Underfoot: Rattlesnake Plantain

By, Susan Sprout

The beautiful and very unique leaves of Rattlesnake Plantain caught my attention as they peeked out from the leaf litter along a trail at the WMWA.

Rattlesnake Plantain

This native terrestrial orchid is a member of the second largest plant family on earth with over 28,000 species. Sixty are native to Pennsylvania, many of them rare and threatened in the wild. I found these plants growing on a slight incline among mixed hardwoods and conifers. They do well in dry, sandy to moist soils, but cannot thrive in water-logged soils that do not drain – hence on an incline! Physical characteristics lead to the naming of many plants. In this case, fine, downy hairs on stems, rhizomes, and leaves gave the scientific name, Goodyera pubscens. The checkered, silvery pattern on the leaves that look like the scales of a snake’s skin and the shape like the sole of a human foot gave the name Rattlesnake Plantain (Latin – planta). 

Once a year, sometime between May and August, a mature plant (four to eight years of age) will send up from its basal rosette of leaves, a leafless stalk of small white flowers that look similar to those in the photograph of Nodding Ladies’ Tresses in an earlier post during the week of September 27. After flowering, the fleshy rhizome of the plant will grow one to three offshoots which will live on after the original rhizome dies. Rattlesnake Plantain’s seeds are minute and abundant like dust. Charles Darwin thought if all the seeds of a single orchid would live and grow into plants, the great-grandchildren of that single orchid plant would “cover the earth in one continuous carpet.” He was not aware that those plentiful seeds need some help to grow. With no energy reserve in the tiny seeds, orchids require a special relationship with a mycorrhizal fungus or symbiont (AKA body buddy) that will provide the carbon needed to grow. The more, the better the growth! Some established orchids will continue to get nutrients from fungi as adults which can also help them tolerate stress.

The creeping rhizomes grow in a colonia pattern

There are two other species of Goodyera that grow in Pennsylvania, Dwarf and Checkered. Both are rare. The leaves of Rattlesnake Plantain have white, silvery lines on both sides of the center mid-rib. That is what helped me Identify them!

Thank you to Evergreen Wealth Solutions for the support!

Liberty Iron Furnace Hike

A couple years ago the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy facilitated a donation to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The property in Montour County became part of State Game Lands 115. The only block of State Game Lands in the County.

Bob Stoudt (Director, Montour Area Recreation Commission) and Van Wagner (Danville-area historical expert and musician) both live close the State Game Lands and began exploring.

They are very excited to share what they’ve found. They’ve invited us to join them for a challenging seven mile hike to the historic Liberty Iron Furnace site on Montour Ridge in PA State Game Lands #115 (Liberty Township, Montour County).

We will be hiking to charcoal production sites, row home ruins where furnace workers lived, and locating huts where colliers lived beginning in the 1830’s.

This approximately seven mile-long hike will cross challenging, rocky terrain. Portions of this hike will be rugged and only experienced hikers should consider participating. This hike is not recommended for small children or those with limited mobility.

Pre-registration is not required. This event will be held regardless of weather conditions. Participants should wear sturdy footwear and weather-appropriate clothing and bring adequate water, snacks, and other supplies as may be needed for a roughly 3.5 hour-long wintertime outing.

Since Bob and Van are leading the hike please contact Bob Stoudt at RStoudt@MontourRec.com with questions or for more information. If you’re on Facebook, you can also use the link below to “follow along” and stay up to date on announcements.

https://www.facebook.com/events/432820818212525/?acontext=%7B%22event_action_history%22%3A[%7B%22surface%22%3A%22page%22%7D]%7D

Thank you to Evergreen Wealth Solutions for sponsoring the blog this month!

Underfoot: It’s #Plantsgiving Time Again!

By Susan Sprout

Last November, I was told about an interesting social media campaign in which people counted the number of plant species used in their Thanksgiving meals. #Plantsgiving creator, Chris Martine, is a biology professor at Bucknell University. He told me recently that he and his students are “getting geared up for it” again this year. Encouraging people to be mindful and count the plants used in the preparation of their family feasts, he brings attention to the large number of plants we rely on regularly and on special occasions. We should all do that as well! I love the thought, and more importantly, the act of giving thanks for everything. We don’t do it nearly enough – especially for the prodigious amounts of plants and plant products we use in our lives. What a great idea to count the blessings of plants as we make our Thanksgiving preparations!

Some of the plants and plant products Sue will use to cook a Plantsgiving feast this week!

Last year, I wrote down the 61 different species of plants I used cooking our family dinner, including all the cookies and desserts. I also grouped them based on their usage. It made me aware of the fact that many of them had performed more than one job in my recipes, and in the items I bought, too. For example, some of my “food veggies” were also used as natural dyes to make prepared and canned foods look more appetizing so I’d buy them. I discovered seven different kinds of grasses, some used for flour from their seeds, others for flavors like lemon grass, and sweeteners like sugar cane. I found gums, emulsifiers, and thickeners from Guar beans and carrageenan from seaweed, both adding body to liquids like eggnog or gluten-free products. Cellulose gum and gel made from unspecified wood or plant fiber were used to stabilize many off-the-shelf products I used. Potato starch isn’t just for mashed potatoes anymore, either! Species used as herbs, spices, extracts, and flavorings had the highest numbers. Can’t forget chocolate and vanilla. The sausage in the stuffing was even hickory smoked. Can’t believe how many oils I used – olive, sesame, safflower, and sunflower – for cooking and baking!  Then, twenty-three various fruits and vegetables and nuts upped the count. That’s before I counted beverages like coffee with flavored creamers containing soybean oil and tea, wine, fancy types of alcohol, and cider punch. 

This #Plantsgiving, think about plants beyond your mashed potatoes.

I will be counting my plant blessings again this year. Doing the count last year raised my awareness about what I eat now and made me a better consumer at the same time. I have been reading many more labels than I ever have!  And I will continue to give plants and trees my deepest thanks for being here, providing food, cover, shelter, oxygen, carbon sinks, posies, colored leaves, and more…much more! 

Thank you to Evergreen Wealth Solutions for sponsoring the blog this month!

Underfoot: Coral Fungus

By Susan Sprout

…and will the real coral fungus please stand up! Do you remember the old television show that used that line? So, which one would you pick as a photo of coral fungus?

Which is the real coral fungus???

There is a fungus that grows in North America on the ground under mixed hardwoods and conifers. It is not your ordinary mushroom that resembles an umbrella. This one looks like coral, the kind that lives in warm, southern waters, and may, depending on its species, build up large coral reefs of calcium carbonate.

White coral fungus has an upright growth pattern not unlike its undersea look-alike. Its spreading branches are white on its many tiny, flat, tooth-like tips. Its middle part can be beige or pinkish before returning to white near its base.

The one I discovered near Essick Heights is Crested Coral Fungus or Clavulina coralloides. There are several different species of fungus in PA that resemble coral – white crowns with cone-shaped points, yellow, violet to purple, deep pink, with some stems pointing up and some down, growing singly or in bunches. The lovely white color of coral fungi can become gray to black at the bottoms of their branches when they are parasitized by another type of fungus growing in the soil around it. With a hand lens, you can see the little black dots as they invade their way upward on the stems. 

(The real Crested Coral Fungus is #1)

Crested Coral Fungus or Clavulina coralloides
This installment of Underfoot is brought to you by Evergreen Wealth Solutions

UNDERFOOT: On the Ground or In One’s Way?

By, Susan Sprout

When asked to write articles for NPC, it didn’t take me long to come up with the title “Underfoot.” My habit of looking down as I walk along is my way of exploring for what’s there – plants, ants, fungus, rocks – consistently searching out little mysteries on the ground. A wise person, my mother, kept a saying on the bulletin board next to the phone as I was growing up. The thought evidently stuck with me, as did the paper it was printed on, which is now thumb-tacked next to my desk: “Thank heaven for the happy touch of getting joy from nothing much.” That’s me, down to the ground. Pun, intended!

Which brings me to this week, when I was presented with another totally different and equally appropriate definition of “underfoot.” As I readied the upper back porch for winter, there, between the folds of the curtains was something “present and in one’s way” – a little brown bat! I certainly didn’t want to remove the curtain and dislodge it. My curiosity was aroused as to why it was there.

A close-up of the sleeping bat on the curtain.

Here’s what I discovered: this little bat is Myotis lucifugus, Little Brown Myotis, or as its scientific name explains “mouse-eared and “light-shunning.” It certainly didn’t like the flash of my camera. I suspect it did enjoy being close to Muncy Creek in warmer weather where it could catch up to 1,200 insects in just one hour.

According to the PA. Game Commission, this microbat (3.1 to 3.7 inches) is one of the most common state-wide. I couldn’t get a look at its belly fur, but its back fur – dense, fine and glossy, pale tan to reddish to dark brown – fits the description for its species. According to one source, they can live to thirty years in the wild.

The bat was just over 3 inches long.

All bats have taken a big hit from White Nose Syndrome (WNS).This one was one of the first bat species documented with the disease, and one of three types of bats to lose a total of 90% of their combined populations. I was worried because it was all by itself, as little brown bats are colonial.  I did find out that adult males and non-reproductive females will roost by themselves.

According to an article in Journal of Mammalogy, before WNS only 1.6% of little brown bats hibernated singly; after WNS, the percentage grew to 44.5% hibernating singly. Smart little dudes! The bat equivalent of social distancing? So that has put my worries to rest.

Needless to say, the curtains are still up and will remain that way until the little brown bat stops hanging around here!

Thank you to Evergreen Wealth Solutions for sponsoring this month’s blog!

‘Tis the Season: The Blaze Orange Season

Written by Allyson Muth, Director, Center for Private Forests at Penn State

Fall hunting seasons have begun in Pennsylvania. Which means for hunters and non-hunters alike, if you’re out in the woods, you should be wearing a significant amount of blaze orange to keep yourself safe.

Hunters and woods enthusiasts have always tried to be safe in the woods, but a few accidents led to concerns about helping those folks be more visible so they wouldn’t be mistaken for the wildlife they were hunting or watching.

Thank you to Purple Lizard Maps for sharing a photo of non-hunter wearing their blaze orange during hunting season.

In 1959, Jack Woolner, a Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Game’s information officer, conducted visual tests of different colors in wide variations of light and weather conditions to attempt to determine what colors were most visible in the woods. Greens, of course, too closely resemble leaves in the spring and early fall. Blues, purples, and reds appear black in low light conditions. Even yellow, then touted as a preferential color, appeared off-white in the angled sunlight of early morning and late afternoon – a little too close to some of the colors on animals hunters are seeking. Bright orange was the most easily distinguished from the background of the greens, yellows, and browns of the woods.

The first the hunting public ever heard of the color was in 1960 when Field & Stream magazine ran an article entitled “Hunter Orange – Your Shield for Safety” by the writer Frank Woolner, brother of Jack.

Subsequently, the practice of wearing blaze orange began in Massachusetts in 1961. Now forty-three out of fifty states in the U.S. require hunters to wear blaze orange during the season and the practice is required (or at least strongly encouraged) for non-hunters in the woods during hunting seasons.

Blaze orange, also known as safety orange or OSHA orange, is government-regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It’s use extends beyond the woods, with safety orange used to distinguish objects from their surroundings, particularly in contrast to the color of the sky (on the color wheel, azure is the complementary color of orange, and therefore there is a very strong contrast between the two colors).

In Pennsylvania the first requirement for hunters to wear orange occurred in 1980 and it’s undergone revisions since then. The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s current requirement is: hunters in deer, bear, and elk firearms seasons, small game season, and those hunting coyotes during daylight hours within deer, bear, or elk firearms seasons, must wear, at all times, 250 square inches of “daylight fluorescent orange” (blaze orange) material on the head, chest and back combined, visible 360 degrees. Woodchuck hunters must continue to wear a solid fluorescent orange hat at all times.

Please remember that in 2021, as in 2020, several Sundays are now open for hunting during the firearms seasons for bear and deer.

If you’re a non-hunter on Game Commission lands during these seasons, you are required to wear the same amount of blaze orange on your person. And of course, it’s a good idea wherever you are to make sure you’re visible during hunting seasons.

For an overview and timing of the hunting seasons in Pennsylvania in fall 2021 and into 2022, check out the Game Commission’s press release here: https://www.media.pa.gov/pages/game-commission-details.aspx?newsid=460.

Be safe out there!

The Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program provides publications on a variety of topics related to woodland management. For a list of publications, call 800-235-9473 (toll free), send an email to PrivateForests@psu.edu, or write to Forest Stewardship Program, The Pennsylvania State University, 416 Forest Resources Building, University Park, PA 16802. The Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry, USDA Forest Service, Penn State Extension, and the Center for Private Forests at Penn State, in Partnership through Penn State’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, sponsor the Forest Stewardship Program in Pennsylvania.

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Check out the Center for Private Forests website at ecosystems.psu.edu/private-forests and follow our Facebook page at facebook.com/privateforests for the latest list of events submitted from organizations around the state.

Thank you to Evergreen Wealth Solutions for their support!

What to do in the Woods – November

It’s November (already). If you own or manage a woodlot it’s a great time to be thinking about regenerating your forest, the boundaries of what you own, and checking for invasive species.

Trees drop their seeds and new trees grow. Sounds pretty simple. It’s not. While those new trees are growing you need to keep them undamaged and growing up towards the sky.

This is an example of natural regeneration on a conservation easement in Tioga County

Research has repeatedly shown that Pennsylvania’s deer population is one of the factors preventing Pennsylvania’s forests from regenerating. The deer are eating the seedlings and damaging young trees.

Studies by groups including Audubon Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Penn State University, and the Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance have collected data and conducted research about the density of deer in Pennsylvania’s woods and the impact those deer have.

This deer on a conservation easement in Clinton County was enjoying a meal

There are many reasons to want trees to regenerate or be concerned about deer damaging trees. Organizations that study birds are concerned about how high deer populations are impacting bird habitat.

One tool in controlling deer populations is hunting. In some places deer hunting is a tradition with time spent at deer camp with family and friends, time off from school, and processing the venison into bologna to share. In other places, hunting is viewed differently.

If you think about deer hunting as a forest management tool that you need to use in your woodlot, but you don’t hunt consider working with a responsible hunter or group of hunters on your property.

As the trees drop their leaves it’s easier to see in the woods. That makes November also a good time to check your boundary lines and “freshen things up.” Re-paint your boundary lines, check any signs you have on the boundary line, and verify you can still find any pins or markers at corners.

Here’s an example of the posted signs commonly used and the new purple paint.

Knowing where your boundary lines are is important for many reasons. If you’re managing the property foresters, loggers, and other forest workers will want on the ground markers to help them know where your property is. It helps neighbors, and potential neighbors when a neighboring property is for sale, know where your line is.

While you are out and about in your woods and the leaves are down look for any signs of trespass. This could be walking trails people are using without your permission and knowledge, to hunting stands being put up on your property, to motorized recreation happening on your forest roads. Keep an eye out and communications with your neighbors open.

If you keep your boundaries well marked and want people to ask permission before using your property you could put up “No Trespassing” signs or use purple paint. The “purple paint law” passed in Pennsylvania in early 2020. Landowners who use a specific shade of purple (the guys at the local hardware store or paint store will know what you’re talking about) as their boundary marking are notifying the public that this is the boundary and there should be no trespassing.

November through March are also a good time to check for gypsy moth egg masses. Gypsy moth were originally brought to the United States in an attempt to create a better silk producing moth. However, they are not native to the United States and are BIG eaters.

Gypsy moth caterpillars eat a lot of leaves. They can often eat enough leaves that the tree dies. Trees need their leaves.

Gypsy Moths on Oak tree – The orange-ish blob under the white moth is an egg mass. Thank you to DCNR for the photo!

By looking for egg masses and treating them (scraping them and soaking the egg masses in soapy water, or using specialty products) you can reduce the number of caterpillars that will be eating the leaves of your trees.

Special thanks to the Pennsylvania Forestry Association and Gerald Hoy with DCNR for providing the monthly ideas for woodland stewardship!

Thank you to Evergreen Wealth Solutions for supporting the blog!

Building a Membership Base for More Conservation

Regional Organization Working with National Land Trust Advisor

With the support of a capacity building grant from the Williamsport Lycoming Community Fund at the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania, the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy is working with a national land trust advisor to understand its current membership base, how that base compares to other land trusts across the country, and develop strategies to communicate with and recruit potential members.

At a recent Zoom Board Meeting, David Allen joined the Board and staff to present an overview of his findings. He’ll be back at a future Board meeting to answer questions about his report and discuss next steps and the path forward.

“We are very excited to have fresh eyes, familiar with land trusts, look at our current membership program and offer suggestions on how to not only improve what we are already doing, but expand our membership base,” said Board Chair Tiffani Kase.

Vice-Chair, Jonathan Bastian added, “As a regional organization conserving and enhancing the land and water in this region it’s important to have members from across the region. Those members help the Board and staff understand what the conservation needs are in their community. If our programs can help a community with its needs we rely on our members to help us build the partnerships to move projects forward.”

NPC staff have been learning from David Allen for years (we won’t try to figure out how many) at conferences. Being able to work with him one on one is an exciting opportunity to build on and improve what is already being done.

The Foundation works to improve the quality of life in north central Pennsylvania through community leadership, the promotion of philanthropy, the strengthening of nonprofit impact and the perpetual stewardship of charitable assets. FCFP strives to create powerful communities through passionate giving. For more information visit www.FCFPartnership.org.
Thanking to Evergreen Wealht Solutions for supporting the NPC blog!

Underfoot: Jeepers, Virginia Creepers!

By Susan Sprout 

Virginia Creeper is a native, woody vine belonging to the VITACEAE, or Grape Family. Surprised?

You have probably seen many of them clinging to the sides of trees. They are versatile, growing in any kind of soil, partial shade to full sun, in fields, woods, or flood plains, from Maine to Florida. Virginia Creepers are good cover for erosion control as they…well…”creep” along on the ground. But, if there are trees around, up they go, growing to fifty feet in a year.

Virginia Creeper beginning its journey upward.

Their leaves are compound, made up of five, coarsely-toothed, six-inch leaflets that meet in the middle resembling fingers spread out on the palm of a hand. Small white flowers blooming in late spring may be difficult to see among the leaves. Fleshy, purple berries grow from the pollinated flowers and hang on red stems in branching clusters, remaining hidden until after their bright red to purple autumn leaves fall.

Fall red leaves of Virginia Creeper.

How do Virginia Creepers hold on to the trees as they climb? The answer to this question is a clue to their identification. They have many branched tendrils with adhesive disks or holdfasts produced on the plants’ stems opposite from the leaves. I carefully removed a piece of stem to investigate and found the tiny, three-sixteenth of an inch disks pushed down in the cracks and craters of tree bark in such a way, they were difficult to pull off. There were eight small disks on the tendrils, and with them came small hunks of bark. I read somewhere that allowing Virginia Creeper to grow up the side of a house can ruin painted surfaces, damage stucco, and the mortar between bricks. Those holdfasts are small, but mighty. Before checking out this feature for yourself, make sure the plant you are examining has five leaflets per leaf. Poison Ivy of “leaves of three, let them be” fame are climbers, too. Their holdfasts are more like hairy rootlets, however.

And just because Virginia Creeper is a member of the Grape Family, don’t think that you can eat the berries or leaves. You cannot – they are toxic, containing calcium oxalate crystals. Let them for twelve species of songbirds, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and skunks to eat!  

This blog post sponsored by Evergreen Wealth Solutions

The Stream Partnership Wraps Up 2021

The 2021 “stream season” started in January with a stream crossing (and ice on the water) and wrapped up this week with our annual project review meeting (the only ice was in an ice chest with soda and water). The stream partnership, made of up of NPC, DEP, PA Fish and Boat, and the County Conservation Districts in the region, meets twice a year as a group. We meet in the spring to review what is planned for the year and in the fall to review what actually happened.

Do you see the ice shelf on the right side of the photo? The ice shelf is at the edge of the stream by the brown grass. The existing crossing was backing up water. The ice formed on top of that water. The ice stayed as the water flowed away.

The fall meeting allows each County Conservation District to review a project in their County. While DEP and the PA Fish and Boat Commission are at all the projects, the District staff often only get to see projects in their county. Sharing photos as well as any “lessons learned” or “if I could do it again, I’d do this differently” helps everyone learn more and often generates new ideas.

The partnership is always evolving as staff changes occur in the partner organizations. We took an opportunity this year to ask one of the new staff to explain a technique we use when we can. As the equipment operator breaks the ground, it’s broken up in chunks. The sod is saved and set to the side. The sod is then replaced. The sod will recover more quickly than grass seed will germinate and fill in.

A project along Limestone Run in Northumberland County had the sod technique used. Several large rain storms came through this year. The site made it through the storms, but provide a couple of photos that are a great contrast so you can see the sod versus seeding.

In the photo ont he right, you can see the grass seed is trying to establish and off to a good start, but it’s not “thick” as the existing sod. The roots below the surface only get as deep or long as the vegetation on the top. The shorter the grass, the shorter the roots. Short roots don’t hold as much soil and long roots.

After looking at photos and maps of projects from the 2021 season, the group toured a project. The landowners has been managing the property for a number of years. They allow neighbors and friends to use the property for picnics and birthday parties. The day we stopped a high school hockey team was going to be visiting for a season wrap-up party (including pumpkin decorating).

The landowners recognized the eroding streambanks were a problem and tried fixing it themselves. They realized it was helping, but wasn’t doing enough. The stream partnership worked with the landowner (who is an equipment operator and did the work) to install a series of log structures. Over the series of rain events, some of the topsoil from the final grading washed away, the structures held and are doing great.

The stream partners are already talking about and planning for 2022. Now, if it’s a mild winter and there isn’t a lot of snow, there might be more crossing work and fencing done. You never know.