Monday, May 31, 2010

Smoke in the Air

When I stepped out of the house this AM to walk the dog, I noticed the distinct tang of woodsmoke in the air. I thought nothing of it since it is a holiday weekend and many seasonal folks are up visiting their second homes.

But as I headed towards Glens Falls, the air became hazier and hazier, and the scent lingered. While the temps are to hit the 80s today, this wasn't humidity, it was smoke.

It turns out there are something like 50 forest fires burning north of Montreal, eight of which are still listed as "out of control."
Because the winds are blowing to the south, we are all enjoying the side effects of these fires: smoke.

I'm currently sitting in a parking lot in Wilton and while I can no longer smell the smoke, I can see the haze to the north. Even in Glens Falls the scent lingered.
Remember, folks, it is VERY dry out there - we haven't had rain in weeks. If you are camping, think twice about that campfire. If you are in the High Peaks Wilderness Area, by the way, no campfires are allowed, period.
They may call the Adirondacks the Asbestos Woods, but when it's dry, it can still burn.

Turtle Alert

Yes, it is early, but the turtles are out looking for good egg-laying sites, so please keep your eyes open when you are driving the roads. If you see a turtle trying to cross the road, help it do so (but keep yourself safe, too).

A little over a week ago I saw my first wood turtle of the season trying the cross the bridge over the Hudson here in Newcomb. I stopped and helped her across. It was two weeks earlier than I'd seen wood turtles in the past.

Last Thursday, on my way to an invasive plant training program, I saw my second wood turtle. This time I had my camera, so here she is.

The great thing about wood turtles is that they are quite placid. I was able to pick her up with no trouble and snap a few portraits before letting her go on the other side of the road. Wood turtles are easy to identify because of the bright orange skin on their legs.

She was quite relieved when I set her down and wasted no time dashing into the undergrowth (and yes, turtles can dash when they want to).

A short distance later, I saw this very large snapping turtle out doing her thing. She was much less inclined to cooperate for the camera. As soon as I stopped the car, she turned her back and headed into the weeds.

But, being a snapper, she wasn't going to let no stinkin' human dictate the terms of her retreat. She stopped and just sat there, head partially withdrawn into her shell. I swear she was giving me the evil eye.

So, slow down and watch the roads. Many of our turtles are suffering population declines. Let's help them out by not driving over them in our rush to get from point A to point B. Take your time and lend a hand where possible.

Blackflies - an update

Yes, they are out and they are biting.
Your best defense at this point is a bug shirt.
Good luck.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

New Native Plant Nursery

Earlier this week I read on the NY Flora blog that a new native plant nursery was opening up this weekend near Argyle. Even though my days in Newcomb are likely numbered, I had to go, if for no other reason than to share with you what they have.

So, here they are: Fiddlehead Creek Nursery, on Route 40 just outside Argyle.

They are a small operation, but they are new. One greenhouse/hoophouse.

But lots of plants. Some for shade, some for sun. Some herbaceous, some shrubs. I loved this shrub, but it wasn't labeled. I will have to go through my books and see if I can find it.

Wild ginger!!! Shame I don't have a shaded area, because I LOVE the flower on wild ginger!

Business was looking pretty good at about 11:30 AM when I was there. Their friendly pooch was wandering around amongst the patrons. I must admit, I did make a purchase - two pots of windflower, an anemone, which is one of my favorite plants. So simple, yet so lovely.

Now I have to go home and plant.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Monday evening I made another round of my nestboxes, seeing how things were going, who had moved in where, etc.

Most of the boxes remain empty except for some ladybug carcasses and spider webs. The new box my dad and I put up to replace one with a broken roof, however, was stuffed with a pine needle nest - very likely bluebirds!

Only one, however, has a full-time resident: the black-capped chickadee. I knew she was using this box, so I tapped on it a few times to let her know I was there in case she wanted to leave, but no one flew out of the box. I really hoped that her nest hadn't been predated by a raccoon or something, for there were eight eggs here the last time I checked.

So, I slowly opened the door and peeked in. Do you see her tail feathers sticking up just to the left of center? She was well hunkered down, protecting her eggs from all intruders. If I stood up on my tiptoes, and she stretched up her beak, I could just make out her head. I didn't want to disturb her any more than I already had, so I took this quick shot of her tail and closed the door with good wishes for a safe night.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Botanical Adventures Part III - Lake Lonely and Skidmore Woods

The next stop on our whirlwind tour was a short walk along the path to Lake Lonely. This trail, or at least the small section that we did, runs between a golf course and the road. Between the phragmites on the road side and the wooded area on the golf course side, it is well-hidden. We had one target species along this trail, but it wasn't the only thing in bloom.

Ragged Robin, or cuckooflower (Lychnis flos-cuculi) was a new find for the day. It's another non-native plant, but it is a pretty one. I've only ever seen it blooming along a couple stretches of highway - it must like marginal habitats.

Here is the plant we came to see: yellow water buttercup (Ranunculus flabellaris). All (or most) of its leaves are underwater. Jackie said that it isn't listed as rare or uncommon, but this is the only place she's ever seen it, and she's spent a lot of time over the years slogging through all sorts of habitats in search of plants to add to her life list.

Common fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus), or Philadelphia fleabane, is a native plant (I was surprised - I thought for sure the fleabanes were European). It used to be believed that if you were pregnant and these were growing outside your house, you would have a girl if the petals had a pinkish tinge (like these), or a boy if the petals were blueish. I've seen a lot of fleabanes in my life, and I've never seen a blue-tinged one.

From here we stopped back at Jackie's house to refuel, and then it was off to Skidmore Woods. It was getting late in the day and I still had some shopping to do before driving back home to the kids (dog and cat). Skidmore Woods is a fabulous site, as I've mentioned before. Its calcareous soils make it an island of special vegetation. We had three target species and got four!
First was this wonderfully named Orange-fruited horse gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum). Isn't that a great name? There's nothing horsey about it - apparently it just refers to the fact that it is a big plant. It's not a gentian, so I don't know why it's called one. But the fruits, when they appear, are actually orange (or so Jackie assures me).
Here it is at a distance - not very exciting:

But a closer look turned up these "things" along the stem. At first I thought they were bagworm cases, but then I realized they were actually part of the plant.

We found some that were still in bloom - kind of odd-looking flowers. None of the plants were fruiting, so until such at time as I see them again, I'll have to take Jackie's word for it that the fruits are orange.

This was our bonus plant: sanicle, or black snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica). It is listed on-line at various sites as a great medicinal plant, but I found no information on whether or not it was safe to consume.

Along a small wooded pool we found tufted loosestrife (Lysimachia thrysiflora). The flowers were not quite open, but apparently inside each one is a small tuft, hence the name. Watch Jackie's blog for photos soon (Saratoga Woods and Waters).

Green violet (Hybanthus concolor) is indeed green, and it is a violet, sort of.

This unusual plant is in the violet family (Violaceae), but not the genus Viola. Similarities with "real" violets seem to focus on the seed pods, which look like other violet seed pods (but larger) and the pods split into three longitudinal sections, just like other violets, to release the seeds. In Connecticut it is believed to now be extinct. What a terrific find, and one I'm glad we took the time to see.

And this wrapped up our day in the field. Total tally: many new plants added to my life list (I'll have to go back and count them), one tick (that I actually found), and a whole day spent with a good friend. What more could a person want?

Botanical Adventures Part II - Bog Meadow Trail

We wound our way through a literal maze of roads that meandered through the woods...but can you still call them "woods" when every acre along the road is home to a McMansion? Some of these houses rivaled the mansion we had just left at Yaddo. One looked like it belonged on the Italian coast, another had a bronze, life-size, grizzly bear beneath the pines out front. Another had a wind-swept horse at the front and back gates (it was on a curve in the road). Apparently the developer put in this nature trail we were headed towards as part of an agreement when he built these estates. Whatever the reason, I'm glad this patch of land was spared.

The Bog Meadow Brook Trail heads downhill through a northern hardwood forest, across a short boardwalk that spans an arm of wetland, and then follows an old railroad bed with wetlands intermittently on either side, terminating next to a lovely open wetland. Jackie was leading a flower walk here the next day and wanted to see what the latest bloomers were so she'd be prepared.

The first plant I gravitated towards was one of my favorites: northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum).

Just like milkweed and a few other plants, I just can't photograph this lovely fern enough.

Another one of my favorites, and now in full bloom, is mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum). You may recall I posted photos of this plant as it was just emerging from winter's slumber about a month ago when Jackie and I walked around Moreau Lake. Well, here it is, leaves unfurled like umbrellas above its single white flower.

Isn't that one of the loveliest flowers you've ever seen? When I was living in NJ (for all of 4.5 years), there was one state park (I think it was Jenny Jump) that was literally carpeted in mayapples - it was one of the loveliest things I'd ever seen. Some of the plants were so big they rose above my knees.

We left the forested slope and stepped onto the boardwalk, where I immediately saw another of my favorites: water avens (Geum rivale). This was a new plant to me about the time I started this blog.

Isn't this just a delightful, but bizarre-looking, flower?

The tree may be long gone, but the stump left behind is full of life. It's a nursery stump, providing a home to many young plants.

We had our eyes peeled for a woolly rush, which we found later on in the walk, but I didn't photograph it. I did snap a shot of this plant, however, which I believe is some kind of sedge. Whatever the name, it is a lovely plant. Not all flowering plants have lovely showy petals. Some are not even going to grab your attention unless you get really close, like this sedge. Small and unassuming, it is still interesting to behold.

Leaving the boardwalk behind, we headed down the old railroad bed. Parts are still paved with the ties, while other sections are bare ground. But the entire length is a tunnel of green.

Sandworts seem to be one of the big bloomers right now. Well, "big" is a relative term, for the flowers are quite small. Tuesday I made acquaintance with thyme-leaved sandwort, and today I met blunt-leaved sandwort (Arenaria lateriflora), which is one of our native sandworts. It was blooming in great profusion, dappling the low greenery with its star-like flowers.

Now, you might think this flower is a blackberry, and you wouldn't be off by too much, for it is related. This is dewberry (Rubus flagellaris), a low-growing plant.

Most variegated leaves can't hold a candle to the patterns of the rattlesnake plantains. This one is downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubsecens), and later in the summer it will sprout a spire of small orchid-like flowers. The flowers are nice, but the leaves are great. This plant isn't found in any great abundance, so it is a treasure whenever one sees it.

Again, we had a specific target plant on our list today: the nodding trillium (Trillium recuravatum). Now, I know some folks might think "you saw them on Tuesday, why get excited again today?", but they are such a rare plant that it's okay to get excited about them every time you see them. And see them we did - we must've encountered close to a dozen nestled among the nearly exhausted red trilliums.

Jackie has seen them a number of times now, but even so, she still has to photograph them when they meet.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) usually has flowers in sets of three - three little balls beneath the triple leaved umbrella. This plant was an over-achiever, sprouting SEVEN flowers. Neither Jackie nor I had ever seen such a thing before. A classic over-achiever.

Yellow clintonia (Clintonia borealis) is just getting going. This photo just does not do the plant justice. While a lone plant was spotted here and there, we did come across a patch along the trial that was completely carpeted with them.

Looking out across the wetland in one of the few places with a view of the water, we noticed that spatterdock (Nuphar variegatum), or yellow pond lily, was in bloom. If you click on the photo and enlarge it, you may just make out patches of them.

Our final target plant for this trail was poison sumac (Rhus vernix). It was nailed by a late frost, so many of the leaves were black and shrivelled. But new green growth had sprouted forth - Mother Nature is hard to completely deter.

After viewing the sumac, we hightailed it back down the trail and to the car - we had two more sites to visit.

Stay tuned for Part III: Lake Lonely and Skidmore Woods

Botanical Adventures - Part I - Yaddo

Friday the sun rose on a beautiful day. The omens were good for a botanical bonanza with my buddy Jackie. I drove down to Saratoga to meet her, and we piled in her car for a whirlwind tour of some of her favorite plant places near home.

First, we stopped at Yaddo, an artists' colony located right near the Saratoga Racetrack. This facility is privately owned, but the public are allowed free access to the gardens. We parked the car and headed across the well-groomed lawn, taking in the majesterial grandure of the mansion as we did so.

The first plant on our list was this lovely birds-eye speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys). This large-flowered speedwell is a non-native species, but its bright blue blossoms are a delight to the eye.

We found this lone specimen of pale or cream violet (Viola striata). A lovely native violet, it stood all by itself at the end of a shady bed of rock garden plantings.

While we were here, we saw several gardeners out and about, putting out mulch and getting the gardens ready for the summer season. The water features, however, were dry as a bone. I guess we were a little too early for them.

The boxed thing you see in the center is a caged statue. This isn't done to keep the statues from running away, but to protect them from the snow and ice of winter. Every statue we saw (or didn't see) was crated.

While Jackie brought me here to see the many native wildflowers that are grown on the site, I was equally drawn to the many rock garden plants that were flowering. I have no idea what most of them are, but I loved their colors and shapes.

Here we have one of Jackie's favorites: celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum). Many of us are probably familiar with celandine, which is a non-native plant with a sticky orange sap, but celandine poppy is 100% American. Here's something interesting I read about this poppy: its seeds are distrubuted by ants.

And here we have a poppy pod just starting to ripen.

Another native growing well here is wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata). I'm not the world's biggest phlox phan, but I did like these, mostly because their color was unusual...and difficult to photograph!

There were lots of white bleeding hearts in bloom, but we also found a few of this wild version: squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis). If you are like me, you are probably wondering how this plant came by its odd common name. It turns out that it grows small tubers just below the surface of the ground that resemble kernels of dried, yellow corn. As for the "squirrel" bit, well, I can only guess that it is because squirrels bury things and these tubers are found below ground.

Aren't these leaves beautiful? They look like the wings of a large butterfly or moth, but sadly, they have a very dull common name: twinleaf. Its scientific name is a little jazzier, Jeffersonia diphylla, but not much. The flower, which has already come and gone, looks similar to that of bloodroot. I think we should start a movement to rename this plant, maybe something like "angelwings" or "cecropia plant."

I was totally fascinated by this grapevine artwork. The plant is actually rooted in the ground along the wall here. I imagine that this was sculpted over the years as the plant grew.

Another garden plant, this dwarf crested iris was the sweetest, tiniest iris I've ever seen.

Another garden flower, which Jackie thinks might be a henbit. The flowers were unusually shaped, and the leaves variagated - what wasn't there to admire?

This little snapdragonish plant, according to Jackie, grows in a vine-like attitude. She's seen it climb walls and trellises. Here, it was nestled among some rocks by the dry "stream."

We made our way around to the rose gardens, for which the place is apparently well-known. As you can see, there wasn't a single rose in bloom yet.

But this didn't stop our explorations. Jackie and I were on our hands and knees along the mulched rose beds looking for and photographing these tiny tiny speedwells. Who needs flashy roses when these delicate flowers were blooming nearby? This one is purslane speedwell, or neckweed (Veronica peregrina). It is a native speedwell, and its flowers were maybe 4mm across. I wonder where the name neckweed comes from. Hm.
Right next to the purslane speedwell was corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis). It's hard to believe, but its tiny blue flowers were even smaller than the white ones above. This speedwell is not native, but it doesn't seem to be terribly aggressive, so we didn't feel guilty admiring it.

As we left the gardens, we looked up to note that the shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) was blooming, too. It's been years since I've seen one of these - we just don't have them in the central Adirondacks.

It was time to move on to our next (and primary) destination - the Bog Meadow Trail. Stay tuned for Part II - Bog Meadow Trail.