Botanical Observations at Devil's Hole State Park, 2002
P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica, Missouri Botanical Garden
May 10, 2003
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BOTANICAL OBSERVATIONS AT
DEVIL'S HOLE STATE PARK, 2002

 

 

The habitat and vegetation of this New York State Park may be divided into four sections for discussion purposes:

 

1. Devil's Hole State Park in the town of Lewiston, New York, is located on the rim, gorge face and river bank of the Niagara River and its gorge. It is most conspicuous as a geologic feature, an eroded and sheltered semicircular cove sculpted from a vertical tier of native bedrock, the hardest layers at the top of the bedrock column with softer, undercut strata descending to the shore of the river.

 

The surface at the table land above, limited by the gorge rim, loose sediments form a deep layer, forming within 100 feet of the rim, a series of stepped terraces, much like other areas along the extend of the Niagara gorge on both sides of the river. In some places (or throughout) these terraces are the remains of old beaches or riparian habitats, the evidence for which resides in the shells mixed with the sediments in these layers, especially at Whirlpool Point, overlooking the whirlpool area upstream from Devil's Hole at Whirlpool State Park.

 

The terraced end just south of the excavated cove at Devil's Hole in a broad flat pavement of native dolomite is surrounded by a semi‑circular slope of sediments that was, until very recently, covered with a dense shrubbery which has been cut away, to be replaced by Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis, the bane of native woodlands) and Cleavers (Galium aparine) forming colonies, as it does in similar situations downstream at Artpark in Lewiston, New York, and upstream near the Schoelkopf Geological Museum in Niagara Falls, New York.

 

This dolomite flat supports an alvar vegetation of small and stunted plants. Most of the flat has been planted to lawn, but the spring‑muddy lawn edge includes a population of a moss, rare in New York State: Pottia davalliana (Eckel 1987). The flat is a viewing platform presenting spectacular views of the Niagara River gorge upstream, and the downstream portion, past both the Adam Beck (Ontario) and Robert Moses (New York) electric generating plants and their tailraces, down to where the Niagara River exits its gorge onto the Ontario lake plain.

 

The flat is surrounded by an attractive ornamental stone wall, with stone steps descending down the sediment slope. A lovely old public restroom building is embedded in the slope, facing the Robert Moses Parkway. The top of the stone steps leading down the cove to the base of the Niagara River begins just north of this building.

 

A landscaped area surrounds the building south to a parking lot for visitors driving south on the parkway. The lawn supports trees of similar-appearing age, including Gleditsia triacanthos. A Black Oak (Quercus velutina) occurs there, possibly a relic from an original forest covering.

 

A mass of native and alien species occurs in a narrow strip of soil clinging to the gorge rim between the retaining fence and stone wall. Native species of interest include Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), White Cedar (=Arbor Vitae or Thuja occidentalis), and an attractive relative of the Poison Ivy, Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica). These species are typical of the gorge rim throughout its length.

 

Unhappily, the rim abounds in horticultural weeds such as Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica) and Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Periwinkle (Vinca minor), even Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) that have been planted and/or escaped, as well as a variety of weeds associated with the perpetual disturbance regimes of lawns, the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) that can't exist without mowing, Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris), Bitter Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), all of which shower the upper talus slopes with a gentle rain of seeds every year, enriching the rare native plant communities below with the burden of their numbers.

 

The cliff face of the Niagara gorge is composed of an indurated dolomite stratum at the crest, underlain by more friable shale, perhaps calcareous shale strata. The dolomite shows typical jointed fractures in blocks, but also a vertical spalling in comparatively thin tablets. There is a scalloped character to the spalling units of the caprock along the length of the Niagara gorge, especially locally, so the crest rock undulates (broad convex and concave surfaces of which the Devil's Hole feature is probably an example). Wall seepage, so characteristic of many areas in the gorge, is minor in the Devil's Hole, with is odd, considering the cove owes its existence to water erosion. It is probable that the cove exhibits cryptic seepage in the vertical fissures, the expansion in which perhaps accounts for the spalling or chipping of the vertical rock faces.

 

Outfall of Bloody Run

 

There is an outfall in the caprock area in the south face of the cove wall. The outlet for this stream is ornamented with a masonry framework and at one time a charming fall of water must have flowed from this brickwork feature down onto the talus below. Not only must the atmosphere in the cove have been charged with more moisture than exits today, but the music of water falling on rocks must have entertained the visitor.

 

Unfortunately, this outfall is now blocked with masonry. Although the area hydrology was not studied for this note, it is understood by many that Devil's Hole is the outfall for an area stream, called Bloody Run, and the reason for this blockage is that the stream flows through a toxic chemical containment area upstream from Devil's Hole. One can imagine an atmosphere charged with chemical contaminants was to be avoided, hence the stopping up of the outflow at Devil's Hole.

 

One of the consequences of this stoppage is the aridification of the cove relative to its prior moisture regime. Such dehydration puts pressure on the vegetation and other wildlife native to this sheltered spot. It is probable that the environment now is less conducive to species abundance than formerly. Perhaps the most vulnerable plant group to be affected would be the bryophytes, the mosses and liverworts that populate the rich but narrow and shallow soil accumulating on the horizontal ledges, stone surfaces, the stone steps and talus. Such bryophytes are often critical to species abundance, forming nursing beds of accumulated moisture for the germination  of other species and creating a habitat for minute species of mollusca characteristic of area gorges and the north‑facing Niagara escarpment. Note here, as at Whirlpool woods steps the presence of the alga Trentepohlia forming a red‑orange covering on the moist rock face.

 

The second most vulnerable plant group would include the pteridophytes that are established here, particularly Bulblet bladder‑fern, Cystopteris bulbifera and C. fragilis in addition to the Marginal Shield Fern, which, after the Cystopteris of rocky ledges, is the most characteristic fern in the Niagara gorge, particularly inhabiting the deeper soil of the talus slopes.

 

However, seepage in the gorge is so complex that a stream still exists with year round flow and is most pronounced in the spring (when it even babbles), at the bottom of a small ravine excavated out of the talus accumulation in the middle of the Devil's Hole cove. Water from the blocked outfall must have joined with this stream to enhance the outflow at the base of the cove, running under the basal path, and into the Niagara river.

 

This ravine stream flows out of the talus near mid‑slope and falls picturesquely over a series of bedrock terraces.

 

Curiously enough, there are several talus slope ravines cut into the soil just upstream from Devil's Hole with their bases ending at the lower path, built on top of the old railroad bed of the Niagara Gorge Belt Line railroad. The streams that created these ravines are not always visible, but probably represent seepage outflows from the bedding planes of indurated rock strata buried under the talus. These ravines are dry and do not support the relatively rich flora of that at Devil's Hole. Bloody Run seems to have been a surface stream, these others are stratigraphic streams or seeps.

 

To extend ones speculation back in time from the masonry outflow, if Bloody Run was a surface stream, it probably excavated a stream bed along its upper reaches, perhaps with low, marshy areas supporting a riparian plant community. This stream bed, if it existed, is now completely covered over near the environs of Devil's Hole.

 

Old stone steps from the observation flat above, just north of the stone building, lead from the gorge rim down to the railroad bed near the shore of the river. The steps are much like those at Whirlpool State Park (DeVeaux steps) only the flora on the stones is not as rich with native species. Here, as on the steps and caprock at Whirlpool woods, one might encounter the striking red‑banded millepede crawing on the moist calcareous rock. The Office of State Parks that maintains Devil's Hole as a State Park has provided the information that this animal is Narceus americanus annularis, and enjoys feeding on the rotting leaf litter and roots of plants.

 

 

Weedy species are evident along the steps, especially near the top, from contamination from horticultural areas above. In addition to Winter Cress, Queen Anne's‑lace (Daucus carota), Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), and the ever present Garlic Mustard; in August the Green Foxtail grass (Setaria viridis) occurs on the steps interspersed with native species such as the White Avens (Geum canadense). Alien trees, such as Box Elder (Acer negundo), invasive along the river path below, is evident in the upper forest and one wonders whether it was first planted here, as well as the Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila), growing in one of the bends in the grade of the steps, and Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). The invasive Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) also occurs here. Near the 'little cascade' of the talus stream is a Horse‑chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) that may have been planted as this tree does not occur along the gorge rim.

 

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) is one of the most typical native vascular plant in all protected talus areas. At Devil's Hole it also grows out of the horizontal caprock ledges and its leaves can easily be mistaken for the fern Cystopteris fragilis. The minute species Whitlow Grass (Draba verna) grows on the steps in earliest spring.

 

Evidence of salt contamination of seepage near the caprock here may be seen in dense populations of the halophyte Sand Spurry (Spergularia media), a species that has exploded in population all down the New York State Throughway to the Pennsylvania border due to winter salting. The curious occurrence of the tall ditch grass, an invasive species beside roadways is Phragmites communis may be seen in ledge seeps here, far above the river, and is probably linked to salty outflows.

 

Trees in the native component include White Ash (Fraxinus americana), American Basswood (Tilia americana), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Red Oak (Quercus rubra), Hop‑hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), and occasional Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra).

 

In August a good example of the Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea) grows right by the steps, dropping handfuls of its elongate, fuzzy, green‑shelled nuts on the path. It is difficult to tell this tree from its relative, the Black Walnut (Jugland nigra) with out its characteristic fruit and here the Butternut can be closely studied.

 

Here the European precursor to the Bing Cherry grows, the Bird Cherry (Prunus avium). Shrubs are typical of talus conditions, Alternate‑leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) and the Red‑berried Elder (Sambucus pubens ‑ not the Elderberry, or Purple‑berried Elder, S. canadensis, which likes moist, level ground). Both shrubs occur also at Whirlpool Woods upstream in talus and at Scovill's Knoll at Artpark and the piece of native talus slope forest near the Niagara river on the Escarpment at Artpark. Native shrubs common elsewhere in the Niagara forests are not seen here, such as Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum).

 

A curious distribution of species may be seen in the cove where alien taxa (trees, shrubs and herbs) are closely associated with the stone steps at the north end of the cove, but the talus ravine downslope from the steps and the southern area of the cove are much more pristine: the Sugar Maple and Red Oak forest is dominant away from the steps. However  the Small‑flowered Leaf‑cup (Polymnia canadensis) seems to adhere strictly to these steps, as it does at Whirlpool woods upstream. The native Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia)also seems to favor the stone steps. The earliest flowering Goldenrod (the genus loves September) is Solidago juncea that keeps close to the paths and can flower as early as late June. Dog Mustard (Erucastrum gallicum) grows here.

 

All about in the valley of the cove the familiar Zig‑zag Goldenrod is abundant (Solidago flexicaulis) on soil, as is White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum), which is abundant on the Second Sister south of Goat Island and in the Little Devil's Hole cove on the upper railroad gorge path at Artpark, both flowering in late summer.

 

The central, talus‑strewn ravine begins below the blocked up outfall. Here, except for a few species of alien plants, there is a characteristic native flora, probably depauperate with the loss of the outflow from the caprock. Moisture perhaps derives from seepage within the slope itself above where it emerges from the talus above the midpoint to the river. In May the crosiers of Marginal Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) arise amid boulders, amid mats of Herb Robert. So similar is the rubble above to the ledges above them that what might at first appear to be a Lady Fern is actually a sturdy specimen of Bulblet‑bladder fern (Cystopteris bulbifera), more often seen drooping from a stone bridge step or ledge and not nearly erect as it appears amid the stones. Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) and Jack‑in‑the‑pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) also grow on the upper talus.

 

The Virginia Creeper (discless: Parthenocissus vitacea) covers the rubble in areas as it does throughout the stony talus areas.

 

Lower down, near the talus‑stream may be seen Clearweed (Pilea pumila) and Jewelweed (probably Impatiens capensis, although one needs the orange flowers to be sure - Impatiens pallida, the Pale Touch‑me‑not with yellow flowers was discovered in August on the rivers edge at the outflow of the talus stream at Devil's Hole. Other population of this lovely plant may be found along the path at the gorge place in moist stations upstream from Devil's Hole and downstream from the old Schoelkopf power generating plant. The bryophytes on the talus include species of Brachythecium and Anomodon, these pleurocarpous mosses the most common genera of mosses throughout the talus fields.

 

The only display of a hepatic seen so far is Conocephalum conicum growing on the vertical dripping wall created by the bigger of the bedrock terraces that lie in the bed of the talus‑stream. Here another fern, a Shield‑fern (Dryopteris carthusiana) may be found with other ferns mentioned. Red‑osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea or C. stolonifera) shows itself, in anticipation of populations along the river edge. Native species diversity is highest where the moisture in the talus is high, together with shade from the Sugar Maple, Basswood and Red Oaks. Bryophyte abundance is also high (Brachythecium and Anomodon).

 

Near the very bottom of the ravine and the stone steps where the stream disappears under the rubble and emerges at the river's edge occurs Purple‑flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus), which enjoys the basal woods areas in the gorge, as well as the Leaf‑cup. The common privet (Ligustrum vulgare) has made its appearance here but can be easily removed. 

 

Now can be observed the basal forest of Black Maple (Acer nigrum), Sugar Maple, Box Elder, Bird Cherry, White Ash, Norway Maple, Red‑berried Elder. Zig‑zag Goldenrod is abundant, cf. Laportea canadensis (Wood Nettle), on the abundance of cobbles now an acrocarpous moss the black‑looking Orthotrichum anomalum. Much of the adjacent soil (not cobbled) slopes here are dry and sterile, in sharp contrast to the v‑shaped, moist stream ravine here. In the moisture a cluster of brown‑gilled fungi, in spring the Small‑flowered Crowfoot, or Buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus), the sedges Carex albursina and C. gracilescens. The Hooked Crowfoot (Ranunculus recurvatus), characteristic of the lower paths in the gorge grows here. Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana), which enjoys the gorge rim woods reappears at the base, as does the pioneer species Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) toward the water's edge.

 

There is an abundance of an Elm in the basal woods: either Siberian Elm or Wytch Elm (Ulmus glabra).

 

The railroad bed, the base of the walking path, lies above a shallow embankment, which is occasionally reinforced with brick or stone and mortar. Below this there exists variously a moist riparian flat area that supports a distinctive flora. This flat area is most likely enhanced by water diversion by the great power projects in place in and around the gorge.

 

Lowered water levels are variously observable along the gorge length on both sides of the river, in Canada especially on the downstream side of Niagara Glen, in the U.S. especially at the base of Devil's Hole where its stream debouches perpendicular to the line of the river. In August the exposure of the stony bed of the Niagara river extends far out into the river channel, leaving a great boulder‑strewn area with no colonization by plants and still with its dark covering of algae. These naked, stony areas seem to be due to water diversion upstream.

 

However, there is a wide riparian area, not quite as naked as the flat just described, that is a riot of moisture‑loving vegetation that may not have existed to a great extent without such diversion. These are flats covered with Willow and Dogwood species, such as Round‑leaved Dogwood (Cornus rugosa) with its neon‑pink flowering branchlets, Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) in thickets, Siberian (or possibly Wytch) Elm, Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron), White Ash, Bird Cherry, Walnut (Juglans cf. nigra). Blue violets (Viola sp.) may toss in the current at the water's edge in high water, Grass‑leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia, Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), Nine‑bark (Physocarpus opulifolius abundant), Sandbar Willow (Salix interior), Arrow‑leaved Aster (Aster sagittifolius), unfortunately the White Mulberry (Morus alba, an invasive species), young plants of Aspen (Populus deltoides) and Sugar Maple, more sedges (Carex spp.).

 

These flats are so rich that they deserve more study.

 

In September, when the water has receded far out into the channel, the abandoned banks were alive with autumn color from the native Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) with large golden daisy‑like flowers seen on all banks along the river at this time of year, punctuated with the deep blue of the Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) that can be seen by the First Sister Island channel, as can the gentle Great Lakes invader, the Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus).

 

The snake in the garden is the riparian population of Common Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) that can overwhelm this community as it can on the river edge of the Second Sister Island, and which can be easily removed.

 

Maintenance

Every effort must be made to keep visitors on the steps. Where they take shortcuts between bends in the path and where they slide down slope to look over the tiny stream in the middle of the talus ravine the soil is compacted and stripped of vegetation, except for the opportunistic weeds that take advantage of this situation.

 

A tradition made by citizens of the City of Niagara Falls of building fires in rock‑shelters or excavated depressions where the blaze can not be seen creates areas of trampled soil, invasive species and litter, both in the Devil's Hole ravine and the terrace (see below).

 

A program of replacing alien and invasive species, but which are typical of species for sale in the nursery inventories where replacement trees and shrubs are for sale, often in quantity for less expense, with native species is recommended. Connecting with horticulture resources in parks departments in cities and parks on both sides of the river, for germinating species native to the gorge flora is highly recommended for replacing undesirable plant material.

 

A program of girdling and otherwise eliminating 'mother trees' planted decades ago on the gorge rim could be instituted, especially trees of Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), a particularly invasive species in the talus slopes and in some areas Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica)..

 

It is evident that Devil's Hole is scrupulously maintained as far as litter pick‑up is concerned. Since litter seems to arise with nearly the same energy as alien species, especially in the talus‑stream channel and especially Garlic Mustard, the same crew that picks up litter can also 'pick up', so to speak, weeds along the path. Such crews would need to be well informed as to the identity of invasive species, and their sacks examined at the end of a day to ensure that the right plants are being picked up. To ensure accuracy, only one invasive species per year needs to be targeted, primarily Garlic Mustard. This is not a panacea but where these plants are sporadic a reduction in their numbers seems as doable as the elimination of litter, a constantly reoccurring natural event.

 

That a botanist and a botanical program is needed is suggested by the preservation of the extraordinary historical and present diversity of the Niagara gorge area, where some of the most interesting alien species, not invasive (yet), should be tolerated for their scientific interest. It is commonly understood that in areas where rare native species occur, rare alien taxa establish themselves ‑ a fact borne out in the Niagara gorge flora. The aggressiveness of alien taxa, and perhaps even some native ones such as White Snakeroot, however, should be monitored since no one really knows why or when these organisms become aggressive and overwhelm an ecosystem.

 


 

2. The original Devil's Hole park did not end at the cove of Devil's Hole as it does now. There was a northern or downstream extension that predates the construction of the Robert Moses Power Project of the 1950's. This is most evident along the gorge rim at the top of the gorge, but there is a basal component in a large natural terrace 20 or 30 feet above the old railroad bed near the gorge base. Beginning at one of the last descending bends in the stone steps at Devil's Hole there is a flat terrace running north. This feature appears to be natural and not the remnant of an old construct. It displays an apparent aboriginal flora, almost paradisiacal in places, which would demand conscious protection should there be a detailed and focused environmental management plan for the Niagara gorge. The forest here is more like Whirlpool woods upstream, with Red Oak, Sugar Maple and Hop hornbeam, White Ash, the native Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), probably both species of Walnut (Juglans cinerea and J. nigra), old trunks of the Bird Cherry. The Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum) is here,

 

Alternate‑leaved Dogwood and Round‑leaved Dogwood, Red‑berried Elder, the Purple‑flowering Raspberry, festoons of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus vitacea) and River Grape (Vitis riparia) with stem diameters of 3". Native herbs include dense populations of Jack‑in‑the‑pulpit, Marginal Shield‑fern, Bulblet‑bladder fern, Zig‑zag Goldenrod, a species of Baneberry (Actaea sp.). These herbs and a robust bryophyte flora cover great natural, blocky boulders.

 

Bladdernut (Staphlea)

 

Perhaps the most interesting tree here is a population of several plants of Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) beautifully flowering near the northern border of this terrace and also on the railroad trail below, above the water's edge which here is mostly at deep water, with no or little beach or shelving as there is just upriver at Devil's Hole. The Bladdernut was also growing with a flowering species of Hawthorn (Crataegus cf. punctata) and Round‑leaved Dogwood. This is the only station of Bladdernut in the gorge on the American side at least, that I am aware of.

 

As everywhere in the gorge forest, the species mix has been contaminated from inappropriate plantings on the gorge rim. However the woods seems relatively clean and remedial work could be successful here.

 

The boundary of this wooded terrace is abruptly terminated by a great avalanche of rubble that was at first thought to be natural, but there was too much of it and no related natural excavation in the caprock above. This rubble derives from the blasted excavation of the access road to the power generating facility just north of the areas under discussion. The road lies in a cut made through the gorge face with a grade suitable for automobile traffic. The resulting rubble was dumped onto the talus slope burying the vegetation that occurred there, much of it accumulating and halting at this natural terrace, leaving the old railroad bed free below.

 

Another rubble area occurs adjacent to Devil's Hole on the north side, the rock burying vegetation there. These rubble fields correspond to those upstream in the gorge between the Schoelkopf power plant and the Rainbow Bridge and probably derived from excavation of the old hydraulic canal that fed into the power plant.

 

Rubble fields punctuate the entire length of the gorge on both sides of the river. On the American side they may be emplaced to cover consolidated sewer outlets (CSO's) with outflows through the natural talus.

 

These rubble fields are essentially sterile. The cobbles and boulders are so big, unstable and exposed that little soil can develop on them. They are so deep that little can germinate between the blocks to cover them.

 

Yet various species do manage: species of Bryum (a moss) may become established in the vugs or depressions in the boulders, the semi‑vine Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia) may form a cover as can the viny River Grape (Vitis riparia) and Virginina Creeper (Parthenocissus vitacea). Occasionally Virgin's Bower (Clematic virginiana) forms a cover. Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), Aspen (Populus deltoides and P. tremuloides) and Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) may pioneer in these areas as on the exposed river flats. Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica) and Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) manage to gain a foothold here. This rubble is usually covered with a black, mucose growth, which is possibly an imperfect lichen.

 


 

3. Returning to the gorge rim above and at the north rim of the Devil's Hole cove, the pre-1950's park extends northward. It is currently inaccessible to the ordinary visitor. This northern extension took advantage of the natural soil terraces evident in the viewing area in the south section of Devil's Hole and evident at Whirlpool State Park, especially in its southern sections.

 

Here the forest cover, if it ever existed, is essentially gone and during the first half of the 20th century, the area was heavily planted to a few species of flowering shrubs. A gravelly path once carried the stroller northward amid fragrant shrubs or under the open sky, closer to the gorge edge where a grassy meadow was maintained, or which may have been its natural character. The gorge edge was armed with the same decorative stone wall as at the viewing platform at Devil's Hole, only now only the stone piers remain. A walk was made by this author in May of 2002, but which ended at the north terminus where stone steps were in place, leading down to a lower area, again, much as the viewing platform at Devil's Hole, leading down to an alvar region. This walk was ended for security reasons.

 

Looking south at the middle section, declivity formed by access road.

 

However, extraordinary views were to be had of the gorge from this northern section.

 

This section is bisected by the Power Authority access road, mentioned above, and the source for the rubble on the lower talus slope. Two isolated areas were created by this activity, a southern outlier and a northern outlier of the original park at Devil's Hole with its waterfall.

 

The first, or middle section of the park, bounded on the south by the Devil's Hole cove and the north by the access road, is dense with pre‑project horticultural plantings. The ground on the southern edge is completely covered with a dense, unmolested carpet of Periwinkle (Vinca minor). Adjacent to it the ground is covered with Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron). Inner thickets are dense with young Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). A now impenetrable thicket of rosaceous shrubs in the Crataegus monogyna, C. laevigtata and C. phaenopyrum group exists here, together with mature trees of what appears to be an Apple (Malus sp.), variously white and red Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica) are all representative of early plantings. The Lonicera morowii and the young Japanese Barberry are introductions. In the dark and barren soil under these shrubs the moss Fissidens taxifolius grows. Isolated shrubs of Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and Multiflora Rose occur, with Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) enjoying the periphery. A native forest is regenerating of Red and White Oak (Quercus rubra, Quercus alba ‑ the latter characteristic of the upper forest), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), White Ash (Fraxinus americana) and Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). On the point near the edge there are four Juniper trees (Juniperus virginiana), typical of this harsh exposure.  Amid the probably original lawn of Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) native herbs and shrubs are springing up, particularly on the northern periphery, with Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), the Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), Arrow-leaved Aster (Aster sagittifolius), some Goldenrod. Alien taxa include young sprouts of Bird Cherry (Prunus avium), and in the grassy areas Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota), only a little Dandelion, due to the tallness of the grasses, some Sulphury Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta), Cleavers (Galium aparine).

 

Click here for Gallery of Pictures of the Middle Section


 

4. The fourth section lies north of the access road and ends at a ridge facing north (downstream) with a charming stone step leading yet down to another level. Several soil terraces occur here, descending to the gorge edge, much as the southern terraces at Whirlpool State Park. The upper terrace has a stony walking path surrounded and embowered with horticultural shrubs. The lower terrace is a grassy meadow under the open sky.

 

Northern section looking towards Robert Moses power plant, meadow area.

 

Here, as in the middle section, is a dense thicket of Crataegus monogyna ‑ C. phaenopyrum, intensified with Viburnum lantanoides, now frequently encountered in the lower gorge path, and the Honeysuckles Lonicera tartarica and L. x bella and Privet (Ligustrum vulgaris).

 

Opportunistic native and alien vegetation is slowly asserting itself with much tall, shrubby (but also with the viny facies of) Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron), escaped Honeysuckle, young White Ash (Fraxinus americana), Staghorn sumac, escaped Privet, Crataegus mollis, escaped Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos). In the meadow area along the stone wall, which once perhaps bore a path, as an extension of the path all along the gorge edge south of Devil's Hole, many grassy and forb species occur, with Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa‑pastoris), Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris), Yellow Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinalis), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). This area, probably once an alvar, was made over into a lawn, probably dominated by Kentucky blue‑grass, as is indicated by the dandelions and the various lawn clovers, Trifolium hybridum, T. repens, T. pratense. Red Dead‑nettle (Lamium purpureum) grows beside the stone piers of the old wall. Again, Cleavers (Galium aparine) is abundant.

 


 

5. A fifth section, north of the one just described, descended to a lower level that was unexamined. Aboriginal bedrock pavements that may have occurred here have been made ambiguous by modifications in the gorge wall and upper level during the latter 20th century.

 

Looking north onto the unexplored fifth section, which descends
 below the level of the forth section.

 


 

References

Eckel, P. M. 1987. Mosses new and rare for New York State. Rhodora 89: 375-379.

 

Eckel, P. M. 2000. Tiny Species: Myosotis stricta Link, a rare component of some vernal microfloras in New York and Ontario along the Niagara River. 2000. Clintonia 16(1): 4.

 

See also Part 2 - Gallery

Click Here

See also Part 3 - Gallery of the Middle Section

Click Here

 

 

 

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