Thursday, July 20, 2017


When I went to join my friends in the Thursday Naturalists today,  I was happy to go for a walk with these grand companions, but I really wasn't expecting to find much new.  We were walking the trails of the Anchor-Diamond Park in the town of Ballston, a 246-acre wooded property that is now conserved as a "forever wild" publicly-accessible preserve with miles of trails.  Our group had walked these trails several times in the past year, so I thought I knew just about all there was to know about this preserve, botanically speaking.  And sure enough, we weren't surprised by any unexpected plants.  But we did find a really cool bug!

This was a nice big beetle, shiny-black with a remarkable spot on its cream-colored pronotum that I hoped would make it easy to identify.  None of us could name it at the time, but a quick search of Google Images when I got home revealed its name quickly enough.  This is the American Carrion Beetle (Necrophila americana), a bug that deserves our eternal gratitude for keeping our woodland walks free from the stench of rotting carcasses.  Luckily, our beetle happened to be occupying a plant instead of a corpse when we saw it, so it wasn't unpleasant to move in close to capture a  clear photo.

We also found lots of mushrooms today, thanks to our soggy-so-far summer and the resultant saturated soils.  Of all the fungi we found, this little white one was the one that fascinated me the most.  It was tiny, tender, and translucent, with a silky-smooth cap, growing out of a damp rotting log.

But the most remarkable thing about this mushroom was this fluffy puff of fur at the base of its stalk.  Now, THAT should be a distinguishing feature, if there ever was one!  You'd think so, wouldn't you?  But I could not find a single species in any of my mushroom guides or on any mushroom website on-line that mentioned a puff of fur at the base of its stalk.  So my mushroom remains unnamed.  Unless a reader of this blog can put a name to it.  Anyone?

One more surprise awaited me on my way home.  I've been searching all over the county for a couple of roadside weeds that have not been documented to exist in Saratoga County, so I pulled into a parking area near Ballston Lake to walk a railroad bed, often a likely place to find roadside weeds.  Well, I didn't find either Horse Nettle or Musk Mallow, the two I was looking for.  But there in the dirt by the side of the road were these tiny purple flowers I had never seen before in my life. Luckily, I had my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide along, and that book's amazing key system led me right to the page where I found Sand Spurry (Spergularia rubra) -- a perfect match!

I know, I know, it's just an alien "waste place" weed, not some rare native treasure.  But I had never seen it before -- and you know I am always looking!  And really, isn't it pretty?  Plus, I added another flower to my life list.  Also, this plant is missing from the plant atlas for Saratoga County, so I gathered a specimen to press and submit to the New York Flora Association in the hopes it may eventually be vouchered for this county.

 Just one more unexpected surprise on a day I expected none.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Fungus Festival at Orra Phelps

Rain, rain, rain!  I can't remember a summer more rainy than this one has been so far. I'm wondering if it has discouraged some of the summer flowers from blooming, since I can't find many that I usually do.  But boy, the mushrooms are lovin' it!  Here's a partial array of the mushrooms and other fungi I found at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve  on just one visit yesterday.

The American Caesar (Amanita jacksonii)  is one of our most spectacular mushrooms, emerging like a scarlet egg from a snow-white cup and then opening into this blazing-red, yellow-rimmed cap.  Wow!

The Wooly Chanterelle (Gomphus floccosus) is almost as colorful, and what an unusual shape!

No other mushrooms shouts "ORANGE!" like these vivid Mycena leailana ones do.  And don't they look pretty, set off by those delicate green mosses?

What a cute little pixie cap this Lemon-yellow Waxcap (Hygrocybe flavascens) has!

Here are a couple more vivid yellow ones, as well a a pale gray one.  I don't know their species, but I sure love the way they look surrounded by Foamflower leaves and a few starry sprouts of Atrichum moss.

I don't know the species name for these big golden funnels, either. I just thought they were beautiful. They might be a Lactarius mushroom, but I didn't want to destroy them by cutting across their descending gills to see if they bled white or orange latex.

These stiff little cinnamon-brown fungi with zonal caps could be Coltricia cinnamomea with the delightful common name of Fairy Stools.  I liked how they were keeping company with some Yellowish Spindle fungi called Clavaria fumosa.

More of that Yellowish Spindle Coral.  It reminds me of seaweed waving with the current.

There were many clumps of Coral Fungus, and ponder the guides as I may, I can never be sure which species is which. Suffice it to say there were orangey corals  (probably a Ramaria species) . . .

. . . and also some yellowish ones (another Ramaria species).

And then there was one called False Coral (Tremellodendron pallidum), which is distinguished from the true corals by its blunt tips.

Here's one I just love the common name for:  Jelly Babies.  Their scientific name is Leotia lubrica.

These little yellow spoon-shaped fungi are called Earth Tongue (Microglossum rufum).

I don't know the name of this one.  It was truly tiny, just a bit more than an inch high and tucked into some moss at the base of a tree.  It looked so cute in there I did not want to take it out to determine its species by tearing it apart.  You simply can't be positively certain about a mushroom's identity from a single photo.  Well, maybe those Earth Tongues are distinctive enough, but most mushrooms require close examination of gills and stem and spores to attempt an identification.  You also need to know if it grew on wood or soil, and if wood, what kind of tree.  Plain white mushrooms like this one are especially problematic.  Some of them can kill you if you eat them.

I love the White Puffball (Lycoperdon candidum), covered with tiny sharp points that look like they've been applied by an icing tip.  When this fungus is ripe, that white crust cracks and falls away, revealing an interior that's the color of chocolate fudge.  Despite all those associations with yummy things, this puffball is not really edible.  Here's a fun fact about the genus Lycoperdon:  Lycos means "wolf," and perdon means "to break wind.'  Hence, the name literally means "wolf farts!"  Ha ha!  Well, have you ever pinched a ripe puffball and seen it fart out dark puffs of spores?

There were many boletes throughout the woods at Orra Phelps, but most were a boring tan color, not very photogenic.  Wish I'd seen this one before the slugs got to it and ate through that red velvet coating that covered its lemon-yellow flesh.  This was a big one, too.  About as big around as a dinner plate.

OK, this is not a fungus.  This is the flower of the wild onion called Ramps or Wild Leek (Allium tricoccum).  It's still in bud, but it won't look much different when the buds open.  Its leaves have already disappeared, and I wish the flowers would, soon, so no one could notice where they are growing and come back to poach them in the spring.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Week of Wanderings

One might assume, from my lack of posts this week, that I hadn't been out much.  But actually, just the opposite is true.  I've been out every day, all day, all over the county, coming home muddy, sweaty, bug-bitten, and too-pooped to post.  Of course, I took hundreds of photos.  Most I have tossed, but a few I kept, and just to keep up this blog, I will post a few favorites here.

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) doesn't get much respect, I'm afraid.  I often hear it referred to as "weedy," but when it comes to value for wildlife, I can't think of a better plant.  This is the bush that, thanks to its persistent fruits,  allows us to keep our robins and bluebirds around all winter.   And as for beauty, well. . .  I can't think of anything else to call these gorgeous red-velvet fruits than beautiful!  Can you?

I was up in the Glens Falls area when I took the sumac photo, having just met some friends for a walk though Cole's Woods.  Lots and lots of beautiful plants in that mid-city woods, including more blooming Pipsissewa than any of us had ever seen in our lives.  Hundreds and hundreds of them!  But what struck my eye enough to send me down on my knees trying to focus my camera?  I just can't resist the charm of Starflower (Lysimachia borealis) when it has gone to seed, with its tiny orbs held in the center of spiky stars on hair-fine stems.

After leaving Cole's Woods, I swung by the Betar Byway along the Hudson River in South Glens Falls, where I found Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) adding its sapphire gorgeousness to the kind of weedy "wasteplaces" most native-plant enthusiasts thumb their noses at.  But man, that vivid color just stops me dead in my tracks.  Sure, I was seeking some rare native plants,  but wow, just look at those royal-blue blossoms punctuated with hot-pink anthers!  Nope, not a native plant, but the bees and butterflies probing its blossoms didn't seem to care.

The bees and the butterflies were also all over these exploding flower bombs of the Buttonbush shrubs (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  A Painted Lady Butterfly kept landing on one just long enough for me to turn on my camera, but not long enough for me to capture its beauty in a photo.  Oh well, that spectacular Buttonbush orb is beauty enough for one shot.

These spherical clusters of lime-green fruits will eventually turn blue-black when the Carrionflower berries (Smilax herbacea) grow ripe.  Despite the revolting smell of its flowers (this is a very aptly named plant!), I have heard that the berries are edible.  Some day I will get up the nerve to try them.

This crab spider is not guarding berries, but rather the flower buds of Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum).  And come to think of it, the spider isn't guarding those flower buds, either, but rather is hoping its cryptic coloration will hide it from the visiting pollinators it hopes to snag for supper.  I don't know, though, how many pollinators will bother to visit unopened buds.  Maybe the spider is just resting.  Or enjoying the view from up there.  This flower stalk was about six feet tall.

Earlier in the week I had walked through the Skidmore Woods in Saratoga Springs.  My walk was mainly for exercise, since not many flowers are blooming in the dark shade of the woods these days. One exception was this patch of Large-bracted Tick-trefoil (Desmodium cuspidatum), growing at the edge of the woods where a bit more light could reach its leaves.

In a walk around Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, I came upon a rotting log on the forest floor that was absolutely paved with thousands of these itty bitty mushrooms.    These mushrooms are so tiny, it's hard to believe they can carry the weight of their lengthy scientific name: Xeromphalina campanella.  Wikipedia tells me that its genus name means "little dry navel" and that campanella means "bell-shaped," respectively describing the mature and young shapes of the caps.  Apparently, it has long orangeish hairs at its base, the reason this mushroom is commonly called Fuzzy-foot. (Darn! I wish I'd known that before, so I might have gotten a macro photo of its fuzzy foot.)

Just yesterday, I spent a lovely morning paddling the Hudson River at Moreau, moving slowly in and out of its tree-shaded bays and around rocky promontories, the still water reflecting its forested beauty.

I also paddled deep into a swamp, where acres of Pickerelweeds (Pontederia cordata) were lifting their spikes of purple flowers.

I'm not a big fan of Orange Day Lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), especially when I find a patch where they could spread and become invasive, supplanting the natives that normally grow there.  My first response when I found these on one of the quiet river bays was "Yikes!  Should I pull these out!"  But my second response was "Gosh, but they're pretty," especially when reflected in the still water.  I resolved that I will monitor this clump, and if it spreads, I will extirpate it.  They may be pretty, but I prefer the Cardinal Flower, Swamp Milkweed, Steeplebush, and Meadowsweet that make this same rocky shore their home.

Speaking of Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), this lovely Rose-family flower was just starting to burgeon along the river banks, arcing its graceful stems right over the water.

Ah, but here was the prize of my week-long flower quests!  This is our native Great St. Johnswort (Hypericum ascyron), with flowers so big, a single bloom would fill the palm of your hand.  This plant is classified as "Rare" in New York, and I had worried that it might be disappearing from the river island where I usually find it.  From my canoe on the water, I could see only one or two blooms, but when I got out and explored the shore on foot, I counted over 20 plants, most of them with buds that had yet to open.  What a wonderful find to crown this past week of flower adventures!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Lovely Lilies Along the Creek

 I was happy my friends in the Thursday Naturalists chose to walk in the Boice Family Park near Rock City Falls this week.  For one thing, this park offers pleasant wooded trails along the Kayaderosseras Creek, and for another, I wanted to check on the health of the Canada Lilies I knew might be flowering there.

As my last blog post related, the Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense) along Bog Meadow Trail just outside Saratoga are being devastated by the Scarlet Lily Beetle, whose larvae are consuming both leaves and flowers of most of the lilies I used to find there. So imagine my delight when we found lily after lily in glorious bloom at Boice Family Park.

This orange one seemed to glow like a lamp from within the dark shade of the woods.


We also found some in an orange so deep they were almost red.

And to complete the color options for this beautiful native wild lily, we also found a few in sunny yellow. And I am overjoyed to report, we did not find a Scarlet Lily Beetle larva on any of them.

Regarding the rest of the plants we found, the most common were Silky Dogwood shrubs, thickets of Stinging Nettles, and tangles of Black Bindweed.  But we were also treated to patches of Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) abloom with pretty yellow flowers dangling downward.

I had long puzzled over the "fringed" part of this Loosestrife's common name (or the "ciliata" part of its scientific name), but this is why it's so great to go walking with folks who know lots of stuff about plants that I don't.  Oh, said Ed Miller, just check the leaf petioles.  That's where you'll find the fringe (cilia) that's diagnostic for this species.  And there it was!

I'm sorry I didn't take more photos of other fascinating things we saw, but sometimes I just like to walk along enjoying the scene without halting my steps to try to focus my camera lens.  But I did draw to a halt when I saw these giant melon-sized spheres of the flowers of Great Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea).

I also couldn't resist taking a photo of these fuzzy Beaked Hazelnuts (Corylus cornuta).  In my usual haunts, I see many American Hazelnut shrubs (Corylus americana), but seldom a Beaked Hazelnut.

To demonstrate how the bedstraw Galium aparine got its common name of Cleavers, I had picked a prickly stem and stuck it to my shirt, where it clung as if Velcroed there for the remainder of our walk.  I forgot about it until we sat at a picnic table to eat our lunch.  Then I pulled the Cleavers stem from my shirt and laid it on the table, where I was surprised to find this tiny brown sac hanging from a fine thread.  Oh, I remember this!   Some years ago I had found something identical and had sent its photo to, and the amazing folks there had promptly informed me that this was the egg sac of the spider Theridiosoma gemmosum.  A very long name for a wee little spider!  And just imagine how tiny the wee little baby spiders are, inside that cleverly constructed egg sac. I was careful to return this plant stem to the grass, where the babies might find a safe haven when they emerge.

When I got home from our morning walk, I discovered a friend who lives in Ohio had posted a photo of Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) on Facebook.  That reminded me to go look for that magnificent shrub around Saratoga.  And find it, I did!  There are two small shrubs of it in a wooded section of Yaddo (the artists' retreat in Saratoga Springs), and a magnificent specimen of it along a creek at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton.  The Orra Phelps Nature Preserve is where I took this photo of its gorgeous flowers just opening into bloom.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Something Rotten in the State of Lilies

It's the Fourth of July, my nation's birthday, but also the time I go looking for Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense) with their flowers as bright as bombs-bursting-in-air.  So out to Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail I went yesterday, hoping to find some in bloom.  (The photo above was taken on the first week of July on another year.)

I usually find Canada Lilies almost as soon as I enter the trail from the Rte. 29 entrance, often with multiple blooms dangling in a carousel from tall stems.  But search as I did, I found only one plant, with only a single bloom at that, in the hundred yards or so I walked the trail.  And that one was not yet open.  Oh well, I thought, most flowers are blooming late this year, what with all the cool rainy weather we've had.

I continued on the trail, wondering why I wasn't seeing more plants with dangling buds.  And then I did see one.  But this one did not look right.  Chunks of the flower buds had been chewed off, and slimy, poop-colored blobs were clinging to the outsides.  Few leaves remained on the stalk.  Uh oh, this looks bad!

Bad news, indeed! I collected one of those slimy blobs, wiped off the icky crud, and discovered this creature, which a Google search revealed to be a lily-lover's worst nightmare, the larva of the Scarlet Lily Beetle (Lilioceris lilii) , a very destructive pest.

Here's a photo of the adult, which I found on Google, where I also learned that this destructive pest, indigenous to Europe and Asia, was first seen in Massachusetts  in 1992 and by 2012 had spread to all New England states as well as New York.

The larvae are the first visible signs of infestation, as they consume first the leaves of the lily and then the buds, covering themselves with their own excrement as protection from the weather as well as predators.  Unfortunately, these beetles have no natural predators or parasites native to the U.S., but there has been some success in reducing beetle populations with the use of biological controls, including the introduction of European species of parasitizing wasps.

I doubt very much, though, that those parasitoids have been released at Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.  So I suppose this means the Canada Lily population there will soon decline.  So sad!  Well, I wasn't feeling all that sanguine about the state of my nation on this Independence Day, either.  Unhappily, this seems like an all-too-symbolic find on the Fourth of July.