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Old-growth daffodils?

By Steve Eisenhauer, Regional Director of Protection and Land Stewardship

Deep in the woods at our Harold N. Peek Preserve grow some ancient daffodils. Although perhaps not unlike daffodils sprouting at innumerable other old home sites in many other wooded areas, these daffodils bear reflection.

As the preserve’s namesake, Harold Peek, once told it, the King sisters were the last residents of a house that once stood here. All that is left today is a deep hollow area where the cellar was located, many walnut and hackberry trees (the older ones probably planted by the homesteaders and the younger ones growing as their offspring), and three concrete brick-lined depressions from long-gone silos. As the story goes, the King sisters’ house burned down 80 years ago or so, and they had to move. The fire was suspicious, since the King sisters were away from home at the time and a dispute had been ongoing about a timber harvest by a neighbor who questioned the property line. (I once visited the Cumberland County Historical Society in Millville to find out more details but, other than verifying the King family lived in this general area at the time, I could not locate anything else to substantiate the story.)

So, as far as I can tell, these daffodils were growing here 80 years or so ago. They may have been planted a century or two before that! Referencing the lifespan of daffodils, the literature refers to them as long-lived or “living “indefinitely.” Over time, domestic varieties of daffodils typically spread vegetatively, adding bulbs and crowding themselves to the point where flowering becomes less and less common. As seen in the photo above, in each clump of daffodil plants—that may have hundreds of bulbs at each base—only a few are still flowering. Gardeners will often separate the bulbs to replant them, thus reducing competition for water and nutrients, and stimulating more flowering. The daffodil patches at the King sisters’ home site are in what botanists call a “naturalized” state: they’re not invasive (spreading rapidly and pushing out native species) but are fitting into the forest landscape as a reminder of bygone human activity and as a welcome broadcaster that spring has finally arrived.

I couldn’t help noticing that a few of the blooms had spiders on them. Certain spiders, such as crab and flower spiders, take advantage of the limited color range in the eyesight of insects like bees. The spiders simply wait within or on blooms, in obvious sight of our human eyes, but almost invisible to the insects they’d like to eat. As some of the first flowers to bloom in spring, crab spiders gravitate to them to jump-start their own life-cycle, at the expense of a few insects. The spider on the flower in this photo resembles a six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton), and seems to be mimicking those other spider species to try to get a meal.

So, whenever you see crowded daffodils growing in fields or forests, with little or no evidence of human residences nearby, take a closer look. The variety or species of daffodil you may be examining may have been one the Pilgrims planted. It may no longer be available to purchase. We may never know if the original bulb planted one or two or three hundred years ago in each patch is still alive today. It may have the prettiest flower you now see.  Or it may be long gone, with its countless descendants carrying on its life as identical genetic clones.

Winter Storm Jonas

This weekend transformed our natural preserves under a blanket of winter snow. Below are photos from Crow’s Nest Preserve, Binky Lee Preserve, and Harold N. Peek Preserve showing the snow-covered barns and icy waters of the natural landscape left in the wake of Winter Storm Jonas.

Photos by Gaby LeBlanc, Steve Eisenhauer, and Daniel Barringer

 

Daytop Village Outdoor Adventures

For 13 years, Steve Eisenhauer—our New Jersey regional director of protection and stewardship—has led outdoor education programs s for students from 1st grade to graduate school. Activities focus on Natural Lands Trust’s preserves or other publicly accessible locations near these preserves in Cumberland, Salem, Cape May, and Atlantic Counties. Recently, Steve has had the pleasure of working with 30 teens from Daytop Village, a substance abuse treatment facility established in New York City in 1963 that has a residential campus in Cumberland County.

Over the past two months, Steve has led Daytop Village students on two kayak trips conducted over multiple days. On the first day, Steve taught safety skills and the basics of kayaking, and talked with the kids about the role of public property (land, water, and air) in society. The groups then explored Union Lake and the Maurice River, just upstream from our Harold N. Peek Preserve. After that, Steve visited their classroom to give an interactive presentation about exploring similar publicly accessible open space in the students’ home communities throughout New Jersey. The responsibilities of using public open space were emphasized, as was the wide range of this space: structures, sidewalks, roads, parks, rivers, beaches,  the ocean, and even the air (i.e. when you buy a house how high up can you build, and at what point does the air become public open space?).

With the onset of cold weather, the program is shifting to hiking adventures. A trip to the old growth forest of our Glades Wildlife Refuge is likely to be one of these hikes, as will visits to the trail systems of Parvin State Park and to the Maurice River Trail in Millville.

The pictures above show the students on their kayak adventures, which included spotting one of the five Bald Eagle pairs nesting within the city limits of Millville, NJ. These two particular eagles were seen only a half-mile from downtown Millville.

Peek Preserve: Puss Moth

Pretty cute, huh? Who would guess that this fuzzy little guy (found near our Peek Preserve) — in caterpillar phase — is one of the most toxic caterpillars in North America? 

Megalopyge opercularis, also know as the puss moth or flannel moth, caterpillars spend the winter in cocoons attached to twigs then metomorphize into moths in late spring. The adult moths, with short lives of 5-7 days, deposit eggs on shrubs and trees; within days the larvae (caterpillars) emerge. The inch-long larvae are covered in long, luxuriant hair-like setae (hairs), making them resemble a tiny Persian cat, presumably the characteristic that gave the species its name.

Although called a stinging caterpillar, the insects’ venom is actually in spines connected to a poison sac and concealed by the outer hairy surface. When touched, the spines break off and remain in the skin, releasing the venom.  Intense throbbing pain develops within five minutes of contact. Other symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, intense abdominal distress, and sometimes shock or respiratory stress! 

While now quite common in New Jersey, this species was once unusual to find. (It’s range is usually Maryland down to Florida.) Scientists think global climate change may be responsible for its  move northward.

No reason to fear this furry creature as long as you look with your eyes only!

Peek Preserve: Prickly Pear Blooming

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