Prior to January 1970, the Sligo Creek Valley between Maple and Carroll Avenues supported a fascinating and diverse variety of plant and bird life. It was a unique area for plants requiring open sun. Since it is now largely altered in the names of “progress” and artificial “beautification,” the area as it was should be described for the records.
The few feet near the top of the creek bank between the Maple Avenue bridge and the entrance to the path was crowned by a hedge of buffaloweed and with silvervine fleeceflower and cleavers clambering over it. In late summer, the buffaloweed held aloft its tall candles and the vines were filled with their inconspicuous flowers.
The entrance to the path was marked on the right by a large, symmetrical clump of speckled alder. Its greening and lengthening catkins were one of the first signs of the coming Spring in the park. When they were at full growth, the whole shrub was a parasol dripping with catkin fringe. Much of the alder has been cut away, leaving only a haggled remnant of its former symmetry. Two large red oaks stand across the path from the alder. At their base grew two or three plants of broad dock, one of the few stations of this plant in the park.
For the first fifty yards or so, there was a fairly wide strip of bottomland before the slope to high ground began. The slope on the Washington Sanitarium side was covered with an open woods of beech, tulip, oak and sycamore, with an occasional hickory. On the creek side there was also water birch. Below the forest trees was an understory of spicebush, dogwood, arrowwood, and along the creek bank, witchhazel and redbud. Underneath was a groundcover of many plants. On the right side of the path grew an early magnolia, a small volunteer appletree, a rose of Sharon shrub, two or three small arbor vita or white cedars, and a white mulberry and two small hemlocks. Today only the mulberry and hemlocks remain. For this distance the path was an obscure double track, as an occasional truck had been in this far to service gas, water and electric lines.
On the bank of the creek just beyond the alder, grew two jacks-in-the-pulpit. Farther along, taller and larger plants filled the bottomland. Here in April, a fine plant of golden groundsel stood out amidst the green. This was the only one in the park. Across the path from it was a plant of spreading dogbane. In late Spring, it was covered with tiny white and pink bells and later with long, slim green seedpods. Behind the dogbane grew a cutleaf coneflower with its golden blossoms, the original wild plant from which the goldenglow of the gardens was developed.
The bottomland section on the right of the path I called “the weedpatch.” In the Spring, before the taller plants had developed, the low, moist section was filled with Spring beauties, mayapples, and a patch of the dainty yellow coradylis (coradylis flavula) two feet or so in diameter, with more plants scattered among the other flowers. This too was the only station of this plant, since a small clump of it at the edge of the playground was destroyed by the mowers. As Summer came, this section was filled with ragweed, field garlic, false nettle, garlic mustard, galinsoga or quickweed, and honewort among others.
On the edge of the path, in front of the false nettles and others were a very few plants of clearweed (pilea pumila), germander and perilla with its scalloped and ruffled leaves tinted with reddish bronze. Beyond these, a single plant of clotbur (Xanthium chinense) crouched close to the ground. Under a tulip tree, the ground was blanketed with pachysandra and at the bend, under the rose of Sharon, grew a sturdy stool of common wintercreeper, both spots of springlike green even in the midst of the snow.
The bottomland space on the left of the path, beyond the dogbane and cutleaf coneflower, was filled with asters-white wood aster, calice, heath and small white aster-daisy fleabane and several goldenrods. In the damp spot where underground water from a broken pipe or underground spring keeps a small puddle most of the time, lady’s earrings and lady’s tearthumb or red-leg, the smartweed with the dark triangle on its leaves, grew luxuriantly.
In the median strip between the two paths, a few stalks of meadow or spiked lobelia and Venus’s-looking-glass grew among the self-heal and grasses.
Beyond the fleabane and asters, several stalks of the blue lettuce (lactuca floridana) towered above wine raspberry canes and hoary tick-trefoils. At a bend in the path, a small stream flowered from an old pipe sunk in the ground (either from a leak or an underground spring). About this stream-head was a small chokecherry with other shrubs. The birds delighted in this shallow, running water for bathing and drinking; and in the chokecherry with its long white fingers of bloom in May and dark berries in the fall.
Beyond the “water-hole,” the path turned as the steep slope came close to the creek, giving scant room even for the path itself. At its foot, dogwood saplings, low-bush blueberry and a plant of American poison hemlock crowded for a foothold. The creek side was lined with ironwood, redbud and witch hazel.
The stream and path bends again opposite the mouth of Brashear Run. From here to Carroll Avenue bridge, both stream and path take a steeper pitch. Before the installation of the new sewer pipe (1963) in the streambed, the creek had been a series of cascades over rocks and ledges. The path beside it still descends in three or four steps over rock ledges with comparatively level stretches between. At the bend, starry campion was among the first midsummer flowers to bloom, the only stand along the Sligo. Fortunately, it has spread back up the slope; so it is presently secure. Opposite the path was a patch of agrimony. The upper rock step was matted with partridgeberry vine. At the base, by the first tall tree, grew a few stalks of broom rape, a ghostly plant which has no chlorophyll. Near it a few plants of thimbleweed and alumroot with bronze-green blooms held sway.
Below the ledge, a narrow strip of level ground was covered with hog-peanut vines, and over them, two or three tick-trefoils, mainly naked-stem and whorled. Hidden below was a single plant of butterfly pea, its orchid-like flowers sheltered from all but the most prying eyes. On the right, between the path and the creek, there is a triangle of ground. This spaces was filled with plants of arrowwood, deutsia, smooth hydrangea, maple-leaved viburnum and other shrubs.
Near the end of the level stretch, witch-hazel bushes draped with grapevine (almost meeting over the path) made a cave of greenery where catbirds and cardinals nested and horsebalm flourished. Out from the cave, white avens, white vervain, elephant’s foot, wild strawberry and Indian strawberry crowded the path’s edges. Here is a section of the slope near the Washington Sanitarium with no tall trees, but covered with brush and blackberry canes with a single dwarf blackberry vine at the edge. The canes remain, at least some of them, but the dwarf blackberry vine is gone as is the single tall swamp sunflower that marked the lower edge of this narrowest spot in the path. Here the path was barely “footprint wide” for several steps. On the very rim was a row of pale St. Johnswort.
Just beyond was a double rock step by a sewer manhole. Here was another, smaller bed of lady’s earrings and Spanish needles with their lacy fern-like leaves and tiny gold stars, and later with their barbed needles. From here to the bridge the path was lined with goldenrods (early and the elm-leaved), wavy -leaved and heart-leaved asters, and pokeweed with dark red berries, a chosen food for many birds. Among these, a few stalks of ironweed and Joe-Pye weed towered. Here too was another less desirable plant growing in profusion -the poison ivy-some of which is left. A strikingly beautiful double-file viburnum which grew on a widened spot between path and creek was dug out.
Many of these plants mentioned here have not been found anywhere else on the Sligo. Most of the others are rare plants in the park. This is an example of the uncertainty of supposed wildlife and wildflower sanctuaries.