December 13, 2017

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Archives for January 2013

Boott’s Rattlesnake Root

I love wildflower hunting but for me there’s one drawback, my memory.  The older I get the tougher it is to remember all the hundreds upon hundreds of wildflowers I’ve identified and taken images of.  However, there are two key features I’ve found that help me remember some individual flowers. Those two features are habitat and common name.  I find that the more colorful the common name the better the chances are that it will forever be embedded in my memory. Some wild flowers just have a name that’s just to cool to forget.  Take for instance Boott’s Rattlesnake Root, Prenanthes boottii also known as Alpine Rattlesnake Root the name just has that certain pizazz, boots_rattlesnake_root_flower3 I couldn’t forget that if I tried.  The habitat in which a wildflower grows also is a great tool to aid my memory. Certain plants grow in certain places, swamps, fields, roadsides and mountain tops to name but a few.

Boott’s Rattlesnake Root is one of those species of wildflower that is extremely limited to where it will grow, you’ll only find it on mountain tops. Even more specific than that it’s only found above the treeline on mountains over 4’500 feet. And to be even more specific it’s only found on a select few high peaks in the states of New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. I feel truly honored to have had the opportunity to gaze at this beautiful rare wildflower. How rare is this species you ask?  Prenanthes boottii is an endangered plant, endangered for those that don’t know the meaning is just a step or two above extinction.

Oddly enough the same people who are getting back to nature hiking the distant peaks are the main threat to this fragile plant. Hikers above the tree line who trample over the plants and erode the fragile soils from the constant barrage of foot traffic threaten this wildflowers existence.  Of course we can’t throw blame on people that may not even know about the plight of this flower, the best we can do is educate people on what to look for and the key identifying features of Boott’s Rattlesnake Root so they can avoid walking over it and help protect it’s habitat.

P. boottii flowers from July through August and grows to a height of around 12 inches. boots_rattlesnake_root_flower4 The individual flowers of  P. boottii are white to whitish cream in color and nodding. There are usually 10 to 20 flowers in a narrow raceme along the top of the stem.  Each showy flower has up to 20 rays (what most people refer to as petals) with notched tips, you’ll also notice several long stamens protruding from each flower head. Each individual flower is from  3/4 of an inch to one inch wide.

 

 

The leaves of the Boott’s Rattlesnake Root have long leaf stalks, the leaves may be oval, elongated or triangular in shape and may also have  have small pointed lobes present on the lower stem leaves. The basal leaves are usually arrow shaped. The leaves may be up to 2 inches long with each having a smooth margin.

 

boots_rattlesnake_root_leaf3 boots_rattlesnake_root_leaf2 boots_rattlesnake_root_leaf1

 

Of the few alpine peaks that Boott’s Rattlesnake Root is found in the Northeast most are accessible only via a long hard hike on foot. There is however one peak in New York that has of all things an elevator to the top. Whiteface Mountain which is 4,865 feet in height is easily reached by car up the paved road. The road brings you nearly to the top where you can either climb up the built in steps or take the elevator up from the parking lot.  On any given day in the summer there are literally hundreds if not several hundred visitors to the top of this peak each day.  I certainly don’t think that’s a bad thing, it gives people who can’t physically climb a mountain a chance to have that experience.  What I do find very unfortunate is there is no mention of this fragile plant anywhere to be seen.boots_rattlesnake_root_plant There simply is no education  of the public on where to step, what to look out for, what not to pick or even that this peak is home to a endangered species of wildflower.  Hopefully those who are in charge of the facilities there will realize that a little education goes along way and they will at least place a kiosk that explains what a fragile ecosystem they’ve entered.

 

It’s my hope that Boott’s Rattlesnake Root doesn’t only become a memory in my mind but thrives in these alpine areas for eternity.

 

Enjoy the Outdoors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowshoe Hare Tracks

It’s that time of year again,  a nice covering of snow on the ground and Snowshoe Hare tracks are everywhere. Of coarse you have to have the right habitat to find Snowshoe tracks. Snowshoes, Lepus americanus prefer areas with dense cover such as softwood forests, densely covered wetlands and thickets.

If you happen to be hiking in these types of areas you’ll probably come across a set of hare tracks. Snowshoe hare tracks show four toes on the fore and hind foot when they register in the snow. You won’t always see the toes in each track when the snow is loose and powdery.

 

Whether you can see the toes or not the tracks are still unmistakable. Their tracks will show a series of four to five impressions. Usually the hind feet register ahead of the fore feet.  The fifth impression which doesn’t always show, would be the tail. You can see an example of that in the image on the right.

 

The hind feet leave a large rectangular to triangular shaped imprint in the snow. They measure up to 6″ long and each foot with the toes spread may be as wide as 4 inches at the widest point.

 

The fore feet register as more of a circle or oval and are from 1. 5 to 2 inches wide.  You will  find the hind tracks in front of the two fore feet when you find Snowshoe Hare tracks.  Most times the two fore feet register behind each others and not side by side.

One of the best places to find Snowshoe tracks is in a young Balsam forest.  If you find tracks you may also find some Hare scat.

 

Snowshoe Hare scat is just like that of any rabbit, round in shape. Some people may tend to confuse their scat with that of deer but they really aren’t that much alike.

Hare scat tends to be round about 3/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter. Deer scat on the other hand are more oblong and each pellet tends to have a dimple on the end. This dimple is lacking on Snowshoe Hare scat.

 

Other evidence of Snowshoe hare presence may be their urine. Due to their diet their urine may be a yellowish orange to orangish red color. The color is from the pigments that are found in needles of spruce, fir and pine needles.

 

Other evidence of Snowshoe Hares being in the area are cuttings on branches, twigs and tree trunks. When Hares feed on plants their bite leaves a clean cut, at about a 45 degree angle.  On tree trunks you would also be able to see the distinct marks left by their teeth with each chew.  You can distinguish  between whether a hare, rabbit or deer fed on a plant by the chewed or clipped end.

 

Rodents such as hares nip off the tip of a twig with a clean angled cut, whereas deer chew and rip of the end of twigs and leave a jagged or fibrous tip.

 

 

Snowshoe Hares are one of the few animals that change the color of their fur to match their surroundings. They are perfectly camouflaged in the winter, of course that depends on the their being snowfall. This changing of color is brought on by the length of day and  not snowfall.  Years where there is a definite lack of snow or late snowfall you can easily find a Snowshoe as they stick out like a sore thumb against the drab brown fall colors.

While snow certainly makes it harder to spot a perfectly concealed Hare it does make it easier to find Snowshoe tracks and scat.

 

Enjoy your time in the woods and enjoy Nature!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Promise

To some a bud on a tree is just a bud on a tree
to me, it’s a promise
a promise to return
something the sun said on that last warm day of Fall
 
I’ll be back for you
to shine down on your branches 
to warm your roots
dance on your bark
to unfurl your leaves
 
It’s a promise that spring will come
that this frigid January, the first day of the year
this day that with each breath I take, my lungs burn,
this day that I hear even the largest trees creak and moan
it’s a promise that these cold days will end
 
And they trust the sun
they believe,
they know through time from the springs before through the longest winters he’ll return
they offer their new grown buds as their promise
 
Their own promise to wait
to be faithful
to believe
to know that you’ll be back
to warm us
to love us
to watch us grow.

When I see a bud, thats what I see