Monday, August 13, 2012

Saturday, Creekside

While the temperatures were only in the low 80s on Saturday morning, the humidity was nearing double digits.  Nevertheless, fearing a case of air conditioning cabin fever, Kali and I took a walk along the creek.  We came back soaked with sweat ("My clothes are only good for a half-day!" lamented Kali), but more limber for having explored the late summer riparian woods.

We came across a sprawl of dodder (Cuscuta spp.) growing among Green-headed Coneflowers (Rudbeckia laciniata) on the streambank.  The Philadelphia Inquirer did a fascinating story about the New Jersey cranberry bogs a few weeks ago, quoting a farmer who said that he and his crew have to be extraordinarily diligent about controlling dodder or it will kill all of the cranberry plants.  I'm really fascinated by unusual plants like the non-photosynthetic, parasitic dodder, which looks like orange Silly String sprayed on the hapless victims, but the patches that I find are never huge, won't threaten to wipe out the streamside vegetation, and don't appear every year.

Green-headed Coneflowers have come into their own along the banks of the creek as they do each year in August.  I find Asians furtively harvesting the plant's tender basal leaves in early spring and have to stop them because collecting is not permitted in the preserve; their gleaning doesn't seem to make a dent in the population, though.

Another plant coming into its own is porcelain-berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) - my nemesis.  So named because the bright blue, speckled berries reminded people of porcelain doorknobs, this non-native, invasive vine, a member of the grape family (Vitaceae), is the bane of my professional existence.

Come hither, oh ye legions of birds!  Eat me and poop me out everywhere!

My staff has been clearing a thicket over the last week or so.  This doe took advantage of the clearing to gain easy access to the interior, where she might find some particularly succulent sprouts.  One of the things my staff found while clearing the tangle was a stand of a dozen marijuana plants, carefully staked with camouflaged stakes and obviously well tended.  We've set-up a trail camera in the adjacent woodland, but have yet to get a shot of the entrepreneurial farmer.

 Later in the afternoon, we returned to the creek for "Crayfish Catch."  Despite the efforts of thirty or so people in the riffles, we only roused three crayfish (and a Northern Water Snake).  The creek doesn't provide good habitat for crayfish and their ilk; while the water is of high enough quality to support them, the streambed is so full of sediment that it fills the interstices between the rocks and stones.

The winning catch (in terms of size)


Carolyn H said...

Scott: interesting how different your woods are from mine. I don't think I've ever seen porcelein berry or dodder here. And I have the traditional brown-eyed susans, rarely the green-eyed ones that you have.

packrat said...


I'm reading along, enjoying my "lesson" regarding your local flora when the marijuana patch comment caught me completely by surprise. The Mary Jane moxy of these people is quite astounding. Can't wait for further updates.

Scott said...

Carolyn: You don't WANT to see porcelain-berry in your woods! Dodder's OK, and it's fascinating. There are 10 species of dodder in Pennsylvania (including 2 introduced species); some are widely distributed, and some are very restricted. Three species are listed (or proposed for listing) under the Pennsylvania Wild Plant Conservation Act. I've only ever seen the plant growing in sunny riparian openings parasitising herbaceous vegetation like touch-me-nots.

Scott said...

Packrat: We come across marijuana patches like this every few years, though this year's may be the most elaborate setup we've encountered to date. Usually it's just one or two scattered plants hidden in a dog-hair thicket. We even caught one kid red-handed, carrying in a seedling swaddled in a blanket. I didn't prosecute the kid--I just told him to hit the road; he probably snuck back in at another entrance.