Underfoot: Galls & Bittersweet

By: Susan Sprout

Galls

The goldenrod stem has a lump.
The willow twig sprouted a bump.
Some rumor a tumor
But I think I’d sooner
Believe it some kind of a mump!

-Unknown
Swollen ball goldenrod gall

I cannot take credit for this poem. I used it years ago while teaching and have since lost the book source and poet’s name. I will credit the poet when I find a name. But, WOW! How perfect is it as an introduction to galls? This is a great time of year to be looking for these abnormal plant growths on twigs and branches that have lost their leaves. They really stick out!

Most galls are caused by insects like aphids, midges, wasps, or mites. They eat or lay eggs which causes irritation that stimulates plant cells to reorganize and accelerate their growth in bizarre ways. Viruses, fungi and bacteria can also invade plants and trees to create galls. Galls can act as protective habitat from predators as well as a food source for larvae.

There are over 2,000 American plant galls caused by insects and mites! You can sometimes identify the insect or mite responsible by identifying the plant and where on the plant it has been invaded.

The willow pinecone gall grows at the tips of branches and is caused by  gall gnat larvae. The swollen ball gall is caused by a goldenrod gall fly and is found on the stem. The following spring or summer, a small hole in the gall will be evidence that the larva has matured and gone its own way…to another lovely green goldenrod stem.

The willow pinecone gall grows at the tips of branches and is caused by gall gnat larvae.

The bushy cabbage gall on goldenrod growth tips stop growth in that direction, causing the leaves to fluff out and send stems growing outward under it.

A bonus while I searched for galls was a preying mantis egg case, resembling  beige expansion foam, like the kind used for filling cracks and insulating. Bet it works great for the mantis babies!


Bittersweet

Bittersweet
It’s a vine that’s not divine! A bittersweet tale on my part because I unknowingly became an accessory to the spread of this prolific and invasive plant. By using large sprays of its berries for fall and winter decorations, I have helped the spread of its seeds…just like birds, in whose stomachs the seeds can remain for weeks allowing them to be deposited long distances away. No, I didn’t eat them because they are poisonous to humans. What I did do was to transport berries from where the Bittersweet was growing to my home, dropping seeds here and there and everywhere. I’m still uprooting little sprouts.

There are two species of Bittersweet in Pennsylvania, both members of the Staff-tree Family: one is native (Celastrus scandens)and in decline because of the other, a non-native (Celastrus orbiculatus) from Eastern Asia. They are difficult to differentiate: the native has skinnier leaves and puts out blooms and seed capsules terminally while the non-native one has rounder leaves and puts it blossoms and seed capsules near the leaf axils. Unfortunately, they can hybridize. Another reason they are hard to identify.

Bittersweet with freshly opened seed capsules.

Golly, they look sooo pretty when the fruit capsules the size of peas split open, revealing the bright orangish-red fleshy aril that covers the seeds. That’s really sweet. But, the sad, bitter facts are that Bittersweet vines grow rapidly, climbing and twining up to ninety feet in taller trees. They have detrimental effects on any plant or tree they use for support because they can literally choke or girdle it, especially if it is young. The huge weight of these smothering vines can actually break down and uproot trees. Bittersweet, well-named.

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-NotsGoldthread & Wild GingerCommon Mullein & Sweet WoodruffAniseroot & Butterfly WeedMyself Jewelweed & SoapwortAmerican Pennyroyal & Great LobeliaBoneset & Common RagweedPokeweed & Blue ChicoryPrickly Cucumber & WintergreenBeech Drops & Partridge BerryPipsissewa & NostocWitch HazelPlantsgivingBlack Jetbead & Decorating with Winterberry, Wild Bergamot & Bald Cypress Tree.

Underfoot: Wild Bergamot & Bald Cypress Tree

By: Susan Sprout

Wild Bergamot
Poking through the recent snow on skinny stems are the spent seed heads of Wild Bergamot.

Dried Wild Bergamot plants.

During the growing season, its two-lipped lavender flowers are held in readiness for blooming by pinkish tubular calyxes. Starting in the center, the flowers bloom outwardly until they form a wreath, then drop off leaving their calyxes. Wild Bergamot, or Monarda fistulosa, is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae)…square stem and all!

It is a native perennial with several common names that are also used to identify other plants in the same genus. So, we’ll stick with Wild Bergamot. Its species name comes from a Latin word for tube or pipe. Looking at the dried seed head, you can see why! All of the little tubes that held the individual flowers are visible. If you locate the remains of this plant on your rambles or skiing, take a moment to gently stroke the seed heads with your hand underneath them. You may be rewarded with a look at some remaining seeds.

Wild Bergamot seeds next to a peppercorn. Tiny!

They are tiny, brown, smooth and may take off if its breezy out. Squeeze the seed heads and sniff your fingers to check for any lingering scent. During the bright summer days, so long ago, the whole plant, including its opposite gray-green leaves exuded, a spicy, minty odor which some say resembles oregano, another member of the mint family.


Bald Cypress Tree
An outstanding tree in parks, forests, and yards this time of year is Bald Cypress…because it really does stand out among all the luscious colors of our wintery evergreens. It has lost its leaves, being a deciduous conifer, and appears underdressed!

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

The stabilizing buttressed trunk looks like thick cords run under its peeling orange and brown bark. Its rather thin branches protrude, creating indents under them like long armpits. O.K. Weird, but that’s how I remember the difference between defoliated Bald Cypress and a defoliated Dawn Redwood which lacks that particular (or peculiar) anthropomorphic body part.

Late fallen Bald Cypress leaves decorate a snow bank.

Bald Cypress or Taxodium distichum can grow to 120 feet tall and is a member of the Cupressaceae Family which is found worldwide from Arctic Norway to Southern Chile, except for Antarctica. Its ancient ancestors were living on the supercontinent Pangea when it broke apart about 150 million years ago. Its descended lineages were separated and evolved in isolation from each other creating over 130 different species.

This tree is native to southeastern U.S. and is adaptable to a wide range of soils and amounts of moisture. On stream banks, it can soak up flood waters and prevent erosion. Bald Cypress is the oldest known wetland tree species on earth! For the last fifty years, I have loved looking at and keeping track of the one that is growing about a block away from my house near Muncy Creek.  

This Bald Cypress has a crown of leaves remaining.

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-NotsGoldthread & Wild GingerCommon Mullein & Sweet WoodruffAniseroot & Butterfly WeedMyself Jewelweed & SoapwortAmerican Pennyroyal & Great LobeliaBoneset & Common RagweedPokeweed & Blue ChicoryPrickly Cucumber & WintergreenBeech Drops & Partridge BerryPipsissewa & NostocWitch HazelPlantsgiving, Black Jetbead & Decorating with Winterberry.

Underfoot: Black Jetbead & Decorating with Winterberry

By: Susan Sprout

Black Jetbead
There has been a case of mistaken identity…and I did it! The story begins in April when I passed by a brushy, unkempt-looking shrub blooming gloriously with single, white flowers. One quick look, and I thought “Mock Orange” and kept right on walking.

Cut to December. Same walk, same shrub without leaves and flowers, same unenlightened me. Then I saw them – small bunches of shiny black, beadlike fruits, surrounded by brittle, sharply-pointed little leaves or sepals. How interesting! How gorgeous! How NOT Mock Orange! After photographing them, I kept right on walking – straight back to my resource books. I had discovered Black Jetbead, Rhodotypos scandens, a member of the Rosaceae or Rose family. My April mistakes were many and obvious – petal number, leaf stem and shape, seed amounts in each fruit or capsule, bloom time and arrangement on stalks, wrong family!

Black Jetbeads after snow.

I now know a new shrub to look for during fall and winter. With its leaves and four-petaled flowers gone, its one-third inch long black fruits are visible and easily identified as belonging to Black Jetbead, a non-native shrub from Eastern Asia. It was brought to the U.S. in 1866 as an ornamental and has escaped into the wilds, dispersed by birds. To many, it is considered invasive, displacing native plants with its dense, arching branches that restrict tree seedling establishment.

My sincere apologies, Mock Orange. I will try to make it up to you in print during your May bloom time when I see your beautiful five-petaled white flowers on my walks.

Decorating with Winterberry
The week after PlantsGiving is PlantsDecorating! That’s what I have been doing this week. Whether using living or man-made lookalikes, we do put up a lot of plant, shrub, and tree parts to “spruce up” our homes and businesses, inside and out, for the December/January Holiday Season. Garlands of pine, cedar, juniper surround the doors while their circular counterparts are placed on doors in colorful welcome. As welcome as we can be, considering the pandemic.

You are probably familiar with the prickly Japanese holly commonly used in landscaping. Many people, myself included, use its cut evergreen branches with berries on as decorations. There is another rather common native plant you may find in marshy spots that is not an evergreen like Japanese holly, but has the bright red berries just like it. Both are in the same family AQUIFOLIACEAE. It is known as Winterberry.

Winterberry before losing its leaves.

Another common name for it is Black Alder. It is not really a true Alder because true Black Alders are members of the Birch family and have little cones, not red berries. Forty years ago, I dug up a Winterberry sapling and planted it near my house. Although it wasn’t in its happy place with wet feet, it has matured and grown to about ten feet in height and provides us with enough lovely red berries for winter decorations.

Winterberry: A vibrant and festive seasonal decoration!

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-NotsGoldthread & Wild GingerCommon Mullein & Sweet WoodruffAniseroot & Butterfly WeedMyself Jewelweed & SoapwortAmerican Pennyroyal & Great LobeliaBoneset & Common RagweedPokeweed & Blue ChicoryPrickly Cucumber & WintergreenBeech Drops & Partridge BerryPipsissewa & Nostoc, Witch Hazel, Plantsgiving.

Nonpoint Source Pollution – Virtual Field Trip

Earlier this fall, NPC, the Union County Conservation District and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission teamed up to take you on a virtual field trip exploring Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS).

NPS pollution comes from many different sources, like sediment from eroding streambanks and excess fertilizer on agricultural lands. NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.

Throughout the video series, they’ll explain more about NPS pollution and its sources, and how they effect both the aquatic life and the people that live within the watershed.

Together, with the rest of the Northcentral Stream Partnership, NPC is working to reduce NPS pollution throughout our watersheds. This virtual field trip introduces those partners and covers the process, implementation, and assessment involved in completing two stream improvement projects!  

NPC Executive Director, Renee’ Carey, receives Rothrock Conservationist of the Year Award

NPC is very proud to share that your Executive Director, Renee’ Carey, was recently presented the 2020 Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock Conservationist of the Year Award by the Pennsylvania Forestry Association (PFA).

Dr. Jim Finley with PFA presents Renee’ with the 2020 Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock Conservationist of the Year Award.

Renee’, has served PFA in many capacities as a board member and volunteer supporting forest, land, and water conservation. In 2019 Renee’ celebrated 25 years with the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy where she is currently the executive director. She is widely respected for her work ethic, passion for conservation, and leadership in the conservation community. The plaque she received read, “Renee’ consistently demonstrates her commitment to conservation of land, forests, and water and the communities that depend on wise resource use. She actively seeks partnerships with state agencies, county conservation districts, non-profit organizations, and landowners to protect and conserve natural resources for recreation and jobs today and to allow future generations similar opportunities. She is known for encouraging and guiding people to steward natural resources with the vision to nourish communities. Her passion for this work clearly emulates the values she shares with Dr. Rothrock’s concern for natural resource stewardship.

The Pennsylvania Forestry Association

Each year the Association recognizes an individual, organization or group’s significant contributions to the public recognition of the importance of Pennsylvania’s forest resources in the same tradition and spirit of Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock. 

Dr. Rothrock served as the first president of PFA and earned the title, “Father of Forestry in Pennsylvania,” through his untiring efforts to promote the forest conservation movement in Pennsylvania.

Nominees for the Award were evaluated on the following three criteria:

  • Value of contributions to the continued conservation of Pennsylvania’s forest resource;
  • Public recognition and stature of the individual in the field of resource conservation; and
  • Other Unique or special considerations which demonstrate a long term commitment to conservation.

Renee’ was nominated by Dennis Ringling, Marc Lewis, and Roy Siefert. Renee’ would like to thank these individuals for their nomination and the PFA for honoring her with this award.

I am both humbled and honored to receive the Rothrock Conservationist of the Year Award. I have been so proud to serve our communities and help champion the conservation efforts of NPC for the past 26 years. I look forward to many more years to come!

Renee’ Carey, NPC Executive Director

From Underfoot to on your Table: Some thoughts on #Plantsgiving

Planning a #Plantsgiving

Given concerns over COVID-19, people all over the U.S. are making the tough choice to avoid gathering in large groups this Thanksgiving. Bucknell Professor Chris Martine, biology, and his botanical colleagues suggest that one way to still bring everyone together for the holiday is to join them in the 2020 edition of #PlantsGiving, a social media campaign in which people challenge one another to count the number of plant species used in their Thanksgiving meal. Learn more about #Plantsgiving here.

Below, Susan Sprout, shares some insight on some not-so-noticeable plants that are likely to be apart of your Thanksgiving meal.

By: Susan Sprout

I love the thought and act of giving thanks anytime. We don’t do it nearly enough. What a great idea to count the blessings of plants as part of Thanksgiving preparations! Plants provide so much to the human population of this planet and yet, we probably overlook their presence in many of the items we eat. So now is the time to take some time and to be mindful of the many unique and tasty ways in which we enjoy or eat or imbibe plants.

STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

By counting the number of different plant species used in our Thanksgiving feast and sharing the information, we are providing recognition due to all plants for their continuing support all these years. We should also look at this as a way to educate others – friends, family, students, all plant primary and secondary consumers – about their many and varied uses. This being said, you have probably guessed by now that I really love plants and enjoy telling their stories and sharing them with you. The plants that I report on most are natives or plants living here so long, everybody thinks they are natives. I would like to take this opportunity, since it’s Thanksgiving and #PlantsGiving, to tell you about some non-native plants you will probably use this week. They are spices used in pumpkin pies and muffins and breads. They are cinnamon and allspice.

My Ceylon cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum zeylandicum) and my allspice tree (Pimenta dioica) are tropical trees that live in my backyard during the warm months and inside the house the rest of the year. They are taller than I am, so the photos show their long, shiny, evergreen leaves instead of the whole tree. Cinnamon is a member of the Lauraceae Family like sassafras and bay leaves. Allspice is a member of the Myrtaceae Family like eucalyptus. Cinnamon can grow from 20 to 60 feet. I will definitely be keeping mine trimmed down to a manageable size. Some people are so surprised to find out the cinnamon powder is made from the inner bark of this tree, after it is striped off, bundled and allowed to ferment. The outer layer of bark is then scraped off and the inner bark is rolled into quills and allowed to dry. It is the second most popular spice in the USA, after black pepper. My allspice tree is native to the West Indies. Our ground allspice is made from the small green fruits that are picked in mid-summer and dried by the sun or in ovens. Its name reflects the fact that it has the aroma and flavor of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves combined.

Have a splendid #PlantsGiving. Some clues for your search:

  • Read labels, look for different types of gums in milk products and gluten-free baking mixes.
  • My favorite bread from Wegman’s has 17 different flours, seeds, and nuts. So, be vigilant!
  • Don’t forget herbs and spices.
  • There is corn starch in baking powder.
  • Check beverages for sugar and Stevia.
  • Don’t forget the wine!

Enjoy!!!

Susan Sprout is the author of the recurring series, Underfoot, on the NPC blog. Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: Introduction & BloodrootTrout Lily & ColtsfootBlue Cohosh & Dutchman’s BreechesGround Ivy & Forget-Me-NotsGoldthread & Wild GingerCommon Mullein & Sweet WoodruffAniseroot & Butterfly WeedMyself Jewelweed & SoapwortAmerican Pennyroyal & Great LobeliaBoneset & Common RagweedPokeweed & Blue ChicoryPrickly Cucumber & WintergreenBeech Drops & Partridge BerryPipsissewa & Nostoc, Witch Hazel.

Planning a #Plantsgiving

We interrupt your weekly issue of Underfoot to share this festive, botanical activity as a means of staying connected this Thanksgiving holiday, courtesy of Bucknell University.

To help get your (cranberry) juices flowing, Susan Sprout shares some #Plantsgiving tips and insight on some not-so-noticeable plants that are likely to be apart of your Thanksgiving meal.

© sonyakamoz / stock.adobe.com

Lewisburg, PA — Given concerns over COVID-19, people all over the U.S. are making the tough choice to avoid gathering in large groups this Thanksgiving. Bucknell Professor Chris Martinebiology, and his botanical colleagues suggest that one way to still bring everyone together for the holiday is to join them in the 2020 edition of #PlantsGiving, a social media campaign in which people challenge one another to count the number of plant species used in their Thanksgiving meal.

Biologists around the country have played along the last two years, but this year they want to include anyone who hopes to connect with people during this unusual holiday season. Students in Martine’s Bucknell courses this semester will report their families’ counts for homework, joining those who are participating in research in his lab this semester as well as students involved in The Bucknell Farm and the Lewisburg Community Garden. “It’s kind of the perfect assignment for this holiday,” Martine says. “But my real hope is that all sorts of other folks will join in. I am 100% certain that people will be really surprised by how quickly their plant numbers go up once they start counting.”

According to Martine, the typical meal can include 15 or 20 different plant species without much trying. Side dishes like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and green beans are obvious, but others may be a surprise. “We’ve had dozens of species reported from individual meals, with a dinner last year hosted by a professor at the University of Arizona that included 122 species!” he says. To join in, just count the plants you’ve used in your Thanksgiving meal and then use the #PlantsGiving hashtag to post your report on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. CONTACT: Martine, 570-577-1135, chris.martine@bucknell.edu@MartineBotany

Underfoot: Witch Hazel

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-NotsGoldthread & Wild GingerCommon Mullein & Sweet WoodruffAniseroot & Butterfly WeedMyself Jewelweed & SoapwortAmerican Pennyroyal & Great LobeliaBoneset & Common RagweedPokeweed & Blue ChicoryPrickly Cucumber & WintergreenBeech Drops & Partridge Berry, Pipsissewa & Nostoc.

Witch Hazel
When English colonists were introduced to this native shrub, they called it Witch Hazel. Hazel for the familiar trees they left in their homeland and Witch from the Anglo-Saxon root “wy” that means to twist or bend. Right now, this amazing deciduous shrub is blooming!

Look for their yellow fall leaves on thin branches in moist, rocky woods. I saw lots along Highland Lake Road. But hurry. Their egg-shaped, coarsely-toothed leaves fall when they bloom, and you can get a better view of the four pale yellow, strap-shaped petals.

Witch Hazel leaves

The flowers occur in bunches of three below the leaves. Sometimes, last spring’s seed capsules are still firmly attached near them. After this autumn’s blooms are pollinated by a variety of insects, fruit grows during the following spring. Inside the capsule two chambers develop, each with an individual seed. When mature, the seeds are forcibly shot out as the woody capsule splits open. The noise it makes gives the shrub another common name – Snapping Hazel.

Witch Hazel flowers along with last spring’s seed capsules.

The seeds will lie dormant where they land for two years before germinating. My bottle of distilled Witch Hazel is sitting on my desk right now as a reminder of the wonderful medicinal uses of the tincture made from its leaves and bark. Astringent and cooling on bruises, in cosmetic preparations, and ointments for hemorrhoids. There are four native species in America. Our local species is Hamamelis virginiana.

Click here to get to know Susan Sprout!

That’s a Wrap on the 2020 Stream Season!

As Todd’s picture demonstrates, the 2020 instream construction season for the Northcentral Stream Partnership looked a little different than in the past. Sure, there were hardhats and ear protection, but this year there were also masks. The Conservation Districts, PA Fish and Boat and PA DEP worked to get the logs drilled and rebar in, but there weren’t any volunteers helping out.

Masked up and ready to stabilize some stream banks!

We changed things up so we could still work to stabilize stream banks and improve local water quality. And we improved local water quality on over 2 miles of stream at over 9 different properties.

Changes were made to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19 and to try and keep everyone safe. However, the stream partnership worked together (like they always do) to figure out how to work with those changes and still get streambanks stabilized.

Given how many things didn’t go as planned this year, everyone in the stream partnership is amazed at how much we got done. There were hiccups along the way. One project had 2 skid steers break down and a track come off the third. There was also the project that a boulder (the size of a Mini Cooper) was discovered while putting in a stabilized stream crossing. However, those are “normal” hiccups that happen in some form every year.

This year projects have been completed on:

  • Sechler Run, Danville, Montour County (aka the Geisinger project!)
  • Turtle Creek, Lewisburg, Union County
  • Briar Creek, Berwick Columbia County
  • Schwaben Creek, Herndon, Northumberland County
  • Beaver Run, Danville, Montour County
  • Turkey Run, Mifflinburg, Union County
  • Limestone Run, Milton, Northumberland County
  • Mauses Creek, Montour County
  • West Branch Chillisquaque Creek, Montour County

The list of interested landowners on agriculturally impaired streams continues to grow. We’ll have a full schedule in 2021 (fingers crossed) and have plenty of planning and design work to keep everyone busy this fall and winter.

NPC Members Walk in Penn’s Woods

Since 2017, the Walk in Penn’s Woods partnership has been working to offer Pennsylvanians a statewide day of walks in the woods on the first Sunday in October. These walks provide an excellent opportunity to get out, have fun, and learn about Pennsylvania’s forests, to see forests in new ways, and to understand and appreciate the many values we hold for the woods.

Autumn in the Tioga State Forest.
Photo Credit: Bob Ross

Since many of the organizations that hosted a formal, group activity in the past were unable to do so this year (NPC included), the partners declared the entire month of October a Walk in Penn’s Woods – encouraging everyone to create their own woodland adventures! 

To help celebrate this initiative and inspire others to join in the fun, several NPC members shared some of their favorite places in Penn’s Woods!

Thank you to these members for sharing their appreciation for Penn’s Woods!