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.
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!
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.
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.
With the official start of summer just around the corner, heat waves already upon us, and the end of the school year, many Pennsylvanians turn to their local waterways to cool off and have fun throughout the season. That’s why the month of June is also such a fitting time to celebrate Rivers Month in the commonwealth. Rivers Month is an opportunity to celebrate our river resources, consider the importance those resources have on our everyday lives, and acknowledge what we can do to help conserve those resources for generations to come.
Creating and Enhancing Access to our Waterways
Pennsylvania is home to 86,000 miles of rivers, streams, and creeks (second in the United States only to Alaska!), so there is certainly a lot to celebrate! From boating and paddling to swimming, fishing, and tubing – whatever your preferred way to enjoy the water is – chances are there’s a prime spot to do it right here in our Northcentral haven of the state! For over 3 decades, NPC members have been helping to make easier access for these recreational opportunities. Here are just a few!
The conservation of the Baker Run property allowed for the creation of a new public access canoe/kayak launch site to the West Branch Susquehanna River. Baker Run is a tributary to the Susquehanna River, between Lock Haven and Renovo. The section of the West Branch Susquehanna from the PA Fish and Boat Commission access at Hyner, downstream to the access in Woodward Township’s Park (on the North Side of the Jay Street Bridge at Lock Haven) is about twenty-one river-miles long – a pretty lengthy paddle for most! The conservation of this land and installation of the launch between the two points helped eliminate the “recreation barrier”, creating opportunity for more people to enjoy the river.
Harrigan Island is in the Susquehanna River near Athens. The original owners of the island encouraged canoe travelers to camp on the island. To help ensure that others could enjoy this same simple pleasure for years to come, they worked with the NPC to permanently conserve the land. Today, Harrigan Island is part of the Loyalsock State Forest.
Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access
For years, people had used this property on the Avis side of the Route 150 bridge over Pine Creek to paddle, fish, swim, and cool off all summer long. So, when the property, previously under private ownership, came up for sale in 2019, NPC stepped in to help in ensure that this favored, local watering hole remained available for the public to enjoy for generations to come!
Most recently, the site was officially named the Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access (formerly referred to as the Avis Canoe Launch), as a nod to the large grist and saw mills that used to occupy the area, manufacturing boards, shingles, laths, palings, among other materials, that helped develop the northcentral PA region.
Pine Creek flows into the West Branch Susquehanna River. Consider enjoying this section of the river this summer by paddling from the Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access to the Jersey Shore River Access!
Conserving the Health of our Rivers
Beyond recreation, healthy rivers provide habitat, drinking water, replenish groundwater, help moderate floods and droughts, support forest health, and more!
As part of the Northcentral Stream Partnership, NPC is helping to conserve and strengthen the health of our rivers by stabilizing eroding streambanks and improving aquatic habitat on agriculturally impaired streams across the region. The Partnership’s sustained efforts to bring the waterways of Northcentral PA back to health while maintaining a working agricultural landscape is currently being used as a model to help improve water quality throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay.
Once I found and identified Wild Sarsaparilla, Aralia nudicaulis, it seemed to be everywhere, dancing back through the understory as far as I could see! So common, in fact, that in some environments, it may serve as an indicator species for its native Northern Hardwood Forests of Oak and Hickory, Beech and Maple.
In early spring, this plant shoots straight up from its woody, underground rhizome a smooth stalk or peduncle, with a curled bronze leaf that unfurls, greener and pinnately compound, having three smaller stems each with from three to seven tiny-toothed leaflets. Next, up comes another smooth stalk carrying just the flowers, usually three globe-shaped constellations of twenty to forty greenish-white five-petaled flowers that mostly stay hidden beneath the leaf.
The fleshy fruits that appear after pollination ripen to a rich deep purple, almost black during the fall. Birds like grouse and thrushes eat the berries, as well as foxes and chipmunks. Deer browse the leaves. Native Americans used the plant for food, tea and medicine, poulticing its leaves for treatment of wounds and sores.
Wild Sarsaparilla is a member of the Ginseng Family, not to be confused with another plant of the same common name, but a woody, prickly vine whose scientific name is Smilax ornata, a member of the Smilax or Catbrier Family. Both plants have been used as flavorings in soft drinks.
This herbaceous native has had a whole lot of names, common and scientific! So far, it has been identified as a member of three different families. As luck would have it, DNA evidence landed it back in one of them – LILIACEAE – the Lily Family!
Trilliums just don’t have the expected lily-like parallel veins on their leaves, but rather netted ones, that crisscross and meet up again across their surface. Each common name of Red Trillium helps describe some aspect of the plant. “Wake-robin” harkens its standout red bloom to the early arriving robin. “Stinking Benjamin” tells of the malodorous scent of its single flower used to attract carrion flies and beetles to pollinate it. “Birthwort” reminds us that its root was once used in tea made for new mothers. The “tri” in trillium is for three – three triangular-shaped leaves, three red to purple petals, three greenish-red sepals that protected the bud before it opened and remain under the petals.
This species of trillium has an erect stem, “erectum”, up to four inches long, holding the flower head above the leaves. It does have the habit of curling back down under the leaves, so you sometimes have to look under to find the flower. I discovered this flower near a woods road in the state forest where Laurel and Rhododendrons grow in rich wet to dry acid soil.
An ephemeral plant, Trillium can grow to twenty-four inches in height even with its short life cycle: blooming from April to June, setting seed, then dying back to its rhizomes underground for the rest of the year. This is how Trillium takes advantage of the high levels of early spring sunlight before the trees above leaf-out and block it. Smart!
While walking or riding along hillsides, cliffs, or ledges, set your mind to scan for red. Our native Wild Columbine is blooming now! It is a thick-tubered perennial plant whose roots snuggle down in shale crevices holding it tight to slippery slopes. A basal rosette of leaves developed last summer has stayed green during the winter and thus provided the energy for early blooming.
Columbine’s scientific name of Aquilegia canadensis is based on Latin for “eagle” because of the talon-like shapes of the red spurs holding nectar and enticing long-tongued insects and hummingbirds to visit and pollinate its blossoms. Each petal with its long, narrow spur at the back has also been likened to pigeons, their heads together and drinking from a bowl…that’s where the common name Columbine comes from.
After being pollinated, the bell-shaped, drooping flower tilts upward and forms a brown, oval pod that will slowly release seeds into the wind. Its leaves alternate and are made up of three lobed or cleft leaflets. They seem to have a bluish tinge, perhaps created by light shining off the lightly fuzzy leaves. Once you have found the plant, check the bright spurs for holes, chewed there by insects, maybe bumblebees, seeking a short cut to the nectar.
What a bouquet of Violets I discovered on my Mothers’ Day rambles! They weren’t my common backyard and garden blues. They were white and yellow and purple! Members of the Violet Family, VIOLACEAE, there are more than seventy-seven species throughout North America. My PA plant resource lists forty living in this state.
Violets are grouped together based on whether they have their flowers and leaves on the same stalk (stemmed species) or on different stalks with leaves and flowers growing singly from their underground rhizomes (stemless species). All blooms have five petals, but size, shape, color, nectar guides, length of beards on side petals that bees have to squeeze through…all separate them further into species. And the leaves…shapes from heart to birdfoot to lance and halbert, with varying degrees of smooth and hairy.
Seed capsules and the seeds themselves have their own special colors and attitudes of growth, pointing upward when ripening and ejecting seeds several feet where they may be gathered by ants for their fats and used to feed their larvae.
Trying to identify violets is difficult because they also hybridize! Three species I am relatively sure of are all natives and like rich woods and openings along roadways. Sweet White Violet: white stemless flowers, bent-back top petals, smooth reddish stems. Long-spurred Violet: pale lavender stemmed flowers, leaf tip very pointed with a smattering of hairs, quite a long spur containing nectar. Downy Yellow Violet: yellow stemmed flower and leaves with hairy stems, long tapering point on leaves.
The great thing about violets is no matter which ones you
find or where they are growing, you will know they all have high wildlife value
– caterpillars, butterflies, moths, bees, small wasps, ants, chewing insects –
they all love ’em. Yeah! I do, too!
Box Elder (or Ash-leafed Maple) While birdwatching at the Robert Porter Allen Natural Area and looking up for a change, I was happy to discover this deciduous, native tree growing by the trail in a low, moist area near the wetland. Surprise!
It isn’t a Boxwood, though it has whitish wood. Neither is it an Elderberry, though it sports elder-like pinnately compound leaves resembling one. Ash-leafed Maple is probably the better name for this tree because it is a species of maple and has opposite branching like them. Its leaves, unlike the the well-known, single, palm-shaped maple leaves, are made up of multiple leaflets ranging from three to nine opposite each other on its rachis or leaf stem. Flowers, long gone by April or May, are replaced on the female tree by double samaras or seeds, which give its identity away!
Box Elders range from Canada to central Florida. When you find this tree, look around for grosbeaks and finches who may be feeding on the samaras, which stay on the tree until early fall. Native Americans used the sap to make maple syrup, although it wasn’t as sweet as that from Sugar maples.
Sharp-lobed Liverleaf Sharp-lobed Liverleaf (Hepatica americana var. acuta), a member of the Buttercup Family, is a native plant of eastern North America, found from Nova Scotia to north Florida. What a treat to find its flower pushing up from small rhizomes on such a hairy stem!
Although the colors of its sepals vary from white to blue to pink, they will all have three large green bracts supporting their single blossom on each stem. Called sepals and not petals for this plant, they can number from six to twenty.
Last year’s three-lobed, evergreen leaves are still around after hiding under the snow we had. Their color has gone a mottled greenish-purple. In fact, people used to think they looked like a human liver, hence the names liverleaf and hepatica.
Historically, herbalists who healed according to the Doctrine of Signatures saw the leaves as a divine sign that they were supposed to be used to heal liver diseases. I found Liverleaf blooming in the rich woodlands of Sullivan County. If you go looking for them on a rainy day, they may not be open fully. Don’t confuse them with Spring Beauties whose smooth stem grows from small, rounded tubers and can have as many as 11 flowers on it.
Over the past few months, former NPC Land Steward, Tamara Wagner, has been training Sara Street to take over her role at NPC. Tamara is embarking on a career change, but helped to get Sara up-and-running before her departure. Together, they’ve visited several conservation easement sites and prepared for the year ahead! We wish Tamara the best of luck, and welcome, Sara!
Get to know Sara
Hello everyone, I am the newest Land Steward Specialist at Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy! I look forward to visiting and learning about all of the conserved easements. I thoroughly enjoy walking through forests and meadows looking at plants and noticing what is blooming or experiencing change. I am enjoying this long drawn out spring with the yellow-green sugar maple samaras (baby winged seeds), red-orange red maple samaras, pink cherry blossoms, and white petals on the serviceberries.
My educational background is in Landscape Architecture and Ecological Restoration. I am a Certified Arborist and I have my own business, Susquehanna Ecology Collaborative. I work in forestry, park management, municipal, and residential properties. My main tasks include invasive plant management, tree planting, shrub and perennial plantings, landscape design, property consultations, and tree injections. I enjoy gardening, propagating plants, hiking, and swimming in the Susquehanna River. I live in Muncy with my husband, Chad, who is also a Certified Arborist, and my son, Rowan, a 10th grade student at Muncy Jr/Sr High School.