Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Rainy Days, Lush Trails, Lovely Flowers

OK, rain, go ahead and pour! As it's done every day this past week, too.  Not many days ago, the land and its plants were desperate for rain's refreshment, and thankfully, I have a good raincoat.  So off I went in the rain yesterday to a powerline above Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park.  Midsummer's Eve had come and gone, which is when the Wood Lilies bloom at Moreau, and I did not want to miss them, rain be darned.

Well, I missed seeing the numbers of Lilium philadelphicum that usually bloom in this  clearcut,  but at least a few made it this year.  (Luckily, they don't close their vibrant orange flowers in the rain.) Here's one:

So glorious, even when wet!  But where were the dozens that usually thrive in this open grassy area under the lines?

OK, here's another.   And there was one more, too (not counting this bud), in the next hundred yards or so.  And that was it for this year. Was it the drought?  The early heat followed by killing frost?  Who knows? I am feeling thankful that at least I was able to lay my eyes on these.


There were other beauties here, as well.  The Blunt-leaved Milkweeds (Asclepias amplexicaulis) were in full and fragrant bloom. 

 As with the lilies, I found fewer Blunt-leaved Milkweeds than in other years,  and these big colorful flowers could hardly hide from view amid the grasses, standing so tall atop their stems.

This Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) certainly had no difficulty finding its source of milkweed nectar.

This Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosus) would be hard to miss, thanks to its vivid color.  If not for the rain, this spectacular milkweed species would likely be attracting numerous butterflies.

Lots of Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense) thrives in the sandy soil here, and although it usually drops today's flowers by early afternoon,  the cooling rain must have allowed it to remain open longer today.

 The shrubs of New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) held tons of open blooms, beckoning pollinators to come and feast. But only a few braved the wet today. Mostly beetles, whose hard-shelled carapaces shed water handily.

Lots of Sweetfern plants (Comptonia peregrina) line the sandy path, so I could see their spiky fruits close up, without having to get my pant legs soaked.

It was hard not to get really damp, though, on the forested trail that circles Mud Pond, thanks to abundant rain-soaked foliage crowding the path.  I have been walking this trail for many years, and never have I seen the trailside shrubs and herbaceous plants so lush and verdant.  I wonder if all this abounding of greenery is in reaction to last summer's Spongy Moth defoliation. Plus soaking rains of late.

This sedge, for example, is usually just a bit more than ankle high in other years.  This year, the leaves are much longer and far more luxuriant in appearance.

The rain had stopped by now, and wisps of mist rose above the mountains across the pond.  I was astounded to notice that a giant beaver lodge, which had housed families of beavers for many years, had completely disappeared.  How could that happen?  Even abandoned lodges remain intact for a long time.

The above photo shows how Fragrant Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata) have nearly completely covered Mud Pond. I climbed down the bank to approach the water and observe the flowers' beauty at closer range.

Right at the water's edge, an abundant patch of Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris) was just beginning to open its yellow flowers.

Further up the steep bank, large patches of the related Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) held whorls of slender-stemmed flowers that looked very much like those of the Swamp Candles. I have read that the two species can freely hybridize, but I have never seen any intermediate plants that might have been such hybrids.

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) was growing so thickly along the trail I seldom could glimpse the separate flower stalks beneath the green leaves.  Of course, by now, those flower stalks were producing fruits, not flowers.

But here was another Sarsaparilla -- Bristly Sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) -- that holds its flowers and fruits well above its leaves.  This species is not rated as a rare plant in our region, but I find it only occasionally, not in massive populations like those of A. nudicaulis.

Plenty of Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) thrives in the woods around Mud Pond.  These flattened lozenge-shaped green fruits will eventually fill out and ripen to become clusters of round dark-blue berries, just about the same time as the shrub's green leaves turn an amazing pinky-purple color in autumn.

The dark-green shiny leaves of Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) carpet large areas of the woods near Mud Pond, and now those carpets are dotted with their bright-white flowers (as well as the bright-red berries left over from last fall).  If you look closely at those berries, you will notice two blossom ends instead of the typical one.  That's because it takes TWO of these waxy-white, furry-faced flowers  to make one fruit, since the twin flowers are joined by a single ovary. These particular flowers are expressing their feminine aspect right now, each flower with a pistil protruding, ready to receive pollen from a neighboring patch.  The flowers also possess staminate parts, but I am not sure if those male parts will emerge to waft their pollen to other populations, once their own pistils have been fertilized.  Whatever.  After all this discussion about sex parts, I have read that reproduction usually is achieved vegetatively, not sexually, anyway.

I expect I will always find our little native orchids called Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata) SOMEwhere in the woods around Mud Pond. But I sure cannot count on finding them in the same place each year. I was despairing of finding any this year, since not a one could I find where they grew last year.  Then WOW! I came to a site where I could count almost a dozen just standing on the path. Here are just two of them.  I expect those tight buds will yield the small white florets in just a week or so. The checkered basal leaves persist through the winter. New ones will grow now.

Once I found those orchids, I decided my shoes were soaked enough and I'd had enough thrills for the afternoon.  So I turned to retrace my steps the way I had come.  Isn't it fun to see stuff coming back that you missed altogether going the other way? These spiky seedpods of Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) were there all the time, but I had not noticed them before.  Cute!

I HAD seen these mushrooms before on this walk -- or others that looked exactly like them -- because they had sprung up all over the place. They were very small, just over an inch tall, and shiny from being wet.  I suspect they might be one of the Marasmius species that pops up abundantly after rain. I hope this signals a marvelous summer for fungi.

It certainly looked like a marvelous week for Lowbush Blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium), for I had never before seen so many or such large fruits on the blueberry patches I encountered when I emerged onto the powerline again.  And this is really odd: some blueberry patches were loaded with fruits, some had none at all. Happily, I found this one, which was truly loaded.

And the berries were sweet and delicious!

Just before I reached my car, I saw the bright-white florets of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) shining out from the shade of a roadside ditch.  Years ago, I was told that Yarrow was not a native wildflower in America, but now most botanists recognize the ones that grow wild in the northeast as being most likely native.  The vivid little Maiden Pinks (Dianthus deltoides) are not native, but who could resent their presence beautifying a roadside ditch?  Especially when they look so pretty accompanying that Yarrow?

Monday, June 26, 2023

Woods Walks in Warren County

This past week found me heading north into Warren County for nature adventures, on Tuesday to the Charles Lathrop Pack Demonstration Forest just north of Warrensburg, and on Thursday to Cole's Woods in downtown Glens Falls. On both occasions, I was accompanied by some wonderful nature buddies who always add their knowledge and enthusiasm to any outing, as well as delightful companionship. A detailed list of our finds would fill a small book, but here I will limit myself to just a few of the highlights of each outing.

Pack Forest, Warrensburg, NY

It would be hard to imagine a more interesting destination for nature lovers than this 2,500-acre forest, which is named after its donor,  Charles Lathrop Pack, a wealthy Adirondack landowner who in 1927 donated the property originally to Syracuse University. The property is now officially a campus of the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry and is used as a teaching and demonstration forest. Although this vast tract includes a mountain and a lake and many miles of trails, my friends and I limited ourselves mostly to a mile-long level trail through a 50-acre old-growth forest that includes some of the oldest and biggest White Pines in the state. Plus, some of our very favorite wildflowers and fascinating fungi can be found along this trail.

A flowing creek runs through this tract, and here my friends (L-R) Sue Pierce, Noel Dingman, and Tom Callaghan investigate some of the interesting wetland species that thrive along its banks.  A fourth friend, Dana Stimpson, also joined us on this foray and was observing flora and fauna on the other side of the trail. I was gazing about at my friends and feeling super privileged to have the pleasure of their company.

We at first thought this thick-stalked emerging fungus was Dryad's Saddle  (Polyporus squamosus), even though this particular specimen was lacking the feathery-brown speckles that usually mark that species.   It is rare to find a Dryad's Saddle so purely white, but it does happen. But it seems we failed to notice the gills of this fungus, which would rule it out as a Dryad's Saddle, which has hexagonal pores, not gills. Therefore, I have no idea what fungus this is. Can anyone ID with confidence?  See UPDATE below photo!

UPDATE: Our friend Noel suggested a species of Pleurotus and I looked at several in that genus and decided this was P. dryinus, sometimes called "Veiled Oyster." In my photo, you can see the remnant of the veil circling the stalks just below the gills. My George Barron's guide describes P. dryinus as "convex to flat, with a depressed center, inrolled margin, and dry, suede-like surface, and white to cream. . . . Gills are decurrent,colored as the cap, and well separated. Stalks are white to cream and off-center. . . . Widespread but not common. Fruits on hardwood stumps and logs." Several sites I found on Google mention how thick the stalks are. I think we have found a match! 

At least I know enough about fungi to know that these salmon-pink orbs sharing their rotting log with the green liverwort Bazzania trilobata are NOT fungi, but rather are the fruiting bodies of a slime mold called Wolf's Milk (Lycogala epidendrum), or sometimes Toothpaste Slime.  If you were to press on one of these orbs while it was young (they turn brownish-gray as they age), the resulting pink goo that extrudes would indicate the origin of that alternative name. This organism is also known to be a "species of myxogastrid amoeba," but I am not going to get into a discussion about that right now.

Our trail passed through a section of forest populated by enormous White Pines, including the gigantic specimen Sue here embraces. At over 150 feet tall, it is one of the tallest White Pines in the state and is well over 325 years old. It was dubbed "Grandmother's Tree" because (as the story goes) at the close of the 18th Century, the wife of the logger who planned to harvest the tree begged her husband to spare it. And here it still stands!

This tiny native wild orchid, called Dwarf  Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera repens) is one of the reasons I find it worth driving 40 miles to botanize here.  It's not a rare plant in New York (according to the New York Flora Association),  but I have never found it where I live in Saratoga County.  And believe me, I have looked! It's not all that easy to find it in Pack Forest, either, although it thrives here.   As its vernacular name indicates, it is small!  And low to the ground.  Thanks to the vivid markings on the leaves, we managed to espy a few plants scattered across the forest floor.  We will have to return, though, if we want to see its small white florets clustered along the stems that were protruding from the center of the basal leaves. 

I know of no other nearby forest where the delightful little Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) thrives in such numbers.  There are low dampish spots along the trail that are carpeted with these dainty pink flowers.

Here was another favorite woodland flower, with leaves that are almost as lovely as the purple-striped blossom of White Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana).

In previous visits,  I have seen masses of Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) carpeting the forest floor, but this year I saw only a few singles.   This smallest of our dogwood species grows very low to the ground.

Here was a new surprise for us this visit, a nice patch of One-flowered Wintergreen (Moneses uniflora), growing in an area where many calciphiles like Maidenhair Fern and Sweet Cicely were also thriving. I love the many vernacular names this lovely little forest-dweller goes by: Shy Maiden, St. Olaf's Candlestick, and my very favorite, Frog's Reading Lamp!

We could see by their persistent leaves that many Red Trilliums (Trillium erectum) bloom here in the spring, and now we could find a few of their deep-red, sharply ridged fruits.

This beautiful patch of Northern Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium) dryopteris) reminded me of the textile and  wallpaper designs of the 19th-century Arts and Crafts designer William Morris, whose work tended to feature nature-inspired patterns.

Not all our exciting finds were botanical this day.  When we stopped our car to help this turtle safely cross a road, we were delighted to discover it was a Wood Turtle, with such a beautiful pattern on its upper carapace and even more colorful designs on its underside plastron. 

Conservationists consider the Wood Turtle to be one of the most endangered freshwater turtles in North America. The loss of streamside forests to development threatens local populations, and many adults die when crossing roads between fragmented patches of suitable habitat.  After learning that the loss of even one adult from a population could seriously threaten that population, that made us extra happy to know we had helped this one make it safely across the road.

Cole's Woods, Glens Falls, NY

Cole's Woods is a large wooded area right in the city of Glens Falls that is probably best known for offering the first lighted cross-country ski trails in North America.  But we naturalists know it best for its extensive mixed conifer/hardwood forest, its babbling brook surrounded by swamplands,  and an open meadow-like habitat under the powerlines that cross its extensive territory. It was exactly this variety of habitats that attracted our friends in the Thursday Naturalists to brave the predicted heat last Thursday to see what botanical treasures we might find.  As this photo below displays, we had barely stepped foot off the parking area before we found many interesting plants that required closer examination.

We did not even have to look with our eyes to know we were passing a patch of Carolina Roses (Rosa carolina) in full beautiful bloom.  The exquisite scent of these gorgeous native wild roses filled the air.

Just within the first hundred feet of our path we encountered several shrubs of blooming New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus). Their clusters of florets that resemble an explosion of stars had attracted numerous insects to partake of their nectar and pollen.

The sunny area under a powerline was home to many plants of Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) bearing pink-striped flowers that resemble peppermint candies.

Since it was hidden among other leafy shrubs, we probably might have passed right by this Red-berried Elder (Sambucus racemosa) if it had not been bearing clusters of brilliant-red fruit, shining in the sun.

No one could miss this Upright Bindweed (Calystegia spithamaea) sprawling in the grass, because its blooms are so big and so snowy white.  But some folks DO mistake it for its more aggressive cousin, Hedge Bindweed, and rip it out, even though this species has only a short weak stem and is usually found as a solitary flower, not a strangling mass.  Perhaps that it why this species has become a very rare plant in many New England states, although it occurs quite commonly across New York.

It's quite possible to completely overlook this tiny native wildflower, Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica), because it is so truly tiny, or else dismiss it as an aborted version of the common non-native Dandelion.  But our walk leader, Sue Pierce, made sure to point out a number of them, blooming in the sandy soil under the powerline. So cute!

Sue also was careful to locate and point out this next native plant called Green Rockcress (Borodinia missouriensis).  Although it is classified as a Threatened species in our state (and Rare to Extremely Rare in New England as well), both Sue and I have found several healthy populations in both Warren and Saratoga counties, and this was one of those thriving populations. This Mustard-family plant can be distinguished by the way its long seedpods arch gracefully away from its leafy stem.

As the sun was reaching its zenith on this hot day, we were grateful to move into the shade of the woods.  Sue calls the particular area of woods we explored today "Pyrola-ville," since previously we have found nearly every species of Pyrola under the White Pines that dominate this section.  The species called Large-leaved Pyrola (P. americana) had finished blooming by now, and the species called Shinleaf Pyrola (P. elliptica) was not yet in bloom, but the species called Green-flowered Pyrola (P. chlorantha) was now in perfect bloom.

Also thriving in "Pyrola-ville" this day was another wildflower that used to be called One-sided Pyrola.  But it has since  been assigned to a genus all its own, and it is now called Orthilia secunda.  I find this native wildflower in very few other places in either Warren or Saratoga Counties, but it certainly abounds in this woods.

Most of the honeysuckle shrubs we'll encounter around here are the invasive Asian introductions, but we do have a couple of native honeysuckle shrubs, including this American Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera).   This is a low shrub with clusters of yellow flowers, and we found one shrub that displayed not only the flowers but also some of the odd-shaped seed pods that look like figures that might have been drawn by Dr. Seuss.

Returning to our cars via the same sun-baked powerline we'd walked in on, I found this cluster of tiny green aphids and its guardian ants on some of the many Common Milkweed plants (Asclepias syriaca) that happily tolerate such open sites. The ants "milk" the aphids for their sweet secretions called "honeydew" and also fight off any other insects that might try to feast on the aphids themselves.

One of our most exciting finds at Cole's Woods was this Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis), a bumblebee look-alike that was resting on a plant's slender leaf. We wondered at first if it was asleep or dying, because it is rare to find a clearwing moth that isn't a blur of motion while it feasts on flower nectar.  But it must have just been napping, because as soon as I got this close, whoosh! Off it zipped away! I'm lucky my camera's shutter was still open before the moth disappeared.

There was one more phenomenon we witnessed today, and that was a myriad twinkling sparkles among many low-growing plants, even after a high late-morning sun had otherwise baked  away all traces of the previous night's rainfall or the morning's dew.  A closer look revealed that most plants that had sharply toothed leaves (like the Wild Strawberry leaf pictured here) displayed a single crystalline droplet at the tip of each serration, and this was the source of all that sparkling.  I was familiar with this phenomenon and could explain that these droplets were the plants' own excess fluid being expelled through pores in the leaves, through a process called "guttation." Whatever the word for this process may be, it is certainly delightful to witness a field of plants all sparkling in the morning sun.