Wednesday morning, I packed, chatted with Paige for a bit, and then headed south towards Saratoga, where I met up with my dear friend and botany pal, Jackie. Jackie was generously putting me up for the night, and we had hoped to spend at least part of the day botanizing. The weather, however, had other plans.
In a light rain we headed for Skidmore and the preserve that houses some beautiful and even rare wildflowers.
Due to the rain, and the shifting seasons, there wasn't too much to oggle while we were there. We had one plant of whorled loosestrife,
and the patch of orange-fruited gentians that had been in bloom the day before, were now flowerless.
This little red eft, however, was quite content in the rain.
We found a wonderful patch of squawroot - must've been at least 20, with more just waiting to burst from the soil!
I've only seen squawroot (Conopholis americana) once or twice before, so this was a pretty cool find, especially in this quantity. Also called bear corn or American cancer-root, this member of the Broomrape family, like the other members (beech drops and one-flowered cancer-root) is parasitic and cannot make its own chlorophyll. It is parasitic primarily on oaks (preferring red oaks, apparently), although will also parasitize beeches.
When it emerges from the ground (it being the inflorescence...the flowering bit), it is covered with brown scales which perhaps protect it as it pushes up through the forest floor debris. Then the white flowers open. As each is pollinated (by bees or flies, from the bottom of the inflorescence to the top), the fertilized flowers turn brown and wither. Each is replaced by a white, ball-like capsule that contains the seeds. When the seeds drop, they work their way into the soil in search of a host tree root, to which they attach and hang on for dear life.
Pretty amazing plants.
The star of the day, for me, was a new life-list plant: four-leaved milkweed. Only one was still in bloom, although Jackie said there were more the day before.
As I've said, for me this is the Year of the Milkweed. I tried it last year without much success. I may have some better luck this year, and certainly I had luck by being able to see this species. It's not one of the milkweeds listed for Michigan (it is an Eastern US and Canadian plant). My friend Jackie says this is the only place she's ever seen it, even though the NY Floral Association lists it as "demonstrably secure" throughout much of New York. I grew up in central NY and spent ten plus years in the Adirondacks...I'd never seen it until now.
We got to see the fun fruit of large-flowered bellwort.
And, of course, green violet. This is the only place I've seen this flower, but according to range maps, it should be here in Michigan as well.
Now, I know what you're thinking - it doesn't look anything like a violet, and you would be right...sorta. There are violets, and there are true violets.
Violets are a family of about 800 species worldwide, most of which are in South America. Violets all have the following in common: one petal that is larger than the rest; a spur on the back of the flower (on the back of the largest petal); and narrow sepals.
True violets, the ones you and I think of when we think "violet" are those found only in the genus Viola. The green violet is in the genus Hybanthus, of which there are about 150 species, most of which are tropical. In North America there are four species: one (the green violet) in the eastern part of North America, two in the Southwest, and one in Florida.
The green violet is known to botanists as Hybanthus concolor. Hybanthus is from the Greek root word hybos, which means hunch-backed, presumably because the spurs make the flower look humped or lop-sided...if you look really closely. Concolor means one color, and no doubt this refers to the fact that the whole plant (stems, leaves, flowers) are all the same color: green.
We found some seed pods already developing on some of the plants. Jackie opened one so I could see the little pearl-like seeds inside. Pity they weren't ripe...I'd have loved to have brought some home to plant.
By now the rain was coming down pretty steadily, and my efforts to keep my camera dry with my arms would not be effective for much longer. So, we returned to Jackie's house for lunch and then headed out again.
Jackie took me on a scenic drive towards Glens Falls (I wanted to stop at my favorite tea shop and stock up on African Outback - the only tea I drink, and I only drink it when I'm sick). We stopped to see this very large, old sugar maple.
Someone ("The Lorax") has affixed this label to the tree, claiming it is surely the largest sugar maple in New York.
We were amused to see a bush honeysuckle growing out of the tree!
After picking up my tea and stopping for a snack in downtown Glens Falls, we met up with another one of Jackie's hiking pals: Sue. I remember Sue as the turtle lady - able to pick out (and thus survey) turtles in the water at 100 paces!
We drove to a place they called the Five Combines, which is along th Feeder Canal Heritage Trail in Hudson Falls. This is one of their botany and birding spots.
Located next to a covered landfill, this area was once important to getting water (and boats) into the canal.
If you enlarge the photo below, you can read about the five combines (locks 6-10), which were originally made of wood. Each one raised (or lowered) boats about 11 feet, taking about 15 minutes to do so.
Even on this drippy, grey evening, the locks, which are only about 15 feet wide, are very picturesque.
Jackie and Sue consulting.
I added another new plant to my life list: tower mustard, identified by the way the seed pods lay flat against the stem, almost like scales.
In 1845 the wooden locks were replaced with "hammer-dressed limestone," which for the most part have held up well, but down here at lock 2 Nature seems to be winning the battle.
We saw lots of evidence that turtles had been out laying eggs...and something else had come along and had a feast.
At the end of the locks, the water pooled in a small pond, which was home to many wetland critters.
When we walked back to the parking lot, we decided it was time for dinner, so we stopped at a Mexican restaurant for some quick food. Then we had to drop Sue back off at home.
Jackie wrapped up the evening for me with a grand tour to Fort Edwards to see the house where Solomon Northup had lived for three years, about ten years before his capture and being sold into salvery. If you aren't familiar with the story, which I read as a child because my great-grandparents had the book (which I now have...a first edition), look up Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave. The movie was out last year.
The house was originally the Patt Smyth House, during the time of the American Revolution.
We drove back to Jackie's house and soon called it a night. The next day I drove westward to visit the Herkimer Diamond Mines before heading to my parents' house. I did some digging in the mines, in the steady, and sometimes pouring rain. Needless to say, I didn't get photos (except with my phone camera).
I also didn't find much for my efforts. The mine isn't what it was in 1988 when I visited during my first internship as a naturalist with Beaver Lake Nature Center (Baldwinsville, NY).