Underfoot: Yellow Wild Indigo

By Susan Sprout

Where the wild indigo grows

What an enjoyable afternoon we had at the top of Highland Mountain, gazing toward the horizon across Sullivan County and being serenaded by American Towhees with their “Drink your tea” songs! If that wasn’t great enough, looking across the clearing, I spied lots of small yellow flowers on squat shrubby-looking bushes. A new plant to explore…one whose name I did not know. It is Yellow Wild Indigo, with the scientific name of Baptisia tinctoria, from Latin verbs  baptiso (to dip or dye) and tingo (to soak in dye). 

Check out the bluish foliage

I had met its cousin before, the true “of India” Indigo, the well-known dye plant in the same Pea Family, FABACEAE. Here was a plant, native to Pennsylvania, used by Native Americans and colonists as a blue dye plant, as well as for medicine. The inch and a half long pea-like flowers were being pollinated by bees. Pods created by that interaction will look like short, fat peapods that turn brown as they mature. The leaves attached to the stem are in groups of three like clover, another relative. The bluish-green color of the young bushes sets them apart visually from the other greens of the field. The whole plant will turn black rapidly as it dries out, making it a stand-out among the fall colors, too.

See how their clover-like leaves turn  black when dried.

I was happy to discover Yellow Wild Indigo is a host plant to some of our native butterflies…they evolved together! Check out Clouded and Orange Sulphurs, the Eastern Tailed-Blue, and, most especially, the Wild Indigo Dusky Wing – its own very special butterfly!

Board of Directors Elected by Members

A quote we use frequently is from Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” It reflects the many board members who over the years have helped the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy along the way.

At the June annual membership meeting we said goodbye to four long time board members and welcomed four new board members. Thank you Gail Zimmerman, Carl Barlett, Phyllis Reynolds, and Roy Siefert for all your help!! (although, we will still be asking you for help) Welcome Mary Blondy, Chris Kenyon, Stephanie Radulski, and Julie Weaver!!

Underfoot: American Sycamore

By Susan Sprout

Getting a forkful at Forksville this week, afforded me the opportunity to visit several of my favorite Sycamores, AKA Planetrees. that live along Loyalsock Creek.

In Pennsylvania, some have matured to absolutely huge proportions when left alone to keep growing: one in Philadelphia County is over 149 feet tall; Delaware County has one 404 years old; one in Chester County has a circumference at breast height of over 30 feet. Amazing – see why I love Sycamore Trees – such potential!

As they grow, their less than elastic bark cracks and sloughs off to reveal lighter under-bark creating an easy to identify blotchy camouflage pattern of gray, brown, cream and tan that any hunter would be proud to wear. These native trees are common along waterways and low woods, where once established, they appear to be drought-resistant.

American Sycamores along Loyalsock Creek

Sycamores’ leaves may resemble maple leaves, but they are much bigger –  five to nine inches across, with prominent yellow veins, and furry undersides. And, they are not related to maples at all, but are members of the Planetree Family (Platanaceae) that has only eight known living species in the world. The family has been around for over one hundred million years, making some paleobotanists consider our modern Sycamores to be living fossils.

Reproduction takes place in the spring when inconspicuous male and female flowers in hanging bunches are pollinated by the wind, just about the time the leaves begin to sprout. The seeds develop in round spikey balls, green turning to brown, that hang on for about a year before falling to the ground. Pick one up and pull it apart to find the individual seeds surrounded by long hairs – they float in the air and on the water, a second dispersal mechanism. No wonder they are so successful!

American Sycamores pushing up through the rocks along Loyalsock Creek

Northern Maidenhair Fern

These elegant-looking perennial ferns, preferring acid soil and partial shade, are likely to be found on wooded slopes and ravine bottoms that are moist. They “brown-up” early in summer when they are too dry. Northern Maidenhair Fern or Adantium pedatum is the Eastern North American native of this genus growing world-wide that has nearly two hundred different species in it.  I love looking for their circular patterns of horizontal fronds and bright green leaflets divided into little fan shapes! They are lacy and delicate. The shiny black stems holding them all together are a great clue when trying to identify Maidenhair Fern, and thus, the name. And they are tough! They were used by Native Americans in their basket-making. With many other ferns, there is an observable difference between fertile fronds carrying spores and non-fertile fronds without them. Not so with Maidenhair! Their foliage looks the same until you turn one over and find little sori curled up on underside edges behind the vein tips of the leaflet. Though tiny and tucked away, wind will disperse the spores to grow into heart-shaped gametophytes responsible for sexual reproduction and creation of the next generation of ferns. Over time, they will grow into colonies, spread by their underground rhizomes. In spring, look for the pinkish-brown crosiers or shepherd’s crooks pushing up. Return trips are a must…to see them gracefully unfurl!

Northern Maidenhair Fern
Circular frond pattern

Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access Celebrated

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams joined the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) and local supporters for a dedication ceremony at the Phelps Mills Canoe Launch on Pine Creek in the Tiadaghton State Forest in Pine Creek Township, Clinton County just across the Creek from the borough of Jersey Shore.

The moment the ribbon was cut!
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

“The story of the Phelps Mills Canoe Launch is a testament to the power of collaboration and the impact it can have providing recreational opportunities in our communities,” Dunn said. “Thank you to NPC, its volunteers, George and Shirley Durrwachter, and everyone who helped make this project a reality.”

The ceremony formally welcomed Phelps Mill Canoe Launch on Pine Creek under the Bureau of Forestry umbrella. Although the canoe launch has been a managed as a part of Tiadaghton State Forest since late 2019 when DCNR purchased the property from NPC, the obeservance on June 25, 2021 allowed the project partners to come together and celebrate what they achieved.

Thank you to everyone who helped make the project possible and came out to celebrate!
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

NPC was able to purchase the property and conduct environmental assessments due to a generous donation from Dr. George and Shirley Durrwachter.

This photo from before the improvements show the path down to Pine Creek with just a bit of the gate in the lower left corner.

“Having this boat launch available to local residents will allow them to traverse the creek and the river to downtown Jersey Shore,” George Durrwachter said. “Creating recreational opportunities closer to where people live is important not only because of time constraints but it will also reduce congestion on the highways.”

In addition to the donation from the Durrwachters to acquire the land, NPC secured grants and support from the Western Pennsylvania Canoe Access Fund and the Clinton County Tourism and Recreation Fund to support improvements at the canoe launch.

The improvements were completed in August 2020 and helped stabilize the canoe launch, improve the walking surface, improve the parking lot, and replace the gate with a bollard to make it easier to carry canoes and kayaks down the path.

By October 2020 the site improvements were complete and the pathway was easier to use and navigate, especially if carring a canoe or kayak.

The black lab who showed up just as the group photo was wrapping up wasn’t planned, but was perfectly timed. The lab had his stick and headed straight to the water, running down the improved pathway, and launched into the Creek.

Thank you again to George and Shirley for their support that made this possible! Thank you also to Carl Barlett for speaking on behalf of NPC and Commissioner Jeff Snyder for his remarks on behalf of the Clinton County Tourism and Recreation Fund and the Clinton County Commissioners.

The unplanned black lab who demonsrated how to enjoy the Creek.
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

We hope you enjoy rivers all summer long! If you want to check out this access, the address is 1019 E. Central Ave., Jersey Shore, PA (but you’re on the west side of the Creek/the Avis side, not the east side of the Creek/the Jersey Shore side).

Underfoot: Green Dragon

By: Susan Sprout

I hope you are familiar with the native plant Jack-in-the-pulpit because I would like to introduce you to Jack’s less well-known relative in the same genus – Green Dragon. Arisaema dracontium, also a member of the Arum Family with Jack, is a native perennial plant that lives in the rich ground of low woods and flood plains.

The first one I ever found was along the muddy edge of the West Branch Susquehanna River, downstream from the Ellmaker Boat Landing in Montoursville. Green Dragons like dappled sunlight when they first appear in the spring and then more shade later on. That had happened quite naturally as the sycamores and silver maples leafed out over them there.

Green Dragon leaves

Each plant has a single leaf made up of five to fifteen smooth, oval leaflets and a single naked stem topped with its inflorescence or flowers, both arising from an underground tuberous corm.  The unusual leaf usually grabs my eye first because it looks like the palm of a hand with too many fingers, swirling around the stem. Then I peek under it, and there is a dragon’s tongue!

The “tongue” of the Green Dragon

Start at the very tip of the “tongue” and travel down four to ten inches and you will find the flowers at its base like little greenish-yellow balls hugged by the spathe, a leaf-like bract that partially surrounds them and allows the dragon’s tongue to ascend out the top. Fungus gnats attend to pollinate them, turning the flower column into a red-orange club made up of at least a hundred pear-shaped berries containing one to three seeds…treats for wild turkeys. Don’t try them yourself – they contain enough calcium oxalate to burn your mouth and, if eaten, cause severe gastric distress and kidney damage.

A close up of the flowers on a Green Dragon

Look for the Green Dragon now. It will fly away… I mean go dormant…soon!

Underfoot: Geraniums

By: Susan Sprout

Geranium seed capsules

It’s summer – geranium time! The Geraniaceae Family name comes from the word “geranos” which means “a crane” in Greek. The long-beaked seed capsules of these plants stick up in the air when dry and resemble a crane’s bill. Some members of the family actually have Cranesbill as a common name. 

Two native geraniums I have discovered growing locally are Wood geraniums and Herb-robert. These are not the big brightly-colored hanging basket varieties from the garden store, but live tucked in shadier spots in the woods with flowers of pale pink and lavender.

Wood Geranium or Geranium maculatum, has basal leaves with five to seven lobes. The flowers are on a stem by themselves that comes straight up from the rhizome or root of the plant and have just a single pair of smaller leaves under their small cluster of five-petaled pink blossoms.  Wood Geraniums are common in woods and field edges and can reach two feet in height. Their leaves were used by Native Americans as external astringent and to stop bleeding.

Wood Geranium

Herb-robert or Geranium robertianum is smaller and, well, seems more delicate to me with its deeply-dissected leaflets growing outward from hand-shaped leaves that turn red at the end of flowering. These plants have reddish hairy stems that branch and spread out in a lovely fashion. One of the common names for Herb-robert is “stinking bob” which should give you a clue to the strong pungent scent given off by the leaves and branches when they are touched.  So much for delicate! The five-petaled pink to purple flowers grow on the branches, nestled among all of the leaves and really are small and delicate. Medicinally, Herb-robert was used for skin irritations and bruises. Could this plant have been around when the continents were pulled apart? It is listed as native to Europe, parts of Asia, North Africa and North America!

Herb-Robert Geranium

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

Underfoot: Indian Cucumber Root

By: Susan Sprout

As above, so below. Looking downward, I saw the stars!  Five to nine smooth, lance-shaped leaves were whorled around a thin stem, some in double tiers, looking like stars scattered about on the shady forest floor. The Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) I found along the Double Run Nature Trail at Worlds End was blooming…a delightful experience to behold! 

Indian Cucumber Root

Greenish-yellow flowers, one or two, hang on drooping stems beneath circles of leaves, their petals curved back showing their long, brown styles that carry pollen to the ovaries where purple to black berries will eventually form. Parallel leaf veins speak to their ties with the Lily Family, Lilaceae. The cucumber part of the common name comes from the two to three inch long tuberous white root  that smells and tastes like cucumbers. Native Americans gathered them as food, a labor not recommended today because of the scarcity of this native plant.

Blossom on two tiers of leaves of Indian Cucumber Root

There were other “stars” in the Double Run woods that day, June 12, 2021. DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry John Norbeck, Worlds End Park employees and Friends of the Park were there along with others who gathered to witness the dedication and induction of the park’s 780 acres into the Old-Growth Forest Network.  Dr. Joan Maloof, founder and director of the network presented a commemorative sign and spoke about the importance of protecting older forests, at least one in every county of every state in the US, building not only a network of forests, but also an alliance of people who care about forests. Eighteen PA counties have old-growth forests placed in the network so far. Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution states that people have a right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment. DCNR as a caretaker of these resources for citizens now and generations to come, sees the conservation and maintenance of them as their mission. BRAVO!

Dr. Joan Maloof and Worlds End State Park Manager, Bill Kocher.

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

Jersey Shore Elementary Students Make Donation to the NPC

Students in the Life Skills Classes at Jersey Shore Elementary recently raised $400 to donate to the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy.  The students sold coffee, tea, and other drinks plus homemade snacks they prepared to the staff of the elementary school to raise the funds.  Cindy Ferguson, MS CCC-SP, of Jersey Shore Area School District, stated, “The classes under the guidance of their teachers, Ms. Liddic and Mrs. Woleslagle, and support staff are very conservation focused and sponsor Earth Day projects within the school and community.  We are so very proud of their dedication and generosity.”

The students’ donation to the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy will support the non-profits ongoing efforts to conserve and enhance the lands and waters of Northcentral Pennsylvania for the environmental well-being and recreational needs of our local communities. 

Photo courtesy of Cindy Ferguson, Jersey Shore Area School District.

Underfoot: Squawroot

By: Susan Sprout

Squawroot is a strange and wonderful plant that I knew only from photos in plant books. In late fall of 2020, my plant buddy Debbie and I came upon what looked like its sad remains. Wild and crazy, I jumped up and down, wahooing! Then, the waiting began. Finally, after three visits this spring, I found it had finally shouldered its way up through the pile of oak leaves that had blanketed it over winter. And, here it is!

Spring flowering Squawroot

A member of the Orobanchaceae or Broom-rape Family, known for being parasitic herbs without chlorophyll. Squawroot, Conopholis americana, is a native ranging from eastern Canada to Florida. Its genus name comes from the scales it has instead of leaves (pholis) and when dried it resembles evergreen tree cones (conos). Most of this plant’s biomass is underground where it develops for four years before emerging to bloom. It develops swollen knobs as its root system attaches to an oak root and slowly receives from the sap enough nourishment and energy to reproduce. Its flowers are cream-colored in dense fleshy unbranched spikes.

Sad remains of Squawroot

It is a perennial plant that will live up to ten years in forests where its presence and relative abundance may indicate the forest’s age and stability. Native American usage of it was for menopause symptoms and reproductive problems. Amazingly, Squawroot has estrogen-like properties that doctors today would use for just such conditions. Its flowers are pollinated by flies and bumblebees and become food for deer and bears. Where conditions are right…shady, oak-forested sites, large colonies often flourish.

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!