Rensselaer County, NY: Some places are so rich in wonderments that I feel drawn to return to them several times each year. Canal Park at Lock 4 of the Hudson River/Champlain Canal is just such a place. Here, the canal bypasses the Hudson rapids at Stillwater and rejoins the main river right where the Hoosic River flows into the Hudson from the east. All that watery shoreline, steep shale banks, surrounding forest, and alluvial plain provide habitat for a rich variety of native plants, and easily accessed trails follow the waterways and wend through the woods. And for those who have little interest in botanizing here, it's a beautiful spot just to picnic or walk, with the added feature of watching boats pass through the lock.
We had to look closely to find these tiny flowers, a native wildflower called Whorled Milkwort. Possessing alternate leaves as well as whorled ones, these plants would be the variety ambigua: Polygala verticillata var. ambigua. Some taxonomists place this plant in its own separate species, however, calling it Alternate Milkwort (P. ambigua).
We had left the sunny open shore and entered a trail that was shaded by oaks and birches as it followed the Hoosic upstream. This kind of habitat is one my friend Ruth finds especially exciting, since she has a great interest in mosses, and a shady forest is a fine place to look for mosses.
This shady woods is the only place I know of to find Deerberry shrubs (Vaccinium stamineum), and we were hoping to find its beautiful aqua-colored fruits. We did find some fruits, but they were still bright shiny green and had not yet developed the bluish bloom they will acquire when ripe. We could already detect the tiny dots that decorate each berry, though. As beautiful as these berries will be when ripe, they are not very tasty and are best left for the wildlife to eat.
When our forested trail descended to a flood plain we had hoped to explore, we were startled to see just how high the river had risen and how rowdy and roiling its waters were flowing. Normally, that gnarly old Silver Maple tree stands well back from the water's edge, and we can easily make our way along a sandy, shaley shore to find lots of riparian species of plants. Not today!