Thursday, June 25, 2009

On the Waterfront

For the latest John Clayton Chapter VNPS plant walk, a small group of people headed out to Chickahominy Riverfront Park to take a look at some of the plants growing in and around the tidal marshes (pictured above is Erigeron strigosus - lesser daisy fleabane). The park, popular with campers, has beautiful views of the marshes growing along the river, and though it was hot day, the park's trees provided plenty of shade. Here's a quick rundown of what we saw:

False hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium). This is a 'subcosmopolitan' species, meaning it grows in many places around the world (though I think there is some disagreement about whether the different populations should be considered separate species). You can easily tell from the flower that they're related to morning glories, however, this very aggressive plant is considered a problematic weed. The vines can smother shrubs and even small trees.

American water willow (Justicia americana). This grassy-looking plant forms dense colonies on the rock outcrops in the James River (seen below), but at Chickahominy Park they grew spottily along the shore line.

They seem to like only periodic inundation, so they had to compete with the many taller plants growing along the edge of the shore. The water willows we saw at the park weren't in bloom, but I took the picture below at the Norfolk Botanical Garden a few days earlier. The pale lavender flowers look something like small orchids.

Swamp rose (Rosa palustris). This pretty little rose grows in low wet areas. Another rose often found around here in similar spots is the non-native multiflora rose. The native roses are recognizable by their larger, pink flowers - the multiflora rose has white flowers.

Hairy leafcup (Smallanthus uvedalia). It wasn't in bloom at the time, but it has large interesting leaves not unlike a oakleaf hydrangea. Sometime I'll have to try growing them side by side.

This plant was once believed to cause hair growth and was often used as an ingredient in hair tonics (I need to try it sometime). As if that wasn't enough, it's dried roots were also used by Native Americans for a more unusual purpose. The smoke from it's dried roots supposedly kept ghosts away at night! This plant is pretty common in our area, growing close to shorelines and in swamps. Its coarse yellow flowers will be in bloom a little later this summer.

Along the boat ramp there were two interesting members of the carrot family (Apiaceae). Though the tide was high, we could still see a big patch of eastern grasswort (Lilaeopsis chinensis) growing on the mud under the shade of the bald cypresses (Taxodium distichum). By the way, don't let the chinensis part throw you - it is native. It kind of looks like a tiny mondo grass, but instead of leaves, what you're seeing are enlarged leaf petioles.

Looking at the short green 'leaves', I don't think you would guess that it's related to plants like Queen Anne's lace, but if you look very closely, you can see the tiny (1/8") flowers blooming in umbrels, just like it's larger cousin.

Right next to the ramp was another type of 'carrot', water parsnip (Sium suave). The day we were there, the buds were just beginning to open.

Here it is in full bloom. While my edible plant guidebook says water parsnip can be used as a cooked vegetable, but it's very similar to water hemlock, which is deadly, so I woudn't recommend it.

In a drier part of the park we saw two cute litte plants growing side by side, violet wood sorrel (Oxalis violacea) and yellow passion flower (passiflora lutea). Yellow passionflower is a minature version of the large blue passionflower vine that you may be familiar with.

It has distinctive tri-lobed leaves, and the pale yellow flowers are about 3/4" across. This vine is a host for several types of butterflies.

Right next to it was the wood sorrel. This little plant has clover shaped leaves and the flower stems that come directly out of the ground. It can be used to make a refreshing summer drink: boil the leaves in water for 10 minutes, cool and add sugar. The leaves can also be used in salads. They have a pleasant sour taste which one of the field trippers jokingly suggested might be from the port-a-john a couple yards away.

Other plants we saw on this trip were :

wild peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum)
white dock (Rumex pallidus)
pignut hickory (Cary glabra)
mockernut hickory (Carya alba)
bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis)
deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum)
pickeral weed (Pontederia cordata)
virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
arrow arum (Peltandra virginicum)
elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
halberd-leaved hibiscus (Hibiscus militaris)
black gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
Southern red oak (Quercus falcata)
white oak (Quercus alba)
northern red oak (Quercus rubra)
swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii)
poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Our schedule of plant walks is slowing down for the summer, but will pick back up again in the fall. For future plant walks check the John Clayton VNPS chapter website.


Janet said...

Hi Phillip- Great showcase of plants you saw. Think I have the water willow in my yard. Will have to read more about it. After Isabel I had a lot of new plants in my gardens.

Quercus said...

Thanks Janet, that's interesting about the new plants you got. What sorts of plant did the storm bring?

Janet said...

Hi Phillip, (BTW your name confused me for a sec)
I had one that was interesting...thought it was a Penstemon at first and someone else IDed it (will have to check on the name again-- you would know it, a nativve) lots of Phragmites came in, ugh!! One that looks like that water willow. Not much on info tonight, will be more informative tomorrow.

Janet said...

Here is the name of the one cute flower that floated in... Sandhills gerardia Agalinis setacea, and didn't see it again last year and not so far this year.

Phillip Merritt said...

Sorry to hear about that phragmites - it's awful stuff! The gerardia sounds nice. I wonder what this summer's storms might bring...

Les said...

You encountered one of my worst weeds, the passionflower, it comes up all over the place, and I think it seems to grow several feet a day.

I love the Chicahominy. My dad belonged to a hunting club that had a cabin several miles from the mouth of the river on a tall bluff overlooking Gordon's Creek. The water was salty enough for crabs and fresh enough for large mouth bass,perch and big bull frogs(which we would eat). There were a scary number of snakes on the property as well. We spent many a summer weekend there. At the time there were only a few very modest dwellings (some were shacks) along the shore. I am sure that now those have all been replaced by someone's mansion.