Monday, July 18, 2016

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace flower in full bloom. Note purple, almost black flower, in center of umbel
When I first learned to identify wild carrot, or Daucus carota, I was eagerly followed its name like a blinking road sign down to the earth. I dug up its root, letting its earthy mint scent wash over my nose. I gently patted the sand from the white carrot pinched delicately between my fingers, nipped off the leaves, and popped the little treat in my mouth. Yum. Domestic carrots often lack the richness of flavor of their wild ancestor, though make up for it, I suppose, in size.

Side view, showing umbel-ness of inflorescence. All flowers originate from single point

I harvested a bunch of the little carrots that summer, but somehow spent surprisingly little time with the plant. It wasn't until the following summer, when I got bees, that I really paid much attention to the above ground part of the plant. I noticed my bees particular zeal for the flat splay of delicate white flowers. Each umbel (a clumb of short-stalked flowers all emerging from a central point) is marked centrally with a deep purple whose purpose, I read, is to guide bees and other pollinators in. More than guide the insect to the inflorescence as a whole, it guides the insect towards the center of the umbel, ensuring that it will come in contact with as many florets as possible before visiting the next plant. 

The mythology of the plant's other name, Queen Anne's Lace, refers to one of several different Queen Annes, who pricked herself while making her lace. A lone drop of blood fell forth from her fingers, tarnishing the otherwise perfect lace. One odd thing about the sanguine flower is that it is sterile, a sacrificial flower to draw in pollinators! Felix, a kiddo in our Whittler's Wharf camp at Crow's Path brought me the above specimen. As we were looking at the flowers I noticed that one of the clusters actually had a second sterile purple flower at the margin of the umbel in addition to the one located at the center (this is visible as a dark, upside down heart on the top left of the above image).

This Queen Anne's Lace, oddly enough, doesn't have the sterile central flower

And just a bonus shot showing a developing inflorescence 

Friday, July 15, 2016

More blue green algae photos

Luckily a big afternoon storm rolled through on Wednesday afternoon, bringing with it intense winds and fresh rain. By Thursday much of the blue green algae had cleared out from what we at Crow's Path call Derf Beach (Fred's Beach to Rock Pointers) and most of the closed beaches were clear enough to swim in. I thought I'd post a few more photos, these from Wednesday before it cleared out.

The image below shows how a small sandbar created a windbreak, which created perfect conditions for the cyanobacteria to grow to high and potentially dangerous conditions. The waves seen just past the sand bar and already broken up much of the grosser pea soup swirls along North Beach before Wednesday's afternoon storm.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blue-Green Algae

Feels like it's been forever since I posted here, and while I've been inspired to research many of the questions I've come across in recent months, this is the first time I've decided to follow up and write about it! So without further ado, blue green algae!

Today while out at Rock Point for Crow's Path summer camps, our efforts to find respite from the summer heat were thwarted by a nasty sludge lapping against the shoreline. When we got to the beach, life guards from North Beach were walking up and down the beach taking photos, likely as part of the state's blue green algae tracking efforts (see link for current reports from around the state). North Beach is a near perfect recipe for blue green algae blooms. It has a large shallow sandy beach that extends far out into the lake, with full exposure all day. It's also sheltered from winds out of the north, south, and west by Rock Point, winds that would otherwise bring in cooler water, which would slow down reproductive rates of the cyanobacteria, or disperse the blue green algae.

We've had air temperatures consistently above 70 since the middle of May. The water temperature is currently above 70(!!) and with the absence of wind, the conditions are perfect for blooms. The forecast is hot hot hot tomorrow with no wind. The rains could bring wind, which would shake things up, but they could also bring in more nutrients to the lake which would feed the cyanobacteria's growth.

How do you identify it?
  • It'll look like a greenish paste towards the surface, much like pea soup
  • When it gets super intense you'll see what looks like bluish or greenish swaths of paint on the surface
  • Before it gets to these concentrations, the water will take a greenish hint and you can see little green dots floating in the water. 

So if I see it in the water, what should I do?
  • Well, probably don't go in the water. According to the Vermont Dept of Health there are no known cases of the blooms causing human illness, but I'd rather not take the risk as associated symptoms may include:  
    • Skin rashes
    • Vomiting, diarrhea
    • Allergic-like reactions if water droplets inhaled
  • Don't let your pet go in the water. Pets won't know the difference and can drink the water and get ill
  • If you're on the fence about whether or not to go in the water, definitely check with whoever maintains the beach or check the state's blue green algae tracker

Oh, and a note about taxonomy...or maybe a warning. Michigan botanists Edward Voss said, "Common names are for common people." Common names lead to lots of confusion about the organisms we're talking about. Blue green algae is a perfect example. While it is bluish green, it's not an algae. Algae alone is difficult enough. For a good exercise in frustration, try boning up on your algae taxonomy. Algae's not a plant (no roots, no leaves), but neighter is it a true bacteria (they're eukaryotes). Blue green algae is a bacteria, or more specifically cyanobacteria, a branch of photosynthetic bacteria. Being bacteria, they are simple organisms and super super tiny. We only get to see them when their populations get out of control.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Field Trip: Proctor

Just before Christmas, Mo and I headed down to the old quarry town of Proctor, located in the Vermont Valley just outside Rutland. While the heyday has come and gone, the quiet town is now home to the Vermont Marble Museum. Old abandoned quarries and an amazing mill next to the dam. It's part of a line of limestone/marble quarries that runs, well pretty much down the east cost down into the great caving belt in Kentucky. Mo's done a lot of cave exploration and I recently have been to a few, all in limestone. A lot of excavations - whether as a quarry or road cut - exposed old cavernous fractures in rock, slowly etched away by acidic rain water. These hidden caverns are called karst topography, which I wrote about previously.

Because the substrate - rock and cement here as there's basically no soil - is so rich in nutrients from the limestone, moss readily grows on the concrete slabs and inside of the old mill, which is empty of its former occupation and currently used as storage for RVs and boats.

The water weaves intricate patterns on concrete structures. The acidity of the rain draws out calcareous elements, slowly depositing them in fissures and grooves, and along the bottoms of tiny ledges.

Marble floor tiles with a paper birch emerging from the ruins
It is one of the strangest places I've ever been. The town was swimming in marble. And the built everything out of it. Even in the crappy little office in the image above the floor tiles were decadently made out of marble. As with the moss, the calcium rich substrate allows trees to grow in odd places and deal more readily with shade that would otherwise stress them too much to allow them to grow. In the above photos there's a birch tree growing between tiles and we found them growing throughout the building and on the roof.

The bedrock geology map below shows the town of Proctor composed of and surrounded mostly by north-south running bands of dolostone and marbles. These are the same rocks that jut out along the cliffy edge of Lake Champlain.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Field Trip: Mud Pond in Williston

Grumpy old cattail herma
Mud Pond has been on my bucket list for a few years now, since I heard about the microburst damage there. Last week I finally made the trek out there with my sister, and wow was it totally worth it. We hopped off the trail after about a 100 yards following a set of gray squirrel tracks. It broke out of the hemlocks into the open of a red maple swamp. We quickly switched to a gray fox trail, which crossed fisher, mink, long tailed weasel, and red fox! The tracking was totally amazing with a ton of different habitats woven together.

The fox lead us down to a creek which ultimately drained into Mud Pond proper. There's a great mix of American elms and green ash in with the red maples. The ice on the creek was gorgeous and we spent a while photographing it before heading out on the dam to explore the old, abandoned beaver lodge. The mud caking the outside had largely washed away and we could poke our heads in to see the feeding platform. It's not often you get to look inside an old lodge, so that was wonderful. The rim of the pond is a dense tangle of cattails and sedges that as the land slopes up grades into an even denser tangle of alders and then maples.

Possibly a goldfinch nest in a speckled alder
The highlight was towards the end where I saw a long swoop carved gently into the snow. It started in a little patch between hemlocks about 4 feet before ending in a flurry of little squirrely tracks. These circled around themselves for awhile before disappearing up a tree. I've never seen definitive flying squirrel tracks, so it made the whole day worth it. Plus there were several bird splatterings on the snow filled with snow fleas (a type of springtail)! We wound up getting completely and utterly turned around for some reason, but eventually made our way back to the car.