Monday, May 15, 2017

Bog Meadow: A Shady Trail for a Hot Day

Oh my gosh, the forecast is for close to 90 degrees this coming Thursday!  That's the day I'm leading my friends in the Thursday Naturalists along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, just east of Saratoga Springs.  Thankfully, most of the trail is shaded, as it was the day this past week I went out to preview our route.

I started my preview at the Rte. 29 entrance to the trail, and I had hardly set foot on the trail before I saw the Wild Geraniums (Geranium maculatum)  in full beautiful bloom.

Starring the path as I made my way along were dozens of these tiny white flowers called Grove Sandwort (Moehringia lateriflora).  They are not considered a rare plant in New York, but the only place I ever see them in Saratoga County is along this Bog Meadow Brook Trail.

Of course, I find Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) almost everywhere, from open dry meadows to suburban lawns, to the grassy verge of Bog Meadow Trail.

According to New York's Natural Heritage Foundation, Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) is disappearing from many parts of its original range, but here along Bog Meadow Trail they still find a happy home.

It was only last year that I first found Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus) along this trail, and only one multi-stemmed cluster, at that.  But I'm planning to show my friends this week what a pretty plant it is.  If I can find it again, that is.  It's kind of hiding under some shrubs, but I did mark the spot when I found it earlier this week.

With so many beautiful flowers along this trail, it's hard to say I have a favorite.  But if I did, Star-flowered Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum stellatum) would have to be among the top contenders.  The blue-green leaves alone are really lovely, but that cluster of dainty pure-white, star-shaped blooms sure add the crowning touch.  And in the 15 years or so I've been walking this trail, they have spread from maybe 10 plants in one location to at least a hundred in a hundred-foot stretch of the trail.

Ah, but didn't I just say it was hard to name a favorite flower?  Who could resist the dainty beauty of Starflower (Lysimachia borealis), another top contender.

The small greenish-white bloom of Dwarf Raspberry (Rubus pubescens) probably wouldn't win any beauty contest, but its jewel-red juicy berries are certainly a treat to find along this trail.

Ot the two Baneberries we have, the Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) is the first to bloom, and its flower cluster is more closely spherical than that of the White Baneberry.  Its pedicels are thicker, too, but that's a feature that needs the two species side-by-side to appreciate.

If we were to wander way off the trail, I could lead my friends to masses of Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea) blooming at the edge of a wooded swamp.  But here was a single plant blooming right in the middle of the trail.  Whew!  We can save our energy on what promises to be a sweltering day.

How accommodating of this Red Maple tree (Acer rubrum) to bend one bough down low, so I could gaze at the gorgeous red of its seeds.  I hope they're still hanging on for my friends to see on Thursday.

When I reached the spot where the wooded swamp's standing water comes close to the trail, I was surprised to see that Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) was still in glorious bloom.

And here's what I was truly hoping to see:  Bog Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), and with more flower clusters than I have seen in many years.  Some years I can't find any.  I can't wait to show this flower to my friends.

Here's another flower that likes swampy soil: Hooked Crowfoot (Ranunculus recurvatus).  Yes, the flowers are very small, but their glossy bright-yellow blooms shine like stars in the murk of the forested swamp.

Of our two basal-leaved tiny white violets, one of them, Viola pallens, generally prefers wetter soil than does its look-alike, Viola blanda.  Since this cluster of pretty white violets had taken up residence on a hummock of Tussock Sedge (Carex stricta) out in the open water, I guess I will assume it is Viola pallens, sometimes called Northern White Violet.

Another pretty violet, this one the stemmed violet called Dog Violet (Viola labradorica) was carpeting a grassy verge.

Not nearly so pretty as those violets, but worth a closer look if they're still in bloom, are the flowering stalks of Hairy Wood Rush (Luzula acuminata).  They're very small and delicate, so they're very easy to overlook, but I know where a nice big clump can be found.

Another plant I hope is still in "bloom" is the Woodland Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum), which bears its attractive cone-like strobilus (its spore-bearing organ) atop a stem that is whorled with lacy branching leaves.  I really don't know the accurate figures, but it seems to me that only one out of a hundred of these horsetails bears a strobilus.

On our way up a hill to where we have spotted some cars to return us to the trailhead, we will encounter a bank that is shimmering with the lacy, trembling fronds of Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum).  I can't think of a prettier farewell to our walk along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Busy Week Walking the Skidmore Woods

How can it be that a whole week has passed without me posting a blog?  Well, it was a very busy week, and much of it was spent in the Skidmore woods.  Since I'd promised to lead two nature walks there this past week (one for the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady and the other for an Audubon chapter), I of course had to go out there to scope it out first.

On Monday, I asked my pal Lindsey to join me there.  We started our explorations among some large limestone boulders, where we found some Red Trilliums still in fine bloom.

While checking out the plants that grew on the boulders, we surprised this little Red Eft, who scurried to hide in a crack in the rocks.

Walking Fern is a very unusual-looking fern, with long spear-shaped fronds growing out of the mossy rock.  The tiny-leaved Maidenhair Spleenwort also shares these limestone boulders.  Both ferns require just such a calcareous substrate to thrive.

Crowning one of those boulders was the first of many Jack in the Pulpits we were going to see this day.

We then moved to one of the main trails through the woods, and I'm going to list here in alphabetical order some of the plants we found along that trail.

Basswood is one of the large trees that make up this mixed-hardwood/conifer forest.  We stopped to marvel at the size and softness of the leaves on a Basswood sapling, and I later found some of these tiny seedlings among the leaf litter.  These first sprouts, with finger-shaped seedling leaves that look nothing like the mature leaves, often present a puzzle to folks who wonder what tree they might belong to.

Blue Cohosh was almost done blooming, but we were lucky to find a few hangers-on.  There are two species of Blue Cohosh that grow in the Skidmore woods.  This one, Caulophyllum thalictroides, has yellow-green flowers and is generally a daintier plant than the other species, C. giganteum, that was blooming just across the trail.

These are the purple flowers of Large Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum).  Even though these two Blue Cohoshes grow within a few feet of each other, they never appear to hybridize.

Columbine was easy to spot, with its brilliant red blooms sprouting bright-yellow anthers.

Dogwoods of several species grow throughout the woods, but only the Flowering Dogwood was in full glorious bloom this week.

Dwarf Ginseng started blooming some time ago, so I didn't know if we would find it still in bloom. Happily, we did.

Ferns of many different species thrive in these woods, but this delicate juvenile fern with a red stipe grows only where heaps of rocks are piled up on each other.  Although ferns this young are hard to identify, a botanist friend believes these are Bulblet Fern.

This Grape Fern is quite distinctive, with a separate spore stalk that rises from the center of the fronds.  The spores grow in clusters of tiny beads that resemble bunches of grapes.

Geraniums grow throughout the woods, and the Wild Geraniums are just now opening their pretty purple flowers.  We also found a second geranium species called Herb Robert, which had yet to open its smaller pink blooms.

Hickory leaves have erupted from their huge pink bud scales, specifically the pinnate leaves of Shagbark Hickory.

Leatherwood shrubs bloomed early in April, and by now the fruits have started to form.  Green now, the berries will eventually turn red.

Solomon's Seal dangles these little green flowers from the axils of their soft green leaves.

Trilliums truly thrive in the Skidmore woods, especially the Large-flowered White Trillium pictured here, which grows by the hundreds in soils that are rich with lime. I love that this trillium is flanked by a Canada Violet and a cluster of Sharp-lobed Hepatica leaves, the three plants representing a kind of holy trinity of spring wildflowers found in lime-rich woods.

Violets are next, and the Skidmore woods features several violets found only in lime-rich soils.   The Canada Violet pictured here is pure white on its face, while the backs of its blooms are tinged with purple.

The Green Violet bears hardly any resemblance at all to other plants in the Violaceae Family. Growing to about 18 inches tall, this plant bears in its leaf axils tiny green flowers, which were still in bud early this week.  But the open flowers don't look much different than these little green nubbins.

I've been told that Green Violet is found nowhere else in Saratoga County except here in the Skidmore woods, where it thrives by the thousands among the limestone boulders littering the forest floor.  When we see how it flourishes here, it's hard to believe it's considered a rare plant.

The Long-spurred Violet lives up to its name by sporting a long slender spur.  It's also distinguished by the pale purple of its petals that seem to have drained their color to the deeper-hued center.

Downy Yellow Violets bloom abundantly in many parts of the Skidmore woods.  Note that this "stemmed" violet bears both leaves and flowers on the same stem.

Wood Betony wasn't yet blooming this week, but I think its leaves are quite beautiful in their own right.

Wrinkles, I grant, is not the name of a plant.  But I was struck by how the bark of this American Beech had seemed to sag into wrinkles around its roots.  Unfortunately, most of our beeches are going to die, and not from a wrinkly old age.  Rather, these beautiful silver-barked trees are under a two-pronged assault from both an insect and a fungal pathogen.  I'm glad we still have a few unblemished stands here and there, including in some isolated sections of the Skidmore woods.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I Love My Park, But Not the Phragmites

 Lots of willing and able folks turned out on "I Love My Park Day" at Moreau Lake State Park this Saturday, ready to help spruce up our beloved state park for the coming summer season.  Even our state asseblywoman Carrie Woerner (yellow jacket) showed up to add her support.  Park Manager Peter Iskenderian (above) greeted and thanked us before we teamed up to set to various tasks.  Some folks headed up the mountains to cut some new trails, others planted pretty flowers around the parking areas, or spread wood chips in the children's playground, or walked and paddled the shore of the lake picking up trash.  My team split up two-by-two to encircle Moreau Lake, carrying nippers and thick plastic bags to cut and contain the seed-heads of Phragmites, the invasive Common Reed that has colonized too many parts of the shoreline, threatening the native plants that offer far more value to wildlife.

Although we experienced a few brief sprinkles, the generally overcast cool day was quite pleasant for those of us exerting ourselves.  A hot sun beating down on these shores would have made our tasks much more uncomfortable.

Here's my teammate Karen reaching up to decapitate a Phragmites stalk.  When we first observed the masses of it dominating parts of the shore, it sure seemed like a daunting task.  And it was.  It will take quite a few more days to attack this invasion, but working steadily for over three hours, we sure made a good dent in the population.  The existing reeds will rise again from their roots, but by removing the seeds, we will help prevent their spread to parts of the shore that still remain pristine.

Although it appeared that the Phragmites had driven out all other plants, we were delighted to find masses of the tiny Northern White Violet (Viola pallens) carpeting the mud beneath the Phragmites stalks.

We were serenaded at our work by the calls of Spring Peepers and Pickerel Frogs, and we even got a close-up look at one of the Peepers.  Very tiny and very cute!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Bog Meadow Surprises

Chilly and rainy today.  And so it will be for days to come.  That makes me doubly glad I got out to Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail yesterday, searching for more of the plants that are missing from the Saratoga County record.  The other reason I am glad is that I found both of the missing plants I was searching for, as well as another that surprised me by blooming so early.

At first glance, the trail didn't look very promising for finding plants in bloom.

Except, of course, for the many patches of bright-white Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)  that looked as if someone had tossed down handfuls of stars along the path.  So pretty!

A few years ago I was surprised to find a single patch of Rose Twisted-stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus) growing along this trail, hidden beneath the invasive honeysuckle shrubs that dominate this particular section.  Every time I've walked this trail since, I've looked for it, and most times I haven't been able to find it again.  But on this day I did, and a thriving patch it was, too.  This is one of the "missing" plants I'd been looking for, so I was delighted it had not eluded me once more.  With so many healthy stems, I felt I could ethically collect just one to submit to the New York Flora Association, the organization that documents the flora of New York State.  Chalk another species up for Saratoga County!

The leaf-stalks of this plant seem to reflect the meaning of its common name, since they certainly do look a bit twisty.  But I've been told that the name actually refers to the hair-thin twisted peduncles of its tiny pink-tinged flowers that dangle in a row beneath its sessile leaves.  I did not expect to find those flowers in bloom this early, but lo and behold:  there they were!  Tiny twisting stalks and all.

I also found the second missing plant I was hoping to collect on this walk: the Small-flowered Crowfoot (Ranunculus abortivus), which was thriving in great numbers in shadier areas of the trail.  These flowers are so small, they are easily overlooked, but I think their starry beauty certainly deserves a closer look.  And their presence certainly deserves to be recorded for their home county.

So hurray!  My mission was completed for the day.  Now I could swing my legs and keep up a fast aerobic pace -- or as fast a pace as one can maintain when tromping the awkwardly-spaced old railroad ties that underlie Bog Meadow Trail.  But WHOA!  Is that a Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) that I see before me?! !  It certainly was, and it certainly brought my pace to a halt, as well.  This species of trillium has reportedly been disappearing from much of its original territory, but so far its population seems quite secure along this trail.  I saw only this one in bloom on this day, but I also found many plants with ripening buds.

OK, forget about that aerobic walk, let's see what other flowers are blooming now along Bog Meadow Trail.  Next up was a single plant of Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra), its nearly spherical floral cluster rendered lop-sided by some kind of attacker.  The roundness of its flower cluster is one way to distinguish this species from the similar White Baneberry, which has a more oblong flower cluster and also blooms a few weeks later.

Holding their own against the invading honeysuckles, the Highbush Blueberry shrubs (Vaccinium corymbosum) were fully in bloom, with clusters of white bell-shaped flowers that will later reward us (or more likely, the birds) with sweet blue fruit.

In some areas where the trail runs close to open marsh, the grassy verge was carpeted with masses of the dainty pale-purple flowers of American Dog Violet (Viola labradorica), one of our stemmed blue violets.

I don't know how this pretty flower came to be named for the dogs, but I remind myself of how to distinguish this species from other blue violets by observing the sharply toothed stipules that surround the leaf nodes on its flower stems.  Note the sharp teeth on those stipules?  Teeth make me think of canines which make me think of dogs.  Who also have sharp teeth.  With so many plants to try to remember the names of, mnemonics like this are essential.

Keeping a low profile down on the ground, the tiny flowers of Dwarf Raspberry (Rubus pubescens) would never be noticed if they weren't so bright white.  Their sweet red fruits are easier to see, later in the summer.

I had forgotten that patches of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) thrive in certain areas along Bog Meadow Trail, but the vivid light-green of their heart-shaped leaves made their presence obvious, even when almost engulfed by masses of blue-flowered Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea).  I certainly would never have noticed their flowers first, since those little brown nubbins lie flat on the ground beneath the leaves.  I usually associate Wild Ginger with calcareous habitats.  I wonder if some marble or limestone underlies this patch.  Could be, since this is an old railroad bed, and railroad beds are often laid on limestone gravel.

Because Sessile-leaved Bellworts (Uvularia sessilifolia) first came into bloom more than three weeks ago, I was surprised to see a few of their dainty pale-yellow flowers still dangling from their arching stems.  It won't be long before I find their perfoliate cousins (U. perfoliata) blooming nearby in wooded sections of this trail.

Strange, but along the entire mile of this trail I walked yesterday, I found but a single shrub of Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), its flower cluster still in tight bud.  Maybe there are more along the section I didn't walk this day.

I'm sure looking forward to coming back here in a week or so, when these tight purple buds will open into the bright-yellow flowers of Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea).

I used to find several examples of Glaucous Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica) along this trail, but I haven't for several years.  I've really missed this native vining honeysuckle with its clusters of confetti-colored flowers.   But maybe there is hope that I will find them here yet again, since I did find some beginning shoots of their vines.  In recent years, trail workers have widened this trail, cutting down most of the shrubs that supported this vining plant, but I'm hoping these shoots will find their way to whatever shrubs are near enough for them to climb on.

Actually, it might have been beavers that cut down those shrubs that supported the Glaucous Honeysuckle.  The beavers have certainly been cutting down lots of small trees to build their dams. I was concerned to find this one damming the stream that runs under the bridge, since it is causing the water in the swamp to rise to a level that could inundate the trail.  I guess I'd better notify Saratoga PLAN, the organization that maintains this trail, to alert them of this situation.  Today's rain is predicted to be heavy at times and to continue well into next week.  This may be the last time in weeks that Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail will be passable without hip-waders.