How to Recognize It
You can find long, narrow stands of the Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest along the banks and floodplains of Rock Creek and other streams in the park. Temporary flooding is no problem for the trees in this community, which include tuliptree, American sycamore, box-elder, river birch, green ash, and American elm. Understory plants include northern spicebush, wood-nettles (don’t touch!), and spring wildflowers. The banks are often sandy and stony; the floodplains beyond have fine-textured soils containing nutrients deposited by floods.
Can you find this combination of key features?
Identifying This Natural Community
- Scaly-barked American sycamore or river birch trees with exfoliating (peeling) bark
- Tuliptree, straight and tall
- Northern spicebush (leaves fragrant when crushed); or American bladdernut (shrubs) or box-elder (understory trees) with 3-parted leaves.
- Stinging Canadian wood-nettle (don’t touch)
- Showy spring wildflowers such as Virginia bluebells or yellow trout-lily
- The appearance of flood-scoured ground or water-stained, grayed leaf-litter
- Located near a stream capable of flooding this area (look for animals using the stream)
- An eye-catching but unfortunate aspect of this community in Rock Creek Park—early spring carpets of yellow-flowering lesser celandine*, a non-native invasive plant in D.C.
If so, welcome to Rock Creek Park’s Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest.
Not sure? Check out Tips to Distinguish (below), or the Compare Natural Communities tool.