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Archive for October, 2009

Crow’s Nest: Observing Fruit


It is easy to overlook fruit over flowers on many plants so it is worth taking time in the fall and winter to observe them. This species might be an exception, where the seed-enclosing fruit are arguably more attractive than the flowers. These are pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) berries, poisonous to people but not to the birds that eat them.

We often see Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) in flower, and we see the black, dried stalks of it in winter, but I have never taken the time to notice it in full fruit like this. (Neither have many others I guess, since photos of it in this stage are not easily found.)

The bent-over flowers straighten up as they mature and change from their ghostly white to pink and then to this red.

Mariton – Sassafras

MEBUS SassafrasFieldMaritonTreeLine1027 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.

MEBUS SassafrasFieldFoggyMaritonAfternoon1027 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)

Mariton – Ginkgo

MEBUS GinkgoTreeMariton1027 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.

MEBUS GinkgoTreeCloseMariton1027 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.

Crow’s Nest: Northern Federation of Chester County: Parks, Recreation, & Open Space Planning

Public Meeting 1 Flyer

The Federation of Northern Chester County, a partnership of nine local communities, works together on regional planning issues. Most of the area is part of one school district and we share geography, roads, and water resources and are facing similar growth pressures.

The Federation has started an effort to plan for regional parks, trails, open space and other recreational needs. There will be a public meeting on Tuesday, November 10 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Owen J. Roberts High School to seek input on what are our local and regional needs.

A small point of pride: that's part of Crow's Nest in the photo on the flyer…

Crow’s Nest: Why we do nature programs

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.

You might notice the video is from last winter… yes, it took that long for me to figure out how to upload it!

Here is the full list of our goals for our nature programs at Crow’s Nest. 

Crow’s Nest: Peak fall color & fall projects


It's not a bold prediction when the day is already here, but I think the peak of fall color is occurring this weekend. With the overnight rain and overcast skies this morning (this photo was taken Thursday) the colors are super saturated and bright. It is beautiful out here.

I have mentioned before that each land management task has a season. This fall we have almost wrapped up an unusually difficult summer of mowing: trails, parking areas, and the lawns around the buildings. The rain kept the grass growing full speed and we mowed newly acquired lands until we replant them with trees and meadows—so we did much more mowing than ever before, or hope to do ever again.

We've recently repaired the boards on one footbridge along the creek trail; another will wait until winter because we'll need to mill up some lumber to replace the rotting boards. This is likely to remain an annual task for some time.

It's hard to believe that the fall kids' programs—WebWalkers, Spiderlings, and WebWigglers—are already half over for the fall. We've had some good weather and some bad, but we've managed to get outside to play at the preserve each time. (Next week bring boots since we will be going to the cattail swamp!)

We've also completed new tree plantings this week—here as well as my colleagues' efforts at Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve. At Crow's Nest we filled in gaps in a hedgerow where regeneration was not occurring. This hedgerow is a windbreak planted about 50 years ago and some of the trees declined; invasive multiflora rose, shrub honeysuckle, and mile-a-minute were filling the gaps so new trees could not grow. We've cleared these places, planted large trees, fenced them from the deer, and will need to keep them clear of vines until they are large enough to create their own shade.

Now we are cutting the invasive Oriental bittersweet off of trees while its fall color makes it easy to see where it needs to be done (we will continue cutting vines all winter but it is best to employ this seasonal advantage). Shortly we will be pulling Norway maple seedlings from the woods when their fall color—theirs will be the last of the season—gives them away.

When the leaves are off the trees it will be time to verify and repost boundaries wherever needed. Then we will finish building a new footbridge on the extension of the Deep Woods Trail. For the winter, in addition to vine control, we will also do hazard tree monitoring (and removal if necessary), monitor the conservation easements we hold throughout the region, and then it will be time to begin spring projects again: managing garlic mustard and all the other invasives that start another year's cycle.

Mariton – Look Down

BEECH NUTS 007 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. 

PHOTOS 009 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.

Crow’s Nest: Appalachian Trail photography exhibit


Here's an unabashed plug for my wife Denise's photography exhibit now open at the Henrietta Hankin Branch of the Chester County Library.

Denise through-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2006. Putting together the exhibit was only a little less difficult: she narrowed down the 8,000 photos she had taken to the best 1%. Seventy-six pictures meander across two walls at the library for the next three weeks.

The library would be a good stop on the way to or from a visit to Crow's Nest Preserve…

Mariton – Look Up^

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.

PHOTOS 001 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.

PHOTOS 015 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.

Crow’s Nest: Light frost


This morning there is light frost—our first—on the roof and open fields, but not everywhere and it's not crunchy underfoot.

We're still waiting for peak fall color, a bit late this year. Ash and black gum are long finished. Dogwood and sassafras are brilliant right now, and tuliptrees are starting to turn clear yellow. Red maple has been a reliable red or gold for a couple weeks, but most of the surrounding forest, mainly oaks, are still green.

After four days of rain we're hoping to dry out a bit this week and enjoy what fall has to offer.


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