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A Year in the Life of Pimmit Run: The Natural Communities

Plants are like people – they like to hang out with others that thrive in a particular common environment. This tendency of native plants to align ecologically and form communities that reflect the conditions in which they thrive helps us anticipate what we might see as the forest wakes up.

The Pimmit Run Stream Valley Park corridor is remarkable because, while it is surrounded by dense development, parts of it remain relatively undisturbed. In some areas, .indigenous native plant communities continue to thrive.

The rich forests, floodplains, and upland woodlands along the stream valley host at least three dominant native plant, communities (pictured below left to right): 1) Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest, 2) Small Stream Floodplain Forest, and 3) Oak-Beech/Heath Forest. Each community has its own personality and native plant incumbents, although there is some overlap. Let’s pay each a short visit.

1. First Up: The Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest in Your Backyard

These are the luxuriant forests behind the homes and usually along protected slopes that lead down to the streambeds, characterized by dense tree canopies, lush understories, and ground level herb layers. They can be a delight to explore, particularly in the spring when ephemerals and fiddleheads appear in abundance. Natives thrive in these forests as long as the invasives are held in abeyance. Some of my favorite plants from this community are shown and listed below by row:

1. American Beech, Tulip Poplar, White Oak, Red Oak

2. Pawpaw, Spicebush, Enchanter's Nightshade, False Solomon's Seal

3. Black Cohosh, Christmas Fern, Trout Lily, Cutleaf Toothwort

4. Toadshade, Bloodroot, Mayapple, White Wood Aster

2. Getting Your Feet Wet: The Small Stream Floodplain Forest

Moving down closer to the stream we encounter the floodplains of Middle Pimmit Run, an area subject to frequent overflow where the plants need to be flood tolerant and the soil is silty and sandy. While a closed forest with overstory canopy, understory, and herb layer, the latter may be a bit weedy due to occasional flooding. Here are some favorites from this community, shown and listed by row below:

1. American Sycamore, Tulip Poplar, Red Maple, Slippery Elm

2. Spicebush, American Hornbeam, Pawpaw, Jack in the Pulpit

3. Carex/sedge, Enchanter's Nightshade, Spring Beauty, Virginia Knotweed

4. Calico Aster, Common Blue Violet, White Avens, Trout Lily

3. Hiking the Upland Ridge: The Oak-Beech/Heath Forest

A different experience can be enjoyed by those who hike up the north-facing upland forest trails. The environment here is quite different, and here one encounters a sparse ground layer beneath the dense tree canopy and loose evergreen understories. The ground is covered year-round with a dense leaf layer. Some truly special natives can be found here, including those shown and listed by row below:

1. American Beech, Chestnut Oak, American Sweetgum, Red Oak

2. Red Maple, Sassafras, Black Gum, Serviceberry

3. Flowering Dogwood, Mountain Laurel, Pinxter Flower Azalea, Mapleleaf Viburnum

4. Spotted Wintergreen, Indian Cucumber, Poverty Oat Grass, and Christmas Fern

So there we have it -- the native plant communities of this portion of Pimmit Run Stream Valley. This is not to say that one doesn't come across surprises along the way. That is part of the mystery of nature. But now, at least, we are prepared to watch what emerges and blooms as spring approaches.

p.s. all photos on this blog were taken by the author along the Pimmit Run Stream Valley.


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