The sunrise was gorgeous and cold last Wednesday when a group of us decided to walk at Jennings in Butler County. We saw few birds but there were ice heaves, buttress roots on an elm, and the seeds of old man’s beard (Clematis drummondii).
When old man’s beard is in bloom it’s called virgin’s bower, transforming it from a young woman to an old man in a matter of months.
My friends who live north of the city have not seen many dark-eyed juncos at their feeders this winter, but juncos are definitely present at the Frick Park Environmental Education Center. Charity Kheshgi posted photos of our recent trip to Frick.
This week’s rain dampened outdoor activities but there were still some things to see.
Chainsaw tree “trimming” continues in the city. This red oak had a hollow core so it was chopped down in late December at Anderson Playground in Schenley Park. Can you count the rings and determine its age?
On 3 January rain flecked the camera as Ecco stopped by for a visit. Notice how wet his head is!
On 4 January the rain finally stopped and the moon shone at 8pm.
When the cold snap ended on 28 December the ice thawed and the creeks began running again. Listen to the sound of Panther Hollow Run in Schenley Park on 30 December 2022.
At Thanksgiving in Kutztown, PA I was stunned to see a solid wall of arborvitae bordering a neighborhood. In Pittsburgh’s East End, arborvitae is always bare from the ground to 4-5 five feet up, eaten by our overpopulated deer. Here’s a row of arborvitae at Schenley Park golf course.
Why didn’t deer browse the Kutztown trees? My guess is that they are the Green Giant variety of Western arborvitaes. Davey Tree explains:
Deer don’t care for Western arborvitaes, like green giant, steeplechase or spring grove. So, if you plant these, they may leave them alone.
Though, when deer are starving, they become less picky and will eat almost anything, including those deer-resistant arborvitaes. If deer are a big problem in your yard, avoid arborvitae altogether.
In 1976 Jerry Kemperman and Burton Barnes discovered that 106 acres of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the Fishlake National Forest of Utah were actually all the same male plant, one root with thousands of suckers that grew into trees. It came to be known as Pando — “I spread.”
Pando weighs 6,600 tons making it the heaviest known organism on Earth and it is very old, though no one is sure whether it’s 10,000 or 80,000 or even a million years old.
However, almost as soon as Pando was discovered researchers found that sections of it were not rejuvenating because new sprouts were being overbrowsed by deer. In that part of the U.S. the species is mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus).
So they fenced it — twice — one fence in 2013, another in 2014.
Then in 2018 Paul Rogers and Darren McAvoy of Utah State University conducted a followup study sampling Pando’s health inside and outside the deer exclosure fences and concluded that the fencing was not working.
According to September 2022 Sci.News “The unfenced areas are experiencing the most rapid aspen decline, while the fenced areas are taking their own unique courses — in effect, breaking up this unique, historically uniform, forest. … Fencing alone is encouraging single-aged regeneration in a forest that has sustained itself over the centuries by varying growth.”
“One clear lesson emerges here: we cannot independently manage wildlife and forests.”
Aldo Leopold’s experience in his early career when he worked to eradicate wolves from the American West changed his perspective on trees and deer. At one point he shot an old female wolf and was there to see the green fire go out of her eyes as she died. He wrote …
I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades.
Fall colors were looking good in the City of Pittsburgh this week. A maple in Schenley Park turned shades of orange and red while the sunrise worked to match it.
This acorn in Schenley Park is a squirrel’s dream come true, the largest acorn native to North America. Bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa also spelled burr oak) were planted in several places in the park more than 100 years ago, most notably at the main trail entrance near Bartlett Playground. This species withstands harsh conditions and is one of the most drought resistant oaks.
Goldenrods are blooming in the small meadow near Bartlett Playground.
During my walk to Schenley Plaza on 11 October I saw a peregrine fly toward Heinz Chapel’s scaffolding and disappear among the dense rods.
If he hadn’t moved I would not have found him. Ta dah! (See inside red circle.)
Amazingly he was easier to see through binoculars from Schenley Plaza tent. Too far for a photo.
This gorgeous tree with large violet flowers is blooming now in Allegheny County. It grows fast, provides shade, looks beautiful and smells sweet. What could go wrong?
The princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), also called empress tree or royal paulownia for Anna Pavlovna of Russia (1795-1865) is — or was — popular in ornamental gardens. It was first introduced to the U.S. from China in 1840 and planted in the eastern U.S. and Washington state.
Initially it was a gardener’s dream. It is easy to grow in full sun, thrives in many soil types including disturbed soil, is tolerant of drought and pollution and grows 15 feet per year. It also reproduces like crazy. One tree can produce 20 million winged seeds that are dispersed by wind and water.
Paulownia tomentosa’s ability to sprout prolifically from adventitious buds on stems and roots allows it to survive fire, cutting and even bulldozing in construction areas; making it difficult to remove from established areas.
This one was chopped down but it came back stronger than ever. Notice the huge leaves.
Eventually botanists and gardeners realized that P. tomentosa is invasive. This map of paulownia’s occurrence in the U.S. …
… nearly matches the map of its State Invasive listings. Maryland and Massachusetts have outlawed it.
Years ago I knew of only one princess tree in Pittsburgh, this one next to the Schenley Bridge near the corner of Frew Street and Schenley Drive.
Then a few years ago a volunteer sprouted in Schenley Park near the tufa bridge over Phipps Run. When it reached 20 feet it was cut down and its roots were dug up. However, this spring there are four paulownias near the tufa bridge. The genie is out of the bottle. Uh oh!
Trees with stacks of white flowers are drawing our attention this week in Pittsburgh. Perhaps you’re wondering “What tree is this? “
Horsechestnuts (Aesculushippocastanum) originated in Greece but have been planted around the world for their beautiful flowers. When fertilized the flowers become the familiar shiny buckeyes I played with as a child.
In Pittsburgh we call the tree a “buckeye” though it is just one of many buckeyes (Aesculus) in our area including natives of North America: yellow, Ohio, and bottlebrush.
A close look at horsechestnut flowers reveals that some have yellow centers, others red.
Bees see and are attracted to yellow, not red, so when a horsechestnut flower is fertilized it turns red. The flowers are …
Are there red flowers on the tree? Come back in early fall to collect the buckeyes.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)