Saturday, April 22, 2017

Those Are Flowers?

It would be really easy to miss the flowers of Hairy Wood Rush (Luzula acuminata var. acuminata).  For one thing, they're very small, and for another, they don't look very "floral."  Unless you look very close.  Then they do look kind of like little lilies. You can certainly see their stamens and pistils.

I came to Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail today in search of this little graminoid, specifically to collect a specimen for the New York Flora Association.  This is hardly a rare plant in the state, since NYFA's Plant Atlas shows it growing in nearly every county of New York.  Except for Saratoga County.  Time to remedy that omission.  But how do I know this is Hairy Wood Rush?  Well, among other reasons, one thing is certain: its leaves and stems certainly fit the description of "hairy," wouldn't you say?

While out at Bog Meadow, I found some other "flowers" along the trail.  Well, technically,  these strobili (spore stalks) of Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) can't be called flowers, since they don't produce seeds.  But they do perform the reproductive functions of seeds, since the spores they shed will produce new horsetail plants.  Once those spores are shed, these non-photosynthetic fertile strobili will wither and disappear, while the separate sterile green stalks will persist through the growing season, depending on their chlorophyll to photosynthesize nutrients the same way other green plants do.

Here is one of the sterile green stalks of Field Horsetail, many of which were sprouting up all around the area where the fertile stalks were growing.

I found a second species of horsetail, the Woodland Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) sprouting up in a nearby wet area.  Note that this species bears its strobilus atop its green-leaved stalk.  Once the spores have ripened and been shed, this cone-like structure will wither and drop off as the rest of the plant continues growing, producing multi-branched leaves, a distinguishing feature of this species of Equisetum.

Another odd flower: the staminate flowers of a sedge (Carex) species, which look like a wild blond hairdo.  Possibly Carex pensylvanica, but other sedges also have narrow leaves like this.  I don't know how to tell one sedge from another.

All spring I've been looking for the bright-red female (pistillate) flowers of Hazelnut (Corylus sp.) and haven't been able to find any.  These sure look like them, accompanied by the dangling staminate catkins, but instead of growing on a head-high shrub, these were growing on a tall slender tree that had bent over to bring its branches close to the ground.  I have never seen either Hazelnut species as tall and rangy as this.  I found no hairs on the twigs, so for sure it's not American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), but could it be Beaked Hazelnut (C. cornuta)? Does any other tree or shrub bear little red sprouty flowers that look like this?

OK, here are some flowers that actually look like flowers:  Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).  Most of the plants were still in tight bud, but way out in the mucky marsh I could see these bright yellow blooms. I couldn't get close to them, but my camera's zoom lens could.   Soon every roadside ditch and swamp and swale will be filled with their golden glow.

Ta da!  The Red Trilliums (Trillium erectum) have opened their fat buds to reveal these stunning lipstick-red blooms.  Just one or two were gracing the forest floor at present, but soon we will find their big beautiful flowers in abundance.

A tiny brook runs along the trail at Bog Meadow, and where its flow calms to form little pools of quiet water, I often see Water Striders zipping across the smooth surface, dimpling the water with their finely-haired legs that don't break the surface-tension.  This one seemed to have caught some stars in its front feet.

Finally, here's a puzzle.  I found several examples of where the still-unfurled leaves of either Skunk Cabbage or False Hellebore had pierced through a dry tree leaf.  How the heck can this happen?  I would think that the coiled leaves, as they rise, would just push the leaf out of the way. How is it that the soft tissue of these leaves can cut through the leathery fabric of the dry leaves?  I cannot imagine how this takes place.  Has anyone ever seen a time-lapse film of this phenomenon?

Say It With Flowers!

Happy Earth Day!  What better way to celebrate than with a bouquet of wildflowers?  Here are a few that are blooming now in the Skidmore Woods.

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum). Some Trout Lilies have red anthers and some have yellow. The ones that grow in the Skidmore woods have red, but that Red-necked False Blister Beetle will eat all the pollen away and leave just withered black threads.  If you want to see these lovely lilies in their prime, better look for them before the beetles eat their fill.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Those wrap-around leaves will grow larger, and on rainy days will shelter the closed flower to protect its pollen.  Bloodroots have a very brief bloom time, but they bloom profusely, and I often find gorgeous patches of them right along country roads.

Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum). This species of Blue Cohosh has purple flowers that open and shed pollen even before the leaves have completely unfurled.  A second species of Blue Cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides, can also be found in the Skidmore woods, but that species will bloom a week to 10 days later, with yellow flowers that wait to open until its leaves have opened too. The two species can be found growing side by side, with no evidence of hybridizing.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Scratch just a bit of the bark to detect its spicy smell. The ripe berries can be dried and powdered to substitute for Allspice.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), just sprouting its fuzzy leaves above its equally fuzzy baby flower bud.  Not related to the ginger we buy in little spice jars for our pumpkin pie, or the knobby roots we grate into our Asian cooking.  But the thick juicy rhizomes of Asarum canadense do taste quite a bit like that spice, without being nearly so fiery.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mud Pond, Rainy Day

Dark, damp, and cool today, but not raining hard enough to keep me indoors. I have to keep moving these days to keep up with the wildflower surge, so I headed over to Mud Pond at Moreau to see what I could see.  Well, the first thing I saw when I got there was that the pond was full of water! The spring rains have done their duty!

For a couple of years now, the water level in Mud Pond has been so low, the pond lived up to its name by being mostly mud.  Here's what it looked like last summer.  No open water at all!

I didn't find many flowers today, but these Shadblow boughs, hanging over the water with their fat pink buds, looked as pretty as if they were blooming.

And I DID find a few Shadblow flowers in bloom, although the dark dampness kept them from opening wide. I love how fuzzy their bracts and pedicels are, like little wooly coats to keep the blossoms warm.

I guess I missed the American Hazelnuts female flowers this year.  I've been searching for them each week all month, and not a single tiny red female tuft could I find, although the male catkins swung from every twig.  But today I was lucky to find quite similar tiny red female tufts on the Sweetfern shrubs.

I also found some rosy-red female flowers of Red Maple gracefully arcing away from the twigs.

On the way home, I took Parkhurst Road past the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton, and there in the woods just off the road, a big patch of Bloodroot thrust up from the forest floor.  Their sunny-centered flowers were closed to protect their pollen from the rain, but their snow-white blooms still shone in the dark of the woods.

Hey Spring, Not So Fast!

 Hold on there, little Snow Trilliums!  I promised my friends in the Thursday Naturalists that they would see these tiny trilliums when we visit Orra Phelps Nature Preserve tomorrow.  But when I checked on them yesterday, I found they were fading fast.  That hot Easter Sunday didn't help, with temperatures nearing 90 degrees.  Let's hope we can at least see some remnants of their pretty white blooms.  For sure we will find the small leaves, like those in the photo below.  I had hoped these plants would still produce flowers, but it seems they won't, this year.

Oh well, at least I am sure we will see many other pretty flowers, such as this violet-studded mossy bank along the stream.

Here's a closer look at those lemon-yellow flowers of the Round-leaved Violets (Viola rotundifolia), one of our earliest violets to bloom around here.  This is a violet that seems to prefer mountainous habitats -- it truly thrives along Adirondack trails -- so I rarely find it on my ordinary excursions around the county.  How lucky we can find them in the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve.

Hundreds of Sessile-leaved Bellworts (Uvularia sessifolia) have sprung up along the creek, and I bet by Thursday this week they will be dangling their yellow flowers.

We might even see a Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) or two, opening their fat buds that already show just a bit of red.

For sure, we will find the Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) dangling their little pantaloons.

I seldom find many Hepaticas blooming at Orra Phelps, but the few that grow there are definitely now in flower.

Also blooming now is Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginea), with its tufts of staminate flowers that look like Rod Stewart's wild blond hairdo.  The pistillate flowers are those tiny white hairs on the stalk.

The Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) bloomed long ago, its pollenaceous spadices sheltered within its Morocco-red bulbous spathes.  But now its big, showy, bright-green leaves have unfurled in the muddy swale where this plant thrives by the hundreds.

Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is a long way from blooming yet, but its velvety pink-tinged leaf buds, held as erect as candle flames, glow with a pearly light throughout the woods.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Floral Fest Has Begun!

No stopping Spring now!  The floral floodgates have opened!  After weeks of searching and searching for even the tiniest sign of spring, a few days of warmth and rain and sun have spurred new growth everywhere I look.  With family soon arriving for the Easter weekend, I had just a few moments yesterday to run out for a quick circuit of the trails at Skidmore woods, and flowers were popping up here, there, and everywhere!

Those hepatica buds I found tightly furled just a few days ago?  Wide open now!  And in all of the lovely colors hepaticas come in.  I had barely stepped on the path from my car when I spied the first perfect little bouquet of them crowning a sun-warmed rock.

I love how many hepatica flowers seem to glow from within, as the color of each petal-like sepal pales to almost white toward the edge, creating a halo effect around each flower.  Just see how luminous these blooms appear, especially when arrayed against the background of their wintered-over dark leaves.

There are years I find only white hepatica flowers, or those tinged only slightly with other colors.  But on this day I found most of the lovely variety of colors hepatica can bloom in.  Here were some pretty pink ones.

There were others, in a soft lavender hue.

Of course, I found many in sparkling iridescent white.

And here was a tiny white one that was outlined in rosy pink.

This cluster of blooms was closer to blue than purple, and I love the mottled color of the plant's variegated leaves.  I noted that these leaves appeared rounder than the leaves of other hepaticas I found.  So this must be the Round-loved Hepatica (Anemone americana) instead of the Sharp-lobed species (Anemone acutiloba) that tends to dominate in Skidmore's lime-rich woods.

After finding so many hepaticas abundantly in bloom, I was encouraged to think that one of my favorite early violets might be blooming as well.  And so they were!  This is the white variety of the English Violet (Viola odorata var. alba), the very earliest of the violet species to bloom in Saratoga.  An introduced, rather than native species, I'm nevertheless delighted to find it here, since of all our violets, native or not, this is the most fragrant one of all.  Note the pure white petals of this violet, a feature that distinguishes this species from our native early white violets, which have dark purple veining on the lower petals.  The white variety of English Violet does have a purple spur, however, a bit of which can be seen on the left-hand flower in this photos.

The Skidmore campus is home to both varieties of English Violet, the pure white one shown above, and the deep purple one shown below.  Their populations are widely separated, making me wonder how they came to thrive here.  My guess is that they were planted long ago by the ladies who once lived in the Victorian mansions that used to stand where Skidmore College buildings do now.  Ladies of that era often carried little nosegays of these extremely fragrant flowers.  When I pick a tiny bouquet for myself, I can detect their delightful scent as soon as I enter the room where I have placed them.  In this photo, the hooked style that is one of the characteristics that distinguishes this species is plainly visible.

Here's another early bloomer I always find in the lime-rich Skidmore woods, the little yellow trumpets of Eastern Leatherwood (Dirca palustris).  Even though deer have been browsing many of the leatherwood shrubs that thrive here, new growth is providing us as many flowers as ever.

With all these other flowers blooming now, I hurried to where I know Blue Cohosh rises from the leaf litter, thinking it might be blooming already as well.  Well, there was no sign of its purple shoots, but the presence of this persistent blue seed, a remnant of last year's flowers,  reassured me that I was searching in the right spot.  I bet by this time next week, this early-blooming species of Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) will be up and unfurling both leaves and flowers at once.

Well, it wasn't only flowers that delighted me on my walk through the Skidmore woods.  The elegant Mourning Cloak butterflies were wafting through the warm air and spreading their brown-velvet wings to the sun.  This butterfly winters over as an adult, emerging from its bark or leaf-litter  shelters on the very first warm days of spring.

The Eastern Garter Snakes were also active on this day.  I saw several slithering through the leaves, but this one impressed me the most by its convoluted posture as it held perfectly still, hoping I wouldn't notice it against the roots of that tree.  I did see it, of course, and I also noticed the speckled leaves of Trout Lily poking up from the dead brown tree leaves.  Oho!  Another lovely spring flower about to arise!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sudden Heat

Wow!  It is HOT today!  Up near 80, I would guess.  Yesterday was nearly as warm, too, which is why I could assure my friend Emily DeBolt that we would find Snow Trillium blooming at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, if she wanted to meet me there on Monday.  Emily and her husband run the Fiddlehead Creek Farm and Native Plant Nursery in Fort Ann, so she has a deep and wide experience with most wildflowers, but she had never seen this miniature trillium in bloom.  One reason would be that it really doesn't grow around here (its native range being further south and west), and also, it would be easy to miss in the wild, the flowers are so very tiny.  But yesterday, we did find them! Thanks, of course, to naturalist Orra Phelps, who planted these on her property many years ago.

I have promised to bring my friends in the Thursday Naturalists here to see these trilliums on April 20,  ten days from when I took these photos, so I'm glad to see the weather should cool down a bit between now and then, hoping the flowers will not be faded.  I was also glad to see a number of tiny sprouts of new trillium plants coming up, so we should see even more flowers by next week.

Ten more days should also bring us many other wildflowers blooming at Orra Phelps.  We found dozens of Toothwort shoots scattered across the forest floor, most of them laden with buds.

These tight fuzzy buds of Hepatica should also be open by then.

This summer-like warmth has brought out more than the wildflowers, too.  Here was the first Garter Snake I have seen this year.

The Snapping Turtles are also awakened now from their winter slumber under the mud.  I found this big one in the middle of a country road today.  Since the turtle was heading toward a pond, I assumed this was a female returning to water after crossing the road to lay her eggs in the sun-warmed sand on the other side.  Fearful that she would be crushed by a speeding car, I stopped to help her safely toward the pond and out of the road.  I've been told one should always push a turtle in the direction it was heading.

Not such an easy thing to do, especially since she turned to defend herself and to challenge me.

Luckily, I still had in my car the tool I use to push snow off the roof, so I didn't have to risk injury from her strong jaws when she fiercely resisted my efforts to move her.  But I finally did succeed in getting her off the road and safely on the pond's bank.  Do you think this look she's giving me is one of gratitude?  Ha ha!  I really doubt it!