PLANTS OF THE FORESTED FLOODPLAIN

There are a vast amount of plant species and they occur across numerous different landscapes, habitats, and climates. I would love to sit behind this computer screen and tell you about each and every one, however that would take a rather long time so instead lets focus on one specific habitat. As you could probably guess that habitat is a forested floodplain (but we will just call it a floodplain)! To begin I should probably explain what exactly a floodplain is. I would bet that many of you reading are aware of the definition and or are familiar with the word. To be as technical as possible I decided to provide a definition straight from National Geographic which says, ”A floodplain is a generally flat area of land next to a river or stream. It stretches from the banks of the river to the outer edges of the valley”. You can read more here https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/flood-plain/

The flora discussed below were all found in a floodplain area close to a rather shallow and smaller urban river. However, the area near this stretch of river is home to a small forested area with a paved bike/walk path that runs through it. This area has a range of larger mature silver maple, cottonwood, black walnut, and some Ohio buckeye with smaller to medium species like mulberry, pawpaw, and ash saplings growing in the understory. Unfortunately, the area is crowded with invasive Amur honeysuckle shrubs and can be a bit precarious to walk through due to poison ivy being numerous growing along trees and standing in taller patches. Various herbaceous plants such as Wild Ginger and these wildflowers below cover the ground along with woody vines such as non-native invasive Wintercreeper and English Ivy that covers large patches of the ground. The soil is often moist and can hold water after precipitation events that can cause flooding or from extensive precipitation as well. The trees and shrubs are mostly well spread out making it easier to walk through. Check out the map below of where I walked around to snap these wonderful photos!

Now that the definition and description of the site is out of the way lets focus on the real gem of a floodplain… the plants that are found there! Floodplains can be quite an inhospitable environment and the plants that thrive there need to be adapted to the possibility of excessive water on the landscape where they flourish. I pointed out a few species found in the site above but lets focus on a few specifics I attempted to photograph! (I say attempted because my phone is not great)

First, lets look at 2 different trees that I have not yet discussed in my previous posts. Check them out below!

The picture above is of a very cool tree that is probably in my top 5 favorite trees! Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is small tree known for its beautiful elongated leaves and their tasty and or disgusting fruit! Pawpaw is an alternately leafed tree that usually under 25 feet, often shrub like, and has smooth thin gray/brown bark. They produce these approximately 4-inch green fruit with a beautiful yellow edible inside. Fun fact about Pawpaw is they actually produce the largest native fruit in North America and were often cultivated by Native Americans for their fruit. Read more here: https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_astr.pdf

Now we move to tree number 2 pictured below. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Black Walnut is also a tree I am a huge fan of! Well I should say I am a huge fan of the wood of Black Walnut because it is a beautiful dark wood unmatched in its beauty in my opinion. Black Walnut is an alternately branched tree with compound pinnate leaves with many leaflets and distinct dark rigid and furrowed bark. They often grow near rivers like where I found these guys and average 70 to 90 feet in height. The bark of Black Walnut is actually poisonous but has been used for various medicinal purposes by Native Americans! Check out more facts here: https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_juni.pdf

 

Now lets switch gears and look at some woody vines that were slithering around. First pictured above is Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). This is a vastly common woody vine that is very often mistaken for the notorious Poison Ivy. The key difference is the leaflets, Virginia Creeper has 5 serrated leaflets compared to Poison Ivy’s 3. These vines can grow along the ground or up trees and other surfaces with the use of its cup like adhesive tendrils. Virginia Creeper is spread by birds and small mammals as the eat and then pass their seeds through their feces. Ironically, their berries are actually toxic if ingested by humans, but all parts of the plant have been used for medicinal purposes such as the bark and twigs being used for cough syrup. Read more here: https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_paqu2.pdf

 

Next we have Riverbank Grape (Vitis riparia) pictured above. Riverbank Grape is a common woody vine that grows just about anywhere, can reach up to 50 feet in length, and can get rather large and thick shaggy barked trunks as much as 8-inches compared to most other vines. They have large serrate heart-shaped simple leaves, woody tendrils, and produce grapes… obviously! Fun fact about grapes is that they are a botanically true berry, which is more a berry than many fruit with ‘berry’ in their name! Oh the irony! They are very commonly found in forested floodplains but occurs in many other habitats. Find out more here: https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org/pages/plants/wildgrape.html

 

Our last woody vine is a rather important one… Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) pictured below. Poison Ivy is a common woody vine that can be found growing along vertical surfaces such as trees or buildings, along the ground in vine form, and/or even growing in a shrub like fashion where it stands up on its own without support from a vertical surface. The biggest key to look at with Poison Ivy is the number of leaflets combined with the alternate leafing! There are only 3 shallowly lobed leaflets… let me say that again to add some dramatic emphasis. POISON IVY HAS LEAVES WITH 3 LEAFLETS!!! So next time you are out and you see a vine like plant with 5 leaflets you say, ‘wait that’s not Poison Ivy it is Virginia Creeper but the one over there with 3 leaflets is absolutely Poison Ivy’ or something along those lines! Always be weary of the stems of this plant as it also has the oily resin that causes the allergic reaction people get when coming into contact with the plant!

Almost lastly lets look at a flower that we shall briefly discuss. Pictured below we have White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima).

White Snakeroot is a common wildflower found across all the eastern United States. It is a taller, up to 3 feet tall, perennial plant with serrated opposite leaves and beautiful clusters of small beautiful white flowers!

Lastly, we have a tree in fruit shown below. This specific species I have discussed before but let us go over it again. These are samara which are the dry fruit of several different tree species including this one, Boxelder (Acer negundo). Boxelder is oppositely branched tree with compound leaves comprised of leaflets of 3. They are commonly found around river bottoms and seasonally flooded areas! Check out more info here: https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_acne2.pdf

Now check out this image below and see if you can quickly point out what is Poison Ivy and see if you recognize any other species you might know!

  • Jordan