Tag Archives: NY Natural Heritage Program

Late Spring Flora

Finally the weather is warming and the flowers are popping out. Time to get outside and look for spring flora! You can find wildflowers in the woods, at the pond or along a stream, in the dunes, or maybe even in your back yard or neighborhood. Here are some native wildflowers in bloom to look out for in May and June.

In the Woods

One of the best places to see an abundance of spring flora is in moist hardwood forests with sugar maple, basswood, ash, and red oak. These are often on slopes and along streams. More acidic forests or drier forests dominated by pines, black or scarlet oak, huckleberries, and blueberries tend to have a less-diverse spring flora. These are common on rocky soils, ridgetops, sandplains (like Long Island or Saratoga). Below are some common wildflowers to look for in either of these types of forests.

Wood anemones (Anemone) are named after the Greek word for “wind”. They have five white petals, divided leaves – shaped kind of like an outstretched hand – and start to bloom before the trees are fully leafed-out. Believe it or not, these are actually related to buttercups!Wood anemone S Young NYNHP1

Bellworts (Uvularia spp.) are common woodland flowers in our parks. They have delicate bell-shaped flowers with six pale yellow petals. There are three common bellwort species in NY state: large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) that likes nutrient-rich or calcareous soils, perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata), and sessile-leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia). The latter is the most common across the state and is also known by the name “wild oats.”

Large bellwort Steve Young NYNHP1

Our native dogwoods (Cornus spp.) have white to pink flowers and include one flowering tree species, several shrubs, and one non-woody (herbaceous) wildflower species. Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) grows low to the ground, but its flowers look just like those of the flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida). They may even be blooming at the same time. Dogwoods are identified by the curving veins on the leaves, and flowers with four white or pink bracts that look like petals.

Bunchberry Steve Young NYSNHP1

Shrubby dogwood Gregory Edinger NYNYP1

In Wetlands, Ponds or Streams

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) is an easy one to spot because it grows in big clumps or sometimes in large patches. It is always in wet spots, either along slow streams or in open or forested wetlands or seeps. Like the anemones above, this too is in the Buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family.

Marsh marigold Steve Young NYNHP1

Canada lily (Lilium canadense) grows in somewhat open forested wetlands and wet thickets — habitats that are often harder to see from trails and boardwalks. This beautiful lily is widespread across the state, but not nearly so common as marsh marigold.

Canada lily Timothy Howard NYNHP.1jpg

In June, start looking for water lilies in vegetated ponds. We have several native pond lilies, including this stunning White pond lily (Nymphaea odorata) and several yellow pond lilies (Nuphar spp.). Water lilies often serve as landing pads for insects like bees, beetles, damselflies, dragonflies and frogs often hide in the water nearby. You may see some of these critters if you approach slowly and quietly; it’s a good way to keep kids interested too.

White pond lily Kimberly Smith NYNHP1

Sunny Spots from High to Low: Outcrops, Shorelines, and Dunes

Some plants need a lot of sun and can tolerate extremes of heat, wind and/or drought. Here are some of those rugged spring wildflowers to look for:

On rocky trails and summits in the Palisades and Hudson Highlands Parks and elsewhere, look for the pale, yellow flowers of bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera). Bush honeysuckle is one of our native honeysuckles and it attracts many pollinators. It is much less common than the non-native honeysuckles, so a little harder to find and often overlooked.

Bush honeysuckle Gregory Edinger NYNYP1

Find a rocky outcrop, rocky lakeshore, or streamside outcrop anywhere in the state and you may find this delicate looking flower: the Bellflower or Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia). You can find it on the rocky shorelines of Lake Ontario in Wehle State Park or other Thousand Islands Parks, on streamside outcrops in the Finger Lakes or Whetstone State Park gorges, or on the rocky summits and slopes of parks like Minnewaska, Hudson Highlands, or Taconic State Parks. This is the bellflower you are most likely to see, but there are native and non-native lookalikes (though usually not in these open rocky spots).

Harebell-bellflower J Lundgren NYNHP1

How about on the sunny dunes of Long Island? Have you ever seen Beach heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) in full bloom? It grows in gray-green mounds on the dunes and sports its tiny but profuse yellow blooms in June. Visit duneside trails at Jones Beach, Hither Hills, Napeague, or Orient Beach State Park. Remember to stay on trails to protect this fragile ecosystem. Local native bees take advantage of this food source.Beach heather Steve Young & Kimberly Smith NYNHP

What’s in a name?

Did you know that every plant (and known organism) is given a unique scientific name? Those are the names in parentheses above. The scientific name consists of a genus followed by a species name like Lilium (genus name) + canadense (species name) = Lilium canadense. While there may be few different plants referred to as Canada lily, or someone might call this plant a meadow lily or wild yellow-lily, the scientific name of Lilium canadense refers to just one kind of plant. So, biologists and landscapers and other people working with plants or animals will use the scientific names when they want to make it clear exactly what species they are referring to. You will see these names in the wildflower guides (books or websites) noted below.

The scientific name also helps to see what species are related — organisms with the same genus name are closely related. So Lilium canadense and Lilium superbum are closely related because they are both in the Lilium genus. Common names are not reliable for this purpose. For example, the white water lily is not a close cousin of the Liliums, as it is in a different genus (Nymphaea). In fact these two kinds of “lilies” are in completely different plant families, the Liliaceae and the Nymphaceae, like distant branches on the family tree.

Both called lilly Timothy Howard and Kimberly Smith, NYNHP

TO LEARN MORE:

Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb. Paperback. 1989. The standard field guide for flora in the northeast. Relies on flower structure so takes a little more time to learn, but includes more species than Peterson’s guide.

Peterson Field Guides, Wildflowers – key by color and shape. Great for the casual observer, or if just starting out, try the Peterson First Guide to Wildflowers.

Go Botany – a great online plant key to flora of New England, but includes most of plants you will see in New York.

NY Flora Atlas – the most current taxonomy, atlas, see what is native or not, rare or common, links to other sources.

NY Flora Association – information about field trips, classes, “Learn 10” programs for all levels, calendar of botany field trips and events across the state, links to other information on flora.

NYNHP Conservation Guides – These provide descriptions of the Natural Communities in New York – different kinds of forests, wetlands and other habitats. Use Advanced Search to find what types are in your county. Each Guide gives a few examples of where you can see it and some characteristic plants.

Post by Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist with New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP).

Images by NYNHP 2018; may be used with permission only.  http://www.nynhp.org

The Hudson River’s “Tough Turtles”

During the summer months along the Hudson River south of Troy, New York, it’s easy to notice the tides rising and falling, herons wading in the shallow streams, and the giant cargo ships purposefully streaming up and down the river. Difficult to spot, however, are the river’s many turtles. Several varieties call the Hudson home, but the northern (also called common) map turtle is perhaps the most interesting and understudied.

Princess
Northern map turtle “Princess” hanging out while her tracker tag dries before her release. Scientists use these tags to locate the turtles for months after capture.

Northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) are large river turtles that get their name from the intricate circling pattern on their shells, which resemble the elevation lines on a map. These turtles are relatively secretive. In urban areas they have to work especially hard to find what they need to survive. For one thing, turtles need good basking objects—places where they can come out of the water safely and sun themselves to warm up. Fallen trees or rocks make the best basking habitat, specifically ones that are farther out into the water so they can easily escape from potential predators. Because of the tides, many potentially good basking objects aren’t reachable as they are either too high up the bank or underwater at any given time.

Luna
Scientists quietly observe northern map turtle “Luna” nesting from a safe distance. This nest received protection from predators and likely hatched successfully months later.

Another problem is finding places to lay their eggs. All turtles lay eggs and the northern map turtle is no exception. Most turtles prefer loose, sandy soil with plenty of sunlight for the eggs to develop successfully. Temperature determines the gender of the tiny map turtle babies—eggs toward the cooler, bottom of the nest often become males, while those eggs toward the warmer top (that therefore get more sun and heat) will become females. But in this highly urban area, good places to nest are few and far between. Natural areas, like those found in some of the State Parks along the river, help provide habitat for them. These spots seem perfect for northern map turtles, but they do tend to have a couple of drawbacks: 1) road and foot traffic and 2) predators smelling the eggs and destroying the nests soon after they’ve been laid. In addition, well-meaning people who are simply curious about these turtles (and with good reason!) approach nesting females that may “spook” and stop laying. People should give nesting turtles some space and observe quietly from a distance.

Nest
Probable northern map turtle nest destroyed by a predator. Shells that appear twisted indicate some animal has eaten them, whereas more intact shells mean the nest has likely hatched successfully.

 

Because good turtle habitat is hard to find in an urbanized section of the river, researchers Dr. James Gibbs and Master of Science candidate Julia Vanaman from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry are working to identify what habitats are most important to map turtles. Aquatic plants, basking objects, forest along the river banks, and shoreline development all likely play a role in where these turtles choose to spend their time. Once the researchers understand why a turtle likes an area, they can pass along that information to state and local park managers who can protect habitat and take measures to enhance it (e.g., by creating nesting habitat or increasing the number of available basking objects). With these habitat improvements, hopefully these fascinating turtles will stick around for many years to come.

Note: Northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) occur across much of eastern North America from the Mississippi River, north to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, and east to small portions of the Susquehanna, Delaware and Hudson river systems. In New York State, the map turtle is considered vulnerable to decline and is recognized as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the state’s wildlife action plan. For more information, please check out the following links:

New York State Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Rare Animal Status List

Common Map Turtle Distribution Map

Turtles of New York State

NatureServe northern map turtle

NatureServe Map

Post and photos by Julia Vanaman, Master of Science candidate, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Featured image attribution: By Dger [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Trees Spring Ahead

red_maple_buds_JLundgren

Spring is here and the tree buds are starting to pop. Red maple (Acer rubrum) is among the first to flower, revealing little tassles of red and orange. The leaves will emerge a bit later.

silver_maple_JLundgren

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is another early bloomer. Perhaps this tree was named after its silvery flowers.

Beech trees are late comers — the long skinny buds and last year’s leaves are still holding tight. They are easy to spot in the woods before everything greens up.

Beech combined
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) bud and leaves.

Remember all that snow and how heavy it was? If you find trees arching over a trail or at odd angles in the woods, that may be a sign that it survived a heavy load of snow like these hemlocks. Trees are amazingly resilient and strong.

hemlocks_in_snow1_JLundgren
Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) branches bent down by the weight of the snow.

Before long the trees will be greening up and a new season of growth, with the sounds of birds, insects, and wildlife, will return. Take a walk through the woods. Look how small we are compared to the trees!

Bennington
Immersed in the woods on a trail at Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site.

Do you feel inspired, in awe, empowered or claustrophobic under a canopy of trees? More than 80% of NY State Parks and Historic Sites are covered in forest, so you can find spots like this in a park near you.

COHF_ClayPit_F16LUN20s01_tree_canopy
Tree canopy at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, Staten Island.

Perhaps you prefer viewing the trees from a distance or sitting under a favorite tree. NYS Historic Sites are great places for this: Crown Point on Lake Champlain (below), Olana on the Hudson, Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, Lorenzo in Cazenovia, or Hyde Hall at Glimmerglass are a few spots to enjoy big trees.

Crown Pt
Crown Point State Historic Site offers scenic vistas and some beautiful trees.

Take a little time this Arbor Day to appreciate our tall tree friends and spring into action with some walks in the woods or a stroll along a tree-lined path.

Post and photos by Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist, NY Natural Heritage Program, NYNHP. NYNHP works in partnership with State Parks to survey and map rare species and natural communities in the parks to aid in stewardship of their natural resources.

Nutty Over Nuts

Fall is an especially good time to find all kinds of nuts on the forest floor, in a picnic area in the park, or maybe even in your neighborhood or back yard. Let’s take a look and learn how to identify some of these wild nuts.

In technical botanical terms, all of these “nuts” are called the “fruit”. The fruit is defined as the seed and the package which holds the seed. So, for example, the acorn is the “fruit” of an oak tree, and inside is the nut which is a type of seed. If you use plant keys you will see those terms, but for general use, it is ok to call them all nuts!

Acorns are some of the most common types of nuts. Do you know what tree they come from? Acorns come from oak trees. Oaks are found far and wide across New York State and the United States so you should be able to find oak trees and acorns in a park near you. Acorns come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the type of oak they are from. They are a favorite food of squirrels, turkeys, deer, and other animals.

Red oak acorn_photo by Julie Lundgren
Red oak acorn, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Red oak acorns are big (over 1 inch long) and roundish like a fat egg. They have very flat caps that cover only a small part of the acorn. The northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is the most common oak species in NY and its state parks.

Scarlet oak acorn_photo by Julie Lundgren
Scarlet oak acorn, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) acorns are less than 1 inch long and have shiny caps with tight scales. Scarlet oaks are common in Eastern NY, usually found on sandy or rocky soils. If you look closely at this picture, you can see a small round hole in the acorn: a sign that it was eaten by some type of insect.

Bur oak acorn_photo by Julie Lundgren
Bur oak acorn, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

The large size and heavy fringe of this acorn cap tell us that these are from bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), one of our less common oak species in NY. Sometimes you will only the acorns caps, as the nuts have been carried away by squirrels.

Walnuts

What nut looks like a green tennis ball? That would be the black walnut (Juglans nigra), from the tree of the same name. They have a really strong smell and can stain your clothes, so handle with care. Over time they turn brown and dry out. Black walnuts can be eaten but it takes a lot of work to dry and husk them. They also make a beautiful natural dye.

Black walnuts ADJ_photo by Julie Lundgren
Fresh black walnuts can get almost as big as a tennis ball. As they age and dry out, they get smaller like the one in the center. photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

The butternut tree (Juglans cinerea) is a closely related to black walnut and has very similar nuts. They start out bright green like the black walnut, but are shaped more like footballs rather than the tennis balls shape of black walnuts.

Butternuts ADJ_photo by Julie Lundgren
Butternuts, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

By early fall, the butternuts nuts have dried up and lost their fuzzy husk and they look very much like the English walnuts you buy in the store. This butternut was found empty. Both black walnuts and butternuts are edible but it can be tough to find one that hasn’t already been snacked on by a squirrel!

Butternut_photo by Julie Lundgren
Butternuts in mid-fall, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Hickory

Hickories are another very important tree for wildlife including turkey, deer, chipmunk, squirrel, mice and others. Of the 20 hickory species found in North America, five species are native to New York State. A good key to identifying these is found here.

Hickory shells ADJ_photo by Julie Lundgren
Hickory nuts can have thin or thick-walled husks like the two types shown here, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.
Pignut_Bitternut_photo by Julie Lundgren
Pig nut, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

Pignut (Carya glabra), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa) and Bitternut (Carya cordiformis) hickory have thin husks like this. There are two types of nuts: ones that keep their husk on as they mature or ripen (“indehiscent”) and those with husks that split completely and fall off the nut by the end of fall (“dehiscent”). One has to look at the leaves and/or buds to properly identify these species. As its name suggests, Bitternut is one that is not palatable to either wildlife or people.

Shellbark Hickory_photo by Julie Lundgren
Shellback Hickory nut, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

Wow – what nuts are these? These are the thick husks of the Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa), a tree that is rare in NY. The husks range from 1.5 inches to nearly 3 inches long, and the nuts inside would be pointed at both ends. That’s one tough nut to crack! These husks were empty, but you can see how the cavity tapers to a point at each end. The more common Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is very similar, but the nuts are rounded at the base and the husks do not exceed 2 inches long. Nuts from both of these trees are sweet and edible.

American Chestnut

American Chestnut_photo by Julie Lundgren
American chestnut, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

If you find one of these, consider yourself very lucky! This is the fruit and nut of the American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata). Although a blight killed off the large trees, some sprouts persisted and some trees do get large enough to produce nuts like this. These spikes are so sharp you can’t even pick them up with your bare hands, which keeps animals from eating the nut inside. Eventually the husks open up to release the nut in hopes that a new tree will grow.

Quiz Time – What Nuts are These?

Piles hickory shells_photo by Julie Lundgren
Shell pile at the base of a tree, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

It’s easy to overlook them, but look around the base of the trees and sometimes you will find piles of nuts – empty or maybe whole. All kinds of nuts are a very important food source for wildlife. The ones shown above (mixed in with the leaves) are mostly the empty shells or husks of hickory nuts that were eaten by animals.

Shell assortment ADJ_photo by Julie Lundgren
Can you find the following nuts: black walnut, a half-eaten butternut, 2 kinds of hickory nuts, and caps from some acorns? Photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

Learn More

Want to learn more about nuts and tree fruits of all kinds? Below are some good books and websites to get you started.

Fruit Key and Twig Key book_photo by Julie Lundgren
“Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs” by William Harlow, photo by Julie Lundgren.

GoBotany – an online tool for identifying plants in New England but includes most tree species found in NY state too.

Shellbark Hickory NYNHP Conservation Guide

New York Flora Atlas

Photos and post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program

The Petaltail’s Tale

Each June and July, visitors to several gorge parks are rewarded with an unusual treat – the chance to see a “living fossil.”

The term “living fossil” refers to species that have evolved very little over the course of millions of years. Some well-known examples of living fossils include elephant sharks, ginkgo trees, and horseshoe crabs. Although all of these organisms have evolved, these species have stayed so similar that fossils from millions of years ago are still recognizable as ancestors to the modern species.

Petaltail on Rocks, photo by State Parks
A gray petaltail perches in the sun along a gorge trail, photo by State Parks.

Meet the gray petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi), a species of dragonfly that closely resembles its ancestors who were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth during the Jurassic Period – almost 200 million years ago!  During that time, the petaltail dragonfly was part of very widespread family known as the Petaluridae. Today, however, there are only 11 species of Petaluridae remaining worldwide.

The gray petaltail is found in several of the Finger Lakes gorge parks the gray petaltails love hunting in the gorges, because they can go to the sunny side of the gorge to get warm, which allows them to move much faster.  Petaltails are drawn to the gorges to lay their eggs in the soggy seeps on wooded slopes. Most dragonflies lay their eggs in water bodies. The eggs grow into juvenile dragonflies, called nymphs that also typically live in water.  That is not the case for the gray petaltail nymphs! The gray petaltail is the only species of dragonfly that does not have fully aquatic nymphs. Instead, the petaltail nymphs live and grow while hidden in the mud, moss and moist leaf litter in the forest seeps. As the nymphs mature, they climb up the trunks of trees to become the adult dragonflies that can fly fast and free all around the gorge.

Dragonfly nymphs - Wikimedia
Petaltail nymphs look very similar to these aquatic dragonfly nymphs, photo by 2109tristan https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dragonfly_nymphs_2013-06-20_16-36.jpg

While they are not nearly as large as their Jurassic ancestors, today’s petaltails are one of the larger species of dragonflies, with a wingspan of up to 5 inches wide.  Their distinct black and gray coloring also makes it easy to identify.  This species often perches upon rocks and tree trunks, but it is not uncommon for it to perch upon a passerby! Although they are large and ferocious insect predators (eating thousands of mosquitoes), dragonflies are harmless to humans. If you are lucky enough to be chosen as a dragonfly perch, you may be startled, but either brush them away very gently or just enjoy it!

Petaltail caught during odonate survey, Becky Sibner
Gray petaltail caught during an odonate (dragonfly) survey, photo by Becky Sibner, State Parks.

The gray petaltail is listed as a species of special concern within New York State, as it is only known in specialized habitat in a small number of locations.  NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) continues to survey for them and recently found another new site for them. Luckily, some of those locations are within New York’s state parks, providing habitat protection to this fascinating species – and maybe a chance to see this primitive insect for yourself, especially in June and July.

Petaltail_habitat_Lundgren_NYNHP
Look for gray petaltails in habitats  like this, photo by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program

Post by Laura Young, FORCES Environmental Education Steward & Becky Sibner, Stewardship Project Coordinator, State Parks

Featured image: gray petaltail on a Jack-in-the-pulpit, Kerry Wixted

Sources:

Paulson, D. (2011). Dragonflies and damselflies of the East. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

NY Natural Heritage Conservation Guide for gray petaltail

Gray petaltail, IUCN 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-1. <http://www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 12 May 2017.

Dragonflies – living fossils

Email correspondence with Jason J. Dombroskie, Ph.D. Manager, Cornell University Insect Collection (CUIC) & Coordinator of the Insect Diagnostic Lab (IDL)