An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

October 12, 2016

Mystery on Queens Creek

     I love the internet, especially for sleuthing out mystery plants. A few carefully considered questions asked in the right places will usually lead me to what I am looking for. Of course I am also just as likely to head down some wormhole and forget what I was looking for in the first place. What recently kept me busy was trying to ID a plant I saw blooming earlier this month while kayaking on Queens Creek, a small tributary of the James River in Charles City County. In places the flowers smothered the shoreline in bright yellow, which was a nice contrast to the gray storm-threatening skies. I first thought it could be any one of those yellow composite species that all begin with h-e-l (Helianthus, Helenium, Heliopsis) that are difficult for me to tell apart. Although Helenium autumnale (sneezeweed) is very common here, and was blooming elsewhere on my trip, I knew that was not it. I next guessed it might be Helianthus angustifolius (swamp sunflower), as I was indeed in a swamp, but after paddling closer for further inspection all I could confirm was my cluelessness. So I took close up photos of foliage and flowers to look up when I got home, and resolved just to enjoy the site of it.

     After a few minutes on the internet I narrowed the plant down to one of the Bidens. A little while later I think I fixed it to Bidens laevis (smooth beggartick, smooth bur-marigold, showy bur-marigold). To help in the identification of this plant I used two of my favorite sites; the Native Plant Database at, and the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora, which is a decades long project to map all of the state's native plants. From the atlas I learned that B. laevis inhabits tidal freshwater marshes to oligohaline marshes. I had to look up the definition of oligohaline, which means having a very low amount of salt, and I decided to make it my word of the day, and wondered if health conscious snack companies could successfully market oligohaline chips or crackers. I digress. If any of you know this plant to be something else, please feel free to correct me. Regardless of its exact ID, it was a lovely thing to see, especially in such proliferation. 
Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (1)

Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (2)

Queens Creek - Bidens laevis (3)

Queens Creek (14)

Queens Creek (12)

Queens Creek (13)

     During my trip I had the creek to myself, no one else was on the water, though I did speak with a couple of guys on the shore getting their duck blind ready for the coming season. Judging from the number of blinds I saw, I will avoid this place in-season. I wouldn't want to be mistaken for a duck. Below are some of the other sights I saw.
James River - Transmission Tower (2)

James River (3)

Queens Creek (3)

Queens Creek (4)

Queens Creek (5)

Queens Creek (18)

Queens Creek (24)

Queens Creek (26)

August 30, 2016

Back to Belle Isle

     Well hello! Why yes, I do still blog, though lately not often. It's just that I've been working very hard this summer, and playing equally as hard. I also helped throw a big party, spent time dodging a health bullet, and lastly, but not leastly, we managed to get our only child off to college. This last item was why I found myself in Richmond, and at VCU, two weekends in a row. He said "no" when I first asked if he wanted to bring his bike when we took him and his things up for dorm move-in weekend. However, sometime in the ensuing week he changed his mind, and I ran it up to him this past weekend. I didn't mind, the trip is just two hours, and I wanted to see him, the dogs did too, plus I enjoy Richmond. Although I wasn't born there, it was where I was raised, and I guess I still call it my hometown.

     After my delivery was made, lunch eaten, and recent dorm room enhancements viewed and complemented, the dogs and I traveled a few blocks down to the James River for a hike to Belle Isle. In my late teens and twenties, my friends and I would often have great adventures there. To reach the island back then we would hop the rocks if the water was low enough. Otherwise, we had to scale a stone railroad support column, using old electrical cables to reach an abandoned trestle, then we crossed over the rushing water, while avoiding the missing, rotten or loose railroad ties. Once there we usually had the island to ourselves, and could explore its flood-ravaged, abandoned buildings unhindered. These days the island can be reached by a pedestrian bridge that is suspended from the undersides of the Lee Bridge. Judging by the full parking lot, and all of the people on the island, Belle Isle today must be one of the city's most popular attractions.

     To reach the footbridge, I first had to walk underneath the still active CSX trestle, cars overhead carrying coal to the coast.
Belle Isle - CSX Trestle (4)

Belle Isle - CSX Trestle (2)

Belle Isle - CSX Trestle (1)

     You can easily tell that the railroad trestle, and the current incarnation of the Lee Bridge (from which the footbridge is suspended) were built in different eras.
Belle Isle - Pedestrian Bridge (2)

Belle Isle - Pedestrian Bridge (3)

Belle Isle - Pedestrian Bridge (4)

     Belle Isle has a long history. Native Americans and early colonist fished here, Capt. John Smith explored it in 1607, stone was quarried here, and it was the site of some of Richmond's first industry. It was also the site of a notorious Civil War prison for Union soldiers. During the 20th century it was home to a hydroelectric power plant, and steelworks, the remains of which are now covered in thick vegetation, as is most of the island. There are many native tree species thriving on the island including river birches, sycamores, oaks, black cherries, hickories, and sassafras, with non-natives like Paulownia, mimosa, and Ailanthus doing there best to take over. The trees themselves, and the ruined structures are covered in vines, especially native trumpet vine and Virginia Creeper, of course English Ivy has also made the island home. In sunnier areas large grasses and wildflowers grow lush. There are many trails throughout the island for hiking, biking, jogging, and whatever; signs interpret the island's varied history along the way.
Derelict Bridge

Belle Isle - Platanus occidentalis

Belle Isle - Powerhouse (2)

Belle Isle - Quarry

Belle Isle - Rhus and Panicum

Belle Isle - Steelworks (1)

Belle Isle - Steelworks (3)

Belle Isle - Steelworks (4)

Belle Isle - Steelworks (6)

Belle Isle - Steelworks

Belle Isle - Clematis paniculata (2)

Belle Isle - Clematis paniculata

Belle Isle - James River (1)

Belle Isle - James River (4)

Belle Isle - Patriots

Brown's Island (1)

Belle Isle - Richmond Skyline

      Haven had many roles in Richmond's history, I am so glad that today Belle Isle is a much needed city-center oasis for both wildlife and people.