Wetlands Wednesday: Beyond Your Typical Ozarks Excursion

By Cynthia Cassel

Missouri is the fourth and final destination on our May tour of Region 7’s intriguing wetlands as we mark the 25th anniversary of National Wetlands Month. Following my journey to the prairie potholes and fens of Iowa in last week’s blog, we go down south to the breathtaking Show-Me State.

Since we had honeymooned in St. Louis (Paris was full), my husband and I decided to reenact the event on our fifth anniversary. Of course, my family doesn’t just “go somewhere.” It had to be a road trip through Missouri to arrive at a location four hours away. But I was pleased to take the long way ‘round after investigating the distinctive wetlands of the state: sinkhole ponds and hardwood swamps.

Sinkhole Ponds

Although we can easily appreciate the bounty of water and habitat the Ozarks provide, the rarer sinkhole pond is typical of a Missouri wetland. Sinkholes are natural depressions formed by the dissolution of underlying limestone layers or the collapse of a cavern roof. Since there are so many caves in the state, sinkholes form naturally.

Sinkhole PondsSinkhole wetlands are usually isolated and form in karst topography, which is caused when soluble rocks dissolve, such as limestone. Karst may form when rainwater, reacting with carbon dioxide from the air and forming carbonic acid, seeps through the soil into the rock. Drainage to a sinkhole is underground.

Wetter types of sinkhole wetlands can have non-woody plants, while the drier ones can be vegetated by trees or shrubs. These areas can provide habitat for amphibian and reptile breeding, depending on the amount and timing of the water supplied to them.

Hardwood Swamps

Hardwood SwampsThese beautiful bottomlands in southeast Missouri are truly an example of forest primeval, found along rivers and streams, generally in broad floodplains. Such ecosystems are commonly found wherever waterways at least occasionally cause flooding beyond the confines of their channels. They are deciduous forested wetlands, made up of different species of Gum, Oak and Bald Cypress trees, which have the ability to survive in areas that are either seasonally flooded or covered with water much of the year. Identifying features of these wetland systems are the fluted or flaring trunks that develop in several species, and the presence of knees, or aerial roots.

Hardwood swamps serve a critical role in the watershed by reducing the risk and severity of flooding to downstream communities by storing floodwater. In addition, these wetlands improve water quality by filtering and flushing nutrients, processing organic wastes, and reducing sediment before it reaches open water.

I hope you enjoyed our four-part journey to the wonderful wetlands of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri. There’s so much more to see here in the Heartland. You could start by taking your own trip to Kansas’ two internationally recognized wetlands: Cheyenne Bottoms in Great Bend and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County. And if you’d like to continue your mini-education in wetland ecology, let me know!

About the Author: Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 5½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Conservation in Full Flower: How to Garden with Less Water

By Chrislyn Johnson

I love gardening and the beauty that annual flowers bring to a landscape. I also like to think of myself as being environmentally conscious. However, these two pursuits are not always in harmony when it comes to gardening if I want to conserve water.

Humming Bird and FlowersFlowers in the Heartland take a lot of water, especially annuals (which grow only one season). Once they are established, most annuals need about one inch of water per week, or half a gallon per square foot of garden space. That may not sound like a lot, but it adds up quickly. A typical garden 25 feet long and 4 feet wide along the front of your house will consume at least 25 gallons each week. Over the course of a growing season, that adds up to more than 750 gallons of precious water!

The reason annuals need a lot of water is based on their very nature. They have shallow root systems and spend their time and energy repeatedly blooming all summer. From the annual plants’ point of view, they have one chance to successfully produce viable seeds for the next year, so they don’t waste time in the growing phase. They will instead put their energy into producing big, showy flowers all summer long. Annuals need varying amounts of light and care to produce these beautiful blooms, but most tend to be sensitive to the amount of water they need.

There are four major factors that determine how much to water annuals, according to About.com:

  1. Weather: The heat, wind, rain, and humidity of their location all affect how well your plants will grow without added water. A plant in a hot, windy, and very sunny location will require more water than the same one in a partially shaded spot. The plant in the sunny location may receive rain, but if the soil is hard, it might not soak in. Plants need moisture at least 2-3 inches below the soil’s surface. Watering in the morning or evening provides the most benefit and retention. To keep this moisture from evaporating, many experienced gardeners use mulch, which has the additional advantage of keeping weeds out and making flower beds more attractive. Think about the conditions of where you are putting your plants and what that might mean for their care.
  1. Soil Quality: The type of soil you have – deep and rich loam, sandy, rocky, or clay – will make a difference in the amount of water your plant needs. While sandy soil drains well, it does not hold much water. Soil with a lot of clay can present other problems: it can hold too much water and cause your plants to rot, or it can be so dry that it is impenetrable to rain that just runs off the surface. The solution to most soil problems is adding organic matter such as compost, rotted manure, or aged grass clippings or leaves (leaf mold). Work 2-4 inches of organic matter into the top 8-10 inches of soil. Do this each year, because the organic matter will continue to decompose and is used up by the plants and organisms that live there.
  1. Ground or Container: Where plants are grown makes a difference. Your plants will need lots of water until their root systems are established. Container plants are best used for accents, since they will generally continue to need more water and care than their counterparts in flower beds, but this again depends on the other factors mentioned here.
  1. The Chosen Ones: The plants you choose will go a long way to decreasing the need for extra water usage. Traditional favorites add charm and are more drought-tolerant than many of the newer varieties. The bonus with these tried and true alternatives is that many grow directly from seeds that you can save from one year to another. So not only do you save water, but you also save money!  Below is a list of alternatives to the typical, water-loving garden center choices, many of which also make excellent cut flowers to bring indoors.
Common Name Scientific Name
Ageratum Ageratum houstonianum
Angelonia Angelonia angustifolia
Blanket flower Gaillardia pulchella
Calendula Calendula officianalis
Cockscomb Celosia cristata
Coleus Coleus spp.
Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus, Cosmos sulphureus
Creeping zinnia Zinnia linearis
Dusty miller Senecio cineraria
Flowering tobacco Nicotiana alata
Foxglove Digitalis pupurea
Gazania Gazania splendens
Geranium Pelargonium x hortorum
Globe amaranth Gomphrena globosa
Madagascar periwinkle Catharanthus roseus
Marigold Tagetes erecta, Tagetes patula
Melampodium Melampodium paludosum
Moss rose Portulaca grandiflora
Ornamental kale Brassica oleracea
Ornamental pepper Capsicum annuum
Pansy Viola x wittrockiana
Petunia Petunia x hybrid
Salvia Salvia slendens, S. facinacea
Snapdragon Antirrhinum spp.
Statice Limonium spp.
Strawflower Helichrysum bracteatum
Sweet alyssum Lobularia maritime
Verbena Verbena spp. and hybrids
Wax begonia Begonia semperflorens-cultorum
Zinnia Zinnia elegans, Z. angustifolia

Does it seem like a big task? You don’t have to give up all of your favorites now. Just try a few of these and see what you think. Lean into the change at a pace that is comfortable for you, and you may find that you appreciate spending less time watering and more time just enjoying your garden.

About the Author: Chrislyn Johnson is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. She holds degrees in biology and photography from the University of Central Missouri and loves all things nature. She is frustrated by clay soil.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Wetlands Wednesday: Share My Surprising Trip Across Iowa

By Cynthia Cassel

The third leg of our journey to the fascinating wetlands of the four Region 7 states has surprises in store, as we continue our May series to celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Wetlands Month. After my trip to Kansas’ wet meadows and farmed wetlands in last week’s blog, we now travel northeast to inviting Iowa.

In search of something to do that was slightly goofy while on a trip to the state, I planned a visit to the Amana Colonies in an effort to recreate Grant Wood’s famous American Gothic painting. We brought our own pitchfork and steel-rimmed glasses, and made complete fools of ourselves. Maybe not such a great idea, after all.

However, the rest of the trip all around Iowa was one of the best road trips we ever took. While admiring more of the beautiful green and gold croplands of the Heartland to be sure, we beheld a wonderful surprise: prairie potholes and fens.

Prairie Potholes and Fens

Washington State has an entire state park created around its potholes, but I never knew they existed in the Midwest until that trip. Seeming otherworldly, potholes look like craters created by shrapnel from a cosmic shotgun. We also marveled at the multitude of fens – rare, groundwater-fed places that feel like walking on a water bed. Think of peat bogs.

Prairie potholes and fens

Prairie potholes and fens

So here’s a tip: Go see the Grant Wood home, but be sure to make time to visit the potholes and fens, and take note of the rare plants and animals support by these wetlands. And then go ahead and visit the rest of the state. There’s much to do and see in the beautiful state of Iowa!

Prairie potholes are wetlands (primarily freshwater marshes) that develop when snowmelt and rain fill the pockmarks left on the landscape by land-scouring glaciers. Groundwater input is also important. Submerged and floating aquatic plants take over the deeper water in the middle of the pothole, while bulrushes and cattails grow closer to shore. Wet, sedgy marshes lie next to the uplands. In addition, many species of migratory waterfowl are dependent on the potholes for breeding and feeding.

Flowering plants in Iowa wetland

Flowering plants in Iowa wetland

Fens are alkaline (slightly acidic) wetlands less than 10 acres in size that are groundwater-fed and peat-forming. Their water supply is by surface water runoff and/or seepage from mineral soils. Fens are important sources of groundwater discharge and indicators of shallow aquifers. Most are found along stream terraces or at the base of slopes. Fens in headwater streams are difficult, if not impossible, to replace due to their unique hydrology. They’re often called “quakers” because the ground beneath them is saturated and spongy. A good jump on a fen will cause the ground to ripple for many feet.

These Iowa wetlands are important for environmental sustainability. Prairie potholes absorb surges of rain, snowmelt and floodwaters, thereby reducing the risk and severity of downstream flooding.

 

Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 5½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Wetlands Wednesday: Continue the Journey With Me South to Kansas

By Cynthia Cassel

As I mentioned in my blog article last week, we’re presenting a multi-part series during May to showcase the diverse wetlands of the four EPA Region 7 states and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Wetlands Month. Please join me as I travel to my picturesque home state of Kansas.

My husband was transferred to Washington State and then, 12 Julys later, transferred back to Kansas. Veteran road-trippers that we are, we decided to crisscross the state to re-familiarize ourselves with the landscape.

wet meadowWhat I know now, that I didn’t then, was that a vital part of the landscape is water-based. We saw a lot of green and gold on this round-trip from one corner of Kansas to the next and back again. I said a quiet “thank you” to all the producers of the good food that comes from their hard work.

After driving through one of those beautifully dramatic (not to mention loud) Kansas summer thunderstorms, we also saw farms with areas of standing water called Wet Meadows and Farmed Wetlands. As you read the descriptions below, think of these as vital pit stops for groups of tired and hungry birds as they migrate through Kansas.

Wet Meadows and Farmed Wetlands

As vital as water is to us, so it is for the fowl, mammals, and amphibians that call those farms their habitat, whether just for a short time or permanently. Next time you see Wet Meadows or Farmed Wetlands here in the Heartland, say a quiet “thank you” for the puddles and pools that are part of the landscape as well.

wet meadow 2Wet meadows are wetlands that occur in poorly drained areas and have herbaceous (non-woody) plants, such as sedges, rushes, and wetland wildflowers. Precipitation serves as their primary water supply so they are often dry in the summer. Water generally does not stand in these wetlands. During periods of high rainfall, wet meadows collect runoff, reducing the likelihood of seasonal flooding to low-lying areas downstream and, in the process, removing excess nutrients from runoff like a natural filter. This nutrient-rich environment provides vital food and habitat for many insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

wet meadow 3Temporary or seasonal wetlands, usually depressions lined with clay soils, are farmed at least once every few years. Farmed wetlands produce large quantities of insects for food and resting areas for migratory birds. Dark soils that warm early in spring provide food earlier, attracting higher shorebird and duck use and providing habitat for waterfowl breeding grounds all year. Farmed wetlands filter excess nutrients (such as phosphorous, nitrates, and pesticides) from field runoff. These wetlands also filter carbon that otherwise might be released into the atmosphere to produce carbon dioxide, thus helping protect the ozone layer.

 

Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 5½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Wetlands Wednesday: Travel With Me and Widen Your Horizons

By Cynthia Cassel

My husband and I love to take long (3,500+ mi.) driving trips in big loops around our beautiful country. He likes to do most of the driving, which is great because it means I get to be a spectator. Until I joined EPA, I knew the names of various kinds of wetlands (I fancy myself a “nature girl,” after all), but I didn’t have a complete picture of the wealth and diversity of wetlands that the EPA Region 7 states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska can claim.

May is National Wetlands Month, marking its 25th anniversary this year. So for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some information that I found interesting – and I’ll bet you didn’t know either. Our Wetlands and Streams Protection Team is presenting a multi-part series during Wetlands Month. None of the wetlands being presented are exclusive to any one of our Region’s states, but some are more prevalent in one state or another. As my hubby and I took these many trips, I was able to visit all of the wetland types in Region 7 and I thought you’d enjoy taking this journey with me. This week, we start with the exceptionally beautiful and bountiful state of Nebraska.

Freshwater Wetlands of the Sandhills

Nebraska SandhillsThe Sandhills of Nebraska are a 19,000+ square mile area of contiguous sand dunes covering much of north-central Nebraska (see map at right). The area lies above the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The freshwater wetlands of the Sandhills are of great importance in collecting rainwater, snowmelt, and runoff that recharges the aquifer. The Sandhills Freshwater Wetlands also provide vital habitat for countless numbers of migrating and resident waterfowl and shorebirds, offering food, shelter, nesting sites, and cover for endangered Whooping Cranes, among others.

This wwater and birdsetland system ranges from small shallow marshes to large deep lakes, and from coniferous and deciduous forests to short/tallgrass prairie to lush aquatic vegetation. Alkaline (or saline) lakes form in regions where there is little rain. The lakes form in depressions known as basins. Water flowing over and through the ground dissolves minerals (salts) from the rocks and soil. Runoff carrying the salts collects in the lowest part of the basin, forming a lake. Water in the lake evaporates, but the salts stay behind. Over time the salts build up, creating an alkaline lake. The kinds of salts that accumulate vary from lake to lake, but usually they include sodium chloride (table salt), potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and carbonate salts. Salt Flats and Lakes are unique in that little vegetation grows there, yet these wetlands are a popular stopover for many migratory birds.

I hope you enjoy learning about the diverse wetlands across our four states during May, why they’re important to habitat, and why they’re economically and culturally important to communities and the people who live near them.

Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 5½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.