Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Newport News Park Boardwalk

Phew! The VNPS field trip at Newport News Park at the end of May went a lot better than the last field trip I led. Turnout was good and there were several interesting plants to see. It was kind of a long hike though; it was almost a mile from the parking area to the wetland boardwalk where the good stuff was.

Walking through the shady, deer infested woods, I hadn't excepted to see much, but shortly after starting out we came across a couple Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora). I was surprised to see Indian Pipes at this time of year since I usually see them in the fall. This parasitic doesn't have chlorophyll so it lives off tree roots and can grow in very shady locations.A bit further along, a sharp eyed field tripper spotted the tiny white flower buds of spotted winter green (Chimaphila maculate). This evergreen plant is pretty common in the local woods.Along the trail to the boardwalk there was lots of Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). I didn't realize until now that it was in the Dogwood Family (Cornaceae). It obviously liked the moist soils along the shore of the park reservoir.

Crossing some bridges, we saw a LOT of duckweed in the nooks and crannies of the reservoir. Duckweed is a very tiny floating plant and a member of the Aracea family (peace lily, calla lily, skunk cabbage, etc.). Some duckweeds are native, some not. One type of duckweed, Wolffia has the world's smallest flower.
We also saw a bit of skullcap and hawkweed, and walked through several paw paw patches, though I didn't notice any developing fruits.

Finally we got to the boardwalk, which is quite lovely. It's about 600 feet long with a couple observation decks along the way. There's a nice diversity of plants there, though sometimes it takes a bit of effort to see them.
Several species of trees were growing in small hummocks that barely rose above the water: green ash, swamp dogwood, willow, tag alder and persimmon. The trees were covered in a hairy lichen called old man's beard (Usnea sp.) along with a bit of mistletoe. According to Shirley Devan, there are three types of lichen:
  • Crustos lichens – look like white paint on tree; least sensitive to air pollution
  • Foliose lichen –looks like green wrinkled paper (folio)
  • Fruticose lichens – look like little green bushes on tree branch; most sensitive to air pollution
By the way, one field tripper asked about the sex of the dried green ash flowers (the brown masses below) which were visible from the boardwalk. The trees are dioecious, having either male and female trees. This tree has samaras, so it's a female.
Swamp Dogwood (Cornus foemina) was just finishing it's blooming season but there were still a few clusters left. Growing up the some of the dogwoods was woodvamp (Decumaria barbara), a vine which is in the hydrangea family. I almost didn't see it since the blooms looked similar to the dogwood.Mixed in with the trees there was a bit of swamp rose (Rosa palustris) and sweetspire (Itea virginica) which was just finishing blooming. Growing in the water there was a whole lot of smartweed (Polygonum or Persicaria, depending who you ask), though it wasn't in bloom yet. I'm not 100% sure what species it was...I'll have to go back to check. Here's a picture of it in bloom last year.There was also plenty of arrow arum (Peltandra virginica). Here and there you could see some of its green flowers floating on the water.
There was also a quite a bit of swamp loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus), though it wasn't in flowering yet. This member of the loosestrife family is related to crapemyrtles and you can see some similarity in the flowers. Good thing I brought along a photo of it in bloom. Other plants we saw growing in or around the water were lizard's tail (below), cattails, bog hemp, and dodder.On the way back to the parking lot we got a nice surprise. A luna moth was resting on a tree branch on the ground. It looked like it must have just emerged from its cocoon—its wings weren't completely dry. The poor thing must have been scared to death as we all converged on it with our cameras.
Thanks for coming out guys, it was fun! You can see the rest of my photos here.


Les said...

Where is this park?

How It Grows said...

The intersection of Jefferson and Ft. Eustis.