On an unseasonably cold morning in late April, I ventured into the stream valley and was overwhelmed by an incredible burst of green everywhere I looked.
I entered the valley via the uplands of the Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest, and quickly came upon many of the early spring native flora characteristic of that native plant community. Highlights included (clockwise from upper left): Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple), Actaea racemosa var. racemosa (Black Cohosh), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern), and Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon's Seal).
Approaching the stream, I entered the Small Stream Floodplain Forest and encountered an assortment of specimens unique to that environment. The Erythronium americanum (Trout Lily) and other floodplain ephemerals had made way for thick stands of Eurybia divaricata (White Wood Aster), Persicaria virginiana (Virginia Knotweed), and now modestly blooming Osmorhiza claytonii (Sweet Cicely) (shown in order, left to right).
I found it heartening to see a stand of Nyssa sylvatica (Black Gum) sapling self-starters lining the tortured and eroded Pimmit Run streambank. I had not noticed them before, and they were just now leafing out, giving me hope that nature is self-healing.
Along the bare dirt floodplain floor near the stream the graminoids were becoming a lot more apparent. Some sedges, particularly Carex blanda (Eastern Woodland Sedge), clearly enjoy the wet ambiance.
And the ferns -- oh my, the floodplain ferns. They seemed to appear overnight and did so with grace, with fiddleheads twisting and turning as they branched out. Along the Pimmit Run Stream Valley floodplain, I came upon stands of Athyrium filix-femina (Lady Fern), Phegopteris hexagonoptera (Broad Beech Fern), and the promise of a dense carpet of Thelypteris noveboracensis (New York Fern).
I also saw an occasional Phlox divaricata (Wild Blue Phlox), also associated with floodplain plant communities. In this case it had to make its way through a thick layer of the insidious invasive ephemeral Ficara verna (Lesser Celandine), and I felt like handing it an award in honor of its resilience.
But - whoa -- the shrubs were the showstoppers. Seeing a dense thicket of green and half-expecting some horrible invasive, over and over, I took a closer look and realized they were, in fact, the "real thing" that actually belongs there. (Don't worry, I came across plenty of invasives, the topic of a future blog entry). I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction finding these native shrub species, just as nature intended, in their respective plant communities. Nature manages to create what one might think can only be found in a nursery. Here they appeared, in their most wonderful, vibrant form, where they truly belong. Some simply never do as well in cultivated environments as they do in their natural habitat: see below (left to right) Rhododendron periclymenoides (Pinxterflower) at peak bloom, along with Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum), and Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw Viburnum). These enjoy the company of Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), which we already marked from its early yellow flowers.
Along the way I checked out the vernal pools. I found the closest, and my favorite, literally teaming with large tadpoles full of life. Hoping that they grow their legs before the water dries up!
I have neglected the trees in this narrative. I was so focused on the forest floor that I often failed to look up. But I did enjoy seeing a carpet of canopy layer seedlings: Ulmus rubra (Slippery Elm), Quercus alba (White Oak), Quercus rubra (Red Oak), Acer rubrum (Red Maple), Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree), Carya cordiformis (Bitternut Hickory), and others. They offer hope for future forest canopies.
The Oak-Beech/Heath Forest Ecotone
On one side of the stream valley trail is the floodplain, and on the other is the north-facing Oak-Beech/Heath Forest. The two bleed into each other a bit, but the native plant communities are quite distinct. Thus, it is fascinating to see the inhabitants of one within reach of the other, happily coexisting. The Oak-Beech/Heath Forest shrubs and understory trees were also leafing out in abundance, and included (clockwise from upper left below) Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel), Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel), Viburnum acerifolium (Mapleleaf Viburnum), and an occasional Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood) seedling.
The Oak-Beech /Health floor layer, admittedly, extra special - if sparse, included colonies of Medeola virginiana (Indian Cucumber), Tipularia discolor (Crane-Fly Orchid), and Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper). It was very cool to come across the first two of these in particular. For both, the best is yet to come.