Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Swamp Privet

Each spring, swamps of the southeastern U.S. are awash in the prolific, fragrant yellow flowers of the swamp privet. A member of the olive family, swamp privet is the first shrub to bloom in swampy wetlands. The simple flowers are long gone, but they've been replaced with deep purple fruits that fall into the swamp with the slightest touch, providing nourishment to waterfowl and fish.

Due to the drought, the privets never produced fruit last year. This year, swamp privets have had wet feet since September and the plants are loaded. Wood ducks and mallards in particular appreciate the long, fleshy drupes of the shrubs, as well as the cover provided by the plant's low branches. Catfish, too, eat swamp privet fruit; in fact, seeds eaten by catfish are capable of germinating. While common in South America, this is the first example in North America of a fish dispersing seeds. It implies a direct dependence between aquatic and terrestrial communities. These subtle interdependences give important implications for the management of bottomland hardwood systems.

In a short sighted move on the part of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 4,000 acres of swamp privet-buttonbush swamp outside of Monroe, Louisiana are being cleared in an effort to make "more habitat" for waterfowl. Lakes free of vegetation are the ultimate goal in this exercise, which will utterly destroy the swamp, the very habitat waterfowl need. The backwards management of natural communities throughout Louisiana makes me grateful to be working in Missouri.

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