Underfoot: Pennsylvania Native Species Day – June 17

By, Susan Sprout

The Governor’s Invasive Species Council is launching PA’s first Native Species Day this month. On the council’s Dept. of AG website, they provide their explanation of “native”. It refers to PA’s “diverse plants, trees, insects, fish, birds, and mammals that originated here thousands of years ago and thrive in MUTUAL dependence”. I capitalized “mutual” because it is important for us to understand that species depend on each other just like we depend on others in our lives. When our interaction, purposeful or accidental, gets rid of native species whose lives and lifestyles support many other natives, we risk disabling the whole system. The increased presence of imported, exotic or non-native, invasive plants and insects and animals and pathogens living and taking root in PA can out-compete the natives and threaten their survival. They are “recognized as one of the leading threats to biodiversity and impose enormous economic costs to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and other enterprises, as well as to human health” (LandsScope America).

Invasive, non-native plants now make up 37% of PA’s wild plant population, currently over 285 species. And they are not just in our forests, either. Suburban areas made up of 92% lawns don’t help with the problem because they do not contribute to local food webs. “We treat plants and trees like ornaments in our yards, ignoring their environmental roles,” according to Doug Tallamy in his podcast “Native Plants Support Local Food Webs”. They just don’t provide the nutrition needed by by our native pollinators, for example. Without appropriate pollinators, many plants, including food products we require, will not set seed and reproduce. Our survival is threatened as well. “A diverse mix of native trees, shrubs, perennial flowers and warm-season grasses provide food sources for native pollinators” (#PA Native Species Day). We need to become stewards of our properties and contribute in a healthy manner to the environment around us.

If you are interested in learning about native plants for your yard, check out the PA DCNR tag Native Plants. The article entitled “Bring Life to Your Yard with Native Plants” gives excellent suggestions. A word of caution when purchasing plants: many of the available plants are cultivars or plant varieties  that have been produced in cultivation by selective breeding and genetic engineering. They aren’t the native plants of the past. If you personally have trouble digesting and assimilating GMO products from the store, imagine what happens to native insects, bees,and butterflies that try to get nutrition from plants that are “foreign” to their tastes, digestion, and egg-laying protocols. They can’t just dine there anyway because they have evolved along with certain plants that they require and that have sustained their species for millennia.

Underfoot: MITERWORT AND FALSE MITERWORT

By, Susan Sprout

Miterwort (Mitella diphylla) and False Miterwort (Tiarella cardifolia) are spring-blooming, perennial plants native to eastern North America and members of the Saxifrage Family, along with another recent post, Early Saxifrage. You may remember that the family name means “rock-breakers”. Miterwort and False Miterwort are alike in many ways, but different enough to NOT be placed in the same genus. Their similar habit of growing in rich, moist woods in heavy shade allowed me to find them growing together by a small run, in a forested area near the base of a hill. What a treat to find them together!

Miterwort’s snowflake flowers

What catches the eye first when seeing Miterwort, is its smooth upright stem of widely-spaced, cup-shaped flowers that appear to be floating above their maple-shaped green leaves. On closer inspection, you can see how beautiful they are. Each of the five tiny petals are fringed, making them look like white, lacy snowflakes. About half-way down their stems are a small, single pair of opposite leaves, earning them the species name “diphylla” or “two-leaves”. The remainder of leaves are found at the base of the plants. After pollination by small bees and flies, the female organs, or pistils, form  two-beaked pods that resemble a bishop’s cap or mitre. As they mature and dry, the pods split open to reveal shiny, black seeds that can be washed loose by raindrops.

Check out Miterwort’s opposite leaves halfway up the flower stalk

False Miterwort, also called Foamflower, has small white or pinkish flowers that grow closer together, forming a narrow cluster that is bunched nearer the top of a leafless stem. The ten stamens, or male organs, of these small flowers extend beyond the edges of the flower petals creating a fine texture like fluffy foam, which accounts for its other common name. The leaves are heart-shaped and hairy. Some tend to have darker pigment or spots near their leaf veins. The flowers have similar pollinators and their paired seed capsules will split open along one side like Miterwort.

False Miterwort flowers with long stamens protruding
False Miterwort leaves with darker vein coloring
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Blossburg Property Purchased – Tioga River Clean-up Moves One Step Ahead

The acquisition of a 216-acre property in the Borough of Blossburg (Tioga County) is allowing a project to treat Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) to move ahead.

The Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) purchased the property from KLJ Enterprises, Inc. with funding provided by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. The property will be needed to provide access to two abandoned mine discharges for treatment of the water as part of a larger project to clean up the Tioga River.

Blossburg Mayor Shane Nickerson, Renee’ Carey with NPC, John Brown and Cindy Ridall with KLJ Enterprises met on site to celebrate the sale of the property and the next step in the Tioga River reccovery

“It was an opportunity for us to do something good for the Tioga River. We bought the property as an investment, but who better to sell it to than NPC so it can become part of the Tioga River’s clean-up,” said John Brown, partner in KLJ Enterprises Inc.

Cindy Ridall also a partner in KLJ Enterprises Inc. added, “It was the right thing to do. It will be good for the whole area. Can you imagine what a clean Tioga River will mean for Blossburg and the businesses in town?”

KLJ, Inc. worked with the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy so the funding for the purchase could be secured and plans set in motion for the future ownership of the property. It was a several month process, but the closing happened in early May.

The property, just blocks away from downtown Blossburg, has Coal Creek running through it. The Creek has two discharges from former coal mines flowing into it about a half mile above where the Creek empties into the Tioga River.

Coal Creek flows through the property just purchased

Blossburg Mayor, Shane Nickerson explained, “As a kid you knew to wear your old shoes when you were going into the (Tioga) River because whatever you wore in would be orange when you came out. It’s exciting and amazing to think that we’re getting closer to the Tioga being a clean River and Island Park being a place for fishing.”

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have been working in the Tioga River watershed with the Tioga County Concerned Citizens Committee for nearly 20 years to clean up the Tioga River. Over the years the team has studied the various mine discharges to understand what types of pollution are being released at that particular discharge and to understand how each discharge impacts the larger, Tioga River.

Charlie and Joyce Andrews with the Tioga County Concerned Citizens Committee helped draw attention to the Tioga River and start conversations about what a clean Tioga River would mean for the communities along its banks and how to start the process of working towards a clean river.

“Each step along the way has had its challenges, and we know there will be challenges yet to come, but to see so much forward progress happening in the last couple of years, and to see the path forward coming into focus feels great,” said Charlie Andrews, President of the Tioga County Concerned Citizens Committee.

Through efforts by multiple partners passive treatment systems have been built on Fall Brook. These smaller systems have improved section of the Tioga River, but the in-design active treatment plant being planned now will restore over 20-miles of the Tioga River, several miles of Fall Brook and Morris Run as well as treat a discharge on Coal Creek. This combination of treatments will improve the water quality of not only the Tioga River, but also Tioga Lake and its effluent.

“Treating Coal Creek and cleaning up the Tioga River will help restore the fish and aquatic habitat to the River; provide clean water for municipal, agricultural, recreational, commercial and industrial purposes, such as irrigation for agriculture and kayaking for citizens; and ensure the water flowing through Blossburg and into the Chesapeake Bay from the Tioga River is clean and helping to restore the communities and waterways along its path,” said, Tom Clark, Mine Drainage Program Coordinator  with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

“The Susquehanna River Basin Commission recognized the importance of the property. We appreciate the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy’s help in taking the step of acquiring the property so our options for treatment design can remain flexible as the project moves ahead. We are planning to wrap-up the design and permitting next year, and can’t wait for the day when this property no longer has Abandoned Mine Drainage flowing through it,” Clark added.

Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy Board Member, Julie Weaver added, “When I was teaching science at Miller Elementary [Southern Tioga School District] we studied the Tioga River and had the kids test the water quality. It was the example of ‘polluted’ water and allowed us to have many conversations about pollution and remediation. It’s very exciting to know that the River will soon be remediated. I’m happy that the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy could help the partners take another step forward by acquiring the property. We’re excited and ready to work with the community”

Eventually NPC will work with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and the property will become part of the Tioga State Forest.

SRBC has a couple of websites where you can get more information about the Tioga River:

Tioga River Restoration Main Page: 
https://www.srbc.net/our-work/mine-drainage/tioga-river-restoration.html

Tioga River Restoration Story Map: 
https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/51e8a9b3b8f14accaeb7bcb10252e622

Family Fishing Day Successful

We caught fish!!!

Family Fishing Day with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and help from the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited was a success!!

Walt from Susquehanna Trout Unlimited helped at the casting station

After learning a little about being SMART angler (Safety first, Manners are important, Appreciate clean water, Release some of your catch, and Teach others), practicing casting, and learning to tie a knot to help keep your hook on your line, the group got their rods, reels, and bait and got to fishing.

Charlie from Susquehanna Trout Unlimited (in the red hat) helped at knot tying.

Some of the participants had gone fishing before. For others this was their first time fishing.

Cody Whipple with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission works throughout the region (and state) teaching people more about fishing.

At least one young angler got a fish on his first cast…and it was his first fish ever. The group continued to fish for over an hour before there were a couple rumbles of thunder. That ended the fishing for the day.

Thank you to all the families who came out and gave fishing a try. We hope to see them on the lake and streams again!

Stay tuned for more fishing programs and check out the PA Fish and Boat Commission’s website for more of their upcoming events.

And don’t forget NPC is a fishing tackle loaner site! Reach out if you want to borrow some rods and reels!

Underfoot: SQUIRREL CORN

By, Susan Sprout

Lovely and delicate Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis, is blooming now! Look for it in rich woodlands with nearby streams. I found mine near a small run, down over a bank, along a dirt road. My husband, once again, hearing, “Oh! Oh! Quick, stop the truck. I gotta get a picture of this!” Large colonies were growing in the dappled sunlight that filters down through the upper canopy during the day.

Large colony of Squirrel corn

The flowers got my attention first. They looked like Dutchman’s Breeches, but the closer I got, the more they resembled small white Bleeding Hearts. If you are familiar with the garden variety Bleeding Heart blossoms, you know they are really pink and have spit-apart heart shapes that dangle from an arching stem. The Squirrel Corn flowers, cream or very pale pink, are arranged the same way, hanging down on a smooth, arching stem, several inches above the light green foliage. The leaves are sort of a triangle shape, divided and re-divided into narrow segments, giving them a lacy effect. In order to correctly identify this native plant, I teased its roots apart to look for the physical characteristic responsible for its common name – a small group of attached tubers that resemble kernels of corn or small yellow peas – and then carefully replanted them. Yeah! Squirrel Corn! 

Heart-shaped flowers hanging down from a stem

After fertilization, drooping seed capsules with flattened, oval shapes will form and split into two parts releasing the seeds. Dicentra, the genus name of all three plants – Dutchman’s Breeches, Squirrel Corn and Bleeding Hearts – means “two spurs” which they all have! They are members of the same family. I can’t say which one right now because they are listed in two different ones, Poppy Family and Fumitory Family, depending on the resource!

Bleeding Hearts in the garden

All parts of Squirrel Corn are poisonous and can cause skin irritation after contact with cell sap. In fact, after I dug around to check the roots, my fingers itched for a bit. Hand sanitizer helped with that. (Silver lining of the Covid cloud…we never used to carry it in the truck before!)  These plants are native from southeastern Canada down through northeastern and eastern United States. They attract butterflies and bees, songbirds and small mammals (squirrels?). They appear to be resistant to deer and rabbits.

Underfoot: YELLOW MORELS

By Susan Sprout

Up until the 1960’s, fungi were considered plants and categorized in the plant kingdom. After extensive chemical and DNA testing, they were placed in their own separate kingdom. Morels are an ascomycete, or sac fungus, because their spores are produced in microscopic sacs that then release them to the winds. 

My beautiful Yellow Morel

It seemed every time I googled something this month, a photo of morels showed up on the screen. I knew what they were because one popped up in my friend’s yard last year. Oh, how I longed to have one appear in mine as well! Several days after my husband mowed our yard for the first time this spring, a Yellow Morel appeared. What a beauty it was, with its white-ribbed stem and unusual bumpy and pitted yellowish-tan cap! The pits and hollows are where its spore-making sacs, the asci, are located. Here’s hoping lots of its creamy ocher-yellow spores have dispersed in my yard and underground. We do have two dead apple trees that, along with other mixed hardwoods like ash and elms, are favored habitat for this species of morel, Morchella americana. Trees, as they deteriorate, provide all the essential nutrients that morels need to sustain themselves, which they do by using their extensive mycelium (masses of tubular filaments) to absorb food and water. They may come back in the same place every year if the weather is favorable. Similar to Earth-like planets astronomers are looking for in space, in the soil down here, Yellow Morels have their own habitable or Goldilocks zone. They cannot grow in very hot climates or very cold climates.

My resource book, Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States, indicates there are more than 100,000 species of fungi described so far, and 64,000 of them are ascomycetes, ranging in size from pinhead to moderately large. The truffles of Italy and France are members of this group, too. No, I did not harvest my morel for food, although I understand they are delicious when prepared properly. They are extremely toxic if eaten raw. Perhaps the poison in their caps kept animals from consuming them before they reproduced. It worked – they have been living on earth for over 154 million years.

Underfoot: EARLY SAXIFRAGE

By, Susan Sprout

On spring hikes near shaded banks of shale rocks, I like to look for Early Saxifrage, a member of the Saxifrage family. Its appearance in the crevices of rocks helps me remember the unusual name of Saxifrage. It comes from Latin saxum (rock) and frangere (to break) – ” rock breaker”. Because of this, early herbalists used it for treating kidney stones and bladder gravel. I suspect nature’s freeze/thaw cycle should get most of the credit for breaking up most of the cliff rocks around here!

A waving colony of Early Saxifrage

This interesting plant starts blooming when only three inches tall and continues an upward surge until it’s a foot high. Sometimes growing in patches, they wave back and forth in the breeze, especially after their tight flower clusters begin to loosen up and push apart. They appear rather top heavy. I had difficulty getting them to stand still for a group picture. Their stems are straight…and hairy! That’s actually a useful identification point. You don’t even need a magnifier. Some say it is to hinder ground insects from crawling up get nectar. Bees and other flying insects may offer better prospects for cross-pollination.

Basil leaves and hairy stems

Saxifrage leaves are oval-shaped with scalloped edges that form a basal rosette. They don’t grow up the flower stem. The white flowers are about one-quarter inch wide. The plant has deeply penetrating taproots with wiry root systems. After fertilization, a one-inch fruit capsule forms and turns from green to lavender or purple, and then splits to release the tiny black seeds. Early Saxifrage is native to eastern and central North America and grows from Ontario to Georgia as a perennial. There are more than 580 species in the Saxifrage Family worldwide which occur mainly in cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

White flowers with yellow stamens circling the center

Underfoot: Spring Beauty

By Susan Sprout

Look around. There is much beauty to be found in the spring, and especially if it is a wild flower aptly named Spring Beauty!  Sometimes I have trouble finding them when they bloom. I’m either too early or too late. Last week, I was happy (and relieved) to find large colonial patches of two species of Spring Beauties native to North America. One in Sullivan County – Claytonia caroliniana and one in Montour County – Claytonia virginica. Check out the species’ names. Bet you can tell where these plants were first found growing and identified. Both are very similar in looks, except for their leaves – C. caroliniana’s leaves are wider in their mid-section and don’t resemble the thinner, almost grass-like leaves of C. virginica

Spring Beauties with thinner leaves

Spring Beauties aren’t very tall, up to about six inches when blooming. They have small white or pink flowers that have pointed tips and dark pink veins acting as nectar guides for pollinators, like bees, bumblebees, and flies. Researchers have counted up to seventy different species of pollinators attending them. Not surprising, as they have a wonderful sweet scent that floats around them in the cool dampness of the woods. In fact, I sensed them with my nose before I found them with my eyes.

Carilina Spring Beauties with wider leaves

These plants like the rich, loamy soil and dappled sunlight of moist woods. They grow from rounded underground tubers. According to some wildcrafters, their tubers have a sweet chestnut taste and the texture of potatoes when they are baked and eaten. They have only one pair of opposite leaves, found halfway up the thin flower stem. Geneticists are interested in Spring Beauties because they have an inconsistent number of chromosomes. They vary in number from plant to plant. Most species, including us, have a fixed number of chromosomes in our genetic make-up. Deer are interested in them, too, as a food source. Get out there quickly and find some Spring Beauties before their leaves and flowers are gone.

Project on Plunketts Creek Recognized with Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence

“Every year the Environmental Excellence honorees show the creative and innovative ways we can improve our environment, and this year is no different,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “The projects highlighted this year show tremendous diversity in how they are making Pennsylvania a better place.”

The Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy and Pennsylvania Game Commission’s efforts on Plunketts Creek at Proctor are being recognized with a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence. The project removed an earthern berm, reconnected Plunkeets Creek to its floodplain, allowed improvements to Huckle Run Road, and works to reduce flooding for neighbors at the site and downstream.

Pennsylvania Game Commission food and cover crews out of Allenwood and English Center worked on all phases of the project at Plunketts Creek

The project was evaluated for the degree of environmental protection, innovation, partnership, economic impact, consideration of climate change, sustainability, and environmental justice, as well as outcomes achieved. It, along with 14 other projects from across the state, were recognized with the 2022 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in Harrisburg.

During the event, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said, “It is always a privilege to spotlight people going above and beyond to improve the environment and make our great outdoor spaces more accessible. Each of the projects awarded this year will leave a positive lasting legacy for Pennsylvania.”

This project’s lasting legacy will be less flooding, more ecological functioning, and better water quality. Plunketts Creek is a High Quality-Cold Water Fishery with naturally reproducing trout. The Creek is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the water in the Creek gets to the Bay through Loyalsock Creek, the West Branch Susquehanna River, and then the Susquehanna River

In Phase 1 in 2020 NPC and PGC stabilized the eroding streambanks on an 850 foot stretch of Plunketts Creek using log and rock structures designed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The eroding streambanks were adding sediment to the stream and covering the substrate on the bottom. By immediately stabilizing the streambanks, the source of the sediment was eliminated. Over time, the sediment on the stream bottom will flush out of the system.

In 2021, as Phase 2, the partners removed 2,200 linear feet of the earthen berm along Plunketts Creek and restored the Creek’s access to the floodplain, lowering adjacent flood elevations and the erosive potential of the stream. One of the outstanding attributes of the project was the 333rd Engineering Company of the US Army Reserves, based in Reading, PA, completed the project as their summer 2021 training exercise. The soldiers were able to get 3 weeks of training while also providing a huge environmental benefit to the community.

A Dirt and Gravel Road Project on Huckle Run Road (also on State Game Lands 134) received over 1,500 truckloads (approximately 15,000 tons) of material from the berm. The dirt road was incised forcing rain water and snow melt to run down the road. This directed sediment into nearby Huckle Run (also High Quality with Naturally Reproducing Trout). In addition to the water quality improvements, this road project also improves public access. Huckle Run Road will soon be open to allow the public to access the State Game Lands.

The project was only possible because of the efforts of a number of partners working together. One of the key partners was the 1st Platoon of the 333rd Engineering Company of the US Army Reserves. The Reservists used the project as their 2021 summer training project. Their assistance was possible because of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program.

The partners who worked with the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy and Pennsylvania Game Commission to help make the project possible were:

  • Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
  • Lycoming County Conservation District
  • 333rd Engineering Company of US Army Reserves
  • Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds
  • Susquehanna River Basin Commission
  • PA Council of Trout Unlimited
  • Coldwater Heritage Program
  • Loyalsock Creek Men’s Club
  • Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association
  • American Legion Post 104 (Montoursville, PA)

If you’re interested in learning more about the project, check out these blog posts:

Army Reserve Engineering Unit Partnership with NPC and PA Game Commision

Plunketts Creek Berm Removal One Step Closer

333rd Makes Progress at Plunketts Creek

Berm Removal Along Plunketts Creek Wraps Up

Survey Work at Plunketts Creek

Plunketts Creek Using Its Floodplain

Thank you McCormick Law Firm for supporting conservation!

April Showers and May Flowers

By Sara Schlesinger

April showers truly bring May Flowers! While visiting easements in Columbia and Lycoming Counties this past week, I spotted several native wildflowers in bloom.

Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefloia) is a perennial flower in the buttercup family with 5 white petals and a distinctive musky smell. Being that they are one of the earliest blooming flowers in our region, wood anemones are a great source of nectar for early pollinators.

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) have large umbrella-likes leaves that grow to approximately 18” tall and up to 12” across, developing a single white flower. Typically found in damp, open woods, mayapples use rhizomes to colonize the forest floor, creating dense mats. Mayapples are currently unfurling their leaves and will begin to blossom later this month.

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) resemble a pair of pantaloons hanging upside-down on a clothes-line, with yellow around ‘the waist.’ They may be confused with Bleeding Hearts and Squirrel Corn, however these 2 have a more ‘heart-shaped’ flower, and lack the yellow coloring at the end of the spurs. The finely compound leaves of Dutchman’s Breeches resemble ferns. Refrain from collecting Dutchman’s Breeches, as their flowers wilt almost immediately upon being picked.

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) is a perennial woodland species that thrives in shady areas with moist soil. They display clusters of dainty yellowish-green flowers, once the flowers have fallen, vivid-blue berries take their place.

Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) have a pair of brownish mottled leaves that resemble the markings of a brook trout, with a single yellow lily-shaped flower. It takes several years from germination for the plant to reach maturity and develop a flower, younger plants with only one leaf will not flower. Yellow Trout Lilies are found in areas with rich, moist soil that receive ample sunlight in early spring.

Tussock Sedge (Carex stricta) is a vigorous wetland plant that forms mounded clumps and grows to approximately 3’ tall. The large, dense root system, and its resiliency to deer browsing make the Tussocks Sedge an excellent choice for erosion control!

Thank you to McCormick Law Firm for supporting conservation!