Winter Walk 2017 #2

Cold and crisp among the antique hemlocks. Over a hundred years old and certainly over a 100 ft tall.

Last week, late in February, it was nearly 70F in Ithaca, NY.  Buds were breaking, as were temperature records.  I heard a lecture yesterday that projected that this spring would be 2-3 weeks early compared to 2012, which previously held the record as the earliest spring in recent decades.  In 2012, I watched a monarch butterfly lay an egg on a milkweed in Ithaca on May 5th!  A full 5 weeks before typical.  This year I expect them in April.

European sweet cherry (Prunus avium) introduced to North America. Sapsuckers enjoyed this one.

But on March 3rd, winter was back for our second winter walk.  We tromped through the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Stevenson Preserve, northwest of Treman State Park. Twelve of us, spanning undergraduate field ecology students and our leader, Emeritus Prof. Peter Marks, joined for a blistery yet blissful afternoon.

We saw at least three oak species at the site, red, white and chestnut: Quercus rubra, Q. alba, and Q. montana. Somewhat puzzling, however, were a few oaks with confusing characteristics.  By the shape of acorns, bark furrows, some leaf traits (shinyness, pubescence in the vein axils), and the color of inner bark, some trees didn’t clearly fit Q. rubra. Perhaps eastern black oak, Quercus velutina, was present, either in pure form or introgressed with Q. rubra. Overall the community type of this site fit Peter’s scheme as a “Pine-Hemlock type” forest.

Walnut, one of two local Juglands species
The pith of walnut twigs show this characteristic structure, sometimes called “chambered”.
An old american chestnut stump, turned up as part of a “stump fence” probably 75 years ago. The wood remains tough and rot-resistant.
A piece of the stump fence confirms that it is chestnut. The wood is “ring porous”, meaning it has bands of large cells parallel to the bark. But, unlike oaks, it does not have ray cells, which in oaks radiate from the pith to the bark, perpendicular to the porous bands.
Many hemlocks were snapped, seemingly in a pulse in the last year or two.
These hemlocks fell in opposite directions. Peter thought the elderberry growing out of the tip-up was a new germinant stimulated by the disturbance.
The brown pith of elderberry, one of two native Sambucus species. This shrub is opposite branched in Caprifoliaceae — Think: mad-cap-horse
Monotropa, sometimes called ghost plant or Indian pipe, a non-photosynthetic flowering plant in the Ericacea (!) This plant is a myco-hetertoph, meaning that is a parasite on fungi that get their energy from partnering with tree roots. A plant eating a fungus eating a plant?

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