By Susan Sprout

Virginia Bluebells, or Virginia Cowslips, are ephemeral – here in the spring and gone during summer. Look for them blooming now with nodding but showy, blue trumpet-shaped flowers. They arrive early, eager for the higher amounts of unhampered sunlight before the trees above them leaf out to block it. As the name suggests, their bright blue flowers hang in loose clusters like bells, their trumpets shaped by the fusing of five petals. The buds, which usually start out pink, bloom blue. They grow quickly to their eight-to-twenty-four-inch height before dying back and reverting to just underground parts. Considered dormant because they are not photosynthesizing, I will bet the woody roots that we do not see are still busy getting nutrients and water during the summer and fall. With all of their stored resources, they are ready to go when it is spring!

Virginia Bluebells – notice larger leaves nearer the bottom of the plant

Virginia Bluebells have oval leaves ranging in length from two inches at the top of the plant where they almost clasp on to the stem, then downward to the lower parts where they are eight inches long and tapered. Situated alternately on the stems, the leaves do not shade each other out – more sun for all. Another reason they can grow upwards in such a hurry. Seeds develop at the base of the flowers after they are pollinated by bees, especially bumblebees that look for pollen and nectar early in spring. The bumpy, roundish seed pod turns from green to tan to brown as it and the four seeds in each one mature.

Trumpet-shaped blossoms of five fused petals

These native perennials tend to grow in masses when water is near, in bottom lands and riverwoods, where the soil is rich and the land occasionally gets flooded. Once established, they will bloom year after year. Their seedlings will flower in their second year. They can be found from E. Canada south to North Carolina and west to Arkansas and Minnesota (lots of lakes there for bluebells to grow near).  The native people in those areas used the plant as a treatment for tuberculosis and whooping cough. And, guess what? Deer do not like to eat it!

Roundish, brown seed pods contain four seeds

Underfoot:  HOBBLEBUSH

By Susan Sprout

Ever been hiking off trail in the woods and get your foot caught by a shrub with drooping branches that had become rooted in the ground? You may have had a run-in with Hobblebush AKA Tangle-legs! If you can remember where you got entangled, hike back in for positive identification now because Hobblebush is in bloom from late April into May with flowers that are very distinctive and easy to recognize.

Across the creek and up the bank are more Hobblebushes.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides), a native perennial shrub, is found in what Thoreau called “the under-woods” – the understory of woods. It was cool and moist there, and down a ravine that I simply could not negotiate. I sat on the ground at the top of the ridge and scooted down as far as I could, without sliding to the bottom on my bottom. I leaned forward and got some photos. What lovely white flowers greeted me! Looking down from the trail above, I had spied some bushes with white on them, but could not distinguish if it was the flash of sunlight on shiny leaves or white flowers. Yeah, flowers! Elegantly arranged on sparse branches, the blossoms are made up of two kinds of flowers –small fertile ones in the center and larger, five-petaled infertile ones on the outer edges. I get the feeling that those bigger flowers are there to get the attention of pollinators who will service the inner cluster. When pollinated, those inner flowers will make red berries that change to a bluish-black as they mature in the early fall. The bright green leaves of Hobblebush grow opposite each other on the twigs. They were wrinkled and not yet fully extended when I found them. When fully grown, they are heart-shaped with a bumpy or irregularly-textured surface.

Blossoms with central clumps of tiny flowers surrounded by fewer large ones.

Hobblebush is listed as “occasional” in my PA plant reference, declining due to over-browsing by deer. The ecological importance of this shrub is without doubt. Gamebirds, songbirds, small mammals, butterflies, browsers – all make use of its bounty. Humans, too, have eaten the berries or made them into jam. Rubbing the head with its crushed leaves was a medicinal use of this plant by Native Americans who suffered from migraines. So, if you have a run-in with Hobblebush while hiking, extract your foot carefully so you do not pull the roots out. If you accidently do, tamp them back down into the dirt and duff gently.  We need them for the health of our woods and its inhabitants.

Sun and shadows highlight the bumpy nature of the unfurling leaves.

Editor’s note: Thank you Sue!! As someone who frequently trips while walking in the woods, I feel better now knowing I have a native shrub to blame.


By Susan Sprout

Going out and about, you have probably noticed our wonderful Eastern Redbud blooming now in Central Pennsylvania. So attractive and conspicuous with those magenta blossoms decorating all the branches! They certainly stand out whether they are growing along a country road or in people’s yards. A closer look reveals that the flowers have appeared before the leaves and are coming straight out of the bark. Growing in little clusters as they do, the branches look upholstered with the blossoms! A common folk tradition stemming from their early arrival is to take some branches inside the house “to drive the winter out.”

Eastern Redbud is widely cultivated as an ornamental.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is considered a shrub or small tree and a member of the Pea or Legume Family, Fabaceae. It is a native species as are two close relatives, Honey Locust tree and Kentucky Coffeetree. Redbud’s flowers are pea flower-shaped with a lower keel like a sailboat, and two vertical wings spreading out above like sails. The buds can remain unopened for quite a while and retain a darker pink color.  As they mature, the keel splits open revealing two rows of pollen-bearing stamens and the female receptacle called the stigma that receives pollen. At this time, they become a paler pink color. After pollination, groups of two-to-four-inch seed pods that resemble those of garden peas begin growing from the flowers and dangle downward. Starting out green, they mature turning dark brown to black and split open along one side to release four to ten flat bean-like seeds.

Flowers on half-inch stems coming out of the bark

Redbud leaves are bright green and heart-shaped with smooth edges and pointed tips. Three to five inches in diameter, they grow alternately on the branches or twigs and have five to seven veins radiating from the leaf base where it connects to the stem. Underneath, they are a lighter color and have some tufts of hair where the veins meet.

A younger branch with pea-shaped flowers, some split apart and ready for pollination.

Although slightly sour to taste, Redbud flowers are edible and high in Vitamin C. Several sources reported their use in salads and pancakes. In folk medicine, tree bark was used to treat dysentery. Our colonial ancestors used the green twigs to season wild game. Funny thing, the game, AKA venison on the hoof, enjoys those same green twigs as browse!

A Little Allocapnia Along the Stream

Recently, staff visited a couple of past streambank stabilization projects while also looking at some sites for the 2023 construction season (which gets underway in March!!!).

At a site that had streambank stabilization done in 2018 and trees planted in 2019, we found this guy.

The stonefly in this photo is an adult Allocapnia (genus) in the family Capniidae, more commonly known as the “Tiny Winter Blacks” or “Snowflies”. They typically emerge as adults during the coldest part of the winter. So, the adults have very short, non-functional wings (visible in the photo), because air temperatures are often too cold for insects to fly during frigid winter days. Instead of flying, adult Allocapnia stoneflies move around by crawling on snow, ice, substrates, and vegetation (including trees).

Do you see the end of the log??

Thanks to Dave Rebuck for sharing this entomology lesson!

After the stream work to stabilize the streambanks, fencing was installed to keep the cows away from the stream. Can you tell how far under the fence strands the cow can reach??
We often focus on the macroinvertebrates and fish habitat created with these projects. Here’s an example of other animals who often have new habitat after a project.

Thank you to all the landowners who work with us, and all the donors who make it possible to reduce sediment and clean-up local streams.

Underfoot: Sprucing up the Blog – Norway Spruce

By Susan Sprout

No pun intended! Recent photos of snow-decorated Norway Spruce inspired me to learn more about them. And I did! I first checked the etymology of the word “spruce” and discovered it was an alteration of “Pruce” or Prussia known as “Spruceland.” Evidently, they must have had a lot of European Spruce growing there. Masts of sailing ships were made from their large, straight trunks, and the best ones came from Prussia.

Norway Spruces on a snowy day

Prussia also had a great reputation for its leather goods. Folks in the 1400’s wearing fine leather jerkins or jackets made in Prussia were considered “All spruced up.” You can just imagine how that comment traveled and morphed in definition through the centuries to “looking neat and trim.”

Drooping lower branches that have died

There seem to be a lot of Norway Spruces in our area. In the 1930’s, one hundred million were planted by the Civilian Conservation Core as reforestation projects all across the vast open areas of the northeast that had been denuded by various lumber barons’ business practices. Since then, many more have been planted as shade trees, shelter belts for wind protection, Christmas trees, and as plantations for lumber and pitch. There are more than one hundred and fifty different cultivars of Norway Spruce, many of them dwarfs for landscaping, when someone doesn’t want a hundred-foot tree in the yard.

Ground litter showing cones before and after squirrel munching

Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is an evergreen and cone-bearing member of the Pine Family, along with larches, firs, hemlocks, Douglas firs, and pines. It is not a native tree here, nor is it native to Norway as its name suggests. This species of spruce originated in Eurasia, the Black Forest, and other parts of the European continent way before moving into what is now the Kingdom of Norway, sometime around 500 BC, where it became the National Tree. Of the thirty-five species of spruce found in the northern temperate and boreal regions on earth, it is the most commonly planted tree in North America and Europe.

The growth habits of Norway Spruce can help with its identification – living in the deep woods or in town. Seedlings are fast growers during their first twenty-five years under good conditions, which would be humid and cool with moist soil. They have a striking pyramid-shaped crown of spreading branches which thins out as it ages. Twigs droop, and lower branches can dip to touch the ground, then tend to die off. The evergreen needles are four-sided, stiff, and sharply pointed (painfully sharp). The young twigs and needles of light green spring tips can be used to make Spruce beer and tea which can prevent and even cure scurvy caused by the lack of vitamin C. The bark is a scaly reddish-brown and exudes a very, very sticky resin called “pitch.” That characteristic gave this tree its scientific genus name Picea from the Latin “pix.” Seed production begins after thirty to fifty years of growth, in a life that can reach three hundred years in its natural range. Pollen-bearing pinkish male flowers are clustered along the stems. Green female cones are upright until they become pollinated, then hang down as they ripen and turn brown. Their mature cylindrical cones are the largest of all the spruces, averaging between four and six inches long. And red squirrels love to gnaw through the triangle- shaped scales of the cones and eat the protein-rich winged seeds inside.

As you can imagine, the wood harvested from Norway Spruce has many uses, from lumber to wood pulp. A  particularly interesting one is its use as tonewood in the crafting of musical instruments. Its stiff, but light, wood is good for soundboards because it gives a brighter sound vibration in violins, mandolins, guitars, harpsichords, and pianos. Its reddish-brown resin when purified is made into varnish, especially for those violins and other string instruments.


By Sue Sprout

Greater Celandine plant

Greater Celandine or Swallowwort is a biennial plant of the Poppy Family, Papaveraceae. It is not looking so great right now. Winter is upon us. However, I must say, when I took its photo, Celandine’s rosette of basal leaves had a measurement of twenty inches across, and that’s just from its first year of growth. It is green which means it may still be photosynthesizing during warm spells of full sun when moist air surrounds it. Not bad, indeed. And when you look closely at the light green center of the plant from which the somewhat hairy lobed leaves are growing, you can see where its “greatness” will spring from…in spring. At that time, the plant will put up a flower stem one to two feet tall with lovely four-petaled yellow flowers. This growth spurt would occur about the same time as the swallows began returning on migration to Celandine’s native lands of Eurasia and North Africa. That is why it has the scientific name Chelidonium majus – because the Greek word for swallow is “chelidon”. It flourished in spring when the swallows returned and withered when they departed.

Hairy stem and leaflet backs

Celandine’s range in North America is from N.E. Canada to N. Georgia and west to Missouri. It was probably introduced to this continent by early English settlers in New England, thanks to the Romans who brought it to Britain with them when they invaded. All that transporting from place to place was due primarily to its medicinal qualities. Considering Celandine is in the same family as Opium Poppies, there are many unwanted side effects and reactions. Celandine’s plant juice is a toxic bright yellow-orange latex which contains alkaloids that can cause irritating rashes or allergic reactions in some people when they get it on their skin. This is funny because in earlier times, it was used for removing warts and freckles, eczema and ringworm. Since the juice resembled bile, a fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, doctors in the Middle Ages used it to treat liver disorders like jaundice and gallstones. Today we know using Celandine plant parts may actually cause liver problems. AND, it is poisonous to chickens!

Amazing Celandine roots and yellow-orange latex from inside them

The seeds of Celandine have fleshy structures attached to them that are rich in fatty acids and proteins, called “elaiosomes”. When the dry seed capsules break apart and drop them to the ground, the seeds act like ant baits. The ants quickly transport the seeds to their nests so that their larvae can eat up all of the lipids and proteins. Yum! The seeds, not so much. They go to a waste disposal area where they are discarded among the dead bodies and frass (ant poop). And there, they germinate – away from the parent plant with no competition for nutrients, water, light. This is an example of mutualism, a win-win situation where both the ants and the plants benefit. As many as 35% of herbaceous plants in Eastern North American forests make seeds with the fatty acid and protein structure on them. Many of the spring plants I have written about in the last two years have used this method of getting their seeds distributed. To name a few: bloodroot, Dutchmen’s Breeches, species of violets, wild ginger, and trout lily.


By, Susan Sprout

Many odd, strange, and curiously costumed kids of all ages are out and about at the end of October. So, let’s take a look at a creepy, gelatinous growing thing that likes to live in and digest decaying logs. Heh! Heh! Heh!

Tremella – jelly fungus

You can find Tremella in the forest – in the duff on the floor, or mysteriously appearing on hard and soft wood – especially dead trees, lying there decomposing. Tremella’s unseen hyphae eat the wood from the inside of logs where you cannot see them doing it. Creepy! Then, when they have digested enough for extra energy, they will reproduce and create more of themselves to take over the world. (Oops, I didn’t mean to say that.)

…they start small

They exude jello-like masses of lobed or wrinkled or leaflike jelly with spores inside it. These globs can be orange, or yellow, or black, or reddish-brown in color, depending on the species that produced it. They will break apart and dissolve to let loose all of the spores that will take over the world. Heh! Heh! Heh! 

…and just keep oozing along

IT’S JELLY FUNGUS! Seriously, it is a fun kind of fungus because lots of folks don’t recognize it as one, and make icky, yucky noises when they see it or are brave enough to touch it. “Trembling” Tremellas… and they don’t just appear for Halloween, but can ooze into existence from May to November. Be vigilant and watch for them – in the woods, on your back fence, the sides of a raised bed. They are coming!!!  Unfortunately something has taken over my mind…and my computer. I must sign off for n

Coal Creek’s Past Plays into Its Future

Recently, staff from the Tioga State Forest spent some time on the Coal Creek property to gather information to help them develop their management goals for the property and identify any immediate needs that NPC should work on while we own the property.

Is the drainage on the roads working? Are there invasive plants that should be addressed sooner rather than later? Are there any timber stand improvement activities that could happen?

Thanks to the support of NPC’s members, we were in a position where we could buy the Coal Creek property earlier this year. NPC will own the property while the Active Treatment System (ATS) for Coal Creek, Morris Run, and Fall Brook is built.

Once the ATS is up and running the property will be transferred to the Bureau of Forestry and managed as part of the Tioga State Forest.

After a morning on the property conversations are underway and lists are being drawn up. We’ll begin having some conversations about what are next steps and what’s reasonable for NPC to take on during our ownership. Stay tuned for future updates as those plans are developed and we start to implement projects.

One thing that everyone seems interested in is the property’s historic uses. One group walked to the northern end of the property and explored some old roads, now grass covered walkng paths that led to a coal mine. During the jaunt, they found a stone “wall” under one of the walking paths (former road).

In looking at the 1938 aerial image the road that is now walking path can be seen. It’s evident the road was being used and people needed to get to where the road was leading. Now, it’s finding that spot on the ground.

Stay tuned as we learn more about the property’s past while exploring what its future will look like.


By, Susan Sprout

Northern Wild Senna is a member of the Fabaceae family, well-known as the legume or pea or bean family and having about 20,000 species in many countries. This particular species, Senna hebecarpa, is a perennial plant native to northeastern United States from the Great Lakes to Georgia. I found it growing in a field of goldenrods. Taller than I am, it was a real stand out in all that yellowness because of its height. It has yellow flowers, too. Its leaves are pinnately compound – smooth-edged leaflets arranged in pairs, up to ten opposite each other on a single stem, kind of like the barbs of a bird’s feather are arranged on a quill.

Northern Wild Senna plants in the field

This plant’s blooming period begins in late summer, and its yellow petals are beginning to turn white now as they age. Very visible in each flower are five black anthers containing pollen and one curled pistil with long, white hairy edges waiting to pull in the pollen grains. The pistil will slowly develop into a flat, brownish seed pod having up to eighteen segments, each containing one seed. A mature pod is curled and amazingly hairy.

Closer look at some developing seed pods

Something else that sets this plant apart from many is that its flowers do not contain nectaries, the glands that produce nectar! The bees that visit, come for its nutritious pollen because it is higher in protein according to a study done at Penn State in 2016. So where’s the nectar? It is in small, club-shaped glands found singly on leaf stems near their point of attachment to the main plant stem. The nectar there seems to attract parasitic wasps, lady beetles and ants which may in turn protect the plant from other types of insects determined to eat its foliage.

Yellow petals turning white, black anthers, above the red dot is a nectary

Northern Wild Senna plants have a tendency to spread by horizontal rhizomes under the soil and create colonies. They like partial to full sun and loamy, moist soil near streams and water catchment areas. They can also live in sandy and rocky places, too, once they get a foothold. The plants have a vertical growing habit, but may get top heavy as the seed pods develop and flop over sideways.

White-tail deer and other herbivores don’t seem to care for the rather toxic and cathartic (purgative) foliage. Senna plants, like this one, and their near relatives, have been used by native populations in many countries for millennia as laxatives, worm remedies, and as poultices for healing sores.

A Flat Tire for One Leads to Help for Many

NPC’s members have always understood that when we work to conserve a property through a partnered acquisition we should be ready to help ensure people recreating and using the property can do so safely. This means helping with infrastructure needs in areas where we’ve added land to the state system.

This time, staff realized what was needed through their own bad luck. A flat tire while bike riding on the Pine Creek Rail Trail has led to a new bike repair station and tire pump on the Trail. Out of air and 8 miles from the car, there was plenty of time to think about what would be helpful and partners that could help.

NPC worked with the Pine Creek Preservation Association and the Tiadaghton State Forest staff to get the unit and get it installed. (Thank you maintenance crew!!!!)

The idea is to help bicyclists who may be having bike problems and are trying to get back to their car (see first paragraph above). This unit is installed at the comfort station at Bonnell Flats so the Bureau of Forestry staff can keep an eye on things.

Jersey Shore Borough has installed a similar unit in the Borough at the trailhead. There are also three units in the Tioga County stretch thanks to the Wellsboro Rotary.

While we hope you never need it, we’re glad we could partner with other groups, so they’re there!