by Mary Reid Barrow
This time of year, the vibrant green marsh along the trail at 64th Street in First Landing State Park is about as beautiful as it can be.
It’s really a grand scene— graceful Spartina grasses waving in the breeze with handsome dark needlerush in the background and the big blousy white clouds of late summer overhead.
That is the big picture of the beautiful salt marsh this time of year. But stop and take a closer look and you will be surprised at the little beauties all around.
Look closely at the Spartina, also called saltmarsh cordgrass. The Spartina is blooming! You can see very small flowers on the upper grass blades. Though Spartina blooms grow alternately on the reeds, the tiny buds make me think they are hugging each other round the stems:
Who would expect to see dainty white flowers on this tough marsh grass that stands strong on our shorelines and helps protect the land from flooding and erosion? The little flowers truly belie the sturdiness of this green reed that’s actually so tough it can drink salt water and then cry salt tears to survive.
But don’t stop with the Spartina blooms. Crop your marsh picture even closer and what do you see but minute lavender blooms on many branching fleshy green stems. It’s sea lavender, of all things. Who would have thought this dainty flower would be in a salt marsh?
That day I was joined by another one grateful for this tiny lavender beauty, a butterfly called a salt marsh skipper. The brown skipper, also tiny with some tiny pale spots, was darting around the plants and nectaring on the lavender flowers.
And before you leave the Spartina scene, take one more look , this time down at the wetlands floor. You will find yet another, even smaller blooming gift from the marsh, the saltmarsh aster with its white petals and yellow center.
Aster comes from the Greek for star and this little star shines to call attention to all the small beauties that make up the beautiful whole of a salt marsh.
Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell? What relationships have you observed between plants and critters? Who eats whom? Who has babies where? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org