Monday, May 23, 2022

Lupines, Lady's Slippers, and More!

 It's Wild Lupine time at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park right now, a floral extravaganza not to be  missed!

At every turn of the trails at the Gick Farm Parcel of this preserve, another spectacular floral vista appears.  

This gorgeous native wildflower (Lupinus perennis is its scientific name) is very much at home in the nutrient-poor soils of this sandy, oak-pine savanna habitat. As is true for all members of the Pea Family (Fabaceae), lupines can provide for their own nutritional needs by “fixing” nitrogen, thanks to a symbiotic relationship with a bacterium that takes excess nitrogen from the soil.  This nitrogen is then stored in nodules on the lupine roots.

While Wild Lupine occurs spontaneously at many other sandy-soiled locations throughout Saratoga County, this plant gets a special population boost at this preserve, where seeds are planted and the lands are managed to provide habitat for the Federally Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly.   While the adult Karner Blues can feed on any nectar-producing flower, the larvae can eat only the leaves of our eastern Wild Lupine. I saw none of the brown-winged females today (perhaps this year's first generation has already laid its eggs and died), but I did see a very few blue-winged males, such as this one feeding on a Blackberry flower.

This photo reveals how very sandy the soil is at this Gick Farm Parcel.  I followed the trail into the shady woods, where pines predominated.

If you want to find Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), one of our most beautiful native orchids, there's no better place to look than a pine woods with sandy soil.  I had only stepped a few yards into the woods when I saw so many Pink Lady's Slippers it was difficult to count them all!

Wow!  Just, wow!  I saw so many Pink Lady's Slippers, each one seeming to be more beautiful than the last.

They were just as beautiful from the rear as from the front!

And nothing could enhance the beauty of the Lady's Slippers more than being surrounded by masses of blooming Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense).

Nor could any flower enhance the beauty of Canada Mayflower better than the lovely white blooms of Starflower (Lysimachea borealis), another abundant denizen of this pine woods.

Even the small, rather nondescript flowers of Tower Mustard (Turritus glabra) looked quite handsome today, the slender plants standing straight and tall, with acres of massed purple blooms serving as their foil.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Violets Galore on the River Shore

As I sit here sweltering in the over-90-degree heat today, I recall how sweetly cool it was along a northern stretch of a New York river just yesterday. My friends Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks had joined me to explore these riverbanks, known to be home to some of our state's most remarkable plants, and we had come here to see how many we could find. When we first stepped foot on the shore and noticed the signs of recent flooding  -- the bent-over shrubs and flattened grasses and eroded sand -- we feared many flowers might have been destroyed.  But no, the plants that grow here are exactly attuned to just such riparian conditions, and we were delighted to find even some of the rarest plants doing just fine.

There is absolutely no doubt that our native Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is among our region's most beautiful flowers. It may not be a rare plant, but when it spreads multitudes of its scarlet blooms across a wide swath of riverbank, it is truly spectacular!

Dwarf Cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa) IS a rare plant, rated as a Threatened species in New York State, but you'd never guess that if you could see how abundantly it sprawls among the shoreline boulders. 

Heaps of winter ice along this shore help to keep invasive plants and taller woody species at bay, thereby allowing this sun-loving miniature tree to have lots of room to grow. While Dwarf Cherry's beauty may be  more subtle than that of the Columbine, its fragrance more than makes up for any dearth of showiness.

When we sought relief from the noonday sun beating on the shore, we stepped back into the woods for a few moments of cooling shade, and there we found abundant patches of one of our loveliest native woodland wildflowers, called Fringed Polygala (Polygaloides paucifolia).

Most people probably would never notice this very interesting plant we always make sure to visit at this site, a rather scraggly patch of green stuff clinging to the rocks called Selaginella rupestris, or Rock Spike Moss.  

Selaginella rupestris may look like a moss, but it's really more closely related to ferns than to mosses. I have read that plants of this genus are distinguished by having two different types of spore cones, and I wondered if the tiny yellow dots I could see here might be one of those types of spore cone.  When I googled "Selaginella spore cones," I did find an image that looked exactly like these yellow dots that I found tucked in among the leaves.

As we teetered along the cobble close to the water, we were delighted to find these pretty white violets tucked in among the rocks.  A number of white violets grow on this stretch of shore, but the narrow lance-shaped leaves of this one helped us put the correct name to it: Lance-leaved Violet (Viola lanceolata).

So what about this white violet? Its flowers look pretty much the same as those of the Lance-leaved Violet.  Ah yes, but the leaves were a bit broader, widening toward the stem. We were quite excited to find this Primrose-leaved Violet (Viola primulifolia) close to where we had seen it in previous years, for not only is it a Threatened species in New York, it also is not known to occur in any state location close to this one. That doesn't mean that it doesn't occur, necessarily, only that no one has seen and collected a specimen and recorded its location. Also, our region's white violets are easy to confuse with one another, without close examination.

At last, we found some purple violets, and quite a lovely clump of them, too.  Their deep-purple color, furry oval leaves, and hairy stems led me to believe they must be Ovate-leaved Violets (Viola sagittata var. ovata), even though I had never seen that species grow in such multi-stemmed clusters. But since violets are known to hybridize freely, it's possible some other violet species has added its genes to this particular plant.

There certainly were other purple-flowered violets growing here on this shore.  How to tell them apart? My first impression of this one was how high the flowers were borne above their heart-shaped leaves on long slender stems.  Then I noticed how their purple color appeared to "bleed" toward the center. Then I peered into the throat of a bloom and saw how the tips of the hairs on the lateral petals were stubby, not tapering, and that was the clincher: What could this violet be but Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata)?

Here's a photo of what those "stubby" hairs look like:

It looked as if one of those Marsh Blue Violets did not mind being submerged by high water at all,  and continued blooming away while underwater.

OK, now, it looks as if Sue has found another purple violet, and this one sported a bit of a magenta tinge that signaled it was one worth stopping to photograph.

Yes, it sure was! There is only one of our violets that bears such distinctively long tapered leaves, along with very hairy stems and with even some hairiness on the surface of the flower petals, not just the throat.  And that violet, called the New England Violet (Viola novae-angliae), has been reported from no other New York location aside from this one. 

 Considering how ferocious the flooding can be along these shores, it's amazing that any plants could thrive in this apparently non-hospitable habitat, let alone one as seemingly delicate as this.  But we found such an abundant population this year, it appeared that perhaps such ferocious flooding might only help to spread the plants among the cobble, and once they are firmly rooted there, the rocks might help to protect them.  At any rate, this healthy clump looked very happy to be here.  We were certainly very happy to see it!

And of course, when one spends a lot of time looking closely at flowers, one is certain to find some of the critters that come to visit the plants.  I have no idea which insect molted this long-tailed, striped-abdomen exoskeleton perched atop a Bluet bloom. It's probably one I know very well, but whose nymph stage has been hidden from me. If anyone recognizes it, please tell us its name in a comment.  Such a fascinating creature deserves a name!  (UPDATE: see the Stonefly adult in the photo later on!)

I don't know the name of this one, either, other than it's likely one of the clubtail dragonflies.  It had just emerged from its nymph stage and probably has not acquired its mature coloration. Nor its ability to fly, as yet, which is why I was able to lift it closer for observation. I expect it was observing me, too, out of those Army-green eyes!

I do know that this is a Stonefly resting atop a Striped Maple leaf, recognizable from the leaded-glass pattern of its wings and a thorax that looks like embossed bronze.  And now that I notice the long appendages protruding from a striped abdomen, it's possible this creature is the one that emerged from the exoskeleton atop that Bluet bloom mentioned above. We do have several species of Stonefly, though, and I am not sure which species this is.

Oho!  I have no trouble putting a name to this one! How many iridescently emerald-green, white-spotted, super-speedy beetles do we have?  Called the Six-spotted Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata), this ferocious predator of ants, spiders, and caterpillars can run so fast it outruns its brain's ability to see.  So it stops occasionally for its eyesight to catch up -- and for me to capture its gorgeous beauty in a photo.  My photo has also revealed that this tiger beetle has eight spots, not six, but that doesn't matter.  Individuals of this species may have more or fewer than six spots.

This creature, too, a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), was kind enough to stop swimming swiftly through the cold river water and slither up onto this sun-warmed rock to bask -- and allow me to take its picture. This snake's sharp teeth allow it to catch good-sized fish and maneuver them around to go down its throat face first, with fins pressed tight to the fish's body.  I have watched these snakes do just that, so I know not to mess with them.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

This Week's Finds Along Bog Meadow Trail

I returned to Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail early this week to show my friend Ruth Brooks the beautiful Nodding Trilliums (Trillium cernuum) I had seen a few days before.  And yes, we did see many of the typical white-flowered Nodding Trilliums. But look what else we found: one that was colored the most remarkable raspberry red!  

Except for the color, this bloom displays many of the typical characteristics of Trillium cernuum, including the sharply recurved petals and the noticeable filaments to the anthers, so we knew it was not a Red Trillium (T. erectum) instead.  But it could be a hybrid of the two trilliums, since both species thrive along this trail.  The Red Trillium comes into bloom a few weeks earlier than the Nodding Trillium, but there is a bit of overlap some years in their bloom time, which would certainly allow for cross pollination.  And I have seen other evidence over the years of the two species hybridizing.

Since my last visit to this trail, a number of other favorite spring wildflowers had come into bloom. I am always struck by the lovely bluish cast to the green leaves of Star-flowered False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum stellatum) and the terminal cluster of delicate star-shaped white flowers.  Every year I find more and more of this beautiful plant, now numbering close to a hundred specimens, having spread from the original ten I found nearby about 12 years ago.

Another star-flowered beauty of the spring woods is this one, which is actually called Starflower (Lysimachia borealis), an apt vernacular name if there ever was one. Many were starring the path where it leads through the shady forested wetlands.

And those lovely Starflower blooms are never lovelier than when sharing their woodland turf with the equally beautiful and gorgeously colored Fringed Polygala (Polygaloides paucifolia).

A much shyer kind of beauty is offered by the diminutive white blooms of Grove Sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora), which make up for their small size by growing abundantly along Bog Meadow Trail.  I find these flowers in great numbers here at Bog Meadow but hardly anywhere else I wander in Saratoga County. This surprises me some, especially since this species is native to nearly all of the northern regions of the world: Europe and Asia as well as North America.

And lest one dismiss the tiny white flowers of Grove Sandwort as just no'count, plain-vanilla blooms, take a close look into the heart of one, and note the delicate silvery wisps that surround the stamens circling a shiny green ovary.

Of course I extol these native wildflowers!  There's no doubt they are as valuable to their environment as they are beautiful.  But my steps also screeched to a halt to admire this exquisite globe of Dandelion seeds, still held in a perfect orb before the wind could waft them away or the approaching rain could dampen their fluff to a soggy mat.  A "weed" Dandelions may be, but oh, they are beautiful ones!

But while I can still find it in my heart to celebrate the beauty of an alien weed like a Dandelion, I only feel a red rage when I find (as I did this week) these Scarlet Lily Beetles seen below.   Especially when I catch them in the act of reproducing more of what will be the horrid, poop-covered larvae that will eat every Canada Lily plant down to the ground.  

Bog Meadow Trail was for years the site where I could count on finding this native lily (Lilium canadense) in every gorgeous color it's known to bloom in: yellow, orange, and red.   Some of the plants here bore as many as ten blooms in whorls around the top of the stem. Here's a photo I took of one displaying such floral abundance a few years ago:

Sadly, I may not live long enough to witness such abundant blooms of Canada Lilies along this trail again.  A few single-flowered stragglers remain (or have for the past two years), but now that I've seen that the beetles are back, the lilies eventually may be wiped out completely along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail. Here's hoping not!

Meanwhile, I'm glad there's still so much wildflower beauty to celebrate at this marvelous site.

Monday, May 16, 2022

A Surging Wildflower Flood

Oh gosh, I can hardly keep up! After a prolonged cold spring when the wildflowers just stayed under their winter covers, followed by nearly a week of unseasonably wilting warmth, everything's bursting into bloom at once! And fading just as fast. I barely saw one Bloodroot before they were already gone, the Trout Lilies bloomed for about three days, and now all the Trilliums that used to bloom sequentially -- first Red, then Large-flowered White, then Painted, then Nodding -- are flowering all at the same time.  Since I depend on this blog as my record of what wildflowers were blooming when, I do feel a bit duty-bound to get out there and document their passage.   Well, this year's public record will be incomplete.  All I can manage right now is to hit the highlights. 

Here is just a digest of some of the plants that intrigued me this past  week.

The Craggy Cliffs Along Spier Falls Road

When the Spier Falls Dam was built on the Hudson River at Moreau late in the 19th Century and a road was created to follow the river, the sloping sides of the Palmertown Range of mountains were blasted and quarried,  resulting in steep cliffs and ledges of jagged rock.  These rocks are constantly watered by rills and springs, creating perfect habitat for marvelous mosses and rock-dwelling wildflowers -- such as the snowy drifts of Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) seen in the photo above.  And growing out of clumps of water-retaining moss like this pretty cluster in the photo below.  

Shrubs of Round-leaf Gooseberry manage to find a foothold in the cracks in the rocks, and dangle their long-staminate flowers over the ledges.

The constant dripping of springs create ideal conditions for mosses that only will grow in such wet places.  This small patch of Marsh Cardinal Moss (Ptychostomum pseudotriquetrum) is here surrounded by abundant patches of Spring Apple Moss (Philonotis fontana).

It's easy to see how Apple Moss (Bartramia pomiformis) earned its name, with these perfectly apple-round spore capsules. This species has the most delicate fine leaves. The above-mentioned Spring Apple Moss also produces equally round spore capsules, and the two species both belong to the same family.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) grows in the forest that surmounts these rocky ledges, bearing  rings of showy big sterile flowers to attract pollinators to its much smaller fertile flowers at the center.


Lake Bonita in Moreau Lake State Park

This pretty little lake lies near the summit of Mount McGregor and is one of three lakes that lie within the boundary of Moreau Lake State Park. Lake Bonita is dotted with tiny Sphagnum-covered islands that are populated by many sun-loving plants that prefer an acidic habitat (Pitcher Plants, Rose Pogonia orchids, Cranberries, Sundews, etc.), while the surrounding forest is home to shade dwellers, many of which are more tolerant of a wider range of pH values.

The dainty white-flowered Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) likes shade and dampish soil, and it's also one of the few wildflowers we're likely to find growing in Hemlock-dense woods. The vernacular name Goldthread was suggested by this plant's bright-yellow thread-like roots. If you see one Goldthread flower, you're likely to see many more in the same area.

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolia) often grows in the same shady damp conditions as Goldthread does, and the two wildflowers are often seen close together, usually blooming at the same time.

The fragrant-flowered Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) prefers drier soils and often grows on sunnier, sloping land, which helps its evergreen leaves avoid being covered by dense layers of fallen leaves. Since this is a very early bloomer, we were both delighted and surprised to see it still producing its beautiful blooms.

Pink Lady's Slippers (Cipripedium acaulae) are one of our showiest native orchids.  It won't be long before these big green buds open to reveal the large pink flowers within.

And here was the treasure we were hoping to encounter at Lake Bonita: the gorgeous Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)!  We always hope to find two or three in the hemlock-dominated north-facing woods, but this year we found many more than we ever have.  This is actually one of the very few wildflowers that can tolerate the deep shade and tannin-infused soils beneath dense stands of Eastern Hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis).  (At least, that has been my experience.) Seeing this gorgeous flower was a wonderful reward for completing a rather arduous trek over rocky terrain as we made our way completely around the lake.

Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail

In some ways, the name Bog Meadow is a misnomer.  For sure, this two-mile trail at the outskirts of Saratoga Springs is surrounded by wetlands, but most of these are stream-watered forest or open marsh, not the Sphagnum-dominated wetlands that fit the definition of a bog. While the photo above was taken where the trail moves through densely forested wetland,  I entered the trail this week where it is surrounded by swamp on one side and marsh on the other but is sadly dominated by invasive honeysuckle shrubs close to the sides of the trail. A redeeming feature, though, is that one of the plants I most wanted to find this week -- the Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) -- seems to be quite happy hiding from view beneath the crowded trunks and tangled branches of honeysuckle shrubs.

And find it I did! Quite a few, in fact, and all nicely in bloom.  Although to actually see its flowers I had to risk scratching my face on honeysuckle twigs to crouch down far enough to see under the big broad leaves.

Another favorite flower, called Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus), also hides well under the trailside shrubbery.  But even if it grew out in the open, I'd still have to lie nearly flat on the ground to spy the pretty pink bell-shaped flowers that dangle (on twisted stalks!) beneath the arching green leaves.

And guess what?  There actually IS a small bog-like wetland about a mile from the trailhead, a sphagnum-lined pool that is home to the reed-like stalks of Water Horsetail and a large population of the beautiful flowering plant called Bog Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata).  Some years I have to search diligently to find a few of its furry-lined white flowers protruding from standing water, but this year there must have been a hundred!

The fluffy white flowerheads of Heart-leaved Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) are hard to make my camera focus on.  It helps to have a dark background, like the deep shade beneath the huge leaves of a neighboring Skunk Cabbage plant (Symplocarpus foetidus).

There are lots of violets that thrive along this wooded wetland trail, but most of the species blooming now are called Dog Violet, a low-growing stemmed violet with a pale lavender flower.  But that's not what THIS violet was. With those purple blooms marked with deeper-purple centers,  the flowers held well aloft above its basal leaves on slender leafless stems,  I thought these must be Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata). Further evidence was provided by the water the plant was nearly standing in.

But the clincher regarding this violet's identity was the presence of stubby hairs on the flower's lateral petals, a distinguishing feature of the Marsh Blue Violet alone. Other violet species often have hairs, but they are finely tipped, not stubby as these are.

When I focused close in on these Highbush Blueberry flowers (Vaccinium corymbosum) and what I thought was a bee feeding on them, I was startled to see the slits made in the blooms.  Did that insect make those slits to more readily access the goodies inside? Well, that wouldn't surprise me. But what did surprise me was that narrow waist on that fuzzy-thoraxed "bee." Could this be a bee-mimic wasp instead? I could not find an image on Google to match this insect, and I did not get a picture of its face, so I doubt can help me with an ID.  Informed opinions would be most welcome!