THE SANGUINE ROOT VISITS THE SCHUYLKILL CENTER FOR ENVRONMENTAL EDUCATION
We sat down on the narrow trail to admire the Phlox and the bluebells in the early afternoon sunlight. Up the south facing hill we could see Trillium grandiflorum , Spring Beauty and Mayapple blooming away, their white and pink flowers glowing in the precious spring light. The Beech, Oak, Sycamore and Maples had not fully leafed out yet, creating a magnificent filtered light, a bathing light, a light the flowers soaked up, ripening their delicate petals until they filled to maturity until the last hour of total vibrance, the height of their full bloom.
To see these flowers at their peak is to see Spring, our recognition of this moment is our initiation into the rite of our personal passage into the season, with each flower we perceive, our sense of spring is that much more matured, we appreciate Spring and we begin to understand it . Once we have reached the awareness of Spring and its splendid beauty, it is ever so easy to see the decline: even the slightest wilt of the flowers is ours to behold, The Trilliums get an edge of brown around the edges, the bluebells lose their bluest of flowers to the sky ultimately, and we are left with our desire to see the newest and freshest bloom.
Spring is tulmultuous. Even seeing flowers we never got to see bloom withering away is unsettling; we were not there, Spring is moving too fast-its as if our own aspirations become tied to the blooms-What if we will never experience the true Spring, the Spring of all the flowers, the one Spring that will give us all that we need to be completely connected to the spring.
Spring will do that to us- an awakening that is vigorous and fresh, yet so full of uncertainties. There is something to be said for a Spring break.
Stop and see the flowers!
Your moment to become part of Spring is when you see the blooms and feel the air and recognize that a new time is here.
We were pleased to see that the invasive Garlic mustard had been removed from the area. Last year it was a disturbing presence among the trilliums and the bluebells. We found out that the 3rd saturday of every month is an invasive removal workday! What a great way to be a part of spring; volunteer your time doing environmental restoration in your local natural area! Now that the Garlic mustard has been removed for this year, the acorns can germinate, and the Beeches, Oaks, Maples and Sycamores can become the seedlings for the next generation of forest. This will be the forest that will maintain the biodiversity we have seen today. With all of the invasive species problems in the world today, the forests need us to come out and give a hand. It was truly heart-warming for us to see that the schuylkill environmental education center is making a concerted effort to restore their magnificent forest. We had a magical walk through the enchanting Ravine loop, and we would love to come out one day when we can and volunteer and to tell our own story of Morris Park.
Wish you were here! You could see the Manatees! So close you can see their whiskers as they look up at you. Park officials actually have to tell you to not try to pet them.
You would love the Bald Cypress trees.
There are magnificent specimens on the Wakulla River- we saw one that was 500 years young. So young that it could be expected to live another 500+ years in optimal conditions. It is called a Bald Cypress because it is a conifer that sheds its needles in the winter. The tree needs moving water to survive. In areas of stagnant water, a tree called the Pond Cypress grows. There is a debate in the scientific community on whether the Pond Cypress is a separate species from Bald Cypress or just a sub-species. One day, the Sanguine Root hopes to find a Pond Cypress in the great woods of the American South.
Outside of its natural range, the Bald Cypress, when cultivated will survive, but not be able to reproduce. The Bald Cypress has become fashionable as an urban street tree as well as a garden specimen. In fact, just footsteps from the Sanguine Root’s Parkside office in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a Bald Cypress! This specimen was most likely planted, being that the utmost northern edge of its natural range is in southern Delaware, about 100 miles south. If you live in Philadelphia, or are visiting and want to see, it is located on the south shore of Centennial Lake near Belmont Avenue.
Ancient remnants of them have been pulled out of swamps in New Jersey.
You would love to see the Anhinga bird, but here it is pictured for you. This bird loves to hunt for amphibians below the surface of the water and it will dive down to get them, moving through the water with ease, with just its head sticking out of the surface. It is able to do this because its feathers do not shed water easily, which allows it to sink in easily and stay down so it can hunt. A duck’s feathers shed water so easily that they cannot sink into the water and hunt as easily, because they are so lightweight and their bouyancy keeps them afloat. Birds are so light that it is difficult to be submerged in water at all. A duck is so light it is unlikely to go completely underwater to fetch a fish!
The Anhinga, however, are able to soak up enough water in their feathers that they can sink down and hunt for the fish and amphibians below the surface. But then again, nothing comes easy. The bird has to address the issue of waterlogged wings, hopefully after its meal has been achieved. Meal or not, the Anhinga has to get up in the last bits of sun and sit still with its wings spread all the way out so they can dry. The wet wings if not dried out could lead to a whole host of problems, most likely beginning with mold and moving on from there. The picture above is a classic Anhinga pose- drying out its wings.
You would love to have seen the picture above in person, but here it is. If you like Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura), this is the place. A tree full of them is a breathtaking sight. In Wakulla Springs, they often share a tree with the Anhinga.
In the above picture, along the water level, you will see some protrusions circling the Bald Cypress the Turkey Vultures are perched upon. You may notice in this particular picture how clearly these protrusions seem equally spaced in a circular fashion about the tree. These are indeed a part of the Bald Cypress tree. These protrusions, two to three feet above the water are called knees, and are a unique and distinguishing aspect of the Bald Cypress tree, aside from its buttressed trunks and seasonal defoliation of it needles.
The Knees are growing out of the shallow root systems of the Bald Cypress. From the above photograph, it can be easily ascertained that these knees are performing some vital function to the tree- like with the water-penetrating feathers of the Anhinga or the water-resisting feathers of the duck. Exactly what this function is, is still a matter of debate.
The conventional wisdom is that the knees provide much needed oxygen to the tree during times of flood. Scientists have chopped off all of the knees of trees and watched them survive through floods, thus creating a challenge to this ongoing theory. Now there is alot of talk about how the knees are actually a structural supporting system, especially for hurricanes, which the Bald Cypress has a strong track record of surviving. Looking at the picture above, from a structural point of view, this new theory has some weight. Just look at how this structure encircles the tree, with the vertical members providing a stiffness to the tree that conventional roots could not- a stiffening that could perhaps survive powerful and unrelenting hurricane winds. With all of this in mind, perhaps the oxygen theory also is true-the survival strategy of any species is multi-faceted. Trees can die from having their roots covered and choked off from the air.
You would love this debate that is going on down here. Can we solve once and for all the question of the Bald Cypress Knees? Come on down to Wakulla Springs and lets think about it!
Saving the most unique and precious for last, you would love to see the Manatees! They were the reason we came down here. Here we have a species of mammals that at last count is numbered in the thousands- around 4000 specimens minimum. That would be every member of this species existing on our planet. To be able to see the actual specimens in their ecosystem is a special occasion.
Thanks to Cathy Smith, a Tallahassee Florida schoolteacher who educates her students on the manatees that live just miles from her student’s homes, this experience was made possible. Cathy’s familiarity with Wakulla Springs and the many species of birds and plants that inhabit the area was also a great help in getting oriented to this fantastic environment.
Above, a Manatee is outfitted with an antenna and gps (global positioning system). This is a serious matter when this device is employed for scientific purposes. This is a species that is facing extinction.
The white markings seen just above the device’s strap are scars, most likely from contact with a watercraft. Many of the Manatees we saw had these scars. This is a common cause of injury and death for them.
The gps device has been tested and purportedly does not interfere with the ongoing daily activities of the Manatee. Since this device has been installed, the Manatees have been traced to go all the way to Massachusetts in the summer. The whole lives of Manatees can be monitored in a way never done before. With a species at the edge of survival, this intervention is necessary and can help us humans guide the path of action for the next decades. Our species has very possibly the means to allow the species of Manatees to survive.
Counting the Manatees is an important ongoing effort to gauge their population stability. We have no idea how many Manatees existed 50 years ago, because they were not counted.
The picture above was a unique moment for Sanguine Root staff photographer Sean Solomon. All of our discussions and explorations of plants and the botanical world ultimately are about diverse and sustainable ecosystems. An ecosystem that can sustain a magnificent wild creature such as the Manatee is supported by a multitude of native lifeforms- ultimately by a few key plants such as certain native seagrasses that require very specific environments to survive. Sustaining our beloved native animals and birds are the native plants they have evolved to depend on. Thinking about how we impact the habitats of these plants is a great way to approach our strategy to save the animals and birds. If we can sustain the native plants of an indigenous ecosystem, then we are well on our way to maintaining the more complex fauna that we value in our environment. This approach is one easier to comprehend and implement. If what we are doing is killing the plants, then the animals and birds are going to die too.
The number one human activity that is causing the threat of extinction to the Manatee is the loss of habitat. This is from overdevelopment that is killing off the habitats of the native seagrasses the Manatees depend on for food.
This next picture was taken just moments from the previous one of the full Manatee. Here we see the trees- The bald cypress, the ferns, a shrub layer and the water.
Reflecting upon all of this is an ecosystem that has existed for millennia, with a fossil record to back up this fact. Here it is, a part of the continuum, perhaps a vestige, but we still have it in our world, right here in our Florida.
In the two pictures above, there can bee seen a mass of green in the water. Much of this is an invasive plant called Hydrilla, which is a huge problem in Florida waters. It originated as an aquarium plant that escaped, most likely from aquariums being dumped into the water. The Park Ranger explained to us how these grasses have taken over and have crowded out much of the native plant life in the Wakulla River. In an interesting twist of events, the herbivorous Manatees are eating the Hydrilla! It would be interesting to find out if they really like it, whether it provides them enough nutrition, or if they have no choice but to eat it for survival, since it has replaced the native grasses.
In Wakulla Springs you can see a tree full of Turkey vultures and waters teeming with Manatees-Mammals ten feet in length that spend most of their time eating, resting and traveling!
It takes alot of ecosystem to support complex and large beings, like this Alligator.
And here we have an Anhinga that has dried out its wings and is just satisfied relaxing on this old tree branch.
You can write back on this postcard! Let us know your thoughts on our comment box!
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!
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.
We are cultivating one, and it is a great ornamental shrub that provides plenty of aesthetic beauty to the wintering landscape.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 .