Underfoot: White Snakeroot

By Susan Sprout

White Snakeroot is blooming now through October, depending on the weather. The heavy rain and hail last week may have taken a toll on their white, fuzzy-looking flower heads.

A close-up of the blossoms

Members of the Aster Family, they are unlike many of their relatives such as daisies with composite or compound flower heads, because they do not have any ray florets or petals surrounding the middle of the bloom. Instead, the whole flat-topped flower head is composed of white disk flowers that on closer inspection look like little tubes with five lobes at their tops. The male part of the flower is white and Y-shaped and sticks out beyond the tubes. That is what makes the flowers look fluffier. After pollination, the disk flowers will be replaced by tiny black seeds, about one-tenth of an inch long, with five ridges on their sides. A small tuft of white hair on each one helps with distribution by the wind. 

White Snakeroot is a native perennial plant with thin green to brown round stems. Their opposite leaves are oval-shaped and can be coarsely to sharply toothed. They flourish in deep shade to full sun and are common in woods, meadows, and along roads. The whole plant has a rather angular look to it with the flower heads jutting straight off above the leaf pairs!

Every part of this plant, living or dried, can be fatal to humans and domestic livestock if they have drunk the milk of animals that have eaten it. In the early 19th century, “milk sickness” claimed the lives of thousands of people unfamiliar with White Snakeroot and had used it as forage for their livestock. Abraham Lincoln’s mother is said to have died after using this toxic plant. Do look this up and read more about who discovered White Snakeroot was actually the cause of this horrible sickness!

White Snakeroot

PA Trails Month – Loyalsock Trail

Affectionately referred to at the LT, the Loyalsock Trail was laid out and built by volunteers. Over the years the Alpine Club of Williamsport extended the Trail, has relocated sections, and has taken on maintenance.

The Trail is on footpaths, old logging roads, and abandoned railroad grades as it travels 59.2 miles from Route 87 north of Montoursville to Mead Road off US Route 220 near Laporte. While there are moderate sections, there are also difficult sections, so do some research before you head out on the LT.

One of the priorities for NPC in acquiring the Flynn property in the early 1990s was concern about needing to re-route the LT. When NPC acquired the property at auction and then conveyed it to the Bureau of Forestry it allowed the LT to stay on the route it was on. No re-routing was necessary.

The acquisition also allowed for some trails to be added. This photo shows the Loyalsock Trail at its intersection with the Flynn Trail. Yep, the same Flynn as in Flynn property. The yellow discs with the red “LT” are the markers for the LT, and the yellow blazes (rectangles) are the Flynn Trail.

For more information on the Loyalsock Trail visit the Alpine Club’s website: https://alpineclubofwilliamsport.com

September is Trails Month!

PA Trails Month – Butternut Trail

Butternut Vista at Worlds End State Park is on the Butternut Trail. The rocks, roots, and elevation change make this trail a little more difficult than “moderate.”

The trail traverses a property NPC purchased at an auction in the early 1990s. The property being sold adjoined Worlds End and the then Wyoming State Forest (now Loyalsock State Forest). A portion of the Loyalsock Trail (LT) is on the parcel.

This view from the Vista was taken in late April. Chilly, overcast spring days are great hiking weather!

One of the driving factors in NPC acquiring the property was concern about needing to re-route the LT.By acquiring the Flynn property, the LT could stay where it was, and additional hiking opportunities were opened up!

For more information on the Butternut Trail (and other trails at Worlds End) use the following link!https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/…/WorldsEndSt…/Pages/Hiking.aspx

Underfoot: Teasel

By Susan Sprout

During the Colonial Era, many people brought with them the plants and animals they needed to be successful when beginning a new life in a foreign land. Teasel is one such immigrant whose presence, although required for producing cloth at that time, is not required now, thanks to technological advances made in the wool manufacturing factories since then.

Check the prickles on the flower heads and stems!

Teasels are well-armed plants with bristles and spines on leaves, stems, and flower heads, even on the long pointed bracts that surround them. Their prickliness is what made them so valuable in the production of wool cloth. The flower heads were carefully cut and put into frames that allowed the cloth makers to hold onto them and scratch the flat surface of newly-woven cloth, raising the nap to make it softer and furrier. The raised nap was then closely trimmed for an even texture before the cloth was dyed and tented, or placed on tenterhooks, to shrink and dry.

You have probably seen a lot of teasel this year, growing along roads and in unused fields. This plant is a monocarpic perennial, meaning it needs to keep growing until it accumulates enough stored energy to bloom and set seed; then, it dies. So, younger teasel plants may have growing in those fields for two or more years before becoming unbelievably obvious – at up to eight feet in height! Their oval-shaped flower heads are unusual, as well, with flowers opening first in a belly band around the middle, and then moving up and down, forming two strips of flowers, top and bottom. Several species grow in PA – purple or white flowered, some with toothed leaves and others smooth-edged, except for the prickles!

Teasel is listed by the National Invasive Species Information Center. Once established, it is difficult to eradicate. A single plant can produce two thousand seeds. These plants create a mono-culture that crowds out native plant species.

Teasel growing wild in a field.

Survey Work at Plunketts Creek

Some survey work was done last week at State Game Lands 134 (along Plunketts Creek in Lycoming County) to get information on the elevation at the site with the berm removed. As you may recall NPC partnered with the PA Game Commission, the 333rd US Army Reserve Engineering Unit, and numerous other groups to reconnect Plunketts Creek to its floodplain by removing an earthern berm along the Creek.

Mark and Trent with BluAcres found the control point from the survey work during the design phase and set up the equipment.

The yellow spot on the ground is a piece of rebar with a cap on it. This was set as a control point the first time they went out and will be used at every subsequent visit.

Trent found the previous survey points and collected data at those points.

Trent has a map of the previous points in his left hand and the survey unit in his right hand. Surveying is a lot different than it used to be.

Trent even humored me and held up the staff so the tip was “sitting” on what would have been the top of the berm.

The bottom of the staff is “sitting” on top of the berm. So basically, Trent would be up to his neck in dirt if the berm were still there. (Trent was so accomodating in part because he is a graduation of Lycoming College and worked summers for the Clean Water Institute at the College. Dr. Zimmerman generall has the CWI-ers spend at least a day on a project of the northcentral stream partnership.)

They’ll download the data. There will be some computer magic and then there will be a pretty new map. This work is to help the agencies who issued permits that the work resulted in the correct grade – the stream is reconnected to its floodplain.

Underfoot: Turkey Tails

By Susan Sprout

Mr. Crabapple, a stump in our backyard, has grown a braid!

OK, that’s what I call it. Normal folks would probably call it shelf fungi.

Turkey Tails is their common name, reflecting the wonderful concentric color zones of tan, brown, gray and cinnamon that look like fanned turkey tails. These are one of the most frequent types of fungi found in our woods and throughout the world.

Turkey Tail Fungi

Until the 1960’s, fungi were categorized as plants. We now know, from biochemical and DNA studies, they are more closely related to animals than plants and are placed in a separate kingdom which includes yeasts, molds, mushrooms, and mildews.

Turkey Tails are saprobes, decomposers of dead hardwood logs and stumps. I see them all the time when I hike. Ah well, I actually can’t see the fungi’s main body, the mycelium, made up of microscopic thread-like hyphae, because they live deep inside what they are recycling – secreting digestive enzymes to break down the wood molecules and absorb them as building blocks in order to keep growing. What I do see are the fruit bodies formed to make and release their reproductive spores.

The white underside of the Turkey Tail is covered with very tiny holes from which the white spores are released, usually in fall or winter. The thin, flexible “shelves” can grow up to four inches in diameter and may overlap in layers as their fruit bodies grow.

I am always amazed by their soft, velvety exterior when I check them under a magnifier. Mr. Crabapple thinks they look cool! Little does he know…

Cancelled – Celebrate 30+1 Years of Conservation!

2020 was NPC’s 30th anniversary, but we couldn’t celebrate in person. We re-grouped. Join in celebrating NPC’s 30+1 Anniversary!

September 15, 2021
5pm cash bar
6pm dinner
Herman & Luther’s

(787 State Route 87, Montoursville, PA)
Cocktail hour, live music, and a buffet style dinner.
Cost is $45 per person with reservations due by September 7, 2021


Thank you to our sponsors:
Kase Law
Dwight Lewis Lumber Co., Inc.
Evergreen Wealth Solutions
McCormick Law Firm
Pennsylvania American Water
Wayne Township Landfill
Woodlands Bank

Underfoot: Swamp Dewberry

By Susan Sprout

The trailing, woody stems of this native plant like to grow sprawled out across my favorite bog. Hiking in is like walking on a thick carpet.

Their shiny green leaves of three won’t raise welts though to some folks, they may resemble poison ivy.

Swamp Dewberry

Swamp Dewberry or Bristly Dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a member of the Rose Family – like the other berries we love to eat during the summer. Unfortunately, the ripe fruit of Dewberry doesn’t taste that great to humans. Song birds, game birds, other mammals, yes. To us, the taste is quite sour.

The small, white, five-petaled flowers have finished blooming by now, and the ones pollinated by small bees and flies have grown into small, individual druplets that are clumped together to form the aggregate fruits we call Dewberries! They start out white, then green, then red and finally purplish-black when totally ripe. You may find all of these colors at one time or another on their slender and bristly red twigs.

Look for swamp Dewberries growing where the soil is acid and damp and the sunlight is dappled. Their tendency to form dense thickets also provides nesting habitat and protective cover for birds and smaller animals. The favor is returned when seeds of the fruits are dispersed into new areas.

Check out Swamp Dewberry’s bristly stem!

Berm Removal Along Plunketts Creek Wraps Up

The 1st Platoon of the 333rd Engineering Company of the US Army Reserves pulled out of Proctor Saturday morning, August 21, 2021 after nearly 3 weeks of work. The 30 soldiers worked on their equipment skills, teamwork, and project management while removing an earthen berm along Plunketts Creek at State Game Lands 134.

Thank you to the Plunketts Creek Township Volunteer Fire Company for allowing equipment to be staged at the fire station the night before the group pulled out.

The berm was built to protect the site when it was a propagation farm for the PA Game Commission raising turkeys then pheasants. Since the farm is no longer being used in that way, the berm could be removed to allow the stream access to its floodplain. This will provide ecological benefits and community benefits by reducing flood impacts.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s hydroseeder made it much easier to get seed on the ground. The seed is mixed with a mulch and water then sprayed out through a hose.

Over the course of the 3 weeks the soldiers worked to pull apart the berm, haul some of the material to a nearby dirt and gravel road project on State Game Lands, create small stockpiles, grade the area to allow for connection between the stream and its floodplain, and seed the area and install jute matting (a coconut fiber grid material). Additionally, they improved their skills in operating the heavy equipment, had training with night vision goggles, practiced building earthen structures that are used to help tanks absorb impacts (a tank defilade), and worked as a team. Many of the soldiers are new to the platoon and this was the first summer training they had attended with the group.

1SG Bleiler explains the training aspects of the project to members of the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association and Loyalsock Creek Men’s Club.

Over the course of the project partners such as the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association, Loyalsock Creek Men’s Club, and American Legion Post 104 (the Eugene Grafius Post in Montoursville) toured the site to see how the project was progressing and meet the onsite leadership implementing the project. There was a common comment heard during each tour, “that’s a lot of dirt.”

SFC Schoch with the Officers from American Legion Post 104, Eugene Grafius Post, in Montoursville. The Legion provided funding to help support the soldiers while they were on site. Thanks to the Legion and other donors, we were able to buy meals locally so there wasn’t a huge need for the soldiers to eat MREs.

It was a lot of dirt, but the soldiers got the job done even with the rainy weather that changed site conditions and created some challenges. After one rain and wind storm, the soldiers removed 30 trees from local roadways to keep local traffic moving and allow the soldiers hauling material to the Camp Mountain Road/Huckle Run site to safely return to the main base.

Over the next several weeks the seed the soldiers spread will germinate and the Pennsylvania Game Commission will work to close out the permits needed for the work. The blue silt sock the soldiers installed on their first day will stay in place until the permits are released.

Before – note the postion of the shrub at the edge of the stream, and the trees in the backbround.
After – again note the postion of the shrub at the edge of the stream, and the trees in the backbround.

Underfoot: Spotted Spurge

By Susan Sprout

For those of you who do your walking in town, here’s a plant you may have seen growing from pavement cracks and then sprawling out like a mat over the sidewalk. It is Spotted Spurge, Chamaesyce maculata, a member of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge Family.

This interesting little plant is a native annual that blooms from May to October. Its paired, dark green leaves are slightly toothed and hairy. They stand out against the slender, red stem which is also covered with fine hairs. On closer examination, you may find a reddish blotch on each leaf.

Spotted Spurge surging from between two sidewalk blocks.

Be careful if you pull off a piece of the plant to look at – the milky latex that seeps out of the torn stem is a caustic skin irritant. Yes, I itched from it because I placed it on the desk where I do research and write. Yes, before I did the research and found out about the itchy juice.

Male and female flowers grow cupped in structures called cyathias that are produced in the leaf forks. You really need a magnifier to see their white or pinkish petal-like appendages and the hairy three-lobed capsule that the pollinated female flower develops. Each valve of the capsule contains a single seed that is ridged and pitted.

A close up of Spotted Spurge

You may see resident flocks of Mourning Doves pecking at the plants. These seeds are hydrophilic, by the way. When wet, they can adhere to surfaces – like shoes of passers-by. Spotted Spurge is known in all of the states except Alaska. It has even been introduced to Hawaii.