On a recent visit to Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve, our land guru Sandy spotted something very exciting: a colony of 200 Hottonia inflata, a beautiful, feathery flowering plant with densely whorled leaves that floats on the water. This species is endangered in New Jersey, and one that we had never seen here in the years that we’ve been working at and observing this site. New Jersey is one of the eleven states where Hottonia inflata is critically imperiled, meaning that there are five or fewer occurrences here. So this is a significant find indeed.
The most exciting aspect of finding Hottonia inflata, or featherfoil as it’s commonly known, is that it wouldn’t be here if not for the restoration The Land Conservancy has done on the wetlands at the headwaters of the West Brook. This spot is a valley of forested wetlands, a marsh, and a floodplain that was heavily excavated in the 1950s. The worst of the damage was a ditch 15 feet deep was dug to channel water off the property, drying out the floodplain and disconnecting the West Brook from its wetlands. The floodplain serves to regulate water feeding the West Brook throughout the year, to prevent floods in the spring and drought in the fall.
In 2020, we undertook a massive restoration to plug the ditch by installing “beaver dam analogs”—rocks from the property piled with logs, dirt, and sticks to imitate a beaver dam. We reconnected the stream to its wetlands and then stepped back to let nature take over. We were hoping that native species of plants and animals would return as the ecosystem became healthier, which makes this year’s featherfoil bloom especially sweet. We can’t wait to see what pops up next!