Written by charlie   
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 18:57

Common name: Common Spicebush
Scientific name: Lindera benzoin

Out of season, a Spicebush plant can easily be overlooked, but it’s a good illustration of the variability and importance of plants in a wetland.  The Spicebush is an aromatic, understory shrub which typically grows between 5-10 feet and found in wooded bottomlands, low swamps, and along streams. Like most shrubs, Spicebush has many trunks, and is colonial, or spreads asexually via its roots.  Alternatively, the spice bush can also reproduce sexually, as there are both male and female plants (dioecious), something of an oddity in the botanical world.  (It is estimated that only 4% -7% of plants are dioecious.)

The shrubs name derives from the spicy/lemony fragrance of the stems, leaves, and fruits when bruised.  It has some limited food value as a flavoring or adding scent, but it had been used as an indicator species by early settlers to locate fertile soil.

Beyond its scent, the shrubs other identifying feature are its fruits, or drupes.  The drupes are shiny red berries which are eaten by many birds, particularly thrushes, and wildlife. The drupes mature between  August and October, and only appear on the female plant if it has been fertilized.

The leaves are dark green, alternate, pointy-tipped, oval-shaped stalked leaves smooth edges that range between 2 and 6 inches long.  The Spicebush is one of the first bushes to bloom in March or April, and produces  small, pale yellow flowers.  During the fall, the leaves turn yellow.

The Spicebush is also a host plant to butterflies in the swallowtail family, especially the Spicebush Swallowtail and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail who lay eggs on the underside of the leaves.  When a caterpillar emerges from an egg, it wraps the leaf around itself like a jacket, safely spending most of the day in its leaf shelter, leaving only at night to eat.

The Spicebush It is found throughout east Texas, Oklahoma and eastward through all of the Atlantic states and as far north as Maine and southern Canada.

Spicebush with yellow fall foliageSpicebush Berries

Additional reading and sources:




USDA Plants Database. Plant Guide “Spicebush: Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume.” http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_libe3.pdf




Photos copyright  USDA, NRCS. 2014. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 28 May 2014). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.


Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 00:59

EPA Proposes new Wetlands Rule

Written by charlie   
Tuesday, 22 April 2014 00:00

Confirming last year’s leak and rumors, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a rule that clarifies their jurisdiction over wetlands both bordering and isolated from navigable water bodies.  Much of the confusion is due to two Supreme Court cases (Rapanos and SWANCC cases in 2001 and 2006 respectively) that provided conflicting information on the EPA's jurisdiction over the waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act (CWA), leaving the authority of the EPA uncertain. The proposed rule would not expand the EPA's reach, but better define its role in part due to the tumultuous effect the U.S. Supreme Court cases have had on wetland losses.

Between 2004 and 2009, an estimated 80,000 acres of wetlands were lost annually in the United States, in part due to the open question if isolated and non-navigable wetlands are indeed protected by the CWA. In prior years, losses were significantly less, at an estimated 60,000 acres annually, due in a large part to these court decisions.

While individual states can, and frequently do, author laws which are stricter than Federal standards in order to protect wetlands, just as many states rely solely upon the Clean Water Act and Federal guidance for determining protected wetlands.

The proposed language changes would offer protections to isolated wetlands that had been previously in question:

The agencies propose to define ‘‘waters of the United States’’ in section (a) of the proposed rule for all sections of the CWA to mean: Traditional navigable waters; interstate waters, including interstate wetlands; the territorial seas; impoundments of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, including interstate wetlands, the territorial seas, and tributaries, as defined, of such waters; tributaries, as defined, of traditional navigable waters, interstate waters,1 or the territorial seas;

In addition, the agencies propose that ‘‘other waters’’ (those not fitting in any of the above categories) could be determined to be ‘‘waters of the UnitedStates’’ through a case-specific showing that, either alone or in combination with similarly situated ‘‘other waters’’ in the region, they have a ‘‘significant nexus’’to a traditional navigable water, interstate water, or the territorial seas.  The rule would also offer a definition of significant nexus and explain how similarly situated ‘‘other waters’’ in the region should be identified.

The agencies propose for the first time to define the terms ‘‘neighboring,’’ ‘‘riparian area,’’ ‘‘floodplain,’’ ‘‘tributary,’’ and ‘‘significant nexus.’’

The proposal also clarified 54 different exemptions to the rule making, which are most related to farming, but left unspoken is how the EPA will determine jurisdiction on by vernal pools, prairie potholes and playa lakes which are frequently both ephemeral and isolated.

Both the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers signed off on the proposed rule, now open to the 90 day comment period, on March 24. To date the EPA has received more than 60,000 comments on the proposed rules.  The comment period will remain open through July 21, 2014.  Please submit your comments by going to regulations.gov and searching for EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880.

We encourage you to submit comments in support of the rule, and to urge the EPA and Corps to publish a final rule that recognizes that isolated wetlands are ecologically important and are connected to downstream waters.

Some additional reading:


Dahl, T.E. 2011. Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C. 108 pp.http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Status-And-Trends-2009/index.html



Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 11:46

Spring at Mianus River Park

Written by charlie   
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 15:04
Mianus River, Stamford, CT Wetland
Above is a photo of a stream feeding into the Mianus river at Mianus River park in Stamford, CT.  Due to the cold winter, everything is blooming late; at this point last year, the Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) seen bordering the stream was almost fully grown, it's about a month behind.
Ive written about skunk cabbage before, but it bears repeating, its quite an amazing plant for being so unassuming.
A top 5 list of whats cool about skunk cabbage:
1) Its one of the earliest blooming wetland plants; it actively creates heat (thermogenic) in early spring to melt snow cover. The energy required to create the heat is equivalent to a small mouse or hummingbird.
2) Its a suprisingly long lived plant and can live well in excess of 100 years, some plants have been verified as being a few hundred years old.
3) When stalks are broken - it smells like its namesake, a skunk.
4) Closely related to the calla lilly. (This is not readily apparent but the Skunk Cabbages flower is lily like in appearance)
5) Skunk cabbage has a limited ability to move via contractile roots.  Since wetland soils  aren't as stable as upland soils, the plant pulls itself deeper into the earth over time and as soil conditions change.
A thorough article and great detailed photos of Skunk Cabbage from the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford CT,are here
Suggested Reading:
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 02:15

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