A Wonders of Water Special Exhibition
With support from The William Penn Foundation
Windows on the Watershed, a 65’x50’ exhibition funded by The William Penn Foundation, and featured adjacent to the main entrance of the ‘Wonders of Water’-themed 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show, illuminates the ecological lessons and stories of our own complex freshwater system— The Delaware River Watershed— and the endless cycle of water movement downstream and the filtration that happens across different, but connected, environments.
The Delaware River Watershed is much more than the great river that runs 330 miles from the Catskills to the Atlantic. It’s a web of waterways that flow through 14,000 square miles of mountains, wilderness, farmland, cities, and coastal plains—a range of ecosystems that support many diverse plants and animals, including ourselves. Gravity drives the watershed, pulling water down from the forests and rocky slopes of the Catskill Mountains, across rolling hills and fields and farmland, past cities and towns and out to the flat, salty estuaries of Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, the water is filtered by plants, animals and the ground itself.
Windows on the Watershed tells a story of interconnection, creating an immersive experience that involves and implicates us in a complex natural web of local ecosystems that all rely on rain replenishing our freshwater system over and over again.
Get to know your watershed! Ask a docent from the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River (AWE) about the variety of conservation opportunities on trails and waterways throughout the watershed. AWE is comprised of 23 environmental centers across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware that provides recreational and educational activities for cyclists, hikers, paddlers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
With Inventory: Rain & the River, a site-specific sculptural installation by Stacy Levy, visitors will be submerged in a watery world. Levy’s artwork allows us to perceive the body of water from both a side view and from below—a “plan and section” abstraction of a river that provides a new perspective on our waterways. By meandering underneath the abstracted stream, we join in the cacophony of life (from microorganisms to megafauna) swimming in its flow. Inventory: Rain & the River is composed of hundreds of vertical transparent tubes, and the collected colors within recall a pointillist image of water reflecting the light—while the tubes themselves are reminiscent of both a driving rain and a flowing stream. The name Inventory refers to the concept that our flowing waterways are part of the planet’s storage system for rain.
Diversity of life in the Delaware River Watershed makes its water cycle work. Our plantings explore the major protector zones found in the Delaware River Watershed including the Wilderness Forest, Wet Meadow, Riparian Buffer and Tidal Salt Marsh. Photographer Nicholas D’Amico transports the visitor out into the watershed with iconic imagery (14’x6’) capturing a day in the life of the Delaware from sunrise in the mountains to sunset along the coastal plains. These extraordinary images serve as literal and figurative windows within the exhibition.
Windows on the Watershed reveals the quiet jewels of the ecosystem—from headwaters to confluence—that often go unnoticed, drawing our attention to the many ways that nature is designed to protect itself. Visitors trace a path through plantings that highlight the ecological heroes in each type of habitat—the powerhouse plants and trees that play significant roles in helping to keep our rivers and streams healthy while supporting the biological needs of countless different species as the web of life unfolds. Along the way, visitors will learn of our greatest natural allies in the clean water movement (our plant and tree heroes) as well as the regional nature of clean water protection and revitalization strategies— where each land use area has inherent jewels and unique threats that need to be balanced for the benefit of all living things.
Wilderness Forest Heroes
- Stabilizer: Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) grows on moist, shady riverbanks, where its roots grab the soil and keep the waters from washing it away. Its fibers are also used in orchid potting!
- Indicator: Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) earns its name from more than its habit of dying soon after the first frost. This presence of this drought-sensitive plant is also a sign that a wetland is healthy.
- Irrigator: The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) thrives in the cool, shady forests of the mountain wilderness. This tree draws water from deep in the earth and releases it into higher, drier layers, watering itself and all the plants around it.
Wet Meadow Heroes
- Defender: Marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) stands at the meadow’s edge, marking transitions into fields or forests. There, it serves as a primary filter for water entering and leaving the meadow.
- Builder: Clusters of upright sedge (Carex stricta) form the foundation of a wet meadow. Their roots build up the rich soil that anchors other plants, and filter much of the water passing through the meadow.
- Feeder: Tall spotted joe-pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum) thrives in the wet soil and bright sunshine of the wet meadow. Its rose-purple flowers sway high above the meadow grasses, offering nectar and pollen to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
Suburban and Urban Heroes
- Filter: Rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) forms dense clusters in the understory of riverside forest areas. This tall, showy-flowered shrub cuts down on erosion and filters water runoff heading for the river.
- Ancient: For more than 350 million years, scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale) has spread down riverbanks. These rushes steady the sediment, and filter water runoff by storing pollutants in their tough stems.
- Beauty: Hundreds of deep-gold flowers bloom throughout summer and autumn on hardy three-lobed coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba), or “Brown-Eyed Susan.” Butterflies and bees feed on its nectar, and songbirds eat the seeds that form as flowers mature.
- Aerator: Hollows in the stems and roots of pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) leak air into the thick mud of the marsh, helping microorganisms grow in this oxygen-poor habitat.
- Oddball: With its strangely curling bark, river birch (Betula nigra) loves the riverbank, where it strengthens the soft, moist soil. Native Americans once boiled its sap to make a sweet syrup.
Tidal Marsh Heroes
- Expander: Tidal salt marshes are called “spartina marshes” due to the dominance of salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). It grows at the edge of the water, collecting sediment and slowly growing the shoreline.
- Trapper: The narrow, straight leaves of blue-green rush (Juncus inflexus) grow in stiff clumps. These clumps create structure on the wet borders of the marsh, trapping sediments and building up the soil.
Docents provided by
The Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River is comprised of 23 environmental education centers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Design and Production Credits
Executive Director of Design
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Creative Direction & Interpretation
Pierie Korostoff and Sharon Handy
Landscape Design & Installation
“Inventory: Rain & the River”
Gallantry Media Group
Pennsylvania Convention Center
Client Utilities Services
An SMG Managed Facility
PHS Meadowbrook Farm
Windows on the Watershed will be located on the Main Show Floor, featured adjacent to the Entrance Garden.