Friday, October 4, 2013

Please trees me, oh yeah

Our ECOS class examines the leaf growth patterns on a sugar maple.
 The Elmer Smith Memorial Park in the Town of Charlton (NY) is not a place you are likely to stumble upon by accident. One needs to negotiate a small maze of residential streets to get to this well-maintained area of ball fields and playground equipment.

Our usual ECOS class destinations are nature preserves, but our intrepid instructor, Ruth Schottman, had chosen this more open space for us on Wednesday.

We were to begin our study of trees here because, Ruth said, "Open spaces are where trees can express themselves." That is, without crowding or competition, trees can achieve their natural form.

After some background information, we began with something fairly easy. Ruth pointed out the distinctive bark pattern of a sugar maple.

"See how the bark curves away in plates," she told us.
The bark of a mature sugar maple.

Although our primary topic was trees, we did pause to admire and identify other things we found as we roamed the park. Above, we looked at the silky, cobwebby, partial veil of a Cortina mushroom. It had such a lovely, pale lavender color.

 This sticky yellow mushroom is some variety of Bolete, but I did not confidently narrow down just which.

I am getting more confident about our local native asters, which have really caught my fancy. I want to work at learning more about them. I just love them. They are so simple and pretty, yet tough and persistent.
White Panicle Aster
White Wood Aster

New England Aster
Heartleaf Aster

 At one edge of the park, a path leads off through the woods toward a small, very old cemetery. The original headstones were mostly made of local sandstone and limestone, Ruth told us. These are soft stones, easily weathered and eroded. Thus, none of the stones are legible now, and most are broken or have fallen flat.
 Still, it was a quiet, peaceful spot, where the trees have grown up thick and sturdy . This would not be such a bad fate, I think, to rest anonymously after so many years in a deep, quiet wood.
 On our return walk, I spotted the bright berries of a fallen-over Jack-in-the-pulpit. Its snake-like stem was too weak at this point to hold up its large cluster of mature fruits.

Throughout the morning, we looked at and compared the maples: the sugar maple; the ash-leaf maple, also called box elder; the silver maple. We looked at white pine, the shaggy bark of black cherry, and the deep-furrowed bark of black locust. We saw white ash and examined the leaves of cottonwood, a species of poplar, below.

Cottonwood leaf

 We learned about tree growth and examined locust "cookies".

Basswood leaf.

Bitternut hickory fruit.

 One of my favorite discoveries this day was the fall-blooming witch hazel. At first, it was hard to see the yellow fringe-like blossoms among the also-yellow leaves.
 I tucked a few of the witch hazel seed pods into my pocket. I am going to try to grow them here at home. Upon researching how to do this, I discover that it might not be so easy. We shall see what happens.

Here was a tree I had never heard of: Musclewood, also known as ironwood, or American Hornbeam. This is a native understory tree, whose very hard wood is tough to saw. Thus, the name.
Bark of Musclewood tree.
 Near by was another species of ironwood, Hophornbeam, above. The "hop" portion of its name refers to the resemblance of its fruits to the hops that are used to make beer. Ruth told us that this tree makes a good native to plant near a home. It does not grow too large and has few diseases or pests of significance.
Beech branch with leaves and its long bud.
 We also looked at a beech tree, above, and a slippery elm with sandpapery leaves (not pictured.)

But best of all was this: an American elm! How wonderful to see this tree growing and looking healthy in our region. Perhaps there is hope for the future of this species.

One final note:
Because I still have much to learn about native plants, I often check the USDA websites when I write blog posts like this one. The USDA plant profiles are very helpful to a beginner like me. But on this day, here is what I found at the United State Department of Agriculture websites:
 Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.
After funding has been restored, please allow some time for this website to
become available again.