By Mary J. Metzger
“There’s always something in bloom from April to November. You just have to go back in to find it,” said Patricia Swain Rice. She spoke recently at the Lawrence Library in Pepperell on the “Habitats of the Wildflowers of the Nissitissit.”
The Nissitissit is a small, cold, wild, and natural river that flows out of New Hampshire and meets the Nashua River in Pepperell. Its muddy and sandy banks, gravelly bars, and neighboring wetlands provide a space for red Cardinal Flowers, yellow Marsh Marigolds, and bright pink Fringed Polygala.
Swain Rice, who is a retired Natural Community Ecologist, with the Massachusetts NHESP (Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program) said the river’s biodiversity stems from several factors. The area is part of the Transitional Hardwoods Forest. Wildflowers from northern Sugar Maple Hemlock forests will find a place with those from the more southern Oak-Hickory woods. And because, like all of New England, this area was once cleared, the plants’ natural ranges expanded as the wild habitats regrew.
“But the main reason you can find habitats for these wildflowers is that the area has been protected,” she said. “State law protects the first 100 feet buffer zone around all wetlands. You really need 300 feet to keep pollutants and sediments out of the water. The Nissitissit has been amazingly protected with conservation areas and farms with Agricultural Restrictions. But there is more to preserve.”
The wildflowers are just one part of a natural system that cleans and stores the water, and provides a wildlife corridor. Because the area is protected there is also public access, though Swain Rice warns that due to its very natural state, the river is not good for canoeing or kayaking.
The Nashoba Conservation Trust, which sponsored the talk, has a Pepperell Trail Guide on its website, nashobatrust.org, to point out access.
Through March 10, visitors to the Lawrence Library can see an exquisite, tick-free, close-up view of the “Wildflowers of the Nissitissit,” an exhibit by local nature photographer Ken Hartlage. All photos in the show are available for purchase.