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Posts categorized Plant.

Yet Another Reason to Stay on Trails

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

You already know that staying on the trails and keeping pets leashed helps protect wildlife. You may not have thought about how keeping on the trail benefits you personally.

Fawn covered with Tick Seed

Fawn covered with Stickseed

Virginia Stickseed (Hackelia virginianna) also known as beggar’s lice is prolific right now and sticky.  As the seed heads mature and turn from green to brown they become harder to remove from clothing.  Look at this fawn covered with the green seed heads.  I know how she feels.  I was removing invasive plants from a fencerow this week and spent considerable time at the end of the day pulling seeds from my clothing.  Of course, I have opposable thumbs and fingers.  Getting these seeds out of your dog’s fur is just a pain.

Tick Trefoil Seeds

Tick Trefoil Seeds

Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is another plant whose sticky seed is getting “ripe” for distribution.  This seed is flat and sticks close to the material.  I admit that I once threw out a shirt that was turned green by thousands on Tick Trefoil seeds.  I have found that a table knife or credit card works pretty good at scrapping these seeds off of jeans.  It makes it easier, but it is still a chore.  Do you really have to ask how these plants distribute their DNA to new locations?

Merry Christmas Fern to You and Yours

by Tim Burris, Mariton Preserve Manager

Christmas Fern in December 2015

Christmas Fern on Christmas Eve 2015

The Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides ) is so-named because it stays green throughout the winter. This winter has been a little different, but in past years I have dug down through snow in February and still found green fronds of this beautiful fern.  It is easy to imagine a colonial wife using this fern to decorate her dark cabin in the woods at Christmas time.  (In fact, my wife uses it as part of our table’s centerpiece.)  Like most ferns, deer don’t bother it, so it is a nice addition to the yard with moist shade.  While most of our trails are naturally “landscaped” with Christmas Ferns, we have a little spur trail on the Main Trail, that really makes one appreciate their beauty.

Christmas Eve 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

When it snows – and it will – take a walk on the trails and notice how much this fern warms up a winter walk.


Unionville Serpentine Barrens plant conservation

Posted by William Ryan, NLT researcher

Last October, as we counted the last of the warm days of Indian summer,  seeds were ripening and dispersing at the Unionville Serpentine Barrens. Acorns were dropping, and the grasses were preparing their offspring for a wind-born adventure. A certain grass species was on the minds of Natural Lands Trust’s scientific advisers and researchers. Its name is Bouteloua curtipendula (surely a mouth-full even for botanists), more commonly referred to as side-oats grama.

side-oats gramma close-up Roger Earl Latham

side-oats grama
(Bouteloua curtipendula)
(photo: Roger Latham)

Bouteloua curtipendula Big Hollow

Side-oats grama is one of the many uncommon native grass species found at the Unionville Serpentine Barrens (photo: Roger Latham)








In Pennsylvania, it is found rarely in a few specific habitats and localities, such as calcareous clearings in central PA, and on the serpentine barrens of Chester County. So here we found ourselves last year, on a crisp early autumn afternoon – low humidity and plenty of sunshine – two desirable conditions for grass-seed collection. Permission was secured to collect seed from a fragmented population of side-oats grama on private property directly adjacent to our ChesLen Preserve, which encompasses a critical part of the Unionville Serpentine Barrens, a globally rare ecosystem.


side-oats grams collection

Side-oats grama collection in one of a half dozen small patches at the Unionville Serpentine Barrens 

hand holding side-oats grams

The plants could easily be identified by their unique seeds – all facing one side.










The purpose of our seed collection endeavor was to initiate a propagation program for some of the rare species found on the barrens at Unionville – of which there are at least 19, according to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program. An arrangement was made with Mt. Cuba Center, in Hockessin, DE, to have them attempt to grow 500 plants, to be used in a carefully planned and monitored introduction to suitable habitat on the NLT-owned portion of the barrens. After clearing nearly ten acres of forest surrounding the shrinking grasslands in September, to be followed by a prescribed burn later this year, the area will be ripe for planting native grass and wildflower seeds, along with the side-oats grams plugs – products of Mt. Cuba Center’s propagation efforts.

small grassland remnant

Late summer 2012. Although small, these grassland remnants serve as refuges for populations of rare plant species.

grassland and grassland restoration areas

In the foreground lies existing serpentine grassland; in the background, potential grassland in a newly cleared portion of the barrens.










We were able to collect a significant amount of seeds, and we left with a very light paper bag filled with a valuable substance –  the unique genetic stock of one of only four occurrences of  side-oats grama on serpentine soils in Pennsylvania.



paper bag filled with grass seed

This amount was collected in just a few minutes.

collecting side-oats grama on slope

A small patch growing on a steep slope above Serpentine Run.









The plants were delivered for drying and preparation by Mt. Cuba staff, and within weeks were in trays under warmth, moisture, and light – spring right after fall. We had heard that side-oats grama could be difficult to propagate, and could be subject to low seed viability, but we waited patiently for their awakening from the soil – coaxed by artificial lights, mist, and heated beds. By December,  a few dozen seedlings had emerged, and were transferred from flats to individual growth chambers – 8 inch deep tubes that facilitate the growth of a healthy root system.

side-oats grama - first batch

The first crop of side-oats grama emerged soon after they were sown in late-autumn.

second batch of side-oats grama

The second crop emerged in January, and were growing nicely by late-winter.









In addition to this first wave of growth, nearly a hundred more seedlings emerged over the winter. This exciting news will be even more exciting when we install the plants this year. A monitoring protocol will be established and executed, to track the survival and health of the young plants. We will report our results to NLT’s Conservation and Stewardship Departments, and Mt. Cuba Center’s greenhouse staff. Our goal is to continue to propagate  these rare species, and continue building partnerships with like-minded organizations and landowners who appreciate the importance of the conservation and stewardship of our region’s unique biological resources. Perhaps someday soon we will collect seed from these very same plants, and continue to help Bouteloua curtipendula and many other characteristic serpentine barren plant species thrive in this fascinating ecosystem in Unionville.


Work Party: Restore Habitat for Migrant Bird Species at Sadsbury Woods Preserve

Saturday, April 28
9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Sadsbury Woods Preserve, Coatesville, PA

Sadsbury Woods Preserve is home to one of the largest remaining, unfragmented woodlands in Chester County. These woodlands are an essential habitat for neo tropical migrant species – birds that breed in North America during the spring and summer and over-winter in Central or South America, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Join us as we plant trees that will improve the habitat for visiting Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Ovenbirds. Families and groups are welcome.

Breakfast, snacks, lunch, and water provided. Please wear sturdy shoes or boots and bring your water bottle, work gloves, and a raincoat if needed.

This event is free but registration is required. For individual and family registration, click here. For group preregistration, please contact Angela at or (610) 353-5587, ext 266.

Mariton: Interesting Variant

Yesterday, during the Butterfly Census, we came across this interesting morph of Butterfly Weed(Asclepias tuberosa).  Most Butterfly Weed is orange (as in the photo below), but we found a yellow morph.  In the Plants of Pennsylvania by Rhodes and Block, it lists “flowers yellow to orange-red”, so it probably isn’t as rare we thought.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Mariton: Summer Woodland Flowers

Most forest plants need to flower early in the spring.  They need to take care of business before the trees overhead block the precious solar energy necessary for reproduction.   There, of course, are exceptions.  Two of the exceptions are blooming right now in Mariton’s woods, and they are spectacular.


The native Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) blooms at the end of June.  Personally, while the ones planted in yards have beautiful colors, they don’t hold a candle to the beauty of our native tree.  Now is the peak of the blossoms at Mariton, so you want to get out to see them this weekend.  The best places are on the River Lookout Trail.  You can also find several along the Main Trail.  While you are visiting take note of the girth of Mariton’s Rhodies.  They are huge and very old.

Black Cohosh

Another eye-catcher is the Black Cohosh (Cimicfuga racemosa).  Looking at the photo above, you can see why children call them Fairy Candles.  In the deep woods the bright white flowers light the understory.  My favorite place to view these is along the River Lookout. 

We often think of summer wildflowers in the fields, but these two are worth a walk in the woods.

Mariton: Showy Orchis

MANCHON Showy orchis

The Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis) is blooming at Mariton.  This is a very pretty, but very small orchid that is native in Pennsylvania.  These photos were taken by Denis Manchon.

MANCHON Single Orchis Blossom

Enjoy viewing orchids where you find them.  Orchids are very dependent on fungal mychorizae in the soil.  Transplanting them from a forest into a yard will likely fail.  I have been very pleased that the Showy Orhis is spreading at Mariton.  It could be that the forest and its soils are maturing to allow germination. 

On the other hand, the spread coincides with a concerted effort to remove Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) from Mariton.  Garlic mustard is an invasive plant that is believed to actually impede the growth of fungal mychorizae.  Many native  trees and herbaceous plants (including orchids) rely on mychorizae for nutrients.  I feel that the removal of garlic mustard explains the spread of orchids, trilliums, and other wildflowers in Mariton’s woods.

You can help.  We will be pulling Garlic Mustard along the trails at Mariton from 1 – 4 p.m this Saturday, May 7.  This plant has been greatly reduced, but there are still a few patches that I would like to remove this spring.

Honor Earth Day by Planting a Tree

Trees offer us so many benefits, it’s hard to list them all in one blog post! Trees absorb air pollutants, offer shade that can reduce cooling costs, provide habitat and food for wildlife, and slow stormwater run-off.

But did you know trees can save you money and add value to your home? A report from the USDA Forest Service indicated trees added more than 18% to the average sale price of a suburban residence. Another study by American Forests reports homeowners who properly place trees in their landscape can save up to 56% on daytime air conditioning!

April 22 marks the 41st anniversary of Earth Day. Why not celebrate by planting a tree? Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Consider where the tree will live. Is it sunny, shady, or a bit of both? Is it wet, dry, or in between? Is the soil sandy or heavy clay? Not all tree species are able to adapt to a range of soil and sunlight conditions, so these factors are important in choosing a tree that will thrive in the location you’ve selected.
  2. Decide which species to plant. Good choices are native tree species that are growing well in nearby woodlands with similar habitat features. Natural Lands Trust’s Stewardship Handbook for Natural Lands in Southeastern Pennsylvania(available for purchase in hardcopy or for a free download) provides a list of nature tree species, their habitat preferences, and the wildlife that benefit from them.
  3. Find a nursery that sells native tree species that are not hybrids or cultivars, and preferably that are grown from local seeds or cuttings (several nurseries are listed in the above-referenced Stewardship Handbook). If possible, select trees that are six to eight feet tall to help ensure that they can “out compete” invasive plants and that some of their foliage and buds are above the reach of browsing deer. Container trees are easier to plant and have a higher survival rate than bare-root trees.
  4. Dig, plant, stake, water, and mulch. Refer to the diagram below developed by Northeastern Area of the U.S. Forest Service for guidance about how to plant a balled-and-burlapped tree. Be sure to water well at the time of planting and monitor the planting frequently for the first summer, watering when conditions become dry.
  5. Protect newly planted trees from deer browse using tree shelters for plants less than six feet in height. Install tree wraps to protect trees over six feet in height.


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