Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Upstate New York III: Old Growth Pines, Tiny Orchids, and Pristine Pyramid Lake

*Part I* *Part II* *Part III*

It's finally time to conclude my three-part series on the road trip I took this past July to the summer wonderland that is upstate New York.  I still can't thank Jackie enough for her hospitality and willingness to spend long hours out hiking and botanizing her favorite haunts of the southern Adirondacks with me.  I don't think we could have had more fun and enjoyed each others company more.  Once again please ignore the tardiness of this post and the previous one.  Honestly, I actually enjoy finishing up these posts more now than right after the trip.  The images and reminiscing warm my thoughts and computer monitor as winter's chill sting hangs on outside.

For the third consecutive day morning greeted me with crystal clear skies and cool temperatures.  I appreciate mother nature cooperating so well during my time in New York.  Ohio's summers as we all know are typically a humid and sticky, sauna-like experience, so the break was well enjoyed.  My final day in the empire state had plans for a hike through an old-growth white pine and hemlock forest to admire the majestic monarchs that have stood the test of time before capping off the trip with a paddle on a secluded lake in the southern Adirondacks that had become Jackie's personal little slice of heaven on earth.  By day's end I too would fall in love with its stunning scenery and deep blue waters, the memory and experience forever etched in my mind.

Jackie standing with some exceptional old-growth white pines

It was fortunate that one of the Adirondack's last remaining old-growth pines forests just happened to be on the road to Pyramid Lake and was our first stop of the day.  There is no other substitute for the grandeur and spicy aroma of coniferous forests.  The way the sunlight filters through the needled canopy and cool breezes kiss at your skin is unmatched and something I've haven't had as much time experiencing as I would like.

Tall and straight white pine
White pine and hemlock old-growth forest

Many of the denizens within had grown to mythical proportions and scraped the heavens at well over 100' tall and three to four feet in diameter.  This particular stand had been saved for future study and research by the State University of New York's (SUNY) forestry program and I thank them for that.  There are too few places still in existence that can really show off what these trees can do given time and the opportunity.   Apart from the dominant white pines and hemlocks were a scattering of red pine, red spruce, and sugar maple battling for the light from above.  The under story was largely open with a mosaic of herbaceous and woody plants; most notably hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides), moosewood (Acer pensylvanicum), and mountain maple (A. spicatum).

Dewdrops (Dalibarda repens)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

The old-growth forest was also home to a number of plants that one rarely, if ever sees back in my home state.  I was delighted to find the charming dewdrops (Dalibarda repens) beginning to flower under the shadows of the mighty pines.  The leaves created an impressive ground cover in certain areas with the snow white, blackberry-like flowers unfurling their petals to reveal its numerous stamens.  Another Ohio scarcity that was hard to miss were the ripened red fruits of the bunchberry (Cornus canadensis).  This unique member of the dogwood family creeps along the ground and is adorned with large, white flowers in the spring that look more-or-less identical to our much more common flowering dogwood.

Your blogger and some impressive white pines

Here your blogger stands between two exceptional specimens of old-growth white pine.  The straight, slow-to-taper trunks of the pines, hemlocks, and red spruce reminded me of my time in the Pacific northwest and its unbelievably proportioned conifers.  Each tree had a character and look all its own with time and weather gnarled into unique features throughout the trunk, branches, and crown.

Giving the largest white pine in the Adirondacks a hearty hug

I've been called a tree-hugger by many people for different reasons but I'd have to say the most accurate definition is the literal one!  Here your blogger can be seen giving the mightiest of the white pines remaining in the Adirondacks a hearty embrace.  A thoughtfully placed sign next to the tree claimed it to be over 350 years old and exceeding 150' in height.  Having been there firsthand to see for myself I don't think I would argue with either fact.  It was hands down the largest white pine I have ever seen.

Dwarf Rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera repens)

Our search for the large and prodigious was quickly reversed to the minute and insignificant once Jackie reached a particular section of the forest she was keen on sharing with me.  It was here that her and a friend found the basal rosettes of a tiny orchid a ways back and she was now curious if we could find it in flower.  Our eyes tediously scanned the sea of moss that carpeted just about every square inch of dirt and downed log.  Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), white wood sorrel (Oxalis montana), and corn lilies (Clintonia borealis) added to the texture of the substrate with their thick, leathery leaves.  After about 30 minutes of fruitless searching, Jackie called out we'd best get back on the road to Pyramid Lake.  I was just about to voice my frustration and concur when I suddenly spied a small stalk of white and yelled out my success to Jackie. Target acquired!

Dwarf Rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera repens)
Dwarf Rattlesnake-plantain basal rosette

Looking at the picture on the right it becomes more evident just how diminutive and easy-to-miss these orchids are.  In the end we found a handful of plants with maturing flower stalks and a dozen or so more vegetative basal rosettes (pictured on the left).  I'm of the opinion that this species of Goodyera have the most fetching of its genera's leaves but that certainly isn't to say its cousins; G. tesselata (featured in the previous NY trip post) and G. pubescens don't impress in their own rights.

Dwarf Rattlesnake-plantain just beginning to break bud

Our timing was painfully close to perfection with most of the plant's flowering stalks littered with swelled buds itching to pop.  Only a couple days later and we'd have timed them exactly right but beggars certainly cannot be choosers, especially when it comes to plants.  The macro shot above shows the sole inflorescence fully opened and ready for business.  You can even see the pollinia tucked away inside and patiently waiting for a ride to another flower to complete its job.  Excruciatingly tiny, you could fit four to five of these flowers on the head of a dime. I'd say it lives up to its name dwarf rattlesnake plantain exceptionally well.

With the satisfaction and excitement of a good find fresh in our heads we hiked back to the car and continued on to a place where my heart has never truly left.  Pyramid Lake is tucked away in the rolling mountains of the southern Adirondacks and is home to breathtaking scenery and a peaceful atmosphere unmatched anywhere else.  I had read Jackie's blogs on it numerous times and was honored to float its waters by her side.

Pyramid Lake in the southern Adirondacks

The day's weather kept with the trend and continued to be flawless as we cast our canoes off the shore and onto the calm waters of Pyramid Lake.  I wish photographs could stimulate your other senses than just that of sight.  The fresh, piney aroma to the air and call of the loons over the water only made this paradise more unforgettable from the start.  We decided to do a circuit around the lake's shorelines so I could get a taste of the layout of the land and explore the varying arrays of plant life both in/on the water and off.

Jackie paddling into a shallow cove full of aquatic plant life

I followed Jackie's wake into a shallow cove on the eastern side of the lake and into one of the most fascinating areas I've ever explored.  Not only was the water alive with aquatic flora but the air too as dragonflies and damselflies buzzed overhead and frequently landed on my canoe or paddle for a rest.  Schools of fish darted about and followed alongside me as I glided over the water and pond lilies.  I don't think I could have felt more at home in this blissful display of nature's diversity.

Emergent aquatic vegetation
Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar lutea)

One of the first instantly recognizable flowers scattered throughout the cove belonged to the yellow pond lily (Nuphar variegata).  It's broad, floating leaves conjure the classic image of a bullfrog sitting on one while waiting for a passing insect meal.  It can easily be confused with a very similar yellow pond lily species (N. advena) which has leaves that typically sit/hang above the water while N. variegata's leaves float flat on the surface.

Floating logs covered in sphagnum and interesting plant life

The single most fascinating aspect to Pyramid Lake's shallow coves was the presence of floating logs that had long ago fallen into the water and gradually accumulated large masses of sphagnum moss that were home to an array of fascinating plants.  The most obvious of those were the rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides) that dotted almost every mat and hummock.  Some other associate species living on these enchanting micro-ecosystems were: sweet gale (Myrica gale), round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), horned bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta), small-flowered cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), and marsh st. johnswort (Triadenum virginicum).

Small bur-reed (Sparganium natans)
Floating log covered with round-leaved sundew

Hiding in plain sight  and peeking their flowering heads above the water and lily leaves was the small bur-reed (Sparganium natans), a species we don't have in Ohio and a new addition to my plant life list.  Despite it being quite rare in New York it seemed to be thriving in the shallow waters of Pyramid Lake's coves.  Jackie's discovery and ID of it a few years ago was a new county record and goes to show how overlooked some plants are.  Another interesting flower I added to my ever-growing life list was the aptly named water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna).  It's basal rosettes grow under the water and send up long stems that breach the surface to flower and fruit.  I can't believe I didn't snap any photos of the plant, especially being one I'd only seen once.

White water lilies and water bulrush abound
White water lily (Nymphaea odorata)

The white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) occurred by the hundreds throughout the calm, shallow waters and scented the air with their unmistakable fragrance.  If you look closely at the photo above left you can make out small, slender stems emerging from the water all over the area that played an important role in my visit to the lake.  Those inconspicuous stems belong to the water bulrush (Schoenoplectus subterminalis), an endangered species here in Ohio.  Water bulrush only grows in deeper water where it is largely inaccessible, but thanks to my borrowed canoe I was able to snag some specimens for a good friend of mine who had never seen it and wanted to add the species to his pressed collection.  I know, us botanists are a strange bunch!

Looking from the cove back out towards the main body of water 

After spending some quality time exploring the cove and its botanical treasures, Jackie and I headed back out towards the main body of water and on to the next spots of interest.  Here you can see a better view of the floating log islands, covered with their centuries of sphagnum and all the emergent aquatic vegetation.

Jackie alongside the rocky shores and steep cliffs 

The most majestic of the surrounding features at Pyramid Lake for me was the large rocky mountain alongside its eastern shores.  The sheer rock faces climbed precipitously from the lake's surface and could never be done any real justice from a photograph.  Floating right up alongside the mountain made me feel very small in my lightweight kevlar canoe.  For a couple aerial views of the area to better appreciate its location and setting I've linked in a couple google maps as a reference.  You can click here to see a satellite image of the lake and click here for a topographic map.

We decided to head for the shores of the lake's large, rocky island for lunch but found its only suitable place for beaching our canoes to be occupied by others enjoying the lake so we made for the western shores instead.  As I sat on a thick bed of fallen needles under the pines and gazed out across the lake I couldn't help but think I would be hard pressed to enjoy a lunch with a better view.  The theme I took away from my time here was just how alone and at peace with nature one can feel if they allow themselves to be immersed in her beauty and splendor.

Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides)
Green Woodland Orchid (Platanthera clavellata)

Exploring the sphagnum lined shorelines provided us with plenty more chances to see some late-blooming rose pogonias as well as the occasional green woodland orchid (Platanthera clavellata), whose affinity for the acidic conditions of the sphagnum was in no short supply.  Overall I encountered nine species of native orchids in flower in just three days!  For a self-diagnosed orchid freak it was a real dream to see so many in such a short amount of time.

One last look across the waters of Pyramid Lake

As the afternoon sun started to wane and our arms and legs tired from all the paddling, Jackie and I reluctantly headed for the main shore to call it a day and end my time in this perfect mountain paradise.  As I shouldered my canoe I took one last look back at the lake and knew I would one day return to her shores and waters.

Gorgeous green mountains and crystal blue waters of Lake George

As Jackie drove us back home she decided to stop at a scenic overlook of Lake George and the surrounding mountains to give me one last look at a region of the country that my heart and soul could never forget.  It was hard to accept my time in this wonderland had come to an end but what an end it was.  My trip concluded that evening as I treated Jackie and her husband to dinner at a delicious restaurant in downtown Saratoga Springs to thank them for being such gracious and kind hosts.  It was the absolute least I could do for opening up their home to me.  I was quick to bed and quick to rise in the early morning hours for the lengthy drive back to Ohio.  The images and experiences continuously replayed in my head as the miles ticked by and I anxiously awaited some days renewed in upstate New York.

I am happy to report I will be returning to Jackie's hometown this late May to experience the spring season with her and see a whole slew of new and exciting plants and scenery.  I'll be sure to bring you along vicariously through my blog upon my return and will hopefully do so with better timing!

*Part I* *Part II* *Part III*


  1. This is lovely stuff. The Adirondacks are very similar to the upper Ottawa Valley and Algonquin over in Ontario, right down to the Pre-Cambrian decorations. Feel free to give the land across Lake Erie a trip some time!

    I shared this post in my blog; this year I am covering all things Boreal and while the Adirondacks are a bit "south" for that, they certainly have the taste of it.

    Again, excellent post and lovely shots. You should sell some prints!

  2. Oh Andrew, these posts brought tears of joy to my eyes, remembering all our incredible adventures and the unbelievable luck you brought with you. Such a stretch of perfect weather, and all the flowers you drove this distance to see were in perfect bloom! Now I can't wait to adventure together again in late May, when a whole other bunch of flowers should be in full bloom. I can't imagine a more amiable -- and knowledgeable! -- companion than you.

  3. What a treat/surprise it was to discover your post on the Adirondacks. My family and I spent many weekends/summers picking blueberries, hiking, camping in the "Pines" of Hinckley NY. You "captured" my beloved mountains well. Thank you!