The unusual wahoo shrub (Euonymus atropurpurea) at Bean Creek, Riverside Park 

Riverside Park was designated a Natural Area by Morenci City Council Resolution in April 2004. Morenci High School students in the Green Earth Club (GECKOs) initiated the project to reaffirm a committment made in 1973 at the request of the Morenci Garden Club. Students gave presentations to community groups about the Park's native plant species, unique to the floodplains of southern Michigan – hackberry, honey locust, pawpaw, Ohio buckeye, wahoo shrub, bladdernut, and hoptree.  They described the rich benefits to the public and to future generations through the enjoyment and eduation that Natural Areas provide, with places to walk, contemplate, and study nature through the seasons and through time.

On May 2, 2004, the GECKOs and volunteers from the Bean/Tiffin Watershed Coalition began a restoration project with a planting day. They planted sycamore trees and seedlings of bladdernut and hoptree grown from seeds in the Park.

A walking path winds along the Bean next to huge cottonwood trees, and loops through the park past a grove of large Ohio buckeye trees.  Many wildflowers grow in the park, including wild ginger, harbinger-of-spring, drooping trillium, Virginia waterleaf, carpets of white violets in May, ragwort, jewelweed, wild geranium.

Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)     Jewelweed, or touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis)

2008 -- Earth Day, Earth Week at Riverside Natural Area, Morenci. New signs at the road and in the park, donated by the City of Morenci and by the Green Earth Club of Morenci High School (GECKOs) were dedicated during a sunny afternoon, April 24. Students from the High School Math & Science Club conducted a stream search for macroinvertebrates; GECKOs cleaned up the stream and the park. Volunteers with the Bean/Tiffin Watershed Coalition constructed a bench beside Bean Creek.
sign cleanup bench

Mussel Survey, Bean Creek Watershed, including sites at Riverside Natural Area, 2004-- Aquatic zoologists with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI), a program of Michigan State University, conducted a survey of native freshwater mussels in the Bean Creek Watershed in July and August, 2004. 17 species were documented, including 3 rare mussels of "special concern" in Michigan.
(*marks species of special concern in Michigan)
Fat mucket - Lampsillis siliquoidea
*Slippershell - Alasmidonta viridis
Cylindrical papershell - Anodontoides ferussacianus
Giant floater - Pyganodon grandis
*Round pigtoe - Pleurobema coccineum
Fingernail clams - Sphaeriidae
*Rainbow -Villosa iris
Strange floater - Strophitus undulatus
Wabash pigtoe - Fusconaia flava
Fluted-shell - Lasmigona costata
Three-ridge - Amblema plicata
Pink heelsplitter -Potamilis alatus
Creek heelsplitter - Lasmigona compressa
White heelsplitter - Lasmigona complata
Pocketbook - Lampsilis ventricosa
Fragile papershell - Leptodea fragilis
Spike - Elliptio dilatata

pink heelsplitter   threeridge
Pink heelsplitter mussel shell and Three-ridge mussel, Bean Creek at Riverside Natural Area

Bird List for Riverside Natural Area, 4-12-14

Northern Cardinal
Song Sparrow
American Robin
Northern Flicker
Brown-headed Cowbird
Blue Jay
White-breasted Nuthatch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Dark-eyed Junco

Two (of the many) interesting wildflowers found at Riverside:

Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa), is a small wildflower, one of the first to bloom in April. It has white petals and dark anthers, and is often called by another common name “pepper-and-salt." Usually found on riverbanks and floodplains in undeveloped areas of southern Michigan.

Drooping Trillium (Trillium flexipes), a very pretty nodding trillium with maroon petals, (they may also be white). Found in mixed swampy floodplain forests of Lower Michigan. Not common.

Other Natural Features at Riverside Park, in the River Floodplain and Bottomland Hardwood Community of plants, a very rich, diverse plant community. For a description of this habitat, here is a quote from the book Michigan Trees by Barnes and Wagner.

“The habitat is characterized by periodic flooding, siltation, nutrient-rich alluvial soils, and low fire incidence. ...In the southern or half of the state, the bottomland forest is an extremely rich woody plant community. Some species with predominantly a southern geographic distribution in the United States occur in southern Michigan and there only along rivers and streams (redbud, honeylocust, Kentucky coffeetree, sycamore, butternut, northern hackberry, shingle oak, among others). These southern species thrive only in the river bottomlands because of the hotter and more humid summer environment compared to that of the surrounding terrain and because colder spring conditions act to retard the leafing-out of trees, enabling them to avoid spring frosts. The slow warming of the river water and cold air drainage into the river basin combine to bring about the colder conditions of the floodplain compared to that of adjacent upland sites.”

Trees –

Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) This is a small tree with large, divided, lobed leaves, (palmate compound leaves) and shiny brown, smooth seeds in the fall. It has large clusters of yellowish flowers in May. The flowers are beneficial to birds, especially the ruby-throated hummingbird, and butterflies. The seeds are eaten by squirrels. This is a dominant tree at Riverside Park where many large trees grow. Rare in Michigan except in the southern-most counties.

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a small tree with dark maroon flowers in the spring and edible fruits in the fall. Fruits are sweet, with shiny, black seeds. It has tapering dark green leaves that emit an odor when crushed (smells like motor oil). Leaves turn a bright yellow in the fall. It is the preferred host plant for the zebra swallowtail.

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), is a tree with distinctive bark consisting of narrow ridges. Often seen with “witches brooms”, clusters of short branches scattered in the crown of the tree. Known for its ability to grow in many conditions from floodplains to prairie. Hackberry is the only host plant (plant on which the female lays its eggs), for the tawny emperor butterfly, the hackberry butterfly and the snout butterfly.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis), a small, slow growing tree with striking pink flowers in April-May and heart shaped leaves. It has fruit pods in the fall, (also known as “beans”- it is in the legume family). This tree is rare (in the wild) in Michigan except in the southern counties, and lives in the mild and protected river valleys of Southern Michigan. The silver spotted skipper and zebra swallowtail butterflies use this tree for nectar and as a host plant.

Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos), is known for the long, brown, flat, twisted seed pods that appear in the fall. The interesting pods have 12-14 seeds in a sweet pulp. It has dark, grey-black bark covered with thorns. This tree is rare in Michigan. Found in the southern counties in Lower Michigan. Grows near streams and river floodplains.The Silver spotted skipper butterfly lays its eggs on the honeylocust (skippers are small to medium-sized, usually dull-colored butterflies that have a fast, darting pattern).

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), is a large tree with shallow, wide, spreading roots. Best known for its distinctive bark that flakes off and exposes cream and greenish inner layers of bark. Beautiful in the winter. Found in river floodplains and in bottomland forests. Will grow in soils that flood. These are important trees along riverbanks, as their roots help provide stable stream banks. Because of their height, they provide nesting sites for great blue herons, wood ducks, and many woodpeckers. The huge leaves provide shade in the summer that cools the water for fish and are important in the food chain for aquatic life. They are fast growing and long-lived and grow well in areas with seasonal flooding.

Native shrubs found at Riverside Park –

Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpurea), our native “Burning Bush” (not the plant found in gardens), is a large shrub (about 13 feet ) with pointed, oval leaves that turn red-yellow in the fall and produce a colorful fruit capsule. The dangling four angled fruit capsule is bright pink. When ripe, it splits open exposing scarlet seeds. Very pretty. Loved by deer.

Hoptree, also known as Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata), is a tall native shrub found along stream banks and floodplains in Lower Michigan. It has clusters of coppery brown seeds in the fall and winter. Found in open areas, dunes, river floodplains in Lower Michigan. Not common. Hoptree is a host plant for the Giant Swallowtail, (the largest butterfly found in Michigan). The caterpillar that feeds on the leaves of hop tree is known as the “orange dog”. This caterpillar, when young looks like bird droppings for protection. It had medicinal uses in the past.

American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia), is loved for its seed pods which are inflated bladderlike capsules about 2” long, that hang from this large shrub in fall and winter. Starting out green in September they turn a coppery brown in the fall and persist all winter. The seeds rattle inside the papery fruit capsules when shaken by winter wind. Found along streambanks and bottomlands in the Lower Peninsula and is an understory plant, growing in the shade of larger trees. A nectar plant for butterflies and bees.