P. M. Eckel
April 3, 2003
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
Niagara Escarpment and the gorge of the
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
Both villages (
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
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
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
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
In 1851, the
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
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
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
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
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
What is very
interesting is the deep forest cover of the talus slope on the
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
Lack of ice
buildup in spring in the gorge, diminution of the ice pack in
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).
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.
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.