Come See the Flowers Race the Trees

Red trillium, nicknamed wake robin up in New England, is one of the rarest wildflowers at the Schuylkill Center, and grows along the Ravine Loop.  Photo courtesy of Will Terry.

Red trillium, nicknamed wake robin up in New England, is one of the rarest wildflowers at the Schuylkill Center, and grows along the Ravine Loop.
Photo courtesy of Will Terry.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Like all forests around us, the Schuylkill Center is in full bloom right now. You really have to see it to believe it. In fact, you can, if you simply walk down our Ravine Loop.

Like the red trillium in the accompanying photograph, an elusive and rare plant that New Englanders dubbed “wake robin,” as it bloomed there about when robins return north from their migrations (robins are year-round residents here in Roxborough). 

Or the Virginia bluebells in the other photo– one of everyone’s favorites, as it is taller than many of the spring ephemerals and one of the bluest of them all. You can find it on our Ravine Loop and elsewhere across the property, and is happily one of our harder-to-miss wildflowers. I love its pink buds that open to blue flowers– two colors for the price of one.

In our Wildflower Loop near our small Pollywog Pond, Virginia bluebells grow profusely.  Photo courtesy of Anna Lehr Mueser

In our Wildflower Loop near our small Pollywog Pond, Virginia bluebells grow profusely.
Photo courtesy of Anna Lehr Mueser

But that’s just the beginning of the parade. There are bright yellow trout lilies, named for the spotting on their mottled leaves that resembles a trout’s back. And shooting stars, white flowers blazing across the forest floor. Jacob’s ladder, a complicated lilac-colored flower with ladder-ish leaves. Jack-in-the-pulpit, poking through the forest floor, Jack dutifully staying inside what looks like his mottled purple lectern. Solomon’s seal, named for the Biblical king, its delicate bell-like flowers dangling from zig-zags of leaves. Spring beauties, each petal a tiny white surfboard with a pink racing stripe down its middle. 

And that’s just a start.

What’s amazing about these plants is the narrow window of time through which they slide. A forest in spring features trees without yet any leaves, so sunlight shines through and caresses the forest floor. Warmed by the sun, long-dormant roots and rhizomes suddenly come alive and send sprigs of growth up above the ground. These leaves photosynthesize– remember that from high school biology?– using sunlight to make sugars and send starches down into the rootstocks so they grow larger. When those rootstocks are large enough and have the resources, the plants send flowers into the world, often brightly colored to dazzle pollinating bees and butterflies.

And they coincidentally dazzle us too. 

But the flowers are in a race against time– and the trees. As trees leaf out, those leaves block sunlight, form a sun-proof umbrella across the forest, and block those flowers from growing. So there is a small window of opportunity for the flowers to warm up, grow, make leaves, make flowers, get pollinated, drop seeds– and disappear for another year– before the trees leaf out.

We’ve already missed the earliest bloomers like bloodroot and skunk cabbage. But every day or every week you visit, new and different flowers will appear.

While our Visitor Center is closed, our forest is still open– park in the Hagy’s Mill parking lot if there is room (if not, park at the ballfields and walk in). Hike past our Visitor Center and head downhill through the butterfly meadow, following Ravine Loop until it curves at Smith Run; the best wildflowers are on the section of trail that parallels the stream.

When we reopen (please, God, soon!), we’ll be selling these plants for you to place in your own yard. My yard, I am happy to report, is beginning to fill with both bluebells and Solomon’s seal, and a healthy stand of May apple– it looks like a little bright green umbrella– is spreading happily. These flowers require little water or chemicals, come back stronger every year, and provide vital pollen, nectar, and food for the small critters that hold up the world, especially those pollinators you read so much about.

Spring wildflowers are racing the trees right now– come walk down our Ravine Loop, while of course practicing the required physical distancing, and see them for yourself.

 

Day-Off Camp: Animal Detectives

When schools are closed, we’re open! Bring your kids to the Schuylkill Center for a day of fun and exploration.

Where do animals go in the winter? Where do they find food, water, and shelter? We’ll explore our forests as we look for signs of wildlife in the harsh winter climate. Then we’ll follow in the footsteps of our animal friends as we build our own winter shelters.

For ages 5–12 | 8:00 am – 3:00 pm | Members: $60 | Non-members: $70

Extended day until 6:00 pm is available for an additional $20/day.

Please bring a packed lunch, water bottle, and an extra set of clothes. Wear weather-appropriate clothing that can get dirty.

Please note, day-off camps will be canceled ONE WEEK PRIOR if the minimum number of participants is not reached by then. Please register soon; space is limited. Registration required.

 

Not a member? Join today!

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Day-Off Camp: Master Trackers

When schools are closed, we’re open! Bring your kids to the Schuylkill Center for a day of fun and exploration.

Examining tracks can give us lots of clues about the wildlife in our forest. Master the art of tracking as we identify tracks of different native animals and learn how to interpret track patterns.

For ages 5–12 | 8:00 am – 3:00 pm | Members: $60 | Non-members: $70

Extended day until 6:00 pm is available for an additional $20/day.

Please bring a packed lunch, water bottle, and an extra set of clothes. Wear weather-appropriate clothing that can get dirty.

Please note, day-off camps will be canceled ONE WEEK PRIOR if the minimum number of participants is not reached by then. Please register soon; space is limited. Registration required.

Not a member? Join today!

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Day-Off Camp: Wizards of the Forest

When schools are closed, we’re open! Bring your kids to the Schuylkill Center for a day of fun and exploration.

Magic is in the air as we transform into forest wizards for the day. We’ll carve wands, tell stories, and make edible potions as we scour forests and fields for our woodland creature companions. 

For ages 5–12 | 8:00 am – 3:00 pm | Members: $60 | Non-members: $70

Extended day until 6:00 pm is available for an additional $20/day.

Please bring a packed lunch, water bottle, and an extra set of clothes. Wear weather-appropriate clothing that can get dirty.

Please note, day-off camps will be canceled ONE WEEK PRIOR if the minimum number of participants is not reached by then. Please register soon; space is limited. Registration required.

 Not a member? Join today!

Register now

Day-Off Camp: Winter Break

When schools are closed, we’re open! Bring your kids to the Schuylkill Center for a day of fun and exploration.

Spend winter break in the outdoors, exploring our forest, climbing trees and rocks, tracking winter animals, making primitive shelters, even experimenting with snow and ice. Sign up for one adventurous day or for all three.

For ages 5–12 | 8:00 am – 3:00 pm | Members: $60 | Non-members: $70

Extended day until 6:00 pm is available for an additional $20/day.

Please bring a packed lunch, water bottle, and an extra set of clothes. Wear weather-appropriate clothing that can get dirty.

Please note, day-off camps will be canceled ONE WEEK PRIOR if the minimum number of participants is not reached by then. Please register soon; space is limited. Registration required.

Not a member? Join today!

Register-now_green

Day-Off Camp: Winter Break

When schools are closed, we’re open! Bring your kids to the Schuylkill Center for a day of fun and exploration.

Spend winter break in the outdoors, exploring our forest, climbing trees and rocks, tracking winter animals, making primitive shelters, even experimenting with snow and ice. Sign up for one adventurous day or for all three.

For ages 5–12 | 8:00 am – 3:00 pm | Members: $60 | Non-members: $70

Extended day until 6:00 pm is available for an additional $20/day.

Please bring a packed lunch, water bottle, and an extra set of clothes. Wear weather-appropriate clothing that can get dirty.

Please note, day-off camps will be canceled ONE WEEK PRIOR if the minimum number of participants is not reached by then. Please register soon; space is limited. Registration required.

Not a member? Join today!

Register-now_green

Day-Off Camp: Winter Break

When schools are closed, we’re open! Bring your kids to the Schuylkill Center for a day of fun and exploration.

Spend winter break in the outdoors, exploring our forest, climbing trees and rocks, tracking winter animals, making primitive shelters, even experimenting with snow and ice. Sign up for one adventurous day or for all three.

For ages 5–12 | 8:00 am – 3:00 pm | Members: $60 | Non-members: $70

Extended day until 6:00 pm is available for an additional $20/day.

Please bring a packed lunch, water bottle, and an extra set of clothes. Wear weather-appropriate clothing that can get dirty.

Please note, day-off camps will be canceled ONE WEEK PRIOR if the minimum number of participants is not reached by then. Please register soon; space is limited. Registration required.

Not a member? Join today!

Register-now_green

Nature Play Saturdays

Want to get outside but don’t know where to start? Bring your family for a hike and unstructured nature play with representatives from our NaturePHL program. We’ll climb, explore, and learn more about the many health benefits of outdoor activity. Meet us at the Tall Trees Playscape behind the Visitor Center and we’ll head out from there.

All ages welcome. No registration required. This event recurs every first Saturday of the month.


This program is part of NaturePHL, a collaborative program with CHOP that helps Philadelphia children and families achieve better health through activity in local parks, trails, and green spaces.

Day-off Camp: Fall Colors

When schools are closed, we’re open! Bring your kids to the Schuylkill Center for a day of fun and exploration. Let’s take to the trails and experience the beauty of the forest in autumn. We’ll collect materials from the field to create our own nature journals, using the beautiful fall colors for artistic inspiration. Unleash your creative energy as we celebrate the changing seasons. Please bring a packed lunch and a water bottle. Wear weather-appropriate clothing. Extended day until 6:00 pm is available for an additional $15/day.

For ages 5–12 | 8:00 am–3:00 pm | Members: $52 | Non-members: $62. Programs with a field trip may include an additional fee. Registration is required.

Please note, day-off camps will be cancelled ONE WEEK PRIOR if the minimum number of participants is not reached by then. Please register soon; space is limited.

Register now_green