nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘abandoned settlements

abandoned spaces: fireweed

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Lately, I have been thinking a lot about abandoned rural areas and the remnants of gardens left behind. Although these properties are still owned, the homes that once stood there are gone or left to deteriorate. The gardens, once loved and cared for, are left to survive on their own.

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When these home-sites are abandoned, the garden plants:

  • disappear (most annuals),
  • persist (perennials like day-lilies or roses), or
  • escape (lupins, mallow or other easily-spreading plants).

Native plants, those liking disturbed or cleared areas, may move into these sites.

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an abandoned site in Williamsburg, New Brunswick where fireweed has colonized

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As I find abandoned properties, the pink or pale purple flowers of fireweed are often present. Fireweed, an indigenous plant not usually grown in gardens, is often a first indicator a house may once have stood on a plot of land. Often fireweed stands side by side with orange day-lilies and other garden escapes.

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on this abandoned site in the Williamsburg area, the fireweed stands side-by-side with orange day-lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), rose bushes and other cultivated plants

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Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium L.), also known as great willowherb, gets the ‘fire’ in its name since it is one of the first plants to colonize after fire. As a pioneer species, partial to open areas with lots of light, it also moves in to any cleared or disturbed area. After a few years, other plants will move in, out-competing the fireweed. However, the seeds of fireweed stay viable for a long time and may re-colonize the area if it is again disturbed or burned.

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Fireweed is one of many tall pinkish flowers growing in our ditches and wild areas. It is distinguished by its rather loose inflorescence, the flower’s four roundish petals and its seed pods which angle upwards.

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Fireweed spreads by the roots or by seed. In the later part of the season, the seeds are spread by the wind, aided by long silky hairs. Before dispersal the hairy seeds burst out along the seed pods making the plant look unkempt and hairy.

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Fireweed (pink) among brown-eyed Susans; the stiff, many-podded plants in the upper right-hand corner are the seedpods of fireweed, finished with their blooming

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In New Brunswick we are facing a demographic trend of movement from rural communities to cities in the southern part of the province and elsewhere. This means  many small communities that thrived a century ago are now abandoned. For example, in 1866 the community of Fredericksburg, New Brunswick was a farming community with 12 families (Source: https://archives.gnb.ca/Exhibits/Communities/Details.aspx?culture=en-CA&community=1367 ). Today only a couple of homes or camps are found in the area but foxglove flowers, that once bloomed in the gardens, thrive in the ditches. For more on the demographics of small New Brunswick communities see:

Lauren Beck and Christina Ionescu. ‘Challenges and Opportunities Faced by Small Communities in New Brunswick: An Introduction’, Journal of New Brunswick Studies Issue 6, No. 1 (2015).

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JNBS/article/view/23057

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foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) flowers thriving in the ditch in the Fredericksburg area

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All my best,

Jane

showy wildflowers along New Ireland Road, Albert County, NB

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Last week we went for a drive on the New Ireland Road in Albert County, New Brunswick. Our purpose was to visit the graveyard and to see if we could spot any persisting or escaping flower species from flower gardens associated with the now abandoned settlement.

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New Ireland was once a community along the eastern section of the Shepody Road (now called the New Ireland Road).

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settled in 1816: PO 1857-1892: in 1866 New Ireland was a farming community with 68 families: in 1871 it had a population of 150: in 1898 New Ireland had 1 post office, 1 church and a population of 100: included the community of New Ireland Road: PO 1864-1903: in 1866 New Ireland Road was a farming settlement with approximately 25 families: in 1871 it had a population of 150: in 1898 New Ireland Road had 1 post office and a population of 30: included the community of Kerry which was named for County Kerry in Ireland: PO 1876-1931: in 1898 Kerry was a farming settlement with 1 post office, 1 church and a population of 75: New Ireland was abandoned about 1920 (Source: N.B. Archives, https://archives.gnb.ca/Exhibits/Communities/Home.aspx?culture=en-CA ).

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Today, only the graveyard (St. Agatha’s Catholic Cemetery) remains.

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… Farmland has sadly returned to forest. Occasionally you can see a culvert that once led into a farmer’s home or field, and there is the occasional rose bush or wild apple tree struggling to survive amid reforested lands. (Source: http://newirelandnb.ca/irish-migration/ )

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Although the rose bush did not show itself, we saw old apple trees and two showy species, viper’s bugloss and golden ragwort. These could be garden escapes but perhaps are just wild volunteers on abandoned ground.

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Viper’s bugloss

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Viper’s bugloss growing at the Fortymile Brook crossing, not far from the former New Ireland settlement

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Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) is also known as blueweed, blue thistle, blue devil, snake flower. It is an introduced plant (from Eurasia) and is often cultivated as an ornamental. It is invasive and lives on calcareous or poor soils. At first glance the plant is like a scrawny lupin. Up to a metre in height, it is very bristly-looking. The tall stem has a number of arching lateral floral stalks where one flower blooms at a time. Flowers are briefly pink as they bloom, changing to blue. The stem and sepals are hairy and the long red stamens add to the bristly appearance. Viper’s bugloss is melliferous (honey producing) since it produces nectar and blue pollen loved by bees, bumblebees and butterflies.

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Golden ragwort

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Senecio long view

Golden ragwort growing along the New Ireland Road

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Golden ragwort (Senecio aureus) is a tall composite with flat-topped flower clusters. The flowers are golden with sparse rays. The basal leaves are long-stemmed and heart-shaped; the leaves on the flower stalk are elongated and finely divided. The plant is native, and grows on wet ground, in low woods and in meadows.

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Senecio leaf shapes

leaf shapes of Senecio aureus – heart-shaped (green leaves) and divided (reddish leaves)

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Senecio flowers

flowers of Senecio aureus

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These two plants will star in a poem about long-gone flower gardens along the New Ireland Road. Wandering along the road, taking photos and researching the flowers are the first steps to building the poem.

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I will be sharing the poem once I have a draft!

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All my best,

Jane

Written by jane tims

July 9, 2018 at 11:19 am

swallowtails and Alexanders

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Last week we did the first of our forays to get material for a new set of poems I am working on. Our drive took us to the area north of Stanley, and some two-track roads where settlements and home-sites have been abandoned.

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the road to Mavis Mills, an abandoned community

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The main road was busy with butterflies: Papilio canadensis, Canadian tiger swallowtail.  These are familiar butterflies, very similar to the eastern swallowtail, and once considered the same species. The males are yellow with black-rimmed wings (with a dotted yellow stripe in the margin) and four black tiger-stripes on the upper part of each fore-wing.

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The butterflies were congregating on the road near water puddles. They were interested in the muddy areas rather than the water. This behavior is called “puddling” and is a way for the butterfly to get sodium ions and amino acids.

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We took an old, two-track road to the abandoned hamlet of Mavis Mills and found the old settlement house sites. The once-cleared areas were populated by a pretty yellow composite flower, a member of the parsley family: Zizia aurea, golden Alexanders. These plants are usually under 30 inches high, with three serrated leaves (or three leaflets divided further into three’s) and a flat umbel of yellow flowers. The stems are red and the whole plant appears red in the fall. It is a host plant for the caterpillars of species of swallowtail butterflies. The plants grow in wet meadows and abandoned fields.

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field of golden Alexanders in an abandoned settlement

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We had an enjoyable drive, looking at abandoned homesteads and settlements. Since I am a botanist, I am interested in what has happened to the plants that once grew in the gardens of these homes. Some of the plants have vanished, but a few persist at the home-site and a few escape to cover ditches and countryside in bloom.

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an old lilac bush continuing to thrive near an abandoned house

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All my best!

Jane

 

 

Written by jane tims

June 25, 2018 at 2:59 pm

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