Thursday, October 27, 2022

Nature Walk Sunday, Oct. 30, at Herrontown Woods

Fall colors beckon at Herrontown Woods. This Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1pm, I will lead a nature walk entitled "The Color-Coded Forest." This is the time of year when trees slip out of their green anonymity and reveal their identity through color and texture. Meet at the Herrontown Woods parking lot at 600 Snowden Lane, across Snowden from the Smoyer Park entrance. Sturdy shoes are a good idea. Maps at this link.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Hearts 'a Bustin' -- One of Herrontown Woods' Hidden Gems

Some of the magic of Herrontown Woods lies in the many treasures that have long laid hidden there, waiting patiently to be rediscovered. Veblen House was one of these. Off in a corner of the preserve, it was encountered by very few people even before the trails became overgrown. Oswald Veblen's extraordinary legacy was another. Some of the hidden gems were physical: a manmade vernal pool, the cliff, the magnetic quality of some of the boulders. Others were biological gems, in the form of beautiful plant species that had been diminished by browsing deer and deepening shade until they persisted only as little nubbins on the forest floor that even a keen eye might miss. 

One of these biological gems is a native shrub that many people, including some experienced botanists, are witnessing for the first time at Herrontown Woods. It's called Hearts 'a Bustin' or strawberry bush--common names that aptly describe its fruit at different stages. The fruits begin to look like strawberries as they ripen, then burst open in October to expose bright orange seeds. 

Close up, the fruit is reminiscent of a miniature starfish, or a Joker's hat. 
Here's what they look like in the Barden, rising to a height of 8 feet or more.
But up along the ridge in Herrontown Woods, they seldom grow more than a few inches above the leaf litter. Deep shade and the appetites of deer have laid them low. I, too, would have never noticed their existence but for a larger clump encountered ten years ago along the yellow trail. A surrounding tangle of other shrubs had allowed it to elude the deer and grow high enough to bear fruit and be seen.

A few little sprouts from that patch were transplanted to the Barden, where they have received enough sunlight and protection from deer that visitors can now appreciate their mature form. A kind of euonymus (Euonymus americanus), its flowers won't dazzle you.
But wait a few months and those flowers become transformed into exuberant fruits.

Other biological gems that have been laying low in the woods all these years are pinxter azalea, shadbush, low- and high-bush blueberries, persimmons, and hazelnut. Many of these hidden gems are now flourishing in the Botanical Art Garden next to the main parking lot.