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!         


Keith Swensen said...

The bee appears to be a carpenter bee. Thanks to my friend at BetterBee

Woody Meristem said...

What a botanical bonanza there is in the area around Saratoga-- you are indeed fortunate to live there.