Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

THE HART OF THE MATTER: AMERICAN HART’S-TONGUE FERN IN NYS PARKS

Tucked away in cracks and crevices along the steep, rocky ravines and plunge basins of Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls State Parks resides one of the rarest and most endangered ferns in the United States; the American hart’s-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum). In fact, 94% of all hart’s-tongue ferns in New York are contained within these two Central New York State Parks!

The name “hart’s-tongue” was given to this unique plant due to the resemblance of the fronds (leaves) to the tongue of an adult red deer, also known as a “hart.” The “American” moniker was placed in front to distinguish the North American variety from its closest relative, the European hart’s-tongue fern, which is common throughout much of Europe and the United Kingdom.

AHTF at Clark M Serviss
American hart’s-tongue ferns at Clark Reservation State Park. Note the resemblance of the frond to that of the tongue of a deer, also known as a hart.

Few people are likely to ever encounter this unusual looking fern in the wild due to the rugged nature of its unique habitat. Those who are fortunate enough to gaze upon the strange fronds of a hart’s-tongue might have a reaction similar to that of American photographer Dr. H. E. Ransier in 1926:

“Richer than millionaires! Happier than Kings! Envied by multitudes! May be said of hobnobbers with Hart’s-tongues.”

Dr. Ransier’s enthusiasm for the hart’s-tongue fern is one that has been shared by countless students, botanists, pteridomaniacs (fern enthusiasts), nature lovers, and park patrons alike over the 211 years since its discovery just outside of Syracuse, NY in 1807. Additional hart’s-tongue populations have since been discovered in Ontario, Canada, the upper peninsula of Michigan, and a few unusual relicts in southern Tennessee and northern Alabama. However, the loss of several populations due to limestone quarrying, deforestation, urban expansion, and illegal collection resulted in the placement of the fern on the United States Endangered Species List in 1989. Currently, drought induced by climate change and invasion of the habitat by non-native plants also threaten many hart’s-tongue populations.

Hart’s-tongues are extremely sensitive to changes in climate and have very specific habitat requirements. They are most often found on steep, rocky, moss-covered slopes with north to east aspects in partial to full shade. The soils are well-drained and rich in calcium and magnesium. Hart’s-tongue researchers in New York have found that these habitats remain significantly cooler and more humid than immediately adjacent forests. The availability of quality habitat is critical to the growth and reproduction of the ferns. Very few of these types of habitats exist in New York State, which is why conservation of the habitat of the ferns is essential for their recovery.

AHTF Habitat M Serviss
Steep, rocky ravines and plunge basins provide the typical habitat for hart’s-tongue fern in New York.

New York State Parks has become increasingly involved with hart’s-tongue fern conservation over the last 10 years. Seasonal teams of FORCES stewards (Friends of Recreation, Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship), affectionately referred to as “The Fern Crew”, have carefully dug out hundreds of thousands of invasive plants from Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls State Parks in an ongoing effort to protect the fern’s very sensitive and rare habitat. The Fern Crew is largely made up of college interns pursuing degrees in conservation biology or related fields and is overseen by Park staff.

In 2015, after 100 years and several failed reintroduction efforts by various organizations, researchers were successful in reintroducing greenhouse-propagated hart’s-tongue ferns into the wild! As a result, two existing populations were expanded and New York State’s first new hart’s-tongue population was created! Reintroduction efforts were led by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY and New York State Parks, working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NY Natural Heritage Program. The FORCES program contributed many hours of labor to make this project a success.

Forces
The FORCES Fern Crew transplanted 2,000 greenhouse propagated hart’s-tongue ferns in 2015 (left). A hart’s-tongue fern transplant looking spectacular after 3 years in the field (right).

Future plans to continue propagation of hart’s-tongues are currently in the works at one of only two greenhouse facilities within the New York State Park’s system, Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua, NY. In a remarkable historical twist, the greenhouses at Sonnenberg Gardens were built by the very same woman who donated Clark Reservation State Park to New York State in 1915, Mary Clark Thompson. Keep your eye out for the amazing American hart’s-tongue fern at Sonnenberg Gardens in the coming years, as it may be your only chance to catch a glimpse of the fern that has enchanted generations of enthusiasts!

Clark_Sonnenberg
Mary Clark Thompson (left) donated Clark Reservation State Park (top right) to New York in 1915, including several hart’s-tongue fern populations. She also built the greenhouses at Sonnenberg Gardens (bottom right) that will soon be used to propagate hart’s-tongue ferns for reintroduction back into Clark Reservation.

Click here to learn more about this rare fern.

Blog post by Mike Serviss, Conservation Project Coordinator for Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls State Parks.

All photos by Mike Serviss (New York State Parks), except the photos of Mary Clark Thompson and Sonnenberg Gardens, which were obtained from https://www.sonnenberg.org/

Help Keep Wildlife Wild

A busy squirrel scurries through a picnic area.

 A sparrow hops around on the ground near the campsite fire pit.

 A small herd of deer graze on the short grass near the playground.

New York State Parks provide a home to countless species of wildlife. They also provide a way for us visitors to experience and enjoy endless wildlife encounters. It is important to remember that wild animals live in balance with their habitat, eating foods that provide them with the best nutrition. There are different reasons people may want to feed wild animals such as ducks, chipmunks, deer, or raccoons, but feeding wildlife can cause much more harm than good.

Reasons not to feed wild animals:

 It leads to poor nutrition.

Feeding wild animals “people foods” like bread, marshmallows, or popcorn impacts their health in several ways. Animals have specific diets and these human foods do not contain the nutrients needed to keep the animal healthy. Like with people, poor nutrition in baby animals may even lead to health problems as the young animals grow. Young ducks and geese, for example, may develop a defect in their wings if fed an improper diet. This syndrome, commonly called “Angel Wing,” is incurable in adults and likely leads to an early death because the bird is unable to fly. In addition, when animals are continuously fed people food, they could become dependent on that food source and stop feeding on their natural foods. Young animals may not learn how to feed normally and could become less able to survive in their natural habitat.

It changes their behavior.

Have you ever had seagulls try to steal your French fries? Wildlife that are accustomed to being fed lose their natural fear of people. They might learn to associate all people with food, which leads them to become bolder towards humans. This could become a safety issue and unfortunately the animal may need to be permanently removed. Animals that are fed human food may also become more aggressive towards each other as they compete for food scraps. Feeding can influence migration as well; animals dependent on an unnatural food source may not migrate during the normal time of year.

It can increase the chance of disease.

Food provided by people can cause wildlife to gather in greater numbers than normal, which can increase the spread of disease. Some of these diseases can even be spread to people. This is another important reason to leave wild animals be.

State Park Signage.JPG

As you can see, feeding wildlife has many serious consequences. Animals do not understand the negative impacts of feeding; with your help, we can keep our park animals wild and healthy by not feeding them. And, it is State Parks’ policy to prohibit the feeding of wildlife by the public at all state parks and historic sites.

You do not need to feed the wildlife to enjoy their presence. Instead, try quietly watching the ducks from a nearby bench at the shore, snap some pictures of a deer from a safe distance, or break out the binoculars at a bird blind to get a better look at wildlife. If you don’t have binoculars, your local park nature center may have some available to share!

Ossining Grd 5 A Swaim
Ossining Fifth Graders watch birds at Rockefeller State Park Preserve. photo by Anne Swaim, Saw Mill River Audubon.

Post by Kelsey Ruffino, State Parks

Featured image: Petr Kratochvil – http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/5756, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13281242

Monitoring for Southern Pine Beetle

Earlier this year, the Invasive Species Management Team kicked off the spring with the installation of several southern pine beetle (SPB) traps at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and a few other locations. Southern pine beetle, Dendroctonus frontalis, is a 2-4mm long bark beetle, reddish brown to black in color, that hails from the southeastern United States and attacks pine trees. The female will locate a host tree, most commonly one with a compromised defense system as noted by the presence of alpha-pinene, a chemical released by stressed trees. The females then release the pheromone frontalin to attract males for mating, as well as other males and females. Males also secrete a pheromone, endo-brevicomin, summoning more beetles to congregate. The beetles enter the trees through cracks in the bark. In an effort to eject the beetle, pine trees will produce resin to push them out. The resulting little, lumpy sap nuggets are called pitch tubes and are a good indicator of SPB infestation. Once in the tree, SPB starts constructing curved tubes, or galleries, in the cambium to lay their eggs in. It is in the cambium that we find the xylem and phloem tissue, which transports water and nutrients through the tree and therefore helping the tree growth. Larvae move to the inner bark immediately after hatching, and then to the outer bark to feed as they mature. When they become adults, they chew round exit holes in a “shotgun” pattern, large enough only to fit a pencil tip. The exit holes are another sign of infestation to be on the lookout for. The chewing of galleries disrupts the flow of water and nutrients, resulting in the needles fading and ultimately tree death in as little as 2-4 months. The Long Island Central Pine Barrens have been particularly damaged by SPB. This may be due in part to the lack of fire as a management technique to thin stands, reducing competition and therefore resulting in healthier trees. Additionally, smoke from fires overpowers the beetle’s pheromonal communication, thus impeding their spread.

Because of how widespread SPB distribution has become, eradication of the species is simply not possible. The main method employed to suppress invasions is the cutting and removal of infested trees. A more proactive method includes monitoring pines for the early infestations of SPB to enable a rapid response to the arrival of SPB; bringing us back to Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The Sam’s Point area of Minnewaska is home to the only dwarf pine ridges ecosystem in the world, making it a globally unique and rare site. Therefore, monitoring for the arrival of SPB is imperative for the preservation of this rare pitch pine barrens as well as more common pitch pine communities of Minnewaska.

Nick and trap

Entomologist Tom Schmeelk with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) came to Minnewaska to hoist the traps and explain how they work. The traps used are Lindgren funnel traps, with a chain of funnels that mimics a tree stem. Several lures, or packets of pheromoneswere placed inside the trap which is then hung in a hardwood tree several feet off the ground and from the trunk. The lures utilized are frontalin, the sex pheromone secreted by females, and endo-brevicomin, the aggregation pheromone secreted by males. In addition, alpha-pinene was attached, a host volatile produced by stressed trees. The beetles are lured to the trap and funneled into a collection cup, the contents of which are sent to DEC to be checked for the presence of SPB.

For those concerned that the traps will attract beetles into the park that otherwise would’ve remained absent, rest assured that these are short-range traps that would only lure beetles within a few mile radius- meaning they only attract beetles already in the area. Being unaware of their presence in the park would be the much bigger risk to the park’s pine dominated ecosystems and all the species that depend on these, including the rare dwarf pines. Last year all the traps remained empty, let’s hope for the same this year!

Post by Sarantia Mitsinikos, Invasive Species Project Steward with SCA/Americorps/State Parks

Featured image: southern pine beetle, Steven Valley, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

Invasive Species Spotlight – Elongate Hemlock Scale

Name: Elongate Hemlock Scale (Fiorinia externa Ferris)

Origin: Native to China and Japan and was first observed in New York City in 1905. It is believed that it was unintentionally introduced from Japan.

NYS Presence: Elongate hemlock scale (EHS) is present throughout the state, with the highest density within a 185 mile radius of New York City.

Identification: EHS is an armored insect most commonly found on the underside of hemlock needles. They show up as small (1.5-2 mm) and flat brown or white patches that hide the female and male insects, respectively. Underneath the brown scale, you may find the tiny yellow eggs.

Kristopher Abell, University of Massachusetts, Bugwood.org
Female EHS, look for small eggs, accessed from Kristopher Abell, University of Massachusetts, Bugwood.org

Life Cycle: “Crawlers” hatch from eggs under the female scale and emerge in the spring and summer. At this point they are mobile and can crawl to a new needle or be transported by wind or birds. Once they find a suitable site for feeding, they burrow under the waxy cuticle of the needle for protection, and insert their feeding tube into the mesophyll cells of the needle, just under the epidermis or surface layer of cells on the needs. The females will never leave this site as they go through their three stages of development. The males, however, will emerge from their five stages of development as winged adults. They will fly to a mature female, mate, and die without ever feeding. EHS overwinters either as fertilized females or eggs (typically 16-20 are laid). (Jill Sidebottom, Elongate Hemlock Scale, ncsu.edu).

Damage Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources -ugwood.org
EHS damage, photo accessed from Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Forestry , Bugwood.org

As EHS feeds on the hemlock needs they remove the plant’s nutrients, the needles take on a yellow color as they dry out and drop, leading to branch dieback and ultimately death in as little as ten years.

Control: One option of control is to remove highly infested trees. EHS can also be controlled chemically. The two most consistent chemical controls for EHS are Safari (a neonicotinoid) and Talus (an insect growth regulator). Safari is also used to control hemlock wooly adelgid, another invasive pest from Japan that often appears alongside EHS as white wooly ovisacs on the underside of hemlock needles. EHS can also be treated with biological agents, such as the parasitic wasp Encarsia citrina, and predatory beetles like the twice-stabbed ladybird beetle, Chilocorus stigma and Microweisea misella (Mark S. McClure, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station). These biological controls have provided inconsistent results and are also susceptible to pesticides, so pesticide should be applied with that in mind. To report sightings of EHS in New York State Parks, visit  iMap Invasives or for other questions regarding invasives, email the Invasive Species Management Team at invasives@parks.ny.gov

The Invasive Species Management Team consists of Strike Teams and Forest Health Specialists. Strike Teams travel statewide for various invasive plant removal projects. Forest Health Specialists travel statewide as well, monitoring trees for the presence of forest pests like EHS and HWA among others.

Post by Sarantia Mitsinikos, Invasive Species Project Steward

Featured image photo by Irene Brenner

Invasive Species Spotlight – Leafy Spurge

Name: Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia esula)

Origin: Eurasia

NYS Presence: Leafy spurge has been identified in more than 15 counties across the state. It is found in grasslands, meadows, and riparian areas.

Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Yellow-green leafy spurge plants in a field, photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, assessed from Bugwood.org

Species Profile: Leafy spurge is a perennial plant that spreads by both seed and its extensive root system. These roots have little pink buds that produce new shoots or roots. The root system can reach depths of 30 feet into the soil, making it a tough invasive to control.The leaves are narrow and linear with lengths as long as 4 inches. They are arranged alternately on the pale green stems of the plant.

Euphorbia esula
A yellow-green leafy spurge flower, photo by Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA, accessed from Wikicommons

Two key characteristics to look for when trying to identify leafy spurge are:

  1. the plant’s tiny yellowish-green flowers, which grow in groups of three. Each one is enclosed by a pair of heart-shaped bracts (leaflike structure beneath the flower). Flowering begins in mid-May and will in some cases last until mid-Autumn.
  2. The second is the white, milky sap within the plant. Any stem or leave breakage will result in the release of this sap. There are a number of similar species of spurge species in the state, some which are also non-native and invasive.
Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Leafy spurge plants, photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, accessed from Bugwood.org

The leafy spurge’s ability to spread at a fast pace make this invasive plant highly competitive. Dense stands will often smother or shade out other native species, therefore decreasing biodiversity. This species is a threat to native grasslands, meadows, and agricultural lands. Although cattle are not particularly fond of leafy spurge, sheep and goats have been known to snack on it and spread the seeds around in the process.

Resources:

New York Invasive Species leafy spurge

Colorado Department of Agriculture Leafy spurge identification and management

Featured image: Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA, accessed from Wikicommons