Walk out the b0ardwalk into the marsh

View into Black Flats Marsh from the boardwalk at Taylor-Bray Farm
Click to enlarge

The view you see is largely what Richard and Ruth Taylor saw when they first came to this isolated farm in 1639. The Chapin Beach dunes are to the west or left and beyond them, Cape Cod Bay. The Town of Dennis, once part of Yarmouth, is on the far side of Chase Garden Creek which runs through the marsh. In the spring or summer, you may see osprey nesting on a platform in the marsh about 100 yards to the north of the boardwalk.

The marsh has been a contributor to the success of the farm. In 1896, when the farm was purchased by the Bray brothers, the farm comprise 50 acres of uplands and adjacent marshlands capable of producing six tons of fresh and salt hay. Saltworks were maintained along the edge of the marsh in the 19th century. A section of the back wall of the barn is covered with salt infused boards recovered from these saltworks.

This salt marsh ecosystem is more than something to look at. All along the coast, marshes provide wildlife and fish habitat, filter pollution preventing it from entering the watershed, and can protect nearby areas from flooding and storm surge. Salt marshes are able to store more carbon per unit area than forests because they spend much time being wet and when things are wet, they decompose more slowly releasing carbon more slowly.

Salt marsh ecosystems need to fluctuate between wet and dry. Standing water kills plants, allowing mosquito breeding areas to expand and destroying habitat for endangered birds. Those strait narrow ditches, called runnels, you see in the marsh are designed to drain standing water between tides. The Town of Yarmouth clears the runnels near the farm frequently to maintain good drainage.

As impressive as the marsh was and is, however, all is not well. Much of the plant life you see is not native to this area and that is a problem.

Marsh Invaders

Invasive species are plants and animals that are introduced to an area other than their place of origin and are capable of moving aggressively into a habitat, eventually wiping out the native species. Invasive species lack the natural controls that limit their population in their native range.  Often invasive vegetation begins blooming before the surrounding native species, which promotes the take over of areas where native vegetation once dominated.  Here at Taylor-Bray Farm, there are several invasive species that have taken over. 

Although there are Phragmites (Common Reed) species native to the United States, invasive strains were introduced from Europe in the late 1800s.  These species lack natural predators and have very efficient growth habits. This has resulted in the takeover of the area around the boardwalk.

Invasive Phragmites degrades wetlands and coastal areas by creating tall, dense stands that crowd out native plants and animals. Phragmites can grow to be 15 feet tall with a hollow, bamboo-like stem. A distinctive purplish-brown plume appears in late July, which turns gray and fluffy in August.

In addition to Phragmites, several other invasive plants are present.  Other species that have damaging effects at the farm include Oriental Bittersweet, Bush Honeysuckle, and Brier.  Because they are not controlled, these species can dominate the farm and the surrounding area.

Oriental Bittersweet is a deciduous, climbing, woody vine that can grow up to 60 feet long and can have a diameter of up to 4 inches. Vines often completely cover other vegetation and out-compete large trees

Stop the Spread

There are several ways that an invasive species can become established in a new area and there are several things that can be done to help prevent the establishment of invasive species.  Some easy solutions include landscaping with plants native to the local area, never transporting water, animals, or plants from one body of water to another, becoming educated about the various invasives in your area, and informing others of the harmful affects invasives have on the ecosystem.

Taylor-Bray Farm Preservation Association
P.O. Box 66 – 108 Bray Farm Road North, Yarmouth Port, MA 02675