Springing from the Ground

Spring woodland wildflowers seem to spring up overnight coaxed by a little rain, sunshine and warming temperatures. Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve at Holtwood is alive with spring wildflowers. Virginia bluebells give the forest a bluish haze. Spots of yellow, white and purple show where yellow, white, Canada and common violets are blooming. The odd-looking blossoms of Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn add an interesting touch to the mix. You might even catch wake-robin or purple trillium still blooming.

DutchmansBreeches

Dutchman’s Breeches

If you visit the wildflower preserve, don’t forget to look up. Right now woodland warblers are moving in and through the area. Listen for their high-pitches and buzzy songs along with those of returning resident birds.

For more information on Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve follow this link: http://www.pplpreserves.com/preserves/holtwood/pints-of-interest/#shenks

Rising from Frost

Skunk Cabbage in SnowSeeming like the antithesis of the proverbial phoenix rising from warm ashes, the first wildflower of spring rises through frost and snow. This often overlooked flower is skunk cabbage. It deserves a second look. Growing on flood plains and wooded wetlands, skunk cabbage began making an appearance long before the first official day of spring. Back in late February the tiny protrusions of growing skunk cabbage poked through the soil, emerging from the ground when all other plants were still in their wintry slumber. Amazingly, unlike the phoenix, skunk cabbage doesn’t depend on an external fire for its annual rebirth. Its heat comes from deep inside to help it grow and flower when freezing temperature would kill other wildflowers. It does this breaking down starch stored from last year.

Skunk cabbage blossoms are unusual in other ways also. Their flowers are surrounded by a pointed hood with a slight spiral twist. These hoods, called spathes, wrap partially around the flowerhead leaving only a tear-shaped opening, protecting the precious pollen from wind and rain. The insulative walls of the spathe also keep the flower warm. One biologist found that the skunk cabbage flower stayed about 36oF warmer on the average than the air temperature around it.

Skunk cabbage flowers should be admired for their early flowering abilities. It is more difficult to admire their beauty. Dainty and delicate these blossoms are not. Rather than subtle shades of pink or blue, skunk cabbage spathes are a deep maroon, either plain or mottles with yellow and green. They lSkunk Cabbage Spathe 01ook like rotting flesh. To round out this deception, they produce a rather unpleasant odor that attracts carrion flies. The flies not only find a warm place to shelter on a cold night, they also assist in pollinating skunk cabbage flowers.

You might not accept skunk cabbage as the loveliest wildflower of spring, but as it heats the soil around it and pushes back winter as it rises from the cold soil, you must admit that like the mythical phoenix, skunk cabbage is, indeed, unique.

Fall Foliage Hike

Pinnacle Overlook at PPL Holtwood Preserve

There couldn’t have been a more beautiful day for a fall foliage hike at Pinnacle Overlook at PPL’s Holtwood Preserve on Saturday. It was one of the few perfect hiking days out of the year where it wasn’t too hot or too cold during a nice stroll through the woods. Before setting out on our adventure we took in the beautiful view of Lake Aldred, catching a few glimpses of vultures and several gulls flying over the lake in the distance.

At the overlook, we talked about why leaves change color in autumn. Scientists still don’t know all the details of this complicated process, but basically there are three main factors that influence autumn leaf color: pigments, the length of night, and weather. When the days grow shorter, and the nights get cooler and longer, it’s a cue for the tree to start preparing for winter. Photosynthesis will slow and eventually stop, thus seizing the production of chlorophyll, which produces the green color of leaves. This is all in an attempt to save energy in order to make it through the winter.

Fall Foliage at Pinnacle Overlook.

Once the chlorophyll pigment fades, you begin to see the carotenoid pigment that was always there, but masked by green. This pigment produces the yellow, oranges and browns you also see in carrots and bananas. The magnificent reds and purple hues you see in autumn are not always present, but are thought to be produced in fall as an additional sunscreen for the leaf that is susceptible to sun damage as chlorophyll fades. These reds are produced by anthocyanin pigments, which give color to familiar things such as cranberries, red apples, and grapes, among many others. The reason autumn colors can vary greatly among different regions, especially in PA, is because of the nice sunny days, and cool nights we have in northern PA. Leaves produce sugars on those sunny days, but the cold nights prevent the tree from pulling the glucose out of leaves for storage at night. This makes for the beautiful colors we see up north versus the more dull yellows and browns we see down south.

On our hike, we enjoyed the crunchy fall leaves at our feet and several interesting species, both native and invasive, along the way. Be sure to get outside and enjoy PPL’s thirty-nine miles of trails around Lake Aldred and the Susquehanna River at our Holtwood Preserve before the weather gets too cold! There are only a few more weeks of prime autumn leaf peeping left, and I plan to take advantage of them! I hope you do the same!

You have at least one more chance at the Fall Foliage Walk at Lake Wallenpaupack on Sat. Oct 20 at 10:00 am. For details see our calendar of events here.

-Sarah Hall, PPL Wallenpaupack

Blooming Bells

A pale blue haze appears to hang above the forest floor giving the woodland a rather unearthly appearance. Upon closer approach you discover that the blue is from the flowers of Virginia bluebells. These spring wildflowers are in full bloom at Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower area of the Holtwood Environmental Preserve. For more information about Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve go here: http://bit.ly/1NrPSy.

A Bloody Secret

After a short and mild winter and an unusually warm beginning of spring it is no surprise that some of Montour Preserves woodland wildflowers are showing up early this year. One great example of this early bloom is bloodroot which is in full bloom at the preserve. Bloodroot can be recognized by its large white flowers and leaf which wraps itself around the stem in early spring. This showy spring blossom is aptly named for the orangish red sap that flows from the root and stem of the plant which has been used in a variety of ways in the past. Native Americans used bloodroot sap both medicinally and practically for a dye for face painting and clothing, and as a cough medicine. In the early 1980’s bloodroot extract called Sanguinaria, became somewhat famous as a first line of defense against gum disease and some prominent members of the dental community believed this extract to be as influential in plague fighting as fluoride had been to tooth decay. Don’t miss out on the wonders of early spring; remember our woodland wildflower walk is scheduled for Saturday April 28th from 1:30-3:00p.m.

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