BLUE VERVAIN (Image By Cody Hough, college student and photographer in the Michgian area [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons])
The Pond Lily Nature Preserve has a unique ecological history. For 220 years, a dam used by factories blocked the West River, causing it to flood most of the natural space that can be seen at the preserve today. Once the area was cleaned, it was donated to the New Haven Land Trust in 1996. Now, the West River flows freely since the dam was removed in 2014. This was an important restoration project because it allows native migratory fish to move upstream again for breeding purposes. The area that was once flooded has since bloomed into a lush wetland meadow of wildflowers, sprinkled with native trees that were planted by Save the Sound several years ago. Some of the most common native wildflowers that can be seen as you walk down the meadow trail are Blue Vervain (pictured above), Milkweed, Black-eyed Susan, Bergamot, and Coneflower. The most dominant native wildflower growing in the meadow of Pond Lily is Blue Vervain. This tall and slender plant can grow up to five feet tall and ends in a burst of spikes blooming with blue-violet flowers. This plant is thriving in the meadow because it prefers moist loamy or mucky soil and full sunlight. It is important not to confuse it with the dominant invasive wildflower that is also growing in the meadow, Purple Loosestrife. You can tell the two plants apart because the flowers of Purple Loosestrife (invasive) grow in larger, more prominent spikes and are more pink in color, while the flowers of Blue Vervain (native) grow in smaller bunches of spikes and are much more purple.
Another common flower in the Pond Lily meadow is Milkweed, which can be found all across Connecticut. Milkweed is widely known to be important to pollinators, especially the Monarch butterfly. But few people realize just how significant this plant is to ecosystems. One milkweed plant hosts an entire world of insects and microorganism with specialized residents on each and every part of the plant. To name just a few, Milkweed Longhorn larvae live in the stems while the Large Milkweed Bug eats developing seeds, the Milkweed Tussock Moth eats the leaves, and the Eastern Flower Thrip sucks juices from the flowers. In addition to these, almost 40 different bee species are recorded as visiting milkweed.
Though most flowers are visited by many different pollinators, each pollinator species has it own preference for which plants it gets nectar and pollen from. That is why it is important to have a very wide variety of wildflowers within an ecosystem, because no one plant can support all of the insect biodiversity of a region. For the next few weeks, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) will be conducting a field study at Pond Lily with sweep nets and bee bowls to record just how many different insects are present on the preserve. Bee bowls are colored cups filled with a mix of water and propylene glycol, which is not toxic to wildlife but preserves the bees for a few days until they can be collected. Soon, we will have a list of how many of Connecticut's more than 300 bee species are buzzing around Pond Lily!
For more information on Pond Lily Nature Preserve and our other green spaces around New Haven, visit the New Haven Land Trust’s website: http://www.newhavenlandtrust.org/preserves/pond-lily