Tag Archives: northcentral pennsylvania conservancy

Underfoot: Galls & Bittersweet

By: Susan Sprout


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!

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!


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.

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!


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.

Elk Country and the NPC Legacy

Each year thousands of people make the trip to Elk Country – home to the largest free-roaming elk herd in the northeastern United States – for the opportunity to catch sight of this magnificent animal in its natural habitat. Located in the northcentral region of Pennsylvania, as many as 1,400 elk roam wild across 3,000 square miles.

Photo credit: Tim Holladay

One of the most popular times of year to view the elk is during the “fall rut,” which typically begins in September and carries through October.  Keep your eyes and ears open during this time, for a chance to see bull elk locking antlers as they compete for a mate or hear the distinct “elk bugle” mating call!  The area also boasts several world class visitor and education centers, an abundance of other wildlife viewing opportunities, and a 127-mile scenic drive that loops through Elk Country.  Visit PA Wilds to help plan your trip and learn to be ELK SMART to help preserve the wild nature of the herd during your visit!

Elk History in PA

Eastern elk once roamed freely throughout their native Pennsylvania range.  However, colonization and unregulated hunting wiped out the native herd by the mid-1800s.  In 1913, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) began reintroducing elk imported from the western United States into the Pennsylvania wild.  Since then, PGC, along with other state agencies and organizations – including the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy – have worked to help conserve and protect the elk and their habitat.

NPC and Partners Expand Elk Habitat in Clinton County 

By the late 1990’s, NPC was on the cusp of its 10th anniversary and was a testament for what the power of partnerships and community-driven conservation efforts could achieve.  So, when a large parcel of land on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in the Sproul State Forest District was rumored for sale, NPC and the community rallied! 

You see, for generations, the community had accessed the land for hiking, hunting and picnicking; and feared private purchase would cut them off from the land they loved.  While at the same time, the PGC was searching for areas to expand the elk herd’s conserved habitat.

Partnerships formed quickly between NPC, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission. At a West Keating Township meeting, NPC worked with the community to understand their needs. The heirs of the over 4,000 acres agreed to sell the property for conservation. Additionally, contributions came from large foundations, as well as sportsmen’s groups and individual donors. The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources awarded funding through the Keystone Fund and the land was purchased!

In the end, 1,110 acres of new state forest was secured with public access to the river, and 3,330 acres of new elk habitat and hunting ground created as State Game Lands 321.

This piece of the NPC legacy, known as the Kelly-New Garden project, not only helped restore the elk herd to what it is today, but also ensured that these awe-inspiring animals will have a habitat to roam wild in Pennsylvania for generations yet to come.