The water in the Pocomoke River is stained a tea-colored dark brown due to the tannic acid from fallen oak and cypress leaves. Ships heading back across the Atlantic in the 18th and 19th centuries collected water from the Nassawango Creek in barrels because the acidity tended to prevent spoilage on the long trip. This tannic acid content of the water played a role in another aspect of the Nassawango Creek; the production of bog iron. The acidic water leaches iron from subsurface sands and moves it through springs to the edges of the creek where it builds up a sandstone composite. An iron furnace was built in the late 18th century to smelt the iron and a company town arose in the middle of the cypress swamp.
The iron industry is gone now, except for the iron furnace itself, carefully preserved and surrounded by a recreation of part of the original town. Behind the furnace, where some of the iron ore was mined and a long canal runs to the creek., The Nature Conservancy’s Paul Leifer Nature Trail winds through the forest and over boardwalks through the swamp.
Winter is beginning. Leaves are still drifting down to texture the forest floor with fascinating designs.
Looking down we can find a lot more than just brown leaves.Oddly blotched green leaves appear in patches here and there only in winter. These are cranefly orchid leaves and the leaf reverse is a dramatic purple.
Look closely and you can see small seed pods still attached to a dried stem. The pods are dry and splitting to release their tiny seeds on the ground amid the oak leaves. The oak leaves will have to provide a fungus for the immature orchid seeds to germinate.
These delicate plants will flower in mid-summer with mosquito-sized miniature orchids along a tall stem when these green leaves have long gone.
Looking down can be an entertaining puzzle to identify the various shapes of leaves and forest clutter. A round spiky ball holds seeds from the Sweet Gum tree and a small red berry is attached to a partridge-berry vine. Crumpled, chewed and sculptural leaves can be identified as pin oaks, holly, white and red oaks and sweet gum.
Take a walk along a nature trail in winter and there is a lot to see, even when just looking down!
The Pocomoke River and connecting creeks and lowlands are flooded after days of heavy rain. It happened in the summer of 1989 and we thought that was the ’50 year flood’. Then my home and studio were isolated when damaged bridges all over Worcester County prevented access to many low areas.
This year the bridges have mostly held but Rt 12 is impassable in several places not least at the Pocomoke River bridge going into Snow Hill. Water flowed over the Nassawango Creek bridge when I took this photograph but shortly afterwards the road was closed when the fast moving water damaged the road.
In 1989 when the water flowed across the road there were river otters playing and sliding across the flooded road while the bridge was too badly damaged to allow traffic.
The land along the Pocomoke River and Nassawango and other creeks is a low swampy forest that absorbs rainfall overflow like a sponge. When the rains are too heavy and a saturated forest starts to flood it causes changes to the ecosystem here.
exposed maple roots
Deer, wild turkeys and even blacksnakes head for higher ground while shallow rooted trees like maples often fall even without wind. Maples often lean with roots exposed even in drier times. The Cypress trees, with their ‘knees’ are better anchored and the knees (growths from the roots) tend to grow only as high as the average high water mark.
All of the excess water will slowly trickle through the flooded forests and into the creeks and Pocomoke River on the way to the Chesapeake Bay. On the way it will absorb tanic acids from the fallen leaves and cypress needles and turn a deep tea brown. The forest will also filter the water to a degree.
Flooding here is part of the water system but it is not usually this dramatic. While we may be isolated while roadways are repaired, it is nothing to the inconveniences that would occur if we did not retain this valuable filtering swamp along the waterways.