Fagus grandifolia.  Walking Keeba on Saturday morning, we noticed that these two young Beech trees had different colors in the leaves.

This Monday morning, while walking Keeba, the Beech trees were rattling in the breeze.  The leaves of the Beeches stay on through the winter, and they turn yellow and brownish, and they get brittle.  When the wind blows the leaves rattle. On a quiet winter’s day, while working in Morris Park removing invasives, this rattling sound is the only sound in the forest.

The two beech trees in the photo above were covered with grape vines this fall. The one to the right is still leaning a bit from the vestigial impact of the vines. The Vines have been removed and the trees now have a chance to grow.

The fallen tree behind the Beeches is an oak tree, and its status is considered a log. A log is a fallen tree.

The very dark and thin tree to the left foreground is an American Chestnut (Castenea dentata).  This tree has been reduced to the status of a forest shrub or small tree, from originally the dominant forest tree in the canopy. The American Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) introduced from Asian chestnut trees is responsible for this condition.  The blight does not effect the tree below the ground, so the root systems are able to grow a new tree after the old one dies.  The thin tree to the left foreground may very well be hundreds of years old.  This specimen has been leafing out and growing taller year after year. However the blight, in the form of a fungus, tears apart the bark, and the tree may not live another year. (however the actual specimen will remain alive in its root system)  The roots have already sent out new shoots, which will grow into a new tree.

In Morris Park, there are a significant number of Chestnut trees in comparison to the rest of the city and county of Philadelphia.  This year, one of them even flowered and produced seeds, for the first time in at least five years (Since we first monitored them).

All of the trees we discussed today are in the same family, Fagaceae A family trait they all share is that they all retain some of their leaves throughout the winter.



The hooting began around 5:30 this evening and continued at regular intervals for about 20 minutes. The weather was for the first time in recent memory, much warmer (in the 40s) and sunny. The sunset made a nice glow on the forest.

a fleeting warm glow from the setting sun
A fleeting warm glow from the setting sun

Today the volunteer staff of the Sanguine Root focused on removing vines growing on small trees in an especially hard-hit area.  We encountered a variety of situations and species.  The biggest success story is a mature Dogwood tree (Cornus Florida) that had grape vines  all over it last Spring, hanging so heavily, the tree was in danger of collapse.  In June of 2010, the vines were clipped. Today, those vines were removed from the tree, leaving it with a great form and intact integrity.  Hopefully it will flower this upcoming spring.

The Grape vines had claimed another Dogwood however. This one had all of its main branches broken.  The vines were removed and  the broken branches pruned off.  There is hope because new shoots were coming up from the stump-like top of the tree.

As much as we love the native grape vines, they are a woodland edge species, that grow in areas with a decent amount of sun, like river banks, and the edges of forests. In the blighted areas of Morris Park, the woodland edge species have an advantage when there are so many trees missing from the equation. With this advantage, they can become aggressive and destructive, perpetuating a situation of canopy holes, which benefits the vines further.

Woodland pioneer Sassafrass overtaken with Grape Vines.  Morris Park Philadelphia
Woodland Pioneer Sassafrass overtaken by grape vines. Morris Park Philadelphia

With the issue of grape vines, we must ask ourselves, what do we want?  If we want a forest, then the vines need to be controlled and monitored, so that trees can grow from saplings to maturity.

Being that our section of Morris Park is a Fairmount Park woodland area, it is our mandate to maintain this status.

Whether or not the grape vines that are growing here are even native has not been determined to our knowledge.

The Sassafrass tree to the left was in danger of having all of its main branches broken.  However, this afternoon, the vines have been removed, and the tree should be good to go. This specific specimen had a great well rounded sassafrass form, and it contributes to the health and well-being of this forest under stress.

Isabelle rescued this small tree from the invasive exotic Multiflora Rose
Isabelle rescued this small tree from the invasive exotic Multiflora Rose

This one we have not yet been able to identify.  It may be a crabapple. The Rosa multiflora and the Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle) were having the run of the place until they met Isabelle Dijols (Homo sapiens sapiens).  After the vines have been removed, this tree now has a chance of survival.  We will revisit this specimen, identify it and rephotograph it in the spring. Look forward to updates on this specific tree. ( note the iconic pair of Tulip Poplars in the backround (Liriodendron tulipifera).

In just a few hours time, many trees and shrubs were de-vined.  A fine specimen of Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) was de-vined and there were numerous Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) that were over-run with Lonicera japonica . Also notably, was Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra).  The hickories fare the best when covered with vines, although they can still be broken and severely compromised . Even the tree that is used for hammer, axe and mattock handles can be brought down by invasive vines.

Burning bush roots(Euonymus alatus)  Morris Park Philadelphia
Burning Bush roots Morris Park Philadelphia (Euonymus alatus)

The Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) was pervasive in this area, and we pulled them up.  The shallow root system and the loose soil makes this possible. With this plant, we always make sure we get every part of it out of the soil, otherwise it will regrow. Removing it from the soil requires lots of gentle tugs and back and forth movements. Eventually we can actually pull up on the stem and get the whole plant out, leaving no roots behind. The best time to do this is when the soil is wet and loose, like it was today.

Once removed, we try to put the soil back the way it was and put the leaf layer back on top. Soil is to be disturbed as little as possible. The best work is the work unnoticed, as if there was never a problem in the first place. Disturbed soil can lead to all kinds of problems.  Invasive plants can get a better foothold in disturbed soil, from seed germination to encroachment from roots.

Last night the fog rolled in and the forest was enchanting
Last night the fog rolled in and the forest of Morris Park was enchanting

It was a quiet and peaceful day in Morris Park.  One of our pruners lost a spring and 15 minutes was spent looking for it with no success. One specimen of Japanese Barberry was found with some alarm. Many small trees and shrubs have been readied for the spring.

The last photo here was taken last night as a gentle fog rolled into the area.  Fog is a welcome sight in the beginning of February. A subtle reminder of spring that is only less than 50 days away.



A calm and rainy saturday morning. Droplets adorn this spicebush in the area of concern

This widespread and problematic invasive (Berberis thunbergii) was found at 2:30 pm Saturday, in an area of Morris Park that had not been previously associated with this plant. Complicating the situation was the fact that there were still seed-bearing berries on the stem.  At any moment these berries could have been released into the wild, further propagating the species and infesting forests in the region.  Each berry was potentially a moment away from a hungry bird eating it and depositing the seeds in a new location where they could form an infestation, crowding out native understory plants, and threatening the very ecosystem that sustains the bird’s longterm survival.

The Japanese Barberry specimen with berries

Containment commenced immediately. Plastic bags were pressed into service, and all parts of the plants containing berries were enclosed and removed from the site. Parts of the specimen without  seeds were saved for further study, being that this plant is not a common invasive in this area of Morris Park .

An assessment of the immediate area was the logical next step, and sure enough, several other specimens of Japanese Barberry were found and  contained within the next hour.

Japanese Barberry root
Japanese Barberry root

This was a difficult situation for Sean Solomon, while disturbed at these latest findings, was pleased by the manner and efficiency of the response. He was the one volunteer to discover the plant. Asked about his reactions, Mr Solomon said ” I’m not surprised about it, but then again I didn’t think it would be in this specific area. Thats the upsetting part.  I’m just glad we got it.  For now its being dealt with in a responsible manner…. There’s alot of woods in this area that don’t have Japanese Barberry infestations, and if we find it we have to deal with it.”

Mr Solomon’s childhood home in Massachusetts had Japanese Barberry infestations throughout its forested areas, so this finding was especially difficult for him.  ” I never knew what it was before, except it was everywhere and it was unpleasant.”

Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park staff identified a specimen of Japanese Barberry on the Morris Park Road path, long since removed , as a problem invasive, and it made sense after that.  “Thats it!” Mr Solomon  said  ” I checked it out online, and looked it up in The Plants Of Pennsylvania, and it was true, this plant does not belong in our forests, it is a widespread pest.”

The Japanese Barberry was found during a routine management exercise of another widespread invasive shrub Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus) . What started out as an uneventful, rainy afternoon, controlling a known problematic invasive ended up with a startling but not altogether unexpected finding.  While not a widespread invasive in Morris Park, Japanese Barberry is considered a widespread invasive by the New Jersey Emerging Invasive Strike Team.  This organization has classified the priority of concern of this plant  as a lower priority than removing exotic species that have the potential of becoming widespread.

Burning bush infestation

This is a theme that penetrates the field of environmental restoration, from Oregon to England as far as we know:  When addressing environmental concerns, we must choose our battles, as resources permit; first we fight the battles we have the best chance of winning.  The highest priority is to protect the most untouched and un-intruded natural areas.  The intervention and restoration of infested and degraded areas follows, in order of our chances of success.

Invasive exotic burning bush, close-up of stem

The Eunymous alatus has become a widespread invasive in our area of concern in Morris Park. Note the corky wings along the stems.  We have been removing this understory bush for three years.