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.


suep said...

The dragonfly has been tentatively ID'd as a Maine Snaketail, according to a comment on iNaturalist. It is listed as Vulnerable S3 in NY state, so a cool find indeed !

threecollie said...

I think of you whenever I see violets...