spectacular native wildflower! And this is the smaller version of Purple-fringed Orchid loveliness! This species can be distinguished from the look-alike Greater Purple-fringed Orchid by the shape of the opening into the throats of the florets, which I wanted to examine.  I moved in toward the bank to get as close a shot of this feature as I could.

But then the sky just opened! A true cloudburst began to drench me and my camera. So I quickly stowed my camera in a zip-lock bag and moved under the boughs of some overhanging Hemlocks to wait out the torrential downpour. Rainfalls this heavy rarely last long.  Or so I hoped!

And so the rain soon stopped.  Or at least, this rainstorm did.  Since I expected that more of them were probably on the way, I decided to call it a day and paddle quickly downstream to my launching site.  But before I left the river, I paused for just a moment to be awed by the beauty of clouds of mist rising  up from the forest and veiling the distant mountain.


The Furry Gnome said...

You're a brave botanist, dodging the rain. I loved your pix of the orchid and Cardinal Flower.

threecollie said...

I share your delight with finding wonders outdoors as well as the frustration of fitting it all in between the showers. I nearly killed my 530 camera dragging it around in a light mist. Got it going again, but Becky and I bought a slightly newer one, as I am designated photographer for my favorite uncle's memorial later in the month. It has to work.

What a year!

As always I love seeing your photos and reading about special plants. I hope someday to buy a Cardinal Flower for the sandy bank by our long lawn. It is my favorite color of red.