Pine Bush Plants Vanish
Loss of Wetlands Cited
By Daniel Van Riper (Based on notes by Rezsin Adams)
Janet Mattox is a graduate student at SUNY Albany, where she is preparing her Master's thesis on Pine Bush flora. Reluctant to speak, she graciously agreed to share some of the results of her work with the May 23 dinner crowd at 1st Presbyterian Church in Albany.
Apparently there was a lot more water in the Pine Bush in the 19th century than there is today, according to Ms. Mattox. "What we see today is not what people saw one hundred years ago", she said. Marshy areas were more common, and it was not unusual to find what writers of the last century referred to as "pools" in the depressions between sand dunes. Bogs could still be found as late as 25 years ago.
This loss of wetlands has contributed to the loss of plantlife. Ms. Mattox discovered that surveys of flora since the year 1818 have found about 265 varieties of plants (species, subspecies, and hybrids) that require or prefer wetland. Today there are only 155, and seven of these are new to the Pine Bush, not found before.
Some of these plants have not been seen since the last century, such as the great laurel, the wild catla, and the carnivorous pointed bladderwort, which traps and digests insects. Some, like the cardinal flower and cottongrass were last seen around 1950. The large cranberry, and an orchid called grass pink disappeared in 1975. Another orchid called rose begonia was last found in 1990 by Robert Dirig. The spot where it was found has been destroyed by development.
Ms. Mattox believes that there are more reasons for loss of plant diversity than shrinking habitat and "changes in hydrology". Hungry deer are certainly a factor and she observed and photographed some of their ravages. Fire suppression has also created changes. Pressure from recreational activities is certainly important in some places, but in the areas Ms. Mattox conducted surveys, she saw hardly anyone else.
Near the end of her presentation, Ms. Mattox was critical of the Pine Bush Preserve Commission's plan for preservation. "It doesn't cover a broad enough area", she said "I think of the Pine Bush as not just the preserve, but the whole old area. The Pine Bush is not necessarily pine barrens, but also beautiful areas such as wetlands".