Wednesday Wanderings: High Falls Conservation Area

High Falls Conservation Area

Spring has sprung! This month we celebrate some of its smaller showstoppers: spring ephemeral flowers at High Falls Conservation Area, located at 540 Roxbury Road just outside the village of Philmont (the address may register as Hudson in some GPS systems).

Spring is a perfect time to visit High Falls — snowmelt and spring rains lead to dramatic sites at the overlook, while the forest near the trails is sprinkled with flowers and ferns. Many of these plants are rare and sensitive, so please be sure to keep your dog on a leash and only use established trails. Before you leave the lot, text 518.525.3252 with the phrase “highfallsmap” to get a copy of the trail map texted to you.

Before you start your wander, pause and reflect on the original Indigenous stewards of this land: the Mohican tribe. Despite tremendous hardship in being forced from here, today their community resides in Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community.*

On this walk, we’ll start at the parking lot and make our way to the overlook via the Green Trail, which is 0.3 miles each way. This is a primarily flat walk (less than 100 feet of elevation gain) on packed earth trails. If it’s rained recently, the trails may be muddy. There are also some exposed tree roots, and plank bridges spanning ruts, which could make navigation difficult if you are pushing a stroller or using a wheelchair.

Luckily, you don’t need to go too far to see spring ephemeral flowers! High Falls supports a number of spring ephemeral flowers due to its unique calcareous (chalky or lime) soil. Ephemerals come by their names because they are fleeting – many bloom for only a few days during early spring. Some species you might find at High Falls include:

n Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) - These white and yellow flowers tend to bloom in April and May and favor moist soil. According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, they have special value for bumblebees. Dutchman’s breeches take their name from the shape of the flower, said to mimic short pants worn by the Dutch. They are also known as little blue staggers (the plant is toxic and if cattle feed on it they will stagger) and bleeding hearts.

n Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) - These pink-striped white flowers thrive in rich, wet soil in shady forests, and can bloom March through June. You’ll have to look closely at the ground for them – the are under six inches tall. The springbeauty has an edible potato-like tuber that many Indigenous cultures eat raw or cooked.

n Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) - This red and yellow spring ephemeral grows up to two feet tall and is beloved by insects with long tongues and hummingbirds. The Latin name for this plant comes from a word meaning eagle – many suspect this is because the flower’s petals resemble an eagle’s claws.

n Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) - This flower, also known as the dogtooth violet and adder’s tongue, takes its name from the speckled pattern adorning its leaves, which resembles the markings on brown and brook trout. Single yellow flowers emerge from a pair of these leaves to grow up to 6 inches tall.

Want to learn more about spring ephemerals while collecting important scientific data? Sign up to become a CLC volunteer! We’re currently organizing a socially-distanced spring Bio Blitz at High Falls in May. Visit clctrust.org/high-falls-bioblitz to sign up. Land acknowledgment language provided by the Stockbridge Munsee Cultural Affairs Department

I’d love to hear about your wanderings. Email info@clctrust.org or share your photos on social media – CLC is on Instagram @clctrust, and each Public Conservation Area has its own Facebook page.

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