Friday, September 20, 2013

In Quest of Quarry

Many fern species in the genus Asplenium, such as American Hart's-Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium), Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum), Wall Rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) and Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) grow on damp, calcereous, basic substrates such as cliffs or talus slopes, so the old limestone quarry north of town seemed like the perfect place to search for these uncommon plants. Other than some Northern Lady Ferns mixed in among the brush and the odd Fragile Fern clinging to the steep rock faces there were no ferns to be found, but in the world of nature there's always something new to see and the jaunt proved to be worthwhile.

This little Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) was barely thicker than the grapevines it was scaling (another bad play on words) and so well camouflaged that at first I didn't notice it less than a foot from my face.

Circumnavigating the steep rock faces of a quarry on often treacherous footing consisting of loose rocks on a hot, sunny day probably isn't everyone's idea of fun, but had I not done so I never would have spotted either the Water Snake or this nifty little plant.

Small but striking in appearance, this little Liverwort was growing so deep inside a crevice that I could barely bring my point-and-shoot camera into play. I think this is Reboulia hemisphaerica, the description fits and the habitat is right on the money. Liverworts have no true roots or vascular tissue for the intake and conduction of water and nutrients, nor can they control water loss through pores, hence they tend to be encountered in moist, shady habitats.

As always, life exploits whatever scant habitats and meagre resources that are available. A group of white asters growing in the thin soil cover over the limestone rubble was perhaps my best find of the day, and this Online Key to the Asters of New England proved helpful in identifying the flowers as Small White Asters (Symphyotrichum racemosum).

The flowers are in one-sided arrays.

Note how hair on the stem occurs in lines, and the stem leaves are only slightly clasping, or not clasping at all.

The phyllaries are correct for this species.

Top and bottom views of the leaves.

All in all, an interesting habitat to visit, and I think I'll be making another trip within the next week.