Underfoot: Common Mullein & Sweet Woodruff

By: Susan Sprout

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: Introduction & BloodrootTrout Lily & ColtsfootBlue Cohosh & Dutchman’s BreechesGround Ivy & Forget-Me-Nots, Goldthread & Wild Ginger.

Common Mullein
Common mullein is a member of the snapdragon family and native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. It is a biennial plant that starts its first year of life underfoot as a rosette of very downy leaves. Another common name for it is flannel plant.

In the second year of its life, it puts up a flower spike of amazing proportions, reaching heights of eight feet or more. You may have seen them growing along the highway. They do stand out. You really cannot misidentify this plant. I wanted to write about mullein because it is such an interesting plant that I brought home seeds for in my gardens. Wow! Are they prolific!

And with so many uses: dried stalks for tapers or torches, flowers in oil for earaches, leaves rubbed on cheeks for rouge or made into medicinal teas or smoking mixtures or poultices. If your feet get sore hiking, the leaves even make soothing insoles for shoes!

Sweet woodruff
Sweet woodruff is a low-growing surprise package! In its shady, woodland niche, this almost insignificant, perennial ground cover may grab your attention in May or June with its small four-pointed white flowers like stars against a green sky. Its leaves whorl around its square stem in groups of six to ten. Although the leaves look shiny and smooth, if you have a magnifier with you on your walk, you can detect very tiny prickly hairs on them.

Woodruff is a member of the Gallium genus along with cleavers and bedstraws that have much bigger and pricklier demeanors. Gently pull off a sprig, hold it in your warm hand, and then sniff the wonderfully unexpected aroma of new-mown hay. Placed somewhere to dry, its scent will increase. I like to put it on the dashboard of my vehicle. The chemical compound responsible is coumarin. Sweet woodruff has been used for perfumery, stuffing mattresses, and more importantly, for flavoring May wine!

Susan Sprout is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.

NPC Conserves 112 Acres adjacent to Loyalsock State Forest

As the highest bidder at a recent public auction, the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) conserved 112 acres adjacent to the Loyalsock State Forest. The property includes steep, forested hillsides, a trout stream, and a rocky cliff along Loyalsock Creek.

This newly conserved land is almost directly across from where Little Bear Road (and Little Bear Creek) intersects with Route 87, and includes part of Bar Bottom Hollow.  Bar Bottom is a Class A, naturally reproducing trout stream. The stream is somewhere between 2.3 and 2.9 miles long (depending on your informational source).  The property’s portion of Bar Bottom almost levels out and traverses a flat before entering the ‘Sock.  Sharing a boundary with the Loyalsock State Forest, a series of waterfalls can be found on the portion of the stream already on State Forest Land.  Eventually, the property will become a part of the State Forest system.

Bar Bottom, a Class A, naturally reproducing trout stream, winds through the conserved lands. (Photo Credit: Ellen Shultzabarger)

During initial project talks between NPC and the Bureau of Forestry, NPC also discussed the possible acquisition with people involved with the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association, Lycoming Audubon, and the Loyalsock Creek Men’s Club.

NPC Executive Director, Renee’ Carey, stated, “All those groups were supportive and the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited threw their support in too. We reached out to individuals familiar with the property’s location who live in the “neighborhood” or spend a lot of time in the “neighborhood.” Everyone we spoke to was hopeful the property could become part of the State Forest system.”

The Loyalsock Creek, looking downstream from the property’s edge.
(Photo credit: Ellen Shultzabarger)

Similar to their work on the Cavanaugh Access acquisition, this was another situation where the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy was asked to act quickly.  One of the reasons NPC is able to respond to these opportunities so rapidly, is because of the support of their members.  Having unrestricted funds allows NPC to do quick legwork to explore ideas as they arise.

NPC would like to thank their members for their ongoing support, and a posthumous thanks to Alfred and Helen Buck, whose donations formed the land acquisition fund that allows NPC to take on these exciting, new projects!

In addition to this 112 acres of newly conserved land, NPC has conserved 6,300 acres across the Northcentral Pennsylvania region, that are now under ownership with the Bureau of Forestry, Pennsylvania Game Commission, local government, or other conservation organizations. NPC also holds 47 conservation easements and 1 facade easement on over 4,735 acres. Learn more about NPC Conserved Lands. 

The Butternut Trail

In celebration of National Trails Day on June 6th, NPC board member, Aaron Lewis, laced up his boots to take us on a virtual trek of the Butternut Trail in Worlds End State Park. Portions of the Butternut Trail traverse NPC’s Flynn acquisition. If you’ve never had the opportunity to hike this popular, loop trail, here’s a quick look at what you can expect!

Trickling brooks, a stately rock outcropping, and a wonderful view of the Loyalsock Creek can be found on the rigorous Butternut Trail Loop. Go after a rain event and expect the small trickles to transform into cascading streams.

Aaron Lewis, NPC Board Member and Forester with Dwight Lewis Lumber Company

The 2.5 mile Butternut Trail makes a circuitous loop through a northern hardwood forest. The trail originates shortly past the State Park Visitors Center on the east side of the Cabin Bridge. There’s a small parking lot on the left near the trailhead.

Now get ready to climb!  At first the trail is somewhat steep as it makes a quick ascent, but soon levels off and arrives at a split and the start of the loop.  The Upper Road to the left travels an old logging road.  The Lower Road to the right journeys parallel to and above the Loyalsock Creek.

Following the Lower Road, you’ll make a moderate incline into the woods, followed by a gradual decline to Butternut Run, a small, intermittent stream with numerous cascades.  Along the way you’ll pass several springs and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Loyalsock Creek.  When you reach Butternut Run, be prepared to cross on foot as there is no bridge.  As you’ll see below, the stream was slightly more than a trickle on Aaron’s hike, but after a heavy rain this section of the trail could be tricky!

Crossing over Butternut Run

After crossing the run, the trail ascends again, becoming rockier, and following steep switchbacks.  Enjoy the unique rock outcroppings and formations along the way!

At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the Loyalsock valley from Butternut Vista.  Worth the climb!

Butternut Vista

After soaking up your views from the top, complete the loop by following the orange blazes.  During this second half of the hike, you’ll cross back over a different section of Butternut Run, travel through several glades, passing more wildflowers and streams along the way!

Circled above, the Butternut Trail on the Worlds End State Park map.

In 1993, NPC purchased over 600 acres of prime forest land, forming the northern and eastern boundaries of Worlds End State Park. In addition to providing public access to this tract, the acquisition allowed creation of sections of the future Butternut Trail (the trail was established by longtime NPC member, Ruth Rode, after the acquisition), and helped conserve a mile of the Loyalsock Trail that would have had to be relocated if the land was not made publicly accessible.

The 600+ acres was transferred to the Bureau of Forestry and is now managed as part of the Loyalsock State Forest – ensuring that the thrill of hiking the Butternut Trail remains available for everyone to enjoy for years to come!

Aaron Lewis is a member of the NPC Board of Directors. He is currently a Forester with Dwight Lewis Lumber Company, and previously worked as a Forester with the
U. S. Forest Service. Aaron began at Penn State’s historic Mont Alto campus before graduating from the University Park campus with a degree in Forest Ecosystem Management. He has served on the Board of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association and is currently on the Board of the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association. Residing in Hillsgrove, PA he is an outdoor recreation enthusiast, and enjoys hiking, paddling, and exploring the Pennsylvania wild.

Underfoot: Goldthread & Wild Ginger

By: Susan Sprout

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: Introduction & BloodrootTrout Lily & ColtsfootBlue Cohosh & Dutchman’s Breeches, Ground Ivy & Forget-Me-Nots.

Goldthread
Exploring along the roads near Canyon Vista in Sullivan County, you can find lots of bogs – large hemlock trees above and mossy rocks and logs below. I found goldthread growing there, woven in amongst the moss. It is low-growing with three leaflet evergreen leaves that make it look like a miniature buttercup plant. They are both members of the same Ranuculus or buttercup family.

Goldthread flower

By gently teasing apart the moss it is growing in, you can find bright yellow rhizomes which explain its common name. Single, erect stalks carry a single, star-shaped white flower with five to seven petals. People used to make a gargle for sore throats and mouth ulcers out of this plant because it is very bitter and astringent. And that gave it another name, cankerroot!

Wild Ginger
This native plant is found in the rich soils of shady, moist woods and floodplains.  A colonial perennial, it grows low to the ground and puts out double heart-shaped leaves that are about five to six inches across.


One of its identifying characteristics is a brownish, bell-shaped blossom, hiding down under its leaves. You have to dig down through the old leaves and forest duff to find it blooming low between the woolly leaf stalks. It is well camouflaged at only an inch wide with three pointed lobes. Check out the creeping rhizome from which the plant grows.


It has the distinct taste and smell of ginger similar to the commercial ginger grown in tropical regions. Both Native Americans and colonists often used the pungent root to flavor food or tea and to disguise spoiled meat. Studies have shown that using the plant to relieve gas pains may be valid.

Susan Sprout is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.

Underfoot: Ground Ivy & Forget-Me-Nots

By: Susan Sprout

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: Introduction & Bloodroot, Trout Lily & Coltsfoot, Blue Cohosh & Dutchman’s Breeches.

Ground Ivy
Look! Creeping across your lawn, into flower beds, under trees in the woods, along trails! It’s everywhere, and it’s NOT an ivy.

Give it an inch, and it wants to be a ruler! That is a hint. Of course…it’s a species of mint, complete with square stem, opposite leaves and a lovely purple flower.

Known as a popular folk remedy from the earliest times, ground ivy ruled as a brewing herb and was brought to this continent for its ability to flavor, clarify, and preserve ale. Common names of Gill-over-the-ground, Alehoof, Cat’s foot, and Creeping Charlie all speak to the uses and demeanor of ground ivy. Remove a leaf and sniff the pungent minty odor, a sure sign you have identified it correctly.

Forget-Me-Nots
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? No. More liked scorpion-tailed! The stem containing flower buds is actually curled around like a scorpion’s tail which gives Forget-Me-Nots another of its common names, Scorpion Grass. 

As each flower matures and blooms, the stem unfurls. You may also see on the close-up below the hairs that cover the stems, leaves, buds, and calyx surrounding the blossoms. Their surface cells have hard mineral deposits of calcium carbonate and silicon dioxide that create the coarse hairs and are responsible for the skin irritation some people get from touching them

There are 150 species of forget-me-nots in the world. We are lucky to have 8 different ones living in PA. Enjoy their bright blue and yellow flowers. They bring a smile when I see them budged up against the rhododendrons in the springtime. They bring a frown when I have to pick off their hitchhiker seeds from my hiking socks in the summertime.

Susan Sprout is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.

Birds Connect our World

Today is World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD)! WMBD celebrates and brings attention to one of the most important and spectacular events in the Americas – bird migration. Each year, hundreds of bird species migrate between their nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

This year’s conservation campaign, “Birds connect our world,” highlights the tracking technologies that researchers use to learn about migratory routes, examines the hazards birds face during their journeys, and implements conservation actions to help migratory birds along the way. Click here to learn more about WMBD.

To help celebrate WMBD here in northcentral Pennsylvania, ecologist and Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy member, Bob Ross, shares some insight on three species that both migrate through Pennsylvania annually and breed in Pennsylvania as well. All three are illustrated in this article with photos taken by Bob from his personal gallery.  See if you can spot them this season!

Celebrating World Migratory Bird Day
By: Bob Ross

First the Hooded Warbler, a true neotropical migrant, which refers to birds that spend winters in the neotropics (Central and South America) but migrate long distances north in spring to breed in temperate or arctic North America, returning to the tropics by fall.  This forest songbird prefers mature extensive forests with dense understory, often near forest roads or other gaps in the forest cover.  It nests in shrubs typically not far from the ground.  It is an insectivore and aracnid feeder and feeds by hawking, hovering, and gleaning prey from foliage.  It plays an important role in forest health by helping to control damaging caterpillars on trees and shrubs.  Often heard before seen, this songbird is worth learning its song then getting into the forest to find.  Its territories are found throughout central Pennsylvania woodlands.

Hood Warbler

Another summer beauty that enriches our lives with song and color is the Indigo Bunting.  This songbird is also a neotropical migrant with distribution similar to the Hooded Warbler, but ranges further west into the Great Plains and some areas of the mountain West.  It is a seed and berry feeder primarily, often stopping at yard feeders to “carb-up” before reaching its breeding grounds.  It is more generalist in breeding habitat, though, than the warbler, preferring brushy or abandoned agricultural fields to forage in.  But it sings atop tall trees along roadsides and fields all summer long and all day long where we can hear him easily and find him with some effort (watch out you don’t get “warbler neck” looking up so much!).  Like all songbirds, it feeds it young insects and other invertebrates, gleaned from grasses, shrubs, and trees.  Find this bird easily by driving along gravel or farmland roads with wooded patches, or by bicycle or foot along rail or other foot trails.

Indigo Bunting

Finally a true frugivore native to Pennsylvania and throughout sub-arctic North America, the Cedar Waxwing.  It winters south to Central America then migrates north to breed widely across the continent, mostly dropping south of Canada for the winter.  It is nomadic, following ripening fruit shrubs and trees, often breeding late in summer in response to this food source wherever it might be.  It also feeds its young insects, however, and is often seen sallying out over rivers such as Pine Creek in August to capture them above water, sometimes in large groups.  Check out the tree cover the pair of waxwings is using in the photo: a flowering honey locust, soon to be seen and smelled in northcentral Pennsylvania!

Cedar Waxwing

Bird migration is already underway in Pennsylvania, so get out there into the woods, hills, and dales to watch it.  Whether waterfowl, raptors, or songbirds, you can enjoy migratory birds and their connection to the rest of the world this time of year, every year!

Bob Ross was the lead research ecologist at the Northern Appalachian Research Laboratory near Wellsboro before retiring in 2007.  He spends winters in the southern California desert and recently published the book Birds of the Whitewater River, Southern California (www.birdsofwhitewaterriver.com).

Underfoot: Blue Cohosh & Dutchman’s Breeches

By: Susan Sprout

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: Introduction & Bloodroot, Trout Lily & Coltsfoot.

Blue Cohosh
As you walk through the moist richness of spring woods, you may notice plants of a totally different hue standing out from all of the various greens. If the stems, leaves, and flowers are a dark bluish-purple color, the plants are Blue Cohosh.

This plant is tri-ternate and is organized in groups of threes. Its first leaf of the season has a stem that separates into three branches, each dividing into three parts and having three leaflets. The flowers are divided into six parts with yellow nectar glands in the center to entice early bees for pollination. Deep blue seeds appear later. They look like blueberries, but are not considered edible. This native plant is a member of the Barberry Family, Berberidaceae, and was sought out by many different Native American tribes for its medicinal root which they harvested in the fall.

Dutchman’s Breeches
Above a puddle of grayish-green, deeply-cut, and feathery basal leaves, you may see an ersatz clothesline stem of creamy white flowers that appear like pairs of pantaloons hung up to dry. This unique plant of the Poppy Family, Papaveraceae, is Dutchman’s Breeches. Common names come into popular usage because they reflect the looks, use, or habitat of a plant. This one certainly fits! 

Its fragrant two-spurred flowers are pollinated by bumblebees whose proboscis unlike that of a honeybee is long enough to reach the nectar. Years ago I took one plant growing near a friend’s cabin and planted it under our big maple. Its progeny now carpet that area in
early spring.

Susan Sprout is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.

Underfoot: Trout Lily & Coltsfoot

By: Susan Sprout

We hope you enjoy this 2nd installment of Underfoot, by NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Click here to catch up on the introductory issue of Underfoot.

Trout Lily
You know it’s time to go fishing in PA when the trout lilies bloom. Look for them as you slog in to your favorite trout stream.  They will have a single or double leaf depending on how long they have been growing. And those leaves are speckled and shaped just like the trout you seek, but smaller.

They do not flower for the first four to seven years of life. So, if you see a yellow flower nodding on an erect stalk coming up from the leaves, enjoy its loveliness. It’s been there awhile! Also known as dog-toothed violets, they grow in colonies from underground bulbs which are reported to be edible.  I have seen them push up in the spring through sand piles left from high water in the riparian buffer zone of Muncy Creek, my favorite fishing spot.

Trout lily trio in bloom. Photo by Rick Mason.

Coltsfoot
In early spring, you may see yellow dandelion-like flowers coming straight out of the soil on scaly stems with no leaves showing at all.  You have found young coltsfoot plants. Another nickname “Son before Father” indicates just that…flowers before leaves! After the flowers fluff their seeds like dandelions, members of the same Asteraceae Family, the hoof-shaped leaves with rather furry undersides will begin to emerge. 

This plant is common from Newfoundland south and west to Minnesota. Our intrepid colonial ancestors saw to that! Not knowing what plants they would find when they landed in the New World, they brought its roots and seeds with them. Why is that? Coltsfoot has been regarded by many cultures for thousands of years as one of the best remedies for coughs and congestion. Its leaves were a very important part of the early American “Doctor Mom’s” medicine chest.

Susan Sprout is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.

Underfoot

By: Susan Sprout

The NPC membership is made up of a diverse group of knowledgeable individuals with a shared passion for the natural world. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day and kick off Environmental Education Week 2020, we’re welcoming environmental educator and longtime NPC member, Susan Sprout, as a recurring guest of the NPC blog to share her botanical knowledge. Enjoy!

Happy earth…happy us! Let’s face it, without the planet and its many components under our feet, we would not be here.  Can you wrap your brain around the fact that there are over 8.7 billion different species of organisms on earth with us?  We are so totally outnumbered! In a single handful of dirt there may be billions of individual bacteria, fungi and algae living.  Their life functions make the soil rich and alive, which benefits what grows both above and below – the plants and trees we depend upon for our lives and well-being.

I will be sharing with you from time to time some of the extraordinary plants we find underfoot as we walk the earth – roadsides, backyards, easements, parks, trails – where your feet take you. Look down! See what’s growing!

The first native plant I’d like to introduce you to is bloodroot.
While walking through moist, deciduous woods in April and early May, look for the fragile white blooms of bloodroot being held in supportive hugs by their curled leaves. The leaves will flatten to a slightly furry, lobed horseshoe shape as the weather warms. Underground, its rhizome contains an orange-red juice which gives the plant its common name. Native Americans have used bloodroot or Puccoon for hundreds of years as dye, body paint, and medicine. A member of the Poppy Family (Papaveraceae), this plant is native to North America and can range from Quebec to Florida.

Susan is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.  

Susan leading a past ‘Plant Walk & Talk’ for NPC

5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.   While many of the community events and group clean-ups have been cancelled, there are still plenty of things you can do on this international day of environmental action.

1.  Go Digital – Join Earth Challenge 2020 and become a part of the world’s largest citizen science effort. 

2.  Get Your Hands Dirty – Plant a tree.  As the saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation offering tree seedlings to celebrate Earth Day
Learn how to plant a tree

3. Make Everyday Earth Day – Make a pledge to change at least 3 daily habits; such as avoiding single use plastics, composting your kitchen scraps, or unplugging your devices!  Consistent, small acts like these will reduce your carbon footprint and lead towards a more sustainable future. More Earth Day Everyday Tips here…

4. Make a Donation – Support NPC’s ongoing mission to sustain the rural landscapes and waterways of Northcental PA with a special Earth Day donation.

5.  Get Outside (of course!) – Take some time to get outside and really soak up the natural world around you on this particular day.  Whether it’s for a hike through the woods or a simple meander along the creek, finding time to enjoy our environment strengthens our resolve to protect it.