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.


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.

Enhancing the Habitat

invasive bush honeysuckle from nps siteIn a cooperative effort between the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Wildlife Management Institute and PPL, invasive bush honeysuckle is being removed from land managed by the PPL Montour Preserve. Bush honeysuckle was introduced to the states from Eurasia as an ornamental shrub, for wildlife cover and for soil erosion control. It grows rapidly and takes over an area, forms a dense shrub layer, decreasing light and depleting soil nutrients. Bush honeysuckle grows in an early-successional forest habitat.

A young forest habitat, or early-successional habitat is required to maintain sustainable populations of many species. American woodcock, ruffed grouse, cottontail rabbit and indigo bunting are examples of the many species that find young growth shrubs and trees suitable. Young forest habitat also provides food and cover for many other species that use a variety of habitats, including ring-necked pheasants, song sparrow and white-tailed deer.

Invasive removal 2013Habitat improvements and maintenance are proposed for existing young forest habitats. To maintain the young forest stage of plant succession, ongoing habitat management practices, primarily periodic treatments, will be completed as needed. A large part of the habitat

Exotic bush honeysuckle is often confused with native honeysuckle species. Most native honeysuckles have solid stems and are an excellent food source for birds. Learn more at the National Park Service’s website. management plan includes the control of invasive species and noxious weeds, like bush honeysuckle, autumn olive and multi-flora rose. All habitat improvements to existing young forest habitat are proposed as enhancements.

To ask your questions, contact us at pplpreserves@pplweb.com.
Find directions to our preserves, program information and trail maps at pplpreserves.com.

Connecting Students to the Environment

Recently, Joe Scopelliti- Community Relations Manger for PPL Susquehanna and I ventured across the river to PPL’s Council Cup Overlook to meet a group of high school students participating in the Community Connections to the Watershed Program.  About forty students, representing high schools from across Luzerne County, had just left PA American Water’s Ceasetown Dam and were meeting us at Council Cup to learn how PPL Susquehanna uses water in electrical energy generation. Their goal for the day was to learn about the various uses for water including how our drinking water is made safe for human consumption and how water is needed to produce some forms of energy.

Facilitated by Diane Madl, Environmental Education Supervisor from Nescopeck State Park and Angela Lambert, Environmental Education Specialist from Lackawanna State Park, the students asked many questions about our operations at PPL Susquehanna as well as recreational opportunities at the Susquehanna Riverlands Environmental Preserve.

After our Q and A session, we relaxed for a bit, enjoying a beautiful view from the overlook and searching for migrating raptors that frequently utilize this flyway in the fall.

~Alana Roberts, PPL Community Affairs Specialist

Joe Scopelliti discusses river water intake with the students

The view from PPL’s Council Cup Overlook is beautiful, even on a foggy day.

Butterflies Abound!


Chrysalis found by 6-year-old girl on her birthday at the PPL Lake Wally Butterfly Garden

Ed Wesley’s program on Saturday, September 8 was fantastic! We had 31 eager participants despite the weather forecast of rain and high winds. Milkweed seeds were given out for people to plant in their gardens at home. With milkweed growing, monarch butterflies will be attracted to the location. Milkweed is the other plant that monarchs like to lay their eggs. The young caterpillar eats the milkweed leaves once it emerges from the egg.

Children helped Ed with tag butterflies that will be released on a nice day. The predicted 60 MPH winds would make for a rough start to the long migration to Mexico. A little round tag is stuck to a particular spot on the butterfly’s wing. There is a ton of microscopic information on this tag, used for identifying where the butterfly has come from.

Down at the PPL Butterfly Garden, the audience became the biologists as they searched for butterfly eggs and chrysalises. One little girl, stayed longer than all the rest, found many eggs and even an chrysalis hanging from a blade of grass (as seen above). Ed was so impressed with her enthusiasm, he sent her home with a chrysalis to care for as the caterpillar changes into a beautiful monarch butterfly.

-Jenna Wayne, PPL

If you would like to raise your own caterpillars with a school or scout group, kits are available at many online nature websites. For more information about PPL programs, visit our “Calendar of Events” at pplpreserves.com.

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