Monday, August 2, 2021

A Whole Week's Worth of Wonders!

Just because I've been gone from my blog for a week doesn't mean I haven't been out in the woods or along the waterways.  On the contrary!  I've been out so often and to so many places, I haven't had time to sit down, sort through the hundreds of photos, and tell of the wonders I've found along the way. Let me catch up with these brief summaries of some of those places and some of what I found there.

Monday, July 26: The Pack Forest, Warren County

The day was hot when my friends Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks and I visited the Charles Lathrop Pack Demonstration Forest, just a few miles north of Warrensburg.  Named after an Adirondack lumberman who donated the 2,500-acre tract to the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry, this shady forest of ancient pines and running streams offered a cool refuge from the sultry heat.  And its well-maintained Nature Trail offered easy walking for viewing its many botanical treasures.

Of course, we came here not just to escape the heat, but above all to find the wee little native orchid called Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera repens), which thrives in this forest and nowhere else that I have explored. Some years we find only a few. But this year, we saw these tiny white flowers held above vividly patterned leaves almost everywhere we looked.

One might think, that with all the dozens of specimens of Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain we found, I might have taken a nice clear photo of at least one of them.  But this blurry shot was the best I could manage, even with the help of a ray of sunlight piercing the gloom of the piney woods and the brim of my hat trying to tell my camera where to focus.

We sure did take a lot of photos of them, anyway.  I hope maybe Sue's pictures came out clearer than mine did.

As it happened, once we had found the orchid treasure we sought, it was fungi, not flowers, that stole the beauty show in the woods this day.  As many times as I have come upon the bright-scarlet buttons of American Caesar Amanitas (Amanita jacksonii) emerging from their snowy basal cups, I never fail to be stunned by what an amazingly beautiful mushroom this is.

The American Caesars were abundant throughout the woods, and we found them at every stage of maturity, including this wide-open stage that was stunning in its vibrancy.


Rivaling those American Caesars for brilliant color was this enormous polypore fungus called Chicken-of-the-Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), a mushroom that's surely hard to miss, notable for its gigantic size as well as its vivid color.

Here's an interesting little fungus I found massed on a rotting conifer log, one I had never encountered before.  Called Velvet-stemmed Fairy Fan (Spathulariopsis velutipes), it is related to other sac fungi (ascomycetes) like Earth Tongues.  It is not uncommon, according to my various mushroom guides, but I had never seen it before.  I love the name "Fairy Fan"!

Fungi come in all different shapes, including the trumpet shape of this fungus called Wooly Chanterelle or Scaly Vase (Turbinellus floccosus), which we found at several locations along the trail. Its vivid color helped it stand out against the leaf litter of the forest floor.

When we came upon this rotting log, we almost thought it was covered with frost -- a highly unlikely occurrence on a day this hot! But the tiny white "fingers" of this slime mold called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa did resemble spikes of needle frost. Those white spikes are the fruiting bodies of this common slime mold, a type of organism that is often confused with fungus but is actually in a class of its own, exhibiting behaviors that could be described as both animal and fungal.  Slime molds form fruiting bodies like this after periods of frequent rains, which certainly describes the kind of weather we're having this summer.

Thursday, July 29: Canal Park, Rensselaer County

Our friends in the Thursday Naturalists have visited Canal Park several times over the years.  We always look forward to visiting this remarkable park near Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal, where the Hoosic River joins the Hudson River.  Trails run through forest as well as along both rivers, and steep shale cliffs as well as an alluvial floodplain offer habitat to a remarkable variety of plants, including some that are quite rare.

The rarest plant we have found here is this unassuming little "weed" that clings by the hundred right onto the steep shale banks. Called Provancher's Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus var. provancheri) and rated as an Endangered species in New York, it can be distinguished from other fleabanes this time of year by its persistent basal leaves.  These basal leaves were very much in evidence this past week, but few of our friends could see them up close, since abundant rainfall this past month has raised the Hoosic River well up to the banks, so no dry footing was available for folks to approach the steep shale where this exceedingly rare plant was growing so abundantly. I was wearing water shoes, though, so I could show my friends this photo of the basal leaves. The daisy-like flowers were long gone.

We found it difficult to explore even the floodplain along the Hoosic, since raging floodwaters had tossed tangles of logs and branches and other flotsam high up onto the shore, and almost no level shore remained along the river, with the water still so high. Much of the shoreline vegetation had been flattened or buried by flotsam.

One of the plants we specifically visit this site to find is Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium), which grows here not only abundantly but also gigantically.  Sadly, many of the dozens and dozens of huge Green Dragon plants we usually find here were either flattened or torn by the raging floods. Luckily, a few still held their ground.

And a few of the Green Dragon plants held clusters of shiny berries, green now but later to turn brilliant red. These fruits will help to replenish those parts of the population that may have been destroyed this summer by damaging floods.

Happily, we did find a few of our favorite flowers undamaged. Part of a stand of Great St. John's Wort (Hypericum ascyron ssp. pyramidatum) was leveled, but many plants remained upright, including a few that were blooming beautifully with enormous flowers.

And this year we found a tall flowering plant we hadn't ever noticed here before.  Called Common Hedge Nettle (Stachys hispida), its individual pink florets bear a lovely pattern of dots and stripes

One of the more unusual flowers we find at Canal Park is this very small Whorled Milkwort (Polygala verticillata). But since most of the needle-fine leaves are alternate on the stem and not whorled, how can this be Whorled Milkwort?  Well, Newcomb's Wildflower Guide mentions that there is a variety that has mostly alternate leaves.  I have since learned that the variety is called ambigua

The New York Flora Association plant atlas indicates that Whorled Milkwort is quite common, although I have never seen it anywhere but here.  But then, the flowers are so small and the plants so spindly, they would easily be overlooked. One of the great advantages of botanizing with other knowledgeable people is that many eyes are looking.  And often finding!

We had no trouble seeing this beautiful butterfly feeding on a Joe Pye Weed plant, because of its vivid color. But we did have to look twice to decide whether it was a Monarch or the very similar Viceroy.

 At first, because of its small size, I assumed it was a Viceroy. But because its hind wings were mostly hidden, I could not detect for certain whether there was a horizontal black line crossing the veins, which would have been diagnostic for a Viceroy. Then, looking at the veining of the forewings, I noticed the main horizontal veins swooped upward, while those veins in a Viceroy would turn downward. So my verdict is that this is a Monarch Butterfly. Kind of a small one, though.

Another lepidoptera puzzle was presented by scads of these buff-colored small moths mobbing the flowers of Tansy that grew on the rocky shore. Now, Tansy is a garden escapee and not a native plant  and thus holds little interest for me, native-plant snob that I am. But those moths intrigued me enough to go searching the internet when I got home, and there I learned (from a University of Wisconsin site) that they belong to a group of moths called Petrophila (rock-lovers),and that they are always found near the eastern North American rivers that their larvae inhabit. The moths are found near rivers because that's where they lay their eggs, on underwater rocks in moving water. The female, clutching an air-bubble against her ventral surface to allow her to breathe, climbs down the surface of a submerged rock and deposits her eggs there.

You can find out more fascinating information about these scuba-diving Petrophila moths and how their larvae cope underwater by visiting this site.  

I wish I could find a site that would tell me for sure what this lumpy whitish blob of a fungus was.  One of a large variety of fungi we found at Canal Park, it sure was an odd-looking one, made even odder by being perforated by stems of haircap moss.

I dislodged a chunk of it (it was very firm) to study the underside, and thus discovered it was a toothed fungus.  That should have helped in my search for its identity, but I never did find an exact look-alike in any of my mushroom guides. The closest match I could find was one called Bankera violascens, which I located in the guide Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada, by Timothy J. Baroni. Especially suggestive was this comment in the description: "The fruit bodies can grow around small twigs or living mosses, as they develop quickly. This fast growth is an unusual feature attributable to only some of the tooth fungi."

Friday, July 30, Woods Hollow Nature Preserve, Saratoga County

The Woods Hollow Nature Preserve near Ballston Spa is especially interesting because it offers a wide variety of habitats -- sand plain, pine woods, wet meadow, creekside, and pond shore with boggy sections -- all in one easily accessed preserve that can be explored in one visit.  I had not visited here in some months, so it was surely time for a visit.

A plant I am always eager to find here is this wee little wispy greenish one called Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica).  The only other sites where I have found it are distant northern bogs, so it's really convenient to have a place I can visit it less than 10 miles from my Saratoga home.  And it's not always reliably found each year in the same place, being an annual plant and thus depending on its seeds germinating in place.  I found many fewer this year than last, but at least I found a few along the edge of the pond.  And they were in full bloom, just the tips of their yellow petals showing above the green sepals.

Here is a typical sand plain plant, called Horsemint or Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata), and it's notable for the large pink bracts beneath its wreathes of yellow, purple-polka-dotted flowers that surround the sturdy stems. This is not only a visually striking plant, it is also highly aromatic, emitting a strong minty scent at the slightest touch.

The pine woods is where you would go to find Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys), and that's where I found a big patch of these pale-yellow plants.  With no green leaves to photosynthesize nutrients, this plant is completely dependent on soil fungi delivering nutrients from the roots of surrounding trees. The flowers, pendulous when young but becoming erect as they begin to mature into fruit, are borne in clusters on the stalks.

Numerous colorful mushrooms decorated the wooded areas of this preserve, and I found this pair of bright-yellow Amanitas especially striking when set off by the evergreen leaves of Wintergreen. 

While making my way through the woods, I first noticed the golden orbs of some galls on the leaf of this seedling oak, and then a colorful Banded Net-winged Beetle landed on the leaf to add interest to the photo I was taking.

Standing near a meadow filled with asters, goldenrods, and milkweeds, I was delighted to see many dragonflies darting among the tall plants.  This male Widow Skimmer accommodated me by staying put on his flower stem long enough for me to take a clear photo of him.

Saturday, July 31: The Saratoga Battlefield, Saratoga County

Having checked my blog from last summer to see when the rare Winged Monkey Flower (Mimulus alatus) should be coming into bloom, I knew it was time to revisit the only place I knew it to grow: a small creek that runs through a woods at the Saratoga National Historic Park, better known to locals as the Saratoga Battlefield. My friend Sue Pierce is the one who discovered this rare species of Monkey Flower at this site, so of course we came here together.

Before we entered the shady woods where we hoped to find our rare plant, we were dazzled by the glorious colors of Joe-Pye Weeds and Early Goldenrods filling the open meadows.

Here's Sue searching the banks of this little creek for the plants we were hoping to find.

And find them we did! Not as many as we had found a year ago, for this year the creek had flooded during this month of torrential rains, and some of the Monkey Flower plants had been flattened.

But we found enough of the Winged Monkey Flower to reassure us that the population was secure. The flowers are a pale lavender instead of the vivid blue of the standard Monkey Flower (M. ringens), and the lengths of the leaf stems and flower stalks are just the opposite: M. ringens has short leaf stalks and long flower stalks, while M. alatus has long leaf stalks and short flower stalks, as this photo reveals.

Another find today was this colorful slug ambling along a damp shady trail, and we were startled to find a slug this color.  A quick google search supplied the species name -- Dusky Arion (Arion fuscus) -- and I found lots of fascinating information about it on a U. of Virginia website. 

Here's what I found out from reading the first two paragraphs on that site:

  "These slugs are native to the Old World, particularly to northern and western Europe. They were introduced to the northeastern United States early in US history, and since then . . . are now naturalized across much of the eastern part of the country. They have become more common than native species in many areas, and are one of the most abundant slugs found in gardens, fields, and forests.

  "Like all slugs, those in the genus Arion are hermaphrodites (possessing both male and female sex organs). They can reproduce either by self- or cross-fertilization, depending upon conditions and habitat stability. When two slugs mate with each other, they each simultaneously play the role of both sexes, exchanging sperm with their male genitalia. At times, the male sex organs of two slugs become entangled during mating and the slugs may bite them off in order to free themselves, a not uncommon sacrifice known as ‘apophallation.’ From then onward, the apophallated slugs are only able to reproduce as females."

You can read lots more about these harmless creatures here, including information about their diet that should be reassuring to gardeners and farmers: "These slugs feed primarily on fungi and decaying plant matter, but have also been known to consume animal feces, injured or dead insects, and algae."

I am glad we spotted the web of this tiny Spined Micrathena spider (Micrathena gracilis) before either of us walked right through it. This distinctively shaped but nearly invisible spider strings its web between remarkably distant trees, so it's a frequent hazard of woodswalkers to find the web plastered across our faces while the wee little critter goes skittering across our foreheads as it seeks escape from us interlopers.

Here was a nice treat to top off not only our visit to the Saratoga Battlefield but also a whole week of wonderful wanderings: a beautiful doe peacefully grazing in this colorful flower-filled meadow and gracing us with her gaze before slowly loping away.

1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

My goodness you find some unusual (and often tiny) rare plants! I didn't recognize many of those.