Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April Fool's Day Field Trip

Exploring a stand of old-growth American beech before spring bud break
Every other year, my colleague and renowned restoration ecologist Steven Handel brings a group of upper-level undergraduates from Rutgers University in New Jersey to visit "my" preserve for a field trip to review ecological restoration strategies in a suburban context.  This year, he scheduled the trip for April Fool's Day, which was sunny and reasonably warm.  Chris, one of my land stewards, and I accompanied Dr. Handel and 20 students on a 2-hour walk through the preserve.

Chris (second from right) and Handel (third from right) discoursing on planting trees
Steven Handel lending his support to a large, old beech
On the floodplain
There are certainly no shortage of non-native, invasive plants growing in the preserve, but for some reason Dr. Handel has a special hatred for lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), an introduced buttercup that carpets any land where it gets established.  Since the plant favors (though is in no way restricted to) moist soils along floodplains, Handel really got revved up when we finally got to the stream bank.

Examining celandine up close and personal
Lesser celandine can reproduce three ways: by seed (not commonly), by tiny bulbs, and by aerial tubers that form on the stems.  The plant is especially successful on floodplains because flood waters can disturb or even uproot the plant and distribute the bulbs and tubers further downstream.  It's a lovely plant and I've seen people digging it up, presumably to plant in their gardens, though I warn people when I see them.  They have no idea about the monster they're inviting into their midst. 

I wish I could fish on a Monday afternoon
Before we completed our walk in the riparian area along the creek and headed back uphill, we came across several fishers trying their hand at landing a trout.  The state's Fish and Boat Commission won't stock trout in stream reaches that flow through private land like "my" preserve, but the local Trout Unlimited chapter meets monthly in our visitor center and stocks the creek themselves each year with about 200 brown trout.  Though any- and everyone is invited to fish, the club asks anglers to catch-and release.  Our creek is decidedly not a cold-water fishery, but some of the trout seem to overwinter.  Brown trout are pretty hardy; they're a European import that will take to most any water.


robin andrea said...

Always enjoy reading about the Field Trips into "your" preserve. Invasive species are SO INVASIVE (that's me yelling!). We have Scotch Broom here that has adapted quite well and is flourishing in its invasive way. That and the Himalayan Blackberry keep us pretty busy.

Scott said...

At least the blackberries produce tasty, edible fruits, Robin Andrea! I know - I've eaten them! As the group of students and I were discussing the lesser celandine infestation, I jokingly suggested that perhaps we could harvest the plant for food. Dr. Handel quickly put the kibosh on that suggestion, warning that members of the family Ranunculaceae often store cyanide as an herbivore deterrent.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Wordsworth wrote no less than three poems about the Lesser Celandine. Its old name is Pilewort as it was supposed to be a cure for that uncomfortable condition.

Scott said...

I noticed, when I was looking-up the proper term for the aerial bulbs that the plant produces, that it was called pilewort in my botanical reference, John. If it works to treat hemorrhoids, perhaps we could encourage an entrepreneur to harvest the plant for medicinal purposes!

packrat said...

Another excellent post, Scott. I hope those Rutgers students knew how lucky they were to get a guided tour from some experts in the field. I have to admit that the fact the students were from Rutgers made me think of the current problem with the fired basketball coach there.

Scott said...

I don't think that the students realize how lucky they are to take a class with Dr. Handel; he's among the tops in the pantheon of restoration thinkers and practitioners. The last time he brought his students to my preserve, I made that point expressly to the students, but I held back during this trip. It felt a bit too much like fawning.