Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Workshop On Weeds

Our June Native Plant Workshop (actually Sunday, July 1, 2pm, meeting at Whole Earth Center on Nassau Street) is devoted to figuring out what to pull out of the less than perfectly ordered garden most of us are faced with this time of year. The usual definition of a weed is a plant out of place. For the purposes of the workshop, I'm defining a weed as "any plant you get tired of seeing pop up everywhere."

This can, and often does, include plants you liked when you first noticed them.

Take for instance this delicious looking strawberry (1st photo), which turns out to be neither delicious nor a strawberry. It's Indian Mock-Strawberry, originally from India, which either spreads into your lawn from the flowerbed or vice versa.

In this second photo, which includes small leaves of wood sorrel and common plantain in the background, is another plant you may like at first but quickly get tired of. Most people know it by the flowering stalk it forms in its second year--white flowers in April that form seeds before the plant turns into a less than pretty brown skeleton in June. That's when most people decide it needs to come out, but by then it's already spreading thousands of seeds to insure its continued presence in your garden.

A few years' worth of wisdom may lead you to pull it out or mulch it over in its first year of growth, when it forms a low rosette of large, yellowish-green heart-shaped leaves, like the one in the photo.

One of the many benefits of gardening is that it trains your eye to make distinctions where others just see masses of green.

With some experience, you'll be able to distinguish garlic mustard from violet (photo)--glossier and less ragged

and Siberian Bugloss, which has blue flowers reminiscent of Forget Me Nots in the spring. None of these, by the way, with the possible exception of the violet, are native.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Homemade Deer Repellent

A participant in our Native Plant Workshops offered this recipe for protecting plants from deer:

1 quart water
1 egg white (powder is fine)
2 tsp of very hot pepper (cayenne, hungarian)
1 tsp of cinnamon

Shake well and spray. Try it and let us know how it works.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being in May

April showers act as a bleaching agent in nature, turning nearly all May flowers quite white. The following, photographed along the driveway leading to the Mountain Lakes House, bear witness to this clean scene:

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) -- I take the species name of this native tree, "florida", not to mean it's from Florida, but that it is florid, which is to say highly ornate. Florida has lost much of its floridity, but there are still lots of florid Dogwoods in the understory at Mountain Lakes Preserve, and their berries help sustain migrating birds in the fall.

Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) -- This native shrub gets almost as big as flowering dogwoods, and has similar bark (see winter posting on bark). Their flowers advertise their locations in the woods this time of year. I've never seen pollinators visiting them, though somehow they end up with black berries later on. "Haw" refers to their similarity in form to hawthorns.

Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica), another native, are still blooming from last month, to show solidarity with May's batch of white flowers. Sometimes they develop a radical streak and show a bit of pink.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) -- See previous posting. An exotic weed of backyards and preserves. Try your best to develop a reflexive urge to pull this plant, since it conducts underground chemical warfare on native plant species, and is going to give your garden a distressed look when it turns brown a month from now.

Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) is another exotic that tends to invade nature preserves and pop up in backyards uninvited. Flowers are very fragrant.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Garlic Mustard Pulling

The annual canal cleanup along the towpath in Princeton on May 5 will include pulling invasive species along with picking up trash (more information on the cleanup below).

This is prime time for pulling up garlic mustard, an exotic biennial herb that has spread across the north and eastern U.S., displacing native species. Look most anywhere in Princeton this time of year and you're likely to see its dark green clumps rising from the ground. Its tendency to take over is abetted by its release of toxins through the roots that kill mychorrhizal fungi in the ground. Many plants, particularly trees, have symbiotic relationships with fungi, which help the plant absorb nutrients from the soil. Many species in the mustard family don't need these fungi, so gain a competitive advantage by killing them.

Garlic mustard grows as a low rosette the first year, then sends up a flowerstalk its second year before dying in mid-summer. Gardeners usually don't notice it until it blooms, and then think the bloom decent enough to leave it in. Only when the flowering stalk turns brown in mid-summer do people decide it's a nuisance, and by then the seedpods are ripe enough to burst when you pull it out.

It's easiest to identify and pull when in flower, but because some viable seed may already be present in the flowers, stuff it into a trash bag and put it out with the garbage, rather than composting or leaving it to lie on the ground.

More info on the cleanup is below:

Friends of Princeton Open Space and Princeton Water Watch are co-sponsoring a cleanup of the D&R canal in the Princeton area this Saturday May 5, 2007, 10 am - early afternoon Turning Basin Park, Alexander Rd at the canal near Princeton, NJ, rain or shine.

We'll assemble at 10 am to coordinate our efforts, and then celebrate our results with a picnic from 1-2 pm, right after the cleanup. And at 1:30, Mercer Co. Wildlife Rehabilitation will bring some of their animals to teach us about the impact of pollution on wildlife.

We'll remove debris and invasive plants along the canal from Port Mercer
(Quaker Bridge Rd.) to Harrison Street. Sponsors will provide garbage
bags, disposable gloves, some grasping tools and some canoes and kayaks.
Additional canoes may be rented from the Princeton Canoe Rental facility
nearby, and others may walk alongside the boats. Please bring
weather-appropriate gear, especially waterproof items. Boots or shoes
(with socks!) ready for mud. Rain gear if it looks like rain. Layered
clothing for adjusting to temperature.

Volunteers needed...Meet great people! Enjoy the outdoors, and serve
your community. It would be helpful, if you can join us, to let us know
in advance:

Pat Palmer (FOPOS) or Lexi Gelperin (PWW--Princeton Water Watch)
Phone: 609-279-6992 and 609-915-5921

Friday, April 27, 2007

Noted Speaker and Nature Walk, Sunday, April 29

Leslie Sauer, a pioneer in the field of restoring and managing native landscapes, and author of the book The Once and Future Forest, will speak at the annual meeting this Sunday of Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS). The title of her talk is Nurturing Nature in the Modern WorldLandscape Management and Preservation.
Prior to her talk will be a 20 minute meeting in which you can find out more about what FOPOS has been up to over the past year. Afterwards, there will be refreshments, then I'll lead a walk through Mountain Lakes, hopefully including a visit to the newly acquired grasslands of Tusculum, which FOPOS played a vital role in preserving.
Ms. Sauer's talk is particularly relevant to Princeton, as FOPOS begins to take an active role in the stewardship of lands it has helped to preserve. Restoration efforts have been gaining momentum this year. FOPOS was awarded a $9000 government grant to restore 4 acres at Mountain Lakes; FOPOS is sponsoring monthly free native plant workshops at the Whole Earth Center; mowing at Princeton's share of the D&R Canal State Park has been changed to allow native wildflowers to bloom all summer long; Princeton High School is converting its new detention basin into a wetland for nature study; and we have started a nursery at Mountain Lakes greenhouse to propagate native wildflowers that have thus far been surviving only in isolated locations around Princeton.
The talk will be at Mountain Lakes House. Parking is at the end of the long driveway heading into the woods at 57 Mountain Avenue. RSVPs at 921-2772 are appreciated. Check out the blooms of Spring Beauty as you come down the driveway.

Trout Lily and Spring Beauty

There are two kinds of common native wildflowers blooming this time of year at Mountain Lakes Preserve. Trout Lily is found mostly north of the lakes. It's leaves are spotted like trout.

Spring Beauty lines the main driveway.

Earthday at Whole Earth Center

Both the Whole Earth Center and Earthday turned 36 this past Sunday. I spent the glorious afternoon on the patio at the Center, talking to people about native plants and Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, and giving away "live stakes" of several native shrub species, along with some locally collected wildflower seeds. The live stakes went well with the live music, consisting of jazz guitar and a female vocalist named Jeanie Bryson, who is also an avid gardener.
Many people signed up to receive more information about a sale of native wildflowers coming up next month here in Princeton. If you want to put in an order, email this blog.
Live stakes, by the way, are by far the easiest way to propagate three local native shrubs--elderberry, silky dogwood and buttonbush. Simply cut 2 foot sections of the stem before it buds out in the spring, then push the stick in the ground or in a vase half-filled with water. Roots emerge from the lower half, leaves from the top.

Pretty, but......

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria),
is rapidly spreading into Mountain Lakes from its upstream stronghold at Pettoranello Gardens. Though attractive, its aggressive growth habit is ecologically destructive, as it quickly excludes other spring ephemerals.

The end result is a seamless carpet of this exotic species, offering none of the diversity needed to sustain wildlife. Lesser Celandine is sometimes confused with Marsh Marigold, a native that, like many natives, is rarely seen. In a month or two, the Lesser Celandine will disappear back into the ground, remaining dormant until the following spring.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Woodcocks Near the Boardwalk

On NPR this past Wednesday, there was a moving radio essay about one of our harbingers of spring--the woodcock and its remarkable mating flights--so moving it motivated me to seek out an old field at dusk and sit waiting for the woodcocks to fly. Where in Princeton do woodcocks find a suitably open habitat for their amorous acrobatics?

My plan was to sit on the new boardwalk between Mountain Lakes and the Great Road, just up from Mountain Avenue, and wait for the magic hour. Seemed like every goose in Mercer County was heading across Coventry Farm on the way to the Mountain Lakes for the night, but finally I heard the nasal "peent" of three woodcocks, and saw one fly overhead.

To get to the boardwalk, park at the new Farmview Park and take the paved bikeway a few hundred feet down the Great Road to the opening in the gate where a grassy road heads eastward down the slope to the boardwalk. Or check out the low, grassy area next to the soccer field at Farmview Park. They might be there, too, and easier to get close to. The link for the NPR essay is below.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Habitat at Mountain Lakes

The contrast of late winter snow reveals otherwise hidden aspects of the Mountain Lakes Preserve. Seepage areas are common where water warmed by the ground emerges at the base of slopes. These seem to be a favorite hangout for woodcocks this time of year.

These stark forms reveal the ecological dilemma at Mountain Lakes. Invasive species + heavy deer browsing = marginalization of native species. The larger shrub to the left is multiflora rose. Deer don't like its thorns, so eat native species instead, like the diminutive silky dogwood to the right. You can see the way the dogwood has sent out lateral shoots in response to past browsing.

As the deer herd is brought back into ecological balance, native shrubs like silky dogwood and spicebush will make a comeback in the preserve, providing a more varied diet for pollinators and birds.

A walk down the main driveway leading into Mountain Lakes provides a dramatic view of how complete has become the domination of one exotic species--multiflora rose. Walls of thorns rise on either side of this snow-covered path, ready to punish any man, woman or beast wishing to explore beyond the beaten path.

With the help of a Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program grant from the USDA, the Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS) will begin removing the multiflora rose and other exotic invasives, allowing suppressed native species a chance to grow. FOPOS is also beginning to propagate local native species from cuttings and seed to transform these thorny pathways into a showcase for native wildflowers. Volunteers are encouraged to join in this effort. For more information, contact me by email from the "About Me" section at the top of this blog.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Winter Aconite

One of the perks of buying an older home is what may pop up in the yard in the spring. Here are some winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis), a long-blooming bulb that spreads around. They're much easier to see since the English Ivy was pulled out.
As with a number of other exotic species, it can spread in the garden, but doesn't seem to make the leap into local nature preserves, where it would not be welcome.
Don't confuse it with Lesser Celandine, which has become a seriously invasive weed, carpeting lowlands of Princeton preserves. They are in the same plant family (buttercups), and have similar flowers that open in late winter, but the leaves of Lesser Celandine are round.

Going After the Ivy

Springtime in an ivy league town, and the warming breezes jog some deep impulse to take action. To live with English Ivy is to live in perpetual ambivalence. Pretty green leaves, low maintenance, but how long will the free world stand idly by as it spreads its insidious conformity? For me, it was the sight of spring bulbs struggling to rise through the smothering green wave that gave the needed extra motivation. A heavy rain had softened the soil, and there was still time to liberate the spring bulbs before they bloomed. The long period of preparatory procrastination had come to an end.

Below is a description of one approach, designed to give hope to beleagured gardeners everywhere. Wear gloves, long sleaves in case there's any poison ivy mixed in, and keep a pair of hand pruners in the back pocket. Remember, if persistence were the measure, you would be as David before Goliath. But the use of a shovel, applied with a mixture of finesse and strategic force, will send the green giant reeling back on its heals.

My first approach was to pull the thick mat of ivy back, like rolling up a carpet. The gloves are where my hands would be if I wasn't taking a break to get some photos for this blog. (Anyone remember Tom Lehrer's song, "I hold your hand in mine"?)
The hand pruners come in handy if some of the ivy stems don't pull out of the ground.
Note the clusters of bulbs being liberated from the forces of bullish conformity.

The above method, while effective, caused my lower back to strike up a sentimental conversation about past strains and such. Being somewhat more highly evolved than the ivy, I decided to use more brain and less pulling force, which led to the Reverse Shovel technique exemplified on your left. The pickax is only there because I didn't have anyone to hold the shovel up for the photo, so leave the pickax in the garage. Starting at the leading edge of the ivy, slip the shovel along the ground beneath the ivy, then raise the end of the shovel handle, Iwo Jima-like, using your shoulder to push it up. Any strands still connected to the ground can be pulled out or clipped off.

The ivy should come free of the ground as you push, as in the photo on the left. Rolling the ivy back on itself, you end up with a pile of ivy that can be left to smother itself until the next time you summon the motivation to push the green wave further back.

Followup was much less than I had expected. Surprisingly, not much ivy sprouts back up in the cleared area, and can be easily pulled.

This is what it looks like when you're done.

There are other methods. But this one worked for me on a sunny day in March.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Native Plant Workshops at the Whole Earth Center

Two long-time Princeton nonprofits--the Friends of Princeton Open Space and the Whole Earth Center--are collaborating to sponsor monthly workshops for those interested in growing native plants. The first session—I want to call it the “kickoff” session but football analogies don’t quite go with native plant gardening—took place in the Whole Earth Center cafĂ© on Sunday, February 25. A full house of 20 participants shared their interest and ideas.

The goal of the workshops is to support local gardeners in their efforts in various ways. Some projects in the works:
  • Grow local genotypes of native wildflowers and shrubs from locally collected seeds and cuttings.
  • Visit local remnant native plant communities that can serve as models for backyard gardens.
  • Help participants learn to identify plants and their preferred sun and water levels, and gain confidence in identifying weeds.
  • Show how to put rainwater runoff to use in the garden.

All of the activities will seek to connect gardeners and gardens to the broader landscape of Princeton—its nature preserves and the ecological forces at work there. One of the most disruptive forces in local preserves are the invasive exotic species--the same species that invade backyards and serve as the default landscape in untended areas.

As part of the first workshop, I brought in a newly fashioned model of the typical understory of a local preserve. Though most trees in Princeton are native, the understory is a motley crew of mostly exotic shrubs that can easily be identified in winter by various traits such as thorns, twig color, and opposite or alternate branching.

This high-tech photo of the equally high-tech model shows the pirate ship of invasives sailing the troubled ecological seas of Princeton’s greenspace.

A sequel to this posting will feature an ark of native species, currently besieged by the exotic legions but whose tide could turn with the help of some human intervention.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Winter in Residence

Princeton is now hosting a long-awaited Winter in Residence program. Though scheduled to begin back in December, programming did not get underway until February, due to the increasingly temperamental behavior of the guest artist in recent years. Last year, Winter stormed out of Princeton for most of January, in what now seems a mild rebellion compared to this year's long-delayed appearance.

There's no doubt that Winter has been struggling in recent years. Its greatest masterworks--the glaciers and the polar ice caps--have been washing into the sea. Its whimsical craftings of frost on windows are few and far between. Even Winter's riffs on snowflakes, billions at a time and no two the same, are less common and quickly sullied by traffic. It's understandable that Winter would be ever more reclusive--embarrassed by its dwindling powers, angry and depressed at the pellmell destruction of its greatest works, weakened from breathing too much CO2. In its place, for months at a time, has been a season without a name, neither spring nor fall, comfortable yet discomforting--a void, an end with no consequent beginning, as if we were living within a season's empty shell.

All this was for the time-being forgotten, though, when the arctic air blew in and Winter, quietly working in its favorite and most deceptively magical medium, transformed a pretty but otherwise cold and unwelcoming lake into a dancefloor, public square and sports arena. Working without a budget or publicity, nor any tools beyond serendipity and physics, Winter drew thousands of local residents to a spontaneous community festival down at Carnegie Lake.
Rows of cars filled the field; skaters of all abilities plied the wondrously smooth ice. One skater propelled himself with a homemade sail. A baby took to the ice in a baby carriage. Along with some pickup hockey games, there was a slippery, slidey game of soccer played slow-motion in boots.

Word had it that the last time such magic was worked on the lake was twelve years ago. We all savored the experience, not knowing when it might happen again.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Spring's A Bit Early This Year

Ahh, January in Princeton. It may as well be spring. The warm weather records are breaking. The buds are bursting. And my kids will be able to tell their kids that in the old days they trudged all winter through flower blossums to get to school. In strange comfort and confusion, all of nature enters an era beyond the bounds of memory.

It's Not So Ruff To Know Your Bark

Lest you venture out into nature and feel surrounded by strangers, here are a few of the locals in their winter garb. Don't be put off by their bark. They're really quite friendly.

Wild grape vine is easy to identify, with its shaggy brown bark.

Flowering dogwood bark has more of a honeycombed appearance. Older Blackhaw Viburnums also have bark like this.

Ash trees have tight-grained bark. Look farther up and you'll see they have thick, opposite branching twigs.

Red oak has these long vertical plates. There are some towering, multi-trunked specimens at Mountain Lakes.

Black cherry has bark that looks like black potato chips with lots of short horizontal lines called lenticels. The lenticels help the tree to breathe.

Red cedars have smooth, fibrous bark. Most of these trees, remnants from a time when Mountain Lakes was shifting from farm to forest, are getting shaded out now.

Sassafras. Check out the deeply furrowed dentition.

Winter Forms at Mountain Lakes

Winter, if this mild season can still be called that, is an especially appealing time to visit Mountain Lakes. The leafless trees let the light in and allow for long views across the valleys. Some of the wetland species hold their forms-- last year's sculptures held aloft as their dormant roots make plans for a new season. Woolgrass--actually a sturdy native sedge well suited for wetland gardens--is on the left. A goldenrod's seedhead is below.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wetland Arks in Princeton

Here's a typical detention basin, a required feature in any new construction. They dot the Princeton landscape, mostly at housing developments. This one happens to be at Farmview Park, a new township park on the Great Road, across from Coventry Farm.

They are curious structures. Down their middle is what has been called a "Sidewalk to Nowhere" that deadends at a concrete mausoleum-like structure. Stormwater enters one end of the basin, runs down the sidewalk, and drains out at a controlled rate through the concrete tower. During heavy rains, some water will be held back in the basin, reducing flash flooding.

Though the basins have their use, I don't think "turf pit" is too unflattering a name. They aren't pretty, require frequent mowing, and offer no habitat or recreational value.

Here's another, more gentrified basin, brand new, nestled between the two new wings of Princeton High School. It receives not only runoff from the roof, but also gets steady infusions from the school basement's sump pump.

Dreams do not often feed on such prosaic fare as sump pumps and detention basins. But I look at these basins and see something akin to an open-hulled Ark--precious wet, sunny, legally protected real estate where some of the prettiest and toughest of New Jersey's native wildflowers could flourish.

Two such transformations may actually happen this coming spring, judging by the strong support thus far from Princeton Township and Princeton High School administrators, board members and teachers. Funding and expertise has been offered by Partners for Fish and Wildlife, an agency in the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

Working for Friends of Princeton Open Space, my role in this is as catalyst with phone calls and emails, suggesting there's an opportunity and bringing the people together who can make it happen. Then, if all goes well, there will be some attention to pay to all the plants put in, to nurture them while they get established, to prevent aggressive weeds from moving in, and to add more native species as time goes on.

Pictures of a few of the wetland species to be planted--Hibiscus, cutleaf coneflower, etc.--can be found in earlier postings on this weblog. Prairie grasses will be planted on the upland edges of the basin. Below is a photo of Indian grass, a constituent of tallgrass prairies in the midwest that is also common on the outskirts of Princeton.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Backyard Habitat Receives Heron Certification

Build the habitat and they will come.

Midday on November 15, our dog Leo barked at the backyard from his perch next to the bay window. I always find his sharp bark irritating, but I soon thanked him for drawing my eye to the window just in time to see a great blue heron flying up and out of our backyard. I had been waiting for this moment since digging the miniponds a year ago. Great Blue Herons are glamorous symbols of wetlands, but they haven't let it go to their heads. They are not above showing up in someone's less than sprawling backyard and taking a peek and a poke at a Puddle With An Attitude. The miniponds have been attracting lots of birds, but the heron's visits over two days mean that our backyard habitat is now Heron-Certified.

I'd like to think it was impressed with all the native wetland plants I had added, but truth be told, a great blue heron would visit a bathtub in a sea of turfgrass if it thought there might be a fish to be had. As it happened, we were wondering what to do with the goldfish that had grown sizeable over the summer and given birth to another generation. Would they make it through the winter, or should we go to the trouble of keeping them in an aquarium until spring? The heron provided an elegant, flattering and educational solution, though I doubt the fish were happy.

Below are some photos--not the best, since they were taken through a window, but seeing is believing. In the second photo, the heron is perched on the neighbor's roof, probably digesting its lunch before heading off to the next fishing hole.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Patterned Sky

Yesterday, early on in the ritualistic walk around the block with my dog, I spied a perfectly fine plastic bucket that had been put out with someone's trash. Remembering all the times I had searched in vane for the bucket we have, I snapped it up before its useful life could be cut short by the giant maw of a garbage truck. Around the corner, I got a strange look from a passerby. Small dog, big bucket--she must have wondered what I was expecting little Leo to produce during our walk.

These walks, short as they are, seem to make the dog's day. For him, it must be like checking email or reading the newspaper. Sniffing about, he gets updates on who's been in the 'hood, and may well pick up on subtleties of mood, health--who knows what all a nose can read about the world.

If not for kids and a dog, I might know little of this town. Certainly I wouldn't have seen the spectacular migration of geese the other day, flying high over the park as Leo kept his nose to the ground. There was a first wave, with maybe seven "V"s constantly shifting, merging, breaking off to form new configurations. Then another wave even bigger, and another. Five waves in all, with "V"s as populous as 100 birds, and waves of 3-5 hundred each. Counting distracted from my transfixion on the beauty of the patterns that abundance can make. Their calls were not the raucous complaint of geese flying into a local pond, but were sparse and melodious as they drifted down from great height.

Whether they were truly migratory geese or the variety that stick around all winter only a birder could guess at. By the time I got home, they would be halfway across the county, their morning's ambitions far greater than mine, for some reason taking them northwest on a late autumn day.

Decision Time in the Bear Den

It's decision time. In the bear den, also known as my home office, the number of renewal notices from environmental organizations has reached intolerable levels. My processing method is to throw them in a pile as they come in, day after day, since there never seems to be a convenient chunk of time to deal with them. Which notice will get me to act? Will it be the seventh panda envelope from the World Wildlife Fund? The eighth?

This has to stop. A large percentage of my annual donations is surely being turned into postage and paper in their dogged attempts to get me to send more. I finally sat down today with a computer and a phone and started calling, renewing online if I was put on hold. I was hoping they could automatically deduct annual dues from my credit card each year, but the best they could do was promise to limit renewal notices to one. We'll see if they live up to the promise, and whether one notice is enough to trigger my renewal. For now, the pile has been transferred to the recycling bin, and one small corner of the bear den is more peaceful and ordered.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Giants and Toddlers at Marquand Park

(Photos from Nov. 2)
A fleet of miniature earth movers has been running roughshod over the sandy uplands of Marquand Park for years now, but the rest of the park appears to be safe from development. If you have young kids, you may, like me, have spent your time watching them sharpen their sense of balance on the rocky ring rather than venturing down the trails leading into the rest of the park.
It can be a surprise then, after the kids have miraculously reached school age, to find yourself with free time, a camera and an autumn afternoon to see what lay just beyond the playground.

There is, for instance, a grove of giant tulip poplars, oaks and beech that dwarf most others in
Princeton. It's not easy to capture a tree's size in a photo, but here is a tulip poplar.
Native trees of this stature speak to the grandeur that the first colonists must have encountered. The more recently regrown forests that occupy most of Princeton's open space have a long way to go before they reach this stature.

Marquand Park also has its share of exotic trees, most of which are not of the invasive variety. Below is an otherworldly threadleaf Japanese maple, its brilliant colors backlit by an afternoon sun.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Joy of Ephemeral Creeks

The October 28 nature walk, like those before it, was preceded by a spectacular dumping of rain that lasted long enough to insure no attendance, then stopped minutes before the scheduled start. I showed up to lead the nature walk anyway, though I was sure the weather had discouraged any and all. The big draw was the ephemeral creeks, one of which, flowing briskly alongside Valley Road, swelling into ponds where the leafpiles formed dams, nearly stalled out my car. The rain stopped right around 9am, and the surprisingly balmy mistyness had an exhilarating effect, as did the findings of an hour and a half exploring the woods of Community Park North.

The parking lot serves as the headwaters of a fine ephemeral creeklet that during and after a good rain heads off through the woods, past exotic Asian Photinia (photo) and native spicebush, then down through a grove of swamp white oaks.

The various trails that used to lead into this area, which also hosts some nice, squishy sedge meadow openings and a view back across Pettoranello Gardens, are mostly defunct. I progressed through the tangle of exotic shrubs only with the help of a trusty pair of hand clippers.

Some of the trees announce their identities, and give clues as to where the trails used to be.

Very sturdy picnic tables that look like partially sunken battleships, and some totem-pole-shaped climbing structures surrounded by invasive thorn bushes, add a lost culture kind of feel.
Across the branch of Mountain Brook, another ephemeral creek flowed down through the evergreen forest. Nothing grows under the thick shade and pine needle mulch except a few patches of Japanese stiltgrass, so it's one of the few woods around where one can easily get off the trail and head cross-country. The clear views through the forest, and a group of five deer off in the distance, gave the place an old Disney movie feel, though in this updated version the deer have eaten all the wildflowers.
A day later, the creeks would be dry and the balmy temperatures gone. I was glad to have witnessed one of the woods' more unusual moods. I didn't make it over to the boardwalk, though I bet it had some nice creeks flowing there as well. The walk will be rescheduled.