Adamovic Nature Photography: Blog http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) Adamovic Nature Photography mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Tue, 10 Apr 2018 23:25:00 GMT Tue, 10 Apr 2018 23:25:00 GMT http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/img/s/v-5/u567456459-o648743377-50.jpg Adamovic Nature Photography: Blog http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog 111 120 Northern Monkshood—A Rare, Deadly Beauty http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/11/northern-monkshood Northern MonkshoodNorthern Monkshood

 

Various species of monkshood can be found vegetating in residential gardens, valued for their uncommon beauty. Their slender form, interesting flower morphology, and bountiful raceme of purplish-blue flowers, make this genus among the most spectacular of North American wildflowers. One species, however, which cannot be bought and planted—owing to its federally-threatened status—is northern monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense), the Northeast's only native species. Three widely disjunct populations exist. Two are located in the Mid-West (in Iowa and Wisconsin and another grouping in northeastern Ohio), while our Northeastern individuals are confined to the Catskill Mountains of New York. Few are those who have ever seen this species alive in the wild, especially in our region. Only a handful of documented sites exist and are either on private property or are in areas so rugged and remote that only experienced bushwhackers can access. Hopefully more populations are yet to be discovered. 

Northern monkshood is a glacial relict, a plant whose range has dramatically declined since the end of the last ice age. This species is now restricted to isolated pockets mimicking the cool, damp conditions that were once ubiquitous during, and shortly following, glaciation. The species grows on damp cliffs, among shaded seepage springs and talus slopes, and along wooded streamsides rich in mosses, ferns, and other shade tolerant plants. All sites have either year-round cool air or water flow and routinely both. Plants can grow in areas with very little soil and, like red columbine, are adept at colonizing rock crevices. Sometimes along streams plants sprout from rock ledges only inches from the waterline. Such precarious placement has been to the detriment of the species in recent years, as larger and more frequent storms have caused severe flooding which has scoured this rarity away. Increased deer browse from unchecked herds has also been leading to significant declines. 

While unlikely to be encountered by chance, this species is unmistakable when in bloom and can easily be seen on an opposite bank of a stream or brook even amid the darkened environs of a dense northern hardwood forest, its typical haunts. The flowers resemble the bowed heads of pious monks enrobed in medieval-style hoods, and stud the erect flower stalks that can rise to a height of 4 feet. But what really catches the eye is the color. Its enchanting amethyst or royal purple hues radiate from the monochromatic forest like glowing nuclear fuel rods or the faint, yet distinct ghostly displays of fungal foxfire. It's certainly one plant that's not easily overlooked.  

It's important to note that like a radioactive element or specter, it's best to keep your distance. Despite monkshood's charming physical attributes, it conceals qualities which aren't so attractive or as innocent as this species' common name suggests. All parts of the plant contain extremely potent toxins, which grievously affect the heart and nervous system. Ingesting even minute amounts can prove fatal within hours; absorption of the toxins via the skin can be equally problematic. Northern monkshood's European cousin, Aconitum napellus, has been used for millennia by a diverse audience, from trained assassins to farmers trying to rid themselves of troublesome animals like wolves—hence its other name, wolfsbane. While the toxins are most concentrated in the roots, there have been reports of sensitive individuals being affected by merely taking a whiff of the alluring, siren-like blossoms. 

Studies comparing the genetic make-up of northern monkshood to Columbian monkshood, a species native to the western U.S, have shown little genetic variation. As a result, some botanists lump the two species together. One thing is for certain, the Catskill population has likely been isolated for many thousands of years and deserves protection. A recovery plan devised by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1983 states: "Like the search for a rare bird, the search for northern monkshood is the pursuit of a special quarry for many outdoor enthusiasts and nature photographers. These people are enriched by its very presence as a rare, wild thing."

Northern Monkshood along Catskill BrookNorthern Monkshood along Catskill Brook

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) catskills northern monkshood wildflowers http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/11/northern-monkshood Sat, 25 Nov 2017 23:37:48 GMT
Parasitic Plants http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/11/parasitic-plants All plants, we are led to believe, are supposed to be sun-loving and infused with a robust quantity of chlorophyll. Self-sufficient and cloaked in a vigorous green that gives the forests and fields the majestic verdancy that we're accustomed to, it's hard to imagine a plant departing from this standard model and still residing in the plant kingdom. Yet, there is a curious group of plants that do just that. Lacking most attributes of their leafy brethren, they superficially resemble fungi more than anything else due to their parasitic ways. Since these individuals steal food rather than by making their own, they have no need for leaves or the the sugar producing and green pigmenting chlorophyll. Pallid and leafless features are therefore routine.

Bunches of Indian pipe, one of the most frequently encountered species, when first beginning to push their way up from the leaves of the forest understory from June to August look like the curled fingers of a body poking out of the soil. If the ghostly white flowers are plucked, they soon devolve into a gelatinous, jet-black mess. It's from these unsettling attributes that this plant has also been nicknamed the corpse flower. Fully erect and mature flowers are quite elegant, however; graced with fine scale-like leaves on the stem that stick out like the feathers of a peacock.

It's easy to see how this species received its more common moniker. And while these "pipes" are curved down towards the ground initially, successfully pollinated flowers eventually straighten out and point skyward as the seed pods develop. The dried out remains of blackened flowers are long lasting and frequently haunt the woods for some time, often remaining erect for a year or more in tight clusters. The withered remains of beechdrops, a parasite of beech trees as the name suggests, possess a similar, if not more prolonged durability. 

Indian Pipe DuskIndian Pipe Dusk

Indian pipe sustains itself by tapping into an underground network of thread-like roots of a mycorrhizal fungus, known as a mycelium, that is itself bound to the roots of a tree. The fungus and the tree have a mutualistic relationship, where each receives something from the other. The tree gets crucial nutrients, while its fungal partner is gifted with sugars produced by the autotroph. But unlike this beneficial arrangement, Indian pipe siphons away sugars and nutrients from the fungus—and indirectly the tree—without giving anything back in return. 

Native Americans believed Indian pipe to be a remedy for sore eyes. Referring to dried plants, an early American pharmacopoeia listed it as an "excellent substitute for opium."

Pinesap, a close relative of Indian pipe, obtains its resources in a near identical manner. It falls into the genus Hypopitys, which translates to "under the pines," giving an indication where this species is commonly encountered. But it's by no means restricted to areas beneath evergreens. I've seen populations thriving under oaks, closeby Indian pipes, without a pine in sight. Despite its exceedingly widespread range, which encompasses a majority of the North American continent, pinesap is rare to find. 

Unlike its ghostly cousin which produces only a single flower, pinesap boasts an infloresence of up to a dozen flowers haphazardly, even messily, clustered near the top of its stem that bear at least a modicum of color. There are two color morphs: pale golden yellow and light to vibrant red, which to some are considered distinct species. The yellow form appears to be more common and generally blossoms from June to early July; the red variety from late August to October.

Hairy PinesapHairy Pinesap

Perhaps one of the most ecologically important parasitic plants out there is the truly bizarre looking squawroot. Having an appearance of a pinecone or a half eaten, decaying corn cob, squawroot definitely wins no awards in the beauty department, but it does possess an important talent. Its contribution as a food source to hungry wildlife cannot be overstated. Up to 10% of a black bear's diet is made up of this plant. Being high in fiber, it plays an especially helpful role in the spring to bears recently awakened from hibernation by getting their sluggish intestinal tract running properly again. It's also a favorite of white-tailed deer, and may be foraged upon by mice, chipmunks, and squirrels. Seed dispersal is needless to say largely mammalian in nature, with seeds getting transported to new locales via the gut of these creatures. The abundance of squawroot is directly correlated with wildlife populations—as it also is with the presence of certain tree species.

Dispersed seeds need to find the right tree for successful germination. Squawroot is a parasite of oaks and the occasional beech and is more likely to be encountered in older forests. Plants have a lifespan of around a decade. For the first four years of its life an individual will remain below ground, developing a thick root that wraps itself around a host tree. Indian women, or "squaws," are said to have used the stalk and root of this plant to facilitate childbirth, induce menstrual bleeding, and alleviate the symptoms of menopause. 

Anyone passing through a grove of American beech trees from August to October should be on the look-out for the purple and white striped flowers of the beechdrops. This species is one of the most colorful and decorative of our root parasites. Numerous tubular flowers are borne along thin, wiry stalks. Each plant may issue multiple stalks emanating from a central root base, making the cluster in some cases resemble a small, leafless shrub. These plants, like many parasitic plants, steal nutrients—in this case from a beech tree—by inserting their haustoria, or modified roots, into the roots of a host. Beechdrops do little damage to trees even though they may severely wrap around and constrict a host's roots. The reason for this is simple: as annuals, beechdrops die at the conclusion of the growing season releasing the tree from its grip. Beechdrops are obvious among the forest understory, growing up to a foot and a half tall. While these grow wherever beech trees are present, they are especially prevalent in the northern half of the Northeast where beeches constitute a significant portion of the forest community.

BeechdropsBeechdrops

Numerous other parasitic plants abound. Some, like the various dodder and mistletoe species have severed their connection with the ground. The stringy and messy dodders can be seen draped over the tops of their hosts, looking as if someone tossed a heap of spaghetti carelessly about. After climbing up herbaceous vegetation or low shrubs in vine-like fashion and tapping into a plant's vascular system, its below ground roots disappear. The sickly-hued yellow-orange dodders then feverishly engulf all surrounding vegetation, indiscriminately spreading from plant to plant in areas of dense growth.

Dwarf mistletoe, on the other hand, perhaps the most harmful of the plant parasites, is bolted to the upper branches of evergreens. This species is particularly damaging to black spruce in the northern reaches of the region and may actually result in the death of infested trees. Before succumbing, trees often develop a structure known as a "witches broom," a lush and bushy patch of branches on an increasingly spindly looking tree. This is where the parasites can be found. Sugars and nutrients that normally flow uninterrupted throughout the entirety of the tree are selfishly redirected here by the mistletoe. Explosive seed pods can expel seeds upwards of 50 feet away. Landing in the branches of nearby trees, seeds withstand being shaken, blown, and washed away by being coated in a sticky and viscous material that literally glues them to their new host.

Even the revered orchids sometimes engage in parasitism. Those from the genus Corallorhiza, the coralroots, make a living similarly to Indian pipe and pinesap. The demure autumn coralroot which blends in among the newly fallen leaves is perhaps the best representative of a parasitic orchid. In contrast, the yellowish-green early coralroot, which blooms in spring, produces moderate quantities of chlorophyll and is known as a hemiparasite, as it both photosynthesizes and steals resources. 

Despite the negative connotation of parasites, these plants play a vital role in the health of an ecosystem. The most obvious and flower-like among them distribute resources to a broad array of creatures like a forest Robin Hood. The nectar of beechdrops, the protein-rich pollen of Indian pipes, and the starchy corn cob-like fruiting structures of squawroot provide insects and other wildlife with resources that would ordinarily become the leaves and woody tissue of trees, transforming an inaccessible food source into one readily available. All parasitic plants play their part, even when it comes to the insidious dwarf mistletoe. Forest gaps resulting from the die-off of black spruce and other evergreens by the parasite enable additional species to gain a foothold, while also allowing a new generation of trees to arise, so that the forest is comprised of individuals of all ages—the very the foundation of a healthy climax community.

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Mycoheterotroph http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/11/parasitic-plants Sat, 19 Nov 2016 21:45:07 GMT
Legacy Lost http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/6/legacy-lost

The first Europeans to arrive to eastern North America were greeted with what some have recently called the "Great American Forest." This mainly uninterrupted wall stretching from the Atlantic to the Great Plains was composed of trees of every shape and dimension, from tiny saplings and mid-sized individuals, that we're accustomed to seeing in our forests today, to truly titanic and venerable specimens, some of which seemed to be as ancient as the very earth itself. The lushness, fecundity, and diversity of the scene overwhelmed the senses to those coming from the exhausted and overly tilled countryside of the Old World. While looked upon as a verdant Eden by some, to many of the early settlers, this untamed land, beset with wild animals and Indians, and where even at noon, a perpetual twilight held sway underneath the dense and lofty canopy, was a fearsome wilderness that needed to be brought to heel and cultivated to satisfy their Christian ideals. 

Adrien van der Donck, an early resident of New York, was enraptured by every feature of his new home, from the native plants and wildlife, to the geology and even culture of its aboriginal inhabitants, documenting his experiences in his treatise, A Description of New Netherland. Despite his obvious love of the land, he quickly dismissed those who thought it prudent to make more liberal use of the forests, as he believed they contained "such an abundance of wood that it will never be wanting." He further mentions that it was a common exercise of settlers to construct huge bonfires of wood, just because the material was in their way. The cornucopia appeared to be endless and inexhaustible. And so the slaughter began. 

While later generations would prove to be less wasteful of natural resources as quantities did inevitably begin to dwindle, this didn't stop the razing of forests. Trees were cut for the production of boards and paper, with larger individuals, especially the exceedingly tall and lank white pines being used for ship masts; hemlocks were stripped of their tannin-rich bark for the leather industry; and a variety of trees were axed simply for use as firewood, hickory being especially prized.

Even the most ancient of trees weren't spared. Early reports document eastern forests being filled with grand and stately trees of dimensions most Americans have never seen and can scarcely visualize. The naturalist William Bartram in the late 1700's described encountering a grove of black oaks in Georgia, some of which "measured eight, nine, ten, and eleven feet diameter five feet above the ground." In the same area he encountered tulip trees and beeches that "were equally stately." White Pines in Maine and elsewhere attained heights of 200 feet of more. A grove in Pennsylvania supposedly had some that hit the 230 foot mark. And the mast producing chestnut trees prized by everyone for its tasty nuts occasionally reached diameters of a dozen feet in moist and rich soils of sheltered mountain hollows. Forests took on a cathedral-like atmosphere.

Additionally, the scents that emanated from the forests and meadows possessed a potency that surprised newly arrived explorers. A member of Henry Hudson's 1609 expedition sailing up the river that would later be named in his honor, described it thus: "The Lands they told us were as pleasant with Grasse and Flowers, and goodly Trees, as ever they had seene, and very sweet smells came from them." Over a century later the taxonimist Peter Kalm would report a "most odoriferous effluvia" wafting in from a flower filled river bank. 

Iona Island WildflowersIona Island WildflowersIona Island, Bear Mountain State Park. -Marsh mallow (pink), cardinal flower (red), and sneezeweed (yellow) Over the years, logging and the clearing of land for crops and pasture gradually reduced forest cover by as much as 80% in the Northeast. By the 1850's the damage was mostly complete. The elimination of forest and the ravenous killing of majestic apex predators, such as wolves, bears, and mountain lions, which were largely, if not wholly extirpated from the sunny and open confines of Henry David Thoreau's hometown of Concord, MA, made him lament the destruction wrought by his ancestors and contemporaries. He felt as though he was cheated and robbed. To him, such action was akin to desecrating a poem, in which his "ancestors have torn out many of the first leaves and grandest passages, and mutilated it in many places." As a result, his "wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth" was unable to be met.

Today around only one-half of one percent of original, untouched forest remains in the Northeast. These fragmented patches of old-growth forest are often located in inaccessible locations where it wasn't possible or worth the trouble to clear the land. New York holds the largest quantities of old-growth, the majority of it located in the Adirondack Preserve, followed behind by Maine, and then Pennsylvania. 

***

There is no single definition of what classifies as old-growth; opinions between ecologists and foresters differ wildly. While the former see old-growth as being defined as forests largely untouched since European arrival, composed of many trees which are normally hundreds of years old and reaching the end of their lives, some foresters classify old-growth as stands which are between a mere 80-120 years old. The reason for this is simple: many trees at this age begin to slow their growth, and shortly thereafter may develop features which are detrimental to the timber industry, such as heartwood rot and crown shrinkage. From an economic standpoint, these types of forests are typically of less value than those that have reached their "peak." But in ecological terms, forest growth comprised of declining giants is of more value. Older forests are stabler, contain significantly higher rates of biodiversity, and play more vital roles in the environment.

For our purposes here we will be going with the definition generally agreed upon by ecologists. The exact criteria used to determine whether a forest is truly worthy of old-growth status falls upon the following:

 

1. At least half of the trees making it to canopy height must be more than half the maximum age of the species. Also, at least a few trees nearing the maximum age are present.

2. Lack of human disturbance. -No stone walls are seen passing through the forest; trees have not been cut; nor any other significant alteration made.

3. Multilayered and uneven forest. -Discrete canopy, understory, and herbaceous layers. Trees of all different sizes and ages are present, from seedlings to towering giants. Canopy gaps exists.

4. Late successional or climax species species are dominant. These vary based on the region and are usually shade-tolerant. Hemlock, American beech, and sugar maple are but a few typical species found at lower elevations.

5. Understory is full of decaying trunks and limbs in various stages of decay. Pit and mound topography is also present—shows where uprooted trees have pulled up soil into conspicuous mounds. Woody debris and the uneven forest floor topography shows the forest has attained a great age.

6. Larger trees possess few limbs on lower trunk. -This is an indication that trees started their lives in a forest with a high canopy.

7.  Mosses, lichens, and fungi are prominent. -These organisms take a long time to develop and thrive in stable, long-lived ecosystems.

***

As the years dragged on, the serious adverse effects of logging on the landscape became more profound and unignorable. In New York's Adirondacks and surrounding mountain ranges, clear-cutting denuded entire mountains. Without roots and vegetation to hold down the soil, erosion washed tremendous amounts of sediment into surrounding streams that eventually funneled into the Hudson River. This waterway was of grand importance for commerce and travel. The influx of sediment decreased the depth of the river and aided in the proliferation of sand bars which posed serious problems for transportation. 

Erosion was far from the only problem. As the trees fell, the ubiquitous sponge-like moss that draped the forest floor withered and died with the increased sunlight and exposure. This moss, according to prominent Adirondack surveyor, Verplanck Colvin, was in spots knee deep on the sides of the mountains and held many times its weight in water. With its absence, innumerable streams ran dry. In summer, terrible droughts gripped the region and the passage on the Hudson was further impacted. But in early spring, as the weather warmed, the opposite occurred and massive flooding took place. Heavy winter snows exposed to direct sunlight quickly melted, streaming prolifically down the mountains and into the narrow valleys. Dense forest once shielded the snow and it melted gradually, with sheets of thick moss absorbing huge quantities of runoff, releasing it slowly in the warmer months. With the removal of these buffers all protection evaporated as quickly as the scant moisture now clinging to the denuded mountain slopes in summer.

Only when economics came into play, when property damage and loss of revenue increased dramatically, did any meaningful action take place. In 1885, after vehement outcries by the local populace, New York legislators devised and approved the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves to safeguard the watersheds of the Hudson. It ensured the protected land would remain "forever wild." Today, the Adirondack Forest Preserves consists of 2.6 million acres of state owned land, with the Catskill Forest Preserve boasting a smaller, yet still highly significant 286,000 acres. Logging is completely banned throughout both. Not even dead woody debris can be removed or destroyed within their bounds.

Right around the time these preserves were born, reforesting on a larger scale began to take place throughout the entire region. While the creation of parks and preserves assisted with this movement, natural societal shifts proved to be the main driving force. As the West opened up, farmers tired of their comparatively small plots of stony land in the glaciated Northeast, relished an opportunity to ply their trade in the flat and expansive plains of the vastly fertile Mid-West. Abandoned farms in little time reverted back to their original state. The countless stone walls the criss-cross many shady forest interiors are lingering reminders of the region's agricultural past. Logging companies, likewise, migrated away after depleting lumber supplies, finding significantly richer stores along the West Coast, where truly gargantuan trees, such as the imposing redwoods and sequoias, dominated the landscape. Despite rampant development and commercialization, there's more forested area throughout the region today than there was a century ago.

While total forest cover has rebounded quite significantly throughout the Northeast, irreparable harm has been done and continues to hamper our sylvan communities. The introduction of invasive species has seen to this. Exotic insects and fungi are the main pests responsible for the plummeting diversity that's presently being witnessed all across the country. 

 

Chestnut

One of the most devastating and heartbreaking losses is that of the American Chestnut. Once widespread throughout much of the eastern half of the country, and comprising as much as 25% of some forests (mainly in the Appalachian Mountains), this species is now largely absent thanks entirely to the Asian fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica. First documented infecting trees in New York City in 1904—the result of a contaminated shipment of Japanese chestnuts—within a few decades it spread by means of microscopic spores throughout the American chestnut's entire range, killing off an estimated 4 billion trees, or 99% of the population. The fungus kills infected trees by destroying the cambium layer, mainly by the production of toxic compounds that lowers the pH to levels that are deadly to cells. Over a period of approximately 2-4 years the fungus encircles the trunk, effectively girdling the tree. Tiny orange-brown patches on the outside of the bark, which eventually form into expansive cankers, indicate the fungus's presence.

Once lively forests quickly became skeletal versions of their former selves. The highly rot-resistant wood ensured their bare frames would remain to haunt the woods for years to come. After their disappearance other species claimed the chestnut's lost territory, dramatically reshaping forests. In the southern tier of the Northeast, Oak-Chestnut forests, dominated by these two genera, were most common, but eventually morphed into Oak-Hickory forests. The disappearance of this important mast-producing species, which each autumn covered the forests floors with copious quantities of large, meaty nuts left wildlife scrambling to find alternate sources of food. While the oaks and hickories both provide valuable nuts, they are neither as large, nor as reliable, as the chestnut. Acorn and hickory crops are erratic; some years they're plentiful, others nearly non-existent. Chestnuts, by comparison, consistently provided prolific bumper crops every year. 

These trees lived in a variety of habitats, but flourished especially well in rocky hills and mountains with thin soil, gaining a solid foothold and thriving where few other trees could. Average heights ranged from 60-80 feet, but often achieved far larger dimensions. In an open pasture in Sheffield, MA, one observer noted the presence of a tree with a 30 foot circumference. Such trees were greatly prized by farmers. The nuts were an economically important crop. And the wood, being relatively lightweight, resistant to decay, and straight-grained, was utilized in the construction of homes, furniture, and fence posts, among other uses. In the spring, cream-white flowers studded along numerous floppy catkins at the ends of branches, looked, from a distance, like fog or snow draped across the undulating landscape, the trees being present in such lush profusion. It was a vastly impressive sight. For all of these reasons, the American chestnut was declared to be "one of the most magnificent trees of our woods" by a nineteenth century author. 

Despite the chestnut blight toppling this tree as a canopy species, it has not been fully eliminated. They continue in some areas to live on as sickly shrubs of the understory. The fungus attacks above ground portions of the plant, yet leaves the roots alone. Chestnuts are capable of regenerating by root sprouts. Fortunate individuals will rise perhaps as many as 30 feet before the fungus once again topples them. The highest concentration of these resprouts I've encountered in the region is in Connecticut along the Appalachian Trail on the slopes of the craggy and boulder strewn Schaghticoke Mountain. Here, in certain areas, chestnuts still do constitute at least a quarter of the trees present. And a small fraction actually fruit, although the nuts produced are generally abortive and undersized.

While the loss of the chestnut is the most extreme example of the negative impacts wrought by invasive species to date, this could soon change. Hemlock and ash trees are facing the prospect of destruction to a similar degree. 

 

Hemlock

The eastern hemlock, finally recovering from its long exploitation by the leather industry throughout the 19th century, now faces an even graver threat than the axe. This time it comes from an insect whose destruction is far more encompassing and complete. The culprit is the hemlock woolly adelgid. This tiny, aphid-like insect, feeds on sap of young branches, stealing crucial starches that are necessary for the growth and maintenance of the tree. Fuzzy white egg sacs coat the underside of branches of infected trees. Typically within a period of 4-10 years, the trees, sucked dry, are unable to recover and die. The old adage, "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it" is most appropriate here. As with the chestnut blight, these pests arrived from Japan, first being detected in the eastern U.S. in Virginia during the early 1950's. Since then it has been creeping north and west by about 15 miles a year.

Currently, most infestations are limited to the southern half of the Northeast. Northern reaches of the region, as of yet, will be difficult to colonize, as the adelgid is cold intolerant. In the future, warmer and less severe winters driven by climate change may allow the pests access to the evergreen-rich north.

Some of the most ancient of our trees are hemlocks. This slow growing species can attain an age of 800 years or more. The oldest ever recorded was purportedly nearing its 1,000th birthday. Size can be deceptive when it comes to age. A 6 foot tree living in a shady understory might be as much as 60 years old. Rapid growth occurs when a canopy gap floods the lower levels with light. Until then, trees patiently wait for a fortuitous overhead disturbance. 

Hemlocks require damp and fertile soil. They are frequently located in dark ravines and north facing mountain slopes, where streams are present or moisture is prone to linger. Once a grove is established the unusually dense canopy ensures even less evaporation takes place. More moisture is also retained though the thick mats of moss which are apt to accrue in these conditions. Unlike the chestnut, hemlocks lack the ability to regenerate after being damaged. Due to lack of regeneration, their slow growth rate, and the fact that hemlock is a climax species that can only take hold later in the line of forest succession, hemlock forests take ages to recover. When they disappear they are likely to be replaced with forests of birches and oaks or those compromised of beech and sugar maple, depending on latitude. 

A widespread loss, similar to what we're now experiencing, did occur once before, beginning approximately 5,500 years ago. Based on pollen samples recovered from bottoms of bogs and other wetlands that have been stratified in distinct layers, it's possible to determine the species composition and abundance surrounding these areas during a specific time frame. The samples indicate a quick and catastrophic event all but eliminated these trees from the eastern U.S. Over the years, some have blamed this loss on disease, insect pests, changing climate, and various combinations of the three. Recent research shows that the larvae of the hemlock looper, a type of moth, was most likely responsible for the bulk of the damage. The larval inchworm stage feverishly devours hemlock needles, causing near total defoliation that can kill trees in as little as a year. These pests have also been described as "wasteful feeders," by their habit of taking only a bite or two of individual needles before moving onto the next. Large outbreaks periodically occur in localized areas that can result in the deaths of hundreds to thousands of trees.

It has been theorized that up until the great decline, hemlock loopers were absent in the east. Both an eastern and western variety exist: it's thought that loopers from the Pacific Northwest somehow managed to journey east. They arrived to a land peppered with hemlocks bearing almost no resistance. Not until 2,000 years later did populations begin to rebound, when the few survivors that did possess some level of defense slowly managed to repopulate the region. Hemlock concentrations still fall below what they were at before their precipitous decline. The lagging numbers have been attributed to climatic differences, most notably a shift to drier conditions.

It is likely our present problem with the adelgid will follow a similar course. Hemlocks will be reduced to fractions of their former numbers but will ultimately mount a resurgence. Too bad it will take millenia to accomplish. 

 

Ash

In 2002, the first recorded instance of the emerald ash borer—yet another invasive insect—was documented in the U.S. for the first time in Michigan. Since its discovery it has spread throughout a sizable swath of eastern and central North America. This Asian pest targets members of the genus Fraxinus. All native ash species are susceptible.

The emerald ash borer is a striking insect, boasting an iridescent, metallic green exoskeleton. Attractive adults cause only minor damage to ash trees by feeding on foliage. The grubby larvae, on the other hand, swarm throughout the inner bark, leaving behind serpentine galleries, or pathways, that disrupt water and nutrient transport. Eventually, the bark is girdled by these passages and the tree succumbs. Large individuals will die after 3-4 years on infestation; young trees in as little as a single year. 

Apart from peeling back the bark to look for larval galleries, D-shaped holes in the outer bark is a telltale sign that indicates the insect's presence. These holes are created as newly metamorphosed adults exit the tree. In areas with abundant woodpecker populations, infested trees can be seen at a distance stripped of their bark. These birds on their quest to locate their next meals fastidiously tear it off, sensing a cornucopia of wealth beneath. The entirety of the outer bark, from base to crown, is frequently stripped off, with significant piles seen littering the forest floor beneath the tree. This can make the forest appear significantly sicker than it actually is, especially in locations comprised primarily of ashes. Woodpeckers play a role in diminishing emerald ash borer concentrations, but only to a minor extent, as these insects are in too prodigious quantities to meaningfully combat. 

Certain regions, such as New England, will be minimally impacted, as ash trees generally make-up only around 1-2% of forests. New York's forests, by contrast, average roughly five times that amount. Certain western areas of the state possess much higher percentages, with ash comprising in some cases over a quarter of the tree population. In this respect, the loss of the various ash species will be felt as intensely as that of the once prevalent chestnut. 

It's been said that ash is second only to oak in terms of usefulness when it comes to trees of North America. Ash is a valuable lumber source, prized for its strength, hardness, and elasticity. Baseballs bats, tool handles, and a wide variety of furniture is made from its wood. Native Americans used and still use it to construct baskets. And to the Penobscot tribe, the ash is pivotal in their creation myth.

Ecologically speaking, ashes are important for their role in providing shelter and food for wildlife. Large diameter trees often form spacious trunk cavities when damaged. These are used as nesting sites by squirrels and various birds, most importantly woodpeckers, wood ducks, and owls. Seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals; foliage is browsed by deer; and bark is occasionally chewed by beaver and porcupine.

While the invasives just addressed are causing some of the most severe problems in our region, they are by no means the only to daunt us. The Asian longhorned beetle is another nasty exotic insect wreaking ecological harm, killing off scores of maples and other hardwoods. There's also the gypsy moth, white pine blister rust, and Dutch elm disease. While we work diligently to address these and other problems, new issues are always cropping up to bombard and overwhelm. Often it makes one question whether it's worth all the effort to attempt to correct these mistakes.

We can't let apathy take over, though. We're making real progress in certain instances. Biological control, or biocontrol, for short, is increasingly being used with promising results. This involves using armies of living organisms to wage the war for us. It has already been successful with diminishing the exotic purple loosestife in wetlands. We're now using tiny beetles that feed exclusively on the woolly adelgid to help save the hemlocks. In a similar vein, crossbreeding and genetic engineering techniques are now in play to help make the American chestnut blight resistant. As long as we continue to care about these plants we will find a way—if one exists. But, as the sagacious Erasmus once said: "Prevention is the best cure."


 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Invasives Native Plants http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/6/legacy-lost Fri, 01 Jul 2016 00:41:36 GMT
Legend of the Trailing Arbutus http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/5/legend-of-the-trailing-arbutus Trailing ArbutusTrailing Arbutus Long ago, in the remote interior of a trackless forest lived alone a man of great age. His long hanging hair was as white as the snow that thickly blanketed the ground around him; his face weather beaten and furrowed, a testament to a hard life of constant immersion in the unkind elements. He was clothed in arrays of thick animal furs of the most exquisite quality. His days were spent trudging across the frozen landscape searching for suitable fuel to feed the fire of his modest bark-plated lodge. Everywhere he journeyed bitter winds, deep snows, and frigid temperatures followed. 

One morning as he rose from bed ready to undertake his daily collection of fuel, he noticed his joints were unusually sore. This was cause for concern, for despite having been on this earth more years than a mature oak has leaves, he almost always enjoyed a pain free existence, numbed to a degree as one would be just before experiencing frost bite. Over the coming weeks, the pain became more excruciating until he could hardly move a dozen steps before collapsing in agony. No longer able to gather the necessary allotment of firewood to keep his lodge heated, he feared he would freeze to death. The howling winter winds which ceaselessly tore through the cracks in the rickety structure always ensured a rapid decline of the woodpile he labored so intently to acquire. As his pile dwindled and he threw the last log onto the fire, he uttered a prayer to the Great Spirit that he should not perish from the cold. 

In the evening when all that remained  in the hearth was a smoldering pile of glowing coals, there was a knock at the door followed by the entry of a maiden of incredible beauty. Extending from the top of her head to the bottom of her back were finely braided chestnut-brown tresses, adorned with colorful and exotic arrays of wildflowers. Her smiling face had beaming features as comely and welcoming as the spring sun. Each blushing cheek was burnished with the color of a fiery rose, and her gentle eyes were a delicate, fresh green, of a hue identical to that of newly awakened vernal forests. The material of her clothing consisted of sweet grasses and fragrant ferns. In place of traditional shoes, her feet were swaddled in a type of pouch-like orchid known as the pink lady's slipper. And wrapped around her wrists were bracelets fashioned from the pliable limbs of the fuzzy pussy willow.

After the old man looked over her unusual attire and finding himself curious of her story, invited her to join him by what remained of the fire. Introducing himself, he declared: "I am Manitou. When I shake my hair snow falls across the landscape; wherever I walk the harsh winds follow close behind, sending the animals scurrying into their holes; and when I blow my breath at rivers and lakes they become hard and stand still."

The young maiden responded, "When I breathe, warm air pours from my mouth—streams gleefully awaken, and frogs begin carousing. As I speak the birds utter their lively songs and fill the silent woods with joy. When I braid my hair the rains come and turn the lands a verdant green. And wherever I saunter across the hills, grasses and wildflowers jut from beneath the thawed earth. I, too, am Manitou."

As the two further discoursed the lodge gradually increased in temperature until their was no need for a flame, the result of the warmth issuing from the maiden's heated lungs. The old man, meanwhile, grew more relaxed as they continued to speak. By the time the lodge took on a spring-like atmosphere he had drifted into a deep and unshakable sleep.

The maiden then placed a hand over the old man's face. As she did this small streams of water began to flow from his mouth and he began to shrink in size until he gradually disappeared altogether. When all that remained was his robe of fine furs, she placed her hand over it, transforming this relic of winter into a heap of leathery, green leaves. Taking from her braided hair the most precious white flowers she possessed, she hid them among the leaf pile. Softly breathing into the new creation, she whispered, "I give you all my virtues and purity. Whoever shall wish to admire your beauty, inhale your scent, or pluck you from the earth, will do so on bended knee." From here she exited the lodge and proceeded to head north, the leaves opening on her approach, the birds singing her praises as she passed by. Everywhere she stopped, and nowhere else, the trailing arbutus grows.


 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Legends Spring Wildflowers http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/5/legend-of-the-trailing-arbutus Sun, 08 May 2016 23:02:53 GMT
Violets of New York http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/violets-of-new-york VioletsViolets

To check out my article in the April/May issue of the Conservationist, follow the link below:

http://www.dec.ny.gov/pubs/105674.html

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Violets Wildflowers http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/violets-of-new-york Fri, 29 Apr 2016 23:07:15 GMT
Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/3/trout-lily Trout LiliesTrout Lilies

From April until the early days of May arrays of trout lilies decorate the understory of rich, moist forests and along gravelly floodplains. While this common spring ephemeral often forms large colonies consisting of the hundreds or thousands of individuals, its waxy, mottled leaves and unique nodding blossoms endowed with a cheery sun-yellow hue are sure to delight whoever happens to encounter them during the first half of the spring season. Nothing is lost in the abundance. These elegant and graceful, almost sculpture-like flowers, greatly supersede the similarly colored weedy dandelion that's apt to rear up its unwanted head around the same time.

The yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum), aside from being "the earliest of the lilies" is also "one of the most pleasing," according to the naturalist John Burroughs. Along with its "most beautiful" physical appeal, it's also layered in a cloak of intrigue, with its many curious traits which aren't always readily understood. In this respect, he most emphatically voiced that the "botanist, or nature-lover, will find here a field for original research." 

While the anatomy and habits of the trout lily at times both perplexed and astounded Burroughs, the nomenclature of this species perhaps made him scratch his head the more. Up until the early days of the 20th century, this plant boasted a plethora of names, a few of which, really didn't fit the plant at all. "It is a pity that this graceful and abundant flower," Burroughs lamented, "has no good and appropriate common name." "Dog-tooth violet" and "adder's-tongue" were most frequently used. He put forth a flurry of theories as to why these names were bestowed. In terms of the dog-tooth violet appellation, he theorized that the color and shape of the unopened buds resembled canine teeth; yet the violet part puzzled him, as it "has not one feature of a violet." Others have suggested it's so-called due to the shape of the plant's corms. Adder's-tongue, he thought derived from the "spotted character of the leaf," because it vaguely resembles the patterns on the skin of some snakes. The wildflower expert, Neltje Blanchan, on the other hand, proposed that the name comes from the "sharp purplish point" of young plants as they first emerge above ground, clearly resembling a little serpentine tongue.

E. americanum has also been called lamb's-tongue, snakeroot, yellow snowdrop, yellow bells, yellow lily, among other similarly descriptive monikers. Burroughs propounded the name trout lily, and is generally credited with its now widespread use. In his book, Riverby, he concisely stated: "It blooms along the trout streams, and its leaf is as mottled as a trout's back." He was also fond of "fawn lily" too, once again in relation to the spotted nature of the leaves.

Trout lilies, like many other spring ephemerals, are able to produce blossoms so early in the spring season through use of the energy reserves stored in the root-like corms. Expansive, long-lived colonies often develop in areas of prime habitat. The average age of most colonies is about 150; some have been shown to be 1,300 years old. Though these plants often carpet the forest floor with their mottled leaves, don't expect to come across a sea of yellow flowers. It's been estimated than only 1% of plants will bloom. This is probably due to the fact that trout lilies rely more on vegetative propagation than they do by means of seeds. 

Trout Lily MacroTrout Lily Macro

Only older plants that have two leaves possess the capability to bloom. It generally takes between 4-7 years for these lilies to fully mature. Each year the corms grow slightly larger and creep downward through the soil. Digging some up for inspection, John Burroughs discovered that the corms of young plants were barely two inches deep, in contrast to the flowering individuals that had progressed to a depth of 8 inches.

Trout lilies are dimorphic when it comes to their pollen-bearing anthers. The more common variety has lemon-yellow anthers, while the variant, Erythronium var. rubrum bears a set that's red-brown. The latter type, according to Oliver Farwell, is additionally, "one third to one half larger in all its parts." He further mentions slight differences of the stigmas. "The smaller one," he notes, has "mostly entire stigmas," while the red-anthered variety's "stigma is usually three-lobed."

Compared to other spring ephemerals the blossoms of the trout lily are fairly demure, nodding towards the ground as if still drowsy from its long winter slumber beneath the chilled ground, rather than bursting with exuberance like hepatica, bloodroot, and spring beauty, that eagerly and unabashedly push their heads high to all the world. Though these plants boast a seemingly unenthusiastic demeanor, having its flowers point downward is actually a clever tactic that ensures higher rates of reproductive success. By facing down, each blossom acts as a miniature umbrella, keeping valuable pollen from being washed away during the frequent rainstorms that are apt to inundate the early spring landscape. And secondly, it prevents unwanted insects that play no role in pollination from stealing the precious nectar and pollen. "Crawling pilferers," Neltje Blanchan explains, "rarely think it worth the while to slip and slide up the smooth footstalk and risk a tumble where it curves to allow the flower to nod." 

Trout lilies are highly ecologically valuable. Colonies play a vital function with cutting down on erosion—masses of long, tangled roots, keep soil held in place, and the numerous leaves that dot the understory lessen the impact of falling water, by acting as a leafy shield. Plants are also excellent at absorbing and sequestering the important nutrient, phosphorus. In mid-summer when the plants go dormant, the withered leaves release this element back into the soil, essentially fertilizing it. And lastly, along with providing for insects, black bears also gain a meal from trout lily colonies by digging up and stuffing themselves with the starchy underground corms.

While wildlife such as bears relish the roots, this is one species not for human consumption. Medicinally, the corms have been used in years past as a powerful emetic (causes vomiting). Native Americans collected the corms to use as a poultice for ulcers, tumors, and skin inflammations, such as hives. The leaves were also brewed into a tea supposedly useful for treating hiccups. An 1828 medical botany text by Constantine Rafinesque says that "fresh roots and leaves" that are "stewed with milk and applied to... scrofulous sores [tuberculous infections of the neck]” will be quickly healed. While little, if seldom used, for any of these purposes now, it's good to know that if the need for such a remedy ever arises while out among the wilderness, it can easily be found quietly thriving among the understory of freshly greened forests.

Abundant and widespread, trout lilies inhabit the entire eastern half of the country, from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River, from southern Georgia to Canada. It's therefore not difficult in the least to come across one of these impressively beautiful and "dainty little lilies" imbued with a "faint fragrance that suggests a tulip." But, similarly to the other spring ephemeral wildflowers, trout lilies have fleeting lives so it's necessary not to delay a trip to the woods in the early spring. Come the height of summer not even the artful mottled leaves remain, the plants having gone entirely dormant until the following year. Robert Herrick reminds us of the importance of this in the first stanza of his well-known poem: 

 

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,

  Old Time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles to-day

  To-morrow will be dying.

 

Nodding Trout LiliesNodding Trout Lilies

 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Spring Trout Lily Wildflowers http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/3/trout-lily Mon, 07 Mar 2016 23:07:20 GMT
Bash Bish Falls http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/bash-bish-falls Icy Bash Bish FallsIcy Bash Bish Falls

Hugging the border of New York and Massachusetts lies a raging cataract sequestered in a steep and rugged, yet sublimely beautiful ravine. The unusual titled Bash Bish Falls is Massachusetts highest waterfall, rising to 60 feet. Located in the extreme southwest of the state, it's easy for residents of New York to make a day trip, many of which, despite its presence in New England, classify it as a natural landmark of the Hudson Valley. For as long as records have been kept (and actually much longer than that) people have made pilgrimages to this spot to seek out and bask in the mighty and awe-inducing power of nature.

There are conflicting reports of how this waterfall came to be named. Some say it's so-called due to a supposed Indian witch being executed at the spot, her name being Bash Bish. While the other, more believable explanation, derives, according to a 19th century author, "from an Indian onomatopoetic name," or in other words, garnering its name from the sound that falling water makes. In any case, it's certainly a unique name that most people are not likely to forget (with the exception of possibly reversing the order of the words).

Before the colonization of the continent by Europeans, Native Americans undoubtedly visited the falls regularly, as these sites were believed to be the sacred abodes of spirits, a place to commune with the other side. The only direct evidence that exists which attests to their reverence of the place is a Mohican legend, if it is indeed genuine and not something crafted during the 19th century by romantic-style writers. The sad tale tells of multiple deaths occurring at the waterfall by supernatural forces (the story is appended at the end).

When this sequestered spot become relatively accessible in the 1800's upon the introduction of the railroad, crowds of curious visitors would make the trip up from New York City to spend a day in the charming Taconic-Berkshire range. Numerous magazines and traveler's handbooks made mention of the area and, of course, the famous waterfall. "Bash-Bish... is one of the finest points of observation between New York and Montreal," the author of Health and Pleasure on "America's Greatest Railroad" stated in his passage of the falls, one of numerous natural features he detailed. The nearby station at the Copake Iron Works allowed passengers to disembark, walk up the winding road to the falls on foot, and be back in the metropolitan bustle of the city by nightfall. Despite the close proximity of the falls to the station, one guide book warned that "one requires a good foot, a strong hand, and a clear head" to those unaccustomed to the ruggedness of the area, which was significantly more extreme before the aid of modern roads and an improved trail system. 

Several publications also urged, or at the very least, described in vivid detail wild expeditions through parts of the upper ravine that park officials today would most likely discourage for safety concerns. One of the most sought after features was that of the "Eagle's Nest." This lofty viewpoint, a "blackened crag," towers "more than three hundred feet into the air" and "broods over the abyss." The journey up it was recorded as "perilous in the extreme" by one intrepid adventurer in the 1850's that also recalled that "scarce a foot-hold could be obtained, and we clung to the straggling plants in terror as we went." Despite the difficulty of reaching the spot, an unrivaled view emerged of the ravine and surrounding countryside. Standing on the edge of the precipice and looking down towards the falls, the people below resembled the miniature "Lilliputians of Gulliver's Travels."

"Profile Rock," a rock edifice resembling the face of a man, and the "Look-Off," another viewpoint of "high rocks on the south bank of the gorge," adjacent to the "Eagle's Nest" attracted additional visitors seeking an adventure. 

As excitement best describes the overhanging crags and ledges, so does beauty and "majestic loveliness" most aptly portray Bash Bish. Apart from the impressive height of the falls, what's really eye-catching about the scene is the titanic boulder that sits at the very edge of the cliff and diverts the flow of the raging brook. The water is divided as it tumbles over the edge, and then powerfully reunites into a single powerful stream again just before entering the swirling, emerald tinted plunge pool that "seethes and boils and bubbles like a great cauldron." Its elegance supersedes other waterfalls of the region.

And like the unusual gap in the brook caused by the island-like boulder, the narrow ravine briefly disappears below the falls, expanding into a spacious glen—a fortuitous feature that enhances the scene and allows nature's remarkable handiwork to be adequately viewed. Crowds can gather in the natural amphitheater to simply take in the view, to photograph, and in years past to paint, all while enjoying ample space to freely move about. The heavy mist that exudes from the falling water is refreshing on a hot summer's day as it's gently blown this way and that by the fragrant mountain breezes that sweep down the ravine, similarly to the cool flowing water of the foaming brook.

Bash Bish FallsBash Bish Falls

Over the years, many have compared the beguiling intensity of the spot to the forces of magic. These "fairy falls" and surrounding countryside, endowed with Elysian qualities, seemed too surreal to simply house common arrays of wildlife, such as squirrels and deer. Rather, fanciful imaginations populated the region with supernatural entities, from phantoms of Indian myth to "fairy queens" that lived in "elfin palaces beneath the earth" imagined by 19th century romantics.

Enraptured visitors were often at a loss of words. "I feel the paucity of description for delineating such scenery," one professor unabashedly admitted.  Another "longed for the language of a poet" in attempt to express his elated emotion. And yet others felt the scene was practically indescribable. Not content that the present words of the English language would do it justice, one adventurer wished that "someone would invent a new vocabulary" for the purpose.

And there were those who required no words to convey Bash Bish's grandeur. Painters flocked to the falls in substantial numbers throughout the 1800's. The Hudson River School artist John Frederick Kensett, produced perhaps the finest rendering in 1865. The painting shows a darkened glen, with summer storm clouds amassing overhead, adding yet another layer of wildness and intensity to the scene.

Other notable individuals who paid homage to Bash Bish consisted of the abolitionist and clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, along with the Transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and William Ellery Channing. "I would willingly make the journey once a month from New York to see it," Beecher wrote. While little documentation survives of Thoreau's visit, the prolific writer did make a brief mention of it in his work, A Yankee in Canada. This set of falls made an obvious impression on him; when he spoke of "interesting" waterfalls of the Northeast, he noted only two: Kaaterskill Falls and Bash Bish.

The entire area surrounding the ravine is ideal "as a botanical hunting ground." Numerous uncommon to rare plant species are scattered along the brook and throughout the nearby forests. The combination of shade, dampness, and a variety of soil types has resulted in the presence of rare mosses, orchids, and other flowers. The unusual conditions of the mountain slope provide key habitat for species which would otherwise be absent in the more typical forest regimes of the region.

Indian Moccasin WoodlandIndian Moccasin WoodlandIndian moccasin, aka pink lady's slipper Little rivulets which continually stream down the cliff-like slopes that encircle the plunge pool feed mats of plush mosses that densely coat the rock. On a typical day water drains off these mats like water streaming off the hair of someone just exiting the shower. One enterprising botanist had enough luck with finding rarities here that she wrote an article for inclusion in a botanical journal titled "Rare Mosses of Bashbish Falls." 

In May and June one traipsing through the "upper end of the gorge" may be fortunate enough to stumble upon small clusters of the wild blue clematis. This delicate flowering vine is often found in open light twisting around riparian trees or clinging to talus or rock ledges imbued with a hint of calcium. Orchids populate the shady forest interior, adding bursts of yellow, pink, and purple to the drab leaf litter of the understory. 

Before the introduction of a deadly exotic fungus in the early 1900's, impressive specimens of the American chestnut once graced the mountains here. "Chestnut formed a good percentage of the lower level growths and yearly yielded large crops until the disease made its appearance," Sereno Stetson wrote in the botanical publication, Torreya in 1913. "These beautiful trees," he continues, "two to three feet in diameter, are now decaying masses." While these mammoth and stately trees that provided tasty nuts to the area's people and wildlife alike no longer rise into the upper reaches of the canopy, traces of them can still be seen. Some roots from infected trees have survived, and it is not uncommon to see resprouts. However, as soon as they emerge above ground the fungus once again begins its insidious attack. Chestnut trees nowadays almost never achieve heights of more than 30 feet.

While a majority of visitors seek out the mountains of western Massachusetts to see this popular set of cascades, it's important not to be overtaken by tunnel vision and miss out on the rest of the scenery. An "endless variety of attractions" await those who do even the most minor of exploring of the area's eclectic environs. Just be mindful of the rugged terrain while doing so. Along with being one of the most beautiful waterfalls of the Northeast, it's also one of the most deadly. Over 25 deaths have been recorded around Bash Bish during the last 100 years. Let's not add another ghost to the already crowded bunch. Although, I could think of places much worse to spend eternity than near this divine waterfall.

 

***

 

The Legend of Bash Bish

 

Deemed guilty of adultery, a young woman by the name of Bash Bish was condemned to die by members of her tribe. The Mohicans viewed this act as unpardonable crime, despite the allowance of polygamy and divorce in their society. Because she was well-liked, and no one in her tribe could bear the thought of personally being responsible for causing her demise, it was determined to consign her fate to the forces of nature. Her unusual execution was to take place at the site of a large, rapidly flowing waterfall in the western Taconics. She was to be strapped into a canoe and sent to plunge over the falls, where she would undoubtedly be dashed to pieces on the sharp rocks below, afforded little protection from the thin-skinned birch bark canoe she was destined to ride in.

At sunrise of the execution day, Bash Bish was tightly bound into the canoe, and only moments away from being launched into the foaming brook, when a dense fog quickly swept down the narrow ravine, obscuring everything. Out of view, Bash Bish somehow managed to undo her restraints and free herself. Knowing that she could never return to her friends or family, and finding the idea of having to start anew elsewhere absolutely abhorrent, she decided to accept the punishment of death. However, it was to be done on her terms. 

Just as she clambered to the top of a massive boulder sitting at the edge of the precipice that divides the falls, the fog dissipated as quickly as it had arrived, and Bash Bish was once again in full public view. Everyone from her tribe was in attendance, gathered around the edge of the deep plunge pool at the base of the falls, including her infant daughter, White Swan. 

As she stood atop the crag silently gazing down at her people, a mass of butterflies, as numerous as the individuals congregated to watch her die, appeared seemingly from thin air and began to encircle her head like a crown. With every pass they picked up speed. What began as light fluttering quickly intensified into a frenzied swarm of activity. When the shocked onlookers half-expected a tornado to erupt from the ceaseless and turbulent rotation, Bash Bish leapt off the cliff, with the butterflies following her into the mist of the raging cataract. Though a long and thorough search of the plunge pool took place, her body was never recovered. Because of the sudden fog, prolific and strange behavior of the butterflies, and her vanishing without a trace, people began to suspect that Bash Bish was a witch.

***

Despite her mother's tarnished reputation, White Swan managed to do quite well for herself. She had grown to become as lovely as mother had been. Upon reaching adulthood, she married the son of the tribe's chief. For years they lived in near perfect contentment. As time wore on, however, things took a turn for the worse when it became obvious that White Swan would never be able to bear her husband any children. Needing an heir to carry on his family's legacy, he was forced to take an additional wife. 

Overcome with sadness and needing an escape from the village, she began to take long walks into the wilderness. One day her aimless wandering brought her back to the fateful waterfall, a spot she hadn't visited since her days as an infant. Her relatives did all in their power to keep her away from the area, which since the odd occurrences of her mother's botched execution, was regarded with an equal mixture of awe and apprehension. 

That night as she lay in a deep sleep, her mind was overcome with a vivid dream of her mother beckoning for her to return to the site of the waterfall. In the morning she did as the dream commanded and visited the spot again. In her society, dreams were not to be dismissed; rather, they were thought to be divine revelations that were to be carefully analyzed and heeded.

Day after day, White Swan sat along a boulder at the brim of the falls, dangerously close to the swift current, awaiting another message from Bash Bish, as the dream foretold would come to her at this very spot. Her husband worried with the depressed and fixated state of his wife—who he still loved with all his heart—did everything in his power to improve her spirits. Each day as she hovered at the edge of the cliff despondent, and mindlessly staring into the churning water below, he would bring her a new gift from the forest, a small token of his affection. 

On the tenth day, he came across a rare find. In a grove of cardinal flowers a pure white butterfly was alighted on one of the fiery blossoms. With the stealth that was natural to his race, he quickly crept up to the insect unnoticed and clutched it, imprisoning it in the hollow of his hands. Instantly, he set off to present his proud catch to White Swan. No sooner had he given the rare insect to her, she began to hear her mother's voice echoing from the plunge pool below. In a beautiful, intoxicating tone, Bash Bish urged her daughter to join her in the spirit world, where no worries or strife, she promised, could ever touch her. White Swan obeyed and stepping off the ledge, disappeared into the mist, the white butterfly trailing close behind. Her husband rushed to pull her back, but it was too late. In his eagerness to save her he had disregarded his own safety and, slipping on the slick, moss covered rocks, tumbled down the falls. As happened with her mother before her, no trace of White Swan was ever found. Her husband's badly battered and broken body, however, was cast up from the emerald-tinted pool and washed ashore. 

Visitors to the falls today, especially on drab, foggy days occasionally report encounters with the supernatural. Smiling faces are said to be seen in the foam of the plunge pool, while alluring, siren-like voices sometimes whisper from the spray of the tumbling water. A number of the numerous deaths that have occurred in the vicinity over the years have been attributed to these ghostly manifestations. Some say that they're the mischievous workings of an evil witch; others, that they're derived from melancholy spirits who dwell beneath the water, eager to acquire new companions to assuage their own loneliness. Either way, this curious waterfall is one best approached with a healthy dose of caution and trepidation.

Bash Bish Falls (Winter)Bash Bish Falls (Winter) "Towards evening I left Bash Bish, feeling that although I had visited higher mountains than the Taconic range, and explored deeper ravines, yet I never saw so much wildness of scenery comprised within the same limits that I did here."  -M., Supplement to the Courant, 1854

 

 

 

 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Bash Bish Legends Waterfalls http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/bash-bish-falls Mon, 29 Feb 2016 15:25:07 GMT
The Hudson http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/the-Hudson North PointNorth PointNorth Point following a thunderstorm.

The Hudson River has been described as an "arm of the sea." As a tidal estuary imbued with salt water and marine organisms that penetrate far inland from the Atlantic, this description is decidedly fitting. The Hudson is certainly one of the more unique water bodies in America. From New York City, the tidal portion of the estuary penetrates 153 miles inland where it abruptly ends at the Federal Dam in Troy. Along its lengthy career from the flat and sandy coastal plains of the Atlantic to the hilly interior of the Capital District that fringes upon the Berkshires and Adirondacks, the river is amazingly steadfast in direction, varying little in its north-south orientation, and essentially being as straight as an arrow, compared to the bulk of the country's other winding waterways. Traveling up it one encounters an unparalleled diversity of habitats and environments that often bewilders those making the trip for the first time. There's little wonder then that Henry Hudson thought this singular river might have been the fabled Northwest Passage leading to the Orient.

The Hudson we know today began its life at the end of the last Ice Age. As a massive, miles-thick glacier advanced southward from Canada, the tremendous weight of the ice and accompanying debris it carried with it bulldozed and scraped the ancient landscape into its present configuration. Lofty mountains were planed and deep gorges were scoured in the bedrock. Over time, as the climate improved and temperatures steadily rose, the southern terminus of the ice sheet began to melt and slowly retreat, approximately 21,000 years ago. Flood waters from the ice streamed into the large basin that would become the Hudson. Tremendous amounts of glacial outwash (mostly sand and gravel) were carried by the powerful waters into the channel where they filled in the deep chasm, reducing its depth considerably. 

The steep and narrow passage through the Hudson Highlands, where precipitous mountains abruptly rise from the river's edge, is by far the most dramatic of the Hudson's scenery. This section is actually a fjord, similar to those of Norway and other Scandinavian countries. Despite having several hundred feet of gravelly sediment lining the bottom of the canyon-like fjord, the Highlands section is still significantly deep. At West Point, near a treacherous bend in the river's otherwise linear course, known as World's End, the bottom extends 175 feet below the surface of the water, and is the deepest spot of the river. 

View from Bear MountainView from Bear Mountain

The Hudson Highlands are part of the ancient Appalachian Mountain Range, dating back to the Precambrian Era and contain rock a billion years old. The Appalachians were once higher than the towering Himalayas. Over the eons, the forces of erosion progressively wore them down to mere stumps of their former selves. This is the only instance in its 2,000 mile stretch where a river cuts through the mountain chain down to sea level.

The Hudson experiences two high and two low tides per day that affect the entire estuarine portion of the river. If it wasn't for a dam spanning the Hudson in Troy, the river would continue its tidal action farther north. Above the dam the Hudson ceases to be an estuary. While the salt front doesn't penetrate as far as the tides, some marine organisms do make it all the way up to Troy. The tasty blue crabs are among them. The maximum extent of the salt front rarely ventures past Newburgh, although drought and high levels of precipitation will push it farther north or south, respectively.

The greatest tidal range (the variation between average high and average low tides) occurs at Troy (around 5 feet), while the smallest range occurs at West Point (around 3 feet). Tidal flow in the Hudson is best described as water sloshing around in a bathtub. As one end goes up, the other goes down, with little variation happening in the middle. While both the lower and upper ends of the Hudson River experience extremes, in terms of water height, the Highlands and part of the Mid-Hudson are comparatively stable. 

Simply put, tides are driven by the gravitational pull of the sun, and to a much larger extent, the moon, along with the rotation of the planet. The alignment of these astronomical bodies determines the times and amplitude of the tides. Surrounding geographical features also dictate their strength and duration. In estuaries, tidal range increases as the basin becomes shallower and narrower. Tidal waves are forced to slow down as a result, thereby accentuating the tide. This is why Troy has the greatest tidal range—153 miles inland the river is exceedingly constricted and quite shallow compared to many other sections of the lower estuary.

Early Spring along the HudsonEarly Spring along the HudsonBlack Creek Preserve

Estuaries, generally speaking, are the most productive ecosystems on earth. A plethora of both marine and freshwater organisms cohabit an estuary's brackish (mixture of salt and fresh) water, leading to an exceptionally high diversity from a fusion of habitats. Moreover, estuaries are able to support such prodigious quantities of life by receiving nutrient-laden runoff from terrestrial environments. For marine organisms especially, estuaries are vitally important. Apart from containing richer water than the open ocean, these shallow and protected inlets offer a high degree of protection and abundant food for their offspring. While some marine creatures do not live here year round, they will return to spawn. Juveniles of innumerable species will thus start their lives in estuaries, such as the Hudson, and remain until adulthood before migrating to the ocean. Striped bass, American shad and other herrings (alewife, blueback), are but a few creatures that return to the Hudson at the start of spring to spawn. These types of fish are anadromous; whereas, the American eel, which spends most of its life in freshwater or estuaries, and returns to the sea to mate, is a catadromous species.

These migrants were an especially important food source to the native peoples that once inhabited the Hudson Valley. By use of nets and intricately designed traps called weirs, large numbers were easily captured. They would often mark their arrival by the blooming of the shadbush.

The Hudson River Estuary has been known throughout history by a variety of names. From its current appellation, derived from the first recorded European to ever sail up it, the names descend into a dizzying array of titles. Called the Rio San Antonio, Rio de Montaigne (River of Mountains), Mauritius River, Great River, Orange River, North River, and finally Hudson River, this glacially scoured tidal basin has seen its name change nearly as frequently as the reversal of its tides. But perhaps the most significant sobriquet is its first, bestowed to the river by the Native Americans. They called it the Muhheakantuck, "the river that flows both ways." 

 

Long Dock SunsetLong Dock Sunset

View of Hook MountainView of Hook MountainCroton Point

View of GlascoView of Glasco

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Hudson River http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/the-Hudson Fri, 12 Feb 2016 19:45:08 GMT
1,000 Words http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/1000-words

One of my favorite shots of this winter season is a scene of a thawing Hudson River, just as the very last rays of the sun slip behind a horizon filled with distant mountains and gently sloping hills dotted with historic riverside dwellings and bold architecture. Taken at Long Dock Park in Beacon, NY, one of the most heavily visited acquisitions of the environmental organization, Scenic Hudson, the site is one of the best spots to engage in Hudson River photography anywhere in the region. Apart from the stunning features of the park, visitors are allowed to remain past sunset, unlike most of the surrounding state parks that have strict policies that prohibit lingering for even a moment after dark. This generous laxity on the part of Scenic Hudson ensures the mesmerizing sunsets and idyllic twilight scenes are adequately captured. 

In the foreground of the image is the "dock" that lends the park its name. Upon acquiring the property, Scenic Hudson renovated the once derelict pier, transforming it into not only a work of art, imbued with wonderful symmetry and modern refinement, but giving it a more utilitarian use that harkens back to a time when the structure played a prominent role in the town's industrial past. Not visible in the image is a canal-like kayak launch that diagonally bisects the pier. 

The lights seen on the opposite shore of the Hudson belong to the town of New Windsor and the city of Newburgh. On the hill to the right, the one with the outline of tall buildings piercing the sky, George Washington was once stationed for over a year towards the end of the American Revolution. His headquarters were located on the brow of the once significantly less crowded hill. From here, he could gaze uninterruptedly to the soft shores of where I now stood and then peer beyond to the rugged Hudson Highlands at my back. Both the picturesque and sublime—a consummate and rare combination—often intermingle along these shores, and is what lent such inspiration to artists of the Hudson River School, a group that made capturing scenic landscapes a prominent and respected art form. 

The water of the estuarine Hudson is imbued with a silky texture from the moderate ice floes sweeping north as the tide rushes in. Taken during an early February thaw, most chunks of ice were little bigger than the size of a tire and were most densely clustered towards the pier and eastern shore. Dark, highly reflective ice-free zones can be seen toward the center of the river. A long exposure time resulted in a complete blur of the ice, giving it pleasing twilight hues that are brighter and more varied than the colors of the sky. The angular ice magnifies and scatters the light. Its charms are most set off when it emulates liquid and flows, yet possesses a greater luster and radiates richer and more vibrant qualities than typically drab liquid water. Longer exposures mix the two forms and seemingly create a new, unique state of matter.

 

Camera: Nikon D7200

Camera Settings:

Mode: Manual

Exposure/shutter speed: 15 seconds

Aperture: f/16

ISO: 100

Format: RAW

 

To get the shot I used an 18-140 mm lens capped with a neutral density filter (Hoya NDX8) to reduce light intensity and ensure a total blurring of the ice without an overexposure of the image. On the pier I set up my tripod and began shooting in manual mode. I choose a standard aperture (f/16) and ISO (100) for landscapes. Due to the low light conditions and wanting to get the desired silky texture of the ice, I set the exposure time to 15 seconds (this would have been shorter if the sun was higher in the sky). And to allow for a fine degree of editing, I shot in RAW, which is my default setting.

In Photoshop, I altered the colors somewhat to reduce the prevalent deep azures and pale yellows to a less clashing color scheme by tinting the photo purple, thereby providing more pastel hues. The various altered shades, ranging from crisp violet to soft lilac is more in tune with the ideals of a charming twilight scene. While natural sunsets with similar color regimens to the finished image do occur like this here, on the night of my photo shoot, intensely vivid colors were lacking. Photographers, like all types of artists, are given a fair degree of artistic license to create the scene as they wish it to be and not as it actually is—thus is art.

Winter photography is often challenging. Dull monochromatic hues dominate a withered and subjugated landscape, with only the bare skeletal remains of the environment left to greet you. You are then therefore tasked to become creative. The team over at Light could be the solution to some of these challenges with their new camera technology. Its imaging engine allows for you to get beautifully-lit photos, even as the day's light begins to fade.

 

 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Hudson River Long Dock Winter http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/1000-words Mon, 08 Feb 2016 00:55:59 GMT
Indian Brook Falls http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/1/Indian-Brook

Indian Brook FallsIndian Brook Falls

At the base of a deep and secluded ravine in the craggy confines of Putnam County, where the Hudson Highlands form an indomitable rolling wall of granite that makes even a short trip seem like a wild expedition, a small brook glides among jumbled boulders and the decaying trunks of hemlocks on its way to the Hudson River. About half a mile north of its terminus with the river, a sublimely beautiful 25 foot waterfall enlivens the tranquil, low-light surroundings. Indian Brook Falls has attracted countless visitors over the years, many of which, after glimpsing the wild grandeur of the spot, have been inspired to record the remarkable scene through paintings, verse, and prose (and now photography). Now residing on parkland, the falls are a protected treasure that will continue to offer its peaceful respite to all that require a momentary escape from the bustle of everyday life.

Flowing into a marshy cove of the Hudson, known as Constitution Marsh, the area surrounding the outlet of Indian Brook was occupied for thousands of years by Native Americans, who had a minor settlement in the vicinity. Waterfalls were sacred places to most native peoples, believing these spots were the abodes of spirits. It is therefore unquestionable that these Wappinger Indians, a subtribe of the more encompassing Lenape, regularly journeyed to the falls to pray and conduct other religious ceremonies. 

The falls were once simply known as "Indian Falls," but the name was later changed during the 20th Century to "Indian Brook Falls," probably to help distinguish it from the myriads of others bearing identical names across the country. 

Throughout the 1800's, numerous descriptions of the waterfall and associated treks out to it were published in both books and magazines. These writings reached a zenith during the Romantic era, a period in which emphasis was placed on aesthetic experiences derived most notably from the raw and sublime forces of nature. The writings are prolifically descriptive and vivid, eliciting the same level emotion that a mesmerizing photograph today provides. High profile writer-adventurers, such as Nathaniel Parker Willis and Benson J. Lossing, were among those that helped catapult the site to fame.

The noted essayist and author, Nathaniel Parker Willis, provides a singular description of the falls in his classic book, American Scenery, published in 1840. In his opening lines he calls Indian Brook Falls "a delicious bit of nature... possessing a refinement and an elegance in its wildness which would almost give one the idea that it was an object of beauty in some royal park." Further in his narrative, he documents an excursion out to the falls with a group of local residents aboard a wagon fashioned in the old Dutch style. To view the waterfall required travel on a rugged, and as he would later discover, dangerous road. The road was "in some places, scarce fit for a bridle-path," and so clogged with imposing rocks "which we believed passable when we had surged over [them]—not before." Eventually, a wide and level section of the road appeared; the driver then became “ambitious" enough to push the horses into a gallop, but being "ill-matched" in strength they jostled the fragile wagon in such a way as to detach several important features that sent the passengers flying to the floor. The mayhem was put to an end at a sharp turn in the road where the uncontrollable horses "unable to turn, had leaped a low stone wall." After salvaging one unbroken champagne bottle from "the wreck," the mostly uninjured party continued to the falls on foot and enjoyed a pleasant afternoon there.

Indian Brook FallsIndian Brook Falls Despite the unpleasantness of the journey before modern improvements made access easier, a visit to the falls was consistently undertaken by crowds of people in all temperaments and levels of physical ability. Though the Hudson Valley held many additional spots of attractive natural splendor, Indian Brook was described to contain "the most beautiful of its scenery." Aside from the pleasing cascade, the uncontaminated wildness of the spot drew crowds hoping to glimpse a portion of the country that hadn't yet been altered by progress and still held the same untouched features that its native inhabitants once viewed. Elsewhere in the valley, logging and farming had tamed the land and turned much of it into a quaint pastoral setting. But in the rugged Highlands, the land, as an article writer for The Ladies' Repository described, was "self-defended by the integrity of nature" with its "palisadoed inaccessibility," and that the "hardiest engineer will know it is not 'worth while' to delve amidst these rocks." Here, people could come and romanticize about Indians and days of old in the proper setting, without having to travel to equally pristine settings out West or to the northern extremes of the state, like the Adirondacks. 

The area not surprisingly became "a favorite subject with artists." Numerous paintings and engravings exist from the 19th Century that render the locale in near perfect likeness, and served as a simple photograph would do today in a newspaper or feature article. Others, however, show more free rein by the artist, boasting exaggerated features that are in tune with the particular inclinations and feelings of the era. The various depictions are useful for peering into the minds of the past and being able to witness firsthand the impressions the location made on these first intrepid nature seekers.

Another valued feature of the spot was its ability to act as a panacea, or restorative, to both the mind and body. "Tourists are always in raptures with the Falls," the editor of Dollar Monthly Magazine wrote in 1864, "because the sound of the moving waters is pleasing to the senses, soothing those who have tender nerves, and creating a feeling of delicious happiness." In a similar vein, another advocate of the potential healing powers of Indian Brook rapturously exulted, "May the heart, the spirits, the soul be here refreshed and refined!" Clearly, just as the Indians before them, the early residents of the Hudson Valley viewed powerful sites like these in a sacred manner. The unspoiled surroundings resembled to them an Eden, and they appropriated their time there accordingly. At the base of the plunging falls is a deep, expansive basin filled with transparent water and edged with a soft gravelly bottom, appropriately named the Musidora Pool (translated to "Gift of the Muses"), which according to Willis, "Nature has formed it for a bath." One has to wonder how many visitors over the years have cleansed themselves in the crisp water of the pool, similarly to the ablutions of a baptismal font. 

While during the day Indian Brook was the epitome of Hudson Valley beauty, as night overtook the already blackened ravine, the surroundings rapidly put on a gloomy demeanor as darkness and a diverse assemblage of shadows proliferated in the steep sloped and narrow chasm. This now lonely and increasingly fearful spot became the perfect haunt for spirits. A mixture of both reverence and apprehension undoubtedly swirled around the minds of those on their way to Cold Spring or Garrison as they crossed the tiny stone bridge that spanned the brook only a short distance downstream of the falls. 

Legends and ghost stories held in distant memory, were quickly dug out from the dusty recesses of the mind and recalled in perfect detail. Unable to think of anything else, these thoughts took on a life of their own. Was the sound echoing out of the inky darkness upstream the melancholy weeping from the ghost of a jilted Indian maiden who took her own life rather than deal with the loss of her lover, or was it simply the potent roar of the falls obscured and dwindled by the wind rushing through the valley? Was the trembling figure crouched amid the bushes, the protective spirit of a dog still doing his master's bidding even in death, or was it merely a prostrate log, given an animal resemblance by the pale luster emanating from the full moon overhead on a clear late-fall evening?

The latter ghost was said to be the mastiff of Captain Kidd. A somewhat outrageous legend claims that Kidd burnt his ship in the vicinity around West Point to avoid capture by authorities. And by rowboat, he brought a portion of his secreted treasure to the mouth of Indian Brook where he promptly buried it. Before covering it up, he killed his dog and placed the body atop the pile of gold, so that the creature would guard it until his return. He never did make it back, though, having later been seized in Boston, transported to England for trial, and finally hung for piracy in 1701. 

As crazy as it might seem to have the infamous Captain Kidd sailing through the Hudson Highlands, he did have roots in the area. He made his home in New York City and had legal privateering expeditions financed by his associate Robert Livingston. It was said that he and his crew were sailing for Livingston Manor in the upper Hudson Valley the night the ship was lost.

Numerous other legends abound as to the supposed location of his loot. Some say his ship sunk at the base of Dunderberg Mountain across from Peekskill and most of his gold still lies beneath the waters of the Hudson. Others attest it's hidden on the precipitous slopes of Crow's Nest Mountain behind a massive, unwieldy boulder called "Kidd's Plug Rock." And an even more unlikely tale tells of him transporting it west to the Shawangunk Mountains, where it was hidden in a remote cave among impenetrable pitch pine barrens.

An 1880 editorial in the Putnam County Recorder claimed that "the dog's haunts are around the bridge that spans the chasm, just below the falls, sometimes being seen on one side, sometimes on the other." It further goes on to mention that one night as a carriage approached the haunted area at around "ten o'clock with six persons" aboard, a member of the party jokingly said, "'Now let us look for the dog.'" Almost immediately after uttering those fateful words a wild looking mastiff materialized alongside the wagon and began to make menacing gestures. The driver having a gun on his person, pulled it out and fired six shots into the beast. The bullets had absolutely no effect, and the phantom dog held his ground until the terrified group had quickly proceeded on their way.

Indian Brook FallsIndian Brook Falls Though the old bridge still stands and provides access for the curious visitor eager to view the stunning scenery surrounding Indian Brook Falls, a modern arch bridge now spans the rim of the ravine 200 feet above the murmuring brook and farther downstream than its predecessor, keeping heavy Route 9D traffic away from the scene. While travelers at night no longer pass by for a possible encounter with the supernatural, the area has been given a greater degree of solitude than it has seen in a long while. The tranquility and unblemished wildness, so prized by those of an earlier era, remains intact and welcomes the wanderer with the same delights first witnessed by its aboriginal stewards.

***

"At every turn of the brook, from its springs to its union with the Hudson, a pleasant subject for the painter's pencil is presented. Just below the bridge, where the highway crosses, is one of the most charming of these 'bits.' There in the narrow ravine, over which the tree tops intertwine, huge rocks are piled, some of them covered with feathery fern, others with soft green mosses, and others as bare and angular as if just broken from some huge mass, and cast there by Titan hands."  -Benson Lossing, 1866, The Hudson, from Wilderness to the Sea

***

Legend of “Indian Brook Falls”

 

Legend has it that during Henry Hudson's 1609 expedition, the Half Moon anchored one day near the mouth of Fishkill Creek. On a foray into the countryside, the crew stumbled upon clusters of wild grapes which they eagerly began collecting, hungry for anything other than a mouthful of stale sea rations. Intent upon the task at hand, they were unaware a group of Indians had arrived and surrounded them. Eventually, a crew member happened to notice something moving in the nearby bushes and walked over to investigate, at which time a volley of arrows were launched at the intruders. Having left a majority of their weapons back on the ship, there was little to be done except retreat. During the brief skirmish, the Dutchman Jacobus Van Horen was struck by an arrow and promptly captured. Assuming their compatriot was dead, the Europeans sailed on, never to return to so hostile a spot.

Jacobus was transported south and presented to the sachem of the tribe. Intrigued by this strange white man, the first he had ever seen, he instructed his people to properly care for the prisoner. Over time, Jacobus was able to gain their trust, and was incorporated into the tribe. Meanwhile, the sachem's daughter, Manteo, quickly become enamored with the Dutchman and eventually asked her father permission to marry him. He happily agreed to the request and a wedding was set for the following summer.

Over the following months Manteo and Jacobus would often meet at a secluded waterfall, sacred to her people, at the bottom of a deep and shaded ravine. Sitting beside the cascading waters that in little distance poured into a marshy cove of the Hudson, Manteo would muse with her lover about their upcoming nuptials and future together. Jacobus smiled and reciprocated the kind words, but inwardly he deeply missed his homeland and secretly prayed for deliverance.

One spring day his prayers were answered. While out on a hunting trip, the deafening report of a gun noisily echoed through the still woodlands. Jacobus in an instant dropped everything and ran towards the direction of the shot. He eventually came to the shores of the Hudson, and spotted only a few hundred yards away an anchored ship flying a Dutch flag. Jumping into the water without the least hesitation, he swiftly swam up to the vessel and was taken aboard. And from there he disappeared.

Manteo was heartbroken with this sudden departure, receiving not so much as a good-bye from the one she thought deeply loved her. Not long after, she too, disappeared. A few days later her body was discovered at the base of the waterfall she had spent so much pleasant time beside with Jacobus. Grieved beyond all consolation, it appeared she had taken her own life.

 
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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) indian brook falls legends waterfalls http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/1/Indian-Brook Sat, 30 Jan 2016 23:57:19 GMT
Emerson & Thoreau's Nature http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/1/ET-nature Croton Point SunsetCroton Point Sunset

"Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?" Ralph Waldo Emerson penned in the opening lines of his landmark essay, Nature. In it, the father of transcendentalism laments the fact that so many of us blindly follow the path of others, relying little on our own experience because we feel it is unnecessary or impossible to adequately obtain. Instead, he argues, that we should forge a "religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs." Essentially, he's saying that the prophets of the past should not hold an exclusive monopoly on pivotal adventure and insight; and that we cannot not solely rely on the judgment of these lucky sages, while disregarding our own. Transcendentalism stressed that each individual uncover their own truths by spending time in the heart of nature. By doing so, it's indeed possible to enjoy an "original relation to the universe," and extract wisdom more personally valuable than what we find in even the most revered passages of sacred texts or the utterances of our elders. Nature is living religion where we get to imbibe straight from the Source.

Emerson was amazed how nature possesses the singular ability "to deify us with a few and cheap elements." Crimson rays of light, thin evening clouds, freshly budded trees, and crisp evening air might not amount to much individually, but pieced together naturally in the landscape and they form a moving and inspirational scene that teaches us about the nature of beauty, if nothing else. And beauty, Emerson was convinced, equated directly to truth. "Truth, and goodness, and beauty, are but different faces of the same All." By knowing nature and appreciating its many forms, figures, and arrays of varied color, it's possible to directly glimpse the face of the "Universal Being" and have its currents circulate through us. This is our revelation, our understanding of life's questions, and will serve a better guide than any second-hand account that hasn't been tailored to us. The landscape is more valuable for the impressions it makes upon the mind than by the quantity of natural resources it contains.

Gertrude's NoseGertrude's NoseView from along the Gertrude's Nose trail (Minnewaska State Park, NY).

When we destroy nature, we deface the artwork placed before us. Will the torn and smudged scene ever make the same impression as before? When we lose nature, we lose beauty, and hence a portion of its refined essences, as morality and virtue, and all other positive attributes that inevitably derive from it. "All things are moral... shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and wrong," Emerson preached, continuing, "this ethical character so penetrates the bone and marrow of nature, as to seem the end of which it was made." While we find peace and solitude and a respite from all noxious worries in the woods, and seem to think it akin to the feeling bestowed to us from a good night's sleep or calming medication, it in fact soothes not so much from us resting, as from stimulating that which has been slumbering in an unhealthy torpor for too lengthy a time.

Moreover, nature offers commodities of more importance than the base-ic necessities of a more tangible nature, such as lumber, ore, or crops. Our language and habits of speech are closely related to our natural surroundings, and invariably so are our thoughts. We most frequently speak in analogies tied to elemental forms. "Light for knowledge" and "heat for love" are but a couple analogies of common vernacular that show how we prescribe natural elements to human thought. Their directness and simplicity are understood by all. But when we begin to use language for "secondary desires," selfishly applying words or phrases that show the significance and splendor of nature to hollow goals or strivings in order to increase our standing in some way, society as a whole takes a loss, as these words lose all their potency and fall flat, and in turn, nature becomes valued less, cheapened by attachment to vain longings, as riches, power, or praise. Emerson was sure that the "corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language," for as he observed "a man's power to connect his thought with the proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth." The poet in his estimation was the foremost of men. Poetry is language in its purest format and those who truly and dutifully ascribe words in such a way share a kindred relation to the influences of the natural world.

Art is an imitation of nature and even a minor look throughout the artificial world we've created forcefully demonstrates the level of thirst we possess for it. Art thoroughly surrounds us, just as the forests and the vast sky arching overhead does. "'A gothic church,' said Coleridge, 'is a petrified religion.'" Analogy runs deeper than speech; it inspires and excites passionate action. We seek to bring nature closer to ourselves. These creations keep us attached to it even when far removed from the fields and forests. 

Church DoorsChurch DoorsOld Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, NY

***

With all of this philosophy in mind, Henry David Thoreau, the promising pupil and adherent of Emerson, also cultivated ideals thoroughly suffused with a nature-centric dogma. He similarly, and perhaps even more staunchly, believed in the value of the individual forging a life built atop the foundations of personal experience, rather than tradition. In his most prominent work, Walden, he insists "No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof."

Thoreau informed his readers that instead of living through the eyes of others, it was possible to saunter into the "Holy Land" simply by taking a walk outside and roaming through the wilderness. Unlike Europe which had long ago exhausted its soils and littered the landscape with dwellings, the U.S. in comparison was a vast oasis of original splendor. This open and pristine country was equivalent to what existed in Europe hundreds to thousands of years ago, before the "foundations of castles" were laid, "famous bridges" created, and heroic fables told. Thoreau viewed Americans as being extremely fortunate in having a new template to work upon and learn from. To him, modern times were "the Heroic Ages itself" in which contemporary society was forging tales that would probably someday be revered the same as those from the past which are now commonly held in esteem. Most people have difficulty in perceiving this because "the hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men." In short, the quantity of open and unaltered space we possess, is proportional to the amount of unique experiences we can have. By preserving nature—saving expansive mountain tops and cramped valley hollows, thick verdant forests and slow moving rivers, the playground of the universe is also preserved, providing us with unending opportunities and delights.

And what of our rapidly shrinking world? With land being heedlessly sold, subdivided, and with what Thoreau described as "walking over the surface of God's earth" being "construed to mean trespassing," how are we to get the most out of what currently remains in more developed areas?—simply view the landscape from afar. This, too, will satisfy many desires and similarly move and impress. The view of the whole, the larger picture, is ultimately of more worth. To this, men's "warranty-deeds give no title." The abstractness of the scene, far from solid and dictating, allows us to obtain what we ourselves determine to be valuable from it (i.e. the higher secreted qualities). But according to both Emerson and Thoreau, only those who have a keener and more subtle vision than the rest, "can integrate all the parts" and thus, unlock the items of value. Such vision, that which allows the sun not merely to illuminate the eye, but also "shine into the heart" belongs to those who understand the true purpose and nature of Nature, the poetically minded. 

Winter SunsetWinter Sunset

Thoreau elegantly put it like this:

"I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk."

Individual components are only as important as the level in which they blend into the landscape in a harmonizing way, as individual letters help form coherent words that give rise to sentences. The inseparable unions of rhythm and order, beauty and truth, only arise when we combine and expand our perceptions on a universal scale, and not, rather, constrict them to the microscopic view of what's directly before our eyes. Emerson concisely sums it up: "In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds some[thing] as beautiful as his own nature."

North PointNorth PointNorth Point following a thunderstorm.

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Emerson Thoreau http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/1/ET-nature Thu, 07 Jan 2016 23:45:45 GMT
Wildlife of Oak-Hickory Forests http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/12/wildlife Curious DeerCurious Deer

Southern New York is dominated by Oak-Hickory forests, which as the name implies, are primarily composed of members of these two mast-producing genera. The nuts produced by various oaks and hickories are an invaluable resource that generously provides for the region's wildlife, and is the prime reason our forests boast such a prolific and eclectic array of species. Squirrels, of course, feast on them, but so do many other creatures. Turkeys, blue jays, raccoons, rabbits, chipmunks, and deer regularly browse on fallen nuts. Scratch marks and associated mounds of leaves often dot the understory in mature forests where hungry animals have rooted around in the detritus to uncover those meaty morsels that have become concealed by natural or deliberate means. Bears consume them as well; and in addition to scavenging those among the understory, can be seen in late summer and into early fall taking a more active collection method by ascending even the narrowest of trees to strip clusters of nuts directly from the branches. Seemingly cumbersome and awkward, bears are actually quite agile and appear to have little difficulty in their acrobatic endeavors. Snakes and raptors benefit indirectly from the nutty profusion by feasting on the hefty rodent population that abounds nearby.

Black Bear in TreeBlack Bear in Tree

Before an exotic fungus was accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900's, the American chestnut comprised nearly a quarter of the trees in what was then known as Oak-Chestnut forests. Tree mortality rate from the resulting blight was nearly 100%. And with this lethal invasive fungus still hanging around on chestnut root resprouts, these once lofty trees will probably never return as a canopy species. Far larger and meatier than most other nuts, the loss of the chestnut was a major blow to wildlife and radically reshaped the composition and health of our forests. For decades as the blight swept across the land, trees quickly sickened and toppled like dominoes within 2-3 years of infection, turning once robust ecosystems into skeletal versions of their former selves. Forests are still recovering.

Drinking RattlesnakeDrinking Rattlesnake

Human short-sightedness almost also caused another cherished feature of America to forever vanish.


Up until relatively recently, spotting a bald eagle in the Hudson Valley, or anywhere in New York or the country for that matter was a rare sight indeed. Populations of our national icon began to precipitously decline during the first half of the 20th Century, a result of the use of pesticides flooded with the noxious chemical DDT. Primarily affecting the viability of eggs by thinning shells to fractions of their former thickness, DDT nearly wiped out these majestic creatures for good. But with this harmful substance finally banned in 1972, populations have rebounded significantly over the past several decades, and seeing one gliding gracefully overhead or regally perched among the uppermost branches of an imposing tree has become commonplace in some areas.


In February 2013, during one of several winter surveys I annually participate in to determine eagle abundance at various sites along the Hudson, I can recall counting slightly over 140 of these birds in a single evening as they retreated back to a roost site on an east facing mountain slope directly across the river from Peekskill. Though uncommon to have such a high density of eagles in one area, their numbers are plentiful enough overall for this species to no longer require protective status under the Endangered Species Act.


Though less emblematic than this rebounding raptor, other Hudson Valley wildlife may prove to fill us with a similar level of awe and respect if watched as intently. Far too often we only care because it's rare. We should appreciate and protect our natural resources when they are robust and thriving, and not, rather, only give them notice as they begin to slip away. The damage cannot always be reversed. 

Box TurtleBox Turtle

Mouse PortraitMouse Portrait

 


 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Wildlife http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/12/wildlife Wed, 30 Dec 2015 20:32:09 GMT
Bogs and Fens http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/12/bogs/fens Carnivorous SundewCarnivorous Sundew

Sundew

 

Wetlands exist in many forms, the most common of which are lakes, swamps, and soggy riparian areas surrounding streams and rivers. Rarer types include bogs and fens. This latter class comprises only a small fraction of wetlands found throughout the Hudson Valley. Both are outliers, and if placed on a Bell curve would fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Bogs contain highly acidic water, while fens possess more neutral to alkaline conditions. These wetlands have drastically declined over the last few centuries, a result of the misinformed belief that they are little more than smelly, detrimental mosquito breeding grounds. Many were dammed off and transformed into more usable ponds and lakes; others buried to make way for agriculture and development. These disappearances are a great loss. Bogs and fens alike contain many one of a kind organisms that are specially adapted to survive in extreme conditions and are found in few other places. Despite their often times small size, the diversity of life they contain is quite high. 

In the Northeast, bogs are more plentiful than their alkaline counterparts. These peaty wetlands, normally occupying glacially scoured depressions, receive an unusually low pH by effectively being bottled up and stewing in a broth of humic acid released by the degradation or organic matter. The primary inflow of water is from precipitation. Comparatively small influxes of water, in conjunction with little run-off, results in acidic conditions that inhibit decay. Dead plant matter rapidly accumulates, forming thick layers of peat that keep valuable nutrients imprisoned within. Certain plants have circumvented the nutrient-poor conditions by taking on a feature characteristic of animals—carnivory. Pitcher plants, sundews, and bladderworts, have evolved specialized mechanisms to capture and digest insects to obtain key elements like nitrogen and phosphorous. Along with these plant oddities, bogs are dominated by quaking mats of sphagnum mosses and heaths (highbush blueberry, azalea, leatherleaf). Fleeting displays of rare orchids routinely add a touch of vibrancy to the scene, often serving as the highlight of a visit to those lucky enough to encounter them in bloom.

 

Carnivorous PlantsCarnivorous PlantsPitcher plants atop a bed of sphagnum moss

Pitcher Plants & Sphagnum Moss

 

Rose PogoniaRose Pogonia

Rose Pogonia

 

Aside from having a vastly different pH, fens differ from bogs by receiving significant water inputs from groundwater sources as well as precipitation. Upwelling springs and small braided streams supply a bulk of the moisture. Alkaline conditions are imparted to the system from the underlying rock strata, which in the case of our regional calcareous fens is normally limestone. The largest concentrations of these alkaline wetlands occur in Dutchess and Columbia counties. Due to a greater abundance of available nutrients, plant communities here contain a higher number of species than can be found in their acidic cousins. Unlike bogs that are clustered with shrubby heaths, the most prominent members of fens are grasses and sedges, making them resemble moist meadows. Several orchid species thrive among the knee-high vegetation, in addition to the "calciphiles," uncommon to rare plants tolerant of high calcium levels that live almost exclusively in limy soils. The reclusive bog turtle, an endangered species and smallest native turtle in America, also primarily makes its home in places such as these, despite its misleading name. Calcareous fens are one of the rarest natural communities on the continent and normally occupy no more than a handful of acres. 

 

Calcareous FenCalcareous FenRoger Perry Preserve

Calcareous Fen

 

Bog Turtle in FenBog Turtle in FenEndangered species

Bog Turtle

 

Bedewed Fringed GentianBedewed Fringed Gentian

Fringed Gentian

 

Grass-of-Parnassus & Great Blue LobeliaGrass-of-Parnassus & Great Blue Lobelia

Grass-of-Parnassus & Great Blue Lobelia

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Bogs Fens http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/12/bogs/fens Tue, 15 Dec 2015 02:16:28 GMT
Alien Invasion: The Proliferation of Invasive Species http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/12/invasives As a naturalist, one with an especially keen interest in botany, I devote much of my time, both occupationally and recreationally studying, photographing, and writing about plant life. I find our green and oxygen providing friends fascinating—not only with their oftentimes mesmerizing physical beauty, but also with their unique adaptations that make glimpsing into the marvels of evolution possible. It is therefore with regret that I find it necessary to allot time here to address the depressing topic of invasive species proliferation, rather than perhaps writing about a rare orchid, or detailing the lives of bog plants that specialize in carnivory.

The term "invasive species" is defined as a non-native organism that has a tendency to rapidly and prolifically spread throughout an environment, causing ecological upheaval and degradation. Essentially, invasives cause damage to everything they touch, from evicting important native species locally (ultimately causing their widespread decline) to more immediate pecuniary matters, such as dropping property values by creating tangled, unsightly messes. It's a major problem that will not improve anytime soon. As someone who's immersed himself in researching and implementing new invasive control methods, I know firsthand that even the most advanced techniques are mediocre at best. Invasives are hardy, and above all, prolific. When human armies of volunteers hand pulling vines or uprooting shrubs isn't enough, we switch to armies of insects to defoliate them, but these, alas, can only eat so much. Take the Asian mile-a-minute vine (Persicaria perfoliata), for instance. A lightning fast grower in the plant world, capable of reaching lengths of 30 feet a year, this is a species that can't be adequately controlled by the typical manual hand-pull. Instead, we have switched to releasing biocontrol agents, namely, in this case, a tiny weevil that hails from the same exotic location as mile-a-minute and consumes nothing but it. The checks and balances that once kept invasives in line in their homeland cannot often be introduced to the U.S. to combat these leafy invaders for obvious reasons—few of these invasive predators confine themselves solely to one species, and could possibly become invasive themselves if imported. Only through intensive and vastly expensive research can we derive these mildly effective strategies to rid ourselves of invasives. It seems then, that prevention is the best cure.

Mile-a-Minute Weevils (Rhinoncomimus latipes)

 

New York has recently enacted regulations to curb the further introduction of invasives by outlawing the sale of several particularly noxious species. A majority of these plants have been used in decorative landscaping in the past, escaping into the wild most frequently via seed scattering wildlife. What makes them so damaging is their propensity to exploit and thrive in disturbed or degraded environments better than most natives. Their quick colonization gives them an edge by providing a defensive position; beleaguered natives, in contrast, must try to reconquer their lost land against a more numerous and robust enemy. Increased awareness to the problem and stricter regulations regarding the distribution of these damaging organisms by retailers is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the landscape is already greatly sickened, suffering from an unending illness that daily drags it further into dismay. Facing an onslaught of environmental disasters such as habitat destruction, global warming, acid rain, among numerous others, the addition of invasive species into the mix on a level higher than what it currently stands at could be what pushes things over the edge. While we can reduce our carbon emissions to ameliorate climate change and acidification, and restore habitat by revegetating it, it is impossible to wholly remove non-native species from the environment. It's a quandary akin to the opening of Pandora's box.

And like the released sufferings of mankind, we are constantly bombarded by an invasive presence. They tauntingly thrive along forest edges, open fields, and in our own yards where unplanted. Startlingly, most roadsides boast a higher composition of alien species than they do natives. While many of these fall into the Old World weed category (dandelion, chicory, mullein, etc.) and aren't especially detrimental, they are nevertheless alien, and have supplanted an important native plant. 

But why should we particularly care that invasives have taken hold, especially when many are imbued with an exquisite beauty on a level surpassing their native counterparts? While it's true that in terms of showiness invasives can, and do, compliment the landscape by adding bursts of color where otherwise dull monochromatic hues dominate, they typically upset the intricacies of an ecosystem. While I admire the pleasing tints given to a wetland by dense arrays of the invasive purple loosestrife, whose long spires cloaked in splendid deep evening hues turn the earth into a twilight wonderland, my overall opinion of the scene is one of dismay. Beyond the hazy smokescreen of color lies a litany of problems. Increased biomass input results in waterways becoming clogged, which given enough time will fill in with sediment and the remains of decaying plants so that the system ages prematurely, transitioning into a drier habitat centuries or millennia ahead of its destined time. Blankets of loosestrife which can top out at 10 feet tower above other plants shading them out, which when rare, helps to extinguish a species from existence. To me, there's nothing more beautiful and impressive than a healthy and well-functioning ecosystem that operates flawlessly to provide for the thousands of creatures, both large and small, that inhabit it. An invasive plant throws a ratchet into the gears. 

Some will argue that since many non-natives are now firmly established they should be left alone, given some of the benefits they do in fact offer. It's true, invasives, in certain cases, can positively affect an ecosystem by providing shelter or food to organisms in need. The negative consequences, however, as already noted, generally outweigh the positive attributes. I often lump critics of invasive control with those who feed wildlife, such as geese or deer. They often mean well, but their misguided beliefs ultimately cause more harm than good in the long run. 

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is one such invasive that offers both nourishing food and heavy cover. In late May or June the shrub produces copious quantities of white flowers that provide a tasty meal to insect pollinators; while during the fall and winter its saccharine rose-hips are feasted on by birds. Moreover, it expands quickly and in short time resembles something similar to an unruly tumbleweed. It's capable of towering well above head height and growing to lengths of over 15 feet. Its tangled branch-like canes are excellent for concealing smaller sized birds that will frequently choose the thick shrubs as nesting sites. Small mammals, such as rabbits, often use the groundcover to avoid predators, quickly fleeing to the safety of the thorn filled mess upon the slightest sign of danger. 

Multiflora Rose

 

When these roses spring up in old fields or pastures, which they are apt to do, they make it difficult for ecological succession to occur. The denseness of the shrubs tightly packed together exclude trees from gaining a foothold. Normally as the trees mature and gain in height their lofty branches shade out the shrub layer and make way for a proper forest. Extraordinary shrubs, like multiflora, inhibit this natural succession by keeping the old field environs in a quasi-pasture state, where it remains in a sickly adolescence indefinitely. Apart from the ecological ramifications of this, these briar patches are a great nuisance to farmers and landowners who have their properties overrun by endless snarls of shrubs that scratch and bite the passerby with their fishhook-like thorns.

Hikers and anyone else who happens to spend a good deal of time outside has surely endured the tedium of navigating through a patch of multiflora, always on the alert to avoid getting tangled in the wiry canes and ultimately cut up. When patches encroach on hiking trails or ecologically sensitive habitat it becomes necessary to remove them, not by means of herbicide or biocontrol insects, but by good old fashioned manual labor. I've endeavored many a time to scrub land clean of these noxious pests, which, by the way, is a Herculean task on par with descending into bowels of perdition to extinguish the ubiquitous hellfire by means of a squirt-gun. It's slow, tedious, and above all, painful work. Even the thickest clothing and leather gloves will soon gain such a riddling of holes as to become useless, as the 1/4 inch thorns relentlessly probe the garments, similarly to a mosquito's quest to draw blood. And it's not enough to simply clip the canes, the roots must be dug out as well, or they will regrow back with a vengeance. It is for all these reasons that multiflora is by far my least favorite invasive, though by no means the most damaging of the bunch.

Multiflora Thorns

 

I can't stress enough the importance of removing multiflora, or any other invasive for that matter, when they're still young and controllable. Left to grow unchecked and what was once a mild problem will balloon into what can best be described as a malignant tumor spreading its contagion throughout the rest of a once otherwise healthy system. For example, if a modest specimen of multiflora is allowed to go to seed it can produce a million seeds a year, each of which possesses the capability of surviving in the environment for up to 20 years! This type of fecundity is the norm for most invasives.

What is most worrisome in this crusade is the public's abysmal plant identification skills. That so few people can correctly identify a plant, let alone decipher whether it's native or alien is alarming. If we are to succeed in stymieing their further establishment and proliferation it is imperative we can distinguish friend from foe, and uproot the latter whenever encountered. The worst offenders, at the very least, should be put into the pot of common knowledge via amendments to course curricula, public service announcements, and broadcast in a variety of other similar means. Moreover, to avoid introducing additional seeds and new species into the mix we must alter our ways when it comes to the types of species utilized in garden projects and landscaping. The traditional array of plants used in years past now belong to a bygone era. Instead of sticking by these garish and cliché cultivars, more plastic in nature than plant-like, natives which blend into and become a part of the landscape, vigorously provide for local fauna, and demonstrate ecological awareness and sensitivity should be put to use instead. Nurseries specializing in native flora are rapidly proliferating and provide every element needed to make a yard or property wholesome and alluring.

Japanese Barberry

 

I've always been especially captivated by the early descriptions of the New World by explorers hailing from the crowded environs of Europe. Compared to the exhausted and overly tilled countryside of their homeland, America was a verdant paradise, an Eden. What they found and recorded was almost too fantastic to be believed by their countrymen overseas. And unfortunately for contemporary society, these renditions are now equally as foreign to us. Forests stretching uninterruptedly into the distant horizon gave credence to the belief that these tracks of wild land contained "such an abundance of wood that it will never be wanting." How impressive and dominating the landscape must have appeared for this thought to arise! The ravenous consumption of wood back in the Old World was something that couldn't be ignored, and yet, despite this, American forests appeared to be endless and inexhaustible, comprised of titanic and ancient trees of every shape and dimension that overwhelmed the senses. Such a vast and seemingly boundless wilderness, one teeming with bear and wildcats, swarming with sky-blackening flocks of passenger pigeons that feast on a rich and eclectic diet of vivid berries and meaty nuts, and an understory lined with sweet smelling grasses and flowers that perfume and permeate the air, is now but a distant memory that continues to grow fainter every day as habitat destruction erases the last degraded pieces that remain and link us to the past.

To prevent our new world from becoming the same as the old we can partially restore (albeit modestly) what has been lost. Everyone has the capability to make a difference, and like most things, these changes first begin at home. Hedges of multiflora, Japanese barberry, and forsythia can be substituted with rows of native bayberry or highbush blueberry. In terms of climbing vines, why use English ivy, silverlace vine, and porcelainberry, when the equally beautiful wild clematises, with their delicate white or purple blossoms, and the groundnut with its sweet-scented chocolate-hued flowers, can bestow a similarly lush and sophisticated looking drapery? And lastly, those garden beds—instead of populating them with ostentatious and yawn producing aggregations of tulips and daffodils, plant flowers with more depth and intrigue, such as the underappreciated violets, ivory petaled bloodroot, and vivid red columbine. See where I'm going with this? Any non-native ornamental can easily be replaced with a more unique and essential native. Renew the landscape. While much of what has been lost is irrecoverable, let's take back as much as we can. Why should we be content to leave the best wonders consigned to the pages of some musty book? 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Invasives http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/12/invasives Thu, 03 Dec 2015 02:49:35 GMT
Spring's First Wildflower: Hepatica http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/11/springs-first-wildflower-hepatica Woodland HepaticaWoodland Hepatica

To those weary of winter the first bit of relief can be found sprouting amid heaps of decaying leaves at the end of March or the beginning of April. Hepatica, one of the earliest arriving wildflowers and harbinger of the spring season, emerges from bleak forest floors to decorate the surroundings with vivid arrays of pastel purple, lavender, pink, and white. It's an exotic departure from the monotonous hues of winter that have heavily dominated the landscape for months. Though somewhat small, these flowers pack a rather large punch and remind us that renewal is close at hand.


"When at the maturity of its charms, it is certainly the gem of the woods," the naturalist John Burroughs once admiringly wrote. To him, its colorful and delicate features were "enough to hold and arrest the dullest eye." Hepatica with all its refined beauty and lively charms certainly does supersede the flowers of the smelly and unappealing skunk cabbage, whose tiny and concealed blossoms are technically the first of the year to appear, driven to an exceedingly early start by this species ability to generate heat, a process known as thermogenesis, and is literally able to melt its way out of the snow. Notwithstanding this unique trait, "the plebian skunk cabbage...ought scarcely to be reckoned among true flowers," according to Neltje Blanchan, an early 20th Century wildflower expert. 


Hepatica has its own defense against the cold and erratic weather of the early spring season. Each bud and stem is coated with a fine layering of white hair that functions as what one author has described as a "fur overcoat." Apart from retaining residual heat, this fuzz creates a barrier that keeps ice from forming on the plant. What's more, its leathery leaves are imbued with antifreeze-like properties that enable it to photosynthesize all year long. These evergreen leaves allow hepatica to sequester additional energy which will later be utilized to gain a head-start in the first days of spring. Unlike hepatica, many spring ephemerals do not possess the necessary reserves to blossom so early, as they quickly wither down to the rootstock after flowering and setting seed, ultimately hibernating until the following season. They are therefore slower to produce flowers, needing to accumulate resources as they go, rather than by prudently securing them ahead of time as hepatica does.


The chilly conditions of early spring sometimes pose another problem to hepatica. A seasonal low abundance of pollinating insects frequently results in lonely flowers devoid of any beneficial visitation. Plants, luckily, have the ability to self-fertilize if necessary. While not as useful as cross-pollination, this strategy ensures an adequate quantity of seeds is still produced. Each tiny seed comes packaged with a nutrient and lipid rich appendage called an elaiosome. This structure encourages insects, primarily ants, to scatter the seeds to a new location. Once the seeds have been transported back to the colony, the elaiosome is promptly excised and the seed body discarded in waste pits, usually a fair distance from the parent plant. This strategy is not unique to hepatica; many other spring ephemerals utilize this or similar techniques to colonize new locales by use an ant host, a tactic called myrmecochory.

Hepatica1Hepatica1
Two forms of hepatica exist in the U.S., differentiated primarily by leaf shape. Blunt-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa) has rounded, or blunt leaves, while those of the sharp-lobed variety (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta) come to a point at the tip. Apart from physical characteristics, habitat preferences contrast as well. The blunt-lobed form typically inhabits forested upland environments with acid soils; sharp-lobed is found more often in moist lowlands, containing richer and more neutral soil. Hepatica ranges all along the east coast and up into Canada, continuing westward to the states just beyond the Mississippi. These two varieties, or subspecies, were once considered to be distinct species, but over the years taxonomists have revised their opinions, deciding that these differences aren't substantial enough to warrant a completely separate classification. 


It is difficult to pin down where a particular color form might reside. Some forests contain plants all bearing an identical hue; others possess numerous shades and varying levels of intermixing and may have plants growing side by side sporting vastly different colors. Some observation has gone into attempting to discover the root of these various color morphs. Research by the Torrey Botanical Club documented that brighter colors are likelier to arise in the blunt-lobed type, and that white flowers are more closely associated with its counterpart. Comments made by John Burroughs confirm this observation. After examining "hundreds of specimens" of sharp-lobed hepatica, he notes that "the white ones...were largely in the ascendant." 


In terms of scent, reports are somewhat more conflicting. Burroughs was perplexed by how some flowers exuded a rich odor while others were more demure and scentless, and how it all varied from year to year. One season after a harsh winter nearly all the flowers he came across possessed a "most delicious perfume." Other seasons, however, proved considerably bland, and scented individuals were more irregular in distribution. He believed that white flowers of "both varieties" occurred to be sweet scented most often. Remarks in an 1885 edition of Vicks Monthly Magazine, on the other hand, indicated that blunt-lobed hepatica was more odiferous, though this was noted only in relation to those "transplanted into gardens." It seems that this is a mystery that still needs unraveling.


The unusual etymology of this species comes about from its leaves resembling the lobed outline and sometimes color of a liver, and is derived from the Greek word for the organ, hepatikos. It has also been called liverwort and liverleaf. Under the doctrine of signatures, an outdated belief that a plant's physical appearance was a sign for its usefulness in treating correlating human body parts, hepatica plants were steadily employed as a cure to fix an ailing liver or hepatic system. 


One report from a 19th Century review of drugs and medicines startlingly details the voracious level of hepatica leaf consumption for medicinal tonics and home remedies. The author reports that in 1883 "one state alone... supplied more than 30,000 pounds." When American suppliers could no longer meet the overwhelming demand, German sources were eagerly sought (similar subspecies grow throughout much of Europe). In the same year it was estimated that "an aggregate of more than 450,000 pounds was imported and gathered for our home market" and that "the demand is still on the increase." Not surprisingly, collection led to the plant "becoming scarce over some sections of our country." This trend continues today, although over the years hepatica has rebounded significantly more than the similarly exploited American ginseng, which was also, and still is, hunted to near extinction. Hepatica, by contrast, is little used today for anything more than decorating the occasional garden.


Though hepatica was soon discovered to be as "utterly unmedicinal as the grass of the field," this is one plant whose presence at the conclusion of winter is surely able to uplift the spirits at least. Spotting one of hepatica's dainty flowers rear its colorfully proud head to the cheery light of a warm spring day easily infuses us with the "tonic of wildness," deemed by Thoreau to be so necessary to our continued well-being.

 

Woodland HepaticaWoodland Hepatica

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Spring Wildflowers http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/11/springs-first-wildflower-hepatica Mon, 23 Nov 2015 22:13:02 GMT
Asters http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/11/asters AstersAsters

The end of summer is often marked by decline—trees lose their youthful and lively green, leaves plummet like rain similarly to the temperature, and sensitive vegetation begins to wither. But there's more to the early fall season than just decay and loss. It should rather be marked by the burgeoning color that expands across the landscape—not in relation to the autumnal leaves—but rather of late blooming wildflowers. Starting in August and lasting until the late days of October or even early November, asters and goldenrods enliven the fields and forests with bursts of floral grandeur. The asters in particular are the stars of the season, quite literally.

In Latin, aster directly translates to star. It's a fitting description for a plant that possesses innumerable tiny blossoms, which are often white, and when seen growing together in a meadow or roadside are usually in such profusion that one cannot help but admire their uncanny resemblance to the overhead fixtures of the night sky. The naturalist Henry David Thoreau was impressed enough with their brilliance to poetically describe them as "a starry meteoric shower, a milky way, in the flowery kingdom." Even he admitted that just when "you thought that nature had about wound up her affairs... now, to your surprise, these ditches are crowded with millions of little stars." Asters are especially resistant to cold, and will continue to bloom until a severe frost or snow stymies their vigorous growth.

In North America there are approximately 150 distinct species of aster, many of which superficially look nearly identical to one another. To add to this dizzying array of form, species often interbreed, forming countless hybrids. All of this together can make a positive identification incredibly difficult even to botany experts. Despite the complexity, these flowers are perfect for studying the intricacies of evolution. As an authoritative aster expert put it "the very quality which makes the genus so vexatious to the searcher after quick and certain definitions of species, makes it full of keenest interest to the student of variation. Variation... reaches a maximum development in Aster."

While asters are most often viewed in open areas such as fields and roadsides, due to the accessible nature of these areas to us, asters grow in every habitat imaginable, from the deep and shaded understory of hardwood forests to limestone cliffs and even in mucky salt water marshes that are regularly submerged by tides. Plants are adapted to the unique set of conditions of their habitat. In open, sunny expanses, species often have thin, sometimes needle-like leaves, such as stiff (Ionactis linariifolia) and bushy (Symphyotrichum dumosum) asters. A leaf shape such as this helps reduce evaporative stress to plants constantly subjected to the desiccating force of direct sunlight. The white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), by contrast, which thrives amidst shady forest floors possesses long, broad leaves that ensure even the most minimal spattering of sunlight that makes it to the understory is put to use.

Bushy Aster (Symphyotrichum dumosum)

White Wood AsterWhite Wood Aster White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata

Asters belong to the Composite family, a hugely successful and expansive group of plants that consists of around 24,000 species worldwide. In terms of flowering plants, only the Orchidae, or orchid family, rivals it in quantity of species. Sunflowers, coneflowers, and daisies are also composites. This family is special in the fact that each flowerhead is composed of numerous smaller flowers called florets, which bunched together form a single entity normally regarded as the "flower." Additionally, the asters have evolved an ingenious arrangement of the male and female florets to maximize cross-pollination. Female florets are located on the outer portions of the flower, while the pollen-bearing males are sequestered near the center. Pollinating insects have a tendency to first land on the edge of a flower and work their way inward before moving onto another blossom. In this way, pollen picked up at the middle one plant will be transferred to the edge of a different blossom, therefore ensuring genetic diversity. Another unique mechanism these plants possess is their ability to direct insects to unfertilized flowers. Newly opened flowers have yellow florets, but quickly morph to a reddish brown after pollination. This color change ensures insects don't waste time and deposit pollen on flowers that are already in the process of developing seeds.

Calico AstersCalico Asters Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)

When it comes to petal color, there is, not surprisingly, also considerable variation that goes way beyond ghostly shades of white. One of the most magnificent aster species is the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), which, with its amethyst hued petals surrounding a bright golden floret-filled center could scarcely be improved upon. "No plant is more lavish of its charms than the New England Aster," wrote Charles Raddin, a turn of the 20th Century essayist. While the name may portray this species to be a denizen of the Northeast, it's exceedingly more cosmopolitan, ranging all along the east coast westward to the Mississippi and beyond. The name allegedly is derived from the fact that early New England colonizers found it particularly appealing. Raddin writes that "on many occasions, books handed down from revolutionary days, have been found to contain dried specimens of the flowers." The craze supposedly began by John and Priscilla Alden, a prominent Massachusetts couple who arrived to the country via the Mayflower and were the first to make it their "chosen flower." Centuries later, in the 1940's, a consensus of American naturalists agreed that the New England aster was indeed a flower to use as a hallmark, voting it the 3rd most beautiful wildflower in the country.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

Other asters are endowed with pastel purples, bluish, almost ultraviolet tints, or garner the occasional pink blossom. The color scheme is even greater in the many cultivated varieties that are now commonplace gracing businesses and home gardens. There are hundreds of cultivars from our native stock, most originating from the showiest of the bunch—New England and New York (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) asters. Many of these cultivars still retain essences of their wildness, but possess traits that have been artificially exaggerated. Chrysanthemums, or "mums" for short, belong to the aster family and show the greatest level of alteration from centuries of cultivation, and are hence more "refined." These popular fall flowers originate from Europe and Asia. Compared to American asters and their cultivars, mums often offer few rewards to bees and other insects, having been meticulously honed to produce ornate aggregations of petals and little else. A healthy autumn garden would do well to be populated with a selection of natives that produce abundant quantities of pollen and nectar for beneficial pollinators.

New York AsterNew York Aster New York Aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii)

A majority of asters are perennials, so they will continue to reappear year after year. They spread by expansion of rhizomes, or roots, as well as by seeds. Native asters are prolific seed producers. Their tiny seeds are a late autumn food source for a variety of wildlife, most notably birds, which heavily rely on them for sustenance after other sources have been exhausted.

Over the years asters have gained much in the way of lore and superstition throughout all civilizations they dwell in. To the Greeks, asters were referred to as the "many-eyed," and were employed to adorn the altars of their gods. Burnt leaves were also reputed to have the power to drive away snakes. In Germany, the European capital of mystic philosophy, they were used in divination charms by the enamored to see if their love was likely to be reciprocated or not. And in North America, various Indian tribes would smoke dried aster roots as a method to attract game (the smoke purportedly mimicked animal scents or pheromones).

Additionally, plants were believed to possess certain medicinal qualities. The smoke of white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) was used by Mid-western tribes to revive the unconscious. A concoction of aster tea brewed from both leaves and flowers was also reputed to be efficacious in eliminating headaches, fevers, congestion, and a variety of other ailments. The list of possible uses goes on and on. In essence, asters were a panacea, or cure-all.

A belief that asters could be utilized to combat illness was not confined to Native Americans. An 1839 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine printed a letter that detailed several instances of (not surprisingly) New England asters curing the supposedly incurable. It was reported effective in treating particularly debilitating cases of eczema by use of "a strong decoction of the herb," used not only in washing the affected area, but ingesting it as well. As the author states, "a tea made from barley malt, sarsaparilla and this aster (the tops and flowers), and so bittered with fumitory as to resemble beer in some measure, I consider a useful drink while curing eruptive disorders." Kidney ailments were similarly treated.

Be it their physical beauty in color, shape, and form, or by their utility in numerous tasks ranging from medicine to magical divination, the ubiquitous asters which span the globe in their 250 varieties, are truly a gift for all humanity. The ancient Greeks believed the flowers arose from Astraea, goddess of innocence and purity. After the gods had left earth once humanity had entered a dark and sinful period, she alone remained, endeavoring to restore peace and order. But, eventually, she also retreated, making her home among the stars where she became known as the constellation Virgo. After a vengeful Zeus had exacted a terrible retribution on the people of earth by issuing an epic flood, Astraea returned and visited the summit of Mount Parnassus, the one spot that had been untouched by the floodwaters, and sowed the seeds of a new type of plant that reflected her mission of purity. These flowers took the name of Aster. And so that all the races of men might be reminded of her ideals, Zephyrus, god of the west wind, scattered the seeds to every corner of the earth.

Stiff AsterStiff Aster Stiff Aster (Ionactis linariifolia

 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Legends Wildflowers http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/11/asters Tue, 10 Nov 2015 03:08:07 GMT
Waterfalls http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/9/waterfalls Dark Hollow FallsDark Hollow FallsDark Hollow Falls (Shenandoah National Park) Dark Hollow Falls (Shenandoah National Park)

 

There’s something deeply captivating about waterfalls. The raw and intense power each wields as it drops its silvery contents from headlong height, where its forceful tumbling on rocks below produces a potent roar that from a sufficient distance morphs into a gentle, soothing voice that carries with it cool and damp restorative breezes, is something grand and enthralling. We can’t help but revere these uncommon natural splendors, not only for the visual and audial thrill, but as the landscape painter and writer Thomas Cole indicated, by the impression they make on the mind. In his essay "American Scenery," Cole expresses that “in gazing” on these natural artworks, “we feel as though a great void has been filled” so that “our conceptions expand” and “we become a part of what we behold!”

Apart from the romantic qualities of waterfalls, there’s also, at least in part, a scientific reason as to why we feel relaxed and rejuvenated near them. Cascading water, as it turns out, is excellent for producing negative ions, which are said to improve mood and increase energy and awareness. Electrons wrenched away from air particles by the force of falling water as it churns and aerates, form negatively charged ions upon reattaching to other molecules in the air. Negative ion levels can be as much as 50 times higher here than in other places lacking any type of swiftly moving water.

Verkeerderkill FallsVerkeerderkill FallsSam's Point Preserve

Verkeerderkill Falls (Sam's Point Preserve)

 

Doodletown Brook FallsDoodletown Brook FallsBear Mountain State Park, NY Doodletown Brook Falls (Bear Mountain State Park)

 

Fern Glen FallsFern Glen FallsStone Church Brook (Dover Plains, NY) Fern Glen Falls (Dover Plains, NY)

 

Indian Brook FallsIndian Brook Falls Indian Brook Falls (Garrison, NY)

 

 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Waterfalls http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/9/waterfalls Tue, 22 Sep 2015 03:33:07 GMT
Orchids http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/8/orchids  

Indian MoccasinIndian MoccasinIndian moccasin, aka pink lady's slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

 

Loved for their peerless beauty, delicate sculpture-like form, and seemingly exotic attributes, orchids are often revered above all other wildflowers. Witnessing one thrive in the wild, whether a common or rare species, is an exhilarating experience not soon forgotten, especially when one comes to know and appreciate the complex mechanisms at play behind their existence.  


Orchids are finicky plants, growing only when a narrow set of environmental conditions are properly met. Any small deviation from their stringent requirements, such as when it comes to soil type and pH, among other abiotic and biotic factors, and they will fail to grow or disappear from where they’re already established. Every species has different needs, with some inclined to grow in the understory of deeply shaded woodlands, while others call only the most acidic of bogs or other open wetlands home. No matter the habitat type, one thing all orchids require at some point in their life is a fungal partner.   


Unlike most other plants whose seeds are provided with an energy-rich food source to help nourish the young seedling upon germination, the dust-like seeds of orchids completely lack this crucial medium. Instead, orchid seeds form a mutualistic association with soil fungi to gain the necessary nutrition for propagation. Fungi, in return, are able to siphon off additional nutrients when the plants mature. Many species will retain this symbiosis for the rest of their lives. To make matters even more complex, usually not just any particular fungi will do, but rather fungi from a particular genus, or even a single species is required. As most soils do not contain the correct variety, orchids are almost impossible to successfully transplant. They are, therefore, best left in the wild.

Rose PogoniaRose Pogonia

Rose Pogonia

 

The Hudson Valley is home to numerous native orchids, along with several non-natives. Nearly every habitat type is sure to harbor at least a few varieties, if you know where and when to look. Similarly to the spring ephemerals, these flowers often have fleeting lives. 


Our greatest claim to fame resides deep in the understory of a regenerating forest in Orange County, where lies a small population of what has been called “the rarest orchid east of the Mississippi.” Small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides), up until its rediscovery in 2010, was believed to be extirpated from the state, when the last known specimens disappeared from Onondaga County in the 1970’s.  

Small Whorled PogoniaSmall Whorled PogoniaSmall Whorled Pogonia is one of the most imperiled orchids in North America.

This plant has gained the nickname,"the rarest orchid east of the Mississippi." It's a federally threatened species. In New York, however, where this specimen was photographed, it's listed as endangered. A single population, consisting of a mere 6 individuals, is all that's known in the state.

Small Whorled Pogonia

 

The Hudson Valley population consists of a mere 6 individuals and fluctuates constantly. Not every individual emerges on a yearly basis. Oftentimes plants will lay dormant due to poor environmental conditions, needing to recuperate from a previous year’s energy-intensive blooming, or an unknown stress. Small whorled pogonia is exceedingly rare throughout all its range, and has been listed as a federally threatened species as a result.  

Small Whorled Pogonia ForestSmall Whorled Pogonia ForestSmall Whorled Pogonia is one of the most imperiled orchids in North America.

This plant has gained the nickname, “the rarest orchid east of the Mississippi." It's a federally threatened species. In New York, however, where this specimen was photographed, it's listed as endangered. A single population, consisting of a mere 6 individuals, is all that's known in the state.

Small Whorled Pogonia

 

                                                                                                  

Rattlesnake Plantain WoodlandRattlesnake Plantain Woodland

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

 

                                                                                                                                                                        Little Club-spur Orchid (Contrast)Little Club-spur Orchid (Contrast)

Little Club-spur Orchid

 

To view more orchid photos, visit the "Rare and Unusual Plants" album under the galleries tab.

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Orchids http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/8/orchids Sun, 23 Aug 2015 05:53:35 GMT
The Colorful Lobelias http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/7/Lobelia Iona Island WildflowersIona Island WildflowersIona Island, Bear Mountain State Park. -Marsh mallow (pink), cardinal flower (red), and sneezeweed (yellow)

During the latter half of the summer season flowers of the genus Lobelia first make their appearance, adding gaudy splashes of color to the overwhelmingly verdant surroundings that take hold of the landscape after the last of the vibrant spring ephemerals have faded away and before the tawny autumnal tints arrive. Coming in an unusually varied and vivid bunch, the hues garnered by this genus can easily be mistaken as originating from some foreign or tropical locale, particularly when it comes to cardinal flower and great blue lobelia, the brightest and showiest of the group, which resemble imported garden escapees. But, in reality, these vibrant reds and blues that glow as brightly as neon lights in our seemingly tempered forests and wetlands are in fact native to the U.S.

Awarded the honor of “America’s favorite” by Roger Tory Peterson in his wildflower field guide, it’s easy to see why the fiery-red cardinal flower has gained such an impressive reputation. Standing between 2-5 feet tall with a color brighter than even the bird endowed with the same name, it’s unlikely to go unnoticed. Moreover, each plant usually bears a dozen or more blossoms along the plant’s slender spike that rises above all surrounding herbaceous vegetation; such floral extravagance “dazzles you,” as Thoreau voiced. John Burroughs, another poet-naturalist, in upstate New York, was similarly impressed with the species—enough so to write a poem about the cardinal flower in which he described the vivid plant a “heart-throb of color.”

Cardinal FlowerCardinal Flower

This color comes in handy for attracting ruby-throated hummingbirds, the cardinal flower’s chief pollinator and sole hummingbird species native to the Northeast. As one of the few northern plants possessing red flowers—the hummingbirds color of choice—it’s the main reason these birds have been able to successively colonize our region. Both species find themselves mutually reliant on one another, and, not surprisingly, therefore have closely overlapping ranges. A decline of either species will inevitably result in a similar loss for the other.

The shape of the tubular flowers have evolved to facilitate pollination by long-tongued creatures. Aside from hummingbirds, butterflies appear to be the only other pollinator capable of extracting the deeply sequestered nectar.

The derivation of the plant’s name is not what you might think. While it’s tempting to conclude that the flower was named after the scarlet bird, or vice-versa, the naming of both actually harkens back to Europe. Clerics of the Catholic Church, called cardinals, wear cloaks of an identical hue—whence comes the name.

On the other side of the color spectrum lies the great blue lobelia, a plant hardly less impressive than its scarlet-tinted cousin, sporting flowers imbued with a twilight azure of fading evening skies. Eloise Butler, an early 20th Century botanist, describes it filling late summer meadows “in such opulence” that the surroundings morph into an artwork seemingly “gemmed with lapis lazuli and rimmed with goldenrod.” This species is smaller, but more robust than the slender 3-6 foot tall cardinal flower, having its inch long blossoms more tightly packed and condensed. With these concentrated features its color presentation is dramatic and indeed gem-like.

Great Blue LobeliaGreat Blue Lobelia

As red attracts hummingbirds, blue, it seems, is the prime color to draw bees. Evolutionary speaking, it’s generally thought to be the most advanced flower color. Green emerged first, and then with a linear progression, white and yellow, red, and lastly the deep and enigmatic blues, developed. While bees are the main pollinators, hummingbirds will pay the occasional visit, although the stouter flowers favor pollination by the former.

The plant’s Latin name, siphilatica, is in reference to it having been used in years past as a treatment for syphilis. Native Americans held its efficacy in high enough esteem that enterprising colonizers had it exported overseas. European physicians, however, failed to find it of any use.

Various tribes also believed it to possess magical qualities. Legend has it that if L. siphilatica is dried, ground into powder, and thrown into the winds of an approaching storm, it has the power to render them benign. The Iroquois steeped the plant in hot water and drank a concoction of it at night to ward off spells and other bewitchments.

Lobelia inflata, commonly known as Indian tobacco, is another related species which has been used for a multitude of restorative purposes. Unlike the name suggests, the plant was not recreationally used; it was smoked only occasionally for medicinal purposes. Aboriginal inhabitants employed it mainly to treat asthma and other lung ailments. Ironically, modern research has shown the plant contains an alkaloid which has the potential to help smokers quit.

Its other chief use was as an emetic, meaning it induces vomiting. Other names for the plant consist of gagroot, puke and vomitweed. The plant has such an acrid taste that even the most ravenous livestock will avoid it. The ever-curious Thoreau himself tried the plant once noting that “tasting one such herb convinces me that there are such things as drugs which may either kill or cure.” A tea made from the leaves is so potent that in 1879 a Canadian farmer was confident enough in the plant’s ability to cause vomiting that he was recorded as humorously betting a team of horses that drinking the liquid would do the trick. Numerous historical accounts attest to its efficacy for such purgative purposes.

Indian tobacco’s diminutive ¼ inch long flowers are studded along the length of the upright spike with a density much lower than the lobelias already described and bear a purple pastel coloration. Due to these factors, it’s by far the most frequently overlooked in the bunch, although its distinctive inflated seed pods, similar in appearance to small unripe grapes, make it easy pick out among a mass of vegetation. Though prized more for its medicinal merits than its beauty, an up-close look at its finely crafted blossoms is sure to draw admiration and respect.

All three plants can be found in bloom from August to September. Indian tobacco arrives a bit sooner, sometimes as early as mid-July and thrives in drier woodland habitats less conducive to its soggy-dwelling brethren. It’s not unusual to spot individuals growing in thin soils along rocky trails on the sides of mostly xeric mountains. Cardinal flower and great blue lobelia, in contrast, prefer much moister environs, usually inhabiting the borders of streams, rivers, and other perpetually damp areas offering abundant sunlight.

It’s certainly not much of a challenge to find these plants in areas in which they grow. All stand tall and erect with an air of confidence, matured from the flowers of spring that barely rear their shy heads above the detritus of the forest floor. As the year progresses each successive burst of flowering plants must reach higher than their predecessors if they wish to be seen and pollinated. They must keep in step with the ever-rising herbaceous vegetation that surrounds, consisting mostly of grasses and weeds, which by the time the lobelias put forth flowers can reach waist height or higher. With all the energy these plants have to expend to outcompete their duller competitors, it would be a shame to have such visually impressive displays be for naught. Get out there and search—it takes only a fraction of the time to find these common beauties than it would to locate rarer species endowed with a similar level of elegance.

 

Other local lobelias:

                                                            Pale-spiked lobelia (Lobelia spicata)

 

                                                           Kalm's Lobelia  (Lobelia kalmii)

 

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Lobelia http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/7/Lobelia Wed, 22 Jul 2015 05:26:22 GMT
Groundnut (Apios americana) http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/6/groundnut GroundnutGroundnut

The groundnut (Apios americana) is a rather unusual specimen in the plant world, possessing an eclectic set of characteristics rarely seen bundled together in a single species. The roots, or rather tubers, have been used as a staple food source for millennia by the various indigenous tribes of North America. The adventuring naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, who partook in some wild specimens dug along the sloping sides of a sunny railroad embankment regarded it as a “fabulous fruit” with a “sweetish taste” that was “better boiled than roasted.” Its dark red or chocolate colored blossoms not only impress visually, but have one of the most fragrant scents of our native wildflowers. The delicate compound leaves, moreover, make an excellent groundcover that provides protection for a myriad of beneficial pollinating insects. The plump tubers also enrich the soil through a series of chemical and microbial reactions by a process known as nitrogen fixation. In short, groundnut, is one of the few native plant species that will satisfy the strictest requirements of even the most demanding gardener or plant enthusiast.

This long-lasting perennial vine prefers full sun and very moist, acidic soil. It has a wide distribution, occupying 2/3 of the country, ranging from Maine westward to Colorado. Under the right conditions, plants can proliferate to provide an expansive groundcover, or if grown near a trellis or other similar upright structure, a dense wall of decorative foliage. Plants, generally speaking, do well grown at home, as long as the proper moisture conditions are met. The quickest way for a population to become established is to utilize the tubers, which should be harvested in the fall when plants go into dormancy. Seeds from the bean-like seed pods can also be collected at around the same time, although propagation is often difficult. Whatever method preferred, space individuals 12-18 inches apart, as to leave ample room to expand.  Groundnuts can be grown around other similarly dense herbaceous plants or shrubs, such as violets, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. With the added nitrogen groundnuts put into the soil, surrounding plants receive a nutrient boost that helps increase size, and, if fruit producing, crop yield.

Despite groundnut’s prodigious resume, its widest accolade is undoubtedly its ability to be used as a wild edible. It has a fine taste resembling a potato. Tuber size is variable, with some younger specimens being no larger than a peanut; on rare occasions, that they can attain sizes comparable to an apple or even a melon. Nutritionally speaking, the groundnut is one of the richest wild plants. It’s high in carbohydrates and protein levels are found in three times the proportion as an equal quantity of potatoes. Historical reports indicate that nearly every indigenous culture within the distribution of A. americana used it as a source of food on some level. The Pilgrims were taught of its value by the natives of Massachusetts, which undoubtedly helped them survive their first harsh winter in the New World. Despite their value, groundnuts have never successfully proliferated as a staple crop. With plants taking a minimum of 2-3 years to produce tubers large enough and in sufficient quantities to gather, while potatoes can be harvested in a single season, it doesn’t make sense to grow commercially. Additionally, plants have a tendency to grow outward in every direction, making cultivating them in straight rows rather tricky.

The atypical flowers of the groundnut make this species a curiosity to behold in any setting with its vastly unique shape, color, and scent. “The crumpled red velvety blossoms,” as Thoreau described, exhibit an inflorescence, often occurring in tall, upright clusters containing a dozen or more flowers that are thrust several inches above the foliage. The maroon-brown flowers which bloom from June to September are imbued with a delightful fragrance that permeates the air, and is somewhat similar in scent to violets, though much more potent and lasting (unlike the fleeting scent of the violet which contains a compound that temporarily inhibits smell receptors). A horticulturist at the turn of the 20th Century pithily remarked that the groundnut “pays its tithe in fragrance, and brings into uniformity much that would be otherwise, unsightly, straggling growth.”

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mjadamovic@hotmail.com (Adamovic Nature Photography) Groundnut http://adamovicnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/6/groundnut Tue, 30 Jun 2015 00:58:13 GMT