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Archive for November, 2010

Seeing the preserves


As a winter project my son and I plan to explore the 16 preserves that are highlighted in the Field Guide to Natural Lands Trust Preserves.

The Field Guide is a pocket handbook that comes as a benefit of membership in Natural Lands Trust. There is a tear off page at the back; visit these sixteen preserves, record the "code word" posted at each preserve's information kiosk, and send it in for a free gift.

Although I have worked at Natural Lands Trust for 19 years there are just a couple preserves that I have never visited.

Yesterday, however, we went back to my old stomping grounds in Middletown Township, Delaware County. We saw this beautiful white oak at the Wawa Preserve.

The city and the country

Today I read about a weblog called CityStories written by a college acquaintance. Although it is written specifically about cities—their history, their identity, and what draws us to them—more broadly it is about place and how we experience it.

One entry is about the effect of the Asian Longhorned Beetle in Wooster, Massachusetts with striking before- and after-photographs of a neighborhood which lost it trees to the beetle.

Another is about a website called HistoryPin that helps you link old photos to current images in Google StreetView. I've always been interested in then-and-now pictures of places I know.

HistoryPin is part of a larger effort called We Are What We Do that "takes big goals like a cleaner environment or better schools and breaks them into small, manageable steps they call actions."

Cities and the countryside dance together. For our wellbeing we need both (my editorial comment inserted here) but preferably not the wasteful sprawl that is neither.

Miscanthus research, or, plants we don’t love…


I had the opportunity to accompany Christine Fleener from the University of Illinois in the field for a day doing research on Japanese eualia grass, Miscanthus sinensis, at some east coast sites where it has naturalized. One of those sites is found at Hildacy Farm, our headquarters and a 55-acre preserve.

Miscanthus is an ornamental grass that grows in clumps and began to become popular in the 1990’s. It is easy to grow although it does need to be divided every few years or it will get a dead spot in the middle, and some varieties have been known to seed into areas where it is not wanted.

Researchers at University of Illinois are looking into using miscanthus as a biofuel but are looking at ways it could be bred to be less invasive.

I know of four main sites in our region where it has escaped from cultivation and naturalized, and a number of other places where an individual plant has popped up unplanted. There is a famous site along the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Valley Forge, and it can be seen elsewhere along that highway. There are also populations near Quaketown, Fort Washington, and our site at Hildacy Farm, where most of it has been controlled.

When I see it planted in landscaping anywhere near a meadow I get nervous because this could be a threat to the native plants in that meadow and the natural communities that depend on them. Where it is used in landscaping near our preserves we can control the plants as they show up in the meadow but more will likely seed in. Over the years we have controlled many plants in the meadows and also planted trees in some meadows to change the cultural conditions there; miscanthus doesn’t grow in the shade of the forest and an established canopy also reduces the pressure from other invasive plants.

Christine Fleener is collecting roots and seeds from naturalized populations so that they can be studied in the lab. Their genes will be compared with those of other populations. We dug many of the remaining plants at Hildacy, collected seed from plants along Route 252, then traveled to the Quakertown swamp to see the plants that grow there. Christine took the first two pictures in this entry.

Miscanthus clumps
I keep my eye out for other populations now. At first glance at this time of year Phragmites australis looks superficially like miscanthus, but phragmites grows much taller, has a tighter inflorescence, and is much more aggressive in wet, disturbed, low-maintenance sites such as powerline rights-of-way and roadside ditches.

I don’t recommend planting miscanthus in the landscape. Choose instead a native clump-forming grass such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), or little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). We have some of these planted in the garden beds at the preserve center barn at Crow’s Nest; another place to see them used ornamentally is in front of the management center at our Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve.

Crow’s Nest: More plants we love


Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) gives us two seasons of interest: once when in flower and again as it lofts these seeds to the wind. Add a concurrent third if you count the beauty of the butterflies it attracts and supports.

Crow’s Nest: Kids climbing and jumping

We are having a great time at WebWalkers, WebWanderers, and WebWigglers this fall. A fallen hickory tree in the soybean field has proven to be a good place to climb.

Climbing fallen tree

Other branches we left to make a bouncy ride. On a few of the warmer days we played in the stream. Each week we've managed to get to a different part of the preserve.

Leaping stumps

At the outdoor teaching area near the barn the kids leapt from log to log.

We have also been studying oaks and the species that depend on them. We have found a surprising percentage of this year's abundant acorns contain the larva of the acorn weevil.

Oak weevil larva

Crow’s Nest: Placing the roof beam

Crane & beam

Recently a new white oak roof beam was carefully placed on the ridge top of the Jacob house addition being renovated. The beam weighs 1,100 pounds and so we brought in a crane to lift it and the rafters up to the roof.

This roof has been planked and covered in time for winter. Restoration will continue inside and then exterior details will be addresses next year.

Crow’s Nest tree work


Tom Kershner, Natural Lands Trust's arborist and hazard-tree coordinator scales an ailanthus tree recently found to be on a boundary of Crow's Nest Preserve. Also called tree-of-heaven, ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima) is very invasive, and a weak-wooded species. This one was growing over a neighbor's garage and so it had to be sectioned down with rope one piece at a time.

Sometimes removing a tree improves the appearance as well as the ecosystem function of a site as much as planting one. But we are also replanting this woods edge with native shrubs: witchhazel, chokeberry, and silky dogwood.

Stewardship Staff retreat


Natural Lands Trust's stewardship staff from eight counties got together this week for our annual retreat. We toured the Wharton Esherick Studio near Valley Forge. Many of our staff are woodworkers and all enjoy the beauty of wood so this visit was informative and inspirational.

Crow’s Nest: Racing the Season

I was amazed to hear that this region experienced record highs in Philadelphia last week and record lows in Allentown yesterday. That's how fast the season seems to be changing and we're struggling to stay ahead of it. We have had a mild fall so far but time is running out for warm weather projects.

Every season has its specific projects. We have completed most of our Norway maple control; this is an easy species to identify in the fall because it remains green when other trees have turned color, and then remains yellow after others have dropped their leaves entirely. Also, the brief window when bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) still has its leaves and can easily be targeted is closing quickly. We can still manage this invasive vine after it has dropped its leaves—it just takes longer to spot and it is more difficult to do as thorough a job.

Alas, spot priming and painting windowsills on the tenant house may have to wait until next year. Although the days are getting warm enough to paint the nights are falling too low.

I'll still be mowing a few more times to chop up leaves. As many will blow out as blow into our clearing in the woods.

We've adjusted our schedules to work this week in hours halfway between daylight savings time and standard time: it's still dark when work should start and daylight is necessary for many projects.


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