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Posts Tagged ‘Invasive Plants’

1. Trail Start

In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of a 500 acre wetland called Tenant Swamp. The building sits on a high terrace that overlooks the swamp. it can be seen to the left in this photo. Before the school could be built however an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then, after much hard work and fund raising, a path and boardwalk leading into the swamp itself has been completed. As a certifiable nature nut I couldn’t wait to get into this swamp, so I went to see it right after all the fanfare had died down. It’s the kind of place that people rarely get to experience so it is meant to be a kind of outdoor classroom for anyone who wants to learn more about nature.

2. Blackberries

The first thing I noticed were all the blackberries blooming along the hillside above the swamp. The bears will eat well this year.

3. Bridge

A sturdy bridge was built over a small seasonal stream.  The paths are well packed and plenty wide enough even for wheelchairs, and in fact I saw a man in a wheelchair here on my second visit. He looked very happy.

4. Stream

A small stream feeds this side of the swamp, but one of the things I found most surprising about this place was the lack of very much standing water. I’m not sure if it has to do with the drought we had in May or if it’s always this way.

5. Boardwalk

The 850 foot boardwalk is sturdy and well-built and about a foot or two off the ground. When it was being installed 9-12 feet of peat was discovered in some places. Two feet of peat takes about a thousand years to form so this peat has been here for a very long time. I’m tempted to call this a peat bog because of these discoveries but technically because it is forested, the correct term is swamp.

6. Bunchberries

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) grows well here. I wasn’t too surprised to see it because it likes cool, moist woods and will not grow where soil temperature exceeds 65 degrees F. According to Nature Magazine the tiny flowers have hinged flexible anthers that act like tiny catapults to eject their pollen to ten times the plant’s height so it can be carried by the wind. Once pollinated the flowers, which are actually in the center of the four white bracts, will become a bunch of red berries, and that’s how this pretty little creeping dogwood comes by its common name. Some Native American tribes preserved the berries in bear fat. They’re high in pectin and make excellent jelly.

7. Arrowheads

The roots of arrowhead plants (Sagittaria latifolia) look like small, purplish potatoes and were a very important food crop for Native Americans. They are said to taste like potatoes or chestnuts and can be sliced, dried and ground to make flour, or eaten in the same ways that potatoes are. This plant likes to grow in shallow water that has little or no current and can form very large colonies. Ducks love the seeds and beavers, muskrats and porcupines will eat the whole plant.

Note: Sara has pointed out that this plant is actually Halberd-leaved tearthumb (Polygonum arifolium.) I’m sorry for any confusion. That’s what comes from rushing!

8. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) has a strong presence here, along with cinnamon and sensitive fern. There is a rumor that ostrich fern grows here as well but I didn’t see any. Royal fern is one of the most beautiful of our native ferns in my opinion, but often fools people by not really looking very fern like. Royal fern is in the family Osmundaceae, and fossils belonging to this family have been found in rocks of the Permian age, which was about 230 million years ago. There is also a European species of royal fern called Osmunda regalis.

9. Viewing Platform

There are viewing platforms meant for birders, painters, photographers, or anyone who just wants to sit and enjoy nature. They haven’t been installed yet but there will be many benches for people to sit on. I have a feeling that this will become a bird lover’s paradise because the amount of birdsong here is incredible. It’s really a wonderful experience that I hope all of the townspeople will enjoy at least once…

10. Swamp View

…but I hope they’ll stay on the boardwalk when they do. 500 acres of swamp boggles my mind and I know that if I hopped off the boardwalk and bush wacked my way into the swamp, I’d probably be lost in under an hour. Once you get turned around and start wandering in circles it’s all over, and in November of 1890 that’s exactly what happened to George McCurdy, who died of exposure. I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found, so as much as I’d love to explore the entire area I think I’ll just stay on the boardwalk.

11. Beard Lichen

There are some fine examples of beard lichen growing on the spruce trees; I think this one is bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) That’s another thing I noticed as I entered the swamp; there are many spruce and balsam fir trees here, which is unusual because they like it cool and normally grow further north. You rarely see them growing naturally in this area so when you do you know that you’re in a special place.

Henry David Thoreau said “The most primitive places left with us are the swamps, where the spruce still grows shaggy with usnea,” and he was right.

12. White Admiral

A white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) landed on the boardwalk and said “Go ahead; take my picture,” so I did. I wish he’d landed in a somewhat shadier spot but you can’t have everything. I also saw a lot of dragonflies but of course they wouldn’t sit still. I was hoping to see some of the rare salamanders that the schoolkids have found but so far I haven’t seen a one.

13. Red Squirrel

I’m not sure what this red squirrel was doing but he stayed just like that for a while and seemed to want his picture taken too so I obliged, even though he was really out of comfortable camera range. As soon as I took a couple of steps toward him though he was off like a shot, running up one tree and jumping into the crown of another. Two or three red squirrels followed me all through the swamp on this day and even climbed the hill as I was leaving, making sure to stay just out of camera range the entire time. That was really odd because I rarely see red squirrels; gray squirrels are much more common here. I’m not sure the reds know what to make of this sudden increase in human activity; they seem very curious.

14. Phragmities

I wasn’t happy to see this invasive reed called Phragmities australis here but I had a feeling that it would be. Tenant swamp is bisected by a highway (Rte. 12 N.) and you can see large colonies of it from the road. This reed came from Europe and forms large monocultures that even burning can’t control unless it is done 2 or 3 times. Not only does a thick matted root system choke out other plants, but decaying reeds also release gallic acid, which ultraviolet light turns into mesoxalic acid and which means that seedlings of other plants that try to grow near the reed have very little hope of survival.

15. Phragmities

This is a glimpse of a monoculture known as a reed bed. Some have been known to reach nearly a square kilometer in size. There are no other plants to be seen among the reeds in this photo.

16. Winterberry

I met a lady who works at the middle school and who was instrumental in getting the boardwalk project up and running. Unfortunately I never got her name but she said the boardwalk was going to be open in the winter. I was hoping it would be because there are more winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) here than I’ve ever seen in one place, and the red berries against the white snow are really beautiful. This photo shows what the flower buds look like. Each one will open to a tiny white flower and then become a red berry.

17. Sphagnum Moss

I always thought that peat bogs or swamps were made up almost entirely of sphagnum mosses but I found by researching this post that mosses are just one component. Many other plants contribute to the overall mass.  Not only do plants fall into the mix but so does their pollen, and scientists can look back at thousands of years of plant growth and the environment they grew in by studying it.

18. Unknown Tree

You can’t have a swamp without a little mystery to go with it, and here it is. I think this tree is some type of sumac, but it isn’t staghorn (Rhus typhina) or smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) Those are the two most common sumacs in these parts but their flower buds look nothing like those pictured here. It isn’t winged (or shiny) sumac (Rhus copallinum) because there are no wings on the branches and the leaves aren’t shiny. I wondered if it was Chinese sumac (Ailanthus altissima), an invasive also called tree of heaven, but another name for that tree is stinking sumac and this small tree doesn’t really stink. I found that out by crushing a leaf and holding it up to my nose, and that’s when I remembered that poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) grows in swamps in this area. But that doesn’t fit either because it’s been a week since I crushed that leaf and I haven’t gotten a rash on my hand or nose, so I’ve run out of likely choices. If you know what it is or even want to guess I’d love to hear from you.

19. Unknown Tree Flower

This tree’s flowers are very small; no bigger than a BB that you’d put in an air rifle. If they turn into white berries I’ll know that this is poison sumac, and I’ll wonder why I’m not itching.

If you’d like to visit the middle school’s website and see photos of the boardwalk being built, trail maps and many other interesting things, just click on the word here. This boardwalk was built for the people of Keene as well as the school children, and I think we all owe the school and all of the donors a real big thank you. Being able to visit a place like this is a very rare opportunity.

To love a swamp is to love what is muted and marginal, what exists in the shadows, what shoulders its way out of mud and scurries along the damp edges of what is most commonly praised. And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing. Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth, breeding grounds, experimental labs where organisms and ideas have the luxury of being out of the spotlight, where the imagination can mutate and mate, send tendrils into and out of the water. ~Barbara Hurd

Thanks for coming by.

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 1. Keene State Plaque

Recently a little birdie told me that some of the students in a certain biology class at a certain college were saying that it was “too cold” and that they “couldn’t walk in the snow.” And how were they supposed to find anything anyway when there’s “snow everywhere?”

Just for fun I decided to return to college myself just to see how valid these complaints were.

 2. Keene State Parker Hall

This was my chosen starting point on the campus of Keene State College. The great thing about nature study is it doesn’t matter which path you take. Nature will have something interesting to show you no matter where you go. With a willingness to participate and a little extra attentiveness you will learn things that you’ve never even imagined.

Oh-you will notice that the snow isn’t “everywhere.”

 3. Boston Ivy Berries

My first stop was the ivy covered walls of Parker Hall shown in the above photo. This photo is of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), which lends its name to the “ivy league” schools. The odd thing about Boston ivy is its name, because it isn’t from Boston and it isn’t an ivy; it’s a member of the grape family and comes from China and Japan. This vine attaches to just about any vertical surface with tiny circular pads that form at the ends of its tendrils.  It secretes calcium carbonate and uses it to “glue” the pads to the surface it wants to climb. The glue can to hold up to 260 times its own weight.

4. Crabapples

If you are a biology student reading this blog then this photo should have you asking questions like why haven’t the birds eaten these crabapples?  You can see the hundreds of them in the background on the snow even though many birds, including robins and cedar waxwings, love crabapples. In a winter as harsh as this one you would think they would be gobbling them as fast as they could, so why aren’t they? Science has shown that birds will leave fruits that are lower in fat for last but are crabapples low in fat? The answers are simple; many crab apples are ornamental cultivars that birds just don’t like. Some other cultivars have fruit that birds will eat only after it has frozen and thawed several times.  If you want to attract fruit eating birds with crab apples (Malus) the choice of cultivar requires some research.

 5. Lilac Buds 

One of the ways to identify trees and shrubs in winter is by their buds. The size and placement of buds as well as the number of bud scales can all help with identification. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some just one scale called a cap, and some buds have none at all. Buds that have several scales are called imbricate and have scales that overlap like shingles. The lilac buds in the above photo are good examples of imbricate buds.

 6. Cornelian Cherry  Bud  aka Cornus mas

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts.

 7.  Powdery Goldspeck Lichen aka Candelariella efflorescens 

Powdery goldspeck lichens ( Candelariella efflorescens) grow on tree bark of all kinds. The round, flattened, yellow patches are very small but grow in large colonies that make them easier to see.  Winter is the perfect time to look for lichens because they aren’t hidden by foliage. I saw plenty on this campus.

Lichens are great indicators of air quality because they refuse to grow where the air is polluted. There was a famous study done by schoolchildren in the United Kingdom in the 1960s. They produced a “mucky air map” that showed the absence of lichens from areas polluted by coal burning. Such a study (on a much smaller scale) done on a college campus might be a real eye opener. The lichens wouldn’t even have to be identified; simply recording their presence is enough. The absence of lichens is not a good thing.

 8. Lenticels in Bark

The Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula Tibetica) is also called the paper bark cherry because of the way its bark peels as it ages, much like a birch. It is used as an ornamental tree as much for its bark as for its flowers. The mahogany bark has very long, closely spaced lenticels that give it an unusual appearance. Lenticels are corky pores that allow gases like oxygen to reach the living cells of the bark. Without enough oxygen, bark can die.

9. Sweet Gum Pod

I was surprised when I finally realized that these were sweet gum seed pods, because Massachusetts is the northernmost point that sweet gum grows naturally in the U.S. and, though it is native to the east coast, it is considered a “southern tree.” But, there is an old (often risky) trick that landscape designers will sometimes use if a client is determined to have a certain plant that isn’t hardy-they use masonry. If a plant that isn’t reliably hardy is planted near masonry it will often survive lower temperatures than it would otherwise because the masonry absorbs heat from the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, keeping the plant warm enough to survive. There were several of these sweet gum trees near a massive wall of brick, and they were protected from wind by other buildings.

10. Sycamore Fruit

I’ve never heard of a dwarf sycamore tree but this is an empty sycamore seed head that I plucked from a tree with very mottled sycamore bark that stood no more than 7 feet tall. There are a large number of ornamental trees on this campus and I’m not sure how I would identify them all without occasionally asking the head gardener.

 11. White Rot Fungus aka Fomitiporia punctata

White rot fungus (Fomitiporia punctata) covered this fallen oak limb. There are many species of white rot fungi and they play a major part in wood decomposition. Scientists have discovered that they will also biodegrade environmental pollutants and certain chemical wastes. Researching that might be very interesting.

 12. Amber jelly Fungus

Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) were on the same fallen oak limb, but frozen solid by the looks. This is the first time I’ve seen these growing on oak. I usually find them on alder. Some jelly fungi are also good at helping wood rot. This one fruits in late fall and winter and is a true winter fungus. I’ve always wondered why certain fungi only fruit in winter.

13. Barberry Berries

I was surprised to see this very invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ) growing as a hedge but as I think about it I shouldn’t have been. I’ve planted barberry hedges myself back when we didn’t realize how invasive it was.  I also saw burning bushes used in a hedge. Also called winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), they are also very invasive and until recently were widely used. The final invasive that I found was oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). These were growing near a chain like fence-right where a bird might sit for a while after eating its berries.

Exploring their campus for invasive species would be a good project for a biology class and could be done at any time of year. The results might be surprising for those in charge of such things since, in this instance, this is a state college and the state has banned selling or importing these invasives.

 14. Daffodils 

The most satisfying thing I found on this campus was the little taste of spring provided by these inch high daffodil shoots. I was surprised since we had just seen a temperature of 7 below zero the night before.

So, if anyone reading this happens to be a student attending a certain biology class in a certain college, this post is for you. All of these photos and at least twice as many more were taken in less than an hour while meandering around the Keene State College campus and I didn’t once have to step in snow deeper than the soles of my hiking boots. It was cold but I dressed for it. That’s what we have to do to keep warm in a New England winter.  I hope this post has shown how easy it is to find things in nature with very little effort.

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.  ~Henri Poincaré

Thanks for coming by.

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 1. In the Woods

I found myself in a pocket of beech trees one day and took a few photos. Beech and oak and a few shrubs are all we have for colorful foliage now. 

2. Beech LeavesAmerican beeches (Fagus grandifolia) have great fall color that starts when maples, birches, and others are finishing.

 3. Beech Leaves Browning

Beech colors don’t last long though, and before you know it the leaves turn brown and curl. Like some oak leaves most beech leaves will stay on the younger trees through winter, rattling in the wind. Some believe that the beech hangs onto its dry leaves to hide its young buds from browsing animals.

 4. Burning Bushes

Some shrubs still have good color too, like these burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) that grow in great long swaths along the river. They’re beautiful, but also one of the most invasive shrubs in the state. They grow in such impenetrable thickets that native plants can’t get a start. Another name for this one is winged euonymus and you are not allowed to sell it, import it into, or plant it in New Hampshire.

5. Burning Bush Fruit

This is what makes the burning bush so invasive. Birds love its fruit and spread it far and wide. Introduced in the United States from Asia in 1860 as a garden ornamental, it is now present in 25 states and parts of Canada.

 6. Bittersweet Berries

Another invasive plant is Chinese Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus.), It is a vine so tough that it can strangle young trees and topple older ones by growing in and adding a lot of weight to their crowns. Burning bushes and Chinese bittersweet are in the same family and both are very invasive. The bittersweet was introduced in 1879 and has made it as far west as the Rocky Mountains, as far south as Louisiana, and north to Maine. There is an American species of bittersweet (Celastrus scandens ) and the two plants hybridize naturally, making eradication close to impossible.

 7. Dried Jack in the Pulpit Berries

Usually deer will come along and chomp the entire head of berries from a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum ) stem, but in this case it looks like both the deer and birds have shunned these examples. They look a little deformed so maybe the birds and animals know something about them that I don’t. A similar plant, also in the arum family, is called lords and ladies in the U.K.

8. Winterberry

Our native holly that is called winterberry (Ilex verticillata) looks nothing like the evergreen hollies we grow in our gardens. In fact for most of the year it is unremarkable and if you weren’t looking for it you wouldn’t pay any attention to it. Even its tiny flowers are hard to see, but in autumn after the leaves have fallen this plant announces its presence with a loud, red berried shout.  Birds don’t eat these berries until very late in winter because they have a low fat content, so many people cut the branches and bring them inside for the holidays. I like to see them against the snowy background.

 9. Frosty Windshield

We’ve had both frosts and freezes here now so I took my camera out one icy morning to gather the evidence.

10. Frost Bitten Fern

Actually, the evidence of frosts and freezes is everywhere you look, as this contorted fern frond shows.

11. Frosted Helianthus

This helianthus didn’t even have time to drop its petals before being flash frozen.

Frosty River

One frosty morning even though the Ashuelot River was steaming it still looked dark and cold. It won’t be long before ice forms along its shores and slowly creeps toward its middle.

If months were marked by colors, November in New England would be colored gray. ~Madeleine M. Kunin

Thanks for coming by.

 

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I wasn’t surprised the other day when I walked into my local grocery store and saw a table full of cyclamen, poinsettia, and Christmas cactus. But wait-what in the name of Asa Gray was that!? It looks harmless, doesn’t it?

 

The sign said it was a “Frosty Fern,” but I knew it wasn’t a fern, so what was it? It looked familiar but… And why had it been dipped in whatever it had been dipped in? I ran my hand over it-it felt like a cedar leaf. Then it finally hit me-clubmoss, of course-I had just done a blog entry on clubmoss! But that still left the nagging question of the “frosting.” Was it natural?

As it turns out, according to several websites, the coloring of the leaf tips is natural; similar to variegation on other leaves but concentrated in one area, apparently. This club moss (Selaginella kraussiana ) seems so unfamiliar because, though it has become naturalized in parts of Portugal, Spain and New Zealand,  it is originally from Africa.

Here in the northern United States it is grown as a houseplant and, by the sounds of it, a rather fussy one. Though several websites say it is easy to grow, they go on to say that it likes temperatures in the eighties, constantly moist soil, and very high humidity. It doesn’t like temperatures below fifty degrees and anything below ten degrees will kill it. “Easy to grow” is a relative term; I’ve grown so many houseplants in the past that it used to be wise to bring a machete if you came to visit, but I’ve always stayed away from those that need high humidity because it is almost impossible to provide it adequately. Many growers recommend putting the frosty fern in a terrarium which, in our dry winter houses, is probably a good idea.

In southern and western states frosty fern and its commercially available siblings “Aurea,” which is plain green, “Brownii”, which appears to be a dwarf variety and “Gold Tips,” which is frosted with gold instead of white are being planted outdoors in gardens and are escaping. They have become naturalized in Georgia, northern Virginia and central California and have escaped gardens in Alabama and North and South Carolina. They are being found on riverbanks, lake edges, lawns, and other moist, shady places, but the U.S.D.A. doesn’t list them as invasive. Yet.

In New Zealand Selaginella kraussiana, introduced as a groundcover, has been listed on the National Plant Pest Accord and is considered an invasive species. It spreads quickly by rhizomes (underground stems), forms dense mats in shaded areas and chokes out native orchids and ferns. Biological control has been unsuccessful and it takes several applications of herbicides to kill it, so repeated deep hand weeding is recommended.

It has also escaped and become naturalized in parts of Australia, Europe, and Northern, Central, and South America. Invasive plants “adversely affect the habitats they invade economically, environmentally, and/or ecologically.”  Many would never become invasive without a lot of help from us-the gardening public.

 

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