Wambaw Creek, located in the Francis Marion National Forest, is one of those special places one can paddle to enjoy nature. On a late spring day, we launched our kayaks at Wambaw Bridge Landing, paddled to the Santee River and up Chicken Creek, and back for our 5 mile trip (for location, description and paddle times see: Earhart, R. Kayak Charleston: Trips Within 1 Hour of Charleston. Pp.88). The banks of the creek are wooded with overhanging trees including red maple, tupelo gum and particularly bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), which is one of the few conifers that lose their needles in winter, hence the name “bald.”
The overhanging trees provided nesting grounds for yellow-crowned night heron. These relatively small greyish herons have black heads with white cheek patches and yellowish plumes. Their bodies are stocky and legs are short compared to other wading birds. Night herons feed on small crustaceans, such as crayfish and crabs. Their nests are made of loosely knitted sticks literally stuck in the tree branches. We were lucky to witness the young just beginning to fledge from the nest, testing their wings out by hopping around in the tree limbs.
The understory included buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, a native plant that shows off its “buttons” year-round. The spring flowers are rounded globes of white fluff with spikes emitting from the center, giving the appearance of a pincushion. Rounded seed heads form in summer and stay attached throughout the winter. Since buttonbush has continuous seasonal interest, it can be used in native plant gardens. Wildlife is also attracted to buttonbush. Hummingbirds, bees and the swallowtail butterfly seek out the nectar of the flowers and several types of birds, including robins and kingbirds, eat the seeds.
Another of my favorite wetland plants is pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata, with its spike of purple-blue flowers and heart shaped leaves (species name cordata is based on the leaf shape). Dragonflies, bees, and butterflies are especially attracted to the flowers and the edible seeds have a nut like flavor.
Along the creek banks of the Wambaw we saw alligators and turtles basking in the sunny spots and a snake which dropped out of a tree into water near my kayak. The wildness of the creek was a wonderful counter to the hustle and bustle of the city and I welcomed the contrast.