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A Walk On The Wild Side

This week a group of second graders came to Mariton.  For most of the children this was their very first experience walking in the woods.  Some of the children were a little apprehensive (Are there wolves and bears?  Will deer attack us?).  You have to realize that we were leading most of these children into the UNKNOWN; but then again everything was also NEW to them. 

Fall_color_009_1Their senses were overwhelmed.  The sound of so many leaves hissing and rattling in the breeze was a brand new experience.  Even the sound of a leaf falling on the ground was a new encounter that had to be realized, acknowledged and stored away.  Smelling a sassafras stem, and then the root were new smells; but just as miraculous was that trees had scents.

Fall_color_011 Afterwards, I realized that even though these kids had every right to be nervous about these new surroundings, the excitement of discovery overrode their anxieties, and their enthusiasm was uncontainable.  That made me really happy, because Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary had given them a cheerful outdoor experience.

This is the weekend…

FoliageI notice from reading the weblog for our Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary (also on the Natural Lands Trust website) that we must be slightly advanced in our fall color season relative to theirs. I’m not sure exactly why; that preserve, located on the border of Bucks and Northampton Counties, is higher in latitude but perhaps lower in altitude? Preserve Manager Tim Burris’ post for this morning says the tupelos and ashes are at peak color there. Our tupelos, as noted earlier, dropped their leaves last week, and without noticing the actual event, I now see our ash trees are also bare. But lots of others are taking their turn. In this photo the red maples in the swamp are really bright. The large green and yellow trees in the middle of the photo, slightly uphill from the maples, are beech. There’s also sugar maple, hickory, red oak, and tupelo in these woods. This is the weekend to get out and enjoy fall color. I’m convinced fall color is meant to distract us from the imminent monochrome days of winter.

New Garden Labels

LabelsFinally the plants in the barnyard garden are labeled. We used small galvanized labels that name the plant’s scientific and common names, including genus, species, and if applicable, cultivated variety. We hope this adds to the educational value of the garden without taking away from its beauty. The barnyard garden was planted in the spring of 2002 with generous funding from noted horticulturist Sally Reath. The garden beds are constrained by recycled plastic lumber landscape ties. The conceit, if you stretch your imagination a little, is that the beds might look like abandoned livestock troughs that have filled with with wildflowers. The barnyard garden demonstrates mainly native plants or cultivated varieties of them that are available commercially, and show visitors a sample of what kinds of plants they might see throughout our 600-acre preserve.

Fall Color Report 10.28.05

The leaves at Mariton are about 50% yellow and 50% green.  The ash trees still have flame foliage.  The birches are a warm yellow.  The tulip trees are turning color.  The oaks are beginning to turn.  The dogwoods, viburnums and tupelos are burgundy.  The sassafras trees are starting to turn orange and yellow, both in the forest and in the meadows.  Plus, the weather forecast for this weekend is ideal for a walk at Mariton. 

Helping Hands

Stroud_planting_2 October 15th, 2005 was an exciting day for NLT and the Stroud Water Research Center.  Two hundred volunteers arrived at nine in the morning to plant 2,000 trees along Taylor Run on NLT’s Stroud Preserve.  With a massive volunteer drive, SWRC encouraged school children, casual Preserve visitors, and NLT Members to donate their time and energy to planting trees.  SWRC approached Tree Vitalize (www.treevitalize.net) with a research project unprecedented in magnitude and scope.  SWRC will study the vitality of the trees in addition to the impact of an increased riparian buffer on the quality of Taylor Run.  Taylor Run is a highly impacted stream which, during the summer, is home to such bothersome insects as black flies (Simulium sp.).  An increased riparian buffer along Taylor Run will help moderate water temperature, stabilized bank structure, and better absorb the effects of peak flow events.  Taylor Run will, as a result of this planting, be far more hospitable to insects such as the caddis fly (Trichoptera) and brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis).

We still need your help!  On October 29th and November 5th, we will plant 4,000 more trees on the Stroud Preserve along an unnamed tributary of the Brandywine River.  Please contact the Stroud Water Research Center (www.stroudcenter.org or (610) 268-2153 ext. 249 or 239) for more information if you are interested in lending a hand – also see the Stroud Preserve kiosk.  Make an investment in the environment and in NLT’s Stroud Preserve by volunteering your time (and shovel).  Hope to see you there.

The Fungus Among Us

In addition to being a popular magazine article title, book subject, and even perhaps a video game (?!) the title of this entry also describes the reality that surrounds us. Dryad_saddleThis dryad saddle fungus (Polyporus squamosus) I photographed on a dead tree this spring. Often referred to as shelf fungus, this fruiting body of fungus appears on wounded areas of living trees and on dead snags and stumps. Birds_nestWe have plenty of these bird’s nest fungi, easily seen growing on the mulch in the gardens. There are a few different species. This one is probably Crucibulum levis. The "eggs" are spore cases that help the fungus disperse. We also have right now the streaked bird’s nest (Cyanthus striatus) that has a scalloped rim and grooved inside walls with dark spore cases. These fungi help break down the mulch and add nutrients to the soil. We also have some of the artillery fungi, those that feed on decaying wood chips (as opposed to bark mulch) and fling their sticky spore cases onto the side of the house, parked cars, etc. (They seem to favor light surfaces.) Though they’re a bit of a pest they clean up pretty easily. Use bark mulches instead of wood chips in garden beds to reduce the problem. Img_4103And this last one showed up in the lawn the other day. I’m not going to venture to guess which species this is. Instead I’ll use this opportunity to note that mushroom identification can be very difficult, and that the field guide is as full of poisonous mushrooms as edible ones.

Critters at Crow’s Nest

SaddlebackThis attractive saddleback moth caterpillar (Sibine stimulea) showed up in the barnyard garden last month; the Audubon Field Guide to Insects and Spiders notes that the spines are mildy poisonous and will sting. Speaking of stings, this was a banner year for yellow jackets (good for them, bad for us). We had almost an order of magnitude more stings at camp and other programs this summer. No matter how much we dislike them or fear them, they have an important role in flower pollination. And if you’ve ever seen the Jacques Perrin-directed film "Microcosmos" you’ll have a whole new appreciation for them. He also did the film, "Winged Migration"; both are wonderful. We also have had more than the usual number of centipedes in the barn and house this year. If you turn on the light in the barn at night you’d better be prepared to see them. Img_4094There are also lots of these small, unidentified snails living on the stucco wall outside the tenant house basement door. I’d love to know more about them—if you have any information to share please let me know.

What is a Crop Worth?

I was very embarassed yesterday to catch a woman and two boys parked in one of our farm fields, cutting stalks of unharvested field corn for decorations. I was embarrassed for her, that I should have to say something to her in front of the boys about not taking our farmer’s crop. But I also didn’t think it was right that she should take the plants. It is only a few plants, sure, but what if everyone helped themselves to the farmer’s crop? The field corn is left standing to dry, and harvested with a combine that separates the kernels from the plant. Stalks can be used for sileage though most are chopped and left on the fields to reduce winter erosion and return organic matter to the soil. Land managers hate having to intervene when someone is breaking the rules. Not only does it create negativity in our lives, usually on our day off, but we dislike that our visitors then may have a negative experience associated with the preserve, or with nature. We don’t attract many supporters from among those we have to chastise, and we want everyone to be able to enjoy nature here. SignWe try to be clear about our rules, so that people can choose to do the right thing. The roadside signs at this field include the phrases, "Please respect crops," and "No motor vehicles."

The Show Isn’t Over

Witchhazel_1 Even though it is near the end of October, the blooms keep coming. This native witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) has a beautiful late-season show in the woods, and also makes a good landscape plant. This one is especially nice since some other ones hold their brown leaves while flowering. Hamamelis_1The strap-like petals unroll on warm days, and shrivel up on cold ones. This is the plant from which the medical astringent is made, an extract from under the bark. Fall color is close to peak right now, a little later than usual. The black gums were spectacular but are bare now. One across the street from my house was so bright that it cast a rosy light into the bathroom. The red maples—our native canopy tree of moist woods (Acer rubrum), not the Japanese maple of gardens—are brilliant right now. They don’t just turn red, they are also fiery orange and yellow, and sometimes all three. HydrangeaThis oak-leaf hydrangea has handsome burgandy fall color, perhaps from its sunny location near a porch.

Fall Color Report 10.21.05

Fall_color_001      Things have really changed in just a few days.  The colors are still predominantly green, but there are lots of colorful accents to the tapestry.  The white ash trees have turned to that gorgeous yellow-orange.  The sweet birch is also yellow now.  Dogwoods are mixtures of purple, orange, yellow and green.  More tuliptrees are starting to show yellow.

     I think the best fall color are still a week or more away.  On the other hand, if watching the seasons change is just as important to you as looking at the peak colors; then now is a great time to take a walk at Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary.

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