By Dale K. Nichols (Board Member)
Dear friends of Shirley Heinze Land Trust: This is the sixth in a series of “snapshots” featuring our Beverly Shores/Great Marsh preserve. For reasons that will become obvious as you read this post, I am naming it “Pinks and Purples.”
My dog, Riley, and I have taken daily walks along the perimeter of SHLT’s Great Marsh preserve for well over ten years now, and in that time I have learned a fair amount about this special place—much of it through simple observation. As is true of other habitats, the marsh displays a predictable cycle of growth, decline, insect life and coloration throughout its growing season, such that someone with a trained eye can readily determine the time of year within a couple of weeks just from visual clues.
Focusing on color, now in early August the Shirley Heinze marshland landscape is all about splotches of pink and purple set against an emerging sea of white Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).
Swamp rose bushes (Rosa palustris) can be found scattered throughout the property, including at the northeast and northwest corners of Beverly Drive and Wells. In June and July, their beautiful five-petaled, pink-to-magenta blooms stood out in the landscape. Now only a few remain, as they yield to the blossoms of several other species that have emerged to take their place.
My favorite is the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). These plants can reach a height of 3 to 5 feet and have distinctive pink flowers that are small and star-shaped, arranged in clusters called umbels with multiple flowers grouped together on a single stem. Their flowers attract various pollinators, including butterfilies and bees, and their leaves serve as food for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies, among others. Thanks to SHLT’s ongoing stewardship efforts, we are now seeing a huge increase in their numbers, which now dot the marsh landscape.
Much more plentiful are the two species of Joe-Pye Weed that thrive in our marshland habitat: Spotted Joe-Pye Wee. (Eutrochium maculatum, shown), and Hollow-stemmed Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum). Both are members of the aster family, and the plants range from 3 to 8 feet in height. Like Swamp Milkweed, Joe-Pye Weed flowers attract numerous pollinators. Spotted Joe-Pye weed is similar to Swamp Milkweed in appearance. It can be distinguished by its longer leaves with serrated edges, and by its flower clusters, which are more dome-shaped in appearance and number only one per stem.
Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is another important marsh plant for pollinators. Typically growing to a height of 2 to 5 feet, it is known for its striking display of small purple flowers that are arranged in dense, slender spikes at the top of the stems. The plant has a history of traditional medicinal uses among indigenous peoples and early settlers. It was often used as an herbal remedy for various ailments, including fevers, colds, respiratory issues, and digestive complaints.
Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) is the shortest of the plants featured in this blog post, usually reaching a height of only 1 to 3 feet. The Latin word “ringens” means “open-mouthed” and refers to the appearance of the plant’s two-lipped flowers, which some think resemble the face of a monkey. Monkey flower seeds form in capsules. Each smaller than a grain of sand, the seeds weigh in at approximately 36,000,000 per pound!
Other native species of pink/purple August bloomers found on Shirley Heinze marshlands include Swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum) and the Giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), which can be seen growing primarily along the roadsides.
As you’re driving or walking along Beverly Drive this month, be sure to slow down and take in the beauty of these marvelous flowering plants!