WITCH-HAZEL BLOOMS

Hamamelis virginiana

The leaves in the forest are turning colors and falling. The vase-shaped Witch Hazel shrubs have yellowing leaves and it has blooming yellow flowers!

Witch-Hazel, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Witch-Hazel, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This native understory shrub is going along with the fall program and its flowers can be easily overlooked amidst the backdrop of yellowing leaves.  It is hard to believe that it has just produced these fresh yellow flowers while every other plant around is going into winter dormancy.   The cold actually helps preserve the flowers, and they stay on longer, giving the plant a whole month-long flowering period.

Witch-Hazel, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Witch-Hazel, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

We are cultivating one, and it is a great ornamental shrub that provides plenty of aesthetic beauty to the wintering landscape.

Witch-Hazel, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Witch-Hazel, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In the photo above can be seen the old seed capsules that have ejected the seeds, possibly 25 feet away!  We have a friend who has heard them popping the seed capsules while hiking deep in the forest.

The twigs were used as divining rods, which means they were employed to find water.  The bending sticks was called Wiche in Middle English.   While no connection to witches, this blooming shrub around Halloween has our imaginations going.

Japanese Maple, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Japanese Maple, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Acer palmatum

Deeper into the forest we ventured and we climbed a hillside, off the more populated trail.  It got darker and darker very suddenly. We looked up through a massive thicket of AAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGH!!!!!!!! –  Japanese Maple!

Run for the hills!  No! The hills are covered with them.  They are everywhere!  We’re trapped!  The leaves are shading out everything in sight! They are growing like mad!  They’ve cross-pollinated!  They are reverting to the straight species just like found in the wild in Japan, Korea, China and parts of Mongolia and Russia!  The straight species is not a pretty sight in the natural forest of the Wissahickon Valley.

Let’s not panic, while this is a creepy place, there is still a native plant here and there.  At least for now.  The native plants may be able to lead us out of this horrifying scene.

Japanese Maple, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Japanese Maple, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

What is more frightening is that if we make it out of here and tell local homeowners about our terrifying experience, they could be dismissive or even hostile.  How will we ever explain to them the horrors of escaped Japanese maples in the natural lands without them getting a bit itchy?   These trees are beloved garden ornamentals.  It costs hundreds of dollars to have a small one in your yard.  In some neighborhoods it seems as if they are required plantings!

Japanese Maple, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Japanese Maple, Wissahickon Valley park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

How will we ever explain in the simplest of language that an ornamental cultivar that everyone has in their yard and has a beautiful shape and deep red leaves is now a potential hazard to our natural forests?   That it seeds itself prolifically, and it is highly variable outside of cultivation, resulting in green leaves and a non-compact shape and an adaptability to a variety of conditions.  Without any predation (Deer have no taste for it), these conditions are ripe for this plant to become an invasive.

Japanese Maple, Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Japanese Maple, Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Looking ahead, the future of the lands we come across in life are always facing serious challenges, and when it comes to this emerging invasive, Japanese Maple, it is easy to visualize whole invasions that wipe out native forests in the next 100 years.  The Sanguine Root recommends against planting this tree.

We survived the invasion of our Sunday afternoon in the Park.

We had a Japanese Maple in our yard, which has been removed.  We find them frequently in Morris Park, and we yank them out of the soil, and let them die and decompose on the surface of the forest floor, where they will  hopefully become a native plant .

HEARTS-A-BUSTIN’

Euonymus americanus

Hearts-a-bustin',  Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Hearts-a-bustin', Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It is heartbreaking sometimes when we walk through a degraded forest in an urban setting. We set out on a sunday looking for good times and a happy woodland only to find weeds from other continents filling up the forest floor, with the remaining native trees cracked, broken and stunted by invasive vines introduced as ornamentals.  Our hearts sink heavier when the shrub layer is dominated by the invasive  Euonymus alatus, an Asian shrub introduced as an ornamental that has jumped the fence and is rapidly expanding into forests all around our region. This shrub shades out the native understory, allowing non-native shade tolerant plants to grow.

The invasive Euonymous alatus, commonly referred to as the Burning Bush also has a native counterpart, the Euonymous Americana!  This is the Strawberry bush,  The hearts- bursting -with -love, or our favorite common name, the Hearts-a-bustin’.

Isabelle with the shrub Hearts-a-bustin',  Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Isabelle with the shrub Hearts-a-bustin', Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

So we are exploring the new and improved trail at Kitchen’s Lane in The Wissahickon Valley Park this fine October afternoon.  We are noting the invasives in this one area that are stifling the forest.  We notice that as we get closer to a neighborhood, the more invasives there are.  Wouldn’t it be great if the folks on this adjacent block could get together and learn about this forest and try to rescue it from this blight?  It is even more heart breaking to see that grass-clippings, Christmas trees, and garden waste are dumped into the forest as if this is somehow improving it.  The garden waste ends up spreading into the forest whatever trendy exotic plant the horticultural industry has people believing is a must-have.  The usual suspects, Pakisandra, English Ivy, Vinca Vine and the Burning Bush. We wonder what used to grow here.  We see some blooming Asters and Goldenrod  trying to make it past the invasives and begin to feel better.

 The shrub Hearts-a-bustin',  Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The shrub Hearts-a-bustin', Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

We most certainly did not come here to be depressed about all of the problems, but to see the beauty in nature.  We must find the pathway of beauty, and that was on our path!   Suddenly through the thickets we found the Hearts-a-Bustin’, the native Euonymus Americana!  They were glowing like bright red orbs.

Isabelle, isnt this the native Euonymus…

Immediately upon inspection Isabelle began to sing the song Hearts-a-Bustin’ , written by Billy Joe Shaver as performed by  Jimmie Dale Gilmore.  We found out about this plant through this song, which we heard on Whyy’s Fresh Air program, but had never actually seen one until this special day.

“Hearts-a-bustin’ is a beautiful flower

growing down by the river

 

 The shrub Hearts-a-bustin',  Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The shrub Hearts-a-bustin', Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It is the formation of the fruit, not the flower that gives this native shrub its many engaging common names.

 The shrub Hearts-a-bustin',  Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The shrub Hearts-a-bustin', Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Seeing a whole colony of them was heart-warming.

 

 The shrub Hearts-a-bustin',  Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The shrub Hearts-a-bustin', Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

How to tell the difference between the native Euonymus americanus and the invasive exotic Euonymus alatus:   The top picture is the native americanus.  It has a green stem. The picture below is the invasive alatus.  It has corky wings on the green stem, usually at 90 degree intervals around the round stem.  There are differences in the fruits, flowers and leaves, but the most obvious one is the “wings” on the alatus, which can be attributed to its other common name, the Winged euonymus.

Burning bush, Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Burning bush, Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The difference in the fruit is that the native Strawberry Bush has its fruit in a distinct cluster, topped with the  bright pink show-stopping shell, that hints at a strawberry.

Burning bush, Morris Park, Philadelphia
Burning bush, Morris Park, Philadelphia

The  non-native Burning Bush displays its fruit as individual red berries.  The leaves, if exposed to sunlight, turn bright red in the fall, hence its common name.  This characteristic has invited interest from the horticultural industry for use as an ornamental.  Having escaped from the parking lot of the interstate rest stop, and gas stations across the northeast, it has invaded many a forest where it does not display any ornamental features. Instead, it grows wild,  takes over and rapidly shades out native plants, creating an ugly impenetrable thicket .

 The shrub Hearts-a-bustin',  Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The shrub Hearts-a-bustin', Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

We wish the horticultural industry would promote the native shrub, which we believe is very elegant and stunning.

DOWN BY THE RIVER

Isabelle enjoys Darby Creek,  John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
Isabelle enjoys Darby Creek, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

What a better way to spend the July 4th weekend than down by the water.  The old canoe in the basement was dragged out and strapped onto the Subaru station wagon and brought down to the only freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania. This is what Indian creek, our Morris park creek drains into.  Here is Isabelle canoeing on Darby Creek.

 

Staghorn Sumac, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Staghorn Sumac, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

We also dusted off the 1959 Chevrolet Impala sitting in the driveway and headed for the Schuylkill River in West Fairmount Park.

Isabelle buffs up our 1959 Chevrolet Impala in West Fairmount Park
Isabelle buffs up our 1959 Chevrolet Impala in West Fairmount Park

Before cruising the Belmont Plateau we settled in for a leisurely park and walked along the river.  Here we discovered a nice patch of Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) just below the Strawberry Mansion Bridge.

Staghorn Sumac and the Tree of heaven, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Staghorn Sumac and the Tree of heaven, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

The picture above may seem pretty straightforward but is actually an astonishing representation of two different species altogether.  To the upper right is the native Staghorn Sumac.  The lower left is the non-native invasive  Tree-of -Heaven (Ailanthus altissima).  They both look so similar at first glance and are growing right next to each other, with pinnately compound leaves about the same size with reddish leaf stems. To the untrained eye these two trees look almost identical.  We bring this up because there are just a few Staghorn sumac specimens growing in our area of scope in Morris Park, and they are surrounded by Ailanthus. Knowing the differences is helpful when we undertake our yearly maintenance effort at pulling the hundreds of Ailanthus seedlings up.

Staghorn Sumac, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Staghorn Sumac, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

The leaflets of the  Staghorn sumac are dentate, with toothlike edges, while the Ailanthus  leaflets are smooth. The young twigs of the Staghorn sumac are densely hairy, a give-away characteristic of this large shrub or small tree, as well as the origin of its common name.  The dense hairs along the new growth resembles that of the antlers of a young male deer. The Staghorn sumac has incredible ornamental value.  Its reddish-brown seedpods and lush pinnately compound leaves and shrub status make it a great back-round plant.  Isabelle’s brother has one in his back yard in the suburbs of Paris, France.  Every year he prunes it so it has a nice shape.

Jewelweed in the Wissahickon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jewelweed in the Wissahickon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

On July 4th itself we chose the Wissahickon to spend the afternoon walking Keeba, only 15 minutes drive from Morris Park.  Here we explore a magnificent patch of the native wildflower Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).  This one tops the list of our favorite flowers. We look forward to seeing them flower every summer.  We were careful to make sure Keeba did not prance about in this patch of very delicate plants.  The blue-green stems are very fragile.

Tulip Poplars in the Wissahickon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Tulip Poplars in the Wissahickon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Tulip poplars in The Wissahickon are memorable.