Mattawoman Creek

Photos and narrative by Jim Long


Egret amid Lotus blooms at tidal-freshwater Mattawoman Creek, Charles Co., MD, photographed by Jim Long, August 16, 2007

An example of the botanically rich tidal-freshwater marshes of Mattawoman Creek. Submerged aquatic vegetation breaks the surface in the foreground. Behind the Great Egret is a “pickeral weed-arrow arum low tidal freshwater marsh,” perhaps a locally abundant community in eastern Maryland, but uncommon globally (G3-Nature Serve). Wild Rice towers above, and the yellow blooms beyond are American Lotus, ranked S2 (“imperiled”) in Maryland. Mattawoman is one of three sites in the state where natural populations of this emergent are found. Further removed are high-marsh communities, that in fall will dazzle with blooming Bidens. And in the background is a riverside woods – symbolizing the importance of a forested watershed in maintaining the water quality that makes such high-quality marshes possible, not to mention the most balanced fish food-web and most productive fishery in the Chesapeake Bay, enjoyed by unusually large populations of Herons and Egrets.


Photo of Lotus and Rice
Lotus field & Rice at tidal Mattawoman Creek, Charles Co., MD, photographed by Jim Long, August 16, 2007

Even when the American Lotus is not blooming, the circular, bluish-green elephantine leaves stand out in the tidal freshwater marshes of Mattawoman Creek. The more common Wild Rice nods above.


Photo of Lyre Leaf Oak along Mattawoman Creek
Lyre Leaf Oak at non-tidal Mattawoman Creek, Charles Co., MD, photographed by Jim Long, May 13, 2007

A venerable Overcup Oak, Quercus lyrata, anchors the bank of the fluvial portion of Mattawoman Creek. Also known as the Swamp Post Oak or Lyre-leaf Oak, this elegant specimen measures 13 feet in circumference at breast height. Overcup refers to the acorn’s cap, or cup, that nearly encases the entire nut. Maryland is at the northern edge of the Overcup’s range and was once ranked on the state RT&E list. Unfortunately, this specimen lies in the path of a proposed new highway in Charles County, the ill-conceived extension of the county’s Cross County Connector through the Mattawoman Watershed. Please see for more information.


Photo of Cedarville Marsh with Ironweed
Ironweed at Cedarville marsh in non-tidal Mattawoman Creek, Prince Georges Co., MD, photographed by Jim Long, early October, 1997

A successional beaver meadow in the upper reaches of fluvial Mattawoman Creek near Cedarville State Forest shows late-blooming bonesets and, in the foreground, a New York Ironweed. Beavers once engineered habitat variety such as seen here throughout much of the continental United States.


Photo of Cardinal Flower
Cardinal flower at tidal Mattawoman Creek, Charles Co., MD, photographed by Jim Long, August 16, 2007

The open habitat in a tidal freshwater estuary supports many moisture-loving flowering plants, including the occasional Cardinal Flower, also a habitué of streamsides.


Photo of Shadbush along Mattawoman Creek
Shadbush along tidal Mattawoman Creek, Charles Co., MD, photographed by Jim Long, April 8, 2007

A Shadbush arcs over tannin-stained Mattawoman Creek near head of tide. While not necessarily a riverside tree, the Shadbush is named for its time of bloom around the start of the migratory American Shad spawning runs that once surged with great schools throughout the rivers of the east coast. The location of this fine specimen is especially appropriate, as Hickory Shad, a close cousin to the American, visit this reach of stream in April and May. Mattawoman exhibits unusually large numbers of American Shad as well, as stocking with fry protectively raised from local eggs gradually increases numbers in the Potomac River, even as populations remain depressed throughout the eastern seaboard. As with all migratory animals, anadromous fish like the Shads, which live in the ocean but must spawn in freshwater, are threatened by a human-dominated environment.


Photo of Tickseed Sunflowers along Mattawoman Creek
Tickseed sunflowers at tidal Mattawoman Creek, Charles Co., MD, photographed by Jim Long, October 2, 2007

In fall, Tickseed Sunflowers, or Bidens, seem to dominate the high-marsh habitat throughout tidal freshwater Mattawoman Creek. Among the flowers are tree snags that have succumbed to gradually rising water levels, possibly a consequence of the sea-level rise observed over the past century. Increasing rates of rise are predicted as a consequence of global warming. Climate change may bring big changes to freshwater tidal marshes through flooding – many marshes are thwarted in migrating by urbanized encroachment – and saltwater incursion. Non-tidal waters are also at risk, as larger predicted weather fluctuations exacerbate the flood & low-flow “flashiness” that urbanization brings to our streams.

mattawoman lotus bed

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

August 11, 2014

The month of July features a special blooming of the yellow lotuses at Mattawoman Creek, which boasts one of the largest fields of American Lotuses along the western side of the Chesapeake Bay.

There was no better way to see this sacred flower, than from a kayak, as a group of 26 kayakers recently discovered in this photo.

Mattawoman translates as “where one goes pleasantly.” [The river is one of] the most productive spawning grounds for migratory fish such as hickory shad and yellow/white perch throughout the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a rich and vital resource that always presents opportunities to view wildlife, including egrets, herons, wood ducks, ospreys, beavers, tree swallows, and hawks. But it’s also common to see American bald eagles and American green tree frogs.

—Dom J. (DJ) Manalo, Rockville, MD



Thanks to Patrisearts:

My paddle felt familiar in my hands, even after 18 months without setting sail in my lovely battered plastic kayak. A twice-postponed trip came about, at last, on a perfect day.

This is an easy to have a boat, really. It’s plastic, it floats even when full of water. No ports or holes in the hull to leak, nothing to rot. Very little gear required.Just get it on and off the car, drag it to the water, shove off and…. ahhh.

There is nothing like that glide, the feel sound and smell of the water all around you.  Such a smooth flowing sensation, and the sound of the dip, pull, swirl, lift, dripping, and repeat again, finding  your rhythm, it’s exquisite, it’s ancient, it’s instinctive.

We all know it’s lovely to look at:

The name comes from Capt. John Smith’s 1608 map, where it is labeled Mataughquamend, an Algonquian compound translated as “where one goes pleasantly.”

My local kayaking river is the lovely The Mattawoman Creek,  a short tributary of the very long Potomac River. Hailed as one  of the most pristine river ecosystems in the state, Mattawoman is prized as a trophy bass nursery. The river also hosts increasingly scarce  anadromous fish like shad, alewife and herring.  Mattawoman’s sweet, wild, water is much appreciated by birds and fish, fisherman and paddlers. I love it because it’s still pure enough to swim in


Pandion haliaetusor osprey, with cargo

The bird count wasn’t spectacular, but the bird behavior was great. I watched a gang of male red-wing blackbirds harassing a large white Egret, buzzing the tall bird, who ducked and squalked and lunged at them comically. Later we saw the white bird flying, still trailed by hostile red-wings. Real-life Angry Birds!!

Osprey were on the hunt all up and down the stream. More than once I saw them flying with a nice fish in their claws, back to the brood, or for lunch on a favorite branch. They look like a loaded bomber, carrying their cargo below, but there is no way they’ll let that fish go until they’re ready.

Later, a half dozen swallow fledglings begged fitfully on a low hanging branch as mum and dad ably demonstrated hunting on the wing. I paddled right up to them, and they just eyed me, until I spoke. That always breaks the spell. They flew away with perfect grace.

Nelumbo Lutea, the American Lotus, has the largest bloom of any plant native to the US


The rivers edge is lined with waterplants,: wild rice, cattail, pickeral weed with its lavender spike, spatterdock, the round yellow waterlily and her cousin the American Lotus, which is just beginning its glorious blooming season. These unfurl huge platter-sized leaves that repel water, rolling it into rounded pools like mercury. And the grand blossoms sway on tall stems, each cream petal large enough to drink from. Apparently a thoroughly edible plant, this lotus is found throughout north America

We only saw a few in full bloom, but plenty more ready to burst into bloom in weeks to come. The showy redwings perched on them for lovely effect.