Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Northeast Region
2145 Key Wallace Dr
Cambridge, MD 21613
(410) 228-2677

Plants on the Refuge

Eaglet in loblolly pine nest. Credit: Mary Konchar

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge protects large expanses of diverse forest and marshes.  A large part of this diversity is driven by the influence of water.  The depth of water, the length of time the area is flooded, and water salinity all define the type of plants, and animals, found in these habitats. 

Blackwater NWR protects some of the largest contiguous forests in Dorchester County.  Forested habitats on the refuge are primarily forested wetlands dominated by loblolly pines, sweetgum, black gum, and red maple with swamp chestnut oak, water oak and willow oak less common.  Where the forest edges are slowly transition to marsh, the forest community tends to become dominated by loblolly pine, one of the few tree species tolerant of brackish water and extended periods of flooding.  As sea level rises and flooding becomes more prolonged, even the loblolly pines perish and the area becomes marsh or open water.  Dead trees with marsh beneath them can be seen in many areas of the refuge, a constant reminder of the changing landscape.

Loblolly pines are important to many species including the bald eagle, which uses the trees as perches and nesting sites. Also, seeds of the loblolly are an important food source for the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel population. Blackwater Refuge protects the largest remaining population of the squirrel with about 1000-1500 animals living at the Refuge.

Among the many other useful plants at Blackwater Refuge is the wax myrtle or northern bayberry, which grows close to the marsh edge. Birds feed on wax myrtle berries when other food supplies are depleted.

Also, a woody vine called common greenbriar serves many purposes for wildlife. White-tailed deer feed on its leaves and songbirds enjoy the dark blue berries. Also, birds, rabbits and other small rodents use the dense thickets for protective cover.

The refuge‚Äôs marshes tend to be dominated by plant species tolerant of brackish water.  Typical wetland plants found along the Blackwater River include Olney three-square, salt marsh bulrush, marsh-hay cordgrass, salt grass, smooth cordgrass and big cordgrass.  Black needlerush can be abundant in certain areas of the refuge. 

The Refuge is noted for having the northernmost expanses of three-square-bulrush-dominated marshes in the country.  Olney three-square blooms from June into September. The tubers of three-square are an important food source for ducks, geese, and muskrat. In addition, waterfowl feed on the plant's seeds, muskrats use the leaves for building their lodges, and songbirds and ducks use the densely growing stands as protective cover for nesting.

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Last updated: October 7, 2010