Underfoot: Spicebush

By: Susan Sprout

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is THE native shrub I love to find while taking nature walks with kids, especially in the fall when its leaves are starting to turn yellow and its spicy berries (drupes) have ripened to a bright red. The squeezing and the sniffing of berries, leaves, and twigs make for a great multi-sensory experience.

Early fall berries before the leaves turn yellow.

The Laurel Family, of which Spicebush is a member, also gives us Sassafras, locally, as well as tropicals like Cinnamon and Sweet Bay. Hooray for this fragrant family! There is also a similar species of Spicebush (with finely hairy twigs) growing in the southeastern U.S., where it is endangered from habitat loss.

Spicebush leaves turn yellow before they fall.

Our Spicebush is three to seven feet tall and commonly found in moist woods or in the understory along stream banks. To identify it in the spring, look for clusters of tiny, one-eighth inch yellowish flowers, attached directly on the twigs, usually during March and April. They begin blooming before the two to five inch, egg-shaped leaves appear.  In the autumn, look for peeks of red shining through the leaves to find the berries. Sometimes this can be a difficult task because Spicebush is dioecious with male and female flowers on separate plants, requiring the pollen to move quite a distance to pollinate the female flowers. If it doesn’t get there, no berries. You may have to identify it by the lemony fragrance of a crushed leaf…not an unpleasant task!

Spicebush has many culinary and medicinal uses, like the rest of its family – tea from leaves and twigs, spice from dried and ground berries, extract from leaves and bark for inducing perspiration to break a fever or as liniment for rheumatism and bruises or a tonic for colds.

Is Plunketts Creek Using Its Floodplain?

A lot ot people would look at the photo below and think, “oh no! That’s awful.”

This is a photo from Thursday, September 23, 2021. The PA Game Commission’s Food and Cover crew stopped in to see how things were doing.

This is looking at the same trees in the first “flood photo” from a different direction. The flood water is pushing out of the Creek, between the trees, and into the field.

This is the project site on Plunketts Creek that the United States Army Reserves’ 333rd Engineering Unit’s 1st Platoon worked on for their summer training. The soldiers worked to remove an earthen berm.

The soldiers used heavy equipment to pull apart an earthen berm and move it out of the floodplain.

Here the soldiers are working in the area between the trees shown in the flood photo.

This solider is leaving an edge that a more experienced equipment operator would come back and “finish.”

Trent is holding the survey rod “on top” of the berm. The bottom of the staff is resting where the top of the berm once was.

The Friday after Ida moved through (Friday, September 24, 2021) NPC staff went to visit the Plunketts Creek site. Not just because it was a beautiful morning, but because we wanted to see what Plunketts Creek did and where Plunketts Creek went with all the rain.

We wanted to see if there was flood debris that would need removed. This tree branch got caught up on the wooden stakes used to hold the jute mat in place (technically it’s a coconut fibre woven in to a grid).

There was also plant material caught on the stakes.

But, the good news is there’s fresh sediment (soil) too. As the flood waters spread out, the slow down in speed. As the water slows down, the sediment has a chance to settle out.

Think about stirring powder into a glass of water. As the water stops twirling around, some of the powder will settle into the bottom of the glass if it’s given a chance to sit.

A piece of a tree branch (about 1.5 inches in diameter and 18 inches long) got caught on this stake. You can see the gravel that deposited out behind that piece of branch. The branch provided a break to the flow and allowed the water to slow down. That slowing water was enough that material dropped out.

This long stretch of fresh sediment was one of the most exciting scenes. (Yes, this is what we find exciting.)

Plunketts Creek has access to its floodplain now. The water can easily rise up and move into the floodplain and slow down. The sediment drops out and erosion is reduced if not eliminated.

As the water recedes, the sediment remains. This sediment, or dirt and sand, provides a base for grass and plants to grow. A lot of Plunketts Creek has rocky edges. Getting plant material back along the Creek will provide a filter to keep sediment ouf the Creek (think about future rain storms washing dirt across the surface) and that vegetation helps to slow down flood waters a little more.

During our visit we also looked at the vegetation for signs on where the water had flowed. Here you can see the vegetation is pushed all the way over. You can also see in the lower right hand corner, sediment that was caught in the grass.

The erosion in the background is from either the 2011 flood or the 2016 flood in the watershed.

This is the same areas as the flood photos above. You can see the sediment that was dropped in (it looks more sandy here than soil-y) and the grass is knocked over. (This was another exciting scene for NPC staff.)

The signs from this first high water event are all good. Plunketts Creek used its floodplains and is deciding where it wants to settle.

Thank you to Pennsylvania American Water for sponsoring October’s blog!

What to do in the Woods – October

Managing a forest is a long-term proposition. You need to be thinking ahead 20, 30, even 50 years and recognize the decisions, and indecisions you make today will impact the woods you see today, but also the woods you’ll have in the future.

October is a great time to take a walk in your woods and enjoy the fall colors. It’s also a great time to take a walk in your woods and look at the seed sources for trees.

You’ll want to begin to understand how trees reproduce. The Center for Private Forests at Penn State has an article to help get you started.

Then you’ll want to pay attention to what seeds you’re seeing in your woods. Are your trees helping you set the stage for the next forest?

Maybe you’ll get to the point of wanting to collect some seeds and see if you can start to grow some tree seedlings. You probably won’t get as into it as the U.S. Forest Service does, but you might want to read their article about what they do.

Tioga State Forest staff collecting acorns for the DCNR nursery.

If you’ve got time and the trees bury a few acorns from a white oak. White oak acorns germinate in the fall and red oak acorns geminate in the spring. If you’re not sure of the difference, this blog post has photos to help you see the difference in the leaves, the acorns, and the bark.

If you’re interested in reading more about how the seeds of today create the forests of tomorrow, The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has a blog post to check out.

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

Thank you to Pennsylvania American Water for sponsoring the October blog posts!





Underfoot: Tearthumb

By Susan Sprout

In the 1800’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American poet and philosopher, wrote that weeds are just plants whose virtues haven’t been discovered yet. I do try to be thorough as I learn about various plants, but researching Tearthumb did not turn up many virtues. It is edible, cooked or raw; berries, too. Birds and ants like the seeds and disperse them; chipmunks, squirrels, and deer eat it. However, since its accidental introduction in northeast US in the 1930’s, Asiatic Tearthumb has thrived so well that it’s been designated as a noxious, aggressive, highly invasive weed in many states, including ours. 

Mile-a-Minute’s slender, reddish stems can grow up to thirty feet a year. Its triangular green leaves have barbed mid-ribs that along with its prickly stems, help hold it while climbing towards the light, shading out, and killing other plants as it goes. Do not grab onto Devil’s Tail with your bare hands as it will live up to its other name and tear your thumbs. Better double glove! 

Look for Giant Climbing Tearthumb along roads, crawling and sprawling in thickets, and uncultivated open fields resulting from both natural and human causes. This member of the Buckwheat Family (Polygonaceae) loves the things we do to the soil – the digging, the clearing, the farming, the dumping – and will move right in. Another identifying feature of Asiatic Smartweed are its fruits which can be all different colors – green, blue, red – hanging together on the stem ends like tiny bunches of grapes. Since Persicaria perfoliata likes moist soils, too, you can find it frequently hanging over waterways where it will persist until after the first frost. Its pretty fruits are buoyant, able to float for up to nine days, providing another seed dispersal method.

Did you find all of the common and scientific names of Tearthumb in the text!  If you did, Bravo! Maybe its virtue is to show that plants can have many names!

Here are the common names of Persicaria perfoliate:
*Devil’s Tail
*Giant Climbing Tearthumb
*Asiatic Smartweed

Thank you to Pennsylvania American Water for sponsoring the NPC blog during October!

PA Trails Month – Susquehanna River Water Trail – Middle Section

When PPL built an electric generating station at Shamokin Dam in the 1920s/1930s it acquired an archipelago of six islands in the Susquehanna River. PPL needed the islands to anchor a dam designed to provide cooling water for its power plant. Many years later, PPL decided to divest itself of the islands and donate them to NPC.

Scott, a volunteer witht he Susquehanna River Trail Association, visits Byers Island several times a year to check on the campsite’s condition.

NPC transferred ownership of the islands to DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry. The Bureau of Forestry is managing the islands as part of the Susquehanna River Water Trail.

There are 3 primitive camping areas for canoeists using the River. On the Susquehanna River Water Trail – Middle Section map they’re sites 121, 120a and 120b. The Susquehanna River Trail Association’s volunteers maintain this section of the Trail, including the campsites. The photo in this post is by one of those volunteers, Scott, at site 120b.

The islands are also part of a study area Susquehanna University’s researchers are examining to understand the River’s chemistry and how the West Branch Susquehanna mixes with the main stem of the River. Public ownership of the islands is allowing this research to continue and canoeists to enjoy some “island time.”

Underfoot: Nodding Ladies’ Tresses

By Susan Sprout

When I find Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, it makes me want to twist and shout!  In thanks for the plant being there, growing  –  AND –  in honor of a very special movement each little white flower on the stem has to make in order to bloom.

The labellum or lip which is attached above, actually twists down and around so that it is now below the other petals as it opens! This action provides a landing place for visiting insects and may also allow the lip to get more sunlight, showing patterns and nectar guides better.

Orchid flowers that do the twist are called “resupinate”. Yes, this plant is an orchid, native to Eastern North America. While it is not an uncommon plant, it is picky about where it lives and with whom. I found these in partial shade, along a dirt road where  the soil was wet and acidic.

Nodding Ladies’ Tresses will spread slowly by underground rhizomes to form colonies. They can reproduce by seed, too, but their seeds lack the store of starch and nutrients necessary for successful germination. Therefore, they require the help of mycorrhizal fungi to provide fixed carbon and mineral nutrients for the growth of seedlings…a specific species of fungus. Picky!

Look for them. They will keep blooming until the first frost. The single stem, about sixteen inches tall, holds a six-inch flower spike with a coiled spiral of white or ivory flowers, each one being held by a bulbous bract that is green and covered with minute hairs that spread about halfway down the stem. You may find two or three really thin leaves tightly clasping the lower stem. A basal rosette of leaves will be gone by the time the plant blooms. The tongue-shaped lower lips of the flowers are thin and lacy.

At least ten species in the genus Spiranthes can be found in Pennsylvania in various forms and locations.

When you find some, twist and shout!

PA Trails Month – Loyalsock Trail

Affectionately referred to at the LT, the Loyalsock Trail was laid out and built by volunteers. Over the years the Alpine Club of Williamsport extended the Trail, has relocated sections, and has taken on maintenance.

The Trail is on footpaths, old logging roads, and abandoned railroad grades as it travels 59.2 miles from Route 87 north of Montoursville to Mead Road off US Route 220 near Laporte. While there are moderate sections, there are also difficult sections, so do some research before you head out on the LT.

One of the priorities for NPC in acquiring the Flynn property in the early 1990s was concern about needing to re-route the LT. When NPC acquired the property at auction and then conveyed it to the Bureau of Forestry it allowed the LT to stay on the route it was on. No re-routing was necessary.

The acquisition also allowed for some trails to be added. This photo shows the Loyalsock Trail at its intersection with the Flynn Trail. Yep, the same Flynn as in Flynn property. The yellow discs with the red “LT” are the markers for the LT, and the yellow blazes (rectangles) are the Flynn Trail.

For more information on the Loyalsock Trail visit the Alpine Club’s website: https://alpineclubofwilliamsport.com

Cancelled – Celebrate 30+1 Years of Conservation!

2020 was NPC’s 30th anniversary, but we couldn’t celebrate in person. We re-grouped. Join in celebrating NPC’s 30+1 Anniversary!

September 15, 2021
5pm cash bar
6pm dinner
Herman & Luther’s

(787 State Route 87, Montoursville, PA)
Cocktail hour, live music, and a buffet style dinner.
Cost is $45 per person with reservations due by September 7, 2021


Thank you to our sponsors:
Kase Law
Dwight Lewis Lumber Co., Inc.
Evergreen Wealth Solutions
McCormick Law Firm
Pennsylvania American Water
Wayne Township Landfill
Woodlands Bank

Underfoot: Yellow Wild Indigo

By Susan Sprout

Where the wild indigo grows

What an enjoyable afternoon we had at the top of Highland Mountain, gazing toward the horizon across Sullivan County and being serenaded by American Towhees with their “Drink your tea” songs! If that wasn’t great enough, looking across the clearing, I spied lots of small yellow flowers on squat shrubby-looking bushes. A new plant to explore…one whose name I did not know. It is Yellow Wild Indigo, with the scientific name of Baptisia tinctoria, from Latin verbs  baptiso (to dip or dye) and tingo (to soak in dye). 

Check out the bluish foliage

I had met its cousin before, the true “of India” Indigo, the well-known dye plant in the same Pea Family, FABACEAE. Here was a plant, native to Pennsylvania, used by Native Americans and colonists as a blue dye plant, as well as for medicine. The inch and a half long pea-like flowers were being pollinated by bees. Pods created by that interaction will look like short, fat peapods that turn brown as they mature. The leaves attached to the stem are in groups of three like clover, another relative. The bluish-green color of the young bushes sets them apart visually from the other greens of the field. The whole plant will turn black rapidly as it dries out, making it a stand-out among the fall colors, too.

See how their clover-like leaves turn  black when dried.

I was happy to discover Yellow Wild Indigo is a host plant to some of our native butterflies…they evolved together! Check out Clouded and Orange Sulphurs, the Eastern Tailed-Blue, and, most especially, the Wild Indigo Dusky Wing – its own very special butterfly!

Board of Directors Elected by Members

A quote we use frequently is from Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” It reflects the many board members who over the years have helped the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy along the way.

At the June annual membership meeting we said goodbye to four long time board members and welcomed four new board members. Thank you Gail Zimmerman, Carl Barlett, Phyllis Reynolds, and Roy Siefert for all your help!! (although, we will still be asking you for help) Welcome Mary Blondy, Chris Kenyon, Stephanie Radulski, and Julie Weaver!!