Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

The Ivy-Tailed Deer, an English species known for its taste in French wine, was caught here dining on native wildflowers. Deer traditionally dress as invasive pest plants on Halloween, just to scare the dogwoods (background).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Strange Fox at Greenway Meadows

A couple days ago, Christy and Brian Nann sent me these photos of an animal they had seen at Greenway Meadows. In the first photo, it almost looks like a young deer, but the second photo suggested to us a strange version of a coyote.

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

During frequent visits to local nature preserves, I am periodically surprised to see a new plant on the scene. This has been happening more frequently lately, for some reason, and the new plants tend to be exotic species that may or may not prove to be invasive.

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

Warning. This is a trick question. That lovely shade of gold in the distance looks like a tree. But a closer look reveals leaves of three. And why does it look like the trunk continues up past the gold, to a part of the tree that's lost all its leaves?

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

This Saturday, October 18, I'll be leading a planting session at Mountain Lakes. Come help if you can. We'll be planting some native shrubs grown from "live stakes" this past spring, some wildflowers, and a few tree seedlings lovingly cared for over the summer by FOPOS volunteer Kim Frances. Bring shovels and/or trowels, and gloves. Should be brisk but sunny. We'll meet at Mountain Lakes House, up the long paved driveway at 57 Mountain Ave.

Upcoming talks I'm aware of are by Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, speaking this Monday at 4:30pm at Princeton University on Sustainability and the Future, and a talk by Richard Louv at the Princeton High School on Nov. 6 at 7:30. Louv is best known for his very influencial and timely book, Last Child in the Woods: Combatting Nature Deficit Disorder.

Recent wildlife sightings: a flying squirrel gliding between trees in my backyard and a hatching of thousands of craneflies that have been incongrously hanging out on the JW middle school athletic field. And of course it's a good time of year to fill your memory banks with vivid fall colors, the better to hold you over through the muted visual fare of winter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rogers Refuge in the Fall

It was a good year for wild rice at Rogers Refuge, down next to the Stony Brook in Princeton. This broad marsh, seen from the observation deck, looks monochromatic this time of year, but actually harbors a great diversity of native wetland species.

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

On September 20, twenty Princeton University students gathered at Turning Basin Park to clean up litter and remove invasive species. Megan Prier of Princeton's Water Watch organized the event. Half the crew took to the canal in canoes, in search of floating debris, while the rest of us took on a grove of Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven) growing on a slope overlooking the D&R 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.