Artpark, Lewiston, New York: Botanical field notes from 2001 and 2002.

P. M. Eckel

Missouri Botanical Garden

Res Botanica

April 3, 2003

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Artpark, Lewiston, New York: Botanical field notes from 2001 and 2002.

P. M. Eckel

 

This note is an attempt to identify and describe areas of botanical interest in the Artpark complex. As the author understands it, the Artpark area is owned by the New York Power Authority, but administered by the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation with another tier of management that is open for public bidding. Artpark itself is a complex of areas of vegetational relics amid areas of great disturbance and landscape alteration, especially after the mid 20th century.

 

Artpark is an area located in New York State, Niagara County, township of Lewiston on the eastern shore of the Niagara River, partly in the northern extremity of the gorge of the Niagara River, and partly on the plain of Lake Ontario. The township of Lewiston is bisected in an east‑west direction by the north‑facing Niagara Escarpment that is interrupted by the excavation of the Niagara River gorge but continues westward into the Province of Ontario. Artpark lies on the lower plain in the village of Lewiston at the intersection of the Niagara Escarpment and the north‑south gorge walls of the Niagara River. The bluffs in the angle of this intersection are matched by similar bluffs in Ontario overlooking the village of Queenston on the lower lake plain.

 

The imposing Niagara Escarpment and the gorge of the Niagara River display exposures of geologic strata with indurated calcareous bedrock at the apex of the geologic column exposed there, interbedded with softer sandstones, shales and siltstones. The lower plain at the base of these elevations is formed of bright red Queenston Shale ("maroon shale with green streaks").

 

Four areas of natural interest described below include: 1. Talus slope remnant. 2. Upper hiking trail. 3. Alvar by old Suspension Bridge abutments, top of the river embankment. and 4. Scovell's Knoll [description in preparation].

 

The most evident impact of disturbance occurs in an area along the face of the north facing Niagara escarpment which is a multi‑tiered spoil area of rubble that has been sculped into a high‑speed roadway and multiple level parking for ongoing public programs at Artpark. The soil here is all transported, used to cover the rubble and planted to various exotic species of trees and shrubs, especially exotic evergreens. Disturbance regimes are perpetuated by mowing, the unmown slopes supporting thickets dominated by landscaping species and associated invasive taxa. Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia) has been used to enrich a sterile soil of hard clay with a high fraction of gravel

 

Both villages (Lewiston and Queenston) have shared similar land use histories, although this cannot be detailed here. Although there is much evidence of the presence of aboriginal people in the Artpark area, and/or land along the Niagara river in the Lewiston township area, most of the legends pertaining to them involve activities that have occurred along the New York side of the river, either indicating I know little of such activities on the Ontario side, or that the river formed a major political division among these people, as it does today, being the boundary between the two nations of the United States and the Dominion of Canada. Major conflicts noted by (popular) history include major conflicts that occurred in areas east of the Niagara river.

 

Some indication of land use may be inferred from the following plaque placed near the river's edge: "Lower landing Archeological District has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America. The archeological remains of Joncaire's trading post (1719‑1741) and other archeological resources document inter‑cultural relations at this key point within the colonial Niagara historic district. 1998. National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior."

 

Two major vegetative features attributed to aboriginal and pre‑colonial activities at Artpark involve firstly the presence of the ancestor of our Bing Cherry, Prunus avium L., or "Bird‑Cherry" due to its major vector of seed dispersal. This European species is everywhere throughout areas up and downstream of the cataracts. Its canopy, heavy with white flowers in the spring, is a major visual component in the gorge forest and in wilderness and semi‑wilderness forest remnants at Buckhorn Island, Navy Island, the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario and adjacent areas. That these tree populations are very old is attested to by the large size of their trunks and the fact that many are senescent, or have reached their ultimate age limits. They occur in intimate association with forest assemblages considered to be pristine or nearly so. It has been suggested to me that these trees are the vestiges of Jesuit father‑aboriginal people interactions as well as plantings by the French and later British forts and other early settlements in areas adjacent to the Niagara river as well as portage‑route plantings on both sides of the river. The rich berries of these escaped trees do indeed refresh the hiker in June.

 

The second pre‑settlement vegetative feature is that of the knoll that rises above the lake plain at the base of the escarpment and is separated or detached from it, due to resistant rock strata at its apex. It resembles a miniature Niagara gorge with a talus slope and a rocky summit and a species composition curiously like and unlike the Niagara escarpment. The top of this knoll is surrounded, especially on its western rim (facing the river and Ontario) by a low stone wall that may date from the 19th Century when Judge Clinton referred to it as "Scovell's place" ‑ referring to its owner, perhaps deceased by his time. The back, or eastern aspect of this knoll and much of its top is a dense composition of weedy plant species, with Box Elder (Acer nugundo L.) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis Andrz.) as dominants. The old residential area at the top also supports a variety of species associated with abandoned homes but also suspiciously enhanced with a variety of horticultural species arising from bulbs that seem very recent. One of the lovliest of these introductions (?) is the Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria muralis Gaertn., Meyer & Scherb) growing on the stone wall, which is matched by an unusual display in a generally non‑public area, sprawling across the rubble along the Niagara river shore on the upstream side of the collapsed Schoelkopf plant. Another is Ornithogalum, perhaps umbellatum L., or Star of Bethlehem.

 

The pre‑settlement vegetation, however, is on the western face, at the base of which lies a federally recognized Indian burial mound. Here is a rich and old Oak‑Hickory forest type with many of the same species as grow in the Niagara gorge and some of its woodlands. This forest, it seems clear, has been scrupulously maintained throughout history by the owners of the knoll. It is in danger presently of overuse (excessive paths, picnic facilities and program facilities) and a subtle culling of its valuable timber trees.

 

In 1851, the Lewiston and Queenston Suspension Bridge was erected connecting the two villages. This bridge was destroyed on February 1, 1864 after being left exposed to strong winds without its protective guy wires. It is of interest here because historic botanical records by George W. Clinton of Buffalo New York record his use of this bridge in 1862‑1864 (1863) to gain access to points across the river in Ontario, particularly in the area around Brock's Monument on the upper plain, above the lake or lower plain. A railroad track connecting Niagara Falls and points south with a station at Lewiston to the north existed at this time, descending the gorge (east) face in an incline from a point just north of what is presently Niagara University down to a terminus at what is Artpark today at the base of the escarpment. This old track incline may be seen today and forms one of the hiking paths leading from Artpark upstream in the gorge.

 

Another bridge of the same name was erected 35 years later, in 1899, to connect the electric railroads on the Canadian and American sides. It appears to have been constructed from materials obtained from the dismantled Niagara Falls‑Clifton suspension bridge upstream. "... it contained a single track for trolleys. The track connected with the Niagara Gorge Railroad on the New York end and the Park & River Division built a connecting tract from Queenston to the bridge at the Ontario end." The result was a circular trolley tour from Niagara Falls (NY)‑Niagara Falls (ONT) upstream to Lewiston‑Queenston downstream. This Niagara Gorge Belt Line circuit ran on a constructed bed just above the riparian habitat level of the Niagara River in the gorge in New York. The Ontario section seems to have run its length along the gorge rim (the "upper bank" as Clinton would call it). On the New York side this track lay above the river (lower bank) edge from Lewiston downstream to its incline upstream, apparently utilizing an old incline road leading down to a ferry line operated by what is now the Maid of the Mist, starting up the gorge face from a point upstream from the Lower Arch Bridge and ending near where the Schoelkopf Geological Museum, or the old (collapsed) Schoelkopf electric generating plant, is now, downstream from the Rainbow Bridge. This second track forms the second hiking trail from Artpark at Lewiston upstream to near the tailrace and electric generating facility of the New York Power Authority.

 

Originally, the Niagara Escarpment arose from a low, naturally ditched area parallel to its base on the lake plain, contained by a gravelly ridge or abandoned beach, also parallel to its base, appropriately called Ridge Road. Various people have indicated to me the presence of boggy conditions at the base of the escarpment. The hydrology at the base of the escarpment at Artpark is very complex, and seepage is rather abundant from the base of the hard‑rock strata near the northern terminus of the Niagara gorge. Wet conditions can also be observed at the base of the escarpment on the Ontario side. An example of the enthusiastic botanical response to heightened moisture regimes from seepage and subsurface hydrology is the ditching parallel to the upper hiking trail (i.e. the bed of the first railroad incline) and the moist horizontal ledges. The vegetation here is primarily alien species, with their typical component of Phragmites and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria L.), as well as opportunistic native plants, but the species diversity seems high here.

 

Natural vegetational response to this condition is masked by the extraordinary disturbances that have occurred in this area through time, especially during the 20th century when a great plateau of excavated rock or fill was dumped in the Artpark area during construction of the reservoir and forebay of the Robert Moses Power Plant during the 1950's. This plateau, or "spoil area" was carefully constructed to provide a second or road parallel to Lewiston Road, down the face of the escarpment. It was built, or later modified into a series of tiers or terraces, now a series of stacked parking lots. The spoil area limits can be seen in sutures as this mass of rubble abutted onto the south edge of Scovell's Knoll and appears to have buried a surface stream, such that a small natural pond exists on the west end of the knoll. This pond may be connected to the drainage of a seasonal stream, which has developed a ravine with an outfall into the river around midway between the escarpment and the northern end of the Artpark property limit. The upper level of the ravine is buried under subsequently constructed parking lots, local road‑ and walk‑ways adjacent to the large amphitheater for the performing arts built adjacent to and overlooking the river below the escarpment.

 

A second suture between the spoil area and a remnant of the original north‑facing talus slope just east of the entrance to the upper hiking trail at the western boundary of the spoil area may be observed. This woods gives an important clue to the old talus‑slope habitat.

 

The northern boundary of the Artpark property seems to be the traditional boundary of centuries of land use development in this area, at least at the river shore, as certain characteristics of the vegetation that covers the riverbank north of the boundary appear to be aboriginal, something that probably could not have redeveloped if the original cover had been stripped. It is very much different than the riverbank plant community in the Artpark property. This bank is dominated by a substrate of tufa‑forming mosses, primarily Didymodon tophaceus (Brid.) Lisa. This is a species that revels in calcareous seepage. Since it is developed over Queenston shales, which are presumably of a low pH (acid) character, one might assume this abundant seepage beyond the northern boundary of Artpark is artesian in character, the calcareous ions deriving from calcareous rocks in the upper strata of the Niagara escarpment.

 

As an interesting experiment in the use of early depictions of the area for early vegetational character, an image from the Archives of Ontario published in Ralph Greenhill's 1984 catalogue of the international bridges across the Niagara is included here (see end of this Web page).  The bridge is the Lewiston and Queenston Suspension Bridge shown in 1850. One can quickly identify some degree of generalization by the artist in his drawing of a, probably over‑abundant, forest cover. The naked caprock strata so characteristic of the top of the gorge above the talus slope is underrepresented but still visible. The artist makes no attempt to hide the banks stripped to accommodate the structures that held up the guy wires (without which the bridge was ultimately destroyed). The two story buildings, perhaps inns, at either end of the bridge termini are shown with well developed dirt roads leading up to them. Although there appears to be wharf development on the Lewiston side, this is not evident at Queenston. The river bank at Lewiston seems unaltered whereas in the depiction the bank is breached and ramped down to the water's edge. One curiosity is the degree to which the Niagara escarpment on the Canadian side is denuded of its forest cover right up to Brock's Monument at the escarpment crest. The zig‑zag of the road leading up the escarpment is seen on the Queenston side, but the road up the escarpment is not visible at Lewiston, perhaps because it was at some distance from the river. There is no railroad incline up the gorge face from Lewiston to Niagara University. If there were an excavation, this artist seems to have been interested in illustrating it.

 

What is very interesting is the deep forest cover of the talus slope on the New York gorge. Although some sections of the New York gorge wall appear to have never supported vegetation, apparently due to current velocity dynamics, the river tending to deposit sediment on the western shore at the expense of the east, here there appears to have been a rich forest. Today the talus slope, unlike upstream where cobbles contribute much to the slopes, at the northern end it is the finer detritus of the sandstone and especially the shale strata that cover the slope surface. Such a cover seems to sterile to support much vegetation and today it is nearly naked. Such early pictures indicate the shale and sandstone dominated talus supported a forest cover that is completely gone today.

 

The other striking aspect of this image is the white shoreline strip at the base of the gorge on both sides of the river. This is an area that was devoid of vegetation during the mid‑19th Century. Today one might think this area was due to lowered water levels due to power diversions. More likely what is seen is the result of the extensive buildup of ice in spring in the gorge that scoured the riparian substrate clean enough to appear naked. Today, bare rock shelves at the base of the gorge are actually the result of diversion, as the ice‑boom at the mouth of the Niagara River at Buffalo‑Fort Erie prevents significant ice buildup in the Niagara gorge, as does general warming in the upper lakes. The old riparian habitats depicted in this image are probably now supporting an extensive shoreline community of recent age, populated by trees of Poplar, Willow, Amelanchier, and shrubs such as Nine‑bark (Physocarpus opulifolius (L.) Maxim.), Round‑leaved Dogwood (Cornus rugosa Lam.), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana L.). For the moist, black‑soiled base of the gorge is what supports the richest of its flora.

 

Lack of ice buildup in spring in the gorge, diminution of the ice pack in Lake Erie has contributed to a warming and aridification of the gorge environment where snow that once lasted far into the growing season in basal habitats is now melted earlier. Lack of ice has probably significantly raised the general temperature of the gorge, which might have affected fish spawning dynamics and the presence of amphibian species, especially on the exposed, New York side. However, lack of ice scour has left riparian habitats free to develop.

 

More early images of this area are needed to correlate and compare these impressions. 

 

General field notes for areas at Artpark, 2001 and 2002 field season

 

1. Talus slope remnant, north‑facing escarpment. May 24, 2002; June 18 (2001).

 

Forest is hidden within the abutment of the spoil area on its western edge and surrounded by weedy thicket‑borders. It is approached by the gravel path leading to the upper train bed, on the left. Numerous animal burrows were noted in the talus bank toward the bottom of the slope. Note the dry ditch at the base of the slope. The slope is covered with cobbles to small‑boulders in size. The canopy is more or less closed (perhaps to 80%).

 

Characterization of this forest community according to the tally of ecological communities in New York State (Reschke, 1990) is somewhat problematical apparently lying somewhere between the Maple‑basswood rich mesic forest with a sloping habitat in the Forested Uplands category and the Calcareous talus slope woodland in the Barrens and Woodlands category. That Red Oak is the dominant tree together with Hop‑Hornbeam seems rather distinctive here Tree cover:  Red Oak (Quercus rubra) is the dominant tree (13", 18" to 30" dbh) and regenerating; the species next in dominance is Hop‑Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana); Paper‑ or Canoe‑Birch (Betula papyrifera, as at the base of the gorge and in Whirlpool State Park); much young Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Basswood (Tilia americana, especially at slope‑base), White ash (Fraxinus americana); Shag‑bark Hickory (Carya ovata); Black Walnut (Juglans nigra, base of slope); Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis, base of slope, 9" dbh). There is some White Oak (Quercus alba), some young and regenerating, and very mature Bird Cherry (Prunus avium, some fallen and rotten, all age classes; richly fruiting this day).

 

The dominant shrub amid these trees is the Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana L.)  with some Round‑leaved Dogwood (Cornus rugosa); Thimbleberry or Purple‑flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus, base of slope); Red‑berried elder (Sambucus pubens). This shrub is more characteristic of these slopes than the Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). The Red‑berried species can be found also at Scovell's knoll and the forested talus slopes at Whirlpool Woods upstream from Artpark. Several Currant (Ribes) plants were noted which were too early to flower and a Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis). The most abundant Hawthorn seen, along the woods edges and near the river was Crataegus chrysocarpa Ashe.

 

Although herbaceous cover is sparse, the numbers and diversity of species occur toward the base of the slope where moisture and soil gravitates through the talus. Here the abundance of alien herbs, such as Tall Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris); Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis) increases toward the edge, but lessens in the older areas. Crown vetch (Coronilla varia) extensively planted throughout slopes denuded by excavation is abundant on the edges. Thicket species include White Ash (Fraxinus americana), Box Elder (Acer negundo), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) and various Rosa species (Rosa canina, Rosa eglanteria, Rosa multiflora).

 

Weed thickets with opportunistic natives: amid several White Ash trees and some Box Elder (Acer negundo) grew Viburnum lantana, a species of shrub becoming increasingly frequent throughout the gorge, dense thickets of Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica), Morrow's Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) and the hybrid Lonicera x bella, Sweetbrier (Rosa eglanteria L.), Dog Rose (Rosa canina L.), Multiflower Rose (Rosa multiflora); Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii DC.). Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) shrubs seem clearly to originate from landscaping, as does Apple trees (Pyrus malus L.) and young Pear (Pyrus communis L.).

 

Herbs include a species of Onion (Allium sp.). Native: Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina). Entering the older areas these weedy shrubs give way to Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), in more shaded natural areas to Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron, richly fruiting now) and the Zigzag Goldenrod, a characteristic herb of the slopes and at DeVeaux College woods (Solidago flexicaulis L.).

 

Herbaceous diversity increases down slope, but the number of individuals is low: a species of Monarda was noted, of Narrow‑leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) and White Heath Aster (Aster ericoides); Rough Avens (Geum virginianum); Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum L.), Star‑flowered False Solomon's Seal (Smilacina stellata (L.) Desf.); False Solomon's Seal (Smilacina racemosa); Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima (L.) Drude; abundant in the small wood's remnant by the old Suspension Bridge piers); Wild Crane's‑Bill (Geranium maculatum); Smooth Rock Cress (Arabis laevigata (Muhl.) Poir.) grows at the bases of trees much as it does at Whirlpool State Park and on the bluffs immediately above the talus slope; Arrow‑leaved Aster (Aster sagittifolius Willd.), an Aster resembling Aster macrophyllus; sedges appear to be cropped by deer: Carex blanda Dewey, Carex communis Bailey, Carex laxiflora Lam. var. laxiflora.

 

River grape (Vitis riparia) becomes a more abundant ground cover, some stems to 2.5 inches in diameter in festoons. Ground cover includes numerous young, regenerating trees as shoots, such as young Basswood, Hop‑hornbeam, White Ash, and Sugar Maple; Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus vitacea), after River grape, are the most abundant ground cover.

 

The diversity of moss species increases on the rock cobbles here (unlike the cobbles of the spoil area), with pleurocarpous mats of Amblystegium and Brachythecium spp. including B. acuminatum (Hedw.) Aust., Anomodon attenuatus (Hedw.) Hueb. and other Anomodon species also on moist tree bases; Orthotrichum anomalum and Grimmia spp. cover rock surfaces on the slopes as elsewhere in the gorge talus; some pale green crustose lichens. Fissidens taxifolius Hedw. is most abundant on heavily shaded soil at the slope base.

 

2. Upper hiking trail (train bed), east‑facing Niagara gorge. June 18‑19. 2001. September 23, 2001.

 

The upper hiking trail is on an old railroad bed built essentially along the top of the talus slope with ditching characteristics parallel to it and between it and the base of the caprock. Ditching is necessary due to the extensive seepage flow at the base of the more indurated (calcareous) strata toward the top. Various modifications have been instituted along the bed to direct this water downslope and into the river below.

 

Most of the substrate examined is composed of small, soft fragments in the form of chips eroded out of the shale strata. Strong prevailing westerly winds, without seepage at the slope apex would otherwise make these exposures more sterile than they are. Such wind can give the hiker wind‑burn and the shale chips may become air‑borne and strike ones skin. Slopes are relatively unstable and steep and the lower slopes have little vegetation. It is mostly in the ditching and the wet calcareous ledges and in minor coving areas that vegetation is more well developed.

 

In the topmost, dolomitic strata numerous White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) trees are visible growing amid the fern Smooth Cliff Brake (Pellaea glabella).

 

A category of community, Shale cliff and talus community in the Open Uplands section as described by Reschke (1990), might be reserved for this site, were evidence of disturbance not so evident from earlier railroad development. One picture from 1850 was discussed above where the author depicted this area with a dense forest cover. There is little or no forest cover and the substrates are fully exposed. Shrubs are sparse but a relatively high frequency of herbaceous vegetation exists.

 

Trees observed: White Ash (Fraxinus americana), Red Ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica) in the ditching and cove areas, young Cottonwood (Populus deltoides); Common Pear (Pyrum communis). Occasional young trees of White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) line the path. Shrubs include Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica); Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa); a great hedge of Purple‑flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus, a native shrub usually found in wooded situations); Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus vitacea), festoons of Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron as a ground cover, as a vine or even a semi‑shrub), River Grape (Vitis riparia) is richly fruiting in September. One shrub of New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) was observed, a few individuals of Nine‑bark (Physocarpus opulifolius).

 

Phragmites (P. communis) is conspicuous here, as is Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). That is habitat is wet is also noted by the presence of the willow Salix eriocephala and Bebb's Willow (Salix bebbii).

 

Herbs: Common Burdock (Arctium minus); Sweet‑clover (Melilotus sp.), Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara); Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca); Centaurium spp., C. nigrescens; Narrow‑leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia), Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis); White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba); various white asters (Aster sagittifolius, A. simplex, A. ericoides, A. lateriflorus); various morphological expressions of Hairy Aster (Aster pilosus) were found and the pale blue Smooth Aster (Aster laevis); Hawkweed Picris (Picris hieracoides); Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus); Field Sow‑thistle (Sonchus arvensis); Small‑leaved Willow‑herb (Epilobium parviflorum, see Eckel 2002); Common Beggarticks (Bidens frondosa); Bird's‑foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus); Curly Dock (Rumex crispus); Common Evening‑primrose (Oenothera biennis); Butter and Eggs (Linaria vulgaris); Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia); Ox‑eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), Sand Rocket (Diplotaxis muralis), the rarer Wall Rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) occurs more on the slopes, the previous species on more level areas. A striking plant with deep blue flowers in a large population is Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare).

 

In a small, rounded cove‑feature much resembling Devil's Hole (here dubbed Little Devil's Hole) occurred a weedy forest of White Ash (Fraxinus americana), one Basswood (Tilia americana), several Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), Box Elder (Acer negundo). The seepage or stream that hollowed this feature appears to have been reduced perhaps by highway construction near the gorge rim above as little evidence occurs and is even more arid late in the season (September). Moss communities in the seepage that does occur are either Didymodon tophaceus or Hymenostylium recurvirostrum or both. There is a significant rubble pile‑up in the ravine in the cove and a bridging structure along the railroad bed indicating heightened stream flow in previous decades. The feeder stream or extensive seepage is missing, as it is in Devil's Hole upstream. Cursed Crowfoot (Ranunculus scleratus, typical of level areas along the gorge base) and Spotted Touch‑me‑not (Impatiens biflora) grow in the moister areas of this ravine, with a population of White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) a native species that can be an aggressive colonizer (see Second Sister Island adjacent to Goat Island in the upper river) but not usually encountered in the gorge except in this cove. Dense stands of Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron) occur in the drier boundaries. Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Bitter Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) can be seen, and Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) on the rubble in the moist basal area, again, often encountered in ballasted areas on Goat Island upstream.

 

South or upstream of this feature is a broad concave seepage wall musical from dripping water and lush with exotic and native opportunistic taxa in a marshy catchment area by the path inward to the base of the cliff face with more White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum), Joe‑pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum); the Spotted Jewel‑weed or Touch‑me‑not (Impatiens biflora) climbing the seepage wall, an abundance of the mat‑forming grass Creeping Bent (Agrostis stolonifera) on dripping ledges as in the spray zones of the falls upstream in the lower gorge. Similar vegetation could be seen growing on the horizontal calcareous ledges near the top of the gorge wall. One striking grass could be seen far up on the ledges, resembling Rye (Secale cereale), which is unlikely as it is not a hardy species. It is probably Stout Nodding Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis), which is big enough.

 

A concerted effort was made to spot Gentianopsis procera, a rare Gentian with vivid blue flowers in the wet upper ledges reported from the 19th century from "Lewiston." One ledge with a vivid array of blue flowers could be spotted with binoculars, but without sufficient resolution. A single stem on the wet ditching below proved to be the Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) and that is what probably was on display in the upper ledges. This striking plant can also be found in the wet river margin at the base of Devil's Hole and between the First Sister Island and Goat Island at the brink of the cataracts.

 

3. Alvar by old Suspension Bridge abutments, top of the river embankment. May 24, 2002.

 

 

Alvar is used here in a general, rather than technical sense, to categorize a plant community of diminutive plants and mosses growing on very thin soil on the dolomite ledges and pavements at the rim of the gorge, on various kinds of table rock, shelving or terraces that occur in the upper calcareous strata along the Niagara gorge. These nearly bare‑rock surfaces are mostly dry, although two other occurrences are wet (in the spray zone of the Horseshoe Falls at Terrapin Point on the southwestern edge of Goat Island) or are exposed to riverine conditions during some part of the year (upstream ends of islands at the brink of the cataracts, notably the Second Sister Island).

 

Another qualification that may distance these habitats and their plant communities from alvars as understood in the United States and Canada (see Brownell and Riley, 2000), is the similarity of the species assemblages to a spring flora of extremely diminutive plants that occur in exposed, desiccated soils, including hard, clay soils with a significant gravel fraction along the gorge rim and the western side of Navy Island, Ontario, in the Niagara River (Eckel 2001). The Alvar grassland described by Reschke (1990) seems to match in several ways the habitat about to be described, were it not for the long period of extensive disturbance regimes all along the Niagara gorge in similar habitats and the intrusion of alien taxa with the loss of native taxa once reported for the gorge, such as Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea). Other taxa noted by Reschke may be found in similar habitats in the same situations on both sides of the gorge.

 

The area examined occurred by the old piers that once supported the suspension bridges mentioned in the introduction above. These piers occur just before the entrances to both of the hiking trails, particularly the lower one. Starting here and extending downstream several hundred yards, at the bank of the river occurs an old thicket of White Oak (Quercus alba) with some Red Oak (Quercus rubra), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). On the edges occur some native Juniper (Juniperus virginiana) and in vertical outcrops White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). Deeply intermixed with this native woods are Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) shrubs deriving from adjacent landscaping on the wood's edge and Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica). Along a chain fence separating this habitat from the alvars occurs Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica, such as at Devil's Hole and Whirlpool Point); Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron) is a ground cover and there is a good population of Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima). As in the talus slope forest described above, the Hawthorn growing here is Crataegus chrysocarpa Ashe. and there was one or two shrubs of Dryland Bluebarry (Vaccineum pallidum Ait. = V. vacillans Torr., also found in Ontario at Wintergreen Flats above Niagara Glen).

 

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis) grows here, Onion (Allium sp.), and carpets of Cleavers (Galium aparine), a species that thrives in park areas whose native vegetation has been removed. On the woods edge grew Red Dead‑nettle (Lamium purpureum), Dog Mustard (Erucastrum gallicum) and two plants of Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria Scop., a horticultural species not reported as escaped into the local flora, but established here.

 

The transition to the rock ledges is poor gravelly soil over limestone with a flora of tiny species that extends onto the open ledges: a minute Forget‑me‑not: Myosotis micrantha Pall. not described for our flora until recently, but covering the Artpark lawns in spring with their small blue flowers; Thyme‑leaved Sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia); Mouse‑eared Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana); Whitlow Grass (Draba verna); Storksbill (Erodium cicutarium), a tiny species in the Geraniaceae that might be easily confused with Geranium bicknellii or G. carolinianum were it not for its distinctive leaves. Gravelly soils also included the moss Tortula truncata (Hedw.) Mitt. (= Pottia truncata var. major).

 

 

On the ledges themselves grew Thyme‑leaved Sandwort, Mouse‑eared Cress and Myosotis micrantha, but also Downy Brome‑grass (Bromus tectorum), as at Whirlpool State Park, Bastard Toad‑flax (Comandra umbellata), Gromwell (Lithospermum officinale) and Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis), a species characteristic of ledges in the upper strata of the Niagara gorge. In dense mats of the moss Thuidium abietinum (Hedw.) BSG. grew Mossy Stonecrop (Sedum acre). In mats of the moss Syntrichia ruralis (Hedw.) Web. & Mohr. grew Sedum sarmentosum Bunge, two escapes from rock gardens. Weedy taxa also include Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa‑pastoris) and the moss Ceratodon purpureus (Hedw.) Brid.

 

 

The mosses Syntrichia ruralis and Ceratodon purpureus

 

4. Scovell's Knoll: see Notes On the Limits of the Sacred Precinct on Scovell's

Knoll (Oak Hill), Lewiston, Niagara County, New York.

 

 

References

 

Brownell, Vivian R. & John L. Riley. The Alvars of Ontario. Significant Alvar Natural Areas in the Ontario Great Lakes Region. Federation of Ontario Naturalists.

 

Eckel, P. M. 2001. Tiny species: Myosotis stricta Link, a rare component of some vernal microfloras in New York and Ontario along the Niagara River. Clintonia (16(1):4.

 

‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑. 2002. Epilobium parviflorum, a rare European introduction along the Niagara River. New York Flora Association Newsletter 13(2):3‑5.

 

Greenhill, Ralph. 1984. Spanning Niagara. The International Bridges 1848‑1962. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

 

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological Communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program. N.Y.S. Dept. Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY.

 

Thompson, Gordon J. (ed.) 2000. The Niagara Gorge Belt Line. A Pictorial Album. Niagara Frontier Chapter, National Railway Historical Society. North Tonawanda, NY.

 

 

 

 

 

The shoreline of the Niagara river at Artpark shows a forested character. Looking upstream to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and the Robert Moses Power Plant in the far distance.