Thursday, June 20, 2013

Silkmoths and Sassafras: A walk with fifteen new friends in the Malta Ecological Park

Question: Can you name the only Northern native tree in the citrus family?
Answer: It's the Common Prickly Ash, also called Northern Prickly-ash.
We found a good supply of its tiny fruits on the trees we found in the Malta Ecological Park this morning. When you bruise or crush the fruits, they have a wonderful citrusy aroma. If you look very closely, you can see that the skin of the fruits looks like that of a lime or an orange.

Fifteen members of the "Thursday Naturalists" group from the greater capital region came to Malta this morning to help me identify some of the trees and plants growing at the Eco Park on Malta Avenue. What a wonderful group of people.

 We set off about 9:30 and carefully moved through the park, looking at the trees and plants along the paths.

 The Naturalists had brought some labels with them and we were able to tag a number of trees around the park.

 A moth, possibly a Cecropia silkmoth, was found by the side of the path. This species is North America's largest native moth but they only survive a maximum of about two weeks

Ed Miller, below, often leads the outings of this group of botanists and nature lovers. I learned so much from them this morning, when folks leaned in to show me things like the difference between the leaves of a red oak (spiny leaves) and a white oak (leaves are more rounded.).
I learned about sassafras and big tooth aspen. We even saw some young elms growing along the trail. (Elms! I thought the species was pretty much kaput, but there they were.) I learned that the leaves of a gray birch look like the shape of an elephant's head, and that the vining black swallow-wort is invasive and we should probably try to pull it out when we find it in the park.

The good news is, that there wasn't much evidence of invasives in the park. Most of the trees and shrubs and flowers that are filling in the woods are natives.

My deepest admiration and thanks go out to the Thursday Naturalists for sharing their knowledge and advice this morning. I hope they - and you all - come visit the Ecological Park again soon. We would like to expand the trail system in this park and add bathrooms, picnic tables, and some benches in the shade. What do you think?