Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Swampy Part of Bog Meadow Brook Trail

I often think that Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail in Saratoga Springs is kind of mis-named, since there's really only a tiny portion of this two-mile trail that's actually the kind of acidic, sphagnum-lined  wetland that might properly be called a "bog."  Most of this trail is bordered by shaded forested wetlands of varying pH and sunnier shrubby wet meadow, with creeks either rushing or ambling alongside, and three sections of open marsh.  All parts of the trail provide marvelous habitat for a wide variety of native wildflowers and birds, but to me, the richest trove of wildflower treasures can be found in the trail's mid-section that's mostly pure swamp, densely wooded and wet underfoot, except for the raised main trail that once underlaid railroad tracks. This very convenient boardwalk, accessed from a housing development, brings me right into the center of Bog Meadowbrook Nature Trail without sinking up to my ankles in muck.

This boardwalk grants me easy viewing of a marvelous mix of swamp-loving plants, like this broad-leaved Skunk Cabbage, lime-green Sensitive Fern, and lacy-branched Wood Horsetail.

Fallen trees support many species of mosses, and colorful flowers like Wild Geranium and ferns like these dark-stalked Lady Ferns add beauty and textural variety.

The Wild Geranium flowers ranged in color from a near-white pale lavender to this more vivid purple.

Three different species of horsetails thrive along the boardwalk, including these two, Field Horsetail (right) with non-branching leaves and the lacier-looking Wood Horsetail, with dividing leaves.

To find the third species, the minute squiggly-stemmed Dwarf Horsetail, I had to sweep aside some of those broad Skunk Cabbage leaves to locate this ground-hugging curling mass, two of its stems now topped with spore-producing strobili.

To find a fourth species of horsetail, I had to walk further along Bog Meadow's main trail to where I found standing water, the habitat required by the aptly-named Water Horsetail, with its tall slender stalks bearing whorls of leaves. (A fifth species, Scouring Rush, grows in sunnier sections of the trail.)

In each population of Water Horsetail, only a few specimens bear the spore-producing strobili atop the branching stalks.

Also seeking wet habitat, as its name implies, is Water Avens, an attractive plant if you bend down low and peek at its pale-yellow petals held close within deep-red sepals (are they sepals?).

I was delighted that the dark water of a tiny stream served as a backdrop for this cluster of Two-leaved  Miterwort growing right at the edge of the stream.  The Miterwort's delicate snowflake-like florets would disappear against a busier background, they are so small.

Here's a closer look at those tiny Miterwort florets.

There's no chance I would miss seeing the bright-yellow clusters of Golden Ragwort blooms, standing out so luminously against the other tall plants that share its wooded wetland.

I might miss seeing these tiny flowers of Hooked Crowfoot, though, if the flowers were not so bright. It does take a close look to notice the little hooks on each ovary that suggested this wetland buttercup's name.

Here's a closer look at those tiny hooks, this plant's way of grabbing onto your pants for seed distribution purposes when ripe:

I did not have to LOOK for this Early Azalea shrub, even though it was blooming quite a ways off the trail, well back in the trailside swamp.  I could detect its nearby presence just by its fragrance wafting on the air.  Then, its vividly colorful blooms were easily discerned amid the thick shrubbery that surrounded it.  To approach it for this photo, I had to avoid grabbing Poison Sumac trees to not topple as I teetered my way atop tussocks.

At last, I arrived at the only part of this trail that might be called "bog," a Sphagnum Moss-lined pool nearly covered with the three-parted leaves of Bog Buckbean.  Sadly, almost all of its bright-white flowers had already fallen, except for an occasional remnant of bloom too far away for me to get a clear photo. (Since this pool is actually fed by a stream, though, it might more accurately be called a "fen.")

Here's a clearer photo of the now-fallen flowers, taken on another year on this same date, when every Bog Buckbean plant in this pool bore clusters of snowy five-parted blooms that were lined with squiggly hairs.

For the rest of my walk today, I kept to higher and drier ground along this preserve's main trail, observing some of Spring's prettiest forest-floor flowers.  Many Canada Mayflower plants bore clusters of small white fragrant flowers.

Foamflower also bore similar clusters of starry white florets held on strictly erect stalks.  The heart-shaped leaves help to distinguish this native wildflower from the Canada Mayflowers.

Here's another photo of dainty Foamflower and its pretty leaves. We once called this species by the scientific name Tiarella cordifolia, but taxonomists have recently decided that our local Foamflowers are actually the species stolonifera, due to its underground networks of stolons. The species cordifolia grows in more southern states than ours.

Low-growing plants of Dwarf Raspberry each held a single white-petaled bloom, which later will produce a single beautiful berry, translucent and ruby-red.

I am rarely able to get a photo of Wild Sarsaparilla that includes both its three stalks of compound leaves and the orbic clusters of tiny white flowers that grow on separate stalks beneath the leaves. Today was my lucky day!

The trail was lined with many Starflower plants, each bearing the lovely white star-shaped flowers that suggested its name.

There were several patches of Perfoliate Bellwort, each plant bearing a single nodding pale-yellow flower and with leaves that appeared to be pierced by the stems.

A look inside each Perfoliate Bellwort bloom revealed the granular dots that help to distinguish this species from one other species of bellwort that also has perfoliate leaves.

Just before I turned around to retrace my steps, I encountered an extensive patch of Star-flowered False Solomon's Seal, each plant bearing a terminal cluster of small starry-white florets.   When I first encountered this lovely wildflower along this trail more than 12 years ago, I counted 10 specimens, all confined to a grassy area beneath a large White Pine.  Today, there were more than a hundred in bloom, spread along the trail for a considerable distance, far from that original site.

Striding more quickly now along a portion of trail densely shaded by giant White Pines, I drew to a halt when I spied the vividly patterned basal leaves of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain spreading among the pine needles. This native orchid won't bloom until later in summer.  If it blooms at all.  Some years I find many of its erect multi-flowered stalks, and other years none at all.  That's orchids for you.  Fickle.

I did see many ferns today, in various stages of maturity:  Cinnamon Fern, Interrupted Fern, Christmas Fern, Marginal Wood Fern, Royal Fern, Lady Fern, and this one I love best of all: the circling fronds of Maidenhair Fern.  Those other ferns grow either singly or in small groups, but Maidenhair Fern, when it finds the lime-rich soil it requires, will often completely cover a bank with its trembling fronds that just seem to shimmer, even when not moving at all.  So beautiful!  Like so much else along this swampy stretch of Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

It's Violet Time on the Riverbanks!

At first sight, this stretch of rocky riverbank doesn't look all that promising for a wildflower walk.  But my friends Sue (orange shirt) and Ruth and I knew there were many floral treasures growing here to show to our friends in the Thursday Naturalists when Sue leads them along this shore later this week.  We had come on a balmy Monday to make sure we could point out those treasures when we returned with our friends on Thursday.

For sure, not all those floral treasures were hidden!  Spectacular masses of Red Columbine were blazing away, sprung from cracks in the marble outcroppings that line this stretch of the Hudson and lit up by the sun like tiny Japanese lanterns.

Here's a closer look at the complex flowers of that Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), one of our most spectacular native wildflowers, and one that is not at all rare.

My friends and I were here today to make sure we could locate one of the rarest flowers that thrives at this location, the New England Violet (Viola novae-anglieae). As far as is known to date, this violet grows nowhere else in New York State but along these northern riverbanks.   And yes, indeed, we did find some! At a glance, they may look just like the Common Blue Violets that grace every alleyway and unmowed lawn right now, but closer examination would reveal the most immediately telling feature of this species, the long tapered basal leaves (among other distinctive traits). We were quite happy to observe that the numbers of this truly rare violet had increased significantly since we first noticed them a few years ago.

We were also delighted to find a healthy number of another somewhat less-rare violet, the white-flowered  Primrose-leaved Violet (Viola primulifolia). This violet is rated as a Threatened species in our state, and other known populations have been reported only from locations quite far from this site.  It was quite a surprise to find it growing at this location when I first reported it here, back in 2016. Since this violet likes to grow way out in the cobble close to the shore, annual floods often diminish the numbers at any one previously known site only to distribute new plants a bit further downstream.  The most important feature for identifying this violet is the shape of its leaves, which resemble slightly those of a primrose plant.

A couple of other not-at-all-rare white violets were blooming now along the shore, the tinier of which has a truly appropriate new scientific name, Viola minuscula. Northern White Violet is one of its several vernacular names, but I want to call it Minuscule Violet to properly acknowledge how tiny it truly is.  Quite fragrant, too, which helps to distinguish it from other smallish white violets. (Previous scientific names include V. pallens and V. macloskeyi.) This little violet often grows in a spreading mass, but we found mostly occasional individual plants along the shore.

One other white violet was the Lance-leaved Violet (Viola lanceolata), and we found quite a few plants at various locations.  The lance-shaped leaves make this species easy to ID.

We could detect numerous Ovate-leaved Violets (Viola fimbriatula) at a glance, thanks to their vivid purple blooms.  The ample fuzziness of leaves and stems is one of the distinctive features of this lovely species, along with its oval-shaped leaves, as well as is its preference for dry, exposed sites like sandpits and riverside cobble.  For just a few years, this violet species was listed as a variety (ovata) of the Arrow-leaved Violet (V. sagittata), but a foremost violet expert named Harvey Ballard has returned it to the name I first learned it by, V. fimbriatula.  Another good vernacular name for this denizen of open, low-nutrient habitats is Sand Violet. 

Here was one violet I could not put a name to, neither vernacular nor scientific.  It had basal leaves only that were sharply pointed, hairless dark stems, and slender, pale flowers with no apparent hairs on the bottom petals, and noticeable veins on all petals.  Suggestions for ID would be most welcome.

Lots of violets, indeed!  But other lovely flowers caught our attention, too, including these sprawling low branches of Dwarf Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa) wafting their beautiful fragrance on the breeze.  Although listed as a Threatened species in our state, it sure looked happy along these rocky shores, its desired riparian habitat.

With every spring visit to this site, I have always examined the glossy evergreen leaves of a large patch of Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) that sprawls amid the cobble here, searching and searching for its pretty pink-tipped white flowers.  In all the years I have looked for them, this is only the second time I have found this trailing sub-shrub in bloom, and what a bonanza of bloom we found today! One of many happy surprises that starred our visit to this amazing site, home to so many rare plants.

Here's one last beautiful flower we found on our visit today, a spreading patch of Fringed Polygala (Polygaloides paucifolia).  This native wildflower is not at all a rare plant, blooming abundantly in nearly every shady pinewoods I visit right now.  And sure enough, it wasn't until we left the sunbaked rock-strewn riverbank and climbed up into the densely shaded pine woods to make our way back to our cars that we found it.  And how could we miss these vividly colored little blooms? They reminded me of tiny pink-purple single-engine airplanes zooming across the forest floor. What a treat to end our adventure!

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Trillium Season's Last Act

A Facebook friend's post alerted me that the Nodding Trilliums (Trillium cernuum) are now blooming along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail in Saratoga Springs.  What? Already?  The last of our trilliums to bloom around here?  It seems the "trillium season" just began a few days ago, although it was most likely more than six weeks ago I found the first Snow Trilliums emerging in the still-frigid woods of late March, followed a few weeks later by the Red Trilliums, then only a few days later the Large-flowered Whites.  And then, having just found some Painted Trilliums in full flower, I found it hard to believe the Nodding Trilliums were already blooming.  But seeing is believing, so off I went this week to see for myself.

As this photo displays, I sure couldn't see any trilliums at first sight, along this greening-up trail.

But Nodding Trilliums like to hide beneath all that trailside shrubbery. And sure enough, it didn't take more that a few yards along before my friend Sue spied the first one, well under the shrubs and about to be overtopped by Skunk Cabbage leaves.  If the bright-white flower had been hiding under its own leaves (as is its habit), I doubt we would have noticed it. Happily, this was the first of many we found in perfect bloom today.

Here's the typical posture for Nodding Trillium's flower.  Nodding, well beneath the leaves. Often, completely hidden.

The flower must be inverted to examine its intimate parts, noting its white ovary and dark purplish anthers held on longish filaments.  By contrast, the anthers of the Red Trillium (T. erectum) are pale, nearly white, and basically sessile to its ovary, which is dark red.  Both species of trillium grow along this trail, but the Red Trilliums usually fade before the Nodding Trilliums open their flower buds. Some overlap in bloom time does occur, however, which in some years results in some interesting hybrids. (See my post from 2019 when I first discovered some results of this gene-sharing between the two species.)

And sure enough, we found a trillium flower this day that looked as if it could be a hybrid, with nearly red petals but with a white ovary and non-sessile anthers borne on filaments. But the petals and sepals are not as retracted as would be more typical of a Nodding Trillium.  A real blend, it seems, of both species.

So beautiful! I'm surprised no horticulturalists have developed such a hybrid for the commercial market.

My Facebook friend had alerted me about finding this odd trillium, advising me that I would find it beneath where a flowering crabapple tree was in bloom. And that was exactly where my friend Sue found it.  And look!  The crabapple's pure-white flowers were streaked with dark pink!  Did that hybrid trillium growing beneath cast its magic spell on these flowers too? (Ha ha!)

As we continued our walk, I searched for -- and did find! -- this burgeoning cluster of Rose Twisted-stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus).  From above, one might never guess there were tiny pink flowers dangling beneath.

The pretty flowers are certainly worth crouching down low to see. I rarely find this plant in my other Saratoga County wanderings, so I'm awfully glad I know where to find it here (as well as just one other cluster some distance away along this same trail).  This species is much more common further north. (Cole's Woods in Glens Falls is a hotbed for them!)

There's one other flower I rarely encounter that grows along Bog Meadow Trail, and this was my lucky day!  The wee little blooms of Grove Sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora) were just beginning to spangle the trailside grasses with multiple blooms.  Although distribution maps indicate that this species is not the least bit rare in New York State, I hardly ever see it any place other than here. Such a cute little flower!

Here's a closer photo that better displays the fuzzy heart of the Grove Sandwort flower:

I was also really glad to see multitudinous developing leaves of Canada Lily (Lilium canadense) along this trail, and not yet find a single Scarlet Lily Beetle laying her eggs among them.  This gorgeous native wild lily used to abound along Bog Meadow Trail before that horrid bug started eating it down to the roots each summer. Is it possible that the beetle's larvae have eaten their fill at this location and moved on? Or that the natural control (a wasp) released some years ago has managed to put a stop to the beetle's depredations? Oh boy, do I hope so!

Aren't we lucky that no pests have developed a taste for either Dog Violet (Viola labradorica) or Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)?  Both native wildflowers were generously spreading their loveliness along the trail.

We saw only a single small plant of Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) blooming today, but we walked less than half of the trail's two-mile length.  I imagine more are growing in the more forested stretches further along.

Since I usually associate Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) with calcareous habitats, I have always been surprised to find ample patches of it growing along a limited stretch of the Bog Meadow Trail (which is actually more of a wooded wetland than an actual bog habitat).  And today I was doubly surprised, to see a Nodding Trillium finding a place among the ginger's big heart-shaped leaves. And look!  There's a vining stem of what looks like a young Glaucous Honeysuckle seeking some vertical object to climb on, off to the right.  Plus some sharply toothed Arrowwood leaves (top right) and a green-branched Field Horsetail stalk joining the wildflower party.

Too bad I didn't see this Northern Water Snake before I startled it off the path and into the trailside water. I know Sue was trying to get a photo of it curled in the grass (Sorry, Sue!) , and I was hoping to get a better look at the bulge in its length, perhaps its froggy lunch now being digested.