A busy week! But so is every week for me, during the growing season. I live within easy driving distance to many wonderful parks and nature preserves, each one offering distinctive habitats, so I'm on the go nearly every day, off to visit some of my favorite floral and fungal finds.
If Closed Gentian is a flower you'd call "showy", what would you call these tiny flowers, almost invisible against the leaf litter in the woods? Well, I call them "really rare," since the open throat and broad lower lip of these Autumn Coralroot orchids distinguishes them as the Endangered variety called Pringle's Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza var. pringlei). This variety was long thought to be extirpated from New York State until a substantial population of them was found at Moreau Lake State Park two years ago. We always have to look hard for them, but oh happy day, we do still find them there!
In another part of Moreau Lake State Park, on the shores of Lake Bonita, I came upon an abundant patch of Ditch Stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides), a plant with remarkably-shaped chubby blooms. Note that the anthers surround the flowers instead of protruding from the center. Usually colored greenish-yellow, the flowers have started to turn their gorgeous autumn crimson.
It was such a sweltering, horribly hot day last Thursday, I thought about cancelling the walk I was to lead for my Thursday Naturalist friends at Woods Hollow Nature Preserve near Ballston Spa. But oh, the Sphinx Ladies Tresses were starting to bloom there in the wet meadow section, and I didn't want my friends to miss seeing them. This is the same native orchid that we used to call Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua), but which now has been reassigned to another species, Spiranthes incurva.
Another favorite flower at Woods Hollow is this adorably pretty plant called Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum). The hotter and drier the site and the poorer the soil, the more this aptly named flower seems to thrive. As it does in the sandy oak/pine savanna area of this nature preserve.
This beautiful beetle we found on the ground, an apt spot for finding a Splendid Earth-boring Scarab Beetle (Geotrupes splendidus). This beetle was probably newly emerged from its larva, and if it's a male he will start creating a burrow in the ground, which he will provision with dead leaves and wait within for a female with which to mate and start the lifecycle all over again. I have read that this is not an uncommon beetle, but I had never seen this beautiful iridescent green beetle before.
I found some interesting fungi this week, too. What looked like puffs of popcorn tossed along a pinewoods trail were actually a pair of Elfin Saddle Mushrooms (Helvella crispa).
It was startling to come upon this snowy-white growth that looked like icy fingers of frost covering a rotting log -- especially since the day I found it was particularly hot. And it even melted at a touch, like frost, turning to liquid beneath my finger. But of course, it was a slime mold, called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, not frost. Not a fungus, either. Slime molds belong to a category of life-form all their own, displaying almost animal-like abilities to move and feed and eliminate waste until (like fungi) they produce spore-dispersing fruit bodies. Like this one.