Tag Archives: NPC

Underfoot: SHINGLE OAK

By, Susan Sprout

Question: When does an oak leaf not look like an oak leaf?

Answer: When it is a Shingle Oak Leaf!

We’ve been taught there are two groups of oaks: white oaks whose leaves have rounded lobes on them and red oaks with sharp pointed and toothed leaves. Shingle Oak, or Quercus imbricaria, is a type of native red oak that has no points or teeth on its leaves – just nice smooth edges. Occasionally they may be found growing on moist hillsides or in bottom lands. I spied one walking on Canfield Island last week. I did not know what it was. The tree caught my eye because of its shiny, dark green leaves that looked sort of like rhododendron leaves only smaller and not leathery. I found a small bunch of leaves that had fallen, or been chewed off the tree, lying beneath it. They were smooth-edged, ranging in size from four to six inches long and were lightly furred underneath by very short, tannish hairs. I had to use my magnifier to determine that. Of course, it was all of the acorns growing on and lying beneath it that really clued me in…IT’S A SPECIES OF OAK! 

This Shingle Oak could grow to 100 feet in height.

Shingle Oaks are more frequently found west of here in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valley regions. They are commonly used as ornamentals, and this one may well have been planted here. What a treat to find and identify it! 

Twig of Shingle Oak leaves

Shingle Oaks flower in May when their leaves are about half-grown. Their acorns will then be ripe about eighteen months later. The species name imbricaria is Latin for “like a shingle” which could indicate its use as a source of hand-split shingles or shakes. Or, maybe, because of the caps on the small brown acorns that have wedge-shaped, pointed scales overlapping to resemble a shingled roof.

Acorns are about 1/2 inch in length 

How many native animals and insects need native oak trees for food or habitat? Of 435 species of oaks worldwide, 91 are found in the United States AND support more caterpillar species than any other genus of plants in all of North America – not to mention all the animals that eat acorns. Read more about them in Doug Tallamy’s book, “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees.”

Underfoot – A GATHERING OF TRUE BUGS (Eastern Boxelder Bugs)

By, Susan Sprout

I was surprised recently by a large amount of insects sitting on the leaves of some Great Lobelia plants.  Maybe “amazed” would be a better word for it. There were a lot of them. I needed to identify them and learn why they were gathering there. Here’s what I learned – they are our native Eastern Boxelder Bugs. Considered “true” bugs because adults have piercing, sucking mouth parts and a characteristic triangle shape between the tops of their leather-like wings. The younger bugs with them are nymphs with bright red bodies, black antennae and legs. You can find them easily in the photo because they are the ones with small slate gray or black patches on their backs. These are their wing buds. When the nymphs emerged from eggs, they were only 1.3 mm in length. (There are 25.4 mm in an inch.) So tiny! Because they are invertebrates, or animals without backbones, they are held together, supported, protected by an exoskeleton made of chitin. It is stiff and hard. When the nymphs begin to grow, they must shed and replace that rigid exoskeleton with a new larger one in order to get bigger and attain adulthood with sexual organs and wings. They need to molt five different times, becoming darker red as they mature. The red V on the back of an adult is created by its folded wing edges. The other, larger red marks on their bodies may serve as a warning to predators that they are distasteful because they contain a pungent, bad-tasting compound. Preying mantis and spiders eat them anyway. Few birds will eat them. They sun together in large groups on warm surfaces. All of that red in one place probably serves to keep hungry predators from munching on them. 

Masses of Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder Bugs feed almost entirely on the developing seeds of boxelder, maple, and ash trees. They will suck juices from the leaves, but prefer the seeds. They do not sting or transmit diseases and are not classified as a pest. They can be found east of the Rockies in woods and gardens. There is a similar species that lives west of the Rockies. In autumn, swarms of females can be seen looking for thick piles of plant debris in which to overwinter. They emerge in spring to lay eggs which are hidden in bark crevices, under leaves in safe areas. 

Look for the nymphs with small wing buds mixed in with adults

Sometimes Boxelder Bugs are confused with the Eastern Milkweed Bugs that are reddish-orange and black in color. They are true bugs, too. Get yourself a bug book and check them out!

Nymphs of Eastern Milkweed Bugs on a seedpod

Underfoot: WHITE VERVAIN

By, Susan Sprout

A volunteer plant grew near my woodshed – unexpected, but not unappreciated! It appeared over a month ago. I had to wait for it to grow bigger before introducing it to you and getting the photos that would capture its unique physique! Our native White Vervain (Verbena urticifolia) is a member of the Verbena Family, along with about 3,000 other species, mostly from warmer climates. Teak is one of them, prized for its beautiful and durable wood. I have always admired White Vervain and was happy to find it growing nearby. These annual or perennial plants usually choose moist fields, meadows, thickets or waste ground. Well, nothing much grows there except pennyroyal, and there is a downspout nearby. I guess that works in its favor.

Young White Vervain plant. My husband held a rug behind it as contrast in order to show its short flower spikes at its top.

White Vervain plants are compact at their start. When their small, tight, flower spikes appear, the magic begins! Their very slender flower stems begin to stretch out in all directions. The buds on them move further and further apart from each other until they look like little bugs sitting on thin branches. The really tiny white flowers open willy-nilly, here and there, as they mature. I pulled off one of the pollinated flowers and rubbed it gently between my fingers to tease out the four nutlets inside that will create the next generation of plants there. The flower stalks definitely stand out as an identifying characteristic of White Vervain. But, the rest of the plant needs to be checked out, too. It can grow from two to five feet tall, has a hairy, square stem, and stiff, opposite leaves that are doubly-serrated and look like the blades on a steak knife. If you want to look for this plant, it should be flowering from July to September in Pennsylvania. Its close relative, Blue Vervain, can be found inhabiting similar habitats, but has stiff pencil-like spikes of small, blue flowers that appear in a “more organized” fashion resembling a candelabra!

Large plant with expanded flower spikes reaching out in all directions.

Medicinally, Vervains are astringent, or drying, and have been used for millennia crushed up and applied externally to wounds, poison ivy sores and other skin complaints.

Underfoot: PURPLE-FLOWERING RASPBERRY

By, Susan Sprout

Purple-flowering Raspberry’s scientific name is Rubus odoratus. Its genus name is from Latin for “bramble”, defined as a prickly, scrambling shrub or vine of the Rose Family. But, its arching and sprawling branches have reddish-brown hairs that are sticky to touch instead of prickly to touch! This perennial plant is native to eastern North America. Its gorgeous rose-purple flowers that are about two inches wide made it a desired target of plant gathers from England in the 1770’s. It was taken there as an ornamental and has since naturalized as many plants from there have done here!

Purple-flowering Raspberry with five-pointed leaves

The leaves of this shrub resemble maple leaves with a heart-shaped base and three or five triangle lobes. The whole plant can reach to six feet tall. On a ledge or a shaded cliff where they seem to prefer growing, it is hard to get a true measure of their height. Their five-petaled flowers, pollinated by bees and insects, then create a large, flat berry made up of many little druplets. They bloom from May to August and set fruit from July to September depending on local conditions. I have found many adjectives describing the characteristics of these red berries: dry, tart, acid, bland, seedy, fuzzy to touch and on the tongue! Well, songbirds and game birds will eat them. Small mammals, too. The seeds are great for sowing in order to return native plants to an area and the roots work well at stabilizing banks. Many members of the Rubus genus, eighteen grow PA, have been used medicinally because their leaves are highly astringent and helped treat dysentery and diarrhea as well as skin ailments like sores and boils. 

Check out the hairy flower buds and the white, unripened fruit.

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. 

Underfoot: Jewelweed & Soapwort

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 Weed, Myself .

Jewelweed
A pale yellow earring on a thin wire dangling under light green leaves. That may be an apt description of a pale jewelweed blossom during the summer and right up until the first frost. This native annual reproduces solely from seed each spring, breaking ground close together and just about all at once. Its two larger succulent leaves stand out brightly against the winter duff.

Jewelweed seedlings

Then the juicy stems filled with watery sap begin to grow. Coarsely-toothed leaves covered with microscopic hairs that hold beads of rainwater like jewels pop out alternately along the stems.

Jewelweed young plant

Soon the lovely pendulous flowers appear: yellow for pale jewelweed and orange-spotted for spotted jewelweed. Both species occur in our area, liking wet woods and meadows.

Jewelweed blossom

Now the fun begins. The fertilized flowers morph into bumpy pods – AND – when they are ready, just a breeze or a slight finger tap on them will release the seeds and throw them a good four feet from the parent plant. That is where this plant’s other common name comes from: Touch me not. But do, please! What fun to touch all of the pods and create a seed storm.

Help plant a lot of jewelweed because this is a great plant for squishing up the stems and leaves, then slathering that sap on itchy nettle stings and poison ivy!

Jewelweed seed pod

Soapwort
Soapwort is a plant brought to this country from Western Asia and Europe, having been in use there probably back to the Assyrians. A member of the Pink Family, it is a perennial that likes moist but well-drained soil and spreads by underground stems. I always find this plant growing along Muncy Creek at the Rocks. Easily recognizable by smooth stems thickened at its nodes where the leaves grow, its scalloped five-petaled flowers can be white to light pink.

You may know Soapwort by another name, Bouncing Bet, the old name for a washerwoman whose whole upper torso would move up and down as she scrubbed clothes on a washboard probably using this plant! Why? It contains saponins, substances that produce soapy lather.

Soapwort lather

It was a must that textile workers would use for cleaning newly woven cloth, especially wool. A gentle astringent cleaner can be made by boiling the leaves and roots to extract the saponins. Museums have used this for cleaning old and delicate tapestries. I like to grind the stems and leaves on a wet rock, adding a little water before squeezing out the bubbly suds. A great trick if you’ve gotten into poison ivy on your walk. Use soapwort to thoroughly clean the essential oils of the poison from your skin. No worries…the green washes off!

Susan Sprout is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.

The Butternut Trail

In celebration of National Trails Day on June 6th, NPC board member, Aaron Lewis, laced up his boots to take us on a virtual trek of the Butternut Trail in Worlds End State Park. Portions of the Butternut Trail traverse NPC’s Flynn acquisition. If you’ve never had the opportunity to hike this popular, loop trail, here’s a quick look at what you can expect!

Trickling brooks, a stately rock outcropping, and a wonderful view of the Loyalsock Creek can be found on the rigorous Butternut Trail Loop. Go after a rain event and expect the small trickles to transform into cascading streams.

Aaron Lewis, NPC Board Member and Forester with Dwight Lewis Lumber Company

The 2.5 mile Butternut Trail makes a circuitous loop through a northern hardwood forest. The trail originates shortly past the State Park Visitors Center on the east side of the Cabin Bridge. There’s a small parking lot on the left near the trailhead.

Now get ready to climb!  At first the trail is somewhat steep as it makes a quick ascent, but soon levels off and arrives at a split and the start of the loop.  The Upper Road to the left travels an old logging road.  The Lower Road to the right journeys parallel to and above the Loyalsock Creek.

Following the Lower Road, you’ll make a moderate incline into the woods, followed by a gradual decline to Butternut Run, a small, intermittent stream with numerous cascades.  Along the way you’ll pass several springs and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Loyalsock Creek.  When you reach Butternut Run, be prepared to cross on foot as there is no bridge.  As you’ll see below, the stream was slightly more than a trickle on Aaron’s hike, but after a heavy rain this section of the trail could be tricky!

Crossing over Butternut Run

After crossing the run, the trail ascends again, becoming rockier, and following steep switchbacks.  Enjoy the unique rock outcroppings and formations along the way!

At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the Loyalsock valley from Butternut Vista.  Worth the climb!

Butternut Vista

After soaking up your views from the top, complete the loop by following the orange blazes.  During this second half of the hike, you’ll cross back over a different section of Butternut Run, travel through several glades, passing more wildflowers and streams along the way!

Circled above, the Butternut Trail on the Worlds End State Park map.

In 1993, NPC purchased over 600 acres of prime forest land, forming the northern and eastern boundaries of Worlds End State Park. In addition to providing public access to this tract, the acquisition allowed creation of sections of the future Butternut Trail (the trail was established by longtime NPC member, Ruth Rode, after the acquisition), and helped conserve a mile of the Loyalsock Trail that would have had to be relocated if the land was not made publicly accessible.

The 600+ acres was transferred to the Bureau of Forestry and is now managed as part of the Loyalsock State Forest – ensuring that the thrill of hiking the Butternut Trail remains available for everyone to enjoy for years to come!

Aaron Lewis is a member of the NPC Board of Directors. He is currently a Forester with Dwight Lewis Lumber Company, and previously worked as a Forester with the
U. S. Forest Service. Aaron began at Penn State’s historic Mont Alto campus before graduating from the University Park campus with a degree in Forest Ecosystem Management. He has served on the Board of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association and is currently on the Board of the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association. Residing in Hillsgrove, PA he is an outdoor recreation enthusiast, and enjoys hiking, paddling, and exploring the Pennsylvania wild.

Underfoot

By: Susan Sprout

The NPC membership is made up of a diverse group of knowledgeable individuals with a shared passion for the natural world. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day and kick off Environmental Education Week 2020, we’re welcoming environmental educator and longtime NPC member, Susan Sprout, as a recurring guest of the NPC blog to share her botanical knowledge. Enjoy!

Happy earth…happy us! Let’s face it, without the planet and its many components under our feet, we would not be here.  Can you wrap your brain around the fact that there are over 8.7 billion different species of organisms on earth with us?  We are so totally outnumbered! In a single handful of dirt there may be billions of individual bacteria, fungi and algae living.  Their life functions make the soil rich and alive, which benefits what grows both above and below – the plants and trees we depend upon for our lives and well-being.

I will be sharing with you from time to time some of the extraordinary plants we find underfoot as we walk the earth – roadsides, backyards, easements, parks, trails – where your feet take you. Look down! See what’s growing!

The first native plant I’d like to introduce you to is bloodroot.
While walking through moist, deciduous woods in April and early May, look for the fragile white blooms of bloodroot being held in supportive hugs by their curled leaves. The leaves will flatten to a slightly furry, lobed horseshoe shape as the weather warms. Underground, its rhizome contains an orange-red juice which gives the plant its common name. Native Americans have used bloodroot or Puccoon for hundreds of years as dye, body paint, and medicine. A member of the Poppy Family (Papaveraceae), this plant is native to North America and can range from Quebec to Florida.

Susan is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.  

Susan leading a past ‘Plant Walk & Talk’ for NPC