Notes from the Island
August 1994

The best way to see the August flowers is to paddle around the Island, thus avoiding the nettles, poison ivy and general underbrush as well as the insects and spider webs.

If you launch from the canoe float, head upriver and notice the clump of jimsonweed above the ferry. This native nightshade has large white or lavender trumpet-shaped flowers and a spiny poisonous fruit. Its name is a corruption of "Jamestown", where colonists first encountered the plant.

Farther along you will reach a channel which is dry in low water. This year that corridor is full of swamp candles, which have attractive yellow flowers with tiny red centers. You can also find wood sage, a member of the mint family, which ironically does not have aromatic leaves. However, the plant does have a square stem and a pretty cluster of lavender-pink flowers.

At the lower end of the first island in the northern swamp there is a small black walnut tree, already bearing fruit. Underneath the tree you can find swamp milkweed. Be sure to examine the tiny beautiful pink flowers up close and not just from far away.

Other blooming plants on this small island include the blue asiatic dayflower and the morning glory. Watch out for the horse nettle, which is actually a nightshade and not related to the nettle family. The white star-like flower with a yellow center is beautiful, but the plant has thorns and prickles.

When you paddle to the next small island, be sure to look up at the reddish flowers of the aptly named trumpet vine. Two nearby persimmon trees have green fruit which will turn orange and then be edible after the first frost.

The next small island close to the Maryland shore has a nice button bush, which is an aquatic shrub known for its resistance to floods. The fragrant ball-like flower often attracts bees and butterflies.

As you double back, notice the weeds in the channel that separates Sycamore from the small islands in the swamp. These are called water willows because of their leaves and they have wonderful tiny violet and white flowers.

As you canoe around the top of Sycamore you will see clumps of Joe Pye weed and several varieties of wild sunflower. The tall plant with deep purple flowers is called ironweed.

As you paddle down towards the swim float, look closely and you will find a couple of cardinal flowers with their clusters of bright red blooms. Please, do not pick them. Also on your left, there is a garden of yellow fringed loosestrife.

Continue on to the lower tip of Sycamore. Last year morning glories, ageratum and jimsonweed were blooming profusely, but this year nothing is flowering yet. However, on the lower end of nearby Box Elder Island, there is a beautiful stand of swamp rose mallows. This member of the hibiscus family has large pink flowers and can grow up to eight feet tall.
If you are lucky you may see a great blue heron or a green heron on your journey around the Island. Sometimes cormorants sit and dry themselves on the two rocks near the swim float. Come at dusk and you may even see beavers as they cruise up and down the slough.

-- Peter Jones, Sycamore Island Caretaker