I hiked up near the park on Sunday, spending some time down by the stream and then hiking around the hilltop in the wildflower fields and trails. If there was a theme to this hike, it was most definitely the "tiny flower" hike, since I photographed several species of wildflowers with blossoms no larger than a dime. Scarlet Pimpernel, Star Chickweed, and Pennsylvania Smartweed were all out, plus I also took some great photographs of Pennsylvania's state flower, the Mountain Laurel.
It took me a while to identify this little yellow flower, known as Canadian Dwarf Cinquefoil, because I kept mistaking it for a species of buttercup. But now that I have identified it, I see it everywhere. Not only are its blossom very small, it also is a creeper that spreads along the ground. So you're more likely to step on it than recognize it, but keep looking. It's a pretty little flower.
Star Chickweed is another very small flower that is starting to show up in the woods now. I recently read that the flower is actually made up of five deeply divided petals, not ten, and it is very star-like in its form. The stamens that arise from the center of the flower are tipped with dark "anthers," which reminds of me of the word antlers so I've never forgotten it.
Mountain Laurel is Pennsylvania's official state flower and also happens to be Connecticut's state flower too. It often grows in large thickets, covering large areas of the forest floor and is considered one of the most beautiful of the native shrubs. My parent's house is lined with Mountain Laurel down the one side and growing up I can remember the vast number of insects that would be attracted by its star shaped pink and white flowers.
Pennsylvania Smartweed is more like a grass to me than a wildflower. Even though its blossoms are one of the smallest flowers, they are brilliant pink clusters that sit atop a grass like perch. A member of the buckwheat family, it tolerates pretty difficult soil conditions and I typically find it along old roads and trails.
I've never noticed Spiny Elm Caterpillars before, and I just happened across this one while it was crossing the trail in front of me. I read that the Spiny Elm Caterpillar is the larval stage of the Mourning Cloak Butterfly, and the caterpillar feeds on the leaves of elm, willow, hackberry and cottonwood. One of the "stinging" caterpillars, its black body with white and red dots stands out against the many spines running down its back.
I've seen growths like this on leaves before, but I never took the time to investigate what they were. But I took a few good pictures this Sunday and I was able to identify them as Black Cherry Finger Gall Mites. The mites themselves are almost invisible to the naked eye, so the best way to identify gall mites, apparently there are a lot of types, is to study the galls they leave behind. Interesting.