Daily Archives: August 30, 2011

Farm Creek Corridor

This posting was prepared before “Irene” came through and I am sending it off from our vacation spot in Canada. Anna, who is holding the FEP fort in Harlemville, assured us that, although there was flooding at Hawthorne Valley, it was not as extensive as two years ago and has all receded by now. Sorry, no pictures from the flood, because we were not there to witness it. However, this blog is about the corridor along the farm creek: For at least six years now, the corridor along the farm creek from the pump house to the cattle crossing has not been grazed. The cows were fenced out and the vegetation was left to develop for a while, to see what would come up. The invasive multiflora rose got a bit more common than desired and removal of this aggressive species in the creek corridor has begun last year. A few other invasive species are present in smaller amounts and might need to get discouraged in the future. Other than that, we are pleased to see many native shrubs and wildflower species thriving along the creek, creating a structurally and botanically diverse habitat that attracts a lot of insects and birds, protects the creek from surface runoff, and begins to shade sections of the creek. Here is a mid-summer inventory (pictures mostly by Lauren McDonald) of theĀ  colorful and vibrant habitat that we now find along the creek.

A view from the edge of the water with the native Agrimony, Goldenrod and Boneset flowering on the shore in the bottom left corner, the native Tussock Sedge growing along both shores, the invasive Purple Loosestrife flowering in the center, surrounded by the native Joe-Pye-Weed, Coneflower and more Boneset.

A view from the “outside” of the corridor. Amongst the woody plants in the background (near the stream) are native Willows and Sumach, and the invasive Multiflora Rose which is overgrown by the white-flowering native Virgin’s Bower.

Virgin’s Bower also takes advantage of the deer fence surrounding the vegetables in the “main field” just west of the creek.

Some sections are overgrown by this orange, spaghetti-like plant called Dodder. Dodder is a native, parasitic plant that does not bother to grow leaves or any other green tissue and can not photosynthesize. It steals nutrients from other plants by tapping into their roots. It thrives in many wetlands throughout Columbia County.

Another type of climbing plants (though not parasites) in the farm creek corridor are the two species of Tear-thumb. You’ll know them when you touch them, as the recurved hooks along their stalks (which come in handy when they try to get a grip on other plants) do just what their name suggests: tear thumbs… The picture above shows the more common Arrow-leaved Tear-thumb, and the picture below the rarer Halbert-leaved Tear-thumb.

Both Tear-thumbs are members of the buckwheat family (which also includes knotweeds and smartweeds) and are characterized by clusters of tiny, orchid-like flowers in shades of white to pink.

Bittersweet Nightshade is a non-native climber related to tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers. It thrives in many of our wetlands and also can become a weed in vegetable gardens.

One of the most conspicuous insects along the farm creek is the Ebony Jewelwing, a damselfly. Its larvae are aquatic, like those of many other insects, and the adults are often seen hunting for flying insects along creeks.

Spiders also know where there is an abundance of insects. Did this spider build its web in a thorny Multiflora Rose on purpose? Many birds like to nest within the protective thorns of the rose…

We don’t know if this little sparrow actually had a nest in the farm creek corridor or was just visiting to check out the food situation.

Swamp Milkweed (big pink flower clusters) is an important nectar plant and also host to the caterpillars of monarch butterflies. Here it grows intermingled with Spotted Jewelweed (orange flowers) and Dock-leaved Smartweed (white flower clusters). All three of these wildflowers are native to Columbia County.

We did not spot any Monarch caterpillars along the farm creek. They are generally not very common this year. But we do have this one munching on one of our Swamp Milkweeds in the roadside garden in front of the Creekhouse.

Less conspicuous, but pretty ubiquitous, is this Willow-herb. Its tiny pinkish-white flowers develop into plenty of feathery seeds which will fly off in great numbers in the fall.

Another rather inconspicuous plant along the creek is Wild Mint, which we often first notice by the delicious smell it exudes when stepped upon.

Monkeyflower, a native relative of the Snapdragons of our gardens, adds some blue to the flower landscape and likes to grow right next to the water.

Blue Vervain is another native wetland plant that thrives in the farm creek corridor. It is related to Lemon Verbena, and I often get asked if it is also a medicinal plant. According to Peterson’s Medicinal Plant Field Guide, native Americans have used the leaf tea as a “female tonic”. It was also used for colds, coughs, fevers, bowel complaints, dysentery, and stomach cramps. It large doses it is reported to be an emetic (induces vomiting). Modern herbal uses include headache and rheumatism relief and tranquilizer. The Peterson Edible Wild Plants guide reports that its tiny seeds can be made into a somewhat bitter flour.

Blue Vervain has a cousin, the White Vervain, which tends to be more of an upland species, but is common along the higher shore of the farm creek. It’s tiny white flowers (which individually look basically the same as those of the Blue Vervain, just paler) are arranged much more loosely along the spreading inflorescence spikes.

The picture above shows the sprawling White Vervain.

An exciting find along the farm creek this year was the frequent occurrence of an otherwise rare hybrid Vervain (Verbena x engelmannii), which is intermediate between Blue and White Vervain with its lavender-colored flowers that are not as tightly packed along the inflorescence spikes as in Blue Vervain, but also not as loosely arranged as in White Vervain…

In the foreground, an example of a Hybrid Vervain (tiny, lavender-colored flowers on long spikes), surrounded by Green-headed Coneflower (yellow flowers) and Joe-Pye-Weed (whitish to pink).

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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Agriculture, Nature