News from the preserves, parks and backyards of Princeton, NJ. The website aims to acquaint Princetonians with our shared natural heritage and the benefits of restoring native diversity and beauty to the many preserved lands in and around Princeton.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Mountain Lakes Dams To Be Restored
The photo shows the old spillway, now reinforced with loose rock to prevent it from collapsing. There was some uncertainty about whether the lakes could be dredged as part of the restoration, but the township is now more optimistic about funding, including the possibility of tapping into the upcoming federal economic stimulus package. A great deal of silt has accumulated in the lakes over the past 100 years. Two small dams upstream that used to trap the silt are completely filled, and now the upper lake has six feet of silt, with only one foot of water on top.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A Distinguished Backyard Thief
I happened to look out the back window today just as a great blue heron swooped in to take a close look at my water features. After scrutinizing one for awhile, and finding it lacking in edible objects, the big bird strolled over to the other minipond and almost immediately plunged its long neck into the water. Its bill flashed orange as it emerged with lunch, in the form of the one goldfish it hadn't managed to get on its last observed visit two years prior.
Looks like it's time for a restocking program.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Where Do The Children Play?
The premise is that children whose schedules are overbooked, who spend large amounts of time in front of computer and TV screens and who are kept indoors by overly protective parents, are at risk. The lack of opportunities to be in nature or to explore their creativity in free play can cause children to lose touch with their creative impulses and capacity for free thinking. Connected to this is the reduced sense of place many suburban kids feel, growing up in neighborhoods where neighbors don't know one another, and where the ability for them to walk or bike to destinations is limited by sprawl. Some excellent interviews with Richard Louv and others are featured.
The movie was developed in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I lived for many years. Though Ann Arbor is one of the safest towns around, an effort to get kids to walk to school failed miserably, apparently due to pervasive fears of "stranger danger".
More info on the movie can be found at:
The library has copies of the movie and companion books.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Movie Thursday at Public Library
It's interesting to note that Princeton used to have high school kids playing the role of "camp counselors" at various parks throughout town during the summer, where kids in the neighborhood could go at any point during the day and play various games. Whereas now the system is centralized, with a rec dept. summer camp at Community Park South, it used to be a free-flowing, neighborhood-based system. Harrison Street Park and Little Brook Elementary are two home bases I've heard about, and there were no doubt others. I've heard, too, that neighborhoods would play each other in sports contests, though this hasn't been corroborated. That would certainly have created a sense of neighborhood identity.
Friday, November 21, 2008
The Forgotten Pleasure and Utility of Autumn Leaves
(First appeared in the Princeton Packet)
Of all the contrasts in perspective between children and adults, none is more striking this time of year than in how we view autumn leaves. For children, leaves are a crisp sound underfoot, a source of beauty in color and flight, a gift from above to revel and play in. For many adults, that joy and gratitude mutates into resentment and complaint. Glorious leaves become an unwieldy burden called “yardwaste”.
There is plenty of adult logic to suggest that the child’s view is less naïve. Each time leaves get piled on the curb for pickup, the urban soil becomes less fertile, less absorbent, less hospitable to birds and other wildlife. The yard’s loss then becomes a public hazard, obstructing traffic and polluting local streams with nutrients. The CO2 spewing from battalions of leaf blowers, and the municipal convoys that scoop up the leaves and haul them out of town, hastens spaceship earth towards the tipping point of ecological havoc.
But I can understand why people grow resentful. Trees, in their own quiet but relentless way, are ongoing critics of our way of life. They are constantly dumping some sort of detritus on our patios, our houses, our idle lawns. Whether it's spent flowers in spring, seeds and sticks through the summer or dead leaves in the fall, the message is clear. Trees are predisposed to bury our coiffured human habitats and bring back a cool, moist forest floor into which they can spread their roots.
It’s best not to take this personally. And though our adult bodies may not be ready to leap into a pile of leaves for the sheer pleasure of it, there are ways to smuggle into adulthood a child’s gratitude for leaves. To get along with nature, and to sustain hospitable conditions on our one and only spaceship, it helps to work as nature works, by finding opportunity in discarded things. Nature has no landfills. All “stuff” travels in an endless circle, from life to death and back again. Think, therefore, of your yard not in terms of leaf exports and fertilizer imports, but as an economy unto itself, where plants extract nutrients from the soil, then send them dancing back down again as spent leaves to replenish the soil and all the life it holds.
To accommodate autumn's harvest in our tidy urban landscapes, become a connoisseur of leaves. For each type there is a strategy. Pine needles make an attractive mulch under shrubs and trees. Locust leaves are so small they require no raking at all. Silver maple leaves curl up and quickly decompose, so can be raked into flower beds or ground up by the lawn mower and left on the grass. Oak leaves, being thicker and longer lasting, will need to be corralled in a corner of the lot to settle back into the earth over time.
Children may push their vegetables away, but they know a thing or two about appreciating leaves. For the leaf-spurning adult world, it’s worth taking a fresh look at autumn’s harvest. Surely there is some measure of happiness to be regained when a foe becomes a friend, when the eye sees not burden but opportunity falling all around.
More information can be found in the Fall Leaf Management brochure, published by the Princeton Environmental Commission, available at town halls and downloadable from www.princetonboro.org.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Native Shrub Border
Dwarf witchalder (Fothergilla gardenii) is the dazzling orange in the second photo, with Clethra to the left, then the evergreen inkberry holly (Ilex glabra). Another holly in the planting, not shown, is winterberry (Itea verticillata). Most of these shrubs are rarely found in the wild (Fothergilla does not even include NJ in its natural range) but grow easily in gardens.
The colors are particularly brilliant because these shrubs get a good dose of sun, but they'll do well even when planted in mostly shade.
The rainbarrel, by the way, is connected to soaker hoses that run through the planting, and actually provided some decent water pressure for the attached hose and spigot. There's a screen on top to filter the water and keep out mosquitoes.
Most rainbarrels, this one included, are way undersized when compared to how much water pours down a typical downspout.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Fall's Last Flowers
This post's second photo is of native black-eyed susan blooming on top of black plastic laid down to contain weeds in some areas.
Third photo is of Helianthus tuberosa, a.k.a. Jerusalem Artichoke--a strangely named native sunflower whose tubers were eaten by American Indians. It's now grown as an edible ornamental.
The pale blue flower in the fourth photo is mistflower--a native perennial that looks like an exotic annual that's sold at nurseries.
Though most flowers are lingering from the summer, the fourth photo shows marsh marigold, a spring bloomer that the weather apparently fooled into blooming in the fall.
In the fifth photo, red clover, a good example of an exotic species that doesn't take over.
The last photo shows not a flower but the color of silky dogwood, a native shrub often found in the wild.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Happy Halloween Update
Uptick in Squirrel Graffiti
One interpretation is that squirrels have turned their substantial intelligence and expressive range to the art of pumpkin carving. Since they aren't afraid of ghosts, they choose to refashion pumpkins with what they consider to be far scarier images--car wheels and cats, for instance. Thus, the circular nature of their carvings, with something ear-like sticking out on top.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Richard Louv in Princeton Thursday, Nov. 6
Come hear him speak at the Princeton High School Trego-Biancosino Auditorium at 7:30 this Thursday, Nov. 6. The talk is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by Common Ground and the Princeton Junior School. For more information on Common Ground, go to http://www.princetoncommonground.org/page.cfm?p=57.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
A Strange Fox at Greenway Meadows
I sent the photos to the Mercer County Wildlife Center for identification. Diane Nickerson emailed back that "it appears to be a red fox with a severe case of sarcoptic mange", and that the Center could treat it if it were trapped. Unfortunately, if the photos were taken back in August, there's little chance the fox has survived this long.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Odd Invasives Showing Up
The first photo, taken in August at Greenway Meadows in a wooded area, is cutleaf blackberry (Rubus laciniatus).
The second, which I found growing both at the D&R canal and at Mountain Lakes, is water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes).
One day, I was in the Rogers Refuge parking lot and happened to look down at the plants growing along its edge, and was surprised to find a vine with five leaflets (third photo) It is most likely chocolate vine (Akebia quinata).
Thanks to Rachel Mackow for help with identifying these species. Rachel works for Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, and is very involved with organizing the Central Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team.
As with all problems, it's far easier to reduce the negative ecological impact of invasive species by intervening when they first show up, rather than waiting until they have spread so much as to be uncontrollable. The Strike Team's mission is to detect invasions early, and respond as quickly as possible. Up to now, New Jersey has not had that capability.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Name That Tree
Turns out this bright contribution to fall's glory is a poison ivy "tree"--a vine that has climbed halfway up a tree, then sent out branches to flower and set seed on. One thing to take note of in the forest is that vines never bloom when they're crawling on the ground. Only upon making an ascent, up a tree trunk or up and over a shrub, do they send out flower shoots.
There's something else telling about Princeton woods in this photo. The tree canopy at the top of the photo has lost nearly all of its leaves, while the understory is still green. One distinguishing feature of many exotics is that they hold their leaves later in the fall and green up earlier in the spring. As evidenced here, the trees are mostly native, while the understory is predominantly exotic. This difference in timing may have to do with the different climate in which the exotics evolved.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Planting Session, Upcoming Talks, Wildlife Sightings
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Rogers Refuge in the Fall
The second photo shows the seeds maturing a few at a time, soon to fall off or be grabbed by birds.
Like corn, wild rice is an annual grass that in just a few months can grow twelve feet high from a small seed that sprouts in the mud in shallow water.
The third photo shows towering wild rice stalks, already stripped of seed. Some years are better than others for the wild rice, though 2008 was a banner year, aided by the removal of an acre or two of Phragmitis by the Partners for Fish and Wildlife in 2006.
Providing some bright color at the refuge is Virginia Creeper. Like many other vines, it only blooms and bears seeds when it climbs up a tree.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Water Watch Cleans Up Along the Canal
The Ailanthus, like porcelain berry, purple loosestrife, lesser celandine and other exotics, uses the canal as an avenue for spread. Water lettuce, shown in the photo, may be another one to add to that list.
The Ailanthus was competing with some ornamental cherry trees growing next to the towpath, and was also blocking the view of the bench. For many of the students, it was a first encounter with the art of canoe paddling, the citrony fragrance of native spicebush leaves, and the satisfaction of completely clearing an embankment of an invasive weed. Thanks to Water Watch and the university students for helping tend to this popular trail corridor and entryway into town.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Free Invasive Plant Identification Workshop
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
D&R Greenway Plant Sale Thursday
Below is information on the event, and also a list of plants being sold. Most are trees, but there are a couple wildflowers, most notably boneset (see recent posts).
"The Land That Feeds You, Celebrating Farms and Farmers"
- a mixed media art exhibition celebrating agriculture in the Garden State
Join us for the Opening Reception on Thursday, September 25th, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
featuring art, local foods and wines.
Featured Speakers: Charles Kuperus, Secretary, NJ Dept. of Agriculture, "Import of Agriculture to the Garden State" and Michelle Mulder, Counsel to Congressman Rush Holt, on the Congressman's New Community Supported Agriculture Bill.
Purchase the first specimens from D&R Greenway's Native Plant Nursery! This event is free, but reservations are requested. Music by Bill Flemer Riverside Bluegrass Band. Art is available for purchase, 35% of the purchase price is a tax-deductible contribution to D&R Greenway's land preservation mission.
RSVP requested: 609-924-4646
Plant List for the plant sale:
Friday, September 19, 2008
FOPOS Intern Par Excellence
The second photo is of me, Sarah, and FOPOS president Wendy Mager, in front of Mountain Lakes House, home base for FOPOS.
A great big THANK YOU! goes to Sarah, and the PICS program that made her internship possible.
Below is Sarah's writeup about her summer's work and insights.
My FOPOS Internship
(or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate the Rose)
In many ways, my internship with Friends of Princeton Open Spaces was unique. There are not many summer jobs that allow you the freedom to choose your daily schedule to such a degree, but on any given day I could opt to spend my time nursing the plants in the greenhouse, working actively out in the park, or, for the rainy days and hot afternoons, working in the air-conditioned office. There are not many summer jobs that give you so much freedom to choose which project you want to work on, whether it be redesigning a website or taking inventory of all the plants in the local preserves, and run with it, but the work I did for FOPOS will certainly add some variety to my résumé. And there are not many summer jobs that leave you with a deep, seething hatred of a few certain plants. But oh, I will remember barberry. I will remember all of the invasive shrubs, vines, and grasses that I fought with my loppers, clippers, and sweat: the common privet; honeysuckle, in the form of both vines and shrubs; Japanese stiltgrass and bindweed. And I will remember multiflora rose, in it's full malevolent ferocity.
There are few ways I can think of to better understand the goal of conservation and park management, and the scale of work needed, than to see a grove of forest that have long been protected and largely undisturbed, then to be brought to another, less lucky patch of forest and be told "We need to make this one look like that other one." Seeing the great variety of plants and hearing the animal activity in a preserved forest is both peaceful and stimulating, and becomes a fitting inspiration when facing a massive, sprawling bramble of multiflora rose that is doing its best to shut out the rest of the ecosystem.
I was already interested in environmentalism before I started the internship, but I always thought of it with a more exotic connotation: save the rainforest in Brazil, protect the endangered pandas in China, help African nations develop sustainably and preserve their natural riches. Here in New Jersey, I thought, the only environmentalism left was to recycle and ride a bike instead of a car. New Jersey is hardly known for its natural riches. What is there to save? But being in the Mountain Lakes Preserve every day, seeing both the bad and the good, the incursion of invasives and the resurgence of natives (with a bit of help from park management), I was surprised to find a whole lot to save, protect and fight for, just 15 minutes from my dorm.
So, thank you, FOPOS, for what you do, helping to set aside land to be restored and protected. And thank you for letting me help out for the summer. I learned a lot on many levels, and I really enjoyed my time working here. In closing, I would just like to say that I claim no responsibility for the future stealth-cutting of exotic invasives decorating the lawns and yards around Princeton Township, or the greater Mercer County Area.--Sarah Chambliss, PICS Intern for FOPOS, Summer '08
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
PDS 9th Graders Restore Habitat
The students took to the intimidating task with impressive spirit, perseverance and teamwork. Along the way, they learned to identify some of the native and exotic plants in the forest, and gained some expertise in the safe use of loppers and garden rakes. Each of the PDS staff members led a work group, while FOPOS volunteer Kim Frances and I helped with plant ID.
With so many exotic shrubs cut down, visitors can now see farther into the forest, and native species have a better chance to grow. One unexpected bonus was that many of the participants discovered the existence of Pettoranello Gardens, home to landscaped walkways and summer concerts--a spot many longtime Princeton residents are unaware of.
Thanks to PDS and the class of 2012! And thanks to Kim Frances and Clark Lennon for helping out on short notice.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Getting Close to the Madding Crowd
You have to admire the ambition of a flower that tries to be, and succeeds in being, all things to all bees. The plant is like a miniature town, its stems and leaves providing cover, and avenues for ladybugs to patrol like Pacmen in an old video game. Bumble bees slept under its blossoms at night, like drunks who can't quite make it home from the local saloon.
Now the deed is done, the nectar drained, the pollen carted off and stowed. Flowers fade and seeds ripen. This Fly-By-Day operation, after mesmerizing the insect world for many weeks, finally closes down, making room for other, later flowering species to step forward and garner attention. As it happens, Late-Flowering Boneset--a different species of Eupatorium scattered here and there across the Princeton landscape--is just opening for business.
One insect I didn't get a photo of--the "weird one that got away"--was seen only once, and looked like a cross between an oversized mosquito and an undersized, white and black crane fly.
Add these three and we're up to 48 distinct species on seven boneset plants in one Princeton backyard.
My apologies, by the way, to any and all who actually know anything about insects and spiders, for the questionable way I bunched these bugs in rough categories. Names will be attached to photos as this botany-type blogger becomes enlightened about the bewildering variety of insects and spiders out there.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Boneset Butterflies and Moths
The kind of butterfly in the fourth photo was by far the most common--essentially present all day long.
These five beauties, plus one I haven't tracked down a photo of, bring the count to 45.
Most seem content to sit still, even if a potential prey comes nearby. Maybe they already had a meal before I happened along. Collectively, they extend the food chain at this backyard oasis to three (plant nectar -- pollinator -- spider).
Seven kinds of spiders or spider-like creatures raises the total count to 39.
The creature in this last photo is who knows what, but doesn't appear to be an insect.