Monday, September 28, 2009

Denbigh Park Plant Walk

Well, a recent plant walk to Denbigh Park in Newport News had an explosive finish but try not to skip to the end of the post to find out what it was. Denbigh Park is a nice little neighborhood park with lovely views of the Warwick River and Mulberry Island as well as a boat ramp and nice little fishing pier. The park also has some wooden boardwalks winding through the salt marsh, providing close-up views of many native plants.

The marsh has all the familiar salt-tolerant plants you'd expect, and is dominated by various sedges, rushes, and grasses. The two most prominent plants were our native saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and the scourge of the east coast, the highly invasive common reed (Phragmites australis). It's seems to be fairly well accepted that there is a native variety of Phragmites that is much less aggressive, but it's been crowded out by the European species, and you really need to be into graminoids to be able to tell the difference.

We started out the walk with a look at a single trumpet vine flower (maybe the last of the summer?) before making our way along the boardwalk. Luckily, there were several species of flowers to break up the expanses of grass. Growing throughout the marsh were the delicate white flowers of the perennial saltmarsh aster.
But star of the show, at least in my opinion, were the pink-purple flowers of the saltmarsh daisy (Pluchea odorata). While other plucheas can be quite smelly, this one actually had a pleasant citrusy smell. When growing in patches, the display was very pretty.
The cheery bright flowers of Seaside goldenrod were just starting to come into full bloom. While goldenrods are tricky to distinguish, this one is rather easy because 1., the leaves are flat, linear, untoothed, and lack visible veins and 2., they grow close to brackish water.I was kind of flummoxed when I saw the strange green-flowered plant below, several of which were growing among the grasses.
I found out later that I actually wasn't looking at a flower head. Donna Ware was able to identify it as the aforementioned goldenrod. Goldenrods have a tendency to come down with a disfiguring affliction, which the Queen of Seaford identified as aster yellows.

Another common plant growing in the cordgrass was water hemp (Amaranthus cannibus). And no, it's not related to the better known cannibus. It's more closely related to beets and spinach. Not particularly showy, but kind of interesting.
As we made our way through the marsh, the walk was momentarily interrupted by a water snake calmly swimming by. I'm fairly sure it was a harmless northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon or a close relative thereof).

Next to the fishing pier was a mystery plant that I wasn't able to identify on the trip. The small tree below was covered with small orange fruits like the one below. It definitely reminded me of a hackberry, but the leaves weren't toothed. My other guess was maybe some kind of strange hawthorn.
It turns out there are more native species of hackberry than I knew off. I knew of the common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and have heard of sugarberry (C. laevigata), but there is also a dwarf hackberry (C. tenuifolia) that grows in the area. The dwarf hackberry has few, if any, teeth on its leaves. It also turns out that hackberries have apparently been moved from the elm family to the cannibus family! Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Wait-poor choice of phrasing. Anyway, dwarf hackberry is my best guess. I'll let you know if I find out differently.
I also came across a second bit of a plant mystery. I had scoped out the park a few weeks before the trip and found this flowering vine above in bloom. At first I though it was pigeon wings (Clitoria mariana). But then I remembered there was a very similar plant that grew in the area, so some research was in order. It turned out that the above plant was spurred butterfly pea (Centrosema virginiana). The plant below (from another location) is pigeon wings. Don't you think they look similar?
I finally discovered the sure way to tell them apart is that pigeon wings have a long tubular calyx (the green part at the base of the petals), spurred butterfly pea does not. What a relief to finally figure that out! Also, butterfly peas has long strait seed pods, and the pigeon wings have a more bumpy pea pod shape. On the way out, I grabbed a few pods to plant this fall and put them on a shelf under my dashboard.
Here's the explosive part - all the way home, I kept hearing strange little rattling bursts, like some part of my engine was quietly self-destructing. Of course, when I got home I discovered the pods had been exploding all the way home! One even went off in my hand when I was trying to clean up the mess. Here's hoping I can get this to happen in front of some field trippers next year.

I'll also need a return trip to make up for overlooking a few flowers that I found later: crow poison, white snakeroot, and climbing hempvine - what is it with all the pot references?!?

You can see all the pictures from the field trip here.


Janet said...

Another great trip into the wild areas. Yes you did have many references to pot, maybe you were just celebrating Woodstock anniversary?
The mutated flower head has Aster yellows. I had some pictures of my echinacea with it. What a pain.

how it grows said...

Thanks for the diagnosis Doc! I had no idea what it was.

how it grows said...

Wow! I really should have double-checked for typos before posting.

Janet said...

I read it while getting my daily quota of caffeine... looked ok to me. Maybe once I am awake I would notice more, but I don't read for grammar nor spelling.