The democratic word that I am referring to is spelled with a lower case "d". We are one of the few residential neighborhoods in Norfolk where everyone has equal access to the waterfront. In most other areas these prime pieces of real estate are on private property, but our neighborhood is surrounded by a narrow strip of public green space that lets anyone enjoy the views. Most of public space is encompassed by a sea wall which protects the shore line from falling back into the river and limits flooding (sometimes). This seawall is a great benefit to the human residents of the area, but wildlife suffers. In the few remaining areas where there is no seawall, wild things grow. There is a diversity of plants that provide homes for marine and terrestrial animals, and it is not uncommon to see several species of heron, egrets and other water birds grazing in the shallows for a meal.
At this time of year one our most prolific, but often unnoticed natives is at its showiest. Baccharis halimifolia (called Saltbush here) has previously flowered and is now about to send forth its fruits which are the showy white parts. Much like dandelion seeds, Saltbush will be creating floating clouds around the water's edge in the next few weeks. This plant is well at home on the edge and can tolerate a great deal of salt flooding, and is one of the first species to reclaim disturbed wetlands. It is semi-evergreen, gets about 10' tall or more, and I like its craggy bark as well. This a a sure sign that fall is coming to Tidewater.
In the following pictures you can see some of the other species trying to live in this narrow tidal zone. Enlarging the first picture will give you a closer look at a "salt meadow". This was some sort of Golden Rod, but I do not know what species. The unusual little Pickleweed (Salicornia virginica) has no true leaves, just green fleshy stems that go red in the winter. It is a halophyte and several species of Salicornia are not only edible, but are being evaluated for use in biodiesel production. This could be an interesting possibility for former agricultural lands that have become salinated, or for areas with limited quantities of fresh water, but with abundant salt water.
I would guess that this little flower is an Aster relative, but what I found interesting was that there were many of them growing in an area that frequently gets flooded with salt water.Another one of our under apprecieated natives is Celtis occidentalis or Common Hackberry. The best feature of this tree is its ability to grow where other trees wither. It is tolerant of salt, wind, cold and hot weather, pollution and poor soil. I won't say it is "pretty", but the fall color is a fair yellow, however the bark is fantastic. There are close ups of this bark in one of my previous blog posts, for which I need to apologize for its weird bent (not sure what I was thinking).
The reed growing under the Hackberry is the scourge of the mid-Atlantic coast - Phragmites australis. This plant is rapidly colonizing wetland areas, choking out native species and turning diversity into monoculture. Like many scourges, this one is man-made. A common misconception is that this plant is an introduced non-native species. This plant is indeed native, but in the late 1800's, genetically superior Phragmites australis was introduced to North America. Disturbing wetland soils encourage this plant to grow, and unfortunately there is no easy way to eradicate it. Maybe we could return it to its traditional use and make thatched roofs with it - lots of thatched roofs.
When introduced plants take over, or when these wild areas at our fringes are not preserved, little guys like these Periwinkle Snails have no place to live, and crabs and fish that like to eat them go elsewhere or go hungry. What happens in wild places not only has an effect on the food chain, but on the quality of our lives as well.