Blockhouse April 22

Spring is taking her time warming up this year. But this gives us a chance to slow down and see all the different plants emerging.  Take a close look, the details in early spring are particularly wonderful. 

As trees leaf out, you begin to see the final shape leaves will take when they are mature. The Linden below looks fresh and shiny. Many young leaves are full of compounds meant to protect the young succulent leaves from browsing animals. You can also see the reddish bud scales still clinging to the stem. Bud scales protect the embryonic leaf as it forms over the winter and waits for spring.

Tilia sp. Malvaceae

One of my favorite plants is one that many people would love to get rid of. Poison ivy. The oil, urushiol, is used by the plant to retain water but gives many people a rash if they come in contact with it. The severity of the rash varies from person to person. This is a native plant and the fruit is excellent for migrating birds. And if you take the time to look, it is a beautiful plant. As it emerges in the spring the leaves are tinged a shiny red. The leaves are trifoliate - divided into three leaflets ("leaves of three; leave it be"). As the leaves mature, they will turn dark green and often lose their shininess. 

Toxicodendron radicans Poison ivy Anacardiaceae

Here is another species where the leaves are tinged red as they are expanding, our native Black cherry. Having red coloration when young seems to give the plant protection from browsers, who can't see color in that range. The red curly structures on the stems are likely the left-over bud scales from the winter.

Prunus serotina Black cherry Rosaceae

When young, the black cherry's bark is smooth, shiny and has prominent lenticels - porous tissue which allows gas exchange between the atmosphere and the internal tissue. This is true for many cherries and a few other species such as birch. 

Prunus serotina Black cherry Rosaceae

The bark of a mature black cherry is dark and scaly, with sections that have raised edges (burned potato chips, as a dear friend used to call it). Look closely at each of those sections and you will still see the characteristic lenticels.

Prunus serotina Black cherry Rosaceae

This next photo shows another member of the Rose family, the Callery pear, also called Bradford pear. This is a commonly planted street tree throughout the City. It has escaped cultivation and is regenerating in the woodlands.

Pyrus calleryana Bradford pear Rosaceae

Oaks don't regenerate well on compacted soil, so it is great to see oak seedlings coming up in the woodlands. Everywhere the soil is protected or restored, you see oak regeneration.  If we can keep the Norway maples under control, these will grow into the mighty oaks that dominate our forests. This is probably red oak and like our previous examples, is tinged red until it matures. It also has hairs and young bristles. In the second photo below you can see the bud scales still clinging.

Quercus rubra Red oak Fagaceae

Quercus rubra Red oak Fagaceae

Next we found a fairly large stand of chokecherry, another one of our native cherries, Prunus virginiana. Unlike the black cherry, this one is a shrub and forms a thicket. The leaves were fairly far along in growth and the flowers were beginning to form. We must check back to see them fully open. Chokecherry is the most widespread cherry species in North America and is an important source of food for wildlife.

Prunus virginiana Chokecherry Rosaceae

Although I focus mostly on plants when I am out walking, I do notice other organisms out there. Some you see, some you hear and some leave indirect evidence of their presence. In the photo below, the holes in the tree were made by a sapsucker, probably the yellow-bellied sapsucker. They drill holes into the trunk of a tree to get the sap to ooze out. As it does, they lap it up, enjoying the sugary sap the way we love maple syrup. They also eat up any insects that get trapped in the sticky sap!

Sapsucker holes

I will leave you today with a photo of a beautiful view of life in the Big City. Not the view one typically thinks of with regard to New York, but one that should be more familiar to all of us.

North Woods