BUTTON-BUSH IN SMITH BROOK

Smith Brook is one of my favorite water courses. It rises from Black Fox Pond, in Deering’s Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, and flows for about a mile-and-a-half through conserved forest and wetland before entering a big wetland in North Deering. Water from that wetland feeds Dudley Brook and eventually the Piscataquog River.

Part of Smith Brook’s course is through forest. There the banks of the brook are sharply defined, the channel narrow. Trees line either bank and cool the waters. These places invite me on one summer’s day to sit down, back against a tree, and dream.   In other places the brook’s channel is not so clear, a wetland; there is no forest here, just some scattered red maples and other shrubs growing among tussocks of grass and sedges. This time of  year pickerel weed is in abundance and and in full bloom along the banks and in pools. These are sunny places, rich in life, but they do not invite me to get more than my feet wet. No protracted dreaming as I plot where to place my foot next.

Pickerel weed blooming in Smith Brook in the Garland Conservation Easement.

The Garland Conservation Easement – – named for Bob Garland, a longtime Deering resident who loved our forested town – – on North Road is in large part a wetland that is formed by Smith Brook. Two narrow arms of the easement form a ‘U,’in the middle of which sits a private residence. But, most of the easement is behind the house in the wetland. Much of the Garland easement abuts land that has been conserved by the Audubon Society and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

Garland Conservation Easement on North Road. Smith Brook forms an extensive wetland.

While monitoring the Garland easement early in August I found plants that I’d not seen before. The first was a shrub that I was sure was SOME sumac, not thinking that it was the dreaded POISON SUMAC until I got back home and pulled out of my sack the small branch that had berries and leaves. The rash and itching has largely subsided now, a few days later!

Another, far more interesting plant was BUTTON-BUSH, Cephalanthus occidentalis. Button-bush was recorded for Deering by a group of plant explorers in 1987, but I had not seen it until a few days ago. Button-bush is a shrub that grows in wet places and can reach several feet in height. It flowers late in the spring, the ‘flowers’ are  white and are actually compound heads, each about an inch in diameter and comprising many tiny flowers. The pistils extend beyond the surface of the ball giving the appearance of pin cushions.

Button-bush with a monarch butterfly

The flowers of button-bush are fragrant and attract various pollinators, including humming  birds and butterflies. The reddish-brown fruit persist through the winter and seeds are consumed by water-fowl.

 

 

Button-bush ‘flower’ with protruding pistils, each arising from a tiny flower.

Button-bush  is native to eastern North America, but it is wide-spread throughout North America.  Commercial cultivars are available for this attractive plant.

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