Thursday, August 5, 2021

Up a Shady River

Today was delightful:  warm but not hot, breezy but no gales, sunny but with a few clouds to make the sky more interesting.  And I had time to go for a paddle before my normal Thursday-afternoon grocery run. The Hudson River beckoned me, and this time to head upstream above the Spier Falls Dam, a remarkably different shoreline than where I usually put in below the dam.

Here, the Hudson runs about due south, and I chose the west bank to paddle close to, enjoying the cool afternoon shade and the beautiful fern-lined shore, with a hemlock-dark forest rising steeply above the bouldered  banks.

The presence of Maidenhair Fern indicated there might be marble among the rocks that crowded the shore.

Giant boulders had tumbled down from the heights above, and the quiet water near the shore reflected the rocky, woodsy, ferny, mossy beauty of the banks.

The water itself offered much to observe, including large patches of this gracefully curvaceous, bright-green, translucent-leaved aquatic plant called Clasping-leaved Pondweed (Potamogeton perfoliatus).

There were stretches of water where it looked as if someone had tossed popcorn puffs across it, where the tiny white flowers of Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana) were held exactly at the surface by curlicue stems that  retract or expand as the water falls or rises.  The slender leaves of this aquatic wildflower swayed gracefully in the current. For these flowers, the river's current itself is the "pollinator," for the super-tiny male flowers rise to the water's surface from where they grow at the base of the plants, then float along on the current until they fall right into the waiting female flowers. After fertilization, the curly stems sharply retract and "plant" the female flowers in the muddy river bottom.

Here's a closer look at one of the tiny floating female flowers of Wild Celery:

Here was an unexpected surprise, the budding flowers of Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) held aloft on its raft of inflated stems, trailing its underwater structures holding hundreds of tiny sacs that this plant uses to trap tiny organisms to feed on. Over the years, I have found many of these interesting plants some miles downstream, but this is the furthest upstream I have ever seen them. This particular bladderwort is rated as a Threatened species in New York, but it certainly seems to thrive in uncountable numbers in the Hudson River.

As I paddled close to the shore, I passed beneath overhanging trees, including these seed-pod-heavy boughs of American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana).  I find these dangling seedpods quite beautiful, like stacks of angel wings.

 The boughs of American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) were also hanging over the water, in this case heavy with bristly-husked beech nuts. 

When I paddle the Hudson below the Spier Falls Dam, I am always struck by the number and variety of beautiful summer wildflowers that grow there.  I was beginning to wonder why I was seeing so few summer flowers along these banks when this showy patch of Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) caught my eye. Aha!  Some flowers at last!

And then I spied the queen of all showy wildflowers, this spectacularly red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardenalis) glowing from out of its dark-green surroundings of ferns and sedges. 

Very soon, this lovely scene came into view, a large patch of radiantly blue Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata), its beauty mirrored in the dark still water.

That patch of Pickerelweed alerted me that I would soon come upon a small cove of shallow water, where a trio of some of our most typical wetland species had found a  happy  home. The tallest of those plants, called Soft-stemmed Rush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani), held clusters of light-brown inflorescences atop gracefully arching green stems.

There were two patches of wetland plants here with stiff spiky green leaves, and from a distance the leaves looked identical. But as I drew near, I discerned the white puffs of Bur Reed flowers (Sparganium sp.) hiding among the sword-like leaves of this patch.

The second patch of green spiky growths held inflorescences that looked entirely different. In fact, the flowers were long spent from the green sausage-shaped spadices that were now bearing fruit.  This unusual wetland plant is called Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus). This plant originated in Asia and was introduced to North America long ago. Although now determined to be toxic, Sweet Flag has a long historical record of use as both food and medicine, and its fragrant oils have been valued by the perfume industry.

Even though Sweet Flag is not a native plant in North America, I find it a very interesting one.  And I don't find it very often, either.  This is only the second place I have come across it, both times while paddling the Hudson River in the stretch that flows between Corinth and Glens Falls.


The Furry Gnome said...

Back when I could paddle, seeing a Cardinal flower in the shadows was always a highlight.

Jeff Nadler said...

I prefer that direction for a more wild feel.