Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wildflowers and People Gather By the River


What a glorious day, this past Sunday, down along the canal in Princeton. Cool, sunny weather drew people to the canal, by boat, foot and bicycle. The sounds of laughter and conversation mixed with birdsong and a generous show of summer floodplain wildflowers.

Boys returned to their Huck Finn roots,

and insects, too, gathered by the river

or bathed in the sun.


Many different species of oak have long gathered along the section of the towpath between Harrison St and Washington Rd, planted back when the university viewed the canal as an ornamental entryway to campus.

Here's white oak, with it's rounded lobes,

and possibly a post oak, with its lobes arranged in the shape of a cross.

Swamp white oak and bur oak have similar leaves, swollen towards the tips, like the bison that used to forage in the oak savannas of the midwest and south, back when mildfire could play through and refresh the landscape.



Not sure what type of oak this is.




It was a day when nature seemed to be moving towards restoring balance. The overly aggressive multiflora rose was getting a humbling dose of rose rosette disease.


One Ailanthus, at least, was being slowed down by the munchings of the caterpillars of the Ailanthus webworm moth.

The adult is the orange patterned insect in this photo.



And a honeysuckle shrub was being hampered by some sort of witch's broom growth.

Queen Anne's Lace was being pretty without taking over.


Introduced knapweeds like spotted knapweed have spread very agressively in the midwest. I've been trying to believe that this Tyrol knapweed will be relatively benign as it spreads slowly along the canal. Here, at least, it's hosting a monarch.




True, the porcelainberry was having its way in one of the openings in the canopy,

and capitalizing on a tree's demise.

Stiltgrass still lines the nature path,

and a Norway maple's dense shade was stunting growth beneath it.

Mugwort framed concrete marker, but hasn't dominated along the canal like it sometimes does in gas line right of ways.


Signs at the Harrison Street crossing warned of hydrilla, an aquatic invasive plant. None of this, however, could break the upbeat mood of a cool, sunny Sunday in late July.



Flowers from earlier in the year were quickly turning into seeds, like buttonbush

silky dogwood,

common milkweed,

One of the ornamental cherries planted by the university long ago,

pokeweed,

and tall meadow rue.


Seeing native shrubs like this elderberry trying to grow along the banks of the canal, I long ago envisioned managing the banks for native shrubs that could beautify and provide abundant wildlife food. But the banks of the canal are managed independently of the towpaths, by a different agency. As with most landscape maintenance, the workers tend to be unselective in what they cut. To preserve the view from the towpath, the bank is cut every few years--not enough time for a shrub to do much flowering and fruiting that would benefit wildlife.

Not far down the lake from Washington Rd. bridge stands the stump of a sweetgum tree once darkened each day by roosting cormorants.


Its life may have been cut short by the excess guano, or its own precarious perch on the edge of the bank. Not sure where the cormorants have gone.


Another sweetgum, with its star-shaped leaves and protruding wings on the branches, was thriving elsewhere along the trail.


Some of the wildflowers have grown to giant size with the well-spaced rains this summer. These cutleaf coneflowers are ten feet high,

as are some of the ironweeds.

The cutleaf coneflowers were the first native wildflowers I spotted ten years ago along this section of the canal, which in turn led to the state park staff reducing the mowing to once a year so these wildflowers would have a change to mature and bloom

Hollow-stemmed Joe-Pye-Weed has really prospered in the open shade of the oaks. Each year there are more patches of these attractive flowers.

Goldenrods can be distinguished by the different shapes of their flowerheads. Some have elm shaped inflorescence,

others are flatter.

Each year, the rose mallow hibiscus bloom along the shore, with lizard's tail and yellow pond lillies extending out into the Carnegie Lake waters beyond them.

It would have been a perfect day to lead what usually is an annual nature walk along the towpath. For 2017, this account will have to do.



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