Sunday, December 17, 2017

Wetlands - a Place for Water

Cattail (Typha latifolia)
You might think that is a strange title, but water really does need a place to go on its way to bigger places like rivers and oceans. Humans have spent much time draining wetlands, thinking they have a better use for that land. Places that hold water perform a special role: they help prevent floods as well as provide filtration services to clean water. They also provide habitat for birds, reptiles, and even mammals.

Two weeks ago I visited the Melvin L. Newman Wetlands Center, a part of the Clayton County Water Authority. This is a restored wetland which was used (i.e., drained) by humans for farming in the past. A well-constructed boardwalk trail loops ½ mile through an active wetland, giving visitors plenty of opportunities to see wetland-specific flora and fauna up close. The education center contains a big collection of educational materials, including stuffed animals and parts (like turtle shells). They have documented over 130 bird species alone at the center.

Trees that have died when
the wetlands were restored
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

It takes special plants to live in a place like this. Depending on the amount of water in the wetland at any time (it varies), some plants’ roots may be dry, some may be moist, and some might be submerged entirely. Plants that can’t adapt to fluctuating water levels, especially being under water, will die. One of the trees here shows everyone how it adapts. The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), which was planted here, has small grows around it that look like stumps. They are called cypress knees, and they seem to help the tree because the trees don’t grow the knees in environments that aren’t so wet. Another wetland tree that has been added at Newman is Ogeechee lime (Nyssa ogeche), a relative of black gum.

Hibiscus seedpods and cattails (behind)
Cane (Arundinaria)

While these trees have been added as part of the wetland restoration in 1995, many plants that were already there are capable of this environment. We saw elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis), maples (Acer spp.), cane (Arundinaria spp.), and tag alder (Alnus serrulata). Many others have ‘moved’ in. You might ask how plants know when to move in. One way is via birds that fly from one wetland to another, depositing seeds when they poop. Wind and waterways are other sources. The wetland now has cattail (Typha latifolia), wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), Hibiscus, arum (Peltandra spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and many others. The center says that they burn the wetland occasionally; this practice might help some thrive more than others.

Invasive plant management is part of the job too. Plants like privet and Japanese honeysuckle are adaptable to wetland conditions too. The center is actively managing them. Aquatic weeds like parrot feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum), shown in these pictures as bright green growth in the water, flourish in the winter but are somewhat crowded out in the summer by the growth of other plants.

I learned several new things, including that the oily sheen you sometimes see on wetland water can be part of natural bacterial processes. We also saw a beautiful large black cherry (Prunus serotina) exhibiting the mature bark sometimes referred to as burnt potato chips.

Winged elm (Ulmus alata) was scattered about, easy to find with its yellow-green leaves and winged twigs.

Prunus serotina bark
Winged elm (Ulmus alata)

It was fun to spend a sunny fall day exploring this natural habitat. Birds chirped and flitted around us constantly. It’s obviously an environment that is well used by nature. I’m glad that humans are learning about the natural water filtration benefits as well. Understanding the many roles that wetlands play helps us to conserve and restore them to everyone’s benefit.

1 comment:

  1. Another terrific Blog, Ellen. So glad I was there with you and the other Bot Soc members on that spectacular day.