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Violets and Ladyslippers

25 May

This is the time to see many different violet species in bloom. Look for yellow, blue, purple, light blue, and white-flowering species on dry hillsides, in rich forest soil, in seepy areas, and along creeks! Over the last week, we got to see at least 8 native species. Who would have thought that we have such a variety of wild-growing, native violets right around here?

The most common of our native violets is, not surprisingly, the Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia, incl. V. papilionacea). Its flower stalk comes directly out of the ground and it has only basal leaves (no leaves are borne on the flowering stalk). It is not very picky with its habitat and can be found in meadows, lawns, hedgerows, along forest edges, and in forest as well.

The Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) looks similar to the Common Blue Violet, but tends to have longer flowering stalks, often bringing the flowers way above the leaves. It also seems to have more variability in flower color, ranging from the light blue in this picture to a much deeper blue. The biggest difference is its preference for wet feet. Look for it in creek beds, seeps, wet meadows and floodplain forests, for example at the base of Phudd Hill and in wet pastures of Hawthorne Valley Farm.

The Arrow-leaved Violet (V. sagittata, incl. V. fimbriatula) thrives in very dry meadows and tends to stay close to the ground. It can be found on the hillside pastures of Hawthorne Valley. We saw the similar, but yellow-flowered Round-leaved Violet several years ago in Beebe State Forest.

The Northern White Violet (Viola pallens) occurs beside brooks and springs. Its leaves (only the small dark leaves in the picture belong to the violet) are more kidney-shaped than the heart-shaped leaves of the otherwise very similar Sweet White Violet (Viola blanda), which prefers dryer ground.

The Long-spur Violet (Viola rostrata) indicates calcium-rich soils and is quite uncommon in our area. Its pale violet flowers have a long, pointed spur and are borne on a stalk that also bears leaves. A very similar species is the Dog Violet (Viola conspersa) which has also pale violet flowers that are spurred, but with a much shorter, blunter spur. There is a small population on Phudd Hill.

Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) might well be our rarest violet in the county and occurs only here and there in rich moist soil close to calcium-rich outcrops. The petals are white with a purple back, the flowers are on tall stalks that also bear leaves. A few years back, we have seen several plants of this species in one spot on Phudd Hill but have been unable to re-locate that population in subsequent years.

A more common violet is the Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens), which is found in rich forests and can be observed at the base of Phudd Hill.

It is also the perfect time to go look for Pink Ladyslippers, our most conspicuous native orchid. We have a very small patch of Pink Ladyslippers right here on Phudd Hill in Hawthorne Valley.

Ladyslippers, like many other orchids, have become quite rare and we are very happy to see our small population “hang in there”, year after year, although it is a bit disconcerting that it is the same 10 plants we see each year and that there are no seedlings. Orchids have a very fragile reproductive system. Not all flowers develop seeds. Seeds are tiny and have no nutrient reserves to help get the seedlings started. Instead, the seeds depend on the presence of certain fungi to form a symbiotic relationship (mycorrhiza) with the seedlings. Where the habitat has been altered and the fungi have disappeared, the seeds won’t germinate.

There are several additional reasons why our native orchids have become so rare: although they are protected by the state, some people can not resist collecting them. And deer eat them like so many other native wildflowers…

The place in Columbia County to see lots of them is along the Taconic Trail in Taconic State Park. Drive up Sunset Rock Road north of Copake Falls, park in the little parking area on the crest and then take the trail either north or south from there and enjoy the Pink Ladyslippers!

We do have another, even rarer Ladyslipper here in the county: the Yellow Ladyslipper. It has not yet been found at Hawthorne Valley, but last week we had the great fortune to spot one near a limestone outcrop in New Lebanon. We have heard about them occurring here and there in Ancram and Kinderhook, as well. It is worth to keep one’s eyes open, especially if you are in a calcium-rich area with deep moist soils…

Yellow Ladyslipper has a smaller flower and is more "leafy" than Pink Ladyslipper.

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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Nature

 

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