Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gone for a walk...

Early Summer Wildflowers

I usually figure there's a lull in wildflowers that starts in late May and lasts through to July. I'm sure a lot of this has to do with deer overbrowse, and all of the plants I'm not seeing bloom. Nevertheless, the logic runs like this: in the spring, many of the woodland floor plants receive their greatest amount of sun, before the canopy leafs out. They bloom during or shortly after this period of greatest light availability. This is a truism for spring ephemerals, but presumably also pertains to the next generation of woodlanders: bellwort, showy orchis, violets, violet wood sorrel...

The meadow plants, on the other hand, are in less of a "hurry" and tend to bloom later in the season -- sun availability being fairly constant. Many make their decisions about how many flowers to produce based on the bounty of the current season -- certainly the case for asters and ironweeds and heleniums and the like -- and not the case for hepaticas or bloodroots, woodlanders which bloom (or not) based on the banked root-food of prior seasons.

At any rate, there seems to be a quiet time, as the woodlanders diminish in blooming species but before the heavy-hitters of the meadow commence. This in-between time is punctuated by some great standouts (black cohosh always comes to mind, as does purple milkweed), but the rate of blooming seems surely less to me.

Today I took a short walk seeking out some of the "in-betweeners". Many were plants with fealty to specific niches, perhaps areas of low competition -- there were several interesting species in the mossy, acidic, somewhat droughty open oak woods near the pond. Here I shall begin, with...



Vaccinium stamineum, known as deerberry though it is unclear to me why, its relatives at least (other Vacciniums, Lyonia, etc.) being among the less-favored browse plants in our local flora. Differentiated from blueberries and huckleberries by the open flaring bell-shaped flower. Otherwise looking quite generically heath-y, leaves slightly fuzzy, stems not unlike black huckleberry...



Hypoxis hirsuta, yellow stargrass, I never understood the "hirsuta" until I took this macro photograph and saw the hairs on the leaf-blades. The plant is only about 6" tall, maybe 8", so I guess I never got down there real close before.


Hieracium venosum, this photo and following. Rattlesnake weed, one of Rachel's favorite "underdog" plants along with miterwort and anything pin-headed (like Eleocharis). The foliage is pretty much all basal, so this plant's niche is in extremely dry woods where the barren soils reduce competition. Often found among chestnut oaks, but only in more open woods.








I meandered down towards the skunk cabbage past the end of the pond. I presume the whole pond was once a skunk-cabbage filled low swamp along a stream. I imagine that cinnamon and royal ferns lived there too, maybe some blue-flag iris or marsh marigold too (this was the olden days, after all), or at least some black ash... there's a similar swampy oxbow downstream with the Osmundas and Fraxinus nigra in full regalia still.

I was headed there to check the spring cress for mature seeds (not ready yet), and among the green siliques saw this Stellaria longifolia, which has all kinds of common-name mismash but I think of as a longleaf chickweed - the "native" chickweed.




I cut up through the sliver of old woods that divided pond from fields a century ago, to where the double-trunked linden stands. One trunk fell last winter, but lower branches of that trunk are surviving on a sliver of Xylem still raggedly attached to the stump. So, I got a close-up of this (soon-to-flower?) linden, leafy bracts fully formed.





Many yellow flowers about now... the rattlesnake weed, king devil hawkweed, cinquefoil, the last of golden ragworts... and this Cynthia (Krigia biflora). Ever notice the cool gray-green of their foliage and stems, succulent but want, almost orchid-like? Very pretty, with a dandelion-like flower but in a deeper, more orange hue.



For a few years I just saw this plant as a basal rosette, looking vaguely like a less finely-rendered wild yam root. I think it was my "mystery plant" of 2008 or 2009. Finally I broke down and asked a botanist I had the privilege of working with for a few days. "Carrion flower" he said... Smilax herbacea. An herbaceous, vining greenbriar. I guess the deer nailed it too often and it was a while before I found my own individuals in flower. Of course, this one was blooming beautifully just fifty paces from my front door, that's how it seems to go with plants.




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