Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Awash in Blue

Trail bridge and bluebells
On Sunday afternoon, Kali suggested that we walk the Schuylkill River Trail in Valley Forge National Historical Park.  The trail parallels the Schuylkill River for three miles, with plenty of river and riparian woodland views.  The absolute best time of year to walk the trail is mid-spring when the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are in bloom, as they were last weekend.  The floodplain is covered in a carpet of blue in all directions. 
Virginia Bluebell
Other wildflowers were still blooming; Spring-beauties (Claytonia virginica) were nearly as abundant as the bluebells, but much smaller and more demure, casting a pink haze over parts of the floodplain.
De-silting basin wall
The headwaters of the Schuylkill River drain the anthracite coal region of eastern Pennsylvania.  When coal mining was at its peak, the river ran black with suspended coal sediment.  At the same time, long stretches of the river were used to transport coal.  The river was dammed in many places to create deep, slack water and mules pulled canal boats along the banks of the river between the dams.  Locks allowed the barges to get around the dams.  Because the river was so fouled with coal sediment it had to be de-silted frequently to maintain navigation depths, so the navigation company built de-silting basins along the shore where the black muck could be dredged from the river and allowed to dewater.  One of the de-silting basins - built, but never used - is located in the park along the trail.  This de-silting basin traps water between the uphill side of the basin and the constructed basin wall leading to the development of valuable forested wetland habitat inside the basin.  Even de-silting basins along the river that were used for sediment removal have subsided over time and offer wetland habitat. 
Bluebells amid Ostrich Ferns (Metteuccia  struthiopteris)
At the far (upstream) end of the trail, the pathway is bordered by huge colonies of pawpaw shrubs (Asimina triloba).  I've never seen a fruit on the bushes; I suspect squirrels or raccoons harvest the mushy, banana-flavored fruit when it's ripe in the autumn.
Pawpaw flowers
A young family cruising the Schuylkill River
Who needs a yellow brick road?


robin andrea said...

Love seeing those blue wildflowers. There's just something about a carpet of blue that says SPRING!!

packrat said...

What an interesting post, Scott, accompanied by beautiful images. "Spring Beauty" says it all, doesn't it?

Scott said...

You're absolutely right, Robin Andrea. There aren't many blue flowers during the rest of the year.

Scott said...

Spring-beauty is a wonderful spring wildflower. It's one of the first spring ephemerals to emerge, and it's still going strong, Packrat.