Last week, I went on a hike on the trails near Warren Wilson College that run by the banks of the Suwannanoa River. The hike was organized by the Sierra Club and we were very lucky to have retired biology professor along with us, so I was introduced to many new species and learned a lot. The flowers above are green cornflowers and they are quite common in the mountains here.
We had lunch by the banks of the Suwannanoa River here. I was impressed by the wildness, with fallen trees and branches left to decompose organically, thereby supporting biodiversity and many ecosystems. To me, the way nature's systems function when we don't interfere is indeed beautiful, even though to some it might look chaotic and like things need straightening up.
Its not just the wildness of the banks that is important though, it is how the riparian landscape intersects with surrounding fields or homes. When the fields are left to grow more naturally, instead of being farmed with lots of nitrogens and phosphorous, rivers tend to be healthier. If the intersection is with homes and lawns, the same issues exist with fertilizers and also invasive plants. The biologist told me that about 80 percent of the banks of the Suwannanoa has native plants, while the other 20% is occupied by invasive species. That was an overall estimate. It some places invasive species clump together in a higher percentage. I asked if it was possible to go anywhere in the mountains where there are all native plants and he said yes, if I went about 10 miles past any development or house. Invasive plants seeds are carried by birds, animals, and the wind, so you have to go a long way before you reach an area that is free of them. Below are some of the native species I saw on my walk.
The seed pods of the Jewelweed pop if you touch them, and they instantly break apart. The flowers are very delicate and beautiful. There were many plants along the hike and I saw fields of them the next day on a hike in the Holmes Educational State Forest.
From looking in my field guide, I think that this might be Native Indian Hemp. The biologist definitely said it was a native species. What was so interesting about this plant was that the two leaves had fused together.
We often think of dead trees that are being decomposed by mushrooms and other fungi as being hosts for ecosystems, but in fact living trees can function this way as well–especially when they are growing in moist areas. The bark of this muscle tree and others was so interesting the way it was adorned by lichen and algae.
I am so thrilled to have moved to this area and to be able to study all the interdependent ecosystems and diversity here. The way things grow in harmony in wild riparian landscapes is so inspirational and I know there are many lessons to be gleaned.