New content – another destination to explore!

Panoramic view looking SE’ly (right) to NW’ly (left) from west end of parking lot

I have added more content to this blog, namely a page entitled “Swatling Falls Nature Trails,” that features information and photos about another destination located in the Town of Halfmoon. This destination has also been added to the Area Nature Preserves, Parks and Trails page.

Please check it out.

Hope you find the information helpful.

Happy trails!

Harvest hazelnuts now

Hankering for a taste of fresh hazelnuts?

Now is the time to forage for our native species of hazelnuts; both American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) and Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). And, with the return of sunshine for more than a few hours, yesterday and today, it is an especially good time to head out in search of them. I did so yesterday.

American Hazelnut (Corylus americana)

For helpful tips on foraging and processing these tasty nuts, please view “Hazelnuts,” which can be found on the Foraging for Wild Edibles webpage of this blog. That info packet contains lots of information, including a variety of recipes on how to enjoy your harvest.

For addtional recipes, please view my prior post.

While you’re out and about, always take time to enjoy whatever is in bloom in the vicinity of what you’re harvesting. I found these growing next to a hazelnut thicket during my outing.

Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum)

Happy foraging!

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (Sept week 1)

This week, I’m featuring Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

PLEASE NOTE:  New York Protected Status:  Exploitably Vulnerable = Native plants likely to become threatened in the near future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges within the State if causal factors continue unchecked.  Fragmentation of remaining habitat, contamination of the gene pool, and wild harvesting present ongoing threats to this species.

Chelone (Χελώνη) – meaning “turtle” in Greek – was a mythological mountain nymph whose mischief or late arrival at Zeus’ wedding caused the nymph to be cursed making her carry her house with her wherever she went (as a tortoise).  The distinctive shape of this flower is reflected in the genus name as well as in its common name.

Identification Tips:

This perennial plant is about 2-3′ tall and unbranched or sparingly branched.  The central stem is smooth and square.  Each pair of opposite, coarsely-toothed, lance-shaped, dark green leaves rotates 90° from the position of the pair of leaves immediately below.  The leaves are 3-6” long, hairless, and finely serrated along their margins.  At their bases, the leaves either have no stems or they have petioles that are less than ¼” in length.

The central stem terminates in a dense spike of white flowers about 3-6″ in length, blooming from the bottom to the top.  Each flower is about 1¼” long, consisting of a 2-lipped white tubular corolla that is somewhat flattened at the mouth, where it is more wide than tall.  The upper lip of the corolla functions as a protective hood, while the lower lip has 2-3 shallow lobes and functions as a landing pad for visiting insects.  The lower interior of the corolla has abundant white hairs.  There is no noticeable floral scent.

Photo credit: (c) Wayne Longbottom, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC).

Each flower is replaced by a papery ovoid seed capsule that turns darker shades of brown when the seeds approach maturity.  Each seed capsule contains several seeds that are flattened and broadly winged; these seeds can be blown about by the wind and likely float on water.

Following the dispersion of its seeds, the plant stem with empty seed capsules persists into the winter, aiding its identification.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

There are no known uses of Turtlehead for food.

American Indians used this plant for a variety of ailments.  The Cherokee used an infusion of blooms for wounds, as a laxative, and to treat fevers; they also used it as a dietary aid to increase the appetite.  The Iroquois used a decoction of roots as a liver aid.  Other groups used the plant to prevent pregnancy.  The green, mashed plant juice was also applied to skin sores.

Traditional herbalists create a tonic from this plant that is claimed to be beneficial for indigestion, constipation, and stimulating the appetite.  It is also an anthelmintic (de-wormer) and a salve from the leaves may relieve itching and inflammation.

Wildlife Value:

Turtlehead provides a valuable late season source of nectar.  That nectar is consumed by long-tongued bumblebees, which have the size and strength to force open the tops of the flower to reach the nectar inside; Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) and Half-black Bumble Bee (Bombus vagans) are reported to be the most common visitors.  View a brief video of bumblebees visiting these unique blooms.

Sometimes the nectar of these unique flowers also attract the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).

Turtlehead is the primary host plant and larval food source for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton).  When Turtlehead is not available, females will alternatively lay eggs on the introduced species English Plantain (Plantago lanceolate).  Turtlehead also serves as the larval host of Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia).

Butterfly conservationist, Pat Durkin (founder of the Baltimore Checkerspot Restoration Project of Maryland and co-founder of the Washington Area Butterfly Club), explains the life cycle of the Baltimore Checkerspot and its interdependence upon this plant:

“The butterfly has only one brood each year, which flies for only three weeks from mid-June to early July. The females lay their eggs at that time on turtlehead leaves. The caterpillars hatch a few days later and spin communal webs on the plant, usually embracing several leaves. When they consume those leaves, they move onto others.

They eat, grow, and shed exoskeletons three times before frost. Shorter days and colder nights stimulate them to descend the plant, roll themselves into some duff beneath it, and convert the water in their bodies to an organic antifreeze so they don’t freeze. In late March, they become active again, returning to the plant for two more instars before turning into chrysalids later in the spring.  They emerge in June to start the cycle all over again.”


The leaves of Turtlehead contain the glycoside catalpol (and its precursor, aucubin), both of which deter a number of plant browsers from eating them because of their bitterness.

Where Found Locally:

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (August week 4)

This week, I’m featuring Flat-topped Goldentop (Euthamia graminifolia) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

Due to the similarity in its inflorescence, this plant was once considered a Goldenrod and another common name is Grass-leaved Goldenrod.  In 1818, Thomas Nuttall proposed Euthamia as a subspecies of Solidago, but in 1840 declared it as a distinct species.  This separation was largely based on morphological differences, such as the arrangement of the flower heads in the inflorescence and the presence of glands on the leaves.  Subsequently, DNA evidence further revealed that these genera are closely related, but should be separate.

Identification Tips:

This herbaceous perennial plant is 2-3½’ tall.  Stems are unbranched on the lower stem, but typically have few to many erect, leafy branches in the upper plant, creating a bushy crown.  The slender stems usually have lines of fine white hairs.

The alternate leaves are linear and have smooth margins.  The larger leaves have 3 conspicuous veins, although the smaller ones usually have only a single conspicuous vein.  They are up to 4″ long and 3/8″ across, or slightly wider.  Sometimes there are a few white hairs near the base of the leaves and along the central vein on the underside.

There are clusters of small composite flowers at the top of the plant and many of the upper side stems.  The clusters are about 1¼″ wide and have of 20 to 35 mostly stalkless flower heads.  Together they form a broad inflorescence up to 11″ wide that usually appears flat topped.

Flat-topped Goldentop

Each composite flower is yellow, consisting of about 21-35 disk florets and ray florets; it is only about 1/8″ across.  The color of the blossoms is a lighter canary yellow rather than the darker, more golden color of a true Goldenrod.  These compound flowers often bloom gradually, rather than simultaneously, with older flowers turning brown while younger flowers are still in the bud stage.  Sometimes there is a mild floral scent.

The tiny seed (~0.5 mm long) is a hard, pubescent, one-seeded, white nutlet.  The seed is attached to hair-like bristles (pappus).

Flat-topped Goldentop

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

Flat-topped Goldentop, and as with all Goldenrods, may be used in herbal teas (also called tisanes).

An infusion of the dried powdered herb can be used as an antiseptic.  A decoction of the root has been used in the treatment of chest pains and lung problems.  An infusion of the blossoms has been used in the treatment of some types of fevers.

Wildlife Value:

The small flowers attract many kinds of insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, and beetles.  Various wasps and a few beetle species, such as Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus) and Black Blister Beetle (Epicauta pensylvanica), seem to be especially attracted to the flowers.  The European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), and Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) are frequent visitors of the flower.

The seeds are eaten by the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) and Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) to a limited extent, while the foliage is occasionally consumed in limited amounts by the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) and White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

Where Found Locally:

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (August week 4)

This week, I’m featuring Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.


Beechdrops belong to a small group of parasitic plants in the Broomrape family (Orobanchaceae). All plants in this family attach to their host via haustoria, the portion of the parasitic plant’s root that penetrates the host’s tissue and draws nutrients from it. Because of this, most of the species within the Broomrape family, like the Beechdrop, lack an extensive lateral root system.   Instead, there is a swollen mass of short, bulky roots or one big swollen haustorial organ, called the terminal or primary haustoria (see photo below).


BEECHDROPS (EPIFAGUS VIRGINIANA),” Seashore to Forest Floor, October 23, 2016


Beechdrops are used to monitor forest health because of their dependence on their host and its sensitivity to its environment. The presence of American Beech is used to predict when Beechdrops will arrive in an area.  The lack of its presence is a sign that the health of a beech forest is declining.

Photo credit:

Identification Tips:

This herbaceous parasitic plant is 4-18″ tall.  Small plants are often unbranched, but large plants are branched with stiff ascending stems.  These stems are initially cream, tan, or purple-striped, but they turn brown with age.  The surface of each stem is mostly smooth, but sometimes it is slightly hairy.  The leaves are reduced to insignificant scales; they cling to the stem and are located underneath some of the flowers.

Along the length of the stems are alternate flowers; the lower stems have cleistogamous (self-fertile) flowers, while the upper stems have chasmogamous flowers that require pollination, but are often sterile.

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

The cleistogamous flowers are small and bud-like in shape, while the chasmogamous flowers have tubular corollas that are about 1/3″ in length, cream- and purple-colored, with 4 short lobes along its outer rim.  These flowers have no noticeable floral scent, but do produce nectar that attracts some insects, but pollination probably does not occur.  The self-fertilizing flowers on the lower stems produce small ovoid seed capsules (each ~¼”) containing abundant seeds.

The dried plant stem of Beechdrops will persist throughout the winter, aiding in its identification.


Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

American Indians brewed dried plants to make a bitter, pungent tea which they used to treat mouth sores, diarrhea, and dysentery.

Wildlife Value:

The chasmogamous flowers of Beechdrops are principally pollinated by Winter Ant (Prenolepis imparis), resulting in cross pollinated seeds.  These flowers may also be visited occasionally by long-tongued bees.

Where Found Locally:

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (August week 2)

This week, I’m featuring Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

Identification Tips:

Blue Curls is an annual herbaceous forb with opposite, narrowly elliptical bluish-green leaves, and square, erect, hairy stems that bear dainty yet distinctive bluish-purple blooms.  While generally ~6” tall, the plant may grow up to 2 feet.  The small, low plants are covered with tiny hairs with glands that make sticky, scented oil.

Individual flowers are ½ to ¾ inch long and half as wide, with five petals.  The lower petal is tongue-like and cupped while four upper petals are shorter, broadly rounded, and slightly pointed.  Upper petals are a uniform blue while the lower petal often has white shading with prominent dark spots, or occasionally the lower petal may be the same color as the other petals.  The long, curled stamens characterize this dainty little plant.  Each flower is short-lived, opening only in the morning and dropping petals and stamens by mid-day.  Any given plant may produce many flowers and will often continue to do so into autumn.

Photo credit: E.R. Miller,

The spotted lower petal provides a landing pad for insect pollinators, which then get dusted with pollen from the curving stamens.

Fruits are borne as a cluster of four tiny nutlets.

Photo credit:

In autumn, the plants display a vibrant red fall color.

Photo credit: Bettina Darveaux,

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

There are no known uses of this plant for food or medicine.

Wildlife Value:

Some botanists believe that blue is the high end of evolutionary progression of floral coloring (begins with green, then white and yellow, then reds, and finally bright blue).  Blue attracts bees best, which are among the most highly evolved of the insects.  Short-tongued bees, including Halictid bees, Lasioglossum sweat bees, and Small Carpenter Bees, are particularly attracted to Blue Curls in search of nectar.

Although plentiful, the seeds are too small to be of much food value to birds.

Where Found Locally:

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (August week 1)

This week, I’m featuring Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

Identification Tips:

View a brief video that summarizes its distinguishing features.

Buttonbush is a multi-stemmed shrub which typically grows 6-12’ tall.  The lower branches become woody and brown, while new growth is green or red.  Buttonbush is one of the last native shrubs to leaf-out in the spring.  The leaves are usually opposite, although sometimes they occur in whorls of 3.  They are up to 6″ long and 2½” across, ovate or ovate-oblong in shape, and have slender stems, smooth margins, and a glossy upper surface.

From 1-3 gumball- to golf ball-sized floral spheres occur on a flowering stalk that branches when more than a single flowerhead occurs.  Some of the upper branches may terminate with these flowerheads, or a flowering stalk may occur from the axils of the leaves.  Each flowerhead is comprised of many scented, creamy-white tubular flowers packed closely together.  Each flower head has about 200 individual flowers.  The long styles (slender stalks that join the stigma at its tip, which receives pollen produced by anthers, with the ovary at the bottom, which produces the seed) extend above the four anthers make it look like a pincushion.  Each flower has 4 small spreading lobes.  The long-lasting flowers are sweetly fragrant.

Photo credit: E.R. Miller,

Afterwards, the flowerheads are replaced by spherical masses of multiple tiny two-seeded nutlets that turn red and eventually dark brown at maturity that persist through the winter.

Photo credit:
Photo credit: Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

This shrub can form extensive colonies.

Photo credit:


The plant has a folk reputation for relieving malaria.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

WARNING:  Common buttonbush contains the bitter glycoside cephalothin, which is poisonous.  Ingestion of any part of the plant may cause vomiting, paralysis, and convulsions.

Native Americans used Buttonbush medicinally.  Decoctions of the bark were used as washes for sore eyes, antidiarrheal agents, anti-inflammation and rheumatism medications, skin astringents, headache and fever relievers, and venereal disease remedies. The bark was also chewed to relieve toothaches. Roots were used for muscle inflammation and as blood medicines.

A tea made from the bark is astringent, emetic (induces vomiting), and febrifuge (used to reduce fever).  A strong decoction has been used to treat diarrhea and dysentery, stomach complaints, and hemorrhages.  It has also been used as a wash for eye inflammations.  The leaves are astringent, diaphoretic (inducing perspiration), and diuretic (increases production of urine).  A tea has been used to check menstrual flow and to treat fevers, kidney stones, and pleurisy.  The inner bark has been chewed in the treatment of toothaches.

It is little used in modern herbalism.

Wildlife Value:

Photo credit:

The blossoms produce an abundance of nectar and pollen that attract bumblebees, cuckoo bees (Triepeolus spp.), Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan), Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), green metallic bees (Agapostemon spp.), honeybees, leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.), long-horned bees (Melissodes spp.), longhorn beetles, Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus), Syrphid flies, thick-headed flies (Conopidae), and various wasps.  In addition, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) sometimes visits the flowers for nectar.  This is the host plant for caterpillars of the Hydrangea Sphinx (Darapsa versicolor) and Titan Sphinx (Aellopos titan) moths.  No butterfly larvae are known to feed on Buttonbush.

Photo credit: Mary Keim,
Photo credit:

During fall migration, waterfowl eat the seeds of Buttonbush, including:  American Wigeon (Anas americana), Black Duck (Anas rubripes), Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), Gadwall (Anas streperus), Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola), and Wood Duck (Aix sponsa).  Other birds also feed on the seeds, including American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

Mammals usually avoid browsing on Buttonbush because it is bitter and poisonous.

Where Found Locally:

Participate in the Empire State Native Pollinator Survey

Photo Credits:
(top, left to right: Red-shouldered Pine Borer (Stictoleptura canadensis, Matthew D. Schlesinger), Azalea Sphinx Moth (Darapsa choerilus, Stephen Diehl and Vici Zaremba), Logo Artist: Anna Droege, Transverse flower fly (Eristalis transversa, Stephen Diehl and Vici Zaremba), Tri-colored Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius, Larry Master);
bottom, left to right: Alpine Meadow, Mount Skylight (Tim Howard), Open Peatland, Bloomingdale Bog (Matthew Schlesinger), Late-Successional Forest, Windfall Mountain (Tim Howard), Dunes, Sunken Meadow State Park (Andrea Chaloux), Barrens, Brookhaven State Park (Andrea Chaloux).

Are you a frequent visitor to New York State Parks? Often find yourself photographing butterflies, bees, or wildflowers (or, if not, would you)?

If “yes” to both questions, then the New York State Parks invite you to participate in the Empire State Native Pollinator Survey! They are seeking submission of photos of what pollinators you’ve observed; photo submissions are due by September 30. To learn more, please view their blog post. For more background info regarding the ESNPS, please read about this four-year study.

Have fun!

Today had a pinkish-purplish vibe

At long last the sun shone today…for more than a few hours. Huzzah!

With the sunshine beckoning me outdoors once again following a weeks-long-weather-related-delay, I continued my wildflower inventory along the Zim Smith Trail between Coons Crossing Road and the city of Mechanicville.

I happily found many blooms in a variety of colors, but as I ambled along, those of the pinkish and purplish hues seemed to be the most photogenic in the landscape on this day.

Here are some of my favorites that I spied along the route –


Green text = native species

Black text = naturalized species

Red text = invasive species

Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)
Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius)
Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens)
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum)
Rabbit-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense)
Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus)
Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca)
Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe ssp. micranthos)

Happy trails!

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (July week 4)

This week, I’m featuring Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

PLEASE NOTE:  New York Protected Status:  Exploitably Vulnerable = Native plants likely to become threatened in the near future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges within the State if causal factors continue unchecked.  Fragmentation of remaining habitat, contamination of the gene pool, and wild harvesting present ongoing threats to this species.

PLEASE NOTE:  Culturally Significant Plant = Ethnobotanic Uses:  The Iroquois had many medicinal uses for Cardinal Flower.  Read more.

This plant was introduced to Europe in the mid 1620’s where it earned its common name, likely because the bright red flowers – variously described as scarlet, crimson, or vermilion – are the same color as the vestments worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.

It is hard to describe the intensity of a Cardinal Flower bloom. It is as if the flowers catch sunlight inside some sort of secret crystal matrix and let it bounce around for a while until it has been stripped of all but the deepest, purest red imaginable. Then and only then is the light released to burn crimson into our corneas.

William Cullina, Growing and Propagating Wildflowers

Identification Tips:

Cardinal Flower is an herbaceous perennial plant that is usually unbranched and 2–3½’ tall.  Its central stem is light green and sparingly to densely hairy with alternate leaves, each up to 6″ long and 1½” across, but typically only about half that size.  The rough-textured leaves are lance-like in shape and coarsely serrated along their margins; they have a tendency to curl upward along their central veins.  The lower leaves have short stems while the upper ones have none.  The undersides of leaves usually have fine hairs.

The central stem terminates in a spike-like raceme of showy red flowers resembling flaming red spires.  This raceme is about ½–1½’ long.  The red corolla of each flower has a narrow tubular structure that is upright and terminates in grayish white reproductive organs; these organs nod downward.  Beneath this are two narrow lateral lobes and a prominent three-lobed velvety lower lip.  The flowers are held at an upward angle in relation to the stem; they are about 1–1½” long and ¾–1″ across.  Flowers open from the bottom of the raceme and progressively open upward over a period of several weeks.  There is no floral scent.

Photo credit:

Flowers are followed by round, 2-celled seed capsules that turn from light green to brown as the seeds mature.  The seeds are small, numerous, and cinnamon-brown in color, and they remain in the capsules until they finally sift out through small holes in the top.

The flowers produce round capsules which erode from the sides,
releasing their tiny brown seeds.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:


The Meskwaki believed the powder of the entire plant to have magical power capable of dispelling storms and was used as a tobacco in ceremonies for that purpose.  The Pawnee used the roots and flowers as part of a love potion.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

CAUTION!  All parts of this plant are toxic due to the presence of the alkaloid lobeline.

Despite this plant’s toxicity, American Indians used root tea as treatment for stomach aches, syphilis, typhoid, and worms.  Tea made from its leaves was used for colds, croup, nosebleeds, fevers, headaches, and rheumatism.  In addition, the Cherokee used a poultice of the crushed leaves for headache, and an infusion of the leaves for colds and fever.

Wildlife Value:

The nectar of the flowers attracts the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird and various Swallowtail butterflies (because their compound eyes can detect the color red), including Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes asterius) and Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus).  Halictid bees sometimes gather pollen, but they are ineffective at pollination.  The caterpillars of Pink-washed Looper Moth (Enigmogramma basigera) feed on the leaves.

Photo credit: Hank Davis,
Photo credit:

The seeds are too small to be of much interest to birds.  Mammals usually don’t browse on the leaves because of the unpalatable white latex sap that exudes from the damaged plant.

Where Found Locally: