Visiting History at Williams Island

Have you ever been at Pony Pasture and wondered about that patch of land in the middle of the James? It’s just downriver from Huguenot Flatwater, and well before the Powhite overpass.

That’s Williams Island.

Williams Island is just under 100-acres, and has no land access. It’s an actual island – get it? Because of this, it’s sort of a microcosm of what a natural James River Park would look like. Over the years, people have documented the abundant wildlife of Williams Island. They’ve seen every sort of bird you could imagine, deer, foxes, and even the occasional black bear.

But what of the plant life?

Throughout 2020, folks from VHB used funding from the James River and Tuckahoe Garden Clubs to try and catalog all of the plant life on Williams Island. You would think that would be simple. “Oak tree, maple, grass, shrub…” But what KIND of oak? What sort of grass? Which type of shrub?

Visiting during different seasons in order to better see a representation of what’s growing when, they were able to catalog 230 species of plants on Williams Island. 187 were native, 43 were considered “introduced”, and 23 deserved attention from our Invasive Plant Task Force. Some were considered “uncommon” in Virginia, and 9 have never been recorded in the Richmond/Henrico region. Flowering Tree

They think that this wide cross section of plant life and the small percentage of invasive species is due to two primary factors: There is limited foot travel (both animal and human) due to the Island being surrounded by the James, and the periodic flooding caused by the James itself. In their estimation, much of Williams Island could be considered “old growth” and is what the James River Park System looked like thousands of years ago. That makes it a good example of what the rest of the Park should probably look like – native plant- and habitat-wise.

You can read their full report by downloading it here.

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