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 knowledge of Pennsylvania native plants. 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. 

You’re Invited!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Until further notice, celebrate everything”?  This has been a personal mantra of my family’s since one of us came across the phrase on a wine glass at a gift shop about a decade ago.  It’s easy to celebrate when things are smooth sailing, but much more difficult to slip into a festive mood when things are a bit off course (or completely derailed by a national emergency). 

Its times like these that I find it helpful to really dig into that message, and encourage you to do the same!  Celebrate that cardinal out your window… celebrate your seeds sprouting…celebrate the essential workers that are keeping our country going…heck, go ahead and celebrate wearing jeans instead of sweatpants for the day (or is that just me?!). 🙂

The point is, things are changing constantly, and it’s a lot to keep up with these days.  So when something sparks joy for you – hold on to it!  Celebrate it…whatever it might be!

Perhaps, however, the most celebrated milestones are birthdays.  So, if you are looking for a little something extra to celebrate, the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) has a birthday coming up! 

On Thursday, April 16th, NPC turns 30!  It was on this date, in 1990 that NPC was officially incorporated.  Now a lot went on behind the scenes building up to this day; including a chance encounter between two founding members on a paddling trip gone awry down Pine Creek…a public informational meeting about the startup that sparked interest throughout the community and attracted many of NPC’s charter members (pre-social media, mind you!)…and broad-minded support from partners like the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and the First Community Foundation Partnership (then Williamsport-Lycoming Foundation)!

We invite you to help NPC virtually celebrate this day by sharing your own moment of celebration.  Post a photo, comment, or video of how you’re choosing to celebrate on April 16th, to NPC’s Facebook or Instagram page.  It could be anything – on a hike, in your garden, sipping your cocktail of choice, or enjoying a leftover slice of carrot cake – you choose!  We’d just love to see how you’re enjoying your day, with a little something extra to celebrate.  You can also email HByers@NPCweb.org and we’ll upload it to NPC’s 30th Birthday Album.

We’re looking forward to celebrating on Thursday, and hope you’ll join us! 

Cheers!

– Holly
HByers@NPCweb.org
NPC Office & Communications Coordinator

Public Access & Parenting during a Pandemic

As schools, playgrounds, libraries, museums, and all other public events and social gathering places closed down over the past few weeks, many parents with young children found themselves in uncharted water.  As a mother of 2 toddlers myself, “just keep swimming” runs through my head on a daily basis (thanks Dory!).  Add to that, the indefinite end of playdates and visits to Nana and Papa’s house, it’s been a challenging reality for everyone, to say the least!  Like most parents, keeping my kids healthy and happy are always top of mind, but navigating life during the Covid-19 pandemic has added a whole new weight to those priorities. 

However, throughout all the cancellations, closures and uncertainties – nature remains constant AND accessible (thanks to people like you!).  Pennsylvania has 2.2 million acres of forestland for us to use and enjoy.  Not to mention the thousands of acres of public use land managed by other conservation organizations across the state.  And while your social interactions on these public lands may be a little different these days (“social distancing” is bound to be the Word of the Year), the numerous benefits of time spent in nature remain the same. 

NPC is guided by a mission to sustainably conserve the rural landscape and waters of our region for the enjoyment and well-being of present and future generations.  Those two words right there – future generations – have just been resonating so deeply with me lately. Mainly, because I and my family, along with so many other growing families like mine, are the “future generation” that NPC was founded for 30 years ago.  And 30, 50, 100 years from now, my grandkids, your grandkids, and so on, are the future generation that this land will be gifted to.  Right now, while working through all these new challenges, having places in nature to play and explore, feels very much like a gift!  Since it is NPC’s 30th Anniversary, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some of its founders and dive into the history and formation of the conservancy (more on that coming soon!).  I am in complete awe and full of gratitude for those individuals, the community that rallied together to bring NPC into existence, and the ongoing support from our members that have helped carry on the NPC Legacy.  Oh, and of course, have subsequently helped maintain this mama’s sanity in doing so. 🙂  Thank you!! 

So, when the confines of our home start to feel, well, a little too confining, we grab our boots and head outside.  Here’s a peek at some of our recent adventures and some helpful resources for any other folks juggling parenting during the pandemic right now!

  • For a super simple way to encourage your little one to notice details about their environment, create a nature bracelet with masking tape.
  • From the emergence of new buds to the return of migratory birds and the amphibian activities at vernal pools (check out those eggs!) – Spring is a great time to start a nature journal!  It’s easy – observe, write, sketch.  
  • Pick a new outdoor destination (or in our case, one we hadn’t visited in quite a while), pack a picnic – don’t forget to carry out everything you carry in) – and take a drive!
Geology lessons at Ticklish Rock in Sullivan County.
  • School field trips may be cancelled, but there are TON of virtual adventures available online, including Yellowstone National Park!

What ways are you staying connected to nature these days? If you have any new ideas, activities, or destinations, this Mama would love to hear them!

Stay well everyone and thanks for listening!
– Holly
HByers@NPCweb.org
NPC Office & Communications Coordinator

Meet Tamara – NPC’s new Land Steward Specialist!

Tamara Wagner recently joined the NPC staff as the new Land Steward Specialist.  Tamara has her BS in Environmental Resource Management with a Minor in Marine Science from Penn State University.  Previously, she has served as a Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the USFWS and a Natural Resource Specialist with the USDA.  Tamara is also a certified CrossFit Trainer and enjoys daily farm life with her family on their homestead in rural Danville.

Here’s a little Q&A to help you get to know Tamara better:

Q. What are you looking forward to the most about working for NPC?
A. My college training was in the conservation field and I’ve held numerous positions dealing with conservation work.  After taking a hiatus to raise my boys, I’m thrilled to return to my “roots” in conservation work, to meet local landowners and hear their stories and visit some incredible properties within the NPC region!

Q. Why does NPC’s mission to conserve the rural landscapes and waters of our region matter to you?
A. Being a rural landowner and also helping to raise the next generation of conservation stewards is the heart of the way of life for my family.  Protect, preserve, and pass it on for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

Q. What are some of your favorite ways to spend time outdoors? 
A. You can always find me soaking up some time in the sun, working around our farm, swimming in ponds, or bouncing with my kids on a trampoline!

Q. Do you have a favorite outdoor destination is Northcentral PA?
A. Our family loves a good hike at Ricketts Glen, taking in the waterfalls!  I’m definitely drawn to locations with water nearby—anything from the Susquehanna River and its tributaries to RB Winter state park and Locust Lake.  There are so many beautiful areas in our region and state!

As the Land Steward Specialist, Tamara is responsible for ensuring that all of NPC’s conservation easements are monitored for compliance. To welcome Tamara to NPC and/or reach out to her with any questions, please feel free to contact her at twagner@npcweb.org.

Get Ready to Raise the Region!

We’re counting down the days to March 11 – 12 and Raise the Region!  This annual 30-hour giving campaign is an opportunity for you and your fellow community members to come together to show your support for the local nonprofits serving north central Pennsylvania. 

Here at NPC, we’ve been proud to serve as your local land trust for the past 30 years!  The foresight and generosity of NPC donors throughout these years has helped conserve the landscapes and improve access to some of the region’s most beloved outdoor destinations – such as the Pine Creek Rail Trail, Loyalsock Trail, and the Susquehanna River – just to name a few! 

These natural treasures are now a gift that can be passed on for generations to come, thanks to donors like you.

We invite you to continue this legacy and help celebrate NPC’s 30-year history of conserving the land we all love, by supporting NPC during this upcoming Raise the Region event.

Here’s a few ways you can help:

  • Get ready to give! You can help NPC surpass our goal of $5500 by donating during the campaign.  On March 11 – 12, starting at 6PM on March 11, visit www.raisetheregion.org and make a donation to Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy. You will have 24 hours to make your donation, and all giving will end at 11:59PM on March 12.
  • Help us spread the word!  Helps others learn about NPC by sharing this email and upcoming Facebook posts about the campaign.  Ask others to do the same.
  • Become a fundraising champion. Sign up to become a fundraising champion to help drive people to our Raise the Region profile on March 11 – 12. Contact Holly for more information.