Photo by Barbara Yeaman
Obby Fuller of Milanville explores an ice meadow a mile below Skinnerís Falls, on March 14. (click for larger image)

Ice meadows. I’ve been told–and have had cause this year to reflect on it–that low-lying islands and shoreline on the Delaware River are classified as “ice meadows.” They’re places where grinding by ice has profoundly modified the habitat.

Absent the work of ice, belts of trees would be contiguous with the water surface, as on southern rivers. But pummeled by tons of churning ice each year, the Delaware’s floodplain has been stripped of trees and made hospitable to annual and perennial grasses and associated plants. In exceptional years, high water even propels chunks of ice into the tree line, leaving peeled or gouged bark that persists for years.

An occasional tree that survives in an ice meadow will be stunted and gnarled, or a dwarf, prostrate plant like “sand cherry.” This rare plant, which resembles a woody vine, favors ice-scoured sandy terraces that are hostile to other species.

The ice also profoundly modifies local climates. Covering the floodplain until April or later, it shortens the growing season of plants beneath its mantle, and prevents access by birds and animals.

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