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EYES ON THE ENVIRONMENT

Flower treasures of Lake Babcock

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“The truth is, however, that there is nothing very “normal” about nature. Once upon a time there were no flowers at all” Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

It is that time of summer where Nebraska’ largest flowering plant is coming to full bloom in our own Platte County backyard. Flowers in the group that whisper the secret of creation definitely should include Nelumbo lutea, American lotus. This is one of our local natural spectacles that should not be missed in August at Lake Babcock.

Lake Babcock, is the storage water body for Loup Power District's Columbus Power House. This once historically sought after water body for all kinds of recreation has been accumulating sediments for over 80 years now and provides perfect depth and subsurface soil and hydrology conditions for one of nature’s most beautiful aquatic plants, the American lotus. Many other emergent species thrive there, but when the lotus is flowering, it provides a spectacular site.

Lotus can be found in Missouri River backwaters (like Carter Lake) and near Calamus Reservoir, otherwise Lake Babcock supports one of the largest lotus communities in our region. The Babcock plant community consists of a growing and expanding colony of two emergent species, broad and narrow leaf cattails, with varying hybrids of the two species. Another common emergent is arrowhead, Sagittaria latifolia which grows prolifically along the canal banks and quiet backwaters. Less obvious is a plant called Alisma.

These aquatic plant communities provide a unique combination of aquatic plants that stabilize sediment, improve water quality and provide a home to a multitude of aquatic animals. Most purely aquatic species in Nebraska and the Great Plains are difficult to find in flowing waters.

As this summer marks the 25th anniversary of Bob Kaul and I officially documenting lotus in Babcock with a voucher specimen categorized and preserved in a herbarium cabinet in Bessey Herbarium in Lincoln, I reminisce about the plant collecting Dr. Kaul and I were fortunate to do together across the state of Nebraska spanning 4 decades. His teachings and demeanor meant enough to me to dedicate a book to him describing the most common and unusual aquatic plants remaining in our state, to be published, hopefully in early 2023 on aquatic plants.

We recently helped Loup Power District with an America the Beautiful Challenge grant through The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to convert some of the sediment filled portions of Lake Babcock that are choked with cattails and restore the area with more open water habitats for greater recreational and wildlife use. Some of our intent is to develop boardwalks and observation piers to improve fishing, but also allow residents to get real close to all plants and animals of the area.

And in closing, Mr. Eiseley also said, “If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water”. Have a great week!

Michael P. Gutzmer, PhD is principal and owner of New Century Environmental LLC and provides environmental consulting services in the Great Plains. NCE works with water, wetlands, habitat development threatened and endangered species and pollution problems. Please email me at mgutzmer@newcenturyenvironmental.com.

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