Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Woodlands Explode With Bloom!

After wondering when spring would ever stop retreating again to sub-freezing temps, well, this week it returned with a bang: my thermometer reads 80 degrees on this Sunday afternoon! And it was warm enough all last week to inspire almost all of our spring ephemeral wildflowers to burst into bloom, so quickly I could hardly keep up with them, dashing from woodland to woodland to document their progress. So I've been way too busy to sit down and do what it takes to post a blog.  But now I am scheduled to lead a wildflower walk in the Skidmore Woods in just a few days, and I want to tempt participation by showing my friends what awaits them in this beautiful limestone-underlaid woodland. So here's just a list, in alphabetical order, of much of what was happening in a Saratoga Springs woods just yesterday.

Bellwort, Large-flowered (Uvularia grandiflora)

An aptly named flower, the largest of our three local species of bellworts, distinguished by its inrolled perfoliate leaves and the slight twist of its long bright-yellow petals. Abundant in this limestone-underlaid woods.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

I sure hope a few Bloodroot flowers remain by the end of the week, since many are already dropping their snowy-white petals and producing jade-green oval seedpods, which are really attractive in their own way. And not just attractive to us!  The pods are packed full of seeds that possess a flap of tissue that ants just crave, carrying the seeds off to their underground nests, where the ants devour the fleshy flap and discard the rest of the seeds, all ready to germinate to make new Bloodroot flowers. Thank you, ants!

Blue Cohosh, Early (Caulophyllum giganteum)

We in Saratoga are lucky to have both species of Caulophyllum growing near each other, this purple-flowered one and a later-blooming yellow-flowered one (see next photo).  That way we can see how distinctly the species differ.  Until the late 20th Century,  C. giganteum was not distinguished as a separate species, despite being even more common than the yellow-flowered one.  My 1975 edition of Newcomb's Wildflower Guide is remarkably comprehensive, and yet it does not even mention this species.  Quite probably, many of the old pre-1980 botanical records should have been labeled giganteum instead of thalictroides.

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

This is the second species of Caulophyllum, which blooms about 10 days later than C. giganteum and with more yellowish flowers.  The two species grow within a few yards of each other in this woods, and yet they have not hybridized, as least not during the 30-plus years I've been observing them in the Skidmore woods.  When both species mature and produce their bright-blue seeds, they are difficult to distinguish without close examination.

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

I only started seeing Dutchman's Breeches in this woods about 6 years ago, and to date I have found them only in one limited location.  Luckily, our wildflower walk's route will take us right to that spot!

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius)

This miniature Ginseng has none of the medicinal qualities that make its larger relative so sought-after to the point of extermination in many locations.  It is also easy to overlook, being very tiny.  And totally ephemeral. Once the flowers have dropped their seeds, all traces of it disappears from the forest floor. 

Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum), male flowers

Early Meadow Rue bears male and female sex parts on separate plants, and these staminate flowers bear their pollen on long dangling anthers that shimmy in the slightest breeze, wafting their pollen to neighboring female plants, the flowers of which are much less noticeable, consisting solely of tiny pistils.  I could not find any female plants today.  But they'll show up when these anthers are ready to waft that pollen.

Elder, Red-berried (Sambucus racemosa)

The flowers of Red-berried Elder are actually the least showy stage of this native shrub, with rather scraggly clusters of off-white florets. When in bud, the large tight clusters of flower buds are shaded a lovely purple, and later, the berries the flowers produce are truly a knock-your-eye-out glossy red.

Fern, Bulblet (Cystopteris bulbifera)

Bulblet Fern loves to grow among limey rocks, in this case sprouting right out of a boulder's cracks.  I believe the Cherry-Twizzler-red stalks are distinctive at this juvenile stage, and when mature, the reason for their name will become evident, as small round clonal bulblets form on the underside of the fronds. The fronds also produce spores.  They don't take chances when it comes to reproduction!

Fern, Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides), fiddlehead

Christmas Fern is one of the easiest ferns to ID, even if we don't immediately recognize the fuzzy curling fiddleheads that uncoil in the spring. But notice the still-green old fronds that have collapsed at the base of the plant. You can still detect the Christmas-stocking shape of each pinna, a feature that certainly suggested this fern's vernacular name.  Plus, this fern's fronds are still green during a northern Christmas.

Fern, Maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum), fiddlehead

I'm afraid my photo provides no reference to suggest how tiny these wee little fiddleheads are. But at least they are relatively easy to espy, especially when sunlight sets their translucent red stalks aglow.  And a search among the dry leaves revealed many dried-up remnants of this lovely fern's delicate fronds.

Fern, Walking (Asplenium rhizophyllum)

I'm sorry to report that I will not suggest any walk participants try to approach the cliffside boulder this Walking Fern had completely walked across, producing new fronds wherever the tip of an old frond touched the mossy carpet that underlies this spreading mass of ferns.  The climb to reach this boulder is not only steep, but the footing is terrible, consisting of jumbled rocks that could grab an ankle and break a leg.  Just ask me.  I was lucky.  I will point out this lime-loving fern from a safe distance along the trail.

Green Violet (Cubelium concolor), new sprouts

Yes, the long-pointed elliptical leaves of this plant don't look like those of most other plants we call violets, and neither do the stubby little lop-sided, greenish-white flowers that will dangle from the leaf axils along the 18-inch-tall stems.  But the Green Violet IS in the Violaceae Family, which might be more evident if you could see the three-parted pods that hold small round seeds. This is quite a rare plant in New York, although you would never guess that when thousands stand erect across acres of the Skidmore Woods, which has the kind of calcareous soil this plant desires. It used to go by the name Hybanthus concolor.

Hepatica, Sharp-lobed (Hepatica acutiloba)

Because of its rich calcareous soil, the Skidmore woods supports both the Round-lobed and the Sharp-lobed Hepaticas, and it seems that only the Sharp-lobed species is still putting forth a few flowers -- all of them white! This particular clump interested me because in addition to the relatively fresh flowers, many flowers had already faded to produce the rather pretty seed pods, and new leaves had replaced the withering over-wintered former leaves.

Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)

The presence of Leatherwood in a forest is usually an indication of lime-rich soil, and there are many of these interesting shrubs at several locations throughout the Skidmore woods.  Our earliest woody shrub to bloom, it is already putting out leaves as its small yellow trumpet-shaped blooms are fading. I found this yellow-abdomened wasp lingering among the leaves, and even when I tried to reposition it for a clearer gander, it seemed reluctant to move. Was it just sleepy or was it ailing?  I left it alone.

Mayapple (Podophyllum pedatum)

Lots of Mayapples are now pushing up from amid the brown leaves, a few with their wide leafy umbrellas already open wide, and some with new flower buds peeking up between two leaves, like a chick peeking out of the nest. Eventually, the leaves will overtop the bud as it produces first one big white flower and later its yellowish egg-shaped fruit, the only edible part of this otherwise poisonous plant. Poisonous it may be, but scientists have found that the Mayapple is an excellent source of podophyllotoxin, a compound used for making cancer-fighting chemicals.

Miterwort (Mitella diphylla)

Even at a casual glance, the elegant flower stalks of the Two-leaved Miterwort are certainly beautiful.  But to truly appreciate the unique beauty of this wildflower, you must look closely to marvel at the tiny florets surrounded by eyelash-fine fringe.

Mountain Ricegrass (Oryzopsis asperifolia)

For the first time in all my 50-plus years of walking the Skidmore woods, I came upon this grassy plant with the furry worm-shaped little flowers. I had found it before in other woods, where I learned its name, but only now did I inquire on Google whether this plant with "rice" in its name was edible. And there I learned that "the seeds of the plant can be eaten raw, cooked, or ground into a meal. The seeds are large and have a pleasant taste, but can be difficult to harvest because they drop easily from the plant. The seeds can be ground into flour and used to make bread, mush, pones, and dumplings."  Since I found only two plants amid an acre of woods, I thought it not worth harvesting.  Wrong time of year, too. And not my property.

Sedge in flower (Carex species)

There are many similar grass-like sedges populating the forest floor here, some with wide and some with slender and some with mid-width leaves, but all with fine yellow hair-like staminate flowers in terminal puffs, reminding me of tow-headed babies just getting up from a nap.  If the wide leaves are rumpled like seersucker, I might venture it could be the Seersucker Sedge (Carex plantaginea).  But if its leaves are a mix of widths (like this one), I haven't a clue.  I bet we might have some sedge experts on our walk who could put a name to every one.  (That's what I'm hoping.)

Shadblow species (Amelanchier species)

We have a number of different species of Shadblows that grow around here, but all bear flowers that from a distance, appear like a cloud wafting through the bare branches. I did not have my tree guide with me this day, and the forest floor around this tree's base was pretty muddy.  So I didn't walk up to it to assess its particulars.  I don't need to know the name to know that it's beautiful.  I let my camera's zoom bring its image a little closer to me, but not close enough to parse it out as to species.

Trillium, Red (Trillium erectum)

I find it odd that a trillium with such a floppy flower would have the specific name "erectum." I almost always have to tip this plant backward to get a shot of its deep-red flower. But this one was growing high on a bank, and I could just walk below it and point my camera upward.

Trillium, Red, white petals (Trilliium erectum var. album)

How do I know that this is a Red Trillium with non-red petals and not a White Trillium?  Because it has a deep-red ovary, typical of the species T. erectum.  And its petals are not the true white of a Large-flowered White Trillium (see next photo), but more of a yellowish hue.  A not uncommon variety of the Red Trillium.

Trillium, Large-flowered White (Trillium grandiflorum)

Most of the Large-flowered White Trilliums I saw this day were still in tight bud, but this one had opened far enough for me to be convinced of its species.  There were scads of them getting ready to bloom along the trail I will lead my friends on later this week.  And with such warm weather as we're having now, I think we are in for a real treat.


Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Lots and lots of Trout Lilies thrive in this woods, but they have been blooming for nearly a week already.  I sure hope a few of these lovely lilies will wait to fade until after my friends will have had a chance to admire them.

Violet, Canada (Viola canadensis)

In an acre of rocky slope I searched and searched for the Canada Violets I was sure grew there. At least I found lots of their leaves to suggest they might be blooming later this week.  And then I found this one.  Hurray!  Isn't she lovely? Such a pure-white face with a bright-yellow center, and the backs of those petals are tinged with purple. They thrive amid chunks of limestone.

Violet, Longspur (Viola rostrata)

The most abundant violet blooming now in this woods is the Long-spurred Violet.  I would guess there's no question about how this pretty flower acquired that vernacular name. I saw quite a lot of color variation among the flowers, from a deeper purple to nearly white and also this speckled pattern.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

It won't be long before pinky-purple flowers will protrude from these speckled green leaves. This is one of our more generous native wildflowers, as pretty as it's abundant. I hope we see a few flowers by later this week. But even if not, the deeply-cut leaves are really lovely in their own right.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)

Usually, I have to pick up the broad furry leaves of Wild Ginger to see if I can find its cinnamon-brown flower hiding beneath. But here on this Poodle-Moss-covered boulder, the leaves had kindly leaned back enough for me to clearly see the flower, resting atop the moss. This native wildflower is not related to the "pumpkin spice" ginger we buy in the grocery store, although if you scrape the dirt of its rhizome and take a nip, the taste is quite similar to that.

Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)

When this pretty white wildflower finds a site it likes, it spreads across the forest floor like a firmament of stars. Well, not quite as numerous, but in impressive numbers.

Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)

We won't yet see this flower in bloom with its crown of yellow florets,  but its crinkly leaves are already much in evidence and with a beauty all their own.

Yellow Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)

The Skidmore woods, with its calcareous soil, is the only place I can recall seeing this relatively unusual oak. Its shaggy bark does have a yellowish cast, and although we are not likely to find any mature leaves yet, we might search the forest floor to find leaves that display their distinctive tiny "nipples" at the end of each lobe.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Just Go With The Flow!

I think my brain is full up. Or at least there's so much stuff in there now (after 82 years), I can't find what I want when I want it. Things like the perfect word, or the title of a movie I saw or a book I just read, or (heaven forbid!) the name of a wildflower I know perfectly well, both common and scientific names. The words often do come eventually, just not when I could have used them effectively.  My doctor tells me not to worry:  "If the words EVER come, that means they're still in there, your brain is intact, you're not entering dementia." This condition is certainly sobering, though. But in some ways, it's kind of freeing.  I don't really NEED to know stuff, to put a name to everything, as if by naming a thing I can hold it tight and make it mine. So to ease my mind, I am starting to just let life move through me without grasping at it, to just "go with the flow," as my hippy friends once counseled a much younger me.  And lucky for me, I have the greatest of friends in the here and now, friends who share my love of nature, who still invite me to join them in the woods and on the water, and who know how to access iNaturalist when I do crave to know the name of a plant or a bug or a fungus that I have forgotten or can't look up in my guidebooks.  Just this past week I enjoyed the pleasure of their company on several outings.  As well as their still-sharp memories and instant access to the internet via their smartphones.

Last Saturday was cold and damp, but that did not dissuade my "mosser" friends Sue and Tom and Nancy and Dana and Noel from making a bee line to some of the coldest and dampest spots in the Glens Falls mid-city forested acreage called Cole's Woods.  They were kind enough to invite me along, even though they know that mossing is not my thing.  I barely have enough eyesight left for examining herbaceous plants, let alone the microscopic details that distinguish most mosses and liverworts. But I still love to hear my friends shout out the multisyllabic names and to see the delightful shapes of whatever bryophytes they discover.

Ooh, what mosses or liverworts might they find in this mucky swale punctuated with rotting fallen logs and moss-carpeted rocks? Sue (crouched) and Noel (center) and Dana are hoping to find out.

An amazing variety of green stuff was populating this single soggy branch.

And whoa! Sprawling across the green stuff were some white threads that looked like a handful of skinny translucent rice noodles.  It appeared that two different shapes of liverwort leaves were sharing this clump, one broad and flat, the other tiny and braid-like. One of our friends determined that the white thready growths (most of them topped with dark oblong spore capsules) were emerging from the wider leaves. While the tight little "braids" appeared to be a species of the subclass of liverworts called Calypogia, the broader leaves indicated that this liverwort was likely the species called "Ribbonwort" (Pallavicinia lyellii).

A closer look revealed that some of the white skinny stalks held growths that looked like slender spiraling dark-brown threads. Are we looking at the two sexes of this liverwort, or do the black oblong capsules open up to reveal the thready brown growths?  I'm hoping one of my friends can provide me information about this.  A Google search led me nowhere. I am trying to let go of my need to know, and just delight in the wonder of seeing this really cool-looking liverwort doing its reproductive thing. However it's doing it!

UPDATE:  Boy did I get THIS wrong!  As Sue Pierce corrects me in her comment to this post, "Those cellophane noodles were coming from the smaller liverwort, Mueller's Pouchwort (not the Ribbonwort). They were setae with brown capsules on top."

Another of the fascinating plants my friends found in Cole's Woods was neither a moss nor a liverwort, but rather a juvenile "fern ally" called Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile), which was poking up from some standing water. The little green nubbins sprouting now from each joint of the segmented stalks will eventually lengthen into fine green branches, and small spore-containing cones will form atop some of the plants. Horsetails do have their own kind of beauty. And I was surprised that I could easily remember the name of this one. The standing water helped jog my memory.

Monday was warmer and sunnier, a truly inviting day for Mike (yellow pack) to travel some distance south from his Adirondack home in Minerva to join Sue and me at a wooded preserve in Saratoga County. We had promised to show him some wee little Snow Trilliums (Trillium nivale), a plant few of us New Yorkers ever see. This trillium species is not normally found this far north of its native range (think Ohio or Pennsylvania), but the former owner of this woods had planted a few many years ago, and against all odds, they persist. I have no trouble remembering the name of this trillium, since it often blooms while snow still remains in the shady hollows of the woods. And these particular flowers had not been fazed at all by the more than two feet of snow that buried them just as they started to open their flower buds a couple of weeks ago.

Although other spring flowers were few so far, we did find some fascinating fungi, including this colorful one called (aptly!) Red Tree Brain (Peniofora rufa). Not only is this fungus amazing for how it looks, it can also be found freshly fruiting in every season except the dead of winter.  It grows on the still attached bark of poplars, mostly.

We often find the aging remnants of Violet Tooth Polypore (Trichaptum biforme) all winter long, stiff and dry, faded to blandness, and tinted green by a coat of algae. But here was a fresh crop, soft and flexible, although not yet displaying the purple edge it often develops.  But the fertile surface, cinnamon brown edging toward purple, is unmistakably distinctive.

My thumbnail on the left should indicate the tiny size of these itty-bitty bowl-shaped fungi, some white, some yellow, and looking like nothing any of us could find in our mushroom guides.  So at least I was not the only one of us who could not think of its name!  If somebody chimes in to offer it, I will return to post an update here.

UPDATE: As Sue Pierce tells me in her comment to this post, "The tiny fungus that Mike SOMEhow spotted: no common name, but iNat says it could be Arachnopeziza at an early stage ... guess it's a reason to go back there again!

Okay, we did find some flowers besides the Snow Trillium today.  The small size, low growth, and lack of showiness make Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum) very easy to overlook. But both Sue and I knew where to find them sprawling across a very wet muddy patch, and I even remembered their name. We usually find them displaying their tiny red stamens, but once in a rare while I do find tiny yellow pistillate dots alternating with the red ones.

What a treat, to find our first native violet that blooms this early!  Its lemon-yellow petals marked with heavy dark veins help to distinguish this basal-leaved Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia) from the later-to-bloom, paler-yellow Downy Yellow Violet, which bears leaves on its flower stems. Note that this  violet's flowers open wide before its basal leaves completely unfurl. 

Because I am scheduled to lead a nature walk next week on the Cottage Park Trail at Moreau Lake State Park, I thought I had better get over there to refresh my memory regarding the names of the points of interest we are likely to see.  My friends Sue and Dana joined me to walk that trail this past Wednesday, one of the prettiest days all week.  To access the trail, we parked at the edge of the Hudson River and found it hard not to linger there, simply to take in the beauty of river and islands and mountain and clear blue sky.

We don't take the Cottage Park Trail all the way that it leads to the heights of the Palmertown Mountains, but rather follow a level mile-long loop that takes us through mixed woods to a brook-watered vale, just before the trail starts its steep ascent. We do get a sense of a rugged mountain-scape at this site from the gigantic outcroppings of bedrock that border our destination.

My hope is to wow my walk participants with the vast numbers of gorgeous Carolina Spring Beauty flowers (Claytonia caroliniana) that populate the forest floor here so thickly it's hard to avoid stepping on them.  Luckily, their dainty beauty can easily be seen right next to the trail.

Many Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) grow here, too, and the green-tinged flower buds we found this day should certainly be in full bloom by early next week.

I hope by next week I can show folks that grass-like plants have flowers, too, such as these yellow-stamened puffs of bloom sprouting amid the slender three-cornered leaves of a sedge (Carex sp.)

The surrounding bedrock and boulders are home to many different beautiful mosses, and my friends informed me that this one -- Thamnobryum alleghaniense or Allegany Thamnobryum -- is encountered much less frequently than most. It certainly stood out from its surroundings, completely blanketing this rock with its curvaceous leafy branches.

We saw few fungi on our walk this day, and I know I would never have seen this one if Sue had not spied it with her eagle eyes and pointed it out on the crumbling bark of a diseased American Beech.  Called Fenugreek Stalkball (Phleogena faginea), this tiny mushroom is one of our few fungi that grows in winter, and its curry-powder-like scent of fenugreek is said to grow stronger as the mushroom ages.  The brown color of its wee little caps indicated that this normally whitish mushroom was indeed aging, but I could detect no scent.  Perhaps at this time of year, it has aged too much? 

I bet not many of the nature walkers I lead here next week will ever have heard of, much less seen, a patch of Fenugreek Stalkball!

Our Cottage Park outing completed, Sue and Dana headed north to their Warren County homes while I proceeded south along Spier Falls Rd. toward Saratoga. Tooling merrily along the banks of the Hudson, I screeched to a halt when I spied these cherry blossoms blooming atop a rocky ledge along the road.  By Jove, the Nanking Cherry is blooming now!  Time to pay it a visit.

The Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa) is an Asian species not native to North America, and I have never encountered it growing wild in any other of my nature wanderings. I've often wondered how it came to thrive on the rocky ledges surrounding and amid an old quarry, where rocks were blasted out and carried out to where the Spier Falls Dam was being constructed on the Hudson River in the late 1800s.  I first found it growing four years ago, at the foot of the quarry walls.  I made my way again back into that quarry, and sure enough, that little tree was still there and still bearing its pretty white flowers!

In other years, I explored the rim of this quarry and found six more Nanking Cherry trees in the surrounding woods.  Today, when I lifted my eyes to the quarry rim, I could easily spy another tree right at the edge of the quarry wall. So up I went to greet it.

Well, it wasn't that easy to ascend to the quarry rim, the climb being steep and the way being crossed by tangles of foot-trapping bittersweet vines.  At one point I tripped and reached out to a cherry branch to prevent tumbling over the quarry edge to craggy rocks below.  That branch did stop my fall but in doing so, it broke off in my hand.  Well, thank you, dear Nanking Cherry tree, for preventing my fall. And thanks, too, for the branch of beautiful flowers that now grace my dining room table. Such a nice reward for my efforts to enjoy this tree's beauty anew.