Story and Photos by Joan Herrmann
Whereiwander… may be to observe many of our native plants as I only have to walk out into our meadow, woods, or for a walk along the nearby roadsides. Many of the native plants can be found during our three growing seasons. Remnants of them can also readily be seen in winter and are exceptionally pretty when covered with hoary frosts. Many dry extremely well and can provide us with delightful dried flower arrangements. Unfortunately for some people even some of our native plants can be a nemesis; because they bloom at the same time of the year one gets the blame and the other goes barely unnoticed. These two plants which begin blooming in late August and continue their growth throughout early autumn are Goldenrod and Ragweed. Goldenrod is generally tall, brilliant yellow and has showy blossoms, and grows in a variety of habitats. Goldenrod gets blamed as the instigator of allergy conditions. Runny nose, teary eyes, and sneezing are general allergy complaints that are tagged with Goldenrod’s name. In the meantime, an unobtrusive-looking small green plant with green flowers with the enchanting name Ambrosia artemisiifolia, also known as Common Ragweed, seldom gets the actual culpability.
I have learned through research and observation that there are numerous species of Goldenrod in our area. Perhaps as many as sixty plus can be found in New York State. Early Goldenrod (Salidago juncea) is blooming now and is a favorite of many pollinators, and especially the numerous late summer species of butterflies. The goldenrod plant produces very heavy pollen which stays on each plant even if it is exceedingly windy. Heavy pollen is a benefit for the pollinators such as bees, wasps, moths, and flies and even for their predators like spiders, and some of the assassin or ambush bugs that take advantage of the pollinators. The ragweed pollen is exceptionally light and it is not pollinated by insects. Pollination takes place in the air. When the wind blows or if an animal brushes by it the ragweed pollen is released into the air by the billions. When you hear or read about the “Pollen Count’ being high they are actually referring to the ragweed pollen.
Quite often people are surprised to hear that we have numerous native orchids in New York State. Some wildflower admirers consider orchids as the jewels of our native wildflowers. Many of you probably have seen and immediately recognize the spring orchid; Pink Lady’s Slipper that can be seen in late May or early June while hiking along woodland trails. I imagine that several of you may have visited bogs to see the “queen” of the bog the Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule). Many of our native orchids also bloom in late summer and even in early autumn. A friend shared a discovery he had made of a patch of small orchids known as Downy Rattlesnake (Goodyera pubescens) with me. They are named for the supposed snakeskin appearance of their leaves and the downy or soft hairy look of the stems and flowers. It was believed that the Native Americans used the plant to treat snake bites. Botanists have found, however, that the plant does not medicinally contain properties that can cure a venomous snake bite.
Another late blooming orchid is the Large Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera grandifloria). I found and photographed this species a few years ago in a wetland close to my home. This orchid prefers wet meadows, bogs, and the edges of small streams. I was actually looking for Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies that can also be found in this type of habitat. About a week ago a friend and I hiked into Ferd’s Bog off Uncas Road in Eagle Bay where we were fortunate to see a White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis). Ferd’s Bog is an easy hike of about three-tenths of a mile through interesting woods to a sturdy boardwalk. In addition to an opportunity to see several species of orchids throughout the growing season, there are numerous other amazing native wildflowers that you might encounter. Off the trail going through the woods to the bog, you are apt to see Bunch Berries, Blue Bead Lilies, and this time of year Indian-Pipe (Monotropa uniflora).
Indian-pipe is a translucent waxy plant that is a member of the Wintergreen Family. Its flowers which may be white or pink are quite unique. Its waxy appearance may make the viewer believe that it is a type of mushroom. The plant is actually a saprophytic and is devoid of chlorophyll and therefore not green. A saprophytic plant gets its nutrients from dead organic matter. While hiking along the boardwalk you will see Creeping Snowberrry (Gaultheria hispidula) it grows among the Sphagnum mosses that grow profusely in the bog. Also, you will see numerous herbaceous plants such as Bog Rosemary, Labrador Tea, and Sweet Gale. Probably the most fun the children to encounter are the two carnivorous plants the Pitcher-Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) which resemble a pitcher. The pitcher has veined red and green leaves and is usually half-filled with water. The pitcher also has downward-pointing bristles that aid in trapping insects which it digests. The plant has a tall nodding globular flower that turns a dull deep red and its scent attracts the insects. You will have to look a bit for the other carnivorous plant as it is very tiny. It would be a good idea to bring along a magnifying lens or the macro feature of your camera will work too. The second carnivorous plant is called Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). It is a rosette of small round leaves each of a slender stalk and it is covered with reddish glandular hairs which exude a sticky juice that appear as dew drops.
And of course, this is the time of year when the monarch can be seen in the meadow seeking pollen from the late-blooming wildflowers and maybe even being laying an egg on the native milkweed plants as they continue on their southern bound journey to their wintering over habitats.
As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995 she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute, in Utica, New York she has been educating children and adults, for nineteen years.
In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP) and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.
Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.
Since October 2016 she has been writing a bimonthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at email@example.com