For those who don’t know about Pritzke’s Pond, it’s the pond on the west side of Beckenholdt Family Park. While it’s a shallow pond — at its deepest, it only reaches about two feet — it has a large plant population.
A big thanks goes out to Ben Hess who did all the hard work of identifying the plants growing out there. I’ve always wanted to do a plant inventory for that area, however two things prevented me from doing so. Number one is time, number two is a lack of knowledge of all the plants.
According to the list he gave me, we have at least 40 plants, 36 which are native, the other four are introduced plants. One of the four can be considered invasive (we’ll get to that one later).
The breakdown of plants goes like this:
A forb is a herbaceous flowering plant other than a grass, sedge or rush.
While I don’t have the space to list and describe all the plants out there, we’ll hit a few of the major ones:
Carolina Mosquito Fern — This is the most interesting plant Ben found. According to the Indiana Plant Atlas (Butler University) it has been reported in only two counties in Indiana, Warren County in 1937 and Kosciusko County in 2004. Now in 2017, we can add Hancock County to the list. While a small plant (under 1 inch) it does have a very strong point. When it covers enough area of the water it prevents mosquitoes from laying eggs in the water. While it starts off green, it can turn red under certain conditions (mostly cold weather).
In parts of Southeast Asia this fern is used as a “super fertilizer” in the growing of rice. This is due to the plant having photosynthetic bacteria. In other words, when the plant dies, the bacteria transforms atmospheric nitrogen into nitrate fertilizer.
Button Bush — While not an unusual plant, this one gets the prize. It is estimated that this particular bush is somewhere between 50 to 75 years old, based on size. You can find it easier when it’s blooming; it is on the south side of the north boardwalk. If you look on the north side of the boardwalk you can see our Black Willow tree.
As to the introduced plants, these 4 are in there: Amur Honeysuckle, White Mulberry, Reed Canarygrass and Bittersweet Nightshade. Of these, the Reed Canarygrass is considered an invasive plant (per the Midwest Invasive Plant Network).
Reed Canarygrass — The problem with this grass is that not only can it dominate wetlands, it can spread into forests and grasslands. It is a perennial, sod-forming, cool-season grass that can grow up to 6 feet tall. It crowds out native desirable native plants and is of little use to wildlife. It also can promote erosion due to the roots and rhizome mat not being deep and flowing water goes under it. The other downside to that, due to its extensive rhizomes and dormant buds, is it is extremely difficult and expensive to control or remove.
As a side note, perhaps in 50 years or so this will no longer be a pond, but due to the way nature does things it will turn into a swamp.
The other plant that we do need to remove in the pond area is Garlic Mustard. This is growing along the trail, so this spring, if you see any, feel free to rip it out of the ground and stomp on it if you like. If it happens to be flowering, take it with you and toss it in the nearest trash can, I’ll understand.
Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.