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!!

Underfoot: American Sycamore

By Susan Sprout

Getting a forkful at Forksville this week, afforded me the opportunity to visit several of my favorite Sycamores, AKA Planetrees. that live along Loyalsock Creek.

In Pennsylvania, some have matured to absolutely huge proportions when left alone to keep growing: one in Philadelphia County is over 149 feet tall; Delaware County has one 404 years old; one in Chester County has a circumference at breast height of over 30 feet. Amazing – see why I love Sycamore Trees – such potential!

As they grow, their less than elastic bark cracks and sloughs off to reveal lighter under-bark creating an easy to identify blotchy camouflage pattern of gray, brown, cream and tan that any hunter would be proud to wear. These native trees are common along waterways and low woods, where once established, they appear to be drought-resistant.

American Sycamores along Loyalsock Creek

Sycamores’ leaves may resemble maple leaves, but they are much bigger –  five to nine inches across, with prominent yellow veins, and furry undersides. And, they are not related to maples at all, but are members of the Planetree Family (Platanaceae) that has only eight known living species in the world. The family has been around for over one hundred million years, making some paleobotanists consider our modern Sycamores to be living fossils.

Reproduction takes place in the spring when inconspicuous male and female flowers in hanging bunches are pollinated by the wind, just about the time the leaves begin to sprout. The seeds develop in round spikey balls, green turning to brown, that hang on for about a year before falling to the ground. Pick one up and pull it apart to find the individual seeds surrounded by long hairs – they float in the air and on the water, a second dispersal mechanism. No wonder they are so successful!

American Sycamores pushing up through the rocks along Loyalsock Creek

Underfoot: Northern Maidenhair Fern

By Susan Sprout

These elegant-looking perennial ferns, preferring acid soil and partial shade, are likely to be found on wooded slopes and ravine bottoms that are moist. They “brown-up” early in summer when they are too dry. Northern Maidenhair Fern or Adantium pedatum is the Eastern North American native of this genus growing world-wide that has nearly two hundred different species in it.  I love looking for their circular patterns of horizontal fronds and bright green leaflets divided into little fan shapes! They are lacy and delicate. The shiny black stems holding them all together are a great clue when trying to identify Maidenhair Fern, and thus, the name. And they are tough! They were used by Native Americans in their basket-making. With many other ferns, there is an observable difference between fertile fronds carrying spores and non-fertile fronds without them. Not so with Maidenhair! Their foliage looks the same until you turn one over and find little sori curled up on underside edges behind the vein tips of the leaflet. Though tiny and tucked away, wind will disperse the spores to grow into heart-shaped gametophytes responsible for sexual reproduction and creation of the next generation of ferns. Over time, they will grow into colonies, spread by their underground rhizomes. In spring, look for the pinkish-brown crosiers or shepherd’s crooks pushing up. Return trips are a must…to see them gracefully unfurl!

Northern Maidenhair Fern
Circular frond pattern

Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access Celebrated

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams joined the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) and local supporters for a dedication ceremony at the Phelps Mills Canoe Launch on Pine Creek in the Tiadaghton State Forest in Pine Creek Township, Clinton County just across the Creek from the borough of Jersey Shore.

The moment the ribbon was cut!
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

“The story of the Phelps Mills Canoe Launch is a testament to the power of collaboration and the impact it can have providing recreational opportunities in our communities,” Dunn said. “Thank you to NPC, its volunteers, George and Shirley Durrwachter, and everyone who helped make this project a reality.”

The ceremony formally welcomed Phelps Mill Canoe Launch on Pine Creek under the Bureau of Forestry umbrella. Although the canoe launch has been a managed as a part of Tiadaghton State Forest since late 2019 when DCNR purchased the property from NPC, the obeservance on June 25, 2021 allowed the project partners to come together and celebrate what they achieved.

Thank you to everyone who helped make the project possible and came out to celebrate!
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

NPC was able to purchase the property and conduct environmental assessments due to a generous donation from Dr. George and Shirley Durrwachter.

This photo from before the improvements show the path down to Pine Creek with just a bit of the gate in the lower left corner.

“Having this boat launch available to local residents will allow them to traverse the creek and the river to downtown Jersey Shore,” George Durrwachter said. “Creating recreational opportunities closer to where people live is important not only because of time constraints but it will also reduce congestion on the highways.”

In addition to the donation from the Durrwachters to acquire the land, NPC secured grants and support from the Western Pennsylvania Canoe Access Fund and the Clinton County Tourism and Recreation Fund to support improvements at the canoe launch.

The improvements were completed in August 2020 and helped stabilize the canoe launch, improve the walking surface, improve the parking lot, and replace the gate with a bollard to make it easier to carry canoes and kayaks down the path.

By October 2020 the site improvements were complete and the pathway was easier to use and navigate, especially if carring a canoe or kayak.

The black lab who showed up just as the group photo was wrapping up wasn’t planned, but was perfectly timed. The lab had his stick and headed straight to the water, running down the improved pathway, and launched into the Creek.

Thank you again to George and Shirley for their support that made this possible! Thank you also to Carl Barlett for speaking on behalf of NPC and Commissioner Jeff Snyder for his remarks on behalf of the Clinton County Tourism and Recreation Fund and the Clinton County Commissioners.

The unplanned black lab who demonsrated how to enjoy the Creek.
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

We hope you enjoy rivers all summer long! If you want to check out this access, the address is 1019 E. Central Ave., Jersey Shore, PA (but you’re on the west side of the Creek/the Avis side, not the east side of the Creek/the Jersey Shore side).