Welcome to Summer!

With the extended daylight that the summer solstice brings, it offers the best opportunity of the year to get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Want to observe the solstice from the comfort of your home?  Then sit back and enjoy a full day celebration online by checking out the virtual summer solstice celebration that Harvard Museums of Science and Culture will conduct today.  Or, if you prefer to add some history and culture to your viewing experience, you could alternatively watch the summer solstice live from Stonehenge; you can view that on Facebook.

Observe nature at a local preserve.  Listen to the calls and songs of birds in your backyard.  Go fishing.  Forage for some wild edibles.  Take a tour of any of the area bike trails.

ripe Highbush Blueberry fruit

Ripened Highbush Blueberry fruit

To celebrate and enjoy all those hours of daylight, we all should consider the opportunity to observe nature in a variety of sunlit settings: dawn, mid-day and twilight. Each will offer unique lighting (great for photography) as well as contrasting opportunities to view wildlife.

With the likelihood of the continued relaxing of social distancing and other safety protocols associated with the global pandemic, there may be additional in-person gatherings and events conducted by more and more hosts as summer 2021 unfolds.  Please be sure to check in with any organization or community that previously offered outdoor events of interest to you.

Happy trails!

A pair of yellow blooms now on display

While continuing my wildflower inventory of the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve (located in the Town of Clifton Park) today, I came across this pair of yellow bloomers in aquatic habitat:

Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris)
Common Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris ssp. macrorhiza)

However, there is an easy way for you to get a “closeup view” of both while keeping your feet dry. Take along a pair of binoculars to the preserve and then take the short walk straight over the Whipple Bridge and continue straight ahead on the crushed stone pathway.

This particular segment of trail is actually part of two different trail systems: (1) a portion of the Bird Watching Trail at Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve, but also (2) a portion of the Community Connector Trail (note the yellow traffic signs). (FYI: You’re now walking along the approximate mid-point of the Community Connector Trail, which runs for nearly 9 miles from the Lock 7 Overlook in Clifton Park to Route 9 in Halfmoon.)

When you reach the intersection of this crushed stone pathway with the Bird House Trail (a mowed grass pathway on your right), look closely at the open area of shallow water adjoining the stone pathway on your left. You should first see the taller Swamp Candles. Then continue another 100-150 feet and look for small yellow flowers that appear to levitate just above the water’s surface – those are Common Bladderwort. Try to view the submerged bladders beneath the yellow blooms of Common Bladderwort – some interesting plant architecture awaits your visual discovery!

Read more about Swamp Candles. Read more about Common Bladderwort.

Happy viewing!

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week?  (June week 3)

This week, I’m featuring New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

PLEASE NOTE:  Culturally Significant Plant = Ethnobotanic Uses:  Tribes of the Missouri River region used the leaves for tea and the roots for fuel on buffalo hunting trips when fuel wood was scarce.  Read more.

The roots of this small shrub are reddish, and another common name for the plant is Red Root.  New Jersey Tea can be used in making a light green dye from the flowers, red dye from the roots, and the rest of the plant yields a cinnamon red dye.

Identification Tips:

This shrubby perennial grows up to 3¼’ tall with multiple stems that are erect to ascending.  The lower stems are persistently woody with the upper herbaceous branches dying back annually.  Alternate (or sometimes opposite) leaves occur along the entire length of each stem.  Leaves are up to 3″ long and 2″ across; they are ovate in shape and their margins are smooth to finely serrated and slightly hairy (ciliate).  The upper leaf surface is pale-medium to dark green, and smooth to somewhat rough from minute stiff hairs.  The lower leaf surface is pale green and pubescent with hairs typically more abundant along the lower sides of the veins.  Each leaf has a prominent central vein and two primary lateral veins; the upper leaf surface is often wrinkled along these veins.  The petiole of each leaf is short, light green to light yellow, and pubescent.

The upper stems terminate in clusters (panicles) of flowers and other panicles of flowers also develop from the axils of upper leaves.  The peduncles (basal stalks) of these panicles are 2-8″ long, light green to light yellow, relatively stout, and pubescent.  Individual panicles are 2-5″ long and 2-3″ across; their lateral branches are up to 1½” long and widely spreading to ascending.  Each flower has a pleasant floral fragrance and is up to ¼” across, consisting of 5 white sepals and 5 white petals.  The sepals are triangular-ovate and folded inward, while the petals have long narrow bases and widened tips folded upward.

After blooming, the flowers are replaced by 3-lobed seed capsules up to ¼” across.  At maturity, these capsules become dark brown or black, and they split open to mechanically eject their seeds up to several feet.  Each capsule contains 3 seeds that are 2-3 mm. in length, brown to dark brown, glossy, and ovoid in shape.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

Leaves are collected and used to brew a tea whose flavor is very similar to the true tea brewed from the Asian tea tree (Camellia sinensis).  However, these leaves are devoid of caffeine.  After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, patriotic colonists devised a substitute for true tea called Liberty Tea, which is made from equal parts of Sweet Goldenrod, Betony, Red Clover, and New Jersey Tea.

Tea made from a plant or shrub (Ceanothus americanus) grown in Pearsontown about 20 miles from Portland, Maine, was served to a circle of ladies and gentlemen in Newbury Port, who pronounced it nearly, if not quite, its equal in flavor to genuine Bohea tea. So important a Discovery claims, especially at this Crisis, the Attention of every Friend of America. If we have the Plant nothing is wanting but the Process of curing it, to have Tea of our own Manufacture. If a Receipt cannot be obtained, Gentlemen of Curiosity and Chymical Skill would render their Country eminent Service, if by Experiments they would investigate the best method of preparing it for use.

– Boston Gazette, November 21st, 1768 –

The Menominee Indians used a decoction of the root for coughs.  A staple of American folk medicine for many years, Red Root is used to treat a wide variety of ailments including high blood pressure and lymph system problems.  Alkaloids from the root have been demonstrated to exert a mild effect in lowering blood pressure.

Wildlife Value:

The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract a variety of insects.  Floral visitors include Halictid bees, Andrenid bees, plasterer bees, metallic green sweat bees, bumblebees, small resin bees, Lasioglossum sweat bees, Sphecid wasps, Vespid wasps, Syrphid flies, thick-headed flies, Tachinid flies, flesh flies (Sarcophaga spp.), and Muscid flies.  Hairstreak butterflies (Satyrium spp.), Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius), Northern Broken Dash (Wallengrenia egeremet), and Hoary Edge (Achalarus lyciades) all feed on nectar from this plant.

The larvae of several moths and butterflies rely on New Jersey Tea as their host plant, including the Broad-lined Erastria (Erastria coloraria) (which, sadly, is deemed critically imperiled or imperiled in New York), Red-fronted Emerald (Nemoria rubrifrontaria), Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia), Mottled Duskywing (Erynnis martialis), and Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus).

The foliage and stems are readily consumed by Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) and White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) are known to eat the seeds.

Where Found Locally:

 

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

This week, I’m featuring Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

The Foxglove portion of this plant’s common name comes from the Anglo-Saxon name for foxglove plants, Foxes Glofa, because the bloom resembles the glove of a fox.  However, the similar resemblance of this plant’s flowers to those of true foxgloves (of the genus Digitalis) is the only characteristic it has in common with them; Penstemon digitalis is not poisonous.

The other portion of this plant’s common name (Beardtongue) is because the sterile stamen in each flower is covered in small hairs.

Identification Tips:

Prior to developing its flowers, this perennial plant consists of one or more rosettes of basal leaves that are clustered together.  Leaves are medium green and somewhat shiny, sometimes with reddish tints.  They are variable in shape, but tend to be ovate, obovate, or broadly lanceolate, and are up to 6″ long and 2½” wide.  Leaf margins are usually smooth.  One or more flowering stalks emerge from the clustered rosettes during the spring, which are about 3′ tall.  In the fall, the plants exhibit crimson-colored leaves.

Fall color of Foxglove Beardtongue

The white flowers occur in a panicle at the top of each flowering stem, and bloom during late spring or early summer for about a month.  Blooms are tubular in shape and about 1″ long, with the corolla divided into a lower lip with 3 lobes and and an upper lip with 2 lobes.  Sometimes there are fine lines of dark pink or violet within the corolla, which function as nectar guides to visiting insects. There is no floral scent.  The entire plant is hairless, except on the outer surface of the flowers.

Each Foxglove Beardtongue flower is bisexual, but, in practice, it is actually sequentially unisexual.  The flowers first become staminate (male), developing pollen on their anthers; when the stamens decline, the small pistilate (female) flowers mature and the sticky stigma of each curves down from the roof of the flower tube ready to receive pollen.  Individual plants or individual flowers on any given plant exhibit different phases of sexual sequencing at once to help ensure that some flowers are offering pollen while others are ready to receive pollination.

A flower in the staminate phase drops pollen on a bee’s hairy body as the insect jostles the anthers in seeking nectar from the base of the flower tube.  In doing so, some of the pollen adheres to the bee’s back, which is a difficult place for the bee to reach when it combs itself to deposit the pollen upon its return to the hive.

The pollen on the bee’s back, however, most likely will not find its way back to the hive because it will likely be rubbed off when the bee visits another Foxglove Beardtongue flower tube in search of nectar.  That’s because the pistil of a female-phase flower will partially block the bee’s entrance into that particular flower tube causing the bee to brush past the sticky stigma near the top of the flower tube and deposit at least some of the pollen adhering to its back.  The plant’s sequential sex change is called protandry and this process helps ensure cross-pollination.

The flowering stalk eventually turns dark brown, developing numerous oval seed capsules, each containing numerous seeds. These seeds are gray, finely pitted, and irregularly angled. Fruit is a teardrop-shaped capsule containing numerous brown, angled seeds.

Foxglove Beardtongue seedpods

Folklore:

This plant is said to symbolize courage.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

No reported uses for food.

American Indians deemed Foxglove Beardtongue an important medicinal plant.  They treated toothaches by chewing the root pulp of this plant and then placing it in the cavity.  They also used this plant to prevent inflammation and to accelerate healing of open wounds.

Wildlife Value:

The tubular flowers of this plant are an early summer favorite and often attract long-tongued bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, Anthophorid bees, Miner bees, Mason bees (e.g., Bufflehead Mason Bee (Osmia bucephala) and Beardtongue Mason (Osmia distincta)), and large leaf-cutting bees for both pollen and nectar.  To a lesser extent, Halictid bees, Sphinx moths, hummingbird moths, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) may visit the flowers, but they are not effective pollinators.  The caterpillars of the Chalcedony Midget Moth (Elaphria chalcedonia) and the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryes phaeton) feed on the foliage of this and other beardtongues.

Where Found Locally:

 

Self-guided Hike to ID Invasive Plants Now Available

Through the end of June, I invite you to visit the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve located in the Town of Clifton Park.  A self-guided hike identifying invasive plants awaits your exploration.

How does it work?

First, download a self-guided hike packet onto your mobile device.  You can access the packet by either scanning the QR code shown below or using this link.

Summer Plant ID-invasive species-self-guided hike-Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve

Recognizing Invasive Species Amongst All the Greenery-self-guided hike

Go to your destination.  Open the self-guided hike packet on your mobile device, scroll to page 2 and view the designated route on the trail map or follow the description of the route below the map.

Along the designated route, you will find pink flagging ribbon tied on plants; each flag has a number on it.  Drawing from your own knowledge or the info you learned regarding the 15 species from my “Recognizing Invasive Species Amongst All the Greenery” online presentation last night, name the mystery plant before you.  Lastly, scroll to page 3 of the self-guided hike packet and press the number that matches the one on the pink flag to reveal what it is.

Recognizing Invasive Species Amongst All the Greenery-self-guided hike-index

Repeat for each numbered pink flag you discover along your way.

For example:

20210605_142512-sample

Upon a closer look, you see five numbered flags above.

The flag on the far right has a “9” on it.

Scrolling to the index of the self-guided hike packet, you then press 9 to confirm what you’ve identified this plant to be.  Then press Return to Index (upper right corner of each plant page) to go back to the index and then press the number corresponding to each of the other four flags shown above to confirm what you’ve identified each of the other plants to be.

What is each?

All will be revealed when you take the self-guided hike!  Have fun and happy trails!

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

This week, I’m featuring Great Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

With impressive stature, leaves that can reach two feet wide and large umbrella-like flower clusters, this species has an imposing presence.   Another common name of Angelica atropurpurea is Purple-Stemmed Angelica.

Identification Tips:

Great Angelica is a perennial plant that grows 3-8′ tall with sparse branching.  The large hollow stems are pale purple to dark purple with alternate compound leaves along them, primarily along the lower-half of each plant.  The compound leaves are ½-2′ long, ½-2′ across, and widest at their bases.  Each compound leaf has 3-5 leaflets per division.  Leaflets are ¾-4½” long and ½-2½” across, more or less oval in shape with serrated margins and some are shallowly to deeply cleft into lobes.  Upper surface of the leaflets is medium to dark green, while the lower surface is pale or whitish green; both surfaces are smooth.  The leaflets are either sessile or they have short petioles and they often have winged extensions at their bases.  Stem branches are long, stout, and conspicuously sheathed at their bases; sheaths are green to light purple to dark purple and smooth.

The plant has white to greenish flowers in umbrella-like umbels.  One umbel may have as many as 40 branches and be up to 8 inches across.  The upper stems terminate in one or more compound umbels of flowers spanning 3-9″ across; they are globe-like in shape.  Sometimes the stem (peduncle) of a compound umbel will branch and terminate in another compound umbel.  Each compound umbel has 15-40 floral branches (rays) that terminate in small umbellets.  Each umbellet has numerous greenish white to pale yellow flowers on individual flower stems (pedicels) about ½” in length.  Each flower is up to ¼” across, consisting of 5 petals.

Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by dry seed-like fruits (consisting of double achenes).  The fruits are between ¼ – 1/3 inch in length, oblong ovoid in shape, and slightly flattened with 3 longitudinal ridges on each side.  Immature fruits are greenish yellow, turning brown at maturity.

Folklore:

The aromatic root of angelica has widespread use as a purification herb among the Native American cultures.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

Caution!  All members of this genus contain furocoumarins, which increase skin sensitivity to sunlight and may cause phytophotodermatitis.

The leaves, stalks and seeds are edible with a liquorice-like flavor; stalks contain the strongest flavor.  Use stems in salads and leaves in soups, stews, and teas.  Young stalks and young shoots can be consumed cooked or raw, but should be peeled.  A tea can be made from the leaves or seeds.

Early American settlers prepared a gourmet confection prepared by sugaring the boiled stems.

American Indians used a decoction of the plant as a general tonic to treat anemia, colic, flatulence, gout, indigestion, and respiratory and urinary disorders.  Herbalists have used the root, which was official in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1860, as an aromatic, tonic, stimulant, carminative (relieves flatulence), diuretic (increases the flow of urine) and diaphoretic (causing perspiration).

Wildlife Value:

Great Angelica flowers attract Syrphid flies, bee flies, and Andrenid bees.  These visitors are attracted primarily to the nectar of the flowers.  Great Angelica serves as the host plant for caterpillars of Umbellifer Borer Moth (Papaipema insulidens), Cow Parsnip Borer Moth (Papaipema harrisii), Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes asterius), and Short-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio brevicauda).

Where Found Locally:

 

Blackberries now in bloom

Common Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)

This is a good time to scope out where you’ll be foraging for ripened berries beginning in August. Also a good time to research and find some fun recipes to enjoy your harvest.

Please join me for my Foraging for Wild Edibles: Blackberries online presentation on August 9 beginning at 7pm. For logon details, please see the Events page.

Happy trails!

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

This week, I’m featuring Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

Nanny goats apparently feed on the ripe berries (reportedly more so than billy goats), hence the common name.

Identification Tips:

One of the larger viburnums, often growing up to 20 feet tall, Nannyberry is most often a multi-stemmed shrub with slender, erect-arching branches that appear as a somewhat open crown at maturity.  Bark of the trunk or older lower branches is rough, somewhat scaly, and reddish gray to gray.  Smaller branches and twigs are gray, light brown, or light purple; they are smooth with scattered lenticels (air pores).  Young shoots are light green and smooth.  Pairs of opposite deciduous leaves occur along the young shoots and twigs.  Each is 2-4″ long and 1-2″ across, ovate in shape and serrated along its margins.  The leaf bases are rounded to broadly wedge-shaped, while the leaf tips taper abruptly, becoming long and slender.  The upper leaf surface is smooth and yellowish green, medium green, or dark green, while the lower leaf surface is pale green and smooth to sparsely hairy.  The stems (petioles) of the leaves are ½–¾” long, light green (sometimes tinted red or yellow), narrowly or irregularly winged, and smooth to hairy.  When hairs are present, they are rust-colored or brown.

Dome-shaped clusters of flowers about 2-5″ across occur at the tips of young shoots.  Each fragrant flower is about ¼” across with 5 white oval-shaped spreading lobes.

Nannyberry

Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by fleshy fruits (drupes) that become mature in late summer or autumn.  At this time, the stems of the flower clusters turn red.  Mature drupes are 3/8” long, ovoid in shape, and dark blue-violet.  Each drupe contains a single hard seed that is flattened-ovoid in shape and dark-colored.

Ripe fruit of Nannyberry

The deciduous leaves of Nannyberry become orange, maroon, or dark red during autumn.

Nannyberry

Weather-resistant fruit clusters, distinctive terminal leaf buds, and opposite branching all combine to aid in this shrub’s winter identification.

Photo Credit: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org
Creative Commons License licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

The fruit of Nannyberry is pulpy, sweet, and pleasant tasting (similar to a date), but with a thick skin and a single large seed.  Of the fruit, Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “The Viburnum lentago fruit is quite sweet and reminds me of dates in their somewhat mealy pulp. It has large, flat black seeds, somewhat like watermelon seeds but no so long.”

For helpful tips on how to identify and forage for this wild edible, please view my compilation of information.  For some recipe suggestions, please view my prior post.

The bark and leaves were used by American Indians in the preparation of herbal medicines.  An infusion of the bark was used an antispasmodic.  An infusion of the leaves has been used in the treatment of measles and painful urination (dysuria).

Wildlife Value:

The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract honeybees, short-tongued Andrenid bees, Halictid bees, mining bees, Syrphid flies, dance flies (Empis spp.), Muscid flies, and miscellaneous beetles.  Nannyberry is a host plant for Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon).

The fruits of Nannyberry are eaten by many birds, including the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus), Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), and Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus).

A variety of mammals also use the twigs, leaves or fruit of viburnums as sources of food.  They include Beaver (Castor canadensis), Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus), Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus), Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus), and White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

Where Found Locally:

For a colorful and fragrant stroll…

now would be a good time to visit Fox Preserve, located in the Town of Colonie, or Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve, located in the Town of Clifton Park. At this time, both destinations feature Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) in bloom with their very fragrant four-petaled flowers in white –

Dame’s Rocket (white)

or pink –

Dame’s Rocket (pink)

If you visit Fox Preserve, you’ll want to slowly walk along the Orange Trail as these blooming beauties will often frame both sides of this walking path along portions of its route.

Looking NNW’ly along Orange Trail through blooming
(white and pink) Dame’s Rocket in late May-early June

If you visit Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve, you’ll want to park at the main parking lot at the intersection of Riverview Road and Van Vranken Road. Walk over the Whipple Bridge and continue straight on the crushed stone path (which is part of the Community Connector Trail) until this path makes a 90-degree turn to the left, then continue straight once again, now on the Forts Ferry Loop Trail (which is a dirt path with white trail markers). Stay on this trail, which makes a rectangular loop, ending about 100 feet or so from the spot where you began this trail. Turn left and return to the parking lot along the Community Connector Trail (crushed stone surface).

Whichever destination you choose, breathe deeply and enjoy the wonderful floral fragrance.

Happy trails!

Endangered Species Day

Today is Endangered Species Day.  Every year on the third Friday in May, people around the world participate in Endangered Species Day by celebrating, learning about, and taking action to protect threatened and endangered species.

Why are species at risk?  While there are a number of causes, the principal reason contributing to the decrease in species diversity and especially the rapid decline of some individual species is habitat loss.

To get a quick visual perspective of this, which has occurred during our lifetime, view 5 Human Activities You Can See from Space.

Given the ongoing global pandemic, organizers are suggesting alternative ways that you can celebrate Endangered Species Day.

A few days ago, I posted about the ‘Pollinator Party’ activity of Endangered Species Day.  The following photos are native species in bloom that provide food to pollinators – the real focus of today’s ‘party.’  Each of these are considered exploitably vulnerable.

American Bittersweet (AKA Climbing Bittersweet) (Calustrus scandens)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Canada Lily (Lilium canadense)

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Common Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Early Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum)

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

Pink Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)

Fruit of Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra)

Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)

Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Wake Robin (purple form) (Trillium erectum)

Wake Robin (white form) (Trillium erectum)

Wake Robin (yellow/green form) (Trillium erectum)

Fruit of White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)

While each is at risk, there remains reasonable optimism that none of them will become threatened or endangered, provided we each do our part to help ensure their continuing existence.

How?

Source:  https://www.endangered.org/assets/uploads/2013/07/plantbookmarks.pdf