Friday, June 23, 2017

A Visit to Pyrola-ville

My pal Sue still had another day free to wander with me this week, and on Thursday we chose another favorite nature haunt, one that we've made up our own special name for.   We call it Pyrola-ville. This is a section of the many-acred Cole's Woods in downtown Glens Falls, where five years ago we came upon a large population of One-sided Pyrola (Orthilia secunda), a flower we'd found nowhere else in our regular wanderings. We try to revisit this wooded plot each year, and I'm happy to report that One-sided Pyrola continues to thrive where we've always found it, in our special Pyrola-ville.  Here's what it looks like when it's in bloom, as it was this week:

One-sided Pyrola (another common name is Sidebells Wintergreen) is not at all easy to find on the crowded forest floor, being small and greenish and hiding amid lots of other low green plants with similar leaves, such as this Shinleaf Pyrola (Pyrola elliptica) pictured below, which was just coming into bloom this week.  But since Shinleaf Pyrola is bigger and whiter of bloom than our little Orthilia, we can spy it first,  and that's when we know to start searching for the Shinleaf's more minimal cousin.

Another common denizen of Pyrola-ville is the glossy-leaved Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), which this week is dangling small rosy orbs, the buds of its pink-tinged white flowers.

More glossy green leaves belong to the masses of Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) carpeting this and many other sections of Cole's Woods.  This week, those glossy green patches are spangled with the tiny white twin trumpets that will eventually produce the bright-red berries.  This is the only plant I know of that requires two fertilized flowers to produce one berry.  Plenty of last year's berries still decorate these beautiful patches. Can you see how each berry possesses two blossom ends?

As for red berries, now is the time to be dazzled by the spectacular display put on by Red-berried Elder shrubs (Sambucus racemosa).  Go look for them in a woods near you, or stop by for a walk in Cole's Woods.  We passed by many of these gorgeous shrubs on our way to Pyrola-ville.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Midsummer's Day on the Mountain

The first day of summer is not just a mark on the calendar for my pal Sue.  It's more like a religious holiday for her, and she always takes vacation on Midsummer's Day.  And lucky for me, she's wanted to spend that holy day with me for the past number of years, and we almost always head up to the mountain overlook pictured above.  This is a view of the Hudson River taking a sharp turn on its way from Corinth to Glens falls, and the trail up to this overlook is within Moreau Lake State Park.  Happily, this year the day was spectacularly lovely, cool and dry, with a blue sky swept by rolling white clouds and a light breeze to waft any bugs away.

About halfway up the mountain, we paused to explore the open area under a powerline, always hoping to find Wood Lilies blooming here on this date.

This year, thanks to a cold wet spring, the lilies are late, and we had just given up on finding any today when, behold!  Do you see that tiny dot of bright orange in that sea of green Hay-scented Fern?

Yay!  We found one Wood Lily (Lilium philadephicum)! It was missing one petal, but hey, a five-parted Wood Lily is better than none at all!

There was certainly no dearth of Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) under the powerlines, with masses of it, all in lovely bloom.

Abundant shrubs of Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) were releasing their lovely scent on the sun-warmed air.

Despite its name, Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare) has no detectable herby scent, but it's certainly pretty enough without it.

On the hard-packed dirt beneath the powerlines, the tiny little bubble-gum-pink lollipops of Pink Earth Lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) sprout from a gray-green thallus.

How wonderfully appropriate!  We found the bright-yellow blooms of Common St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum), an introduced but widely naturalized medicinal plant that is the very symbol of Midsummer's Day, the feast day of St. John.

And we also found one of our native St. Johnsworts, the Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense).  What a marvel that we found it, it is so very tiny!  But my friend Sue has amazing eyesight, and she was the first one to spot it, hiding down in the grass.

But talk about TINY!  The wee little red flowers of Deer Tongue Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) take a really sharp eye to see them.

There were lots of the sunny little flowers of Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) blooming away out here in the open area under the sky. And almost all of them hosted one kind of bug or another, warming itself under the sun.

Uh oh!  Somebody else was lurking within these Oxeye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare):  a Goldenrod Crab Spider, just waiting for some tasty bug to stop by.

We continued up the mountain trail, which is quite steep in spots but it levels off as it nears the rocky clearing that offers a view over the Hudson River to the Adirondack Mountains beyond.

Here's where we sat to enjoy our lunch, gazing off at tier upon tier of mountains against the far horizon.

After lunch, we climbed yet higher to where huge bedrock boulders hold all kinds of fascinating plants in their rugged niches.

In places where the rock was watered by springs, we found a marvelous mix of mosses and liverworts, like this mantle of starry Haircap Moss surmounting a thick blanket of Scarpania Liverwort.

In the midst of that blanket of Scarpania Liverwort, we found a beautiful bright-green heart composed of Sphagnum Moss.

A puffy mound of Pincushion Moss was host to some fruiting yellow slime mold, possibly Fuligo septica, familiarly known as Dog Vomit Slime.

A pure-white slime mold called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa was fruiting on rotting logs.  This species of slime mold has two varieties, including this C. fruticulosa var. fruticulosa, which consists of tiny white rods.

On another log, we found the domed honeycombs of  the other variety, C. fruticulosa var. porioides.  Both of these varieties were so fragile, they melted at a touch.

We found some spectacular Amanita mushrooms along the wooded trails, this one as large as a coffee saucer.  With its pale yellow stem and darker yellow cap, I'm not sure whether this is Amanita flavoconia or A. frostiana, but I'm pretty sure it's one of those.  The similar Amanita muscaria has a white stem.

On our way down the mountain, we spent some time exploring this sunny area under the giant pylons that carry electricity away from the nearby hydroelectric Spier Falls Dam on the Hudson River.

Here we found one tall stalk of yellow-flowered Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria), a flower we more often encounter with white blooms.  I often hear this introduced species described as invasive, but I have never seen it except as isolated individuals.  That was certainly the case at this location.

The gorgeous rose-like blooms of Purple Flowering Raspberry were thriving here at the edge of the road.  I find it odd that this flower with the scientific name of Rubus odoratus has no detectable scent.  At least, I have never detected any.

As inconspicuous as that Purple Flowering Raspberry was showy, this little Bicknell's Cranesbill (Geranium bicknellii) was flowering in the shade of other, taller roadside plants.

A look at that Bicknell's Cranesbill's seeds reveals the source of its common name.

We saw many beautiful butterflies today, but only this Yellow Swallowtail remained long enough at one flower (in this case, Red Clover) for any chance of taking a picture. Its "tails" had actually been torn away, but those tatters were hidden by the clover leaves.

We did get lots of opportunity to photograph this fascinating caterpillar, which was chowing down on some poplar leaves.  Sue and I had encountered this species (Cerura scitiscripta, the larva of the Black-etched Prominent Moth) on another occasion, but it had been in a later instar then, and we did not recognize it today.

But when it protruded those red tendrils from its rear-end and whipped them around, we guessed it might be related.  I have read that it sprays out acid from a gland on the venter of its first thoracic segment when it gets mad, but luckily, we escaped unscathed.

One might think that we'd had enough nature adventures for the day, but this was Midsummer's Day, and the day was still young.  There's a lovely little swamp by the side of Corinth Mountain Road, and this swamp lies along our routes home, so Sue and I decided to stop and see what might be happening in there among the ferns and the deep dark mud.

I coaxed Sue into stopping here with the promise of orchids, and I knew just where to look for them, having seen their dead remnants last winter.  Here was the spot, on a log protruding out into the water.  And there they were!  Just leaves and buds as yet, but soon to be Small Green Wood Orchids (Platanthera clavellata).  Their signature is two slender stem leaves, one larger, one small.  See them?

Here's a closer look.  I'll give them a couple of weeks before I come back to see them in bloom.

And wouldn't you know it, but Sue searched around and found yet another orchid!  This one had already bloomed, to judge from the withered remains at the tips of the pods.  Those pods looked enough like those of Late Coralroot that I guessed they might belong to Early Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida), which normally blooms in May.  Another distinguishing feature was that there were no evident leaves at all, which would be true of Early Coralroot.  So I'm going to go with Early Coralroot. This is the first time I've found that species in Saratoga County.  What a nice way to cap off an already perfect Midsummer's Day!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Plants Along the Powerline

 Again, not the nicest day for a walk, with thunder rumbling and big drops splashing against my windshield as I made my way to a powerline clearcut along Spier Falls Road at Moreau.  So I parked my car close to where I hoped to find Greenish-flowered Pyrola (Pyrola chlorantha) among the mosses and pine needles under the wires.  In other years, this is where I had found some, but always a little worse for wear, so this year I hoped to find it in its prime.  And I was not disappointed.

Greenish-flowered Pyrola is not a rare plant in New York, but I find it much less often than I do the white-flowered species of Pyrola called Shinleaf.  So I was glad to have found a reliable location where I can revisit this native wildflower every year.  And this year, it was looking better than I had seen it before.

The reproductive parts of Pyrolas are quite distinctive, with a long curving style that extends way below the corolla, surrounded by ten stamens that appear to split into two yellow anthers at the tip of each.

I'm glad I was able to photograph the Pyrolas before the clouds opened up to dump drenching buckets on me and my camera.  I did manage to sneak my camera out of my raincoat pocket to take a few more photos of other plants under the powerline.  Masses of Whorled Loosestrife plants (Lysimachia quadrifolia) held their wreaths of small red-centered yellow flowers on thread-fine stalks.

Patches of brilliant-pink Maiden Pinks (Dianthus deltoides) spangled the grass at the edge of the road.  Although this is not a wildflower native to North America, it's hard not to welcome its vivid blooms to these neglected areas of disturbed soil.

It won't be long before bright-orange Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) open their big gorgeous blooms under the powerlines.  I found just this one plant in bud today, but that doesn't mean there aren't many more hiding among the grasses.  I confess I was getting so soaked at this point, I didn't search very hard for more.

I did stop as I hurried to my car, though, to admire how each leaf of this Wild Lupine plant (Lupinus perennis) held a diamond drop at its center.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Wet Walk to a Rare Wild Orchid

 No, it wasn't the nicest day for a hike: it was cold and it was WET!  It was raining steadily, in fact, when Lucy Marsac (tan rainsuit), Bonnie Vicki (green parka), and I set out through the Adirondack forest, and it only poured harder the further we went.  So what would induce three perfectly sane ladies-of-a-certain-age to challenge our already aching joints on a slippery, rugged trail in a drenching downpour?  Well, one of the rarest orchids in all New York State was probably blooming way back in those woods, and by gum, we were going to SEE it!

But it wasn't going to be a walk in the park.  Beavers had been mighty busy since the last time we passed this way, and the trail now lay well under water in spots.  Hmm, we wondered:  will that dam hold us if we try to teeter across it?

We were in luck!  It did!

And we also managed to keep from slipping on moss-covered stepping stones -- not so easy with clouds of mosquitoes swarming around our faces and biting our hands.

Ah, but all that effort and clammy discomfort was certainly worth it!  Here was the treasure we'd come to seek, and it was in perfect bloom:  the Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri), one of the rarest flowers in all of New York.  The last I heard, there were only 5 specimens of this orchid known to exist in the entire state, and 3 of them grew right here between our knees.  Just one was blooming this year, but its florets were wide open from bottom to top.  (We also found the leaves of a 4th Hooker's Orchid nearby.)

Bonnie moves in for a few more shots, and Bonnie deserves to take all she wants.  It was she, after all, along with our mutual pal Evelyn Greene, who first discovered these orchids along this trail some 22 years ago, although at the first encounter, the flowers were not in bloom.  Bonnie told me they couldn't identify it right away, but when Bonnie returned to find it in bloom and keyed the flowers out as being those of Platanthera hookeri, she and Evelyn could hardly believe it.  Here was one of the rarest flowers of New York, and they had just stumbled upon it.

Unfortunately, the spot where they found the Hooker's Orchids lay smack-dab in the middle of a  state snowmobile trail, a trail that was often illegally used by ground-ripping all-terrain vehicles as well as snowmobiles.  Thanks to Evelyn's pleas to the state conservation folks, the trail was eventually re-routed and the orchid's safety preserved.  Now, only a handful of people know how to find this original trail, and I happen to be lucky enough to be friends with some of them.  So I get to see these orchids, too.

The orchids are actually not that easy to see, being green in a world of green.  But as hard as they are for my eyes to pick out, my camera lens has an even harder time focusing on the flowers.  It always helps to put something dark behind them.  Thanks, Bonnie, for letting me use your rainpants as a backdrop.

My hand worked as a backdrop, too, for allowing my camera to show me the floret's interior, complete with its golden-colored pollen bundles (pollinia).  Those pollen bundles are strung on a thread strategically placed to catch on the legs of a pollinator, who will carry that pollen away to any neighboring Hooker's Orchid blooms.  Sadly, however, these Hooker's Orchids have no near neighbors to pollinate, so the tribe will be very, very slow to increase.  There's been no sign of any new plants nearby since these four were discovered more than 20 years ago.

Of course, we saw other flowers in bloom along the trail, including ample patches of the little dwarf dogwood called Bunchberry.  Bunchberry used to be called by the perfectly easy-to-remember scientific name, Cornus canadensis, but now some plant taxonomists have assigned it a new, unpronounceable one: Chamaepericlymenum canadense.  I was glad to see that our New York State Flora Association still lists Cornus as the accepted name.  At least for now.

We were very surprised to find Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) still in beautiful bloom.  And we saw quite a number of them.

We also found many clumps of the pretty green three-parted leaves of White Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana), but very few with open flowers or even buds.  But here was one, with just a few of the rose-striped white flowers struggling to open despite the chill and the rain.

Eventually, the rain stopped.  And it stopped just in time for us to visit this quintessential Adirondack pond. Here we sat, not only to enjoy the lovely view and our picnic lunches,  but also to delight in recalling our incredible good fortune at seeing that rare Hooker's Orchid.