Story and photos by Tom Hodgson
Thanks to the glacier that melted away over 10,000 years ago, the Chelsea area is blessed with many kettle lakes both large and small.
Each was formed by an isolated ice block that was buried in glacial debris and melted to leave a water-filled hole. Large blocks left equally large holes that formed the lakes we still enjoy today. Smaller blocks left smaller, shallower holes that may contain water only part of the year.
These we still see as the small “pocket swamps” that are scattered throughout our area. Though not considered to have great recreational value, they are a haven for a variety of wildlife including turtles, frogs, waterfowl, shorebirds, song birds and a variety of colorful insects.
The dominant shrub in many of these small wetlands is often buttonbush, named for its button-like seed heads that remain on the plants throughout much of the winter. Buttonbush is currently in bloom and its foamy, white flower-heads are quite attractive. These nectar-rich blossoms attract a variety of insects including honey bees, and some of our most colorful butterflies. The seeds are an important winter food source for a variety of “snowbirds.”
Hidden among the foliage are the caterpillars of two giant silk moths, the promethea and cecropia. They will soon spin cocoons that can be found by walking these frozen swamps in winter.
These buttonbush swamps can be found along the roads throughout the Waterloo Recreation Area. There is a really nice one on the west side of Pierce Road between Cavanaugh Lake Road and Bush Road. Buttonbush usually blooms every summer, but conditions must be just right this year as it is producing blossoms in profusion. This should also mean an abundance of food for wildlife this winter.
In January, when the wetlands are completely frozen, one can walk through these swamps and be greeted by the sound of birds feeding on buttonbush seeds. One may also find cocoons clinging to leafless twigs and branches.
Buttonbush can be grown as a landscape shrub in low, moist areas. The showy blossoms will be a welcome addition to the summer garden. The seeds can be collected in the fall and sewn directly into the soil of a suitable site. Cuttings will root naturally when placed in moist, sandy soil. This often overlooked shrub is not only showy and a wildlife attractor, but is fairly deer resistant.
I am including a photo array that features many of the wildlife species that depend on buttonbush.