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Plant Life

As you canoe down the river, take a moment to notice the plant life along the banks. You are most likely to see hardwood tree species. Along the banks, silver maple and black willow grow, while further back you may notice green ash, eastern cottonwood, boxelder, red maple, and American elm.

Most of the time, species will grow where they can compete best. Although a particular type of tree might “prefer” to live in middle-land, well drained soils, it might not be able to survive there because it would not be able to compete with other tree species. The trees mentioned above have consequently learned to survive in moist soils that occasionally get flooded by the river. Black willow, eastern cottonwood, silver maple, and American elm are adapted to living on the banks. These trees drop fully developed seeds that can germinate quickly in mid-June and the rich floodplain soil makes it easy for the seeds to grow.

The trees and shrubs along the river banks help protect the land from erosion. Especially important during floods, these plant species hold on to the soil, helping to prevent the banks from washing away. Speckled alder, a thick shrub that grows on the banks, is one particularly important species serving this function. Bank vegetation also provides habitat for wildlife.

Some lower-lying species you may encounter include buttonbush and small willows. In areas of slow moving water, bull rush, sedges, wild rice, and burreed may be found. If you look closely, you may see river grape, the most common wild grape of Vermont. The grape gets its name from its favorite habitat, the rich alluvial soils found along a river. The river grape will grow to any height in order to reach sunlight and bears abundant fruit. Although speckled alder may be an annoyance to a fly-fisherman, this thick shrub is important in preventing soil erosion along the banks. You can identify buttonbush by the clusters of small white blossoms that form ball-like heads an inch in diameter. Willows, with their tough, vital roots and the readiness of their broken branches to throw new shoots, provide an excellent cover to hold river banks from eroding.

Other shrubs you may come across fall into the viburnum family. An ornamental shrub, the toothed arrow-wood, can be distinguished by its relatively large size (five to ten feet) and smooth branches and leaves.

One of the most attractive native shrubs, sheep berry (otherwise known as nannyberry or sweet viburnum) shows beautiful autumn colors and bears sweet, edible fruit. Another shrub of the viburnam family, highbush cranberry, has been used for its medicinal properties. Keep an eye out for poison ivy; it has three leaflets, green and reddish-purple in color and smooth and shiny in texture. This plant usually grows farther back from the banks, though be watchful for it in a semi-open habitat.