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.


suep said...

It was indeed a splendid week and the best companions to be with too --
Cole's Woods: those cellophane noodles were coming from the smaller Liverwort, Mueller's Pouchwort (not the Ribbonwort). They were setae with brown capsules on top.
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!
Nanking Cherry branch: THANK YOU from ALL of us !!

Lizzy Balter said...

Fun to read about your adventures. So glad you're enjoying early spring. Glad that tree branch caught your fall. Love you.

Woody Meristem said...

I frequently to friends that I've forgotten more than I ever knew. Ageing stinks, but it beats the alternative which is (like our son-in-law who died at 35 of a heart attack) to not live long enough to grow old. The names of mosses have always been a mystery to me and that's OK, they're still pretty whether I know their names or not.

The Furry Gnome said...

I don't know how you fit so many interesting things in one post - it was fascinating, especially those slender noodles. I've certainly ever seen anything remotely like that. The tiny yellow violet is a first for me too. As for aging gracefully and going with the flow, I'm all for it!