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!

1 comment:

Woody Meristem said...

What a treat to have that many violet species in one area.I've always found it difficult to get the color of fringed polygala duplicated correctly in a photograph.