April 7, 2012

Springs, Seeps, and Streams in Concord

Brister's Spring
While Concord’s famed three rivers, marshy expanses, and kettlehole bogs and ponds often draw the greatest attention and adoration, the spring season can be quintessentially found beside it’s springs, seeps, and streams. These waters bring the earliest displays of long-awaited green to the seasonally gray landscape.

Brister's Spring percolates out from the side of a gravelly hill, or glacial kame, in the southwest corner of Concord's Town Forest.  Thoreau frequented the spring for refreshment and reflection, and during a more studious moment, measured it's water temperature at 49º on June 30, 1860.  In the early spring, this is sufficient warmth, combined with the penetrating sunlight, to inspire luxuriant plant growth.  From a distance, floating carpets of young watercress leaves stand out in the dark pools.  On closer inspection, many take root -- companioned with skunk cabbage -- in the deep rich muck that lines the seep.
Watercress carpets and iron deposits color the seep
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) takes root with skunk cabbage in the deep muck
Brister's Spring winds its way down slope to water the kettlehole that's now Fairyland Pond.  In this protected, sun-warmed hollow, the smooth alder (Alnus serrulata) opens early and the buds of highbush blueberries and a lone Japanese cherry tree add pink appointments to the monochrome surroundings.


In Concord's Estabrook Woods, spring flowers are opening very early this spring, due to the heat spike we experienced in mid-March.  Blueberry blossoms (Vaccinium corymbosum) popped on 4.4.12, along the beaver swamp southwest of Hutchins Pond.  A yellow canopy of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) blossoms, already fully open, hangs over the stream courses and trailsides.

Highbush blueberry blossom, 2-3 weeks early
Tiny spicebush flowers, 3.4.12
Estabrook Woods, Concord's "great wild tract" of land, as Thoreau called it, is a stonewall-laced and boulder strewn second-growth forest, with rare traces of its past in a landscape that has remained virtually untouched for the past two centuries.

Stonewall crossing Saw Mill stream, north of mill site
Saw Mill brook just below mill site
Near the Thoreau family's old saw mill site (the old pencil factory) and its sparkling spring waters, grows an expanse of skunk cabbage and watercress, interspersed with exquisitely pleated false hellebore (Veratrum viride) leaves just beginning to unfold.
False hellebore buds

False hellebore unfolding, 4.4.12
I went walking in Estabrook in search of one of my favorite spring flowers, the delicate bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), likely introduced here by Minot Pratt in the mid-1800's.  Though nearly ten days early for its customary annual debut, I found a small colony of buds and blossoms in the area of streams and seeps.  It is easy to feel kinship with this delicate wildflower whose prominent veins run with a blood red fluid and whose leaves swaddle its delicate petals until just before opening. Thoreau makes no mention of wild bloodroot in Concord, though he received a box of its fresh blossoms from a botanist friend in Brattleboro, VT -- the place where I first made its acquaintance many years ago.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
I closed the week with a walk down past the Andromeda Ponds along the Well Head Meadow drainage into Fairhaven bay.  This dark, damp forest seep was lit with the first bright blossoms of marsh marigolds (Cathra palustris).  This same flower can also be seen now in damp basins within Estabrook Woods, the town forest, and Great Meadows NWR.



  1. Beautiful photos and interesting post, Cherrie. Makes me miss those green New England Springs...

  2. A beautiful tour of Concord spring Cherrie. Makes my heart sing. Thank you!

  3. Super photography and great text. Now I need a way to carry this with me into the field. Maybe time for a smart phone.

  4. Wonderful descriptions of plant life! Thanks for sharing your sensitive eye.