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Field Guide: Know Your Evergreens

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art & PR Intern

Enjoy our mobile field guide as you walk, hike and play in the fall forests. Wintertime has got me cherishing the bits of green left around the forest here at the Schuylkill Center. On our monthly staff walk the other day (after perhaps the last snowfall of the season), the white backdrop over our dips and hills made it easy to spot evergreens throughout the trails. Of course, our beloved and fragrant Pine Grove is thriving, and we shared knowledge about the kinds of conifers and other evergreens that live with us around here.

See other Field Guide posts here.

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)

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Despite its common name, eastern redcedar is actually a juniper tree, sometimes called a Virginia juniper. This one sits right outside the Visitor Center next to our solar panels at Fire Pond. Eastern redcedar is a native plant to the region, often one of the early colonizers of meadowlands.

Juniperus virginiana

Juniperus virginiana

In the colder months, this evergreen is actually quite red, while in the warmer seasons, the foliage turns a more vivid green. They smell so good but be careful, because this evergreen has little prickly bits at the base of their leaf clusters! Sometimes, this tree’s turned into incense and burned for ritual purification.

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

Ilex opaca

Ilex opaca

Ilex opaca

American Holly is pretty easy to identify, one of the most common evergreen varieties that isn’t a part of the pine family. Notice their spiny teeth, shiny, leathery surface, and smooth and sometimes spotted greenish bark. This American Holly is a male tree, but its female counterpart will bear the iconic red holly berry fruit, often seen in seasonal displays around the holidays.

White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Pinus strobus

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Elissa explaining  her helpful trick to identify a White Pine—pick off a little leaf cluster and count the needles… 1-2-3-4-5 correlates to W-H-I-T-E!

One needle for each of the five letters in its namesake, pinus strobus is the only five-needled eastern pine.

Pinus strobus

White pine is one of the two pine species in our Pine Grove at the Center. Because of the invasion of the white pines with white pine weevils, who invade the terminal branch of these trees, they’ve become multi-branch pines. The Pine Grove was originally planted as a lumber initiative, but because of these pests, luckily these trees are no longer desirable for logging!

Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana)

Pinus virginiana

ed with a female va pine

Ed with female Virginia pine cones

The other pine in our grove is the Virginia Pine, which can thrive even in the most inhospitable of soil, hence their colloquial name, Scrub Pine. On our walk, Eduardo gave me a little lesson on how to identify male and female pine cones. Female pine cones tend to be round and stout, while male pine cones grow more elongated and cylindrical on lower branches. Female cones grow in the upper branches of most conifers, where they may be fertilized by pollen blown on the wind.

Pinus virginiana

You can tell if you’ve found a Virginia Pine if the needles are clustered in bunches of two, as opposed to the five-needle clusters of their White Pine neighbors. Pinus virginiana is also sometimes referred to as Jersey Pine, representing the northern end of their typical growing region.

Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens)

Picea pungens

Picea pungens

Picea pungens against winter skyPicea pungens

As you might have guessed from its name, the Colorado Blue Spruce is non-native to our region, and is often planted as an ornamental specimen, as is the case for this one in Founder’s Grove. The outer edges of this conifer are where you’ll find the bluer bits of its foliage, which blend oh so beautifully into the background of a pale mid-winter sky.

Northern Red Oak

Field Guide: Fallen Leaves

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art and PR Intern

Enjoy our mobile field guide as you walk, hike and play in the fall forests. Take in the beauty of crunchy fallen leaves in the city and the forest and easily identify the trees from whence they came.

See other Field Guide posts here.

Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera)

tuliptree.gifTulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), commonly referred to as Tulip Poplar, are abundant in the forest at the Schuylkill Center, and their mostly-yellow turning leaves roughly resemble the shape of a cat’s head or—as you might have noticed—a tulip! Another mark of a Tulip tree leaf is their glossy texture and symmetry.

Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra/Quercus borealis)

Northern Red Oak

Querecus means “beautiful tree,” rubra “red,” and borealis, “north” in Latin. As opposed to white oaks, the lobes of the Red Oak’s leaves are pointed instead of round. Red Oak leaves have 7-11 lobes and extend clearly off the center vein. You can find Red Oaks on the streets of Philadelphia, too, as they are able to resist salty sidewalks in the winter time. If the squirrels or deer haven’t eaten them up yet, you can also find bitter acorns among the crunchy Red Oak leaf piles.

Big-tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)

Bigtooth Aspen

Big-tooth Aspen can be identified by their easy-to-spot “teeth” on the edges of their simple and relatively round leaf shape, coming to a point at the top. They are usually yellow in the forests this time of year, like many other native leaves. You know you’ve found an Aspen leaf, though, if its stem (petiole) is flattened and perpendicular to the surface of the leaf (see below). The flat stem makes the leaves quake at even the slightest breeze, hence the name of this leaf’s smooth-edged cousin, Quaking Aspen.

Flat stem of Bigtooth Aspen

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

SCEE6175 Sassafras

Sassafras is a quick one to identify—with their iconic two or three-lobed shape, sometimes they mimic the shape of a mitten, with one lopsided thumblike lobe and a larger one. Either they’re mitten-like, or they resemble something like a three-toed dinosaur footprint, with three distinctly deep lobes. Catch them in any number of their swiftly changing color palettes—from red-brown to yellow-green.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple

I’m not usually one to play favorites, but… this might just be my favorite fall leaf. The colors on the leaves of the Red Maple this time of year could be likened to a paint-splattered canvas, blending gorgeous shades of yellow, rich reds, and orange. Sometimes, they’ll have three gentle lobes and other times, two more will tooth out at the bottom for a more recognizable maple shape. They range about 2 to 4 inches wide and tall, and are quite flexible and soft in texture—great for pressing in a book and saving for a dreary winter day. You might recognize the Red Maple’s silhouette from our Schuylkill Center logo at the top of the page!

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

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Here on the trails at the Schuylkill Center, the biggest leaf you’ll find likely fell from a Sycamore tree. These look a lot like the familiar shape of a maple leaf, with 3-5 lobes, but with bigger teeth around the edges. Although they normally range from 4 to 9 inches long, staff at the Center have found ones much larger than our faces—up to fourteen inches! Their stems are noticeably enlarged at the end, too, which encase the buds when still attached to the mother tree. Sycamores, also commonly known as buttonwood trees, and are proud members of one of the oldest tree families, Platanaceae, which dates back over 100 million years.

Happy crunching!

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Field Guide: Fall in Bloom

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art and Public Relations Intern

Enjoy our mobile field guide as you walk, hike, and play in the fall meadows. See other Field Guide posts here.

Flat-top goldenrod (Solidage graminifolia)

Solidago graminifoliaFlat-top goldenrod provides nectar for many types of pollinators such as butterflies, wasps, both long- and short-tongue bees, flies, moths and beetles. One particularly interested beetle is named after the plant itself—the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle! Many people mistakenly believe they’re allergic to goldenrod , but in fact, what little pollen it has is too sticky to be blown around by the wind! Wherever you are, it is likely you will be able to find a few different kinds of goldenrod in the fall, all of which are suitable for medicinal purposes. After the Boston Tea Party, goldenrod tea replaced black tea in the States– “liberty tea,” and was used  to boost the immune system before the  winter months.

 Yellow indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)

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More commonly known as yellow indiangrass, Sorghastrum nutans is a tall native grass that can be identified by its blue-green blades and the almost metallic yellow-gold sheen of its flowering heads. Standing at about three to five feet tall, Indiangrass is an excellent snack for deer, birds and other wildlife.

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Jewelweed

Spotted jewelweed is an annual flowering plant that can be found growing along creek banks, and lives right along the edge of the Schuylkill Center’s own Springhouse Pond. One can easily identify this plant by submerging its leaves in the surface of a nearby water body—if they shimmer with a silvery dust, it’s jewelweed! Despite their misleading nickname— touch-me-not— the innards of jewelweed’s succulent stems can be used to treat poison ivy, bug bites, or other skin irritations on the trail. Jewelweed is also known as touch-me-not because, if the seed pods are ripe when touched, the seeds will pop out of their dangling pendant pods. You’re safe to touch these pretty creekside blooms, but be wary of their common neighbors, stinging nettle and poison ivy!

Roundleaf thoroughwort (Eupatorium rotundifolium)

Eupatorium rotun.2

If you get out on the trails soon, you’ll still be able to catch the beautiful white blooms of roundleaf thoroughwort, a perennial plant with bundles of delicate white flowers. A member of the aster family, roundleaf thoroughwort has many porcelain flowers in each of the small floral heads. Eupatorium rotundifolium stands at about three to four feet tall this time of year, fully matured before it crawls back to the soil in wintertime.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

Panicum virgatum

Much like Indiangrass above, switchgrass is another important native tallgrass, reaching up to five feet tall. Generally, Switchgrass is not quite as tall as Indiangrass, but due to its rhizomatic root structure, its roots can extend up to 10 feet underground! It can be found in dry soils, in prairies, open woods, or growing by train tracks in large clumps. Switchgrass is known for its particularly sturdy vertical growth structure, and is also referred to as panic grass, thatchgrass, and wild redtop, due to the pinkish tinge of their tufted panicle blooms.

Field Guide: Winter Understory Trees

By Melissa Nase, Manager of Land Stewardship

With so many efforts dedicated to tracking the biggest or tallest members of our forest, I thought it was a worthy endeavor to dedicate some time to these smaller, perhaps lesser known, understory trees in our woods.  While they will never be the biggest or tallest or most majestic, they deserve accolades of their own.  Many produce fruit that are prized by birds and mammals, especially during these winter months.  Others provide habitat and cover.  And others are just simply beautiful trees, small in stature, but with intricate details that are much easier to observe up close due to their size.

Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Dogwood (Cornus florida)
A common tree in both the woodland and residential landscape, this tree is easily identified by its white spring blooms in April or May.  In the winter, however, the bark and form gives it away.  With its light tan, scaly, shallowly furrowed bark, dogwoods take on an alligator type texture.  It has a graceful, pyramidal form and is often low branching or multi-stemmed.  Later in winter, the buds of new flowers will form like little caps on the ends of the upward facing branches. 

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
When you find a sassafras tree, you tend to find many sassafras trees.  This is one native plant that suckers readily, sending up new shoots from its root system, forming clusters of new trees.  In the forest, they are typically found in groves, easily identified by their twisted, gnarly shaped branches.  The brown bark is deeply furrowed and forms rectangular blocks with horizontal “breaks”.

Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
While the common persimmon is not as common at the Schuylkill Center as the two aforementioned understory trees, there are a handful of them spread throughout old meadows and fields here.  This is another tree with distinct bark:  it resembles the scales of a dogwood, but it is thicker, more deeply furrowed, and very blocky.  You may see bright orange, plum-sized fruits hanging from its bare branches from fall through the winter.  Often they are too high to reach, but you may get lucky to snag one for a snack before the wildlife does.

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
You may have come across a pawpaw grove on a hike in our woods and not even have realized it.  The few young groves that exist here more closely resemble sticks in the ground during the winter than a distinct cluster of trees and saplings.  Like sassafras, pawpaws spread through their underground root system, forming new trees by sending up shoots.  They can also be propagated fairly easily through seed, although pawpaw often has trouble with pollination and therefore its fruit production is often unreliable.  Pawpaws have smooth grey-brown bark that gets slightly more textured with age and dark brown buds.  They often have arching trunks and don’t branch until more mature.

Dotted Hawthorn (Crataegus punctata)
Dotted Hawthorn (Crataegus punctata)
Dotted hawthorns grow along forest edges and in old meadows and fields.  At the Schuylkill Center, they were planted in the 1960s along a fence row toward the front edge of the property to discourage trespassing.  How would a tree discourage trespassing, you may wonder.  Hawthorns have sharp spiky thorns, sometimes several inches long, which could be very painful to any passerby.  These thorns on the branches are a good way to identify the plant, as well as their bright red berries that persist through the winter as food for birds.  It has greyish bark that is irregularly ridged and furrowed.

Enjoy our January mobile field guide as you walk, hike, and play in the winter forest.  See other Field Guide posts here.

Witch Hazel

Field Guide: October Colors

By Melissa Nase, Manager of Land Stewardship

Enjoy our October mobile field guide as you walk, hike, and play in the fall forests.  See other Field Guide posts here.

Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and Blue Wood Aster (Symphotrichum cordifolium)

Highbush blueberry and Blue wood asterThe deep red foliage of the blueberry bush is a great contrast to the lighter, more delicate blue wood aster.  Both of these plants have their own unique characteristics.  Highbush blueberries produce edible fruit enjoyed by humans and birds and are a nice, sculptural addition to your garden.  The blue wood asters provide a mat of tiny flowers throughout the fall season.  They tend to reseed vigorously.  Look for them in our Sensory Garden and in our forest.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Poison IvyWhile you may have your own opinion on poison ivy, I’d like you to try to suspend your negative associations of rashes and calamine lotion and take in the beauty of the fall foliage.  Poison ivy is a common native vine that you may see on the forest floor or climbing up trees.  Often times, as in this photo, it’s easy to mistake the poison ivy branches for tree branches.  While you may question the  direct value of this plant to humans, the dark berries that it produces are an important winter food source for birds.  Plus, its bright yellow to orange fall color is a great pop of color in the autumn forest. Continue reading

Tradescantia virginiana_MN_6-1-15

What’s blooming at the Schuylkill Center?

By Melissa Nase, Manager of Land Stewardship

Welcome to our new mobile Field Guides!  We’ll regularly post guides about what’s blooming, what animals you can see, and other interesting things to observe in the woods, meadows, and streams.  These posts are designed to be easy to read on a phone, meaning you can take this mobile field guide out with you as you walk, hike, and play.  See other Field Guide posts here.

Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera)

The most common tree you will see on the Schuylkill Center’s property, this tree has distinct yellow and orange flowers and leaves that look like cat ears.  They grow quickly with very straight trunks, often the first to reclaim open spaces in our forest.  Serving an important ecological purpose as well, this tree supports 19 native Lepidoptera species.  You may see yellow petals with an orange stripe this time of year – a sure sign that there are tulip poplars overhead.

Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

These beautiful, showy flowers are from a catalpa tree – a late spring showstopper!  With elongated heart-shaped leaves, this tree could easily be confused with the invasive, nonnative empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) that also can be seen at the center.  Later in the year, the catalpa gets long string bean-like seed pods that hang from branches.

Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)Tradescantia virginiana_MN_6-1-15
Named for its angular leaf arrangement, native spiderwort can be seen in several meadows here.  This plant opens its flowers in the morning and closes them later in the afternoon, with the individual blooms only lasting one day.  They self-seed well and add great color to the landscape.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus)
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These rainswept fleabane were spotted in our front garden.  Typically located in meadows, woodland edges, or disturbed roadside sites, the dried flowers of this annual plant were believed to rid a home of fleas.  These flowers bloom throughout the season, attracting predatory insects to combat insect pests.

Dogbane, Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum)
Apocynum cannabinum_MN_6-2-15

In the same family at milkweed, this plant has a very high value to pollinators despite its small, inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers.  It may be easier to spot this plant by its reddish stem, and thin, long seed pods later in the year that release seeds with fluffy white pappus attached.  While it is a food source for adult butterflies, specifically monarchs, all parts are poisonous to herbivores.  As a result, it grows well here despite our large white-tail deer population.