22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a matter of a few hours, I expect that I will look a lot like this Galapagos Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) looks in this photograph, taken on our recent trip.

Happy Thanksgiving!

11 November 2012

Adirondack Foray, Part I

For the past couple of years, Bruce Behan has been trying to get me to join him on a trip to upstate New York to check out the flora in his old stomping grounds just south of the Canadian border.  Luckily, our timing finally worked out this year and I was able to join Bruce three days of botanizing in the Adirondacks in early June.  Our trip started on an interesting note, with a slow leak in the front passenger side tire of the rental car, caused by a screw, as it turns out, before we had even left South Bend.  After getting the tire patched, we were four hours behind schedule, but the next 13 hours of our trip to Blue Mountain Lake were smooth sailing until we were just 25 miles from our cabin and the car started shaking.  Upon stopping, we found that the same tire had gone flat.  No cell phone service, no light, it began to drizzle, and we were changing a tire at just before midnight.  The next morning we were able to find a service station in Tupper Lake, New York that found that we'd run over a nail that punctured the tire just inches from the spot that was patched less than 24 hours previously.  This second tire patching led to another half-day delay, but by the time the tire was patched things were looking up, as the steady rain had slowed to a sprinkle and we were on our way to Silver Lake Bog.

Silver Lake Bog
At the 98-acre Silver Lake Bog Preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy, we were able to take in Beech-Hemlock Mesic Forest, Northern White Cedar Swamp, Pine Bluff overlooking Silver Lake, and the namesake of the preserve, Black Spruce-Tamarack Bog.  The mesic forest had an understory heavily dominated by ferns and boreal herbaceous species, whereas Sphagnum mosses and species with an affinity to wet, low pH conditions covered the bog.  A few of the plants we saw included Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum), Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum), Small Pussytoes (Antennaria howellii ssp. petaloidea), Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), Drooping Woodland Sedge (Carex arctata), Fibrousroot Sedge (Carex communis), Nodding Sedge (Carex gynandra), Boreal Bog Sedge (Carex magellanica ssp. irrigua), Bluebead (Clintonia borealis), Yellow Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida), Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule), Intermediate Woodfern (Dryopteris intermedia), Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), Western Oakfern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris), Catberry (Ilex mucronata), Tamarack (Larix laricina), Stiff Clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum), Tree Groundpine (Lycopodium dendroideum), Pennsylvania Clubmoss (Lycopodium hickeyi), Threeleaf False Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum trifolium), Black Spruce (Picea mariana), Oldpasture Bluegrass (Poa saltuensis), Bog Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum), Dwarf Red Blackberry (Rubus pubescens), White Goldenrod (Solidago bicolor), New York Fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis), Heartleaf Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), Red Trillium (Trillium erectum), and Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum). We also noted Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), Veery (Catharus fuscescens), Nashville Warbler (Oreothlypis ruficapilla), Northern Parula (Setophaga americana), Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens), Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens), Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), and White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), nearly all by song as our eyes were on the vegetation.

Equisetum sylvaticum
Woodland Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) was common in the Northern White Cedar Swamp understory.  This member of the prehistoric genus Equisetum is one of those plants that just gives you the feel of a boreal community.  Although not showy in the sense of flowering plants, an understory full of the branched branches radiating in whorls around the stems gives a lacy appearance that is beautiful and intriguing in its own right.  Woodland Horsetail grows in moist soils in open woods, shrubby areas, and meadows.  It has a circumpolar distribution; in North America it can be found throughout Canada and into the northern parts of the United States (but particularly in the northern Great Lakes and New England states).

Linnaea borealis
Also in the Northern White Cedar Swamp and along the boardwalk through the bog we encountered Twinflower (Linnaea borealis), a dwarf shrub with paired pink trumpet-shaped flowers.  This is another species that is more common to the north and that reaches its southern limits in the northern United States with the exception of higher elevation areas in the western part of the country, where the altitide provides a climate similar to that in Canada and the northwoods and allows its distribution to push further south.  Also circumpolar in distribution, this species is found in forests and boggy swamps, and it is no wonder after seeing the cute groundcover why Carl Linnaeus named this as his favorite plant species.

Spring Pond Bog
The following morning we travelled to Franklin County, New York and visited what was expected to be the highlight of the trip, Spring Pond Bog, another Nature Conservancy Property.  We started our hike in Mixed Mesic Forest and walked along an Esker before entering the enormous 500-acre Patterned Peatland.  Some of the more characteristic plants that we saw at this preserve include Striped Maple, Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia var. glaucophylla), Northern Shorthusk (Brachyelytrum aristosum), Fibrousroot Sedge, Coastal Sedge (Carex exilis), Nerveless Woodland Sedge (Carex leptonervia), Boreal Bog Sedge, Threeseeded Sedge (Carex trisperma), Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), Threeleaf Goldthread (Coptis trifolia), Bunchberry Dogwood (Cornus canadensis), Intermediate Woodfern, New York Fern, Tussock Cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum var. spissum), Harlequin Blueglag (Iris versicolor), Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia), Tamarack, Threeleaf False Lily of the Valley, Black Spruce, Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus), Bog Labrador Tea, Starflower (Trientalis borealis), Painted Trillium, and two varieties of Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium var. angustifolium and V. angustifolium var. nigrum). Birds of interest included a cooperative Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis), Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis), Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum), Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum), Ovenbird, and Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca).  As you will see below, we were not disappointed, as Spring Pond Bog produced what turned out to arguably be the highlight of the trip.

Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea
Another of the characteristic species within the Patterned Peatland community was the carnivorous plant Purple Pitcherplant (Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea).  Purple Pitcherplant is a regular part of plant communities such as bogs, fens, peatlands, and swamps, and I don't think I've ever seen it at a site and not taken a photo of it.  Try as I might, I was soon on hands and knees with my camera out to shoot this charismatic species.  Purple Pitcherplant is known from much of Canada and the eastern half of the United States.

Vaccinium oxycoccos
If you aren't familiar with the plant in the photograph above, you may be surprised to find that the fruit that develops when the flower matures is quite tasty and tart and known as Small Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos).  This small and easily overlooked plant was common nestled amongst the Sphagnum mosses in the Patterned Peatland at Spring Pond Bog.  It is often mistaken for the similar Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), which is the cranberry that is cultivated for commercial use.  Small Cranberry has smaller fruits, leaves that are strongly rolled down along the margins (revolute) and thickly white underneath, and a tiny pair of reddish bracts that are usually attached below the middle of the flower stalk.  Large Cranberry, on the other hand, has larger fruits, leaves that are slightly rolled down along the margins and pale beneath, and a pair of small green bracts above the middle of the flower stalks.  In addition, flowers of Small Cranberry appear to be at the tips of the plants , whereas those of Large Cranberry are on stalks from the middle of the plant .  Small Cranberry grows in bogs, fens, muskegs, and in tundra.  It has a mostly circumboreal distribution, except that it is not known from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.  Its range extends south into the northern parts of the United States, continuing to southern extents at high elevations along the Cascades and the Appalachians.

Carex oligosperma
If asked to name a sedge that occurs in bogs, my first response would be Fewseed Sedge (Carex oligosperma), so we were not surprised to find that this species was common in boggy areas at Spring Pond Bog.  Fewseed Sedge spreads by underground stems known as rhizomes, allowing it to form mats of vegetation.  This method of vegetative reproduction means that the plant puts most of its energy into its underground growth, so it doesn't flower and produce fruit as often as species that don't spread by rhizomes.  Since it often doesn't have flowers or fruit, it is easily overlooked.  In addition to bogs, Fewseed Sedge can be found in poor fens, marshes, and in openings in swamps through much of Canada, around the Great Lakes, and in the New England States; there is also a disjunct population in North Carolina.

Carex pauciflora
A less common sedge with a similar geographical range to that of Fewseed Sedge and that grows in similar plant communities is Fewflower Sedge (Carex pauciflora).  Finding this plant was the highlight of the trip for about an hour, until as you will see below its status was usurped.  Fewflower Sedge is often a small-stature sedge that is easily overlooked.  The mature perigynia are easily dislodged, and they can stick in animal fur or botanist socks, allowing them to be spread by a means not normally used by sedges.

Platanthera blephariglottis var. blephariglottis
As we were botanizing the Patterned Peatland we began seeing orchid leaves that we suspected belonged to White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis var. blephariglottis), but since this is generally a summer bloomer we didn't expect to see it in flower.  Because of the warm spring, however, we were able to find a few plants on 5 June on which a couple of flowers had opened, and sure enough it was White Fringed Orchid.  This beautiful orchid (don't judge it on my photo!) is known from the New England states and several adjacent Canadian provinces south and west to Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan; there is also a disjunct population recorded in central Illinois.  It grows in bogs and peaty meadows, as well as in pine savannas.

Okay, you've waited patiently, so now the trip highlight.  While gingerly walking through Sphagnum and sedges, I was lucky enough to glance down at the right time and to somehow distinguish the greenish-red lips of blooming Southern Twayblade (Listera australis) from the greenish-red sphagnum that was so abundant in the Patterned Peatland at Spring Pond Bog.  Bruce probably thought I'd been shot with how fast I dropped to the ground to see this 20 cm tall gem.  Upon getting down to its level, we were able to find several more individuals forming a small population. 

Listera australis
You may be thinking... "I thought Scott and Bruce were in New York and were seeing species with boreal distributions... what is this 'Southern' Twayblade all about?"  As its common name suggests, Southern Twayblade is mostly a species of the southern United States, found from Texas and Oklahoma to Florida (with a disjunct plant, one plant, found in Missouri recently by one Justin Thomas).  The scattered distribution of the species then continues north along the Atlantic coast, with a few county records as far north in the United States as Vermont; it is also known from a few Canadian provinces.  Southern Twayblade grows in bogs, marshes, and moist forests and can easily be overlooked.  In fact, the best that we've been able to tell, our observation of this small population represents a first record for Franklin County.  In addition, the species is considered endangered in New York, adding to the excitement of finding it.

Listera australis flower close-up, showing the long lip
The similar Heartleaf Twayblade (Listera cordata) is much more widespread and is found in similar habitats.  The lip on the flowers of Heartleaf Twayblade is smaller than that of Southern Twayblade, and the flowers overall are larger than those of Southern Twayblade.  We spent probably an hour photographing Southern Twayblade and taking measurements to justify our identification, as well as taking notes on the population so that we could report it to the appropriate individuals.

Stay tuned for Adirondack Foray, Part II, which will cover the end of our second day as well as our third day of botanizing in the Empire State.