Thursday, October 10, 2013

Into the woods once more (edited and corrected 10/12/13)

Reist Wildlife Sanctuary, Niskayuna, New York
Our ECOS Natural History class
Wednesday morning dawned clear but chilly. Undeterred by the cold, our intrepid group of ladies, Beryl, Elaine, Marion, Lois, Susan, Peg, and I, bundled up and headed into the woods to learn from our wonderful teacher, Ruth Schottman.
Ruth always brings interesting print resources for us to borrow.

In these woods, I was again excited to see American elm trees growing. Ruth explained that the elm trees are evolving. By coming into fruit at a younger and younger age, they have found a way to survive Dutch Elm disease. Young trees are immune to the disease, and many now reach reproductive age before falling victim to this foreign fungus. In this way, the species has kept going. 
American elm
Another beleaguered tree survives - sort of - in these woods: the  American chestnut.

American chestnut.
The American chestnut tree once thrived over millions of acres of eastern woodlands. During the first half of the 20th century, the trees began succumbing to a lethal fungus infestation, known as the chestnut blight.
The blight, imported to the US on Asian chestnut trees, is a fungus that enters through a fresh injury in the tree's bark, killing tissues as it advances. The flow of nutrients is eventually choked off and the tree above ground dies. 
But see, here above are chestnut leaves, close to the ground! The roots do not die off, Ruth told us, so the tree continues to put out suckers. Find these leaves and a stump is surely very nearby. And yes, here below, we found it.
American chestnut stump.
Research on breeding blight-resistant chestnuts continues. Maybe like the elms, nature will find a way to help the chestnuts evolve and adapt.
So, what else did we see?
This dead snag, possibly an oak, was being eaten from the inside out by a wide array of fungi.
Pale green foliose (leaf-like) lichen and the brownish fungi Stereum ostrea, also called false turkey-tail, colonize a fallen tree trunk.

Another fallen tree has been colonized by moss.

By mid-October, most wildflowers have gone by. Here, in a sheltered patch of sunlight, a heartleaf aster continues to bloom.
 Ruth had us gather leaves for a lesson on maples.

A lesson in maple leaves. Top row, L-R: pale green Silver maple; the large leaf of a Striped maple. Bottom row, L-R: The leaf of a Red maple; a green Norway maple leaf; a now-brown leaf of a sugar maple.
Correction added 10/12/13: Our instructor, Ruth Schottman, kindly wrote to correct my error: "In identifying the maple leaf pictures the red and sugar got mixed up. The red maple has the V shaped sinus (the low point between 2 lobes) and more but smaller teeth around the leaf edge. The sugar maple has a U-shaped sinus (our leaf has folds there that obscure it a bit) and fewer, larger teeth around the edge of the leaf. In the winter the buds will be more obvious and while the red maple branches have red, blunt short buds, the sugar maples have long buds, covered with more bud scales and they are the color  of maple sugar candy."
Thank you, Ruth!

Box elders (not shown) are the only maples with compound leaves.

The bark of a striped maple.

Not a true maple, the leaves of the shrub Maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)  can look like a maple seedling on the forest floor.

The deep-blue fruits of Viburnum acerifolium are a strong clue that it is not in the maple family.

The horizontal marks on the bark of this Red maple are part of the tree's defense against an invading fungus. The cracks isolate the infected areas from the healthy parts of the tree.

Don't touch this fuzzy guy. The hairs of the Hickory Tussock caterpillar can cause an allergic reaction or rash for some people.
The mitten-shaped leaf of a sassafras. How charming is that?
This polypore has flat, fan-shaped, bright orange to salmon, overlapping caps. It is sometimes called chicken of the woods and we were told that it is delicious. 

These white mushrooms (I don't remember the variety) had begun to form a "fairy ring", below.

The fairy ring was a fitting way to conclude this day's walk, for Ruth Schottman makes every foray into the woods a magical experience.

For more information about ECOS classes and guided walks in the New York State capital region, click here.