Monday, June 29, 2009

WNY flora

For the past month I have been collecting, preserving, identifying, and photographing various flowers from the Western New York region. I'm taking an in-the-field plant identification class as an independent study through my local community college, and as of this Wednesday the project comes to a close.

I've been to a few wild areas in the state to do this, but the most rewarding was visiting an acid bog. Because of the closed off, unique environment, I saw plants I had never seen before and a few that I had desperately wanted to find from the moment I saw them in a field guide.

My favorite find so far is the pitcher plant. Pictured above, the pitcher plant grows in only in sphagnum moss bogs, and the leaves look like small, green and red-veined pitchers with a gaping fish-mouth on the top and side. The plant sends up a long, thick, burgandy stem and produces one flower. The flowers are unique as they not only have a stem, sepals, petals, stamen and an ovary, but the stigma is flattened, like an umbrella, and covers the internal parts of the flower. The stigma is a part of the pistol, the female part of the plant, and in other plants it tends to be oblong and small.

At first, the parts of this flower seemed like one dried-up blob. The colors were muted. I thought it was dead. But up close, the petals have a deep-red sheen. The spherical ovary, fat and smooth like a fruit, has a slight blush as if it is embarrassed by my camera. The soft yellow stamens hover around the edge of the ovary, and to hold everything in, the thin, flat stigma branches out below, protecting the working parts of the flower as seeds develop.

Another unique bog plant is the sundew. This plant is a brilliant red and is sticky to the touch because it traps and digests insects. I tried to capture the goo a few pictures down.

Of course there were also plants that appear in other places as well as the bog. This includes the last two photographs that I'll post here--spreading dogbane and a water lily. I shot the dogbane with a Nikon microscope camera (which I've fallen completely in love with) and the lily with a handheld camera.

Overall, this course has been very satisfying. Going to different wildlife areas in Western New York has given me an appreciation for home just as I was getting frustrated with chain stores, cement, and summer boredom. I did not realize we had so many different wild areas outside the well-known destinations such as Zoar Valley, and I finally see that home is just as beautiful as the familiar Blue Ridge Mountains that I've been pining for. I've learned how to correctly identify a plant, preserve it, and show its best angle. Best of all, I've found that the smallest and most boring-looking "weeds" are complex, colorful, and brilliantly intricate organisms. They command attention when placed under a microscope, and now they hold my attention and respect even when they aren't.