What I did Last Summer

(Unedited version)
Originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of
Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine

I've been sitting here staring at my computer for days trying to finish up my October column on decorations for the planted aquarium but all I can think about is the fun I had finding aquatic plants on a long road trip to my family reunion in July.

It was a three day drive from Mesa, Arizona to Sandpoint, Idaho. Three long days of driving with my husband and 3 youngest children, many stops and long breaks in motels. I had hoped to get some chances to stop on the drive up to see what plants might be in the local waters on the trip up but it just didn't work out.

The reunion was at my Mom's this year and more than 60 people came from all over the United States. Mom lives on a wetlands area just south of Sandpoint, Idaho. It's beautiful with many marsh plants to photograph but not many aquatic plants since most wetlands dry up in the summer. I don't get up north much and really was hoping to be able to at least get some photos of aquatic plants growing naturally, we were by several lakes and rivers.

After a nice visit with my family over the weekend, we got to start the long 3 day drive home. We started late on the first day after a breakfast at Mom's.

The first stop was in Northern Idaho at the Cataldo Mission. The mission is the oldest standing building in Idaho, built between 1848 and 1853 by Catholic missionaries and the local Native Americans from the Coeur d'Alene tribe. The mission, grounds and parish house are all a state park now. We stopped and walked up to look at the church and parish house.

Behind the mission was a steep hill. At the bottom was a portion of the water covered with yellow water lilies. The water here is part of the Coeur d'Alene river, it flows into Lake Coeur d'Alene and then flows out as the Spokane River. A few miles down it flows right behind the house I spent a good deal of my childhood growing up in, in Millwood, Washington.

I would have loved to go down and see what else was growing with the water lilies, but my family was anxiously waiting for me to hurry up and get to the van so we could make sandwiches for lunch. I was trying to appease them because my real goal was just a short way down the road where I'd seen a heavily planted back water close to the road. While my husband made sandwiches I peaked down in the trees near the picnic area at the park. There was once obviously water there but most of it had dried up and now there was a small puddle and quite a bit of rust colored mud. I didn't see anything left living in the water.

When I was a kid we would spend whole days as a family doing nothing but checking out the local native forests, lakes, rivers and creeks, but I married a city boy and have been living the city life for over 17 years. I knew I'd be lucky to have 15 minutes in the water. We had a lot of driving ahead of us to keep on schedule. This could be the only chance I had the entire trip, so I gave up quickly on the dried up area, went back up to the parking lot, jumped in the van and suggested we drive up the road and let me explore a bit while everyone ate their sandwiches.

In this area the water is spread out. There are a lot of different bodies of water and many of them have somewhat different characteristics, making a lot of slightly different ecosystems for the animals that live there. This is referred to as environmental patchiness and allows for a more diverse range of plants and animals in an area.

The Old Cataldo Mission is on a high hill. If you look behind it there were the water lilies. Look out across Interstate 90 to the north the water was wide and still with lot's of visible floating plants. We went down the road back to the west. I had seen water there as we drove by and it looked like some areas had aquatic plants.

I saw a good spot but the bank was a bit far and steep, unfortunately going ahead a bit we did find some easier access but the plants thinned out a great deal. Back we went and down the sliding rocks I went to see what plants were growing in the water below.

Eureka! It looked like there were several interesting plants. I rolled up my capris and tried to balance myself. The water was full of sticks from the bushes and trees that grew at the edge. Under those was a smelly ooze that sunk in from 3 to 6 inches or more, depending on where you stepped. I had taken my sandals off at the waters edge. I wasn't really dressed for this little expedition but nothing was going to keep me from it now that I was there. The sticks could be quite sharp under the water and I managed to get a small cut on the back of my leg. I decided I better put the camera back on shore and go out and investigate with out it. I've taken several unexpected dips in my life and didn't want to risk my new camera.

I found several Potamogeton, these are probably native plants. There are many species of Potamogeton in the United States and they can be hard to identify exactly but they included P. natans and P. zosteriformis. I have a special fondness for the Potamogetons. These can be very diverse looking plants and there are many of them around the world. Many are quite easy to grow in the aquarium.

Elodea canadensis were also plentiful where I was wading. The plants were covered with brown mulm and algae but underneath they were dark green with red on the stems at the nodes. E canadensis can be differentiated from Egeria densa by it's smaller leaves and number of number of at each node. E. canadensis has 4 to 6b while E. densa has 3. E. canadensis is a native plant but is considered invasive in some places in the United States. It has also invaded other countries and been an extreme problem.

There were also a lot of scouring rushes growing out of the water and tall grasses. The more swiftly running waters of the river were further out and I couldn't see plants growing in it from where I was. I knew I shouldn't push my luck with my families patience and I hoped to be able to get another stop in before we got back home. I decided to go back to the car. I waded back to my shoes and camera. My poor feet got pulled out of the black stinky mud. I tried to rinse them off the best I could in the murky shallow water near the shore then pull them out on to the wet, sinking, stinky mud just off the shore. It was pretty much a wasted effort to try to clean my feet off.

I hurried back to the van where my husband and children were desperately waiting and we set off down the road again. I excitedly talked about the plants I saw and photographed. I don't know, but my husband didn't seem interested in talking about the possible species of aquatic plants I'd managed to photograph while collecting black stinky mud between my toes. I didn't talk about the mud while we were still in the van. The smell is a bit difficult to get off without a couple good scrubbings and I figured it was best not to bring it up in case it had been noticed already.

Our next stop was at a rest area in Montana near the Clark Fork River. The river was named after William Clark who explored it on the return trip of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806. The river runs swiftly along a great deal of the drive along Interstate 90. Where the river runs fast there aren't many plants growing, but there are some still water areas where many aquatic and marsh plants grow.

This rest area was next to one of those still spots. The river was fenced to keep livestock off the Interstate. Fortunately there was an access area for fishing and floating, both popular sports along the Clark Fork I've enjoyed myself in the past.

There was a good trail down to the river through a forest of 4 and 5 foot native willows. The ground was covered with rounded river rocks at the waters edge and several men were swimming. Small rushes, a species of Eleocharis, grew in the sand between the rocks along the rivers shore. Smaller areas were dominated by feathery horsetails. In the fast water of the river proper there really aren't any noticeable plants growing, but the still waters on the side were full of aquatic plants. I hurried to an area further down the river, where there was a small still inlet. This was filled with several grassy plants, including Potamogeton and Eleocharis species.

I also noticed some very interesting plants growing on the shore line that looked very moss like. They had small white blooms and it took me some time to realize they were Cabomba. These were also growing in the water and blooming. The ones growing submerged looked like they were having a hard time and were covered with a white fungus or bacterial growth. Though C. caroliniana is a native plant to the United States, these plants originated in the South and are not native to the north west where they're considered noxious weeds.

The substrate in this location was similar to the other place I had stopped, very muddy, black, stinky and squishy, but with hard rocks instead of sharp branches. I managed to sink in the mud before I got my sandals off this time. Fortunately I managed to keep from dunking myself or my camera. After wading around and getting a few photos I grabbed my sandals and camera and headed back to the van. I stopped where the men had been before. Apparently after watching a mad women playing in the black mud they had decided to move on to a different location on the river. I washed off my sandals and feet in the cleaner, flowing part of the river. The only plants here were the rushes and horsetails growing along the shore. Caddis fly larva were clustered on the rocks in the river and small fish fry darted along the edges. I put on my sandals and headed for the van and the 3 day ride back to the desert.

There are many beautiful and exotic places in the world where lovely plants and fish live and grow, some of them are right next to us in our annual travels. Look around you to discover those special places near you. It doesn't have to be a long or difficult experience to find them. Even in the short time our family took breaks during a long road trip I was able to get 2 great experiences in native aquatic plants. We're making plans to try to find places where there may be aquatic plants to photograph here closer to home, though finding them in the deserts of Arizona may be a bit more tricky.

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Welcome to the Jungle | Into The Forest | The Creepy Crawlies | A Clearing in the Thicket | Algae Eaters for the Planted Aquarium
North American Natives | Why things go wrong Pt 1 | Why things go wrong Pt 2 (Algae) | Algae Eating Shrimp | Lo-Tech Tanks
Welcome to the Fish Room | The Stemmed Plants | Mosses | A Livebearer Biotope | Planted Tank Social | The Genus Hygrophila | Cyanobacteria
Easy Plants | What I Did Last Summer | Decorations in the Planted Tank | Botany-An Introduction to Plant Biology | Botany-Anatomy of a plant
Botany-How Plants Work | Easy Rosettes | Going High-Tech | Floating Plants | Dealing with Success | Bringing the Outside In | Vallisneria
Hair Algae | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 1 | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 2 | Liverworts in the Aquarium | Elements of Design
Planted Aquarium Maintenance | More Mosses | Invaders | Ferns in the Aquarium | Setting up a Planted Aquarium
Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest | Proserpinaca | Hardware for the Planted Aquarium | Rotala | Neocaridina Shrimp | Lo-tech Tank Tips


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