Flora of a Marsh on Cayuga Island, Niagara County, New York
P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden

October 11, 2003

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by Patricia M. Eckel

Missouri Botanical Garden


(Adapted with modifications from Clintonia,

Newsletter of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society, Vol. 6(4):7‑10.).



Part of the botanical tradition associated with localities in the vicinity of Niagara Falls, an area included in the territories of the United States and Canada, is that of a tiny stream‑side marsh three and one‑half miles upstream from the brinks of the cataracts of the Niagara River.  It occurs on the northern boundary of Cayuga Island, a Niagara County, New York State, residential area bounded on the north by the Little Niagara River, into which the south‑trending Cayuga Creek flows, and on the south by the Niagara River, opposite Grand Island, New York. The Cayuga Creek outflow is actually the confluence of an upstream creek complex that includes Black, Bergholtz and Sawyer Creeks. Cayuga Island was once part of the municipality of LaSalle, which is today included in the eastern boundary of the City of Niagara Falls, New York.


Today the island is extensively developed throughout with residences, all shorelines thoroughly modified for erosion control, except for a green space on the north side, called Jayne Park. The frontage facing the Niagara River to the south is armed with structural reinforcements leaving rather deep water abutting onto the land, rather than shallows, precluding shallow‑water or emergent vegetation and crustaceous fauna.



Jayne Park lies to the immediate left as one crosses the bridge over

the Little Niagara River onto Cayuga Island from Buffalo Avenue on the mainland. The park has been maintained with trees and a level lawnscape with baseball diamonds.  The trees are old and of various kinds, such as Platanus occidentalis (Sycamore), Quercus borealis var. maxima (Red Oak), on the riverside Populus deltoides (Cottonwood), Quercus macrocarpa (Bur Oak) (to 30" diameter breast height (dbh), Salix fragilis (Crack Willor), Acer saccharinum (Sugar Maple), etc. The north shore of this park faces onto the Little  Niagara  River. While the opposite, mainland shore is heavily developed with residences and boat‑launching facilities, the park shore is,  except  for  a shallow emplacement of  concrete ballast, relativeiy unmodified. A  small marsh  occupies  the center of the north boundary, a plot of surprising botanical diversity compared with the relative weediness and sterility of the shore immediately east and west of the marsh boundaries. The area is about 400 feet long by 35 to 40 feet at its widest point.


The objective of this paper is to present information on this site due to the fact that in 1990, ostensibly in order to encourage greater use of the park, the thickets, comprised of mostly horticultural shrubs of Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.). Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Multiflora  Rose (Rosa multiflora),  Box  Elder (Acer negundo), that had formerly occupied the entire north boundary along the stream, had been torn out and, together with the marsh, the area was mowed over. Native shrubs that have been removed include the native dogwoods: Red‑osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), Panicled Dogwood (C.  racemosa) and Silky Cornel (C. amomum)  and Green Ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Quercus macrocarpa saplings and Bebb's Willow (Salix bebbiana). Festoons of River Grape (Vitis riparia) were also removed. The result is that the park is still the same, but now the visitor can clearly see the built‑up shore of the mainland,  whereas previously, strollers in the park were surrounded at least on three sides, with a wall of greenery. The altered strip has a variety of weedy taxa that seemed to have derived from the adjacent lawn, such as Burdock (Arctium spp.), Yellow Wood‑sorrel (Oxalis stricta), Spear‑grass (Poa annua), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), etc.


Streamside of this weedy, shrubby strip there is a small area of soft, wet alluvial soil that supports a tiny cattail marsh with additional river's‑edge taxa. This wet area has been set off from the park ground with low‑piled stones. A return to the marsh on July 6, 1991, showed the marsh had returned to its predisturbance lush vegetation, several of the shrubs and trees regenerating, and it appears that alteration of the marsh by cutting did not significantly alter the habitat although a return to this marsh in 2001 marked the apparent absence of some native species and the establishment and proliferation of weedy ones.



In  1834,  a  tourist guide  indicated:"Cayuga Island ... below Tonnewanta island [sic] and at the mouth of Cayuga Creek. This is very near the main shore, of an oval shape, and 2060 yards long. It contains 98 3/4 acres," (Ingraham, 1834). The vegetation of the island was probably originally an extension of the mainland forest, cut off by the creation of the Little  Niagara River channel. In 1864, on May 26 Judge George W. Clinton, son of the famous naturalist governor of New York State, DeWitt Clinton, wrote in his journal: "At La Salle, went to Burdett's landing & hollared, he heard & came & ferried me over. Recd. me very kindly.  Has a fine Tulip Tree &c., &c. Home by the Train." Mr. Burdett lived on Cayuga Island. Clinton had spent the day  at Niagara Falls. He had then walked upstream to Schlosser Landing where acquaintances who were fishing gave him some of their catch. He continued to walk to Cayuga Island along the shore, carrying the fish all the way and eventually on home for his wife and home in Buffalo. At LaSalle he took the trains home. Later, in 1872 on the first of June, "With [Buffalo] Field Club, visited Cayuga (Burdett's) Island.  Found, 2 specimens of Hydrastis, in flower. Staphylea triplicata [= S. trifolia L.]. On the River side, of the Island, Potentilla palustris (not in flower) abundant."


The Buffalo Naturalists' Field Club was an affiliate of the Buffalo Society of  Natural Sciences (BSNS), of which G. Clinton was the first president. It is presumed that the Island visited and the island of this report were the same (note there is also a Cayuga Creek flowing from Wyoming into Erie County, a tributary of the Buffalo River; there is a Cayuga County and Cayuga Lake in the midst of the Finger Lakes region of New York State). That Clinton's island was our Cayuga island is indicated by David  F. Day's citation of a Clinton specimen of Hydrastis canadensis from "Cayuga Island, Niagara River" (Day, 1882). Day also  reported a  Clinton specimen of Swamp Saxifrage (Saxifraga pennsylvanica) from "Cayuga Island,  near LaSalle." Clinton collected fungi there, on Sept. 30, 1878: Hydnum fuscoatrum Fr.; Polyporus rhodellus  Fr.; Puccinia gentianae Strauss. Edna Porter served as field secretary for the Field  Club, and in 1896,  July II, collected a specimen of Water Willow (Justicia americana) from Cayuga Island. In the  1930's  Charles  Zenkert  of the  BSNS found Chenopodium glaucum there on Sept. 10, 1933,  Echinochloa muricata (Michx.) Fernald var. microstachya Wiegand, "on waste ground, edge of wet meadow," in 1933, and Juncus torreyi, a plant of stream and lake shores and wet ditches, in 1933 in a "wet meadow along the Niagara River," on Cayuga island. The meadow reference indicates the the lawn area present today was more marshy in character in the 1930's. Zenkert also collected Salsola kali there on Sept. 10, 1933, and reported the occurrence of False Mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides Willd.) (Zenkert, 1934).


When I first visited the marsh on April 14, 1986  with  Richard  Zander,  the  water  of the stream was turbid, foul with sewage, and choked with a variety of aquatic vegetation. A sample of the floating vegetation included Water‑weed (Anacharis canadensis (Michx.) Rich.), Eel‑grass (Valisneria americana  Michx.), the alien Curly Pondweed (Potamogeton crispus L.) and the native Spiked  Water‑milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum var. exalbescens ( Fern.) Jeps.: note this is  not  the  Eurasian  milfoil,  M. spicatum  var. spicatum, that plagues many of our inland lakes). That other aquatic plants occur or occurred in the Little Niagara River than those just mentioned is attested by the numerous Potamogeton specimens in the Clinton Herbarium (BUF) of the Buffalo Museum of Science (P. epihydrus, P. foliosus, P. natans, P. zosteriformis, P. perfoliatus, etc.).


Upon revisiting the stream in early 1991, I was surprised to see how clear the water was; the bottom was clearly visible.‑ This is most likely attributable to the scavenging efficiency of Zebra mussels in the Niagara River, and probably in the Little Niagara River itself, as has been indicated to me by local biologists and in various publications describing the effects of these mollusks in the Great Lakes. The marsh is arranged with banded vegetation corresponding with degree of submersion to percentage of water in the soil, from wet to dry as the ground sloped up from the riverside to the park grounds. Broad‑leaved Cat tail dominated the first band, emerging from shallow water, followed by Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and  Swamp  Milkweed  (Asclepias  incarnata), then Bluejoint Grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) and Impatiens capensis. Weedy species of Curled Dock (Rumex crispus), Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris), Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris), and Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) form the final bands, intermixed with seedlings of trees and shrubs.


The historic specimen list indicates that at one time a rich woods existed on Cayuga island in addition  to  the marshy spot, where Dog‑tooth Violet grew,  Dutchman's  Breeches and Squirrel Corn, and Spice‑bush (see Cowell's specimens listed below). It is just such a rich shore‑line flora such as the marsh at Jayne Park, full of native aquatic and emergent vegetation, that provides a precious resource to enrich and restore riverine ecosystems both down and upstream on the Niagara River. Species such as the lovely Water Willow (Justicia americana), rare in the Niagara Frontier Region and which were lost on Goat island State park by the cataracts of the river where it was known earlier In the century, always have the potential to reestablish themselves naturally in that famous flora if upstream vegetation is not destroyed.


The flora of Jayne Park, Buckhorn Island State Park across the river from Cayuga Island, and Navy island, Ontario, all contribute to the enrichment and maintenance of the species populations at parks downstream, such as Dufferin Islands and Goat Island. Our municipal and State parks, especially those established earlier in the century, usually focused on unusual natural resources within their boundaries to justify the park's location and removal from the private domain. Familiarity with biological richness was a recreational opportunity for citizens enjoying the park. 


The historic interest in the flora of the marsh may have contributed to the original reason tor Jayne Park's establishment. Public parks  today may be  or become the refuges of dwindling natural resources of scientific and historic value,  such  as  the marsh at Jayne Park, amidst a sea of development, such as occurs today in the nearby Town of Wheatfield. As such it would be socially responsible for caretakers of public parks to catalogue what resources of importance currently exist on their properties, and manage them with a sensitivity to the natural values in their trust.


Rare species in the Niagara Frontier Region found in the Jayne Park Marsh include Water Willow (Justicia americana (L.) Vahl), an emergent species also found at Dufferin islands, Ontario, and Hairy Hedge‑nettle (Stachys hispida Pursh). A species at Jayne Park Marsh on the New York State Rare plant Status List of the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation is Clearweed (Pilea fontana (Lunell) Flydb.). Since this species also grows downstream at the base of Goat Island in the spray zone of the Horse‑shoe Falls, its existence upstream, is important in maintaining populations in the State park.



CLINTON CITATIONS (noted above):


Liriodendron tulipifera L.


[A species of rich, upland woods, indigenous populations of this native tree exist in the Niagara area and are a good choice for planting with a restoration theme in mind. There is, however, no evidence that this species has ever been used for this purpose by riverside administrations on either side of the border. A mature population exists on the Canadian side of the gorge in a stream valley by the whirlpool.]


Potentilla palustrls (L.) Scop.


[The deep maroon flowers of this species are distinctive in a genus known for its yellow flowers, the Marsh Cinqfoil enjoys quiet marshes and stream borders, emphasizing a habitat on the Little Niagara River and a lower, wetter  situation than is present today].


Staphylea trifolia L.


[There is some debate regarding the native status of this species along the Niagara River, perhaps due to the presence of the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture in Ontario and their plantings and the enthusiastic horticultural talent of the Canadian residents along the upper and Niagara River. However, this early report seems to indicate native populations along Niagara were established.]





Hydnum fuscoatrum


Polyporus rhodellus


Puccinia gentianae





Hydrastis Canadensis


[Otherwise known as Goldenseal, a heavily commercially exploited native plant in the United States, it enjoys rich deciduous woodlands, occasionally established in Oak-Hickory woods which, along the Niagara River, are associated with wet soil.]



Saxifraga pensylvanica


[A species of swamps and marshes and damp woods.]




Chenopodium glaucum


[The next three species are all weedy introductions, although there is some doubt whether this species of Lamb's-quarters is native in North America.]


Echinochloa muricata var. microstachya


Salsola kali


[The establishment of this species on the island may have been due to the proximity of the railway line. It also grows on sandy situations as may have occurred on Cayuga Island before the shoreline was armed.]


Floerkea proserpinacoides


[Like the Saxifrage mentioned above, this species was probably growing in a wet wood on Cayuga Island, bordering the river. Along the Niagara River there is a fine display of this species on Navy Island.]




(annotations October 11, 2003)


Acalypha rhomboidea Raf. "along Niagara River" by Warren Bleekman, Aug. 10, 1933. [What is now a common weed of garden soil.]


Carex intumescens Rudge. Edna Porter, Aug. 9.1899.


Carex lupulina Muhl. Edna Porter, Aug. 9, 1899


Carex tuckermanii Boott ex Dewey, Edna Porter, Aug. 9, 1899. [These three Carices are indicative of vernal pools and, together with the next species, indicate wet Oak‑Hickory woods as well.]


Cinna arundinacea L. Edna Porter, Aug. 8, 1899. [A grass of wet depressions in deciduous woods].


Cyperus diandrus Torr. Frank W Johnson, Sept. 22, 1924. [Streamsides and wet depressions].


Decodon verticillatus (L.) Ell. E. Chamot, ca.1888. Shallow water and shores, may be associated with Cephalanthus occidentalis of wet woods at South Grand Island Bridge and Buckhorn Island State Park.]


Dicentra canadensis (Goldie) Walp. J. F. Cowell, April 24,1898. [Upland woods, as on Goat Island ‑ now extirpated in both places.]


Dicentra cucullaria (L.) Bernh. J. F. Cowell, April 24,1898. [Upland woods, as on Goat Island ‑ now extirpated in both places.]


Epipactis helleborine (L.) Crantz,  Aug. 2, 1899. [This lovely and alien orchid was a very exciting find back in the American Victorian era when it was first discovered in 1882 in our region at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York  ‑ the second such discovery in America. This species has an interesting substrate tolerance, growing today in wet shallows on the south side of Goat Island and growing from a crack in asphalt pavement at Deveaux Woods State Park along the Niagara River. Unlike other exotic species, this one is a so far benign and lovely complement to our shoreline species ‑ together with the Flowering Rush, Butomus umbellatus.]


Erythronium americanum Ker. J. F. Cowell, April 24,1898. [Upland deciduous forests, together with Dicentra species.]


Gentiana sp. presumed from specimens of the fungus Puccinia gentianae Strauss collected there by Clinton, with Gentian leaves included; cf. G. andrewsii. Gentiana andrewsii is associated with wet meadows and streamside thickets.


Juncus effusus var. solutus Fern. & Wieg., Aug. 9, 1899. [A common streamside species.]


Justicia  americana (L.) Vahl "Cayuga  Creek, LaSalle," Edna Porter, July II, 1896.


Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume, J. F. Cowell, Oct. 14, 1897. [This shrub is interesting for its dominance in the understory of wet Oak‑Hickory woods in association with Quercus palustris, Q. bicolor, Q. shumardii, and various Carya (Hickory) species, conspicuous in Buckhorn Island and Navy Islands, areas with vernal pools.


Plantago major L. "The smaller, pubescent form," C.A.Zenkert, Sept. 10,1933. [Together with Acalypha, a common weed of lawns and garden soil.]


Pontederia cordata L. Miss A. M. Crawford, June 30,1891. [Abundant at the fishing platform at Wood's Creek, Buckhorn Island State Park, indicating, with other species, the ecological historical affinity of this flora historically with that of Buckhorn across the Niagara River above the Grass Island Pool).


Scirpus cyperinus (L.) Kunth. Edna Porter, Aug. 9,1899. [Indicative of open, sunny wet meadows and marshes.]


Scirpus validus Vahl. J. F. Cowell, Aug. 9, 1899. [Characteristic emergent vegetation.]


Spartina pectinata Link J.  F. Cowell, Aug. 9, 1899. [This interesting grass forms stoops on wet shores of the Niagara River, growing together with Panicum virgatum as at Buckhorn on its western margin.]


TODAY'S FLORA (specimens deposited at BUF) = sight record, * = alien species):


*Amaranthus lividus L. rare

! Anemone quinquefolia L.

! Ambrosia trifida L.

!Asclepias incarnata L.

!Asclepias syriaca L.

*Barbarea vulgaris R. Br.

Calamagrostis canadensis (Michx,) Beauv.

Carex lacustris Wilid.

Circaea quadrisulcata (Maxim.) Franch. & Sav.

Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.

! Convolvulus sepium L.

Cuscuta gronovii, abundant

*Epilobium hirsutum L. [This specimen should be compared with E. parviflorum, not known from our area until recently (Eckel 2002).

*Epipactis helleborine (L.) Crantz.

!Eupatorium maculatum L.

Festuca elatior L.

Impatiens capensis

*lris pseudacorus L.

Geum laciniatum Murr.

Geum virginianum L. [Probably a mistake by the author for G. aleppicum, which has yellow flowers.]

Justicia americana (L.) Vahl rare

Ludwigia palustris (L.) Ell.

!*Lythrum salicaria L.

Mentha arvensis var. glabrata (Benth.) Fern.

Mimulus ringens L.

Pilea fontana (Lunell) Rydb. rare in New York State

Poa pratensis L.

Poa trivialis L.

Polygonum punctatum Ell.

!Rhus radicans L.

*Ribes sativum Syne

*Rumex crispus L.

Salix bebbiana Sarg.

Scutellaria galericulata L.

!*Solanum dulcamara L.

Stachys hispida Pursh rare

Teucrium canadense var. occidentale (Gray) McClint. & Epl.

!Typha latifolia L.

!Verbena hastata L.


On a visit to Jayne Park on September 18, 2001, the thicket established on a low embankment between the park lawns and the marsh was examined for a rare species of Aster. The embankment is dry and bordered by shallow concrete ballast. Observed, in addition to the thicket species mentioned above were the tree species: the invasive White Mulberry (Morus alba), Box Elder (Acer negundo), Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanoides), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides); native species include a species of Walnut (Juglans sp.), American Elm (Ulmus americana), Green Ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica) and Cottonwood (Populus deltoides). Native shrubs in the shrub layer include Red‑osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) and Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), these two species usually growing together. Native viney species include River Graps (Vitis riparius) and Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron). This last growing with Virginia Knotweed there is indicative of drier ground. Invasive shrubs include Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and an odd new alien: Rubus phoenicolasius. Native herbs in the thickets include the common streamside grass Virginia Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus), Tall White Aster (Aster simplex), Beggar Ticks (Bidens frondosa), New England Aster (Aster novae‑angliae), Goldenrod (Solidago altissimus), Smooth Aster (Aster laevis). The Clearweed (Pilea pumila) and Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is indicative of mucky soil. Alien herbs to be watched include Burdock (Arctium lappa), Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), dominant in the brownfields along the Buffalo River south of the City of Buffalo, Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare, Chickory (Cichorium intybus), Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).


After study of the earlier species list, and discounting the invasive species and those associated with repeated disturbance, it is striking to see the commonality of plants in this marsh and its adjacent historical woodland with similar habitats along the upper Niagara River. It seems clear that the Niagara River marsh and streamside vegetation presently owes much to that of Buckhorn Island State Park. Buckhorn is clearly the donor community of species establishing themselves in new habitats adjacent to and downstream of this Park, officially designated as wilderness habitat. This is particularly evident at Navy Island, part of the continuous area along the Niagara River from Fort Erie, Ontario, to Niagara‑on‑the‑Lake under the administration of the Niagara Parks Commission. The marshes there, particularly the one on the western, downstream tip of the island in the Chippewa Channel of the Niagara River above the Grass Island Pool, are clearly being charged with species deriving from the Buckhorn Island marsh in Burntship Bay.


Likewise, Navy Island is the inheritor of Buckhorn's crisis condition of invasive Phragmites communis that has choked the entrance to Burntship Bay on its northwestern mouth. Phragmites is creeping upstream at Buckhorn and a population has established itself on the shoreline at Navy Island, facing this Phragmites‑choked inlet. The problem at Cayuga Island is rather Purple Loosestrife ‑ still at manageable levels. Both species have made serious inroads downstream at the Three Sisters Island on the Niagara Reservation (Goat Island) and appear to be ready to choke off the stream flow in the channel between the south side of Goat Island and the First Sister, the Phragmites in particular growing across the stream feeding this channel just upstream and will eventually form a dam or diversion arm, contributing to fully exposed bedrock. During winter diversion regimes by the power projects on both sides of the Niagara River, this channel could be thoroughly exposed to the detriment of what native species still exist in the plant communities recently examined.


The Cayuga Island marsh at Jayne Park is one of several upper Niagara River parcels with significant biocultural assets that deserve monitoring, invasive species removal and stewardship. Jayne Park is probably administered by either the City of Niagara Falls or the Niagara County Parks Department but this information was not known at the time of this posting.


I would like to thank Al Schotz, herbarium technician at the Clinton Herbarium, for drawing my attention to Clinton's mycological specimens. More recently, I am indebted to Irene Wingerter, editor of Clintonia and the board of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society for permission to reprint this article in this format. Richard Zander kindly provided the computer technology for this posting.

Map images are from USGS map Tonawanda West Quadrangle, 7.5 minute series, 1980.





Day, David F. 1882. Plants of Buffalo and its Vicinity. Bulletin  of  the  Buffalo  Society of Natural Sciences, Buffalo. Vol. IV, No. 3.


Eckel, P. M. 2002. Epilobium parviflorum, a rare European introduction along the Niagara River. NYFA Newsletter 13(2): 3‑5.


Ingraham, Joseph Wentworth. 1834. A Manual for the use of Visitors [sic] to the Falls of Niagara, intended as an epitome of, and temporary substitute for, a larger and more extended work, relative to the most stupendous wonder of the world. [Rare book room, Buffalo & Erie Co. Public Library]


Zenkert, C. A. 1934.  Flora of the Niagara Frontier Region.  Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, Buffalo. Vol. XVI.






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