Mariton: What’s in a Name?

January 23, 2019

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.

White Pine seedlings planted in the Pine Circle

I get questions about the Pine Circle Trail (or the Gray Trail). “Where are the pines in the Pine Circle?”  We are celebrating two big anniversaries at Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary, so this year I thought I would occasionally post some Field Notes about some of the property’s history, and the Pine Circle Trail certainly qualifies.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Mary and Tony Guerrero (Mariton comes from their first names) were planting conifer plantations on the property. At that time, much of Mariton was abandoned farmland that was starting to revert to brushy fields.  Planting conifers (pines, spruce, larch and others) was the “thing to do” at that time.  Pines and spruces could grow quickly in played out soils and they provided wildlife cover, soil stabilization, and wind breaks.  The Pine Circle was just one of many of the plantations planted during this period.

They planted Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) in the Pine Circle.  It is a relatively short-lived species but does well in poor soils. It also doesn’t mind the cold, and since the Pine Circle is on the north side of the hill, it was a pretty good location for these trees.  By the time I started working at Mariton in 1992 the pines were all but gone.

One of the few original pine snags still standing

Or were they? Even now the observant eye can see the snags from those old pines.  When I started, I recognized the “skeletons” of the pines that were getting over shaded by Tuliptrees and American Beeches.  Pines can stabilize things quickly, but in doing so they lay the foundation for other tree species to take advantage of the Jack Pines’ work.  Without fire, those other species will quickly out compete and shade the pines into submission.  That is exactly what happened in the Pine Circle.

This seedling was planted next to a fallen Jack Pine snag.

In 2017, an Eagle Scout planted White Pine seedlings throughout the Hurricane Sandy blowdown area to provide diversity and wildlife cover. I ordered extra seedlings at the time and Tom Levendusky and I planted about two dozen in the Pine Circle.  It will be tough for these seedlings to get started in a shady deciduous forest.  ( But White Pines are more shade tolerant than Jack Pines.)  Plus the deer got several of them over the winters.  However, Emma Schad and I recently put Tubex on the remaining seedlings to protect them from deer over this winter.  I will plant more seedlings there next spring, and I will continue to protect them during the winter.  I am hoping that in the next decade there will be pines growing in the Pine Circle once again.