Tuesday, February 26, 2013

100th Post: Taking a Look Back

100 published posts.  That's hard to believe for someone who started this blog from humble beginnings and had no clear idea of what to expect or how long it would last.  I'm just a geeky, nature-loving nerd who had a desire to begin sharing his experiences and limited knowledge of the botanical and natural world with anyone bored enough to pay attention.  Never in a hundred years did I think I would be so fortunate and lucky to have the following and community this blog has and is a part of.  The doors this blog has opened, the friendships it has kindled, and the never-ending inspiration it's been to me are things I could have never expected or predicted.  I cannot thank all my readers enough for your support and kind words over the past two and a half years; whether you are the occasional passerby or one of the faithful few who tunes in to each new post. Without your interest and encouragement I'm sure this blog would have folded and disappeared into internet anonymity long ago.

I know this blog waxes and wanes like the moon when it comes to new posts.  There is never a shortage of ideas, topics, treatments etc. to write and share but the free time and energy to do so fluctuates greatly.  It can be related to a small part-time job whose only compensation is comments, page views, and emails.  There's little guarantee all those long hours of creative writing and carefully planned words will even be read.  Your blogger certainly isn't selfless in his blogging though.  I do this for many personal reasons with none being more prevalent than treating this like a journal.  I thoroughly enjoy going back and rereading old posts and topics that I forgot I wrote about.  Re-experiencing those days in the field and the exciting discoveries and chance encounters remind me why I take the time to write and keep this blog running.  I hope to continue this new year's current trend of consistent posting and new publications but would be a fool to make any promises. That being said I can promise to give it a legitimate effort and try!  I hope to continue to bring my faithful readers more and more original and engaging posts for as long as I have the fire burning inside me to do so!

I'd like to continue with the theme of reminiscing for this 100th post and count down (in no particular order) ten of my favorite posts and topics from the past.  Each one was a blast to write up and put together and are something I can fondly look back on.  Each photograph is accompanied with a link to the corresponding blog post for those interested!  So without further ado here they are:

Federally threatened prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea)

It's only appropriate I start off with my favorite of all our native orchids: the eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).  This great rarity is so scarce across its range it's been listed as a federally threatened species and is at continued risk of extinction from habitat loss and alteration.  I finally got to see this spectacular plant in bloom a few summers ago and it was an experience I will never forget.

On the limestone alvar shores of the Bruce peninsula, Ontario

A couple summers past saw your blogger visit a small spit of limestone known as the Bruce peninsula in Ontario, Canada.  This fascinating landscape is home to many rare species of plants and widely known for its picturesque rocky shores and sheer cliffs along the brilliant aqua waters of Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay. If you look carefully in the foreground of the photo above you can make out tiny yellow patches of the globally rare lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea) growing in the cracks of the alvar limestone pavement.

Grove of old-growth tuliptrees in Davey Woods nature preserve

Few other ecosystems amaze and excite like those of old-growth forests.  The ancient, leviathan trees stand testament to what mother nature can do when time and opportunity is on her side.  This particular photo is of your blogger's father standing in an exceptional grove of tuliptrees in Davey Woods nature preserve in west-central Ohio.  Another exciting example of an old-growth woods featured on this blog is the unique sweetgum/beech flatwoods of Tribbett Woods nature preserve in southeastern Indiana.

Stunning rosebud orchid (Cleistes bifaria) in southern Kentucky

I could just as easily make this entire blog devoted to my orchid forays and endeavors.  It seems like every other post is dedicated to their complex beauty and intriguing life histories.  The rosebud orchid (Cleistes bifaria) was another long-awaited life species I finally got to mark off in southern Kentucky.  I find it to be one of the most tropical looking of our continent's indigenous orchid taxa and just too stunning for words.

Red-tailed Hawk patiently waiting for its next meal

Some of the best and most rewarding of moments in nature are those you come across by complete chance. While out for a drive through the countryside of my home area of Ohio, I stumbled upon a gorgeous red-tailed hawk in the midst of hunting.  I pulled off the side of the road and proceeded to watch him successfully catch and eat a couple mice from his wooden perch.  They are such majestic creatures who live out their lives without even a passing thought from most people too busy to pay attention.

The timeless showy lady's slippers (Cypripedium reginae) of Cedar Bog

Ah, no orchid freak's life list would be complete without the timeless splendor of Cedar Bog's showy lady's slipper (Cypripedium reginae) display come June.  The largest of our native orchids and arguably the showiest (pun intended), these floral wonders need no introduction and can certainly speak for themselves.  If you've never caught them in bloom before you must mark down early June on your calendars for 2013!

Lesser fringed gentians (Gentianopsis virgata) of Betsch Fen

There's no better way to close out the growing season each autumn than to witness the electric blue display of the lesser fringed gentians (Gentianopsis virgata) in Betsch Fen.  It has become an annual pilgrimage for this botanist to close out another exciting and successful year of botanizing with their unbeatable exhibition.  This past season was exceptionally spectacular and choked the fen with hundreds of gentians in full bloom under the waning sun.

Famous dunes of the Sleeping Bear Dunes national lakeshore

Few other places are as heavenly and ingrained in my memory as northern Michigan during the summer months. From South Manitou Island and its virgin grove of enormous white cedars (Thuja occidentalis), to the federally endangered Michigan monkeyflower (Mimulus michiganensis) that exists nowhere else on the planet; the flora and sights of this area are nigh on unbeatable.  If you've never experienced Sleeping Bear Dunes national lakeshore you really must add it to your list of must-visit places!  You will not be disappointed.

Calm waters of Pyramid Lake in the mountains of the southern Adirondacks in upstate New York

The Adirondacks of upstate New York.  Hands down one of the most gorgeous and incredible places I have ever laid eyes on and a time and experience I will never, ever forget.  If you haven't checked out the three part series from this past July on the flora and landscape of the area, you can find them here: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Stunningly tiny small white lady's slippers (Cypripedium candidum)

It's only appropriate to end with an orchid after starting out with one!  Another of my absolute favorites are the diminutive blooms of the small white lady's slippers (Cypripedium candidum).  I will never forget my shocked expression upon seeing these beauties for the first time; they are beyond tiny!  If you are wise and lucky enough to attend Flora-Quest this spring you may just get to see these wonders in person.

I would like to close with another sincere thank you to all the readers and followers who have kept this blog alive and the passion within me to keep it going.  It hasn't always been easy or the top priority but without you I can't say I would be in the same place and shoes I'm in today.  This blog has been an amazing resource and I have all you to thank!  So here's to another 100+ posts on the Natural Treasures of Ohio and beyond!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Surprise Encounter with an Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

A summer or two ago found your blogger and a couple botanist friends out and about in the famed dolomite prairies and cedar barrens of Adams county.  It was a particularly hot and muggy day, even by Ohio's standards that was spent meandering through the grasses and wildflowers that were springing to life in splashes of pink, purple, yellow, and green.  The heat and humidity of early July is the typical admission one pays to witness first hand the rich display of color this area's prairies are known for, and I must say it's completely worth it.  As we made our way through a larger section of the preserve, I spotted an exceptionally stunning specimen of the rare wildflower bluehearts (Buchnera americana) and moved in to set up the camera.  All of a sudden a loud hissing noise emitted from the ground near my boots.  I looked down and immediately saw the source of the noise and was delighted at what I saw.

Eastern hog-nosed snake among the prairie grasses and forbs

Silently slithering by was one of our state's most unmistakable and curious of serpents: the eastern hog-nosed snake (Heterodon platyrhino).  I must admit I was taken completely by surprise at the chance discovery of this fine reptile but my reaction was/is quite the opposite of what I would imagine a large majority of our populace's would be.  It's unfortunate the amount of fear and misplaced animosity these incredible creatures receive from most other human beings.  For centuries snakes and their ilk have suffered at the hands of the misinformed and misguided when in actuality they should be commended and respected for their roles in the environment, if not just for the fact they have been around for over 100 million years.  Hog-nosed snakes range throughout most of Ohio (except the northeast corner), and prefer drier, open habitats comprised of sandy soils.  It's little wonder then that your blogger came across this fellow in the open barrens of Adams county.

E. hog-nosed snake showing a classic method of self-defense

What makes hog-nosed snakes so fascinating is probably the first thing you'll notice about them when you come across one.  Hog-nosed snakes utilize a very neat method of self-defense by inflating their head with air and flattening their upper bodies in an attempt to appear larger and more intimidating to whatever threat is at hand.  This is often accompanied with hissing to spread even more fear and intimidation to their agitators.  If all else fails the hog-nosed snake will even go so far as to simply flip onto its back and feign death with its mouth comically agape and forked tongue hanging out.  That's right, these snakes will play dead as a last ditch effort to draw disinterest from their predators!

E. hog-nosed snake showing off its best cobra impression

The photo above may conjure images and thoughts of the venomous and deadly cobras of Africa and Asia but fear not, North America is void of any such species.  The hog-nosed snake has no intention or idea of its accurate impressions to such a feared snake but I'm sure it will do a number on an unsuspecting and unknowing person who stumbles across one in the field.  Another interesting aspect to this snake's behavior is when putting on this display it will often repeatedly strike but never attempt to bite.  This acts more like a high speed headbutt than anything else.  Combined with being non-venomous, this snake is truly harmless to humans and should never be harmed or killed in any fashion or for any reason.  Remember these animals are much more afraid of you and in all reality they have the need and right to be.  For every one person that has met their fate at the bite of a snake, 10,000 snakes have probably perished at the hands of humans.

E. hog-nosed snake showing its characteristic 'hog-like' nose

Looking at this angle of the snake it's not hard to see how and why this species received its common name. Its pointed, upturned 'nose' appears very much like that of a hog and is an excellent characteristic for identification. The nose along with its unique behavior should quickly confirm its identity in the field and squash any fear of this snake being a danger.  Hog-nosed snakes are also unique in that their primary source of food comes from toads.  Few other animals prey on toads due to their foul taste and the toxins in their skin glands. However, this species of snake has evolved enzymes in its digestive tract that neutralize the toad's toxins.  Its namesake nose is also used to help burrow and dig out its prey from their subterranean hiding places.

Another interesting trait is the presence of enlarged teeth on the hog-nosed snake's maxillary bone that are used to aid in the swallowing of its toad meals.  Toad's use the defensive strategy of puffing up to make themselves larger and thus harder to swallow.  Those enlarged teeth of the hog-nosed snaked puncture the toad on its initial bite and "deflate" it.  I absolutely love specific predator-prey relationships and how they have come to evolve such interesting traits/characters.  

It's my wish that with more understanding and education on our natural world, people will grow to see just how complex and precious it is and make more effort and time to preserve, protect, and appreciate its beauty.  I hope this post will have some positive effect on those who fear and hate snakes for unnecessary reasons. Understandably we all have our fears that cripple and hold us back but with these animals it's something that can be unlearned and reversed.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Hocking Hills and a Very Rare Fern

I'm always on the hunt for the next rare plant to cross off my life list.  Whether it's a thousands miles away and requires a long, carefully planned journey or just a ways down the road, all experiences are unique and worth the effort in their own respective ways.  This past weekend your blogger found himself with a mild case of the winter blues and decided what better way to break out of it than to get out for some hiking.  So I layered up, threw some boots on, and headed out with the specific task of finally visiting a secretive site with one of Ohio's rarest vascular plants.

A sudden but welcome snow band that dropped a couple inches very quickly

The drive from my residence to the Hocking Hills region is one of the most scenic and enjoyable in my section of the state.  Winding county roads take you through numerous hollows and ridge tops; each with wonderful views perfectly representing southeast Ohio.  As I neared my destination a sudden but welcome snow band moved through and quickly dropped a couple inches of fresh white powder.  The already stimulating drive instantly turned into one of the most memorable in recent memory.

Gorgeous winter wonderland under the Hemlocks

The surprise snow left behind a gorgeous winter wonderland that was artfully captured by the evergreen hemlocks and rock outcroppings.  The snow stuck to the branches and contrasted handsomely against the dark green needled canopies.  Eastern hemlocks have always been one of my favorite species of trees with their cinnamon brown bark and aesthetic growth form.  They abound in the cool, moist forests of the Hocking Hills and only add to the intrinsic value of the landscape.

Snow covered hemlock
Hemlock needles

The Hocking Hills are widely known for breathtaking gorges, cliffs, and rock shelters/houses cut out of Blackhand Sandstone; a particularly weather-resistant and consolidated formation of sedimentary rock.  Places like Conkle's HollowAsh Cave, and Cantwell Cliffs famously show off these geologic wonders and their accompanying plant communities.  Within a very select few of the region's sandstone alcoves and overhangs lives the bounty of my search: the Appalachian filmy fern (Trichomanes boschianum).

Appalchian filmy fern (Trichomanes boschianum)

In the darkest recesses of this particular alcove are the petite and dainty fronds of the filmy fern.  This small patch is one of only three populations known in the entire state; all occurring within the Hocking Hills and in quite close proximity of one another.  It timidly grows from the sandstone ceiling with its roots tucked tightly into the cracks and fissures, feeding directly off groundwater that continuously seeps in from above.

Appalchian filmy fern (Trichomanes boschianum)

Don't let looks deceive you.  Each frond is only a few inches long and excruciatingly thin with some parts of the plant only one cell thick!  Its evergreen nature mixed with the surrounding associate mosses and liverworts give a flash of color from the shadows even during the grey winter months.

Trichomanes boschianum North American distribution: courtesy BONAP

You would think with this fern's special habitat niche of cool, moist caves and alcoves in non-calcareous rock dominating the area that this plant would be much more common but that's curiously not the case. Consulting a map of its natural distribution you can see the Hocking county record in Ohio is quite disjunct from any others and is currently the most northern station known.  You have to travel a hundred miles or so south into Kentucky and West Virginia before it occurs again.  Ohio botanists have looked for years in every nook and cranny they can access with very little success at discovering additional sites.  Luckily a couple years ago a friend of mine doing his masters work on the flora of Crane Hollow did manage to find only the third known population of this fern in a rock shelter high above the gorge's floor.  If there's more to be found you can bet they are in similar, nigh-on-unreachable places.

Being 'more' common to the south, I would hypothesize this Trichomanes moved north during a warming period and settled into appropriate habitats in extreme southern and southeastern Ohio.  Once the climate shifted again to something more unfavorable, the ferns northern extension died back but luckily the Hocking Hills acted as a refuge and allowed these small populations to hang on today.

Appalchian filmy fern (Trichomanes boschianum)

In a perfect world I'd love to share the locations for plants like these so others could see and experience its dainty charm for themselves.  Unfortunately due to its extreme rarity combined with a very fragile ecosystem/existence it's best this little fern be left alone and unknown to the masses.  Even the slightest of alterations could quickly spell doom for it from too much human interaction.

Appalchian filmy fern (Trichomanes boschianum)

It's not only people but nature itself that could just as easily erase it from this small, cramped grotto.  If the subterranean water supply should ever cease or a change in humidity and shade occur, you can bet this plant would be gone in no time at all.  Its future existence seems to balance on the edge of a knife and I hope it continues to beat the odds and cling tenaciously to that sandstone ceiling.  It would be a shame for our state's biodiversity to lose out on such a fascinating and charming little fern.

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*

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Upstate New York II: Orchids at Moreau Lake State Park, Paddling the Hudson River, and Rockwell Falls

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

I was recently going through some shelved drafts on blogger the other day when I noticed a specific post that had completely slipped my mind and unfortunately fallen through the cracks.  Sitting halfway finished from this past summer was the next installment of my trip to visit my good friend Jackie in the southern Adirondacks of upstate New York. It's now going on seven months since I returned from one of the most beautiful areas in the the northeast but luckily the details are still fresh in my mind and ready to be shared, albeit a bit late.  It's definitely a marathon of a post but I'd hate to leave any of the fun out on a jam packed day of botanizing and exploring.  If you missed out on part one of this journey you can click right here to catch up and see what you've missed from the previous day (lots of orchids, I'll promise you that!).

Day two dawned as bright, clear, and cool as the previous and found Jackie and I tying her two lightweight, single person canoes to our cars.  Today had some paddling on the Hudson River planned and I couldn't wait to get my feet wet and glide across its waters.  But not before a stop at a nearby state park to finally see the other major reason for my visit, other than the day before's white fringed orchid.

Mud Pond in Moreau Lake state park

Only a short drive to the north of Jackie's hometown of Saratoga Springs lies Moreau Lake state park.  The park is over 4,000 acres in size and offers a long list of outdoor activities for any time of the year but we were there for the flora!  Jackie's friend, Sue met us at the road pull off to once again join us in the morning's botanical foray.  Our hike took us in a loop through a mixed oak and pine forest and around the perimeter of Mud Pond.  The shallow and still water was ensconced with hundreds of white water-lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and the air abuzz with dragonflies and damselflies darting about under the brilliant sapphire sky.

Your blogger photographing some aquatic wildflowers

Hiking along the margins of the pond revealed much more going on and blooming than just the water-lilies. Mixed in near the shoreline were small yellow flowers that belonged to the common bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza).  They seemed to float and hang over the water as if it dangled on strings like a small marionette.  Another was the pink wands of water smartweed (Persicaria amphibia) emerging from the water in the top right of the photograph above.  Most of the other Persicaria taxa are easily overlooked and insignificant but not the water smartweed.

White water-lily, common bladderwort, and water smartweed in bloom

My friend Jackie took the photo from above of a preoccupied me snapping this photo of the three blooming aquatic plants in the shallow waters of Mud Pond.  I found it kind of neat to have both perspectives captured at the same time.  It wouldn't be too easy to reproduce these results when in the field by myself.

Mixed oak and pine forest

Moving away from the water and back into the forest greeted us with a scene typical of upstate New York's forests.  A healthy mixture of black oak (Quercus velutina), red oak (Q. rubra), and white pine (Pinus strobus) dominated the canopy with the dense shade below making for a relatively open under story full of interesting plants.

American chestnut
Spotted wintergreen

Overlooked by the oaks and pines were numerous stump sprouts of American chestnut (Castanea dentata) that had been struck down by the blight in the past.  None were much larger than five or six inches in diameter but it still felt good to actually look up and stand in the shade of our true native chestnut's saw-toothed leaves. Some other species dwelling in the dappled light of the under story was striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), mountain maple (A. spicatum), spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), prince's pine (C. umbellata), teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), tree clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium spp.), groundcedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum), and one very special plant I had the highest of hopes to see in bloom...

Checkered Rattle-snake Plaintain - Goodyera tesselata

Anyone who reads this blog with any kind of regularity must know by now I'm orchid-crazy and trying to see all of Ohio's indigenous species; extant and extirpated.  The checkered rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera tesselata) happens to be one of the latter.  It was collected in Ohio only once back in 1929 in Ashtabula county and hasn't been seen since.  It's much more common to the north in the Great Lake states and New England.  So when Jackie said she knew where some consistently grows I jumped at the chance to cash in on another life list orchid!

Close up view of the Goodyera's flowers
Basal evergreen rosettes

One of the classic and unmistakable characteristics of the Goodyera genus is its basal rosettes of evergreen leaves. These thick and leathery photosynthesis factories are detailed works of art with their intricate designs and patterns.  Closer examination of the flowering spike shows dozens of miniscule and charismatic flowers. Perhaps it's just me but I think each individual inflorescence's design is reminiscent of Darth Vader's iconic helmet.

Another much appreciated action shot courtesy of Jackie

Under normal circumstances I experience a certain amount of pressure as the camera's shutter clicks away; it's very important to me to accurately capture the detail of the plant and/or habitat.  Back home I know I'll have other opportunities if my end results aren't up to par with my expectations but the checkered rattlesnake-plantain was a completely different story.  The 11 hour drive to specifically see this and a few other plants only added more weight and strain on me to make the most of this one time event!

Bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia)
Cow-wheat (Melampryum pratense)

Growing among the orchids were a couple other plants I was pleasantly surprised to finally get to make acquaintances with.  On the left is cow-wheat (Melampryum pratense), an often over-looked member of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) that is quite rare in Ohio and listed as a threatened species.  Jackie was the first to spot it in bloom and call it out, which I excitedly rushed over to.  Jackie and Sue were surprised at my reaction to such a frequent plant but quickly understood once I explained its scarcity in my home state. One person's common-as-dirt wildflower is another person's life plant!  An additional plant I'd long wanted to see was one of the shrubby oak species that don't occur anywhere in Ohio.  This particular one is called bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia) or sometimes referred to as scrub oak.  It rarely attains heights of more than 20 feet; quite a change from its other oak kin.

Paddling on the Hudson River

After spending the morning photographing the orchids and hiking around Mud Pond we decided to break for lunch along the shores and enjoy the fresh air and warm breeze.  Following lunch we packed back into the car and said our goodbyes to Sue, who unfortunately had to head into work and could not join Jackie and I on our Hudson River paddle.  We soon arrived at the Hudson and unfastened our canoes, hot with anticipation to wet our paddles.  The second my canoe slide into the cool, still waters my mind became at ease and my soul became one with the river.  There are truly few other remedies as powerful as being on the open water with nothing but the blue sky and breeze in your hair.

Along this stretch of the Hudson River are a series of dams that control water flow, which in turn creates a lake-like appearance and attitude to the water.  Without much current at all you are free to skim across the deep blue waters at your own pace without a care in the world.

American chestnut male catkins and maturing husk

We slowly navigated our canoes along the shoreline to keep an eye out for any summer wildflowers starting to grace the banks with their striking colors.  I soon began to notice trees hanging over the waters that had something on them that I had never seen before.  American chestnuts that had survived the blight long enough to reach maturity were in fruit!  In the photo above you can see the spent male catkins still attached and the maturing spiky bur.  It had long been a dream of mine to finally see a mature flowering/fruiting American chestnut.  Believe it or not I consider this find as memorable as the orchids.

Hudson River island hopping with our canoes

In the middle of the Hudson was a series of rocky islands that Jackie frequently visits for their aquatic wildflower displays and peaceful atmosphere.  Obviously I wasn't the first to step foot on these dry exposures of granite but as my canoe made landfall and my feet squished into the muck and sand, I felt a measure of giddy excitement for having the islet all to mine and Jackie's selves.

Lone flowering plant of cardinal flower
Pipewort and golden hedge-hyssop

The islands certainly weren't short on interesting plants and had a diverse arrangement of aquatic vegetation. Species like cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Allegheny monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens), grass-leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea), marsh speedwell (Veronica scutellata), dwarf St. Johnswort (Hypericum mutilum), marsh St. Johnswort (Triadenum virginicum), steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), blue vervian (Verbena hastata), pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum), and golden pert (Gratiola aurea) abounded in the saturated soils and standing water.

Golden pert (Gratiola aurea)
Golden pert (Gratiola aurea)

The most interesting of all the flowering plants on the granite islets had to belong to the rich, golden blooms of golden pert (Gratiola aurea).  Also known as golden hedge-hyssop, this plant is quite uncommon and local throughout its range and seems to be most frequent in the northeast.  Golden pert is right at home growing completely submerged in water in dense vegetative carpets and mats near the shorelines and banks.  You would never know of its presence unless the water level drops low enough to expose the plants to the air and trigger their bloom en masse.  Lucky for us the water levels were very cooperative and allowed the golden pert to put on an amazing show.

Hudson River just upstream from Rockwell Falls near Lake Luzerne-Hadley

After enjoying the comforts of a long paddle on the Hudson, Jackie and I tied our canoes back onto our cars and headed off to the Rockwell Falls area of the river.  Our plan was to explore the exposed shorelines and take a look at a very intriguing and mysterious plant that Jackie had found a few days prior.

Rockwell Falls on the Hudson
Naturally-worn holes in the granite

Even with the water levels being quite low, Rockwell Falls was still a pouring torrent of white water, slowly but surely wearing away more rock as it boiled downstream.  One of the most fascinating aspects of the falls was the presence of nearly perfect holes in the rock.  They appeared to be created with man-made precision but Jackie explained that in times of higher water little pebbles collect in the rock's depressions and are spun around in a spin cycle motion that gradually wears the rock down lower and lower, creating these pot holes. Pretty cool if you ask me!

Mudflats full of the mystery plant
Slender milfoil (Myriophyllum tenellum)

Along the shores in the newly exposed mudflats of the Hudson grew the mystery plant Jackie had found earlier. The night before I took a look at a specimen Jackie had brought home with her after the initial discovery. After going through some keys and illustrations in my Gleason and Cronquist manual of vascular plants (or my botany bible as I like to call it), I determined it to be slender milfoil (Myriophyllum tenellum) from its unique flowering stem and habit.  Upon seeing them in person there was little doubt on what it was. As it turns out it is a real rare treat to catch this aquatic plant in bloom.  It typically grows in areas of deep water and remains in its vegetative state until the scare moments where water levels drop low enough to expose the mats to the air and activate it; much like the golden pert.  I have since forgotten the gentleman's name, but one of eastern North America's most distinguished and published experts on aquatic vegetation (if I recall correctly he co-authored the manual on eastern North America's aquatic flora) emailed Jackie in response to her queries that it was indeed slender milfoil and in all his decades of researching and exploring our aquatic flora had never seen it in flower! We were sure to grab several specimens to press and pass out to those who were sure to be interested.

Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta)
Beaked hazelnut (L) vs American hazelnut (R)

Finished with our slender milfoil mission, Jackie and I decided to call it a day and start heading back to Saratoga Springs.  However, there was one quick pit stop on the way to see a key species I had very high hopes of seeing while in New York.  Along a bike path in large thickets grew the common American hazelnut and the Ohio extirpated beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta).  Looking at the picture above left, I don't think it's too difficult to understand why it got the name 'beaked' hazelnut.  It was recorded and collected only twice in Ohio: once in Adams county in the early 1900's and again in the 50's in Ashtabula county.  It hasn't been seen since and is considered extirpated from the state.  It was the perfect cherry to the top of the massive botany sundae we enjoyed that day.

It's about time I got this post finished and published but in a weird way I'm glad I waited this long because this really gave me the chance to look back and reminisce on my fond memories and experiences of this day with Jackie.  I have one more post to complete this upstate New York trilogy, so stay tuned!  Here's hoping it comes out much, much faster!

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