Magical Perspective

August 21, 2016 flowers 023

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“The same view you look at every day,

the same life, can become something brand new

by focusing on its gifts

rather than the negative aspects.

Perspective is your own choice

and the best way to shift that perspective

is through gratitude,

by acknowledging and appreciating the positives.”

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Bronnie Ware

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“Incidentally, the world is magical.

Magic is simply what’s off our human scale…

at the moment.”

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Vera Nazarian

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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“We see only a part of the surface of things.

The rest will be forever hidden from us,

to be appreciated for its felt

but unfathomed presence.”

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Richard Taylor

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Wednesday Vignettes

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Pickerelweed, Phragmites, cattails, wildflowers and grasses populate this briny marsh along one of the many creeks in our area. 

The scene changes continuously as tides rise and fall and the seasons melt one into another.  For months of the year, we see mostly mud here.  It is a cause to celebrate each spring when the marshes green with their first growth.  Now, despite abundant rain this summer, some of the plants have already begun to yellow and fade.

Soon, summer’s greens will melt into shades of yellow and brown with autumn’s approach.

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This sun-baked marsh contains a rich ecosystem of birds and all manner of flying insects, small crabs, fish, shellfish, frogs and muskrats.  It is always dinner time here, and it remains alive with activity from before sunrise until after the light fades from the sky each evening.

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Some folks may look at this land and consider it wasted acreage.  There are always developers looking to build something new to turn a profit, especially in James City County these days.  There is the constant conversation between those seeking permits for ecological destruction and “economic  development,” and those working hard to preserve our natural resources; including the marshlands.

The truth is, that all of these marshes drain into the Chesapeake Bay.  Every creek, pond, bay and marsh in our area drain into one of our three major rivers, which feed fresh water into the Chesapeake Bay.  And so there are laws at every level of government now to regulate land use, in the interest of preserving water quality in the Bay. 

If you are interested, please enjoy the interesting and informative presentation our county has assembled here.  This is a .pdf file presentation with all sorts of useful and interesting information.  James City County was actually the first locality in Virginia to adopt a Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, in 1990.

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Today’s vignettes celebrate the natural landscapes of the marshes in our area.  These photos were all taken within the Colonial National Historical Park, along the Colonial Parkway.  I love to study nature’s hand at planting, even knowing I could never recreate beauty on this scale in my own garden.

Thank you to Anna at Flutter and Hum for hosting the Wednesday Vignette each week.  I hope you will visit her today to enjoy her lovely “Green on Green” planting.  How can we not celebrate all of the lovely greens living in our landscapes now?

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Watershed

The Chickahominy River flows into the James, then on to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chickahominy River flows into the James, then on to the Chesapeake Bay.

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Abundant rainfall continues to fall in our area.  Whether coming as snow, sleet, rain or freezing rain; moisture has filled our sky several times a week for the last few months.

We appreciate the rain.  Our soil is so well hydrated it squishes.

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Water from this ditch runs into a tiny creek which feeds College Creek, less than 200 ft. away.

Water from this ditch runs into a tiny creek which feeds College Creek, less than 200 ft. away.

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Our neighborhood ditches and low spots fill with precious water, and excess water is channeled down our steep sloping yards into the many creeks which run through our ravines.

Living near the coast, on a peninsula between mighty rivers, with ponds, marshes and and creeks dotting the landscape, we see and cross bodies of water each day.

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Channeling water run off in our neighborhood into College Creek

Channeling water run off of streets  in our neighborhood into College Creek

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Our close relationship with our area’s waterways remains immediate and tangible.

There is a clear route from our garden directly to the James River, then the Chesapeake Bay, and within only about 60 miles directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

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This pond behind our home flows directly into College Creek

This pond behind our home flows directly into College Creek

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And every inch of this watery pathway hosts abundant life.  Our thick forests and dense marshlands support thousands of species of birds, fish, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and small mammals.  We see and hear many of these beautiful creatures each day, and we appreciate their presence. (Except for the dratted voles, ticks, and mosquitoes, that is.)

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College Creek flows under this Colonial Parkway bridge and into the James River

College Creek flows under this Colonial Parkway bridge and into the James River

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has raised awareness of the Bay’s fragile ecosystem since the late 1960’s.  I grew up admiring this group and its efforts to improve water and air quality in our state, to raise awareness of erosion, and to preserve the unique beauty of our coastal region.

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Erosion continues to be a problem along our waterways.  Here, ducks enjoy feeding in the shallows of College Creek near where it empties into teh river.

Erosion continues to be a problem along our waterways. Here, ducks enjoy feeding in the shallows of College Creek near where it empties into the river.

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As much as the Bay’s health remains dependent on the decisions and actions of corporations, the U.S Navy, and all levels of government; there are still things individuals can do (and not do) to make our own small efforts to preserve the health and beauty of our waterways.

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The Beautiful James River with water flowing into it from College Creek to the left.

The beautiful James River with water flowing into it from College Creek to the left.

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We are often reminded that anything left on the ground will eventually find its way to the Bay, and then the ocean.  This includes not only litter and pet waste, but also lawn chemicals, garden fertilizers, oil or gas leaked from engines, and even eroding soil.

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Much of the river banks in our immediate area are forested.  Forest lands and marshes do a great deal to filter water running off of the land before it reaches the larger waterways.  Even the hated phragmites, bane of boaters, serve an important role in filtering harmful substances out of water flowing through creeks and marshes on its way to the Bay and the Atlantic.

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Phragmites fill much of our marshy areas.

Phragmites fill much of our marshy areas.

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Every bit of vegetation helps absorb run-off and clean the air, filtering out harmful substances, including carbon, trapping them within the tissue of the plant.

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation runs a number of excellent projects both to educate people at all levels about the Bay’s ecosystem, and to take direct action to restore watersheds and clean up solid pollution.  Please take a look at the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Foundations Clean Water Blueprint for more information.

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This ditch along Jamestown Road catches and absorbs run off before it can reach the James River.

This ditch along Jamestown Road catches and absorbs run off before it can reach the James River.

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Even with a nuclear power station as one of our ‘neighbors,’ across the river in Surry, there has been a minimum of impact from that industrial site on the overall health of this section of the James river.

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Surry nuclear power station as seen across the james River from the Colonial Parkway, ,near Jamestown Island.

Surry nuclear power station as seen across the James River from the Colonial Parkway, near Jamestown Island.

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We came home earlier today to find one of the ubiquitous “lawn care” companies spraying mystery liquids on a neighbor’s lawn.  I immediately tensed up and felt angry that the neighbor had actually hired someone to come and spray harmful chemicals so close to the pond behind our homes.  This same neighbor had shrubs and trees ripped out of her yard a few years back so this green lawn could be laid.  Now we have to listen to the crews come with their noisy equipment to care for it and treat it with chemicals on a regular basis.

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Our pond empties directly into this area of College Creek

Our pond empties directly into this area of College Creek

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With every rain, those chemicals wash off of her lawn and into the pond behind our properties, home to frogs, toads, turtles, and more; then on into College Creek.

Planting and preserving trees, shrubs, herbs, and vines helps hold the soil and slow run-off during rainstorms, thus preventing erosion.  Planting primarily native or naturalized species which don’t require herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers for their growth allows us to enjoy a beautiful landscape around our homes without releasing chemicals into the ecosystem.  Naturalized landscapes use far less energy than lawns and return far greater value to the ecosystem.

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Another neighbor whose garden borders our shared pond has filled his garden with native shrubs and trees.  This Mountain Laurel makes a spectacular display in his garden each May.

Another neighbor whose garden borders our shared pond has filled his garden with native shrubs and trees. This Mountain Laurel makes a spectacular display in his garden each May.

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Re-planting native and naturalized species also helps re-store the ecosystem for our wildlife.  As we provide food sources and nesting sites, we provide safe haven for the many creatures which make up the web of life in our region.  This is good stewardship of our ecosystem, and also saves us a great deal of time an money.  Wouldn’t you also prefer listening to birdsong than to the blowers, mowers, saws and grinders of a lawn crew?

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Jane, a blogging friend at “Just Another Nature Enthusiast,” has created a new blogging meme called, “Unless… Earth Friendly Fridays.”  Somehow I missed her start up.  Jane has declared March the month for us to focus on water and waterways.  March 14 is the International Day of Action for Rivers,  and March 22 the UN’s World Water Day.

Jane posted the challenge, “Water- What’s Your Watershed?” on the last Friday of February, and I’m finally responding with this post today.  Better late than never, I believe!

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The Chickahominy River earlier this afterrnoon.

The Chickahominy River earlier this afterrnoon.

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Although Jane lives in the beautiful northwest of the United States, and we live here in coastal Virginia; we have a great deal in common.  Even living on opposite coasts, I feel as though we share a back yard.  Perhaps all of North America is in some way our back yard!  If we all treated it as such, I firmly believe that we could do a great deal to clean and preserve our environment in our generation.

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Working together, helping others become more aware of how their actions affect the greater whole, we might be able to leave a cleaner, more beautiful planet for our granddaughters and grandsons.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Please join the Earth-friendly Friday Challenge.

UNLESS we care nothing is going to get better… it’s not

Our watershed

Our watershed

Wild-Life

January 4, 2014 garden 029

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“Patience, he thought.

So much of this was patience – waiting,

and thinking and doing things right.

So much of all this, so much of all living

was patience and thinking.”

Gary Paulsen,  from Hatchet

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Water Views

 

College Creek, a tributary of the James River.

College Creek, a tributary of the James River.

 

Forest Garden, and all of the Williamsburg area in fact, exist on a series of peninsulas.

We sometimes joke about living on “Williamsburg Island,” because water surrounds our area.

 

The York River, to our north.

The York River, to our north.

 

The Chesapeake Bay divides us from the Delmarva Peninsula, and then the Atlantic Ocean rolls in further east.

Our little finger of land is bound by the York River to the north and the James River to our south.

 

The James River, to our south

The James River, to our south

 

There are so many little creeks and ponds, bays, tributaries, reservoirs and rivers that we cross numerous bridges, large and small, to go anywhere.

Even our “Peninsula”, the term for our area on the local evening news, has its own little peninsulas.

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Our geography is formed by flowing water and the tides.  

Much of the real estate is at sea level here.

On Jamestown Island, where archeologiests race with the rising river to complete their work.

On Jamestown Island, where archeologists race with the rising river to complete their work.

 

That would be the rapidly rising sea level, caused in part by subsidence;  sinking land all around the Chesapeake Bay.

Fringes of marsh border most of the dry land here.

The banks of our main rivers and creeks were recently “hardened” by government contractors bringing in truckloads of granite rock to hold the land in place.

 

Powhatan Creek

Powhatan Creek

Rock is something we rarely see here, unless it has been imported.

Far more frequently, we see shells.

In fact, it is commonplace to find oyster shells dropped over the garden by a snacking bird.

 

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We love the water. 

We love watching its changing moods, and the quality of light reflecting from its surface at all times of day and in all sorts of weather.

Jones Mill Pond

Jones Mill Pond

 

We enjoy watching the changing year reflected in the water which surrounds our home.

 

Passmore Creek

Passmore Creek

 

Like all of the elements on Earth, water can be life-giving or deadly;  destructive or beautiful.

 

Indian Field Creek

Indian Field Creek

 

Yet we are drawn to live near flowing water.

Our bits of forest are always bounded by water.

 

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And those waterways were once the highways here.

In earlier times, before our modern roads were built, most travel was by small boat.

The Colonial Parkway skirts or crosses many waterways on its journey from Jamestown on the James to Yorktown on the York RIver.

The Colonial Parkway skirts or crosses many waterways on its journey from Jamestown on the James to Yorktown on the York RIver.

 

Most homes were built near water, and the waterways provided a rich variety of clams and oysters, fish, duck, and goose for food.

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And so we still are drawn to drink in the beauty of the water views which surround us.

Never attracted to inland life, we find happiness on the edges where land and water meet.

 

College Creek, explored by the Spanish in the late 16th Century, was passed over for settlement by the 1607 English colonists who chose Jamestown instead.

College Creek, explored by the Spanish in the late 16th Century, was passed over for settlement by the 1607 English colonists, who chose Jamestown instead.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

GetMap.ashx

Golden October Afternoon

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The sun slips towards the horizon

A bit earlier

On golden October afternoons.

 

 

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As days grow shorter,

Sol  stays lower in the sky.

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Its rays oblique,

Somehow gentler,

Touching the world with golden fingers of light.

 

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Golden rays illuminate each stalk and leaf,

Penetrating,

Lingering,

Glowing;

 

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Soft halos of light

Consecrate the commonplace.

 

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A loving “Farewell,”

As light slip towards darkness.

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Night gains a few more moments

At each day’s close.

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Sol climbs lower with each passing day,

Paler, cooler,

softer somehow.

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And Earth glows golden at the parting,

Basking in the  gifts each illumined moment brings,

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Burnished bright,

Transmuted by the light,

Prepared  for winter’s long windswept nights.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

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WPC: Adventure!

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“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

“I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures.

Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

J.R.R. Tolkien

 

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“Where did you go to, if I may ask?’ said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.

“To look ahead,” said he.

“And what brought you back in the nick of time?”

“Looking behind,”  said he.

J.R.R. Tolkien

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“The road goes ever on and on.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Adventure!

Surrounded by Reeds

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Our creeks, marshes, and ponds lie surrounded by thick stands of reeds.

Reeds are a very large, very tough, very long lived grass.    Found in temperate and tropical wetlands across much of the planet, they have their uses.

But like any grass, they grow from extensive mats of roots and rhizomes, creeping along in the mud.

Some of our reeds are native plants. 

 

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Known as Phragmites australis, subspecies americanus;  the native reeds grow across our entire continent from southern Canada south to the Mexico border in the west.

Here on the east coast, they grow as far south as our border with North Carolina.

Another species, possibly native, grows along the Gulf coast.  Phragmites australis subspecies berlandieri may have crept northward from Central and South America at some point.  It has now moved westward and is found in parts of Arizona and California.  Items made from reeds, found in archeological digs in the American Southwest, date to over 40,000 years old.

 

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Our native species co-exist with other marsh and aquatic plants.  They were used by Native Americans for food, shelter, and to make useful things.   Every part of the plant is edible.  Spring shoots may be harvested and eaten like bamboo shoots.

But another, hardier species of reed, Phragmites australis, was brought to North America by European ships in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Like so many “exotic” species, it has become invasive, choking out other species which at one time grew along our waterways.

Phragmites australis grow across much of Europe, North Africa,  and the Middle East.  They are an ancient species.  In their own native areas, they aren’t invasive.  And they have been used for many purposes for thousands of years.  But transplanted to North American waters, they behave differently.

Why should we care about which reeds grow along the creeks and in the marshes?

It all comes down to biodiversity.

 

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When lots of different types of plants grow together in a community, many types of animals find food and shelter.  A greater number of species can live together in harmony in a place.  Their relationships are rich and complex.  The whole community becomes stronger and better able to withstand fluctuations in climate.  The ecosystem remains in balance.

When an invasive species gets a foothold, it often grows stronger and faster than the native species it replaces.  It has fewer animals which use it.  Soon the invasive species takes over, creating a monoculture, spreading, and changing the community so that fewer species can live in that place.

And that is exactly what is happening to our waterways across much of the United States.

The area where we live, around the Chesapeake Bay, is one of the few areas in North America where the native species of reed still lives.  And the natives are crowded out, more each year, by the invasive Eurasian reeds.

Now, these reeds, known as Phragmites (pronouced “frag-mahy-teez“), gobble up real estate along waterways.  They can grow to  over 15” tall.

 

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Like bamboo, their system of underground roots and rhizomes grow many feet each year away from the clump, to cover new territory.  These roots and rhizomes grow many feet deep below the surface.

At the surface, stolons, or horizontal stems, grow many feet each year.  New plants emerge at each joint in the stolon, and each of these new plants sends down new roots.  The result is a very dense, thick mat of growth at and below the surface.

Thick, dense vertical growth of the actual grasses grow anew each spring.  They are so dense and so tall that they shade out any other plant which tries to grow in their midst.  The stems of each plant are hollow.  Large leaves grow at nodes along the length of the stem, much like the leaves on a stalk of corn.  The plant is crowned with a very large plume of flowers, which produce thousands of seeds each season.

It is easy to see why these Phragmites spread so quickly!  They not only spread out with their rhizomes and stolons each year;  but those seeds travel by air and water to colonize new areas.  Very few species of birds use the seeds.  Very few species of animals make their homes among the Phragmites in a marsh.  And currently, we aren’t harvesting and using these reeds in any substantial way.

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Phragmites die back each winter, but are perennial and re-emerge each spring.  The previous year’s stalks stand all winter long.  Silt accumulates around them, and the water becomes progressively shallower each year.  They eventually form a wall between the shoreline and the water, blocking the view and creating a dense barrier for anyone trying to access the water for fishing or boating.

Invasive Phragmites emerge early in the spring, before the native species and before many other aquatic plants.  They grow taller and with more vigor than our native  Phragmites australis, subspecies americanus.

They have grown into a hot topic of debate among those of us who live along the waterways they choke.

Many would like to get rid of them.  But from what you now know about Phragmites, you probably understand why this is difficult and expensive.  Their extensive root system allows them to regenerate after harvesting or burning.  They must be burned for several years in succession to eventually destroy the roots.

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There is experimentation with herbicides.  But how will broadcast herbicides affect the birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and other plants living in marshes and shallow creeks?  Herbicides are a  controversial solution.  Permits are required, and the herbicide must be sprayed during the period of active growth in late summer or early fall.  The sprayed herbicides will travel, like the Phragmites’s seeds, in the air and water for many miles.

And who will pay for the herbicide, even if a community decides to go that route?

This is one of those slowly creeping problems which eludes an easy fix.

But Phragmites, though invasive, remain a useful plant. 

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They are sometimes planted to filter and clean waste water.  They help catch run-off, trap harmful chemicals in their biomass, and remove other waste products so the water can be used again.

Phragmites also filter our air.  They filter excess carbon from the air, using it to grow.  Carbon, a major greenhouse gas, is removed from the air and returned to the soil through their efforts.  While filtering carbon, they also remove other polluting gasses from the air we breathe, releasing pure oxygen and water vapor.

Phragmites stop erosion.  Because they grow in any moist soil, they can hold areas which might otherwise erode from run off , tides, and flooding.  They can tolerate brackish, salty, or fresh water.  Tidal flooding doesn’t bother them.

These are wonderful plants with many uses and benefits.  We don’t value them because we no longer need them as a natural resource for making things.   We no longer eat them as a staple of our diet.

As with so many things, it is our own point of view which defines “nuisance” as opposed to “resource.”

Perhaps the solution to our problem can lie more in creativity and less in destruction of the growing world around us.

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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For More Information:

Phragmites Field Guide

Invasive Species of the Chesapeake Bay

Guide to the Control of Phragmites, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

 

 

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