Wetlands Wanderings

In the Eyring Wetlands Park

By Joyce Bond, July 2019

The abundant rain and high heat has made for an interesting summer.  But as I walked the Eyring Wetland Park I noticed that for wetland flowers, this seems to be a banner year.  Plants are the building blocks of biodiversity. Nearly all animals are dependent on native plants, either for food or some part of their reproductive life cycle. For instance, the larvae of butterflies and moths – caterpillars – depend upon native flora as host plants. These caterpillars can only eat one or a few types of plants, and even those that are more general in their diet can only consume a relatively small number of plant species. Most of Ohio’s thousands of species of butterfly and moth caterpillars cannot process nonnative plants – they have no evolutionary history with introduced species.

The often-discussed Monarch Butterfly is one of the species where the caterpillar has co evolved an exclusive relationship with a specific native plant. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. With shifting land management practices, we have lost much milkweed from the landscape.  Because of this, there has been an effort in the native plants community to distribute milkweed seeds and encourage planting of this plant species.  The park is host to the milkweed plant (Asclepias spp.) pictured  growing along the path.

However, as adults, monarchs and other butterflies and moths will drink the nectar of many flowers in addition to milkweed. These adults need varying sources of nectar to nourish them throughout the entire growing season. During my walk in Eyring Wetland I spied many of those nectar plants in bloom. These included daisies, the non-native rose, common yarrow, and pink swamp rose mallow. These same nectar producing flowers are equally important to all of our songbirds which are dependent in many ways on native flowers.  Birds eat insects spawned from plants, and/or the seeds and fruit of plants. Plants provide nesting material for birds and other animals, as well as shelter.

Along with providing nectar and pollen for a wide variety of other pollinating insects, flowering plants sequester carbon and produce oxygen, and their roots hold streambanks and prevent erosion, thus protecting water quality. As plants die and decompose, they contribute to the production of rich soils. Flowering plants help form the lush botanical fabric of our wetlands. Another plant visible on a walk through Eyring Wetlands included the white or fragrant waterlily (Nymphaea odorata).  This floating aquatic plant with large, fragrant, white or pink flowers and flat, round, floating leaves is very abundant on the main pond in the park. The leaves have long stems and are bright green above and reddish or purplish underneath, almost round. One of the most common waterlilies, it usually flowers only from early morning until noon. The leaf stalk, which is soft and spongy are frequently eaten by muskrats.

I was glad for the opportunity to observe such a wide variety of blooming plants on my walk and to consider their importance to the insect, bird and mammal species.   But selfishly, what I was most in awe of was the intrinsic value of plants that contributes to people’s enjoyment of the outdoors and nature. It is for that reason that I enjoy my wanderings around Eyring Wetlands Park. It’s hard to imagine an environment without plants, especially showy wildflowers.