Rain Gardens: State Parks Has Them and You Can Have Them Too

What is a rain garden?

A rain garden is a plant-filled shallow depression that collects rainwater (stormwater) runoff. Rain gardens are a great do-it-yourself project for homeowners to manage small amounts of stormwater on their own property.  By directing runoff into the garden, the rain that falls on rooftops, driveways, and other impervious surfaces on your property infiltrates into the ground. The water in the ground recharges local and regional aquifers instead of running off across roads and parking lots eventually polluting local waterways.

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Rain gardens are pollinator gardens too! A tiger swallowtail is nectaring on the blazing star (Liatris spicata) in this rain garden.

Rain gardens are beneficial in many ways

In addition to keeping local waterways clean by filtering stormwater runoff, rain gardens also help to alleviate problems with flooding and drainage. Rain gardens are attractive and functional features that, enhance the beauty of yards and communities. When planted with native plants they provide valuable habitat and food for wildlife. like birds and butterflies and they can reduce the need for expensive stormwater treatment structures in your community.

 Selecting Plants for the Garden

When considering plants for rain gardens, remember that the they are flooded periodically and can go through dry times.  Plants in the middle of the garden, where it is deepest, should be the most adapted to very wet conditions and able to withstand being covered by water for a day or more.  Plants on the edges of the garden should be able to be briefly flooded with water, like a few hours. Be sure to stabilize the raised bank around your garden that holds the water in grass or dry-tolerant native plants as well.

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New England Aster is a great rain garden plant for fall color. And migrating monarch butterflies love them too!

Native Plants for Rain Gardens

Native plants are a great choice for rain gardens.  Planting natives helps protect New York’s biodiversity by providing food and habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Natives have evolved in our environment over many years and many of our wetland and riparian species are adapted to alternating periods of wet and dry.  The deep roots of natives absorb and filter runoff more effectively than the short roots of many turf grasses and other ornamental plants – making them a perfect fit for rain gardens!

Swamp milkweed, common boneset, cardinal flower, blue flag iris, Joe-pye weed, and white turtlehead are just a few of our native flowers that are happy in rain gardens.  Shrubs including buttonbush, bayberry, ninebark, summersweet, and winterberry can also be added if the garden is large enough.

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Swamp milkweed

Right Plant, Right Place

When constructing the garden you should consider if the site is sunny or shady in order to select the best plants. Remember – you need 6 hours or more or sun to be considered ‘full sun’.  It is easiest to find plants that work well for rain gardens that need sun, so keep this in mind when planning the location of your rain garden.  Just like with any other garden, think about what variety of height, color, and blooming period you would like as well. Mix a variety of flowers, grasses, sedges, for different shapes and textures above, and different root depths below the surface.  Shrubs are great in rain gardens too, if you have the space.  Consider planting flowers in masses of color to attract birds and butterflies.  Follow the tricks the professionals use and group plants in odd-number clumps, using 3, 5, or 7 (or more – just stick to odd numbers) of the same plant all together.  This way your rain garden is not only stopping stormwater runoff but is also providing you with a beautiful landscape to enjoy all summer long.

Get Outside and Get Inspired

Rain gardens aren’t just for homeowners. Here at New York State Parks, we use them to help manage stormwater on our properties too! Many local parks or other public places have rain gardens you can stop by and see.

In the Capital District area, there are rain gardens at Saratoga Spa State Park, Grafton Lakes State Park, Moreau Lake State Park, and Mine Kill State Park. Many of these sites also use other environmentally friendly practices for managing stormwater such as porous pavement as well.

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Rain garden at the Creekside Classroom at Saratoga Spa State Park. Coneflowers, blazing star, black eyed Susan’s, swamp milkweed, summersweet, winterberry and more are planted in this rain garden!

If you want to learn more about rain gardens, check out these great step by step how-to manuals that are available for free online

Post by Emily DeBolt, State Parks

Protecting Our Waterways

You may have seen them in a park near you, these super heroes and heroines in disguise. Since 2008, New York State Parks have deployed Invasive Species Strike Teams. These Strike Teams conduct invasive species surveys and manually remove non-native invasive plants in areas of significance. The goal is to protect native plant and animal species and the natural areas in our parks. State Parks are also an important resource for tourism and recreation.  Maintaining the integrity of the natural areas and features in parks helps to support these public interests, including camping, picnicking, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, wildlife viewing, and other recreational activities.

For the past 10 years, Strike Teams have primarily been involved with removing invasive species on land, but in 2018 State Parks was able to establish an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Strike Team thanks to grant funding received from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The AIS Strike Team isn’t afraid to get a little dirty or wet, as their main charge is to suppress, contain, and work towards the reduction of invasive species found in aquatic habitats within the Great Lakes watershed. The team’s home base is at De Veaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls, but you’ll be able to find them working in the streams, lakes, and wetlands throughout Western NY and into the Thousand Islands.

Logan West (left) is the AIS Field Lead and oversees Billy Capton (back middle), Patrick Mang (front middle) and Adam Lamancuso. Together they make the 2018 AIS Strike Team.

The AIS Strike Team is made up of seasonal employees who travel through New York State from roughly May to November. A list of priority projects and a schedule is developed by State Park biologists. The AIS team then goes to the sites and camps near the project area for up to a week at a time. This is not luxury living! They use their hands and an assortment of manual hand tools, such as pick mattocks, shovels, machetes, saws, loppers, and sometimes power equipment, to accomplish the goals of the invasive species removal projects they work on. Sometimes the work requires a boat ride or lugging heavy backpacks into a work site. Some of the plants the team has tackled in and near the water include phragmites (common reed), oriental bittersweet, water chestnut, Japanese knotweed, flowering rush, European frogbit, purple loosestrife, and many more.

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Patrick Mang (left) and Adam Lamancuso (right) prepare to cut down phragmites or common reed– an invasive species that has been encroaching in wetlands and shorelines.

Another component of the AIS Strike Team is to provide experiential learning to K-12 students. In July, the AIS Strike Team partnered with State Parks’ FORCES program and Syracuse University to host a service day for high school students participating in Syracuse University’s Team and Leadership Academy. Students learned about aquatic invasive species and helped remove water chestnut from Sterling Pond at Fair Haven Beach State Park. For some of these students this was their first time learning about invasive species, let alone being on a boat, so the experience and learning opportunity was well received.

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AIS Strike Team and Syracuse University’s Team and Leadership Academy students take a break during a water chestnut pull at Fair Haven Beach State Park.

More recently the AIS Strike Team participated at the Great New York State Fair. For three days, the crew worked educational tables focused on invasive species. Families got to learn about invasive species by participating in crafts and games and examining live aquatic invasive species specimens the crew brought with them.

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Patrick Mang and Adam Lamancuso talk with fair visitors about invasive species

The AIS Strike Team was asked to reflect on their experience during the first year of operation. Here are some words from our hard-working weed warriors:

Working with the NYS OPRHP has been an exciting and worthwhile experience. Our ability to explore and improve our State Parks with the Aquatic Invasive Species Strike Team makes me appreciate what is accomplished through the hard work and constant communication that goes into making our parks so enjoyable. I now realize the impact and extent of invasive species across the state, as well as the importance of our commitment to protect the native species throughout the Great Lakes Watershed.

— Adam Lamancuso, Strike Team Member

This opportunity allowed my understanding of native plant life to flourish and opened up an entirely new perspective towards environmental stewardship through invasive species management. The places I’ve been, species I’ve seen, people met, and progress made to mitigate and apprehend the spread of invasive plants was an opportunity like no other. I wish to see the AIS program continue for years to come and inspire more along the way.

— Billy Capton, Strike Team Member

I love that I get to work outdoors every day and get to travel to new Parks in New York State that I’ve never been to. Not only is it work but also an adventure every day. It’s very rewarding to come to work knowing that the work we do is making a positive difference for the ecosystem and the parks themselves.

— Patrick Mang, Strike Team Member

It is clearly a great privilege to be able to work outside nearly every day, striving to protect NYS’s most treasured natural areas.  What must not be overlooked, however, is the progression and determination of our seasonal Strike Team crew members.  They continue to work hard each day, learn from and teach one another while continually finding ways to inspire each other along the way, even when faced with challenges.  As a Crew Lead, this is the most fulfilling part of the position

— Logan West, AIS Field Lead

The crew asks that, in order to make their life a bit easier, please play your part to prevent the spread of invasive species. If you are a boater remember to Clean-Drain-Dry! Inspect your watercraft and trailer for plant and/or animal matter, and remove and dispose of any material that is found. Drain your bilge, ballast tanks, live wells, and any water-holding compartments. Clean your watercraft between uses or allow it to dry before visiting a new water body.

If you are recreating anywhere, not just State Parks, remember to Play-Clean-Go! Remove plants, animals, and mud from boots, gear, pets, and vehicle, including mountain bikes, ATV, etc. Clean your gear before entering and leaving the recreation site and stay on designated roads and trails.

If you are a gardener one of the best ways of reducing the spread of invasive species is avoid introducing them in the first place! Plant only NY native flowers, shrubs, and trees. Check the NY Flora Atlas to see if a plant is native to NY or not and learn more about New York’s invasive species on the NYS DECs Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species List.

Post by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Excelsior Conservation Corps Works Alongside Parks to Conserve Historical Site

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) staff members at Ganondagan State Historic Site recently worked with members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC). The ECC is a non-profit organization within the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The members involved in this program range from ages 18-25 and learn skills and methods to help restore, protect and enhance New York’s natural resources and recreational opportunities.

Ten members of the ECC were tasked with invasive plant species removal from various locations and GPS monitoring of certain invasive plant species within the Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY. Invasive plant species are non-native species that can cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health. Because these plants are not native in these habitats, they can cause or contribute to habitat degradation and loss of native species.

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Wild parsnip in full bloom, notice the yellow-green flowers that look like Queen Ann’s lace and dill.. Photo by ECC

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), which is a tall flowering invasive plant that is infamous in many areas of New York, not only disrupts the environment in which it grows but can also be very harmful to humans. If the sap from the stem comes into contact with the skin, it can cause severe burns and make skin more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation provided from the sun.  Fortunately, no giant hogweed has been found at Ganondagan State Historic Site, but the site has become a host to a closely related and invasive plant called wild parsnip. Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), has similar effects to giant hogweed when it comes into contact with unprotected skin.

When the members of the ECC arrived, they were informed they would be participating in the Parks’ annual wild parsnip picking day. Each year the staff members from the Environmental Field Office dedicate one day to pick as many wild parsnip plants as they can in hopes of clearing out fields and minimizing the possibility of more growing in the future. Everyone was instructed to wear long sleeve shirts, pants and gloves in order to protect their skin. Starting early in the morning, the group of 10 ECC members joined forces with six State Parks’ staff to venture out into the fields of wild parsnip. Throughout the day everyone hiked through trails and sections of the property, pulling the plants out and piling them up they could be removed from the area. The members were instructed to get as close to the ground as possible to pull the roots up by hand. After walking through 30 acres of fields, the total tally of plants removed came out to be 13,439!

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ECC and State Parks crew in one of the many fields. Note the tall yellow plants that are all wild parsnip. Photo by ECC.

After the wild parsnip adventure, there was still more for the ECC members to do at Ganandogan. State Parks has been closely monitoring a field full of invasive plants for the past few years with GPS devices.  These devices enable the staff to map the location and the amount of invasive plants within the area. The ECC team helped record data on six different plants while walking across a 70-acre field. To cover the area efficiently, the ECC members were required to stand in a line about 14 paces apart and walk due North across the field in a straight line, using compasses as their guide. Staying straight was not easy while walking over hills and through tall grass, stepping over and through every obstacle in their path.

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GPS monitoring device used to mark invasive species in the area. Photo by ECC

The plants they were looking out for were Canada thistle, bull thistle, multiflora rose, autumn olive, swallowwort and non-native honeysuckles. Each observer would stop at every 15 paces to observe the area they were in and mark each location for any of these six invasive plans within a five-foot radius. In total, the team collected over 20,000 points that will be used to create maps in ARC GIS to show the extent of the invasives and to help guide management plans.

 

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC member

Yes, We Have Pickles

Long before refrigeration and supermarkets made it possible to get fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world, our predecessors relied upon drying, salting, fermenting, and pickling summer’s bounty for winter meals.

Allowing the wind and sun to dry food is the oldest method of food preservation. The Seneca and other New York Native American tribes dried millions of bushels of corn each year. The dried corn was turned into hulled dry corn and corn flour to sustain people during the colder months.  Native Americans also dried meats, fish, and fruits such as blueberries for their winter meals.

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Ganondagan State Historic Site Husking Bee, photo by Carol Llewellyn

Pickling vegetables and fruits goes back as far as 2030 BC. Pickling can be done in two ways, soaking the fruit or vegetable in either vinegar or saltwater (brine). The word pickle is a variation of the Dutch word for brine – pekel. Soaking vegetables in a brine bath is known as lacto-fermentation where lactic acid bacteria turn sugar in food to lactic acid.

Pickles of one sort or another have been produced and eaten in New York homes for many generations.  Early European settlers sometimes used New World ingredients in their Old-World pickle recipes.  One example of this is black walnut pickles, a variation of Old World English walnut pickles.  Pickle recipes were passed down from one generation to another, with housewives recording the recipes in their special recipe book.

New York’s first European colonists were the Dutch, who maintained settlements along the Hudson River as far north as Fort Orange (now Albany).  The van Rensselaers were a prominent Dutch family in the Hudson Valley.  When sturgeon was abundant in the Hudson River, Maria van Rensselaer (a cousin to the Fort Crailo van Rensselaers) would use this hand-written recipe to pickle the sturgeon.

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van Rensselaer family recipe to pickle Sturgeon, from Kellar, p. 12

And this recipe to pickle cucumbers:

Keep the Fruit n pickle till green, changing it often, then in cold water 2 days changing very frequently, then wipe and dry them & to every six lb fruit 8 lb Sugar, 6 lemons, ¾ raw ginger a bit of Mace- boiled to a clear Syrup.  When cold pour it on the fruit, the day after pour it off & give it another boil – the next day as the same & as often as necessary, never pour it on hot, for it will spoil them.

Eggs were one of many foods that were pickled because egg production is linked to day length; hens need about 13 hours of light a day to lay eggs.  Staff at Loyalist home Philipse Manor Hall may have used a recipe similar to this recipe from The Lady’s Assistant (p. 277) to make pickled eggs.

To pickle Eggs.

BOIL the eggs very hard: peel them, and put them into cold water, shifting them till they are cold.  Make a pickle of white-wine vinegar, a blade of mace, a bunch of sweet herbs, and a little whole pepper; take the eggs out of the water, and put them immediately into the pickle, which must be hot; stir them a good while, that they may look all alike; untie the herbs, and spread them over the top of the pot, but cover them with nothing else till they are turned brown; they will be fit to eat in nine or ten days.

Bruise some cochineal; tie it up in a rag; dip it in the vinegar, and squeeze it gently over the egg, and then let the rag lie in the Pickle. This is a great addition.

During his stay at the Hasbrouck House in the Hudson Valley it is possible that George Washington, who was a big pickle fan, dined on some of his wife’s pickles. Recipes from Martha Washington’s hand-written Booke of Cookery includes recipes (or receipts as they were once called) for pickling a variety of food from cowcumbers (cucumbers) to mackerel – George probably enjoyed them all!

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Cooks in the Jay, Livingston, and Schuyler families may have had access to Amelia Simmons American Cooke, the first American cookbook  It was first published in Hartford, Connecticut 1796, with a second publication in Albany New York also in 1796.

Pickling recipes in Simmons cookbook included pickling the barberry fruit:

The Lincklaen family recipe book from Lorenzo House included to pickle Chalottes (shallots) and to pickled cucumbers.

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Recipes for pickled Chalottes (shallots) and cucumbers from the Lincklaen family cookbook.

Frederic Church’s family maintained a farm and gardens at Olana in the Hudson Valley.  Some of the produce from the farm was used to make pickles, including this Sweet Variety pickle:

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Church family recipe for Sweet Variety pickle

Pickles were not only important part of many New York family meals, they were also a menu staple on the military bases in New York as this menu from Fort Ontario illustrates.

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Christmas dinner menu, 1939, Fort Ontario.

If you would like to learn more about preserving the summer harvest, maybe you can join in on the We Can Pickle That! program at Clermont State Historic Site on September 8.

Please note: recipes in this blog are for historic reference only and should not be made at home.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides a wealth of information about food preservation as well as food preservation recipes for the modern family.

Resources:

Avey, Tory. (2014) History in a Jar: The Story of Pickles

Colonial Williamsburg, Food Preservation Fact Sheet

Extra Slaw, Pickled Green Black Walnuts

Kellar, Jane Carpenter. (1986) On the score of hospitality : selected recipes of a van Rensselaer family, Albany, New York, 1785 – 1835 : a Historic Cherry Hill recipe collection. Albany, NY, Historic Cherry Hill.

Mason, Charlotte. (1778) The Lady’s Assistant 3rd Edition, London.

National Center for Home Food Preservation, Historical Origins of Food Preservation

Washington, Martha. (1799) Booke of cookery.  K. Hess commentary, New York, NY, Columbia University Press

Wikipedia, Pickling.

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Still Life With Sausages, accessed from WikiCommons

The Ghost Plant: A Closer Look At The Spookiest Plant In The Forest

What’s black and white and spooky all over? The ghost plant! More commonly known as Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) since it is said to resemble a Native American peace pipe, it is also known as corpse plant, death plant, and ghost flower. This unusual looking plant is often mistaken as a fungus because it is mostly white and doesn’t have any chlorophyll… but it is really a flowering plant and is actually part of the same Family (Ericaceae) that includes blueberries, cranberries, azaleas, and Rhododendrons. Weird, right?

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Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation

You’ll often find Indian pipes in dark and spooooky environments. Since it doesn’t have any chlorophyll it doesn’t need light to photosynthesize its own food. Instead, the food source for this plant is a lot more sinister, for it is actually a parasite! Specifically, Indian pipes are parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship with trees (epiparasitism), meaning both the fungi and trees both benefit from each other. The tree gathers sunlight and use it to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars and other carbohydrates. The fungi harvest minerals in the soil. The tree and fungi then exchange these resources in a process that resembles a harmonious story of cooperation and mutual benefit. It is then exploited by the Indian pipe.

What happens is the tree obtains its energy (sugars and other carbohydrates) from photosynthesis and the fungus obtain some of those sugars directly from the tree roots. So how does the Indian pipe get its energy from the fungus? Some menacing tom-foolery, that’s how! The Indian pipe actually tricks the fungus into thinking it is forming a mycorrhizal relationship, but in fact the Indian pipe is parasitizing the fungus! The Indian pipe essentially gets a free ride and doesn’t have to produce its own energy or absorb its own minerals. Typically, when a parasite exploit a host the host fights back, but for some reason the fungus and tree goes along with the Indian pipe’s menacing ploy.

By Staben, accessed from Wikicommons
Indian pipe flowers, photo by Staben, accessed from Wikicommons

After months, and sometimes years, of gathering its nutrients from the fungus into its root system, the Indian pipe, almost rather suddenly, develops above ground. White stalks and then flowers are produced, which are then pollinated by insects. Once pollinated the Indian pipe releases tens of thousands of extremely tiny seeds, which hardly have the food storage capacity to start a new plant. Those seeds are dispersed long distances by wind and settles to the ground. Once there, the seeds actually don’t start growing right away. In fact, the seeds chemically mimic a tree’s root systems and wait for certain types of mycorrhizal fungus to come along. The fungus then attaches to the seed as it would to a tree, but then is forced into providing nutrients the tiny seeds needs to grow! So essentially, from seedling to growth to pollination to seed dispersal, the Indian pipe does almost absolutely nothing itself!

Ryan Hodnett, accessed from Wikicommons
Dried Indian pipe flowers, photo by Ryan Hodnett, accessed from Wikicommons

Due to its fascinating nature, the Indian pipe has been immortalized by many poets and storytellers in their works, including Emily Dickinson, whose favorite flower was the Indian pipe. She drafted the poem “‘Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe-” in 1879:

Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –
‘Tis dimmer than a Lace –
No stature has it, like a Fog
When you approach the place –
Not any voice imply it here –
Or intimate it there –
A spirit – how doth it accost –
What function hath the Air?
This limitless Hyperbole
Each one of us shall be –
‘Tis Drama – if Hypothesis
It be not Tragedy –

Post by Matt Brincka, State Parks

The official blog for New York State Parks & Historic Sites

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