Monday, March 19, 2012

Winter Walk-Off on the McMullen Creek Greenway

What is a Winter Walk-Off?  It's heading out your own front door and walking or riding a bike to see what you can see, and then posting about it and linking back to Les at A Tidewater Gardener, who came up with the idea to walk off winter in the first place!

I thought about this for a while, wondering whether this or that would be interesting, and finally chose the McMullen Creek Greenway as the place for the challenge ...

Pretty weeds -- Veronica, Henbit

... for one, I'm really proud of Charlotte's greenways.  They're wonderful.  We currently have 187 miles of greenway, 37 of which are developed.  These greenways link neighborhoods together and provide all sorts of benefits to the community, one of the best being a pleasant place to walk, run or ride bikes.  They provide a corridor through the city for wildlife, improve our water quality, and present educational opportunities for all ages.

One of the many neighborhood access points

And, there are three greenways within a short bike ride from my house.  This day we chose the McMullen Creek Greenway and drove there, but technically walking or riding is an option, so I hope it counts...we did walk once we got there!  Traffic between here and there is a bear, which makes it all the more remarkable that this wild, natural space is so close to home.

This part of the greenway is floodplain and much of the walking surface is boardwalk.

I especially love this; having such a wonderful way to check out the wetland environment without needing to put waders on is great.

We hear frogs, lots and lots of very loud frogs.  And there are turtles and ducks in the water along the way.

On the creek banks is this buttercup, which is abundant and spreading in several sections of the greenway.  Because it is along the creek's edges, and because of the bright yellow flower and the rounded heart-shaped leaf, I think it must be marsh marigold (Caltha palustris).

For those of you who enjoy plant sleuthing, I found out later that a local native plant expert had heard reports of marsh marigold on the greenway and deemed it virtually impossible, that it just doesn't grow here.  Hmm.  Marsh marigold was the only flower in my wildflower book that looked anything like it!

But with the new information I pull out the intimidating Radford, Ahles and Bell and read about Caltha palustris.  Very rare it says, occurring in North Carolina only in a few mountain counties.

I plod through part of the key, committing a plant ID sin which is trying to ID a plant from memory.  I did have a few (crappy) photos which helped a little.

The closest I could get to an ID was that it is some sort of Ranunculus because, although this plant is very similar to marsh marigold, it has greenish sepals, and yellow petals.  Marsh marigold has only yellow sepals (which look like petals), and there are only five of them, whereas my plant has eight or more yellow petals.

a row of greenish sepals...can't be Caltha

But, no help with species. This plant didn't appear to be in the key at all.  Could it be that the plant is not native, not introduced until fairly recently?  Then...

I went to Les's blog to check out the specifics for the Winter Walk-Off post.  And what did I see?!  A picture from his garden of Ranunculus 'Brazen Hussy.'  Well, that had the right flower, the right leaf shape, the right growth habit (basal rosette).

When I looked up 'Brazen Hussy', I discovered the species name was Ranunculus ficaria.  I looked up R. ficaria and found it had changed by 2010 to Ficaria verna.  If you're still reading, you get a brownie or something. :)

Well anyway, this description of Ficaria verna by the National Park Service has me willing to hazard a guess that this is the greenway plant.

Unfortunately, Ficaria verna is a Eurasian species, an escaped ornamental, which competes with our native Spring ephemerals by shading and crowding, and eventually displacing them.  Birds and floods ensure its spread.  Ficaria verna is also known as fig buttercup or lesser celedine poppy.  It's a pretty little, innocent-looking thug!

'Brazen Hussy' and other cultivars may not be as likely to be invasive as the species, but they should be monitored carefully for spread and assumed to have invasive potential, according to the National Park Service.

But there's more to see, more winter to walk-off, so let's get back on the path.

The boardwalk gives way to crunchy-sounding gravel.  Birdsong competes with frog calls.

Migratory birds love the greenway; rusty blackbirds have been seen recently, as well as Cooper's hawks.  Songbirds you might see are yellow-rumped warblers, tufted titmice, and Carolina chickadees, among others.

In one section of the greenway, there is a great blue heron rookery, and bald eagles have nested here as well.

Oh...wait! Another blossom to take a picture of. Who can resist a violet? Not me. Remember decorating your mud pies with those?

Just a few more steps...and we finish 3 miles.  Our time on the greenway and our Winter Walk-Off complete, we head for home.

It's officially goodbye, Winter...

...and hello, Spring!


Thanks to Les for the was inspiring. He's giving away prizes, too. I hope I win one!