Preliminary Flora of a Portion of Prospect Park, Niagara Falls

Originally Published in

Clintonia, A Newsletter of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society 29(4): 5–8. 2014.

P. M. Eckel

Res Botanica, a Missouri Botanical Garden Web Site

December 2, 2014

(Return)

Preliminary Flora of a Portion of Prospect Park, Niagara Falls

 

P. M. Eckel

Research Associate, Division of Botany, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York

September 24, 2014

 

            In 1885 New York State opened the Niagara Reservation at the brink of the cataracts of the Niagara River, the first continuously governed State Park in the United States. It is in Niagara County, in the City of Niagara Falls. It was stipulated that the “Reservation” be free of development in perpetuity. The Reservation included an area of the territorial United States at the brink of the falls, and also the adjacent mainland (northern) portion parallel to Goat Island, the Three Sisters Islands, Bath Island and the other smaller, inaccessible islands in the American and Canadian channels of the Niagara River as it descends in a series of cascades to the brinks of the American and Canadian cataracts. The western tip of the mainland area was and is now called Prospect Park, a name which will be used here to include the entire mainland section of the Niagara Reservation.  Prospect Park is bisected by the Robert Moses Parkway.

            The area examined stretches from where the cascades begin, roughly corresponding to the eastern boundary of Goat Island, westward extending to just before the vehicular, or eastern, of the two bridges extending from the mainland to Goat Island.

            The tall, steep bluff, probably composed of glacial sediment, overlooking this area and bordering it to the north of the Parkway, which covered with native trees and vegetation, was not examined. Its south-facing slope is in the Reservation and there is a green, mown verge abutting the Parkway. The bluff ends at the eastern base of the vehicular bridge, and west of it is a flat area with a gentle, low elevation.

            Eckel (2013) focused primarily on the vegetation of the island portion of the Reservation, and the present paper attempts to initiate a study of this mainland portion on one day at the onset of autumn, thus the seasonal expression of the flora does not encompass the spring or summer flora. Bryophytes were not systematically studied, but two interesting moss species were found amid the vascular plant collections made.

            The data in this paper derives from a visual inspection of the area by walking, with specimens collected for later identification, verification and vouchers. The study area included one macrohabitat and two microhabitats.

            The macrohabitat is a systematically mown lawn within which is planted a gallery of trees with broad canopies, most being native, but all probably horticultural, that is, none represent spontaneous native trees, none established in natural processes from neighboring plant populations. The median strip between the north and south lengths of the Parkway consists of a row of 13 specimens of mature horticultural crabapple (Malus) trees.

            The microhabitats include:

            1)  the extreme margin along the river, generally cleared to provide a view to the east Goat Island parking lot and an open expanse in front of several benches placed for pedestrian use. Species of birds were conspicuous: ducks and cormorants. Less than 20 feet from the water margin there is an asphalt lane for walking and bicycling throughout the length of the area examined, which is mostly mown excepting where the soil base is too broken for mowing machines.

            2) more or less unmown circular areas at the bases of trees.

 

Results:

Species of the macrohabitat consisted of:

*Acer platanoides L., Norway Maple

              [infected with Rhytisma acerinum, Tar Spot], several trees in lawn area; note that the Rhytisma infects all specimens of Norway Maple in particular.

*Acer platanoides ‘Schwedleri’ Schwedler Norway Maple

Acer saccharum Marsh., Sugar Maple, native, planted; several in lawns to east of study area; note less Rhytisma acerinum than  Norway Maple.

Acer rubrum L., Red Maple, planted among the Washington Thorn, some chlorotic.

*Crataegus phaenopyrum (L.F.) Medic., Washington Thorn, several groups of old trees.

Fraxinus americana L., White Ash, frequent amid the White Willow

*Gleditsia triacanthos L., Honey Locust, some appear to be dying.

*Malus, Crabapple species, several old trees apparently the same age as the Crataegus; some of these small trees are also dying; one species with rather large fruits a bright red.

 Ostrya virginiana (Mill.) K. Koch, Hop-hornbeam; two young-appearing trees (8” and 10” dbh), part of the native forest at Niagara Falls.

Quercus cf. rubra L., Red Oak, huge tree but chlorotic; other large trees dying.

*Salix alba L., White Willow: these trees and the White Ash are the species dominants throughout most of the area. It seems clear this is due to their fibrous and extensive root systems, and the water tolerance.

Tilia americana L., Basswood; a native tree and characteristic of the Niagara forest; 12” dbh, around four trees.

*Tilia cordata Mill., Small-leaved Linden, some ten old trees on west of study area, east of vehicle bridge.

*Tilia euchlora Koch., Crimean Linden, teeth mucronate, hairs brown, lvs. to 4”, frt. elliptic, one tree.

Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr., Eastern Hemlock, several dying; concentrated at eastern end of study area.

             These are all trees, except for the English Daisy (*Bellis perennis), and Creeping White Clover (*Trifolium repens) growing throughout the lawns.

 

Species of tree bases (all herbs).

             Young tree shoots of *Morus alba L., White Mulberry

Ambrosia artemisiifolia L., Common Ragweed.

*Arctium minus Schk., Common Burdock

Aster lanceolatus var. simplex (Willd.) A. Jones [= A. simplex Willd.], tree bases and shore vegetation [= Symphyotrichum lanceolatum (Willd.) Neson var. lanceolatum]

*Chenopodium album L., Lamb’s Quarters.

*Dactylis glomerata L., Orchard Grass.

*Glechoma hederacea L., Ground Ivy,  tree bases and shore vegetation, with moss Leskea gracilescens Hedw. tangled in its roots.

*Solanum dulcamara L., Bitter Nightshade.

*Taraxacum officinale L., Dandelion

 

Species of the shoreline (although the number of species was high, most are represented by only 1–2 (–4) individuals), all are spontaneous except for the White Willow (Salix alba), which was planted and probably the Rudbeckia;

 

             Trees:

*Acer negundo  L., Box Elder, huge trunk.

*Acer pseudoplatanoides L., Sycamore Maple, part of shoreline vegetation (spontaneous), probably from planted park species.

Betula papyrifera Marsh, c.fr., two young trees.

Fraxinus americana Marsh., White Ash, young shoots.

Populus deltoides Marsh, Cottonwood, huge, probably planted on the extreme shoreline with the White Willows.

*Robinia pseudoacacia L. Black Locust, cluster of stems (clone)

Salix alba L., White Willow, huge.

*Tilia cordata Mill., Small-leaved Linden with a huge trunk, probably planted with the White Willow and Cottonwood.

Ulmus rubra Muhl., Slippery Elm, sprout.

             Shrubs:

*Berberis thunbergii DC. Japanese Barberry

Cornus stolonifera Michx., several shrubs

*Rhamnus frangula L., Alder Buckthorn.

             Herbs.

*Arctium minus Schk., Common Burdock

*Artemisia vulgaris L., Common Mugwort

Aster novae-angliae L., New-England Aster

Bidens frondosa L., Common beggar ticks

*Butomus umbellatus L., Flowering Rush

*Cichorium intybus L. Chicory

Conyza canadensis (L.) Cronq., Horseweed

*Coronilla varia L., Crown Vetch

*Daucus carota L. Queen Anne’s Lace

Erechtites hieracifolia (L.) Raf., Pilewort

Geum sp.

Hibiscus moscheutos L., Rose-mallow, Flower-of-an Hour.

Impatiens biflora Walt., Spotted Touch-me-not.

Iris cf. versicolor L., Blue Flag (no flowers or fruit)

Justicia americana (L.) Vahl., Water-willow: flowers pale lavender (rare)

*Leontodon autumnalis L., Fall Dandelion.

*Linaria vulgaris Hill, Butter-and-Eggs

*Lythrum salicaria L, Purple Loosestrife

Lycopus uniflorus Michx., Northern Bugleweed.

Oenothera sp., Evening-primrose.

Phalaris arundinacea L., Reed Canary-grass, in a small population.

Potentilla sp.

Rhus radicans L., Poison Ivy, one shoot.

*Rosa multiflora, Multiflora Rose

 [*Rudbeckia fulgida Ait., perennial, but not native to shores - planted - not in Niagara flora]

*Setaria veridis (L.) Beauv., Green Foxtail

*Solanum carolinense  L., Horse-nettle: flowers bluish, few; “fruit poisonous to people and farm animals; foliage alternate hosts for var. insects and diseases of crop plants; spiny

Solidago altissima L., Tall Goldenrod

*Sonchus asper (L.) Hill., Spiny-leaved Sow-thistle.

Solidago graminifolia (L.) Salisb. [Euthamia graminifolia (L.) Nutt. ex Cass.] Narrow-leaved Goldenrod.

*Trifolium pratense L., Red Clover.

Typha angustifolia L., Narrow-leaved Cattail.

Vallisneria americana Michx., Eel-grass floating in the near-shore water, together with confervoid algae..

 

            The macrohabitat had the least spontaneous species diversity and the highest, systematic disturbance (mowing). The trees and shrubs (Crabapples and Hawthorns) were of great maturity. All trees and shrubs were planted, most at the same time (hence even-aged).

             The microhabitats at the bases of trees have more species and of a different type (all herbs, some mosses) and this habitat exists due to the difficulty of the mowing machines moving among the above-ground tree roots. 

            The habitat with the greatest spontaneous diversity of trees, shrubs and herbs was along the shoreline - this being the least disturbed habitat except perhaps for natural fluctuations in water levels, some ice formation in the limited sinuses of the shoreline margin, and some interrupted ice scour in late winter especially after the ice boom is removed in spring at the entrance to the river at Buffalo-Fort Erie. Water levels are manipulated in summer and winter due to the varying diversion of water volume out of the river on both of its shorelines (Canadian and American). Other disturbance includes the removal of taller vegetation to open the view before the various benches along the asphalt path for visitors.

            Rare, unusual and beautiful species include the Rose Mallow, Water-Willow and Flowering Rush.

 

            Conclusions

            The mature trees and shrubs in this section were probably all planted during the late 1950’s, early 1960’s during the development of the Robert Moses Power Project and the Robert Moses Parkway. The substrate for the level Prospect Park area studied and the Parkway is probably all fill deposited from bedrock material excavated to create the tunnels and forebay at the Power Generating Stations above the Lewiston Escarpment and along the gorge of the Niagara River. Hence the old shoreline was probably the bluff overlooking the mainland section along the northern boundary of Prospect Park. This fill was also deposited on the eastern and southern margins of Goat Island, extending the area of the island eastward and southward. Both areas probably exhibited shallows after diversion of the water was inadequate to cover the dolomite bedrock and the diversion structure in the Canadian or main channel of the Niagara River was constructed to preserve the scenery (i.e. waterfall) over the American cataract. The artificial aspect of Terrapin Point was also probably due to this fill deposited over stranded bedrock.

            Choice of trees and shrubs was due to roots stabilizing the fill, and providing an attractive flowering show in spring - especially the Crabapples planted in a row separating the east and west-bound Parkway within the Reservation area. None of the species are native to the area except the Sugar and Red Maples, and these probably derived from nursery stock. The presence of several planted native Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) - 4, and Oak (probably Quercus rubra) recent saplings also derive from nursery stock.

            The diameter breast height (dbh) of the oldest trees is large and relatively uniform, the willows ca. 48” - 56”dbh, the Lindens ca. 32” dbh, but there are other, rather smaller but mature trees that may have been planted later, for example the species native to the Niagara forest noted above. Note that many of these trees are sick, dying, or senescent. They are covered with woodpecker holes and (happily) a small, yellow species of lichen.

            Pictures of this mainland shoreline near the bridge to Goat Island from the mainland show an area choked with hotels and other commercial establishments on and projecting over the shoreline. Stately old mansions existed and still exist on the bluff overlooking the study area. An artist’s rendering in the 1880’s and presented to the New York State Legislature of the Niagara Reservation restored to its natural aspect show a mainland shoreline identical with that of contemporary native shorelines on Goat and other islands in the American channel. Clearly this objective has not been addressed by the New York State government in a systematic manner since the 1950’s and earlier. This is due to the fact that the State government has not employed a permanent, professional botanist-ecologist with demonstrated experience and authority to prepare a master plan with the original objective in mind. It is apparent that only contractors and nursery-men have been employed to undertake this important historical charge.

            For example, evidence from the shoreline vegetation indicates that mitigation is possible with careful manipulation, excavating coves in the fill areas, the placement of large stones and driftwood logs creates quite ‘lagoons’ in which a robust native shoreline could be established naturally from seeded populations upstream in the River. Visitors interested in birds would then be treated to a rich array of beautiful shoreline plants requiring no nursery contributions. Selected invasive species would be removed, native species conspicuous for their rarity and beauty could be encouraged.

            It is also evident, from the presence of *Rudbeckia fulgida Ait., a perennial, but not native to shores, and which is not known from the Niagara flora, that there are individuals on the Reservation and elsewhere throughout the Niagara woodlands that are attempting to “beautify” the native flora, by inserting various conspicuous look-alike or cultivated species from nursery stock. Such activities, which constitute ecological vandalism, should be illegal in the same way that picking flowers is against the law. Actually inserting horticultural and alien species into a State biological preserve is worse than picking native species - insofar as these species are meant to mimic native species, possibly to further the aims of economic development, they perpetuate a fraud on citizens of the State of New York. This highlights more than ever the need for a competent botanist-ecologist to oversee such an important historic flora.

 

Reference

Eckel, P. M. 2013. Botanical Heritage of Islands at the Brink of Niagara Falls. 366 pages. Botanical Services, St. Louis, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Amazon.