Friday, April 01, 2022

Finding Native Swamp Rose Amidst the Multiflora Rose

For those who need deadlines, the last cold days of spring are a prompt for action by a wild gardener. It's the last chance to get some work done in a nature preserve without having to worry about doing tick-checks. It's also a time when leaves have yet to dampen the light pouring into the forest, and the invasive shrubs are still in their less intimidating winter dormancy.

Scott Sillars and I took advantage of a cool afternoon this week to cut invasive multiflora rose and privet at Herrontown Woods. There is constant surprise in how this awkward, gutsy work is way more satisfying than it has any right to be. 

Though rose-rosette disease has reduced its rampancy, multiflora rose is still a highly invasive shrub in Princeton forests. With its gangly growth, the sprawling shrub can best be described as a blizzard of thorns, whose introduction from Asia long ago has rendered many forests impenetrable. 
Cutting it down, I'm always reminded of the many-armed "omnidroid" monster in The Incredibles movie. But the way to emerge unscathed from a multiflora rose cutting session is to be gentle and methodical. Cut enough of the gangly stems to gain access to the center of the shrub, then reach in to cut its multiple stems at the base. Extract yourself carefully from the situation, and if your heavy clothing (another advantage of cool weather) gets snagged by a thorn, rotate to loosen the fishhook thorns or cut the clinging stem so that it will fall off on its own. What seems like rough work is actually an opportunity to exercise finesse. 

Also, don't forget your work gloves, as I did one day.

Though there are thousands if not millions of multiflora rose growing in the preserve, the work does not seem futile. We pick our spots, in this case focusing on a route for a planned boardwalk from the parking lot up to Veblen House. 

Satisfaction is increased by encounters with native shrubs. Spicebush are fairly numerous, and the highbush blueberry in this photo is about to open its flowers. 

A surprising find was the native swamp rose. I almost cut it down before noticing its characteristic thorns, which come straight out from the stem. The lack of a fishhook shape makes them far less hazardous. 
At the base of the stem, the swamp rose's thorns become small and dense compared to multiflora rose. 

This is the third swamp rose I've discovered at Herrontown Woods and Autumn Hill Reservation. Their rarity compared to the countless numbers of nonnative multiflora rose speaks to their need for a more stable supply of moisture. Only where seepage prevents the soil from drying out do they survive. 

With this preparatory work, we hope to ultimately end up with an attractive and varied corridor for visitors to walk through, from stream to meadow to wetland--all part of a short walk up to Veblen House. 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Some Spring Sightings at Herrontown Woods

There's been lots of activity at Herrontown Woods over the past few weeks as nature begins to stir.

At last week's Sunday morning workday at the Barden (Botanical ARt garDEN), some middleschoolers really enjoyed picking the seeds of wild senna that had stayed on the stalks through the winter. This Sunday, we'll cut last year's stalks to make way for new growth.

Herrontown Woods caretaker Andrew Thornton discovered a bloodroot flower blooming just off the trail. Bloodroots and the very rare hepatica are early bloomers. March 20 for the bloodroot, which leads with the flower before generating a leaf.

Anyone who looks skyward at the Barden may see willow blossoms--one of the "keepers" we found amidst all the invasive shrubs cleared to create the Barden. The blooms of willows and red maples are an important food source for early stirring bees.

On warm, wet nights, salamanders navigate through the leaves to reach vernal pools to lay eggs for the next generation. Vernal means spring, as in vernal equinox.
Vernal pools are also the place for wood frogs to mate and lay eggs. Thanks to Lisa Boulanger, who took these two beautiful photos three weeks ago.
We first noticed our black vulture had returned on March 15. A pair of them raise their young each year in the corncrib near the Veblen Cottage. We used to think they were bad omens, but have gained respect for them as parents and for their ecological role in the community. 
Someone's been busy over the winter building a village in a little out of the way spot in Herrontown Woods. It appears to have avenues, skyscrapers, and some bricks that may represent schools or a hospital. Maybe it's a fort, given its walls. 

Coincidentally, public library staff are talking about doing a reading of the children's book Roxaboxen at the Barden in a month or two.
The boulders along the ridge are rounded, composed of diabase, which in my experience is associated with rare plant species that thrive in the particular kind of soil generated from the weathering of these rocks. The boulders were not deposited here by glaciers, but instead formed from molten upwellings from below. 
In Herrontown Woods and Autumn Hill Reservation there are numerous little abandoned quarries where some of the larger boulders were split into chunks and hauled away. 

Springtime is a great time to figure out where we need more stepping stones along trails. Because the rocks along the ridge are chunky and rounded--of no use for steps through muddy sections of trails--we make frequent trips to rock piles generated nearby, just off the ridge, where a developer has dug a basement. These conveniently flat stones are from the sedimentary deposits that the molten upwellings pushed through to create the ridge. 

One plant that doesn't look like much but which I've always been curious about is what is this low-growing grass. I call it soft fescue, and wonder if it was common long ago, and later became the first lawns around houses. Many old lawns still contain this mounded grass. Here's a patch of it growing along Herrontown Road.
At Veblen House, the remnants of Elizabeth Veblen's garden still cycle through the seasons, with sweeps of snowbells giving way this week to the many daffodils she spread across the grounds.


Saturday, March 12, 2022

A Night-time Visit to a Vernal Pool Along the Princeton Ridge

Vernal pools are the place to be right now, if you're a wood frog, spring peeper, or a spotted salamander. Vernal refers to springtime, and vernal pools are generally small bodies of water that form in winter in depressions in the forest. Some quickly fade as spring progresses, but a few good ones remain long enough in the spring to allow amphibians to complete their reproductive cycle. The underlying hydrology and precipitation need to be sufficient to sustain water until the tadpoles mature. A lake or pond with water yearround might seem a safer bet, but would contain fish interested in eating the amphibians' eggs.

On warm, wet nights, the frogs and salamanders migrate from surrounding forest to the vernal pools to breed. Leaves from the previous fall provide cover, as in this photo of a spotted salamander. Thanks to Lisa Boulanger, who lives up near Herrontown Woods, for sharing these first couple photos. Last year she raised some salamanders from eggs laid in her backyard swimming pool. 

Oftentimes, and sometimes tragically, roads stand between the amphibians and their vernal pools. The Sourlands Conservancy has a well-organized program in which trained volunteers with flashlights and reflective clothing monitor roadways on wet, warm nights in late winter, posting warning signs along stretches of roadway and helping the amphibians cross the road. They make sure their hands are free of lotions that might affect the amphibians' skins. 

Though we made preliminary inquiries about doing a similar initiative in Princeton this year, it didn't go beyond our checking one stretch. Surprisingly, the two live frogs I saw on the pavement were sitting there, oblivious to danger. Perhaps they are soaking up some heat from the pavement, or are confused by the curious surface. I was able to hasten their crossing just by approaching them. 

By the time I had gotten there, however, soon after nightfall on March 6, many had already been run over, despite the minimal traffic along Herrontown Road. Returning a few days later, I found the remains of fifty. This is yet another example of how people can do harm without the least intention of doing so. 

Here are a couple wood frogs in what's called "amplexus," with the smaller male holding onto the pinkish female. It looks all very ordered and peaceful, but when we visited a vernal pool in Herrontown Woods a week ago, the competition between males for females was intense, to the point of imperiling the females.

In this photo, by Mark Manning, the tussle looks pretty benign.

Elsewhere in the pool, a female looked to be in trouble, with about ten males trying, persistently despite their lack of success, to dislodge the other male from the female's back. The female's head, a lighter brown, can be seen in the photo. In this mob scene, the female will literally not be able to come up for air. 

Insects are active in the vernal pools as well. One of Mark's sons brought me this predatory water stick-insect.

Interestingly, while the salamanders and frogs hadn't even laid eggs yet, there were already large tadpoles swimming in the water. These, according to Mark, are green frogs that have a different timing than the wood frogs.

It was Mark's birthday, which says something about his passion. Deep in woods, peering into the still waters so rich in life, we all felt like we were in the presence of a great gift.

Thanks to Mark, Fairfax and Lisa for their photos, their knowledge, and their initiative.

Lincoln Hollister Leads a Geology Walk (POSTPONED)


On Sunday, March 13, the Friends of Herrontown Woods will host a geology walk led by Princeton geology professor emeritus Lincoln Hollister. He will explain the geological features and history of the area. If you thought the boulders along the Princeton Ridge were deposited by a glacier, you're in for a surprise. 

The walk is at 1pm. A limited number of spots are available. Click here to sign up.

Also at Herrontown Woods this Sunday, and just about every Sunday of the year, volunteers gather from around 10:30 to 1pm to work in the Barden and elsewhere in Herrontown Woods, weeding, cutting down invasive species, and improving trails. 

On first Sunday's of the month, from 10am-noon, FOHW hosts May's Barden Cafe, serving coffee, tea, and pastries in the tradition of Elizabeth "May" and Oswald Veblen, who donated Herrontown Woods back in 1957.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Bird and Plant Walk at Herrontown Woods this Sunday

Join us for a bird and plant walk at Herrontown Woods this weekend, Sunday morning at 9, beginning at the main parking lot off Snowden. We'll have multiple walk leaders with expertise ranging from botany to birds to amphibians. Princeton natives John L Clark and Fairfax Hutter will be joined by naturalist and Hopewell teacher Mark Manning and myself. If lots of people show up, we can always split into multiple groups and head different directions. 

Fairfax offered up some thoughts on what birds we may see and hear:
My guess is that the birds we could find would be White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Juncos, N. Cardinals, Blue Jays, Titmice and Chickadees, Vultures, and probably easiest to spot would be (in this order): Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker (yay!), and maybe a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (I hear them first).

I’m hoping we might see and/or hear a Brown Creeper, they’re really neat birds. This is the time of year for them and I’ve seen them in HW while looking for amphibians. We could also get some Yellow-rumped Warblers, esp. if there are any poison ivy berries left.
I like the positive reference to poison ivy berries there. It's not a favorite plant where it grows on the ground, but as it ascends a tree it gains some positive traits, producing important berries for the birds and turning bright colors in the fall. 

Thanks to the Princeton Public Library for helping get the word out about this event, which is in addition to our usual Sunday morning workdays that start around 10:30.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Autumn Hill Reservation--Past and Present

Perched on the Princeton Ridge and yet standing in the shadow of better known preserves is Autumn Hill Reservation. When the Friends of Herrontown Woods formed in 2013 to reopen long-neglected trails at Herrontown Woods, we adopted Autumn Hill Reservation as well, which was in a similar state just across Herrontown Road. By "we" I mean largely Kurt and Sally Tazelaar, who did most of the much-needed trail work, with periodic help from the rest of us. 

Large expanses of the Autumn Hill preserve reflect a common condition of central NJ woodlands, with native trees above and invasive shrubs massed below. But there are some memorable spots that attract hikers: the large, flat, butterfly-shaped rock that once had a wonderful view out across the valley, and the charismatic wreck that I believe someone told me was an abandoned ambulance from the 30s or 40s.
That was part of a squatter's homestead commemorated by a plaque on one of the boulders, 

and Kurt and I found the foundation of another homestead dating back even further. Native wildflowers become more numerous as one heads to the back of the preserve, which with other publicly owned lands extends to River Road, creating an unbroken corridor of open space all the way down to the Millstone River. 

There's still evidence of a previous pulse of energy put into the Autumn Hill preserve--an Eagle Scout project by John Shaw in 2004 commemorated in this sign at the entrance. Probably arborist Bob Wells, who was very involved with scouting, had something to do with the project. 

Some of Autumn Hill Reservation's deeper history came to light more recently, after Robert von Zumbusch of the Friends of Princeton Open Space contacted me, asking if I'd ever heard of Helen Hunt and the Friends of Autumn Hill Reservation. I hadn't but was quickly able to get an answer for Robert by doing keyword searches at the super-helpful Papers of Princeton website, where Princeton newspapers are digitized dating back to the 19th century. 

Up popped an article from April, 1998 about a series of nature walks being organized for Earth Day by the Princeton Environmental Commission. It was like a Who's Who of Princeton environmentalists, with nature walks being led by Henry and Betty Horn at Mountain Lakes, Tom Poole at Rogers Refuge, and Bob Wells at Herrontown Woods. Additional walks with Nicholas Carnevale and friends at Pettoranello Gardens, and John Mills at the Princeton Battlefield were also planned.

And there was Helen Hunt, leading a walk at Autumn Hill, where "trails have been resurfaced, widened, and extended down to the great rock overlook. Work has been progressing all winter." Clearly, Autumn Hill received a good pulse of stewardship energy back in 1997-98. Conveniently, the article included a phone number to contact her. Though knowing that most land lines are dead ends these days, I gave the number a try, left a message, and soon was talking to Helen about her initiative back then.  

Helen said she briefly led a group called Friends of Autumn Hill Reservation, back in the late 90s. The group wasn't much more than her and Bob Wells, whom she paid to expand the trails by helping him buy a machine for the purpose. Her main interest was to have an off-road alternative for jogging--a smaller version of the towpath. The trails were wider than normal hiking trails, but it was hard to get them smooth enough for jogging. Once the trails were made, the group didn't go much beyond that. 

Further delving into the time machine that is Papers of Princeton reveals snapshots of Autumn Hill's history that extend back from 1998. 

An early presence out Autumn Hill way, east and south of the present day preserve, was Camp Tamarack, the 30 acre Girls Scout camping ground  that dates back to 1948. Remnants of a foundation and outhouse can still be found by following an old abandoned trail down from the end of Autumn Hill Road--a deadend street that was built as part of a subdivision in 1956. Girlscouts would camp there on weekends, sometimes combining the camping with sailing on Carnegie Lake.

A 1966 article announces obliquely that Township Open Space Commission "has obtained use of the Autumn Hill Reservation," and in 1969 the preserve is described as "new", with a parking lot but trails not fully laid out. The sign on the kiosk says that most of the land was acquired in 1967, with funding from township, borough, and the state's Green Acres fund.

The 1970s, which began with the first Earthday, brought a new level of accessibility for the preserve, this time thanks to the YMCA Rangers, as reported in 1972:

"Autumn Hill" is the newest of the Open Space lands in terms of a good loop trail you can follow. The trail was built by YMCA Rangers. Picnicking is invited in Autumn Hill, too, and later this spring, there will be picnic tables. Right now, there is drinking water and you can bring your own picnic lunch. 

In 1984, a big battle raged to fend off a proposed road, Route 92, that would have destroyed large swaths of open space, including part of Autumn Hill Reservation.

Fast forward to 1995, when local arborist Bob Wells proposed to officially adopt Autumn Hill Reservation. Bob was renting the nearby Veblen House from the county at the time. 

Committee accepted an offer from Robert Wells that his tree and landscape firm adopt the park at Autumn Hill Reservation off Herrontown Road. Mr. Wells, chair of the Township Shade Tree commission and a Herrontown Road resident, has performed extensive tree and trail maintenance in the park on a volunteer basis over the past several years. He also supervised the creation of one trail that was an Eagle Scout project. He now proposes to reestablish the picnic area off the parking lot, rebuild the frost-free water spigot and erect an additional foot-bridge. He also plans to install tree identification signs and a trail map and do general maintenance to the trails and path system. In accepting the offer, Township Committee signaled it was launching an "adopt-a-park" program to enable other businesses and individuals to volunteer their services for Township parks.

There's been an increase in interest in Autumn Hill recently, particularly from people living on the other side of the ridge in Montgomery who would like a better connection to the preserve from that side. Though we've done some small reroutes of trails onto drier ground, there is more we hope to do this year, laying boardwalk and shifting some trails to drier ground.

Winter is a good time to look for better routes for trails. Andrew Thornton and I recently noticed a potential improvement that would run along the edge of a stone wall currently hidden by densely growing honeysuckle, winged euonymus, Asian photinia, barberry, and privet. The nonnative shrubs flourish because deer and other wildlife don't eat them. I made some headway one afternoon, cutting through the thicket with loppers and a saw, constantly dodging the thorns of multiflora rose. Who's to say what the dominant motivation is. Love of a good trail? A desire to leave the world a better place than one found it? The satisfaction of work where progress is clear? A stewardship ethic engrained from youth? One strong motivation is the standing water that makes the current trail route nearly impassable this time of year. Rerouting the trail along higher ground, next to a rock wall, will give us a trail that's both drier and more interesting. Win-wins help to spur one on. 

Looking back through time, it can be heartening to see how people in the past stepped up to take care of public lands, just as we do now. It can also be unsettling, though, to see that periods of care do not always last, and can be followed by periods when trails slowly return to thicket, awaiting the next inspired steward to come along. What makes us think current efforts will be any different? That "adopt a park" program started in 1995 was well-intentioned, but the groups that stuck with it after the first flush of interest are few. 

During my Durham days, I started a program in which interested neighbors could adopt 20 feet of a paved bike trail that went through a nature preserve. The aim was for each family or individual to gain a sense of ownership of a small section of trailside vegetation, planting native plants and weeding occasionally, until the entire length of trail would be a verdant showcase for sedges, rushes and wildflowers. There was early interest, but most people didn't stick with it. What I learned is how few people are hardwired to garden, and even fewer hardwired to garden in a public space. 

Back in 1973, recycling was in a similar "heroic" stage, with a few dedicated volunteers trying to divert newspapers, bottles and tin cans from the waste stream. Like many municipalities across the country, Princeton was grappling with how to "get recycling out of the garage and volunteer stage and into the solid waste volume reduction and resource recovery stage on a long term regional basis." I was part of that 70's era volunteer recycling stage as well, standing on a flatbed truck as we drove through a neighborhood, stacking homeowners' bundled newspapers on the truck, and crushing glass--brown, green, and clear--in oil drums, as part of a pilot curbside recycling program in Ann Arbor, MI. Curbside recycling ultimately became institutionalized, but stewardship of open space is still in the "catch as catch can" volunteer stage. 

Postscript: There's another question that lingers from this dive into history: Where is that water spigot from which drinking water once flowed in Autumn Hill Reservation?

PostPostscript: Didn't take long to find the old water spigot, just a few feet away from the parking lot. 

Friday, February 04, 2022

May's Barden Cafe at Herrontown Woods -- Sunday, Feb. 6, 10am to noon

May's Barden Cafe has become a popular gathering on first Sunday's of the month, with coffee and baked goods served amidst the plantings and winding trails of the Botanical ARt garDEN, just up from the main parking lot for Herrontown Woods, off Snowden. 

Nicole Bergman has been teaming up with Joanna Poniz to host the Cafe, with coffee from Small World, and baked goods contributed by friends.

Adding an extra dimension to the event are the regular volunteer sessions, also from 10-12, and a volunteer named Mathilde will have seeds, pots, and soil on hand for anyone who'd like to plant some native wildflower seeds and take them home to grow. 

"May" was the nickname for Elizabeth Veblen. She and her husband Oswald donated Herrontown Woods long ago, and also started the tradition of afternoon tea at the Institute for Advanced Study.

The road down to Herrontown Woods is directly across from the main entryway to Smoyer Park. 600 Snowden Lane is now the official address for the parking lot. If the parking lot fills up, you can swing over to 452 Herrontown Road and park in the Veblen House driveway, then take the orange trail down to the Barden.

Dress warmly, and bring your own coffee mug if you think of it.

Princeton ECHO Takes Herrontown Woods Downtown

Through the month of January, a scene from Herrontown Woods could be seen adorning the cover of the Princeton ECHO in downtown businesses and along Nassau Street. The aim of bringing Herrontown Woods downtown in a feature article, according to author Patricia A. Taylor, was to draw people out into Princeton's nature preserves in the winter.

Adventuring out for a nature walk in winter has its advantages. The woods is filled with light and vistas, the frozen ground makes for good footing, and streams that may slow to a trickle in summer make rich, relaxing sounds with their winter flow. 

In the article, "History and helpful hands in Herrontown Woods," Patricia tells of taking her grandkids to the preserve and having great fun exploring the trails and the Barden. The article explores the history of the preserve and our Friends of Herrontown Woods nonprofit. She also tells the story of the dugout canoe in the Barden, and how it was originally constructed for an Odyssey project at Princeton High School.

For those who may have missed the paper edition, the article continues to live online.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Banana Palms and Lime Trees in Princeton

There's a house along Lake Drive in Princeton that has a special garden. Soon, the house and garden will be bulldozed and replaced, if history is guide, with sterile lawn and generic house, as the destructive side of prosperity has its way with the landscape. It was an estate sale, and before it changed hands I was invited to help myself to whatever was left in the house's garage and yard.

One of the more surprising finds was a grove of banana palms 10-15 feet high. Each year its loving owner would cut the palms down to the ground and mulch the roots heavily with leaves to protect them from the winter weather. And each spring the banana palms would rise to cast a tropical spell on her garden.

We thought it would be great to dig one up and transplant it to the Barden at Herrontown Woods, but the massive root structures looked intimidating. 

Not surprisingly, by January, they looked like this. Not being familiar with growing bananas in Princeton, I have no idea if the unprotected roots will survive the freezing weather.

Another longterm visitor from another climate is a lime tree that has taken over much of the front office at Tamasi's Shell station on 206. 

It clearly likes the big southwest-facing windows. While we shiver, it blooms,
and bears perfectly usable limes. They usually get a handful of fruit, but last year got 40.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Witnessing a Cotton Plant

I had lived on earth many years before encountering the leaf of a carrot, or a cucumber, or a radish. Planting my first vegetable garden in high school, each leaf was a revelation. It was during college years when I finally passed by a field of peanuts during an environmental field trip in Georgia and Florida. Even then, we didn't stop to take a closer look. Doesn't seem right to eat so much peanut butter and still not have witnessed a peanut plant, with its curious habit of planting its own seeds.

Many more decades would pass before I witnessed a cotton plant, growing in a friend's garden in Durham this past fall. It had been planted for fun, not for the cotton, but it's impressive how much cotton the plant produced, and how much the cotton on the plant looks like the cotton you buy. 
Before the cotton boll opens up to reveal the cotton, the clasping sheath at the base can be seen to resemble
the capsules of our native rose mallow hibiscus that grows along the shores of Lake Carnegie. The plants are in fact related, both being in the plant family Malvaceae (mal-VEH-cee-ee), along with okra and cacao. Genetic analysis has also put our native basswood trees, Tilia americana, in the Malvaceae family. 

Doing some reading, it was surprising to learn that the two most widely grown species of cotton are native to the Americas (as are peanuts, for that matter). 

The cotton fibers evolved to catch the wind and carry the seed. Our local Hibiscus moscheutos has no such means of dispersal. The seeds are held loosely in the erect, open capsule until they are bumped by a passing animal or shaken by the wind. 

Standing next to the cotton plant in the North Carolina garden was another species native to the Americas: tobacco, also grown on a lark. 
Tobacco is in the nightshade family, Solanaceae, along with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Some members of the family that pop up on their own around Princeton are the nightshades, ground cherry, and Jimsonweed. 

Once one knows about familial relatedness among seemingly disparate plants, it's fun to look for similarities of form in flower or leaf, and begin to see a web of connection in the plant world.

Saturday, January 08, 2022

A Mystery Tree Grows in Princeton

There's a small tree I've been encountering occasionally in Princeton woodlands, and no one thus far has been able to figure out what it is. I discovered it years ago, while preparing an ecological assessment for the Friends of Rogers Refuge. Over the past couple years, I've encountered a few younger versions in Herrontown Woods, and was finally moved to learn its identity. I thought it would be a simple matter to send some photos around to people particularly knowledgeable, and an answer would quickly be forthcoming. But no. This is turning into a botanical version of Stump the Stars.

I first saw it while taking that dirt road into Rogers Refuge, long known as a birding mecca just below the Institute Woods. The photo shows it in full bloom, though you have to look really hard to see the clusters of small flowers.

As someone schooled in botany, my experience of driving is different from most people's. While keeping an eye on the road, a botanist is also keeping an eye on the texture, shape and color of vegetation streaming by. You learn to identify trees in an instant. Their seasonal bloom or fall color can make it easy, but even their overall growth form--their body language--can be enough. The army fatigue bark of sycamores is distinctive, running up a valley in winter. Or the blotch of blue a Princess Tree's blooms make among the trees lining a highway. 

Over time, what for most people registers only as a blur of greenery becomes instead a language to be read. Driving along, reading the language of the roadside out of the corner of my eye, I'll very occasionally see something outside of my vocabulary of plants. Sometimes I pass by a given spot many times before a particular flower or growth shape catches my eye and I just have to stop to take a closer look. 

That's how this mystery tree first caught my eye, while driving into Rogers Refuge some years back in the second week of May.

It has the kind of bloom that looks showy close up, but doesn't have much of an effect from a distance.

Though most seen elsewhere in town tend to be the size of shrubs, the specimen in Rogers Refuge is about 20 feet high, with a cluster of sizable trunks.
New growth is distinctive.

Fruits are red, and scarce considering all the blooms.

Mike Van Clef mentioned "another confusing non-native relative found at Jockey Hollow."

Bob Wells of Morris Arboretum sent a scholarly response, based on some but perhaps not all of these photos:

I have no doubt that this is one of the Aronias:

  • Rosaceae flower
  • Alternate, simple, elliptic leaf that comes to an acuminate point.
  • Small, even, serrated margins
  • Secondary veins disintegrate before reaching the margins
He referred to the texts by Dirr and Easton, particularly a quote from Easton: “Chokeberries remind us that scientific taxonomy is only the least imperfect of the tools that we have fashioned to help us classify and understand organisms”

I'd love to call it red chokeberry and declare the case closed, but the leaves don't look or feel quite like any red chokeberry I've ever seen.