I am one of those odd folks who actually loves November -- this brown and bronze season as our warm-weather plants settle down for their long restorative winter naps. But darn it all, old age has imposed on me a painful eye condition called Ocular Rosacea that is triggered by cold weather. It makes my eyes feel as if there were grit beneath my eyelids as inflammation causes the lower lashes to turn inward and poke at my eyeballs. That stings! And spending hours looking at a computer screen exacerbates the condition. I have managed to keep going outdoors, even on frosty days, but the work of editing photos and writing blogs has been a painful chore I have been avoiding. I did, though, manage to choose a few photos from several recent outings that I want to post here. I do like to keep this blog going, even if just for myself, since it serves me as a phenological record of what happens when, in my natural surroundings. By New Year's Day, 2024, my blog will consist of 15 years of botanical explorations of this northeastern part of New York State.
First Frost at Mud Pond
I don't know if November 2 is an especially late date for first hard frost in northern Saratoga County, but I do know that my friend Sue Pierce and I had been waiting and waiting what seemed a long time for it this year. And this was our lucky day. First Frost is a day we wildflower nerds celebrate as the day to go Frostweed hunting. And the sandy-soiled powerline easement just north of Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park is the place we know we will find it.
But it can't be just any old First Frost morning. The night must be clear for optimum radiational cooling of the land, cold enough for the fluid in the stems of the Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense) to freeze and expand and split the stems of this native wildflower, and it has to be a night and a morning without a breath of wind that would quickly dissipate the emerging vaporous fluid as it curls around the stems. Sometimes those curls look as frothy as clouds, while today they appeared like fine threads of ice spooling around the stems.
Sadly, my photo of these deep-pink tufts of Small Red Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum capillifolium) could not display how twinkly they sparkled as the sun touched the crystals of frost.
This native species of bittersweet can be distinguished from the highly invasive Asian Bittersweet (C. orbiculatus) by the way its berries are borne in terminal clusters at the ends of its stems. The berries of the Asian import are borne in the leaf axils along the vines. The leaves look quite different, too, with those of our native species being longer and narrower, with sharply pointed teeth, while those of the Asian species are nearly round with blunt teeth. Our native bittersweet is quite a rare find these days, as it has been seriously supplanted or hybridized by the invasive non-native species. I feel quite fortunate to know where this patch of it can be found.
Heading home to Saratoga Springs by driving over Mount McGregor, I was struck by the brilliant and beautiful abundance of fruit on the Winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) this year. Especially in this little swamp that borders the Wilton Mountain Road
Roadside Rocks and a Waterfall Climb
Last May, I was truly dismayed while driving along Spier Falls Road where the road closely follows the Hudson River at Moreau, and steep cliffs of the Palmertown Mountains rise from the side of the road. These cliffs hold many ledges where a marvelous mix of native mosses and wildflowers grow, constantly watered in every season by springs that drip down the face of the cliffs. But back then, a roadwork crew had scraped all vegetation from these roadside cliffs and ledges. Wondering what those rocks would look like today, I returned to the site late last week.
As I approached, the rocks still looked very bare, the stone still bearing the scars of being scraped clear of vegetation.
Old Friends, New Finds in Cole's Woods
This past Thursday promised to be sunny and pleasant for our friends in The Thursday Naturalists to walk in Cole's Woods, a many-acred forest right in the center of Glens Falls. But lucky for us, it was still a bit below freezing when we first arrived. That meant we were treated to an extensive patch of Frostweed doing its frosty thing down in the tall grass.
Well, thanks to our dear fellow-naturalist friend Tom Callaghan and his cell-phone access to iNaturalist, we promptly obtained an accurate ID of this stuff: the Honeydew Eater Fungus (Scorias spongiosa), a sooty mold fungus that grows on aphid honeydew, but only on the honeydew produced by aphids that feed either on beech or alder trees. (Luckily, these were Woolly Alder Aphids, not the Woolly Beech Aphids, which create disease on beech trees. The aphids who feed on alders do not harm their host.)
This was certainly a first find for me. I have been observing Woolly Alder Aphids for at least 10 years and never found this spongy stuff in connection to them. And believe it or not, I found a U.S. government medical site on Google that claims that Scorias spongiosa is not only edible, but it also has multiple anti-inflammatory and antioxidant medical benefits. But please don't take my word for that.