If you like vegetation and trees that thrive in wet areas, here is the perfect place for you. It's the Little Big Inlet Wetland Preserve on Sea Lion Drive in Mayville. This is one of the smaller (4.3 acres) Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy properties.
The Little Big Preserve is easy to find, just north of Chautauqua Lake, because there is a big sign right in front of it. No area is provided where you can leave your car, so street parking is necessary. The first hurdle is a fairly deep, wide ditch with water between the road and the preserve. You can by-pass that by entering on the very western edge. Being careful to not intrude on the neighbor's grass would be considerate.
A fairly dry wood is close to the road. Walking among the beech, tulip, red maple, and ash trees without much undergrowth is pleasant. Dreaming of spring might be induced by spotting the winter leaves of goldthread and cinnamon ferns. The parasitic plant might be beechdrops, since beech trees are in this area.
There are 50 species of sphagnum moss in the United States.
Photo by Ann Beebe
You'll definitely need boots in the back of the preserve. Orange ribbons clearly mark the perimeter of the property; these are great for helping you keep from trespassing on the neighbor's land. The further out you adventure, the deeper becomes the water. For under-tall people, jumping from one clump of vegetation to another is necessary.
Birch, ash, hemlock, black cherry and poplar seem healthy. Royal ferns seem to like wet habitats. Other plants include bur reed, button bush, swamp milkweed, winterberry and sphagnum moss.
There are four major groups of sphagnum mosses listed in ''Flora North America 2007.'' The first, Acutifolia, are the plants that form mounds above the water and are often orange or red. The second, Cuspidata, are green plants in lawns, depressions or in water. The magellanicum includes the plants that make up large mounds and have leaves with tips that look like hoods. The Subsecunda includes mosses that range from green to yellows, but no reds. This group favors depressions, lawns or water. Located in this preserve were green sphagnums, so maybe they were in the Cuspidata or Subsecunda groups.
The sphagnum mosses in bogs have been harvested by folks who sell them to florists. They are, in turn, used for decoration and packing of such items as flower bulbs and bare roots. Unfortunately, there is danger that industry will deplete the thousands of acres of this plant.
Warning: sphagnum moss is thought to get a fungal disease which can be transmitted to people. This occurs when the infected moss contacts a person's bare skin. Be careful and wear gloves and long sleeves when you are working with this material.
Another interesting specimen in this preserve is the buttonbush. Its whorled, shiny leaves are thick like leather. At this time of year, one would be lucky to find the brown flower balls of seeds. These provide a feast for birds, rodents and animals. The seeds might spread by falling into the water and settling in a new spot. Moth and butterfly aficionados should look in this shrub for the big Promethean moth's cocoon in winter.
The roots and bark of the buttonbush were utilized by Native Americans and pioneers to relieve coughs, kidney stones and fevers. Actually, we now know that the leaves from this plant kill farm animals. Take heed.
Good things come in small packages. This tiny property is a challenging walk, but well worth it. Just be careful. A walking stick and tall boots would be in order.