Frank Parisio explaining wetland plant life
On September 17, 2023, wetland ecologist Frank Parisio led a community walk through our parcel on Lower Sahler Mill Road in Olivebridge, NY. Frank brought with him–and encouraged all of us to get–a book called “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” to help identify the plants and flowers we would encounter, especially when out of cell range. He used it right near the road where he spotted some Golden Rod, a form of aster–what the natives called “solidago” which means to make whole. As we stepped deeper into the forest he pointed to the trees who thrive well in the Southern end of the Catskills, including Hemlocks, Maples and Chestnut Oaks, recognizable by their deeply furrowed barks.
Frank talked about the importance of the wetlands: they help recharge the aquifer and support thousands of species of animals and plants, including “obligates”--plants that only exist in the wetlands. Only 1 to 3% of the Catskills consist of wetlands because of the rocky nature of the mountains. The Pacama Vly is the largest wetland in the Catskills and according to Frank, its diversity is unparalleled. Olive Natural Heritage Society’s book, “The Ashokan Catskills” maps this southernmost area of Olive as one that has abundant wetland areas, with Pacama being the grandest.
There are different kinds of wetlands–”bogs,” where rain and snow melt alone supply the water and the water is trapped within that area. Bogs are very acidic–measuring 3 to 2 on the PH scale–and with so little nitrogen within it, the plants that can survive in those conditions, such as Pitcher Plants, have to rely on insects to get the nitrogen they need to flourish. Trees that can survive this wet environment do so by maintaining shallow root systems in order to take advantage of the higher oxygen content of surface water. An example of this was noted in a recent “tip” (the term for an uprooted tree).
A "tip"--or tree that has fallen over.
Our parcel is considered a “swamp” because it is spring fed. Frank estimated that the acidity here to be closer to 6.5 or 7 PH, which is considered neutral. He talked about the different types and layers of soils found within the swamp–clay, silt, peat and the “hydric” soils that are saturated with water. The peat layer is the life of the swamp, supplying the nutrients that support the rich flora.
PLANT LIFE We looked at various moss, which are a type of Bryophyte, or nonvascular plant, including some beautiful Sphagnum moss, as well as “nurse logs”--limbs and trunks that have fallen and allow other plants to grow on them. As we arrived closer to the wetland, we noticed various sedges, grasses, and rushes. Frank pointed to a sedge within the Carex genus, and explained there are 226 species alone within this genus. As we walked further we spotted:
Rice-cut grass (with serrated teeth on the edge)
New England Aster
Frank ended his walk by encouraging us to spread the word about the beauty and importance of these wetlands–only when community members understand can they help advocate for the investment and protection these special lands need.