Saving Pyrola minor on Whiteface Mountain

By Dr. Rachel Schultz, Assistant Professor, Environmental Science, SUNY Plattsburgh

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Pyrola minor at the “culvert” site along the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway in NY. Photo provided by Jackie Donnelly 2012.

Pyrola minor, lesser wintergreen, is one of New York’s rarest plant species and is considered critically imperiled. Globally, this circumboreal species is considered stable and is found in many European countries in addition to the U.S. and Canada. Pyrola minor exists at the southern-most point of its northeastern North American range in northern NY (1).

GetMapGif_conservationstatus_pyrola minor

State and province conservation status of Pyrola minor. Copyright © 2014 NatureServe, 4600 N. Fairfax Dr., 7th Floor, Arlington Virginia 22203, U.S.A. All Rights Reserved.

Botanists have documented two populations in New York State, one near Wilmington Notch, and the other on Whiteface Mountain (2). Stanley J. Smith, a botany curator at the New York State Museum, recorded the Whiteface population in 1961 (3).  In 1997, Steve Young of the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) relocated the population at a slightly higher elevation closer to the summit than the original location documented for the species (2, 3). This population was presumably stable (in the “hundreds”) through the early 2000s according to records in the Biotics database kept by the NYNHP (4). However, the location of the population was in the ditches alongside of the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway and following maintenance on the road, only 19 individuals were found in 2006 (4). The population rebounded in 2007; however, in July 2014, the number of basal rosettes decreased to approximately 70 and there were only about 9 inflorescences (personal observation).

Pyrola minor population on Whiteface Mountain in Essex County, NY based on the observation data in New York Natural History Program Biotics database (1961-2007) and personal observations in 2014.

Pyrola minor population on Whiteface Mountain in Essex County, NY based on the observation data in New York Natural History Program Biotics database (1961-2007) and personal observations in 2014.

Due to the decreased population, Steve Young asked me to attempt to propagate the species from seed to eventually plant back out on Whiteface Mountain. Through the pouring rain on 8/13, EmilyTyner, Kelly Archbold (a SUNY Plattsburgh student), and I went up Whiteface to collect Pyrola seeds and nearby native soil. Our aim was to collect the mycorrhizae along with the soil that enable the plants to germinate and get nutrients from the soil (5). One patch of P. minor is partially hidden back along a rock face and had ~ 7 fruiting stems, and the other patch by the culvert site had 2 fruiting stems. Most of the seed pods were unripe, so we only took a fraction of those which were brown or were starting to turn brown. I estimate that we took ~10% of the seed pods at the 2 sites. We then took about a half 5 gallon bucket’s worth of soil from nearby the Pyrola plants without disturbing them. Finally we filled in the areas where we took soil with native soil.

Pyrola minor on the north side of the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway along a rock face in NY.

Pyrola minor on the north side of the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway along a rock face in NY.

Back in Plattsburgh, we placed the seed pods on a moist paper towel over night, and Kelly worked on extracting the seeds the next morning using a razor blade to open up each of the 5 chambers of the capsule. In all we planted 94 seeds in a flat filled with native soil and watered in the seeds. We will keep the seed flat moist, fairly cool, and shaded in the SUNY Plattsburgh greenhouse (5).

Pyrola minor seed capsules collected from Whiteface Mountain.

Pyrola minor seed capsules collected from Whiteface Mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A close up of the Pyrola minor capsule and scalpel used to open each of the 5 chambers to extract the seed.

A close up of the Pyrola minor capsule and scalpel used to open each of the 5 chambers to extract the seed.

Kelly Archbold holding a portion of the “dust-like” seeds of Pyrola minor she extracted prior to planting.

Kelly Archbold holding a portion of the “dust-like” seeds of Pyrola minor she extracted prior to planting.

Kelly Archbold in the SUNY Plattsburgh greenhouse with the flat of soil collected from Whiteface and the seeds ready to be planted.

Kelly Archbold in the SUNY Plattsburgh greenhouse with the flat of soil collected from Whiteface and the seeds ready to be planted.

A Pyrola minor seed on soil collected from Whiteface Mountain (4X optical magnification).

A Pyrola minor seed on soil collected from Whiteface Mountain (4X optical magnification).

One source on propagating P. minor stated that regardless of when the seeds were sown, they tend to germinate in the spring (6). However, another source stated that germination can involve growing an underground modified stem that can survive for years before sending up a shoot (7). The most relevant advice was to “be very patient!” (6) Our hope is to plant out any seedlings in the next few years. In the best case scenario, these seedlings will help promote genetic diversity in a rebounding population following road maintenance. In any case this process will be a learning experience in attempting to propagate this species.

References cited:

(1) NatureServe. 2014. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://explorer.natureserve.org. (Accessed: August 21, 2014).

(2) Young, S. 1998. Significant botanical discoveries of 1997 – compiled from information received at the New York Natural Heritage Program. NYFA Newsletter 9(1) 4-6.

(3) Miller, N. 1998. More on Pyrola minor (Pyrolaceae). NYFA Newsletter 9(3) 2-4.

(4) New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

(5) http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Pyrola+minor

(6) http://practicalplants.org/wiki/Pyrola_minor

(7) http://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/en/kukkakasvit/common-wintergreen

 

Hudson River Paddle Field Trip Update

sue,denise paddling photo courtesy jackie donnelly

Thanks to Jackie Donnelly for leading a great field trip on Sunday August 24th. Below is a bit from her post about the trip on her own blog, Saratoga Woods and Waterways.  (photo above courtesy of Jackie Donnelly)

For being so close to a busy urban area, this stretch of the Hudson offers quite a surprising abundance of rare and unusual plants, most of which come into bloom in late August and early September. Two distinct areas within this catchment provide particularly good habitat for unusual plants. One area consists of several shallow quiet backwaters created during the historic lumbering era as basins for sorting river-driven logs. A second area consists of steep shale cliffs that are constantly watered by mineral springs, providing a cool rich habitat for many calciphile plants.

To read the rest of Jackie’s post about the trip, and see all her amazing photos – click here to go to her blog.

Field Trip to Skidmore Woods Update

Here is an update from trip leader Jackie Donnelly of the field trip this past weekend on May 18th at Skidmore Woods in Saratoga.  If you couldn’t make it this past weekend – there are still lots of great trips coming up!

We had a fine turnout of 10 folks on this perfect spring morning, including two who had come from as far away as Rhode Island and Connecticut . This speaks to the remarkable quality of the Skidmore Woods habitat, located on a geological fault that not only created the springs for which Saratoga Springs is famous, but also contributed the limestone substrate that underlies this rich woods. We explored some of the fault-line boulders to search for such unusual plants as Walking Fern and Maidenhair Spleenwort, before undertaking a loop trail that led us past such rarities as Goldenseal and Green Violet.

Wild columbine and miterwort at Skidmore Woods. photo by Jackie Donnelly.

Wild columbine and miterwort at Skidmore Woods. photo by Jackie Donnelly.

Although the first flush of spring ephemerals had faded, we could still examine the interesting fruits of such plants as Bloodroot and Large-flowered Bellwort, and witness the changing color of Large-flowered White Trillium from snowy white to pretty pink. Probably the stars of our walk were the beautiful single specimen of Yellow Lady’s Slipper that shone like a beacon from the base of a tree, and a bright wash of dozens of scarlet Wild Columbines sharing their site with a mass of dainty spikes of Miterwort.

Yellow ladyslipper at Skidmore Woods. photo by Jackie Donnelly

Yellow ladyslipper at Skidmore Woods. photo by Jackie Donnelly

Regretfully, when I lead a walk, I usually neglect to take photographs. That’s why I’m glad I posted a preview of this Skidmore walk on my blog Saratoga Woods and Waterways, a post that features many of the beautiful flowers we found on our tour. This post can be seen by clicking HERE.

Announcing the 2014 Field Trips

The Adirondack Botanical Society is pleased to announce its list of summer 2014 field trips. These trips are for everyone from interested enthusiasts to professional botanists. Contact information for each trip leader is below so please contact them before the trip. All trips have a size limit. CLICK HERE to go to the field trips page and the listings.

Adirondack Botanical Society Meeting January 12

The next planning meeting for the Adirondack Botanical Society will be 10am, January 12 at Intervale Lowlands (http://intervalelowlands.org/) in Lake Placid.  For more information you may contact Steve Young at adkflora@gmail.com.

Slush Pond Bog Trip: A Quaking Good Time

by Rachel Schultz, SUNY Plattsburgh
The group met on a chilly morning with the feel and smell of fall in the air. We started off at a snowmobile trailhead on Slush Pond Rd. where we discussed the formation of kettle hole lakes following glaciation and the floating mats of Sphagnum moss that cover the lake surface. We were then to find out first hand why these mats are called “quaking” bogs as we ventured out onto the first of two kettle bogs along the trail.
Lem and Dan discussing bog formation next to stunted black spruce, Picea mariana

Lem and Dan discussing bog formation next to stunted black spruce, Picea mariana

Once we passed the stunted trees and headed onto the Sphagnum lawn, we bounced lightly on the saturated mat which was a mixture of red peat moss, evergreen broad-leaved shrubs, pitcher plants, and sedges. Not only did the substrate beneath us give like a trampoline, but we could see the surrounding shrubs move up and down. A true quaking bog! We then ventured toward an area of open water. Here the bog mat was the thinnest and was surrounded by a yellow Sphagnum species in hummocks. The bottom of the kettle was obscured by flocculent organic matter suspended just below the water surface.
Rachel standing on the edge of the bog mat

Rachel standing on the edge of the bog mat

We found several bog-obligate plants living in this acidic (~4 pH) and nutrient poor system including two carnivorous plants: northern pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea and sundew, Drosera rotundifolifa.
Sarracenia purpurea and Vaccinium oxycoccos

Sarracenia purpurea and Vaccinium oxycoccos

However, we had to look closely at the edges of moss hummocks to find sundew.

Rachel and Rich seeking sundew

Rachel and Rich seeking sundew

At least one sample of a Carex species was collected to identify at a later date.
Rich,  Dan,  Rachel, Lem, and Anita confer on the sedge ID

Rich, Dan, Rachel, Lem, and Anita confer on the sedge ID

An intriguing feature of the quaking bog was the yellow water lily, Nuphar sp., growing in the largest open water area. Typically Nuphar is found in more nutrient-rich waters with higher pH; however, these plants were growing in suspended organic matter about a foot underneath the water surface at a pH of ~5.
Nuphar sp.

Nuphar sp.

Later in the trip we also ventured over to the kettle bog on the left-hand side of the snowmobile trail. This bog had a watery moat surrounding it, which made it difficult to get onto the bog mat. Fortunately, no one fell through, and everyone came out onto the bog mat with a smile.
The group from left to right: Lem Hegwood, Richard Sulley, Emily Tyner, Beth Gardiner, Rachel Schultz, and Janet Puhalla are pictured here on the floating bog mat. Other participants not pictured included Anita Hegwood and Dan Spada

The group from left to right: Lem Hegwood, Richard Sulley, Emily Tyner, Beth Gardiner, Rachel Schultz, and Janet Puhalla are pictured here on the floating bog mat. Other participants not pictured included Anita Hegwood and Dan Spada

Thank you to all the participants who shared their knowledge, enthusiasm, and curiosity during the outing! I am especially thankful to Beth Gardiner who captured the people and botanical aspects of the field trip beautifully.
CLICK HERE to see the plant list for the day.
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Whiteface Trip a Blast

by Steve Young, Adirondack Botanical Society

Literally, the group got blasted by the wind and fog at the start of the trip but in the end a good time was had by all. The trip started with an unplanned walk up the nature trail to the top since the elevator had broken the day before. This exposed us to the west side winds and fog which battered us all the way to the top.

IMG_1354The group was focused on the the interesting alpine plants and didn’t seem to mind the weather.

Whiteface nature trail

???????????????????????????????Here we could see plants like alpine goldenrod (Solidago leiocarpa)  that only grow at these altitudes.

As we reached the top of the mountain the cloud cover began to clear and we had some glimpses of the scenery below including Lake Placid and Lake Champlain. At the top we assembled for a group photo where blue was the color of the day!

Whiteface groupFrom left to right are Rebecca Wightman, Tom Wightman, Paul Tedesco, Connie Tedesco, Steve Young, Carol Gates, Jackie Donnelly, Steve Daniel, Michael Burgess,  Joan Zeller, Tom O’Donnell and Joanne Schlegel. Five other participants, Stephanie Sears, Susan O’Donnell, Dick Lighty, Sally Lighty, and Natalie Yaskow did not make it into the photo.

We saw most of the plants on the existing plant list and found out we need more work on the grasses there.

IMG_1363Here Carol and I examine a stand of Canada bluejoint grass, Calamagrostis canadensis. Below, Steve Daniel, Joanne Schlegel and I look at clumps of Bigelow’s sedge, Carex bigelowii, an alpine sedge with dark spikes that are in the process of dispersing their perigynia.

IMG_1360After a hike down the more protected hiking trail on the east side we paused for lunch and then walked back to the parking lot.  On the way back, Steve Daniel, Jackie Donnelly and I puzzled over this tiny plant growing on the wall of the parking lot in open sand near the elevator. I finally keyed it out to Sagina japonica, an exotic member of the pink family that had never been recorded for Essex county before.

Sagina japonicaOur day resulted in eight new species for the list!

Spinulum annotinum – bristly clubmoss – (originally recorded for the site under Lycopodium annotinum but years ago the ID here was changed to the high mountain species Spinulum canadense.  We determined that both species are here.)

Huperzia lucidula – shining clubmoss – seen in the krumholz along the hiking trail.

Melampyrum lineare – cow wheat – seen along the hiking trail.

Erysimum cheiranthoides – wormseed mustard – seen along the parking lot wall near the castle.

Sagina japonica – Japanese pearlwort

Ribes glandulosum – skunk currant – it was determined that the Ribes cynos0-bati on the existing list was mis-identified and the plants are actually this species. Along the nature trail and at the summit.

Viola pallens – smooth white violet – seen along the wall of the parking lot near the castle, with long runners.

Gallium mollugo – seen along the wall of the parking lot near the castle.

Thanks go to all the participants and their sharp eyes and botanical knowledge. We hope this will be an annual tradition in celebration of our unique alpine flora and the dedication of Ed Ketchledge in protecting it, especially here on Whiteface where he spent many hours cataloging the flora.

For another blog post on the trip, click this link to the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog by Jackie Donnelly.

For an updated plant list for Whiteface CLICK HERE.