Water Closet for July 29, 2016
[pullquote]”Much of the time the paddlers were rendered silent perhaps wrapped in wonder at the lush growth in various stages of flowering and fruiting.”[/pullquote]_ The plants of the Ipswich River floodplain are putting on a spectacular flower show despite the mid-May through the present drought. Here is a description written in July three summers ago after a paddle from Ipswich River Park, North Reading, to the Bostik Dam in Middleton.
GARDEN OF VERSAILLES, EAT YOUR HEART OUT (7/5/13)
People near the Ipswich River watershed have a watery, ever changing botanical garden tended by nature and time only minutes away. Last Saturday after a month of almost record June rain several Stream Teamers and two friends paddled five miles on higher than usual water down the Ipswich River from Ipswich River Park in North Reading to south Middleton at the Bostik dam. For an earnest crow flying the distance between the two points it is only half five miles. Meanders in the wide floodplains had us channel followers changing directions most of the time. We didn’t mind, ours was a quiet moving road among plants seemingly leaning out to us. Many were in bloom. Each curve brought surprises, a new water bush or softer, shorter plants caught our eyes. As one turn was rounded, a large doe leapt from flooded bushes and splashed across the channel just in front of us and then disappeared into the wet jungle on the opposite bank. However, the most common and welcome animals accompanying us all the way were beautiful damsel flies. Mosquitoes were neither seen nor felt the whole way. For that we thanked the electric green and blue bodied, black-winged, damsels and their dragon fly relatives, the latter surprisingly scarce that morning. Paddlers often enjoy the company of voracious mosquito-eating Odonates. The unseen damsel and dragonfly larvae are under the water; the adults up in the air with us.
In such a botanical garden, actually not “tended” at all, the plants are unlabeled. Paddlers recognized some and called out names in passing. One old paddler, wanting the others to know and perhaps showing off a little, told the names. A few plants in doubt were sampled and carried home to books. One handsome plant in bloom, mistakenly called Joe Pye weed, was named by another paddler as swamp-milkweed. “Too early for Joe Pye,” he said. Milk-like sap oozing from a torn leaf proved him right. Much of the time the paddlers were rendered silent perhaps wrapped in wonder at the lush growth in various stages of flowering and fruiting.
The dominant bush by far for much of the five miles was swamp dogwood. Many of its beige flat clusters of tiny flowers were turning brown. Above them, red maple, the main tree of our wet areas, gave us shade for a good two miles. In another mile-long stretch of wide floodplain, the beavers had killed the maples with their dams that produce year round impoundments of too high water. The sections with wide floodplains, where the sunlight now pours in, have gone from high red maples, swamp white oaks, and ashes to swamp-dogwood and button bush. A few snags of the dead trees still stand. Companions from the start were water smartweeds. As summer progresses these low soft plants grow out into the channel as they modestly bloom in shades of white and pink.
Largely gone from the river is a plant well known and much seen just a few years ago. We only passed small clumps of purple loosestrife. A couple reasons for this demise were passed around among us. One is the sustained higher water due to beaver dams may put loosestrife at a disadvantage when competing with other water loving plants such as reed-canary grass. This hardy grass has been increasing greatly within the past few years along our streams and river. Another disadvantage was due to the introduction of Galerucella beetles imported from Europe about a decade ago to do them in. The few ragged loosestrife clumps passed showed signs of insect feasting.
Most of the plants admired were healthy, not at all ragged. Some like pale pink swamp roses were striking; in most swamps this rose is found singly or in small groups with few blossoms. On the North Reading section of river, we passed several clumps with many blossoms contrasting nicely with the whole spectrum of greens. Even more eye catching were the fluffy snow-white clusters of elderberry blossoms. Every quarter mile or so we’d pass an elderberry bush on the edge of the floodplain. Why do they not grow in thick stands? Like most of our questions, this one was unanswered. Other flowers much admired were the blue racemes of the pickerel weeds now coming into bloom. Their emergent straight foot-or-more high leaves and flowering stalks act as channel edges bordering wet legged bushes. Below us now and then in the last mile, just underwater, we followed Potamogenton’s lance shaped leaves on thread thin stems pointing downriver. The dark, but clear water flanking our vessels was inviting. The river is much wider than the channel. Water flowed out from between the bases of densely growing plants on every turn. Our broad water road is a great living filter.
As we approached Middleton the uplands closed in again, the drastic meanders were replaced by gradual curves. Our little fleet was back in shade. In places waves of fox grape vines descended from the trees. Within a half mile of the Bostik dam, site of over three centuries of power production, the impoundment widened into a long narrow mill pond. In bayou-like bays off to the side the water lilies put on a lovely surface show. White water lily blossoms on separate stems float among flat round leaves. Far fewer yellow water lilies poked their single flower a few inches into the air. These two beauties grow in shallow water. Bees were attentive to the white lily flowers. We picked a couple lily blossoms to float in bowls at home. Their delicate fragrance alone might attract the bees. The smell is right up there with that of June’s peonies.
At the dam we were tempted to portage and continue on. Having ridden the current for less than three hours, we were good for another six. Alas, being human there were chores to do, so we pulled out and called it a day.
Note (7/29/16): Last weekend two Stream Teamers walked from just below the Bostic Dam on the exposed edges flanking the channel, stretches reduced to puddles as a result of the present drought. One said it was the lowest he’d seen that section of the river since 1997.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Apr||May||June||July|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.53||4.06||3.95||3.89|
|2016 Central Watershed Actual||2.65||1.71||1.51||1.3** as of July 26|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 26, 2016 Normal . . . 6.2 CFS Current Rate . . . 0.40 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for July
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584