Niagara Issues - Cayuga Island
P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden

http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/ResBot/niag/
October 9, 2003

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Niagara Issues - Cayuga Island
(a photo essay)

 

by Patricia M. Eckel

Missouri Botanical Garden

 


 

 

At Jayne Park on the Little Niagara River are baseball diamonds and lovely lawns on which to stroll with one's baby under the open sky in an area that was once most likely a wooded wetland with Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) that still may be seen, and Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) - large trees with big canopies. On the shrubby margin of the Little Niagara River, a narrow side channel of the main stem of the Niagara river along the southern shore of Cayuga Island and a stream into which Cayuga Creek empties, one may step on a metaphore and not realize it. Biologists talk about a web of life, a great interconnected chain of being reminiscent of this spider's web, visible in the droplets that ornament it after a summer shower. The spider catches its food like a fisherman his fish, an occupation invisible except after hard times. 

 

 

 


 

 

Conspicuous during August are the bright orange twining stems of the Dodder (Cuscuta gronovii) belonging to a family all of the members of which are parasitic on other plants. This species grows in open, wet marshes like the one here at Jayne Park, twining and obtaining its nourishment from host plants of marshes, like the Jewelweed and Smartweed (Polygonum punctatum) and may be observed at Dufferin Islands and Buckhorn Island State Park.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastate) is another species typical of river and streamside habitats.

 

 


 

 

 

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) likes wet soils and grows in dense swathes in open or shady streamsides and marshes and is one of the few species that bloom with orange flowers. There is another species with larger flowers that are a pale yellow (Impatiens pallida) that may be seen at Devil's Hole and other stations along the Niagara River gorge. This species is often seen entangled in Dodder stems.


 

 

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is closely related to the common Milkweed of vacant lots in the City of Buffalo. It is a more delicate plant of marshes, with narrower leaves and deep lavender flowers. Its pods and wind-borne fruit with their silky plumes are just like those of Milweed. Its brilliant color mixes brilliantly at the fishing platform at Wood's Creek at Buckhorn with the blues of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) and the orange flowers of Jewelweed. Many of the species growing at the Jayne Park marsh also grow in public lands downstream.

 

 

 


 

 

The Niagara River is a vital corridor for the migration of plants and animals along its shores and within its waters. This specimen of Blue Vervain also grows on Navy Island in Ontario, above the falls of Niagara in the little marshes that are developing along its edges with the lowering of water levels. Lowered water levels in the upper Niagara River at the present are responsible for the development of streamside marshes up and down the river, as well as emergent islands of Cattails (Typha latifolia) and various cyperaceous species, such as Scirpus americanus (Chair-maker's Rush) off shore. Such conditions promote species diversity and create habitat for fish spawning, nesting birds, insects and other wildlife.

 

 


 

 

One of the most conspicuous species that must be familiar to the residents along the mainland of Little Niagara River and the banks of the Cayuga Creek is Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) - aptly named from the shape of its large leaves.  It grows on the wet embankments, in shallow water on out into the middle of the stream if the channel is shallow enough. Such conditions may foul the propellers of boats docked by residences and may result in periodic attempts to destroy both this species and its associates, such as Cattail. Arrowhead has the peculiar tendency to develop narrower leaves as it approaches deeper water. It is conspicuous in the new emergent islands in the shallows of the Niagara River.

 

 


 

 

 

Looking north from Jayne Park marsh to residences across the Little Niagara River.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

A noxious weed, the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), has established itself here as elsewhere along the emerging Niagara River streamsides. Just as native species migrate up and downstream, so do these weeds, dominating and effectively destroying the character and productivity of plant communities of historic and cultural value. The stream channel between Goat Island and the first of the Three Sisters Islands on the south side of Goat Island is thoroughly choked with this species and is quick to seize the opportunity to establish itself on new substrates exposed with fluctuating river volume. This species not only needs to be pulled, but also carefully carted away in sacks to prevent seed development. Another weed that needs to be carefully culled here at Jayne Park marsh is Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris), its vivid yellow flowers visible in spring and long into summer.

 

 

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