Friday, July 18, 2014

Seeking Peace in the Mountains

I can imagine no place on earth more peaceful than Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks. In these times of terrible violence, how fortunate I am to have such a place to retreat to, in the company of others who seek to live without damaging others. This is where I will be for the weekend, at Pyramid Life Center, praying that all who suffer may come to know healing grace, wherever they may be.

Pyramid Life Center is a spiritual retreat center that welcomes people of all faith traditions or none, to experience the healing power of nature and loving community in a place of unparalleled natural beauty.  Come visit their website,, to learn of their program offerings and to see many other photos.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Indulging My Flower Love

I just LOVE Great St. Johnswort! It's hard to find native wildflowers that are so remarkably showy, with big bright blooms, exuberant numerous stamens, and a fat green pistil shaped like a Turkish vase that flares at the top.  They would make wonderful cultivated garden blooms if they had a longer period of bloom than just a few short days.  Because they won't be with us for long, I returned to their river island yesterday to fully indulge my delight in them.

I know of only one place to find them, and they're easily seen as I approach by canoe, bright spots of yellow against the dark green foliage of the river bank.  Although they're classified as a rare plant in New York and many surrounding states, they must be very hardy to tolerate the conditions here, in thin rocky soil that is periodically flooded as the river rises and falls.

I pulled my boat up on shore and walked around behind the plants to enjoy how they looked against the flowing water.

How beautifully their golden blooms are complimented by the blue of the reflected sky.

Somebody else was enjoying these big beautiful blooms.  I believe that this is a Katydid nymph.

Many of the flowers had petals that were curling inward as they started to fade.  Too soon, those petals will fall.  But there will be many flowers yet to come, to judge by the quantity of fat yellow buds I found.

Sharing the same riverbank were many Buttonbush shrubs with their spiky balls formed of tiny white trumpet-shaped florets.  Working those florets over one at a time was this splendid Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, so occupied with its nectaring task that it completely ignored my presence.

When the butterfly worked its way around to the opposite side of the floral ball, I was able to have a perfect view of its ornate underwings and furry tiger-striped body.  Lovely!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Farmers' Market Supper

Thanks be to the farmers and local cheesemakers and bakers, who do all the work so that I can serve up the simplest of wonderful suppers with very little effort.  Wednesday afternoon is a farmers' market day in Saratoga Springs, and today brought the first ripe home-grown tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, and perfect slender green beans of the summer season.  Add handmade fresh Mozzarella from a local Italian market, a crusty whole-wheat bread from Rock Hill Bakery, sweet basil from the garden, and abundant extra-virgin olive oil, and it's quite a feast!  Even without the cold roast chicken and a nice bottle of wine, which we happened to have on hand.  Yes indeed, it's summertime, when the feastin' is easy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Botanical Bingeing

It was quite a weekend for botanical bingeing, ranging from an orchid-studded bog to a lily-lined roadside and ending with a riverbank search for all the St. Johnsworts blooming now.

The weekend started early, when my friend Sue Pierce had Friday off from work and our mutual friend Nancy Slack was able to join us to explore a sphagnum bog near Lake George.  Nancy is an ecology professor with extensive knowledge of northeast flora, but she had never visited this particular bog, so we were delighted to share our secret place with her.

This particular bog is known for its profusion of orchids, and we knew we were in for a treat when we slipped through the hedge that surrounds the bog and were greeted by the sight of dozens of vivid  Calopogon tuberosus orchids, also known as Grass Pinks.

The other orchid we'd hoped to find was present, too, and in abundant numbers.  The White Fringed Orchis (Platanthera blephariglottis) was still in tight bud, however, so we planned to come back in a week or so to see it in glorious bloom.

There was another bog-dwelling plant we looked for, too, but without much hope of finding it.  Needle-thin and green-as-grass, Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica) literally resembles the proverbial needle in a haystack, which is why I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a nice patch of it surrounding the trunk of a young tree.  Even though it was still in bud, we could recognize its stiff five-angled stem and its opposite branched clusters of flower buds.  When it's in full bloom, it won't look very much different from this, for its four-petaled pale-yellow flowers barely protrude above its green bracts.

Saturday saw the arrival of other botanical friends, when the wildflower photographer Carol Gracie drove all the way up from Westchester County with her husband Scott Mori to photograph Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense).  Author of the beautifully illustrated book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History, Carol is now at work on a book of summer wildflowers and finds many of the subjects of her new book hard to find in her home county because of over-browsing by deer, among other factors.  I was delighted to be able to escort her to a magnificent display of these beautiful lilies, growing abundantly in a roadside ditch.

Another friend, Bob Duncan, also drove a considerable distance, from his home up north in Pottersville, to join our photography party.  Although we had found one plant of Canada Lily while hiking together in northern Warren County last week, Bob told me that that was the first time in all his wildflower explorations he has found this plant that far north.

Obviously, the lilies had found a happy home in this roadside ditch at the edge of a forested swamp, for many of the plants held multiple blooms.  This one had produced ten large flowers of a vibrant orange.

Other plants had yellow flowers.

And one plant held a single bi-colored bloom combining both orange and yellow.

Once Carol had accomplished her photography task with the lilies, we still had time for further photo-botanizing, so I suggested we head up to Moreau Lake State Park.  Our friend Sue had reported that the little native orchid called Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata) was beginning to bloom along the path that circles Mud Pond.  We had to search a little, for this tiny orchid can hide very well on the forest floor, but we did indeed find some with a few open blooms.

Another find in the woods at Mud Pond was a single Blunt-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) in perfect flower.  Bob isn't really offering prayers to the flower gods in this photo, but he is taking the time to admire its deep-rose bloom, which he said was one he had never seen before.

Sunday brought the threat of thunderstorms, but I took a chance that they might hold off until I had paddled out to an island in the Hudson River to see if the Great St. Johnsworts (Hypericum ascyron) were in bloom.  They certainly were, and in greater numbers than ever before.  I'm very happy to see that this beautiful flower, classified as "Rare" in New York State and either "Threatened" or "Endangered" in most surrounding states, has found a congenial home where I may visit it each year to admire its remarkably showy flowers.

Compare the size of those blooms above with the wee little flowers I'm grasping in the photo below.  These are the minuscule blooms of Dwarf St. Johnswort (Hypericum mutilum), a species of St. Johnswort that also grows on the same Hudson islands as H. ascyron.

I'm adding a second photo of H. ascyron, this one including my hand in the photo to provide scale.

I found three other species of St. Johnswort in the same area, Canada (H. canadense), Spotted (H. punctatum), and Pale (H. ellipticum).  All were in bloom today, although my photos of them turned out too poor to publish.  I did manage to take a clear photo of the ruby-red achenes of H. ellipticum arrayed in the grass beneath the bud clusters of Buttonbush.

 A fourth St. Johnswort, a pink-flowered species called Marsh St. Johnswort, also grows nearby, but it was not blooming today.  Although still considered a member of the St. Johnswort Family, Marsh St. Johnswort has recently been removed from the Hypericum genus and assigned the name Triadenum virginicum.

With the storms holding off, I continued my paddle around the islands and into a swamp where Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) ornaments the muddy shore.

Tucked in amid the Pickerelweed and other emergent plants that don't mind having their feet wet, a nice patch of Mermaid Weed (Prosperpinaca palustris) had come into bloom.  I first found this plant last fall when it was in fruit, so I was delighted to be able to find it in flower, although I did not recognize it at first, since its leaves were not as feathery as when I found them last fall.

Here's a photo I took of this plant last fall, with those remarkably feathery leaves:

At a glance, Mermaid Weed resembles another denizen of such swampy spots, Water Horehound, with its sharply serrated leaves and reddish stem.  But a closer look reveals that its leaves are alternate on the stem, while the Water Horehound's leaves are opposite.  Also, these flowers are greenish and borne singly in the axils, unlike the circlets of tiny white flowers that surround the stems of Water Horehound.

A rumble of thunder in the distance set me hurrying toward the shore, but I did pause for a moment to admire this little glowing patch of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) sprouting out of a crack in the rock.

I also had to stop to notice these blooms of Grass-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea) protruding from shallow water near the shore.  Usually, these flowers are pure white, but these were striped with pink.  Very pretty!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

We're Off to See the Orchids!

Did we have a gorgeous day to go finding that Round-leaved Orchid in bloom?  We certainly did, my friend Bob Duncan and I, a day as close to perfect for hiking a trail to an Adirondack Pond as a day could be:  fresh and cool, while also bright and sunny.  It was as fine a day for picnicking  on the shore of this pond as it was for botanizing.

We had walked this same trail last Saturday, when we found a number of budding stalks of this Round-leaved Orchid (Platanthera macrophylla), and today we found them in perfect bloom.  Unfortunately, the largest specimen of those we had found last week was bent and fallen today, possibly a victim of the same ferocious winds that had toppled many trees in the area on Tuesday night.  Here, Bob is holding the stem erect so I could photograph what it would have looked like before it suffered damage.

There were others in the same area that had survived without damage, and they, too, were in perfect bloom, with every floret along the stalk fully open.

A close look at the floret reveals the very long lower lip that distinguishes this greenish orchid.  The pale-yellow swellings seen in this photo are the flower's pollen bundles, called pollinia.

A profile shot of the floret reveals the very long spur that helps to differentiate this orchid from the very similar, but slightly smaller species of Round-leaved Orchid called P. orbiculata , which has spurs nearly half as long.  Looking at this photo now, I am noticing how twisted the ridged flower stem is.  I wonder if this is true for both species of Round-leaved Orchid.

With so much rain of late, it was not surprising that we found a number of fungi today, including this very handsome mushroom called Graceful Bolete (Austroboletus gracilis), which is often found fruiting under hemlocks, as it was today.

The whitish underside of the cap reveals the pore structures that are typical of all boletus species, but I had never seen a boletus weeping small droplets as this one was.  When I looked at photos of this species online, I noticed several images revealed a similar weeping.  Note that this mushroom has a long stem that is colored the same as the cap, and I noticed that it had a subtle bloom that gave it a velvety appearance.  A beautiful mushroom that easily deserves its name of Graceful.

Well now, this was a big surprise!  How could we have missed seeing these vibrant Canada Lilies the first time we passed this way?  But we sure did.  We were on our way out and almost all the way back to our car when we spied the brilliant orange bells hanging right over the trail, lit by the sun so they glowed like Japanese lanterns.  A fitting end for a beautiful day in the Adirondack forest.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Monitoring the Mountain Mint

Between drenching downpours yesterday, I slipped over to Moreau Lake to check on the patch of rare Whorled Mount Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum) I found there last fall. Well, I'm happy to report that this plant, one of the rarest in New York with only five other locations documented statewide,  is truly thriving on the sandy shore of a quiet bay.  I counted 112 specimens in fat bud, and there might have been more still hiding in the shrubby habitat.

This species of Mountain Mint can be distinguished at a glance from the much more common Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint by its leaves, which are distinctly broader.  An even closer look would reveal another distinguishing feature, the hairiness of its stems and leaves.  Like all mints, its flowers are a favorite of pollinators, and I wondered it that little patch of white on one bud cluster might be a visiting moth.

No, not a moth, but rather the tiny purple-spotted white florets that will eventually turn that bud cluster into a crown of flowers.

There were other flowers blooming along the sandy shore, including this Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria), an introduced species that is as common as the Whorled Mountain Mint is rare. Common as it may be, its little flowers (related to Carnations) are uncommonly pretty and deserve a closer look.

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Lily Time!

 I've been stopping by the Bog Meadow Nature Trail almost every day for the past 10 days, hoping to find the Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense) in bloom.  A friend who's a wildflower photographer is willing to drive all the way up to Saratoga from Westchester County to photograph them, but that's a long way to come for nothing but buds.  When I stopped by the trail yesterday afternoon, I almost turned around and went home, for I saw that the lily plant right by the trailhead was still in tight bud, even though it had started to turn color.  But then, as I moved to return to my car, a flash of orange shone out like a beacon from back in the deep green swamp.  A sunbeam had found a way through the wind-tossed trees and picked out these brilliant blooms as they swung like bells on their stalks.

A few yards further along the trail, and everywhere I looked I saw more lilies in bloom.

 Most of the plants were well off the trail, with difficult marshy, hummocky footing between me and them, but a few were close enough to the trail that I could admire their elegant beauty from close up.

Most of the lilies I saw were the typical orange, but here and there I spied some that appeared to be a golden yellow.

Because the flowers dangle down, they hide their interior beauty from view, unless we gently turn them up to see their speckled throats and pollen-laden anthers.

Although I saw many plants yesterday, they didn't seem quite as vigorous, or as varied in color, as those I had found along this trail in past years.  This spectacular specimen with seven bright-yellow blooms was one I photographed in 2009.  Glowing like embers in the hedge behind them was another lily plant with abundant flowers so deeply orange they appeared almost red.

This is another spectacular specimen I photographed in 2012, and these are indeed a true rich red, but with a yellow underlay.

In recent years, some botanists have argued that the orange/yellow- and the red-flowered Canada Lilies should be separated into two distinct subspecies, the orange/yellow flowers placed in the subspecies canadense, and the red ones assigned to the subspecies editorum.  I'm not sure which subspecies this particular plant would belong to, since it displays bright yellow as well as rich red.

I doubt I will be able to show my photographer friend the red-flowered lilies this year, because when I went to the place where I had found them two years ago, I found only lily stems that had been bitten off by deer.  Alas!  Ah well, we can always hope the red ones will return to us in years to come.  I can attest that many lily seeds have been sown, since even now, tall stalks of the lily's empty seed ponds can be seen throughout the marsh.

Just for the record, there were some other lovely flowers in bloom this week at Bog Meadow. Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) was decorating the shores of (where else?) the swamp, and it was as fragrant as it was beautiful.