Natural Community: Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest

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Rock Creek Park

Rising water and changing stream beds aren't enough to stop this natural community. It thrives on the shifting landscape that Rock Creek brings!


Created by Erin Ziegler, Explore Natural Communities Intern Summer 2015, NatureServe.

Sounds: Rain (; Sunny day, by Stephan ( Public Domain

Music: Easy Lemon, by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0

Photo: American Sycamore Leaves, by Ery Largay, courtesy of NatureServe. Shared under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0


Podcast time: 1:23 minutes

Rock Creek isn't always the calm stream you see on a bright sunny day.  Rain from all parts of the watershed flow into the creek, swelling over the banks and flooding the surrounding land.  It may sound like a hard place for plants to grow, but in fact this very event is what makes the Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest so special.

This natural community appears along the banks and floodplains of the park where the vegetation doesn't mind temporary flooding. The American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), with camouflage-patterned bark can be found here, along with river birch (Betula nigra), tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera, also called tulip poplar), and spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

In the spring you'll find a carpet of early wildflowers and in late summer, a lush growth of new blooms such as jewelweed (Impatiens spp.) covering the banks. You might see wood ducks swimming in the creek, and other migratory or resident birds bathing in slow, shallow areas of water. If you're lucky, you might even hear the rattling call of the belted kingfisher bird as it flies down the creek looking for a bite to eat.

The changing nature of the creek continues to shape this community, from shifting sand bars to new sediment layers, and seeds brought in from upstream during floods.  Thanks to the fine-textured, nutrient-rich sediment continually deposited here, the soils of the Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest are some of the most fertile in Rock Creek Park.

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