Archive for October, 2009
Here are more of Carole Mebus' photographic work. The Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a great native plant of the eastern North America. Fall colors can include yellow, burnt orange, deep burgundy and scarlet. It has been a favorite fall leaf of mine since I was a child. On field trips, I find that children are attracted by the leaf shapes, so that is probably what first attracted me. But I remember very clearly, as a youngster, collecting Sassafras leaves that showed the range of colors.
Right now, the meadows at Mariton are draped in Sassafras yellow. Sassafras is early successional (or one of the first trees to reclaim an un-plowed field). It likes light, but can be found in the woods at Mariton in filtered sunlight. It reproduces from seeds inside the blue fleshy fruits found on female trees. It also spreads from underground runners, so it can form clumps of clones (all genetically identical). I mow the meadows in late winter, when the trees' energy is stored in the roots. So, this management regime helps to promote Sassafras to spread in the meadows.
Sassafras oil is found in the trees' roots. This is was a major component for flavoring of Root Beer, and Sassafras Tea. There is now concern about the health effects of safrole, a chemical found in Sassafras oil. Because of that, people are now advised to avoid Sassafras tea. Artificial flavoring replaced Sassafras in root beer a long time ago.
I am often asked about Sa'sparilla when people on walks smell Sassafras roots or Sweet Birch twigs. The rhizomes from the native Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) were used for teas and probably a component of flavoring in root beer. But the soft drink known as Sa'sparilla was probably made from the roots of Smilax officinalis, which is native to Central and South America. (Source: Common Flowering Plants of the Northeast by Donald D. Cox)
Right now the Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) in the yard is beautiful. Carole Mebus captured these beautiful photos between showers on Tuesday. The Ginkgo is an interesting tree. It is a gymnosperm, or conifer, yet it has leaves instead of needles. I have always had difficulty understanding how gymnosperms differed from angiosperms (flowering plants) until I re-read this explanation in Grolier's Field Guide to North American Trees by Thomas S. Elias. "The one unifying feature of all conifers is their naked seeds. That is, the seed-producing structures of the female flowers are not directly enclosed in tissue, as they are in hardwoods and other flowering plants."
Ginkgo trees made their way to North America from China. They were planted here for their uniqueness, as well as fall beauty. They tolerate air pollution and poor soils, so are ideal for city landscapes. They also are long-lived and have very few diseases. Interestingly, many scientists believe that the existing trees in China were planted by humans, and that there are no wild trees left on Earth.
You can't say Ginkgoes are native to North America, but there is a fossil record of closely related species on the continent. In the Pacific Northwest, fossil leaves dating back to the Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous look identical to the present day Ginkgo biloba. The genus probably disappeared from North America about the same time the dinosaurs became extinct.
The Tree at Mariton is a male. Females produce a stinky fruit. I have never experienced it, but am told it is quite awful. So, males are generally planted along streets and in parks. Dave Steckel, my go-to-guy for tree trivia, told me that male Ginkgoes occasionally switch sex to produce female flowers. This usually happens when several males are planted together (like in a park). It reminds me of my favorite line in the movie Jurassic Park.
A small point of pride: that's part of Crow's Nest in the photo on the flyer…
This short video captures a moment of discovery that illustrates what we love about kids’ nature programs at the preserve. The girl who cries, “That duck looks just like ducks in pictures!” has her own nature experience, unfiltered by TV or the web.
We were admiring an American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) on the Nature Walk Tuesday. We looked for beech nuts, but I commented that I don't find them, even though there are many mature Beeches at Mariton. That afternoon, I was cutting a tree that had fallen across a trail. When I moved the log, I found a few beech nuts underneath. There was a Beech on the other side of the trail and a little search yielded several more. In the photo, you can see the husks, as well as the somewhat triangular beech nuts.
Carole noticed this lovely moss while on Tuesday's walk. It looks like a fern. There are fern mosses, but I am not competent enough to identify this one. It might have gone unnoticed if someone hadn't been looking for something interesting on the ground.
While some trees have turned color at Mariton, green is still the dominant leaf color. I am not birding. I am not looking for wildflowers. I am not looking at vistas. Instead, I have found myself walking the trails and looking up; and it has been fun. (I think I once read that humans go through most of our lives looking at an angle around 60 degrees downward). So, I have been enjoying looking at tree branches, and tree shapes, and tree silhouettes this week.
Most of the white ash trees (Fraxinus americana) have lost all of their leaves. If I hadn't been looking up, I wouldn't have noticed these two white ashes. The one on the left is totally bare of leaves. On the other side of the trail, the leaves on the other tree haven't even started changing color. Two white ashes only yards apart and totally different.
This morning on the Nature Walk, Carole notice this limb on a Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida). What a perfect zigzag. This is right along the Main Trail in the meadows. I have passed this tree hundreds of times and I never noticed this branch.
Even if the leaf colors aren't vibrant, it is still a great time of the year to walk in the woods. See the trees for the forest, and look up.