Archive for August, 2012

THE JAPANESE ANGELICA TREE

Sunday, August 19th, 2012
Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata,Wissahickon Valley Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata,Wissahickon Valley Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This tree is found throughout Philadelphia, in Fairmount Park, in alleys and neighborhoods. It has a silvery thorny trunk and  produces a striking crown of white to pink flowers in August.  The most dense stands can be found in The Wissahickon Valley Park, but it is also found in abundance in West Fairmount Park, in such locations as the Horticultural Center and along Chamounix  Drive.  In Morris Park it is spreading rapidly, where multiple stands of seed producing specimens have been identified.

The Japanese Angelica Tree is an emerging invasive in the region, and where it has become established there has been a drastic change and disruption to the natural environment. This tree creates a canopy of shade so dense and a root system so interconnected that native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are left to die in the wake of this aggressive alien species.  With the loss of these plants, which have grown here for thousands and millions of years, is a loss of a complex web of habitat that sustains the life of the forest.  The insects whose patterns of sustenance, such as food and reproduction, are species-specifically dependent, lose their habitat and become locally extirpated with each infestation of the Japanese Angelica Tree. Birds that need insects for survival, will also be displaced as there is no food. When a species has evolved over the millions of years, it does so in a system of species and interactions, often with multiple variables.  When an introduced species comes into a system, it has the potential to radically change the variables of the system.  For example, the Japanese Angelica Tree has the ability to block sunlight, which is one variable to a natural system that has an immense effect. It is like a dark cloud that moves over a community of plants, an invading force, permanently shading the area through the entire growing season, and on top of that running a dense network of roots all through the soil that absorbs the moisture and nutrients that will no longer be available to the original community of plants. This is enough to kill off many species of plants and their species-specific insect dependents, and this amounts to localized extirpation, the elimination of a species from its host habitat.

There is nothing to stop these invasions. Acre after acre of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park system has fallen victim to this species.

This is where our story begins.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Wissahickon Valley Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Wissahickon Valley Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Take a walk through the Wissahickon Valley Park and the Japanese Angelica Tree is everywhere. In the late summer, the white inflorescence  crests the landscape and the spiny trunks line the trails.

Making matters more confusing is that there is a native tree that is very similar to the Japanese Angelica Tree (Aralia elata), called the Devils Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa), which does not grow in the Philadelphia region, but does grow naturally in Western Pennsylvania as well as parts of New Jersey, Delaware and much of the Eastern U.S.

The two species are related. The native one, in its natural range, is part of the natural system, while the exotic one has become a noxious pest.

For a while we thought the Japanese Angelica Tree was the native Devil’s Walking Stick. What we did not know was that even if it was the native tree, we were not in the natural range for the American Arialia spinosa. So even if it was the native Devils walking stick, it would still be out of its range in Philadelphia and therefore out of place.   We have learned that even ‘native’ plants still have this range, which varies throughout the country plant by plant, and if the plant is outside its historical, evolutionary range, than it is an alien.

We do not know what to expect from aliens. Usually it is something bad or out of the usual order. With plants, this is the case for many specimens that are introduced from other regions. They can take over and create problems. Insects such as the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) and now the stinkbug (Halyomorpha halys) are prime examples of alien species.

When examining native range maps of the many indigenous North American Plant species, as presented by the U.S. Geological Survey, there is to be found an intriguing world of plant species and their localized areas. The United States is divided up into a complex and entirely different world than what we generally perceive it to be; there is an astounding geographic dimension to the U.S. that  encompasses thousands of species, with real borders, completely different than those of states, counties and provinces. It is as if there are whole worlds of speciation and  delineation that we are for the most part completely unaware of!

We had no idea that in the Middle of Pennslvania there is a line where the native Devil’s Walking Stick’s range comes to a natural end.  And between this borderline and the infestations of the Devil’s Walking Stick’s genetic relative, The Japanese Angelica Tree in Morris Park is where our adventure starts out.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata,Wissahickon Valley Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata,Wissahickon Valley Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

We had always admired the binnately compound leaf of the Japanese Angelica tree, as illustrated above. What is pictured is one leaf, composed of a series of branches holding leaflets, in sets of two along each branch.

The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Staff, technician Luke Rhodes and Land Steward Thomas Dougherty alerted us to the designation of the species, the invasive Aralia elata, the Japanese Angelica Tree. After double checking this information out, our next question was what can we do about it?  We tried to chop them down, but the extensive root systems would send up new shoots.

Tom And Luke of Fairmount Park saw that Isabelle and I were serious about trying to eradicate this invasive, and we formed a partnership, and the eradication process had begun.  The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Staff tasked us volunteers with mapping the infestations and identifying target areas for eradication.  We chose sites that were the closest to forest areas that had the least invasives and the highest diversity of native flora.  Tom and Luke then applied the herbicide Garlon 4 ultra with a green dye ( to help identify applied specimens) in a basal bark application to the mature seed-producing specimens in a first pass attempt at eradication.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The process started: The mature specimens were treated with herbicide in the late winter, and they died by May or June. Above, the herbicide is applied around the bark at the base of the tree leading to the technical jargon basal bark herbicide application.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tom and Luke take a quick break. Luke is resting on a weed wrench, a tool that we volunteers were using to remove another invasive, the Burning Bush, the euonymus alatus.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Isabelle cracked a good joke to get us all to smile: From left: Jason Puglionesi, Sean Solomon, Luke Rhodes, Tom Dougherty.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fast forward to late Spring 2012, and the treated specimens have leafed out, only to begin dying off soon after.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

By summer, the trees are completely dead.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This is last year’s batch, treated in February of 2011, they are apparitions at this point, the whole stand has been crashing to the ground one by one.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Wissahickon Valley  Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Wissahickon Valley Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Here is a closer look at the fruits of the Angelica Tree, found in early August on a dense stand in The Wissahickon, in the Creshiem Valley section. Each tree produces hundreds of seeds on display in multiple circular clusters. The ripe seeds attract birds, who end up helping the plant spread its range rapidly. The irony is that while the birds get instant gratification from the berries, their spread is actually destroying habitats of other plants the birds depend on in the long term.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Wissahickon Valley  Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Wissahickon Valley Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Here is a seedling right next to our house, in an area where there had been no mature seed-producing specimens in the immediate vicinity. The seedlings number in the hundreds, and we have to hand pull each and every one. This seedling can grow up to three feet tall in one growing season.  In the areas where the seed-producing mature specimens have been eradicated, the now sunlit forest floor has erupted in a mass of seedlings so dense they number in the thousands. Many native plants and trees are among this startling infestation of noxious weeds, which necessitates hand pulling.

A daunting task to initiate!

 

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris  Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Meet the Friends of Haverford Trails- they are a neighboring Park Friends group working on an area that is part of the Cobbs Creek watershed. They came out to visit our site in July and were glad to lend a helping hand with our Aralia elata problem.

From left after Isabelle: Barry Pinheiro, Frances Heron, Joe Walker, Jane Horwitz, Roy Sandstrom and Peter Puglionesi.

We were able to pull a whole infestation of seedlings in a half hour! We spent the rest of the time touring the site and talking about native plants and trees as well as our volunteer projects.

We use thick gloves with those spiny stems.  The pulled specimens are scattered about the site, where they will die and return to organic matter, hopefully to be used by a native plant of local provenance.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris  Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

We discovered Jack-in- The Pulpit, Joe-Pye-Weed, White oak seedlings, Sassafrass and Dogwood in the area we worked on.

 

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Eradication initiation, Morris Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mass of Seedlings.

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Eradication initiation, Morris Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata, Eradication initiation, Morris Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Our friend Jason whom you have met from our Garlic Mustard adventures of 2012,  and his friend Skylar came out on August 2nd to help out as well, and we pulled seedlings for a short afternoon. We also pulled the invasive Japanese Stiltgrass along the trails. Skylar is holding a red Hickory leaf. Just the slightest hint of Fall in the air, eh?

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata,Wissahickon Valley Park ,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Japanese Angelica Tree, Aralia elata,Wissahickon Valley Park , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Last but not least, is a site of great interest in Fairmount Park, this is just a few yards north of Mom Rinker’s Rock, where the Toleration Statue is located.  Besides the lovely views and colorful history, this is a site of huge importance to us because growing there is the native shrub Hearts-A-bustin’, the Strawberry bush, the Euonymus americana, a beautiful and elegant shrub that has been passed over by the horticultural industry  in favor of the previously mentioned Burning bush, the invasive and noxious introduced but closely related shrub, Euonymus alatus, which has infested many areas of the Wissahickon as well as Morris Park. In fact the Euonymus alatus is found growing side by side with the native Euonymus americana, the Hearts-a-Bustin’.

Even more disturbing is that the Hearts-a-Bustin’ is being encroached upon by an infestation of  an aggressive  stand of the Japanese Angelica Tree!  In all of our adventures through the Fairmount Park System, we have never seen the Hearts-a-Bustin’, except at this one unusual site, and yet this special area is threatened by this same invasive as found throughout the park. A few good workdays the way we have been doing it could really help out this little place, where do we sign up?

Lessons learned: Nothing is as easy as we think it might be. Cannot underestimate a loaded seedbank.

While Humans have certainly created many conditions that are leading to environmental disfunction, habitat loss and species extirpation and extinction, there are some things we can do, and have fun doing them.

Traveling to nearby areas helps one learn more about your own area. In fact traveling and exploring is a great educational experience, and you will bring home a great perspective and knowledge.

A species outside its natural range has the potential to be a dangerous species: when considering plants it is all about the location, the provenance. A species will do everything it can to propagate, as it is programmed to do. When outside of its evolutionary system, it can become an unchecked variable, creating disorder to habitats that are not in any way evolved to absorb such a disturbance, requiring us humans to make ourselves useful and intervene.

Isabelle Dijols with a blooming Japanese Angelica Tree, Wissahickon Valley Park at Lincoln Drive, August 26th 2012

Isabelle Dijols with a blooming Japanese Angelica Tree, Wissahickon Valley Park at Lincoln Drive, August 26th 2012

Polyphemus moth

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

All day was spent riding SEPTA around the City Of Philadelphia. Past neighborhoods and factories, many of them in various states of decay. Still beautiful, like this Polyphemus moth in its final moments at the Chestnut Hill West SEPTA station.

The Polyphemus moth

The Polyphemus moth

It was still alive and fluttering among the weeds. Had never seen one before. This is a memorable moth!

The Polyphemus moth

The Polyphemus moth

This moth has seen better days. It still has all of the elements retained to just imagine what it was like. Its delicate wings are reminiscent of the flower petals of the Hibiscus moschutoes, the Rose Mallow, a  large six inch wide flower that is currently blooming in our area, which lasts only one day, sometimes two. The Polyphemus mothalso breaks ground in its size, reaching four inches in its span. The fleeting flower of the Rose mallow, like the Polyphemus moth, is a stunning display of size and color in the middle of the summer.

Hibiscus Moscheutos, Sanguine Root Native Plant Garden, Morris Park Road, Overbrook, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Hibiscus Moscheutos, Sanguine Root Native Plant Garden, Morris Park Road, Overbrook, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

One day, the Polyphemus moth in its peak will find its way to these pages full of flowers. The Hibiscus Moscheutos can be found in the sunny watery habitats in and around the City of Philadelphia. The ephemeral flowers drop to the ground in a withered state, like the Polyphemus moth yet still remaining a picture of beauty.

The flowers in our garden have lived a day-long life full of visits by pollinating bees.

In just a few days, what was once a magnificent flower will have decayed and returned to the soil of the earth.

Hibiscus moschuetos

Hibiscus moschuetos

We return to thoughts of our fair city and the state of our own habitat:

Chester Avenue, Southwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Chester Avenue, Southwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The City Of Philadelphia has many blocks of buildings in their final moments. Unlike the Polyphemus moth, these individual specimens could be saved and revitalized.

Memorial Avenue, East Parkside, West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Memorial Avenue, East Parkside, West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This West Philadelphia block, around the corner from our Parkside office, has suffered decay for many years, and it still has 2 blighted properties and a vacant lot on the row.  However, in just the past year, the second house from the left has been redeveloped by an investor, and because of the local historic designation of the neighborhood, the facade was restored in a sensible manner, as required by law.

Viola Street, East Parkside, West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Viola Street, East Parkside, West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This block has undergone a transformation. The Sanguine Root Parkside property is the 4th house from right, with the unpainted copper trimmings and bay window. This revitalized row of houses, also under the protection of historic status, has been endowed with new trees, and the gracious porches and stoops, freshly painted, enhance  the neighborhood’s street life.   Once blighted, with 2 houses slated for demolition, this row was saved and enhanced, and is now a cheerful and livable neighborhood.

Beauty is often fleeting. Great works of art and architecture often need the protection of an economically (and militarily) powerful state in order to be preserved for the few centuries at the most before the next violent upheaval.  Usually this is not good enough and if a piece of art is to last even 1000 years it often needs to be buried by the dust and accumulations of society, a hidden tomb, or by a catastrophic event, like Pompeii. The rest is left with us, our collective thoughts and feelings, often expressed emphatically, and also often enough felt and thought personally. Beauty is what is on our minds collectively though, and the natural world is our inspiration, once our earthly needs are met.

Only thin vestiges survive of our appreciation of nature and human society, usually carved in stone or left on a ceramic tile floor, sometimes paintings found in a cave, or in the intricacies of our languages and writing; our cultures survive as things of beauty, they are beatific, collective manifestations that we live in daily and do our best to maintain.

Beauty has become us, we strive for it to continue, and persevere, like nature, like the Polyphemus moth or the trees that grow from the once mowed fields and vacant lots. We look to something broader in scope than ourselves, our individual specimens. The culture is not enough beauty to satisfy our longings and innate comprehension of the universe. Our world has obvious connections that go beyond the collective culture and the societies of states and their need to militarize, subjugate, classify and control.

The fleeting beauty of the natural world has been a constant presence through all of the various societal manifestations. We are becoming aware that we are in fact a species evolving within an ecosystem, just like every other plant, butterfly and moth among us. We have created a language and understanding of spiritual dimensions, which allows us to accept the changes we need to adapt to the nature of the universe. We have also created a language and regimen of observation, which allows us to quantify and evaluate certain sections of the universe, to help us evolve. With these practices, we are collectively developing a curiosity for the beautiful.

The Polyphemus moth , a species older than all of humanity’s various attempts at sustaining beauty, a species that is still found on the thin layer of life on this earth, amidst the constantly changing City Of Philadelphia, still found decaying among the same old Oak Trees and Jewelweed that have been growing in this same spot for millennia, the Polyphemus moth is a species evolved and still surviving, it is a thing of beauty to be beholden by only us humans, who have evolved in our culture the sense of beauty and the sense to cultivate and propagate that sensibility and hopefully pass it on to the willing and interested.

Polyphemus moth

Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia Photo by Brian_Solomon_

 

SILVER MAPLE AT VALLEY FORGE

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Today, the adventure was to find Lobelia cardinalis, the Red Lobelia or Cardinal Flower, just growing in its natural habitat, perhaps along the banks of the Schuylkill River, where it has yet to be found. We set out to Valley Forge Historical Park, a little bit upstream from Philadelphia, where there is a great 3 mile long river path on the north side of the river just off of Trooper Road.  There is a boat launch, plenty of parking, bathrooms, signs and trails.   No Lobelia was spotted. There were lots of invasives, such as Purple Loosestrife, Japanese stiltgrass, Wineberry and Oriental Bittersweet.  The trail offered great views of the Schuylkill, with lots of Birds, including the Great Blue Heron.

Silver Maple, Valley Forge park, Pennsylvania

Silver Maple, Valley Forge park, Pennsylvania

(Acer saccharinum)

The Silver Maples just growing alongside the river was the real show. What a magnificent assortment of specimens growing in their native and natural habitat.

Silver Maple, Valley Forge park, Pennsylvania

Silver Maple, Valley Forge park, Pennsylvania

During the Revolutionary War, this exact spot was a hustle and bustle of barrels and provisions.

Silver Maple, Valley Forge park, Pennsylvania

Silver Maple, Valley Forge park, Pennsylvania

Now it is a place where trees grow and die, often falling into the river. A place where Bluebells bloom in the spring and people walk and jog.

The Silver Maple is a fast growing tree, reaching 25 feet in 10 years.  It has an aggressive root system, a much needed trait alongside a river that fluctuates in depth, often eroding its banks. It will grow sideways if need be.  It dies in the water, along with Sycamore, River Birch and Box Elder.

Silver Maple, Valley Forge park, Pennsylvania

Silver Maple, Valley Forge park, Pennsylvania

Above is the habitat of the Silver Maple, along the Schuylkill River at Valley Forge Park, Just north of Philadelphia.