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.
We also dusted off the 1959 Chevrolet Impala sitting in the driveway and headed for the Schuylkill River 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
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.
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.
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.
The Tulip poplars in The Wissahickon are memorable.
THE SANGUINE ROOT VISITED THE SCHUYLKILL CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND LEFT WITH A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF NATURE AFTER A LONG HIKE AND SOME GREAT NATIVE PLANTS PURCHASED AT THEIR NATIVE PLANT SALE.
We had no idea what to expect. We came with an open mind and the native plant sale had two small trees/large shrubs we had been planning to purchase for our back alley for some time now. These would be a Serviceberry and a Pussy Willow. We also bought Joe-pye weed for our sunny back-yard. We also bought one more Pinxterbloom Azalea. We examined each and every plant at the sale. The Trillium grandiflorum, pictured above growing in the wild, was available. We had never been to the Schuylkill Center before, and the native plant sale was our introduction. We wanted to tour the grounds, which included a ravine that leads to the Schuylkill River. A ravine holds promise of wildflowers and a unique environment. The staff was very accommodating and let us store our new plants in a safe place, while we explored the property.
The center itself is located on what was farmland until the mid 1960s. So the path down to the ravine was a lesson for us in reforestation. What we saw was a 45 year old forest. There were whole areas, where there were no other trees but the pioneer native species Sassafrass albidum. A few Tulip Poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) and Flowering Dogwood were also noted (the blooming Dogwood was very noticeable and beautiful). The shrub and herb layer was dominated by the exotic invasives Japanese honeysuckle, Asiatic bittersweet, Garlic Mustard, Wineberry and Privet. We also saw the Japanese Angelica tree in an advanced state of infiltration, with mature stands. Even with the multitude of environmental problems, there was evidence that there was a concerted effort at reforestation and invasive management. Vines were being removed from trees in an effort to allow reforestation to restore the canopy. Deer fencing was initiated, presumably to allow oaks, beeches and hickories a chance at creating a healthy canopy, as well as fostering a diverse woodland habitat of shrub and herbaceous species and the insects and birds that depend on them.
45 years after a farmland was purposely allowed to begin reforestation, with some help along the way. Note the flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).
The Sassafrass trees above have been through some tough times. With a bit of human intervention, the vines were removed and the trees were able to continue growing. In the middle of this picture, there is visible evidence of vines that were strangling the trees at one time.
Blooming stands of Mayapples were to be found growing alongside the Japanese Honeysuckle in the former farm fields. We also saw Jack-in-the-pulpit, Spring beauties and Wild geranium in this emerging native forest. The Schuylkill Center provides visitors with a very useful and informative pamphlet that has a map, as seen in Sean’s hand.
At one point the path dipped and the grade became noticeably steeper. We began to enter an area that was no longer a former farm field, but a vestigial woodland, left undisturbed for the most part. Immediately there were an abundance of ferns, False and true Solomon’s Seal, and Trillium erectum pictured above and below. We had entered a protected rich ravine of the Schuylkill River Valley.
This ravine reminded us of Shenks Ferry, along the Susquehanna River. Here we are, in the City of Philadelphia, with Blooming stands of Trillium before us, along with an abundance of Blue phlox,Virginia Bluebells, Spring Beauties, Mayapples, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Wild geranium, and Violets.
There are vast stands of the Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) along the path.
The Blue Phlox (Phlox paniculata) was at its peak, with large colonies blooming all along the gently winding ravine path. This was the first time we had ever seen such a magnificent display.
We noticed that there was not a problem with the invasive Lesser celandine (Rununculas ficaria), in this area, and we are grateful of that. An area such as this should be protected from this menacing invasive. However, there was a problem with Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) growing in the ravine, much of this side-by -side with Trillium grandiflorum, Trillium erectum and Trillium cernuum.
We thought that if this ravine was within the scope of our environmental restoration activities, we would remove the invasives from this most spectacular ravine first and foremost, with the intention to prioritize the least disturbed areas.
The Geranium maculatum, our Wild geranium is beginning to bloom. Note the ferns in the backround.
Finding the Trillium grandiflorum blooming in the wild was a pleasant surprise. This was the only spot we had ever seen it in the City of Philadelphia just growing on its own. Note the Bluebell at the far right of the picture.
We got the chance to see the Spicebush swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus). This one stood still for us to get a picture. What a magnificent butterfly!
For the past week, we had been trying to get a picture of a smaller white butterfly that has been flying around the Garlic Mustard in Morris Park. However this white butterfly will not stay still long enough for us to identify and photograph it.
The Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) has reached a mature size on this April 3oth 2011 here in Philadelphia. Sean (For size) is almost dwarfed by the grand leaves of this much admired native wetland plant.
If you find this tree on your property, or on land in which you are engaged in a stewardship role, we at the Sanguine Root strongly encourage you to make all efforts at eradicating this tree. The trees are spreading at an alarming rate in our area, and we do not yet know the full effects of this emerging invasive. It can be easily confused with the native Aralia spinosa, a North American native tree that does not naturally grow in the Philadelphia region.
The invasive Wisteria was found in a former farm field. We are very worried about this one because it has invaded a section of Morris Park covering several acres.
The Schuylkill Center For Environmental Education was a special day for us. We experienced the whole routine of a degraded urban forest (our daily reality), a serious effort at environmental restoration (Also a daily activity), and a magnificent forest full of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that we want to protect and save. We are so happy to have visited this great place just a few miles from Morris Park that we feel a true kinship with.
We at the Sanguine Root have been actively visiting sites across the city and across the region, where there is work being done similar to ours. We want to be able to learn from the successes and mistakes of others, to broaden our horizon. To be able to compare and contrast is important in any milieu. Of course we can always do better, but are there mistakes we can avoid? Is there a more efficient way to achieve our goals? Or do we get confirmation that we are on the right track, that we are actually doing alot of the right things?
These questions are part of why we visit so many other sites in our adventure in urban environmental restoration. We learn so much from visiting other areas of Fairmount Park, or natural areas such as the Schuylkill Center. Just seeing what plants grow where and why helps us understand why the plants that grow in Morris Park grow where they grow.
IN WEST FAIRMOUNT PARK, JUST STEPS FROM MEMORIAL HALL, HOME OF THE PLEASE TOUCH MUSEUM IN THE CENTENNIAL DISTRICT, IS A RICH RAVINE OF THE SCHUYLKILL RIVER. BLOOMING FLOWERS ABOUND IN THIS BEAUTIFUL HABITAT UNDER STRESS.
A rich ravine right here in Philadelphia. Abundantly growing Mayapples are still holding on amidst the invasive exotic English Ivy (Hedera helix).
Erythronium americanum, Trout lily, prepares to bloom in the Sweetbriar Vale.
Such a spectacular display of flowers.
This one is being visited by a pollinating insect. This moment is why the plant sent up a flower, so that insects would be attracted to it, and consume its nectar and ultimately the flower’s sticky pollen would be attached to the insect and brought to another flower, where it would be deposited and end up fertilizing the other flower.
The vale is without any trails, so getting these shots required going along the tops of logs or stepping very carefully to avoid crushing any plants.
There is a small patch of the exotic invasive Japanese Knotweed growing here, pictured at the top left of this picture. About 20 plants. Some action was taken and the new canes were broken, which hopefully will slow them down enough until professional help can be secured to control this noxious pest. The Japanese knotweed was growing next to the most lush patch of Mayapples and Trout lilies in the whole vale.
It would be great if the English Ivy was removed, a job that must be done in the winter months or at least after the Spring Ephemerals go dormant. The Sanguine Root does have a branch office in our locally and nationally designated historic Victorian house just a five minutes walk from the Sweetbriar Vale in the Parkside neighborhood. Perhaps one day we could take on such a vital project of removing the English ivy. This is not a technically challenging restoration like many of the ones we are taking on in Morris Park. The Ivy is just pulled up, bagged, and removed from the site.
We are also happy that an introduced tree, the Chinese cedar or Chinese toon (Cedrela sinensis) is being removed from the vale thru an initiative of the Parks and Recreation Department of The City Of Philadelphia. This tree was beginning to spread at an alarming rate. There are also some Norway maples that are being removed.
With the Centennial District becoming a family destination, and with its close proximity to the Microsoft School Of The Future, this vale could become a great way to display a Northeastern Deciduous Forest ecosystem to the general public and students. The potential of this vale to add to the Centennial District is great. Currently it is used by the general public as a bathroom for the recreation events that occur in the adjacent ballfields.
The Historic Parkside neighborhood is the next door neighbor of Sweetbriar Vale. This is where the Sanguine Root has a branch office. From where this picture was taken was the former site of the Main Exhibition Hall of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, an historic event that changed American culture and introduced many exotic species to the park, some of which have become problematic pests. The Centennial Exhibition introduced Japanese culture and art to the west, and Americans went wild, from the exotic patterns that found their way on wallpaper, to the exotic ornamental asian plants that found their way into the yards of the well-to do and eventually into the common nursery trade and ultimately into the remaining natural areas where they went wild and took over. The wallpaper, however is truly exquisite, and can still be obtained from companies that have revived the original Japanesque patterns from old samples found on forgotten, covered-up corners in old houses.