Early this month the thermometer hit record-setting temperatures in parts of Connecticut. The heat followed a very wet March. One of the best places to see the effect of so much rain and heat is along the Connecticut River. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen recently took a walk on the floodplain to see what’s coming up early.
Research ecologist Elizabeth Farnsworth of the New England Wildflower Society is climbing a spiral staircase that overlooks a tributary of the Connecticut River in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Looking across the water freshly-plowed farm fields are buffered by a line of red maple trees.
“You can see some of these trees get to be pretty good-sized! There are parts of the floodplain of the Connecticut where the trees are six-feet around.”
What makes these trees so big and the farms so fertile is the seasonal flush of water. And this year there was a lot of rain.
“The river comes up every spring and deposits all these wonderful soils that it’s collects from upstream and drops them right here! And the flowers just go crazy. “
This year the wild flowers are going particularly crazy.
“There are sightings of plants that you don’t expect until early summer coming up now, said Farnsworth. “In a more typical year you’d see a more predictable dance of one plant after another. This spring we’re getting the whole show now!”
Down below we find evidence of the explosion poking up through dead leaves. Inside a small cavity, where the forest floor slumps, the soil appears to very rich. A handful of delicate yellow blossoms, hang downward, nodding toward the earth.
“The water stays in these depressions a little bit longer. It’s very, very moist, almost like a little clay bowl. The trout lily loves to take advantage of that.”
The trout lily is one of the typical wildflowers found all along the Connecticut River floodplain.
“These unmistakable… what do you call them? Pinkish, maroon mottled leaves, with this wonderful very lime-green color and then its fabulous flower. It’s bright-yellow that’s coming up. These trout lilies are very large here, too. These are Trout Lilies on steroids. Not used to seeing them quite this big. “
We head down the slope closer to the river, crunching through old leaves coated with a fine layer of grey clay, that were deposited this spring by the flooding river.
“It’s not the easiest way to go!” says Farnsworth.
We step across piles of branches, mixed with garbage.
“Tennis balls! We need a scientific study of things transported by floods,” Farnsworth said. “Tennis balls and beer bottles seem to be number one and number two!”
The trash is a good reminder of the power of the water to move things. Whether it be human-made debris or nutrients and seeds.
“I see some grasses over there. Do you have any idea what those are?“
“Yes. I bet they’re irises. Let’s go look.”
Farnsworth is right. They are irises. But right now there’s no flower just the fleshy leaves.
Although a lot of plants are up early this year, there’s still a lot more flowers to come.