Friday, October 27, 2006

Garden Club of Princeton Tends the Wilds

The Garden Club of Princeton took a walk on the wild side this week. In two brisk and sunny morning sessions organized by their Conservation Committee, ten volunteers removed invasive plants from the strip of land between the towpath and the canal, liberating native shrubs and wildflowers from an oppressive tangle of exotic weeds. The radiant fall colors of silky dogwood and winged sumac (in photo), and clear views of the water, can now be enjoyed by the many users of the path.
Wielding loppers, volunteers removed multiflora rose, Chinese privet, purple loosestrife, Japanese honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet. Many native species are competing with the exotics for sunlight, including the above-mentioned shrubs, elderberry, evening primrose, rose mallow Hibiscus, ironweed and the rarely seen blue flag iris. The trimming back of the aggressive exotic species will allow the natives the advantage they need to prosper.
This wild brand of gardening is hard to approach in a perfectionist way. Given its grand scale, neatness is hard to achieve, and weeds are never fully conquered. Rather, one acts strategically, removing the most aggressive weeds, and in so doing shifts the balance of energy towards the desired species. Over time, the natives grow stronger, shade out the weeds, and a dynamic and ornamental border, full of nectar and seeds, makes a visit to the towpath more gratifying for both people and wildlife.
Thanks to Kathleen Biggins and Margaret Sieck, co-chairs of the Conservation Committee, for their initiative, and the help and company of the garden club volunteers as we restored some ecological balance along the canal.
The section of the D&R Canal State Park getting all this attention is located between Washington and Harrison Streets.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Nature Walk October 28, 9am

Join in on a fall foliage walk through Mountain Lakes Preserve, following the new trail route that links Mountain Lakes to the Great Road, via a newly completed boardwalk. With leaves of native trees falling, it's easier to see a "second forest" of species from distant continents. Exotic species tend to keep their leaves later into the fall, so appear as a green layer in the understory. The boardwalk, built by Princeton Township with the help of a grant from the J. Seward Johnson, Sr. Charitable Trust, passes by the prairies and wetlands of Coventry Farm.

The walk will be at 9am, Saturday, October 28. Meet at the parking lot for Community Park North and Pettoranello Gardens, just off Route 206 on Mountain Avenue in Princeton Township.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Towpath Nature Walk Saturday, Oct. 7

I'll be leading a nature walk along the D&R Canal towpath on Saturday, October 7, at 9am, sponsored by Friends of Princeton Open Space.

The canal corridor serves as refuge for considerable native diversity, and the D&R Canal State Park has begun managing some areas to maximize native wildflower displays. Great blue herons, giant oaks, an occasional bald eagle and 50 species of wildflowers are all to be found along the canal. Steve will help with plant ID and tell of volunteer projects underway to restore habitat and beautify the towpath.

Meet on the canal towpath at Washington Street in Princeton. Parking is available on the West Windsor side of the canal. For more information, email me via this blog.

The walk is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Building a Backyard Pond

This pond is part of a hand-dug creekbed in a Princeton backyard. During heavy rains, runoff enters the creekbed from upstream neighbors’ yards. The runoff fills a series of mini-ponds and channels of varying depths. Most of the mini-ponds hold water for only a day or two after a rain, while others are deeper and have plastic liners in the bottom that hold water throughout the summer, providing habitat for mosquito-eating fish and various aquatic insects. The series of mini-ponds serve to hold back some of the runoff, which in turn feeds the many floodplain plant species planted in and around the ponds.

1st Photo: Testing for depth
2nd Photo: Plastic liner and field stones added
3rd Photo: A rain brings water—the pond is now home to water boatmen, water striders, goldfish and wild rice.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Town Topics Article on D&R Canal Wildflowers

Below are links to a September 13, 2006 Town Topics article telling how a new program of reduced mowing has allowed long-suppressed native wildflowers to bloom along the towpath in the Princeton portion of the D&R Canal State Park.

A Bluejay's Sudden Tameness

It's a startling experience to suddenly be able to walk right up to a wild bird, to see the brilliance and incredible detail of their feathers close up. I found this bluejay standing quietly next to one of our backyard ponds late one afternoon this week, a few hundred feet away from busy Harrison Street. It showed no fear, no aggression. I went inside to get the camera and returned to find my daughters petting it. Only the tail feathers, bent at a strange angle, gave a clue as to why this bird did not flee our presence. The Mercer County Wildlife Center (609 883 6606) was closed, but their message said to put the bird in a shoebox and keep it there overnight without any offerings of food and water. The county naturalist (230-6439) answered his phone and suggested that the bird might be dazed from having hit a window. The tail feathers would have stayed in the position the bird was in when it hit the window. With time, the bluejay might recover its wits and fly off. This, apparently, is what happened, since it flew up into a shrub when we tried to corral it into a box, and it was gone altogether the next morning.

Nature's Bean Garden

Two types of wild bean grow along the D&R Canal in Princeton. Groundnut (Apios americana) has reddish flowers in August followed by beans in September that look much like green beans you'd grow in your garden, but it gets its name from the edible tubers that grow along its roots. For details, see Note that each leaf has five leaflets. Hog peanut--another leguminous vine growing along the canal--has three leaflets. Asian wistera, fortunately not common in this area, has many more leaflets than either of these two natives.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Ironweed and Rose Mallow Along the Canal

Here are a couple more showy native species that bloom along the D&R Canal towpath in August. New York Ironweed, with disks of small purple flowers, likes a combination of wet ground and sunlight. The big flower with a rose center is called Rose Mallow Hibiscus. It typically grows at water's edge.

Cutleaf Coneflower along the D&R Canal

The photos here are from mid-August of this year, when cutleaf coneflower was in full bloom along the towpath near Harrison Street. In previous years, all of these plants were getting mowed down before they had a chance to bloom. The good thing about the mowing was that it kept trees from encroaching, and was not so frequent as to wipe out the wildflowers altogether. Now, the mowing will only be done once a year, in early spring, so tree seedlings will still be discouraged but the coneflowers and other wildflowers will have a chance to bloom.