Tag Archives: spring

Native Spring Wildflowers

Spring is in the air and with warmer temperatures come the spring flowers everyone hopes to glimpse.  Most of the flowers people have come to associate with spring are not native to North America though.  Crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips, for example, are all European flowers.  There are, however, many native plants that “spring” up at this time of year.

Native plants are valuable for a variety of reasons.  They contribute to the biodiversity and health of ecosystems and provide habitat for birds, insects, and other wildlife.  Also, as they are acclimated to the local environment, native plants are often hardier and require less care than imported plants.

As you walk through the woods this spring, look for native plants growing beneath the trees.  In 1936, Minna Anthony Common made a list of plants that were native to the Thousand Islands Region in the journal she kept detailing her work on the Rock Ridges Nature Trail in Thousand Island Park.  These three were among the native plants that were already growing along the trail when she began to work on it.

bloodroot

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has white flowers with 8 to 12 petals that are approximately 1¼ inch wide.  The flowers sprout on 3 to 6 inch stems through folded leaves.  The deeply lobed leaves open as the plant grows.  When the root of the plant is cut, it “bleeds” a reddish- orange liquid.  This is what gives the plant its name.  Bloodroot prefers moist soil and partial shade and is often found along the woodland edge.  At the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center, bloodroot can be found in the flower bed along the front of the museum building.

spring beauty

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) has small (½ to ¾ inch) pink or white flowers with darker pink veins.  Each plant has a single pair of long narrow leaves.  These flowers also prefer moist woodland habitats.

roundlobe hepatica

Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) is a member of the buttercup family.  It has ½ to 1 inch wide blue, pink, or white flowers and three lobed leaves.  Hepatica begins blooming in early spring and will continue to bloom into the summer season.  Hepatica prefers partial shade and is often found in woodland habitats.

If you are interested in learning more about native plants, visit us at the Nature Center.  We have a many books about native plants in our library and gift shop.  We also have a copy of Minna Anthony Common’s journal available for our visitors to read.  Best of all, we have miles of trails where visitors can see these plants in their native habitat.  The best way to learn about nature is to experience it.

Post by Molly Farrell, Nature Center Director at Minna Anthony Common Nature Center (Wellesley Island State Park).

Sources:

Common, Minna.  Rock Ridges Nature Trail: Record of the Trail, journal kept by Common while developing the trail system

Newcomb, Lawrence. Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. Little, Brown and Company, New York. 1977.

USDA Plants http://plants.usda.gov (accessed 3/10/2015)

Minnesota Wildflowershttp://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/virginia-spring-beauty (accessed 3/10/2015)

Prairie Moon Nursery www.prairiemoon.com  (accessed 3/10/2015)

 

Spring Tales About Springtails: Friends, Not Fleas!

photo1
Garden Springtail found in New York State. They’re not all this cute, but we want you to like them. From http://bugguide.net/node/view/652904.

Have you even been walking in the woods in late winter and seen a cluster of what look like fleas on the top of the snow?  You’ve probably thought “eww!” and hurried on your way to escape an itchy outcome. The truth is that these so-called “snow fleas” pose no danger to you or your furry pets.  You’re actually meeting one of the many species of Springtails, an order of arthropods that can be found on every continent, including Antarctica.  These incredibly abundant creatures may leap, but they are not biting fleas. They actually consume leaf litter, fungi, and even other smaller creatures.  Despite their tiny size, their existence may provide remarkable benefits that extend to you and me.

Springtails have six legs and antennas, but they are not classified as insects. Unlike insects, they have internal mouthparts and are wingless.   The spring in their step comes from a furcula, which is the springy two-pronged “tail” for which these fascinating creatures are named. It normally lies tucked under their abdomen. When escaping predators, the furcula is released almost instantly, and it vaults them up to 10 centimeters, which is no joke when your size maxes out at half a centimeter in length.

With 100,000 found in one square meter of forest, it is clear that these critters form a substantial base of the food web on the forest floor.  The red eft, the teenage stage of the red spotted newt, considers the springtails an ideal meal for their little mouths.  Even the harvestman, more commonly called “daddy long-legs,” preys upon the springtail.

Red Eft at Thacher -Photo by Lilly Schelling
The brilliant red efts you see on rainy days are prowling about for the Springtails, a little meal just right for their little mouths. Photo by Lily Schelling (OPRHP), taken at Thacher State Park.

Why should you care about these creatures?  They eat pathogenic fungi that can damage many agricultural crops. They also help spread the spores of mycorrhiza (fungi), whose symbiotic relationship with plants allow for an incredible array of plants to thrive, from wheat to beech trees.   The variety of Springtail that is sometimes called a “snow flea” is also a focus of biomedical research.  Scientists are trying to replicate the anti-freeze protein found in those ever-active Springtails in winter, and use it to aid the transition of body organs for transplant from donor to recipient.

We know nature’s ability to relax and soothe us in the midst of our busy lives, with scenic views and outstretched tree limbs. However the next time you take a walk in the woods, take a moment to appreciate the unseen world under your feet as well. It turns out that even the largely invisible, creepy-crawly world of wildlife in the woods may have myriad benefits for humanity.

A mass of live springtails in early spring. Photo by Greg Edinger, NYNHP.
A mass of live springtails in early spring. Photo by Greg Edinger, NYNHP.

 

Post by Liz Wagner, Grafton Lakes State Park.

 

 

 

 

 

Bees in the Butterfly Garden

It may be some time before we get to see bees and butterflies again, but when spring comes, we know that our friends at Fahnstock State Park will be ready to welcome them back with open arms and bouquets of native flowers. Check out this vibrant post from Native Beeology!

Native Beeology

Anne Odell Butterfly Garden – Fahnestock State Park –

In a recent venture to The Hubbard Lodge in Fahnestock State Park, I explored a butterfly garden flourishing with beautiful native flowering plants. The garden was alive with tired butterflies sporting tattered wings, queen bumblebees fattening up for a long winter hibernation, and a diversity of solitary bees finishing up their nests.  This garden named the Ann Odell Butterfly Garden was created in 2003 in memory of Ann Odell, an art teacher and gardener.  The winding paths in this tranquil place is a fitting tribute, inviting those who enter to explore and discover all things wild and beautiful.  Indeed, this garden is much more than a butterfly garden.

DSC_0218 Gazebo near the Entrance to the Ann Odell Butterfly garden

DSC_0222 Joe-pye-weed

DSC_0237 Asters and goldenrods

The most notable feature of this autumn garden is the purple New England asters that stand tall in the…

View original post 577 more words

Bird Box Bonanza

EABL
Photo by NYS Parks

Spring is here and you know what that means! The birds are coming back in force and they are all looking for places to build a sturdy nest. One of the ways Grafton Lakes State Park helps our feathered friends is by providing pre-fab nest boxes. The two targeted audiences are the wood ducks and bluebirds, although other birds take advantage of the boxes as well. Wood ducks and bluebirds  have each suffered population declines in the recent past, partially due to human interference. By providing these special nesting boxes, we can help bring the populations back up to snuff!

Photo by stevenanz.com
Photo by stevenanz.com

Wood ducks’ natural nesting cavities usually consist of a hollow nook in a tree, made over the years by a branch rotting away, or an old woodpecker feeding site. It also needs to be near water. Wood ducks are unique in that they are one of the only ducks equipped with strong claws on their feet enabling them to climb branches in order to build nests.

Photo by Deb Brzozowski

Because dead snags are seen as a danger to humans, the trees that wood ducks like to nest in are often cut down. Grafton Lakes State Park has so many bodies of water it is the perfect place to put up some nest boxes. Earlier this year we patrolled the 15 sites spread out over 5 ponds, cleaned out old nest material and refilled them with new wood shavings. If a duck chooses to use the box, the female will supplement the wood shavings with down feathers, and lay 6-10 eggs. Wood ducks have two broods each year. The chicks will hatch out in about 30 days with a full coat of down and are mobile within 2 days, jumping from the nest and waddling their way to the water. About 40% of the Grafton Lake boxes are occupied by wood duck broods each year, the rest used by owls, squirrels and other critters.

The bluebirds face a different challenge- their populations have been impacted by increasing land development. Bluebirds need nests that are high enough to deter predators and enable them to look out on an open area where plenty of bugs can be found (like the edge of a farm field or large yard). The other challenge to bluebirds is the increase of invasive species competing for the same type of nest. European starlings and house sparrows are both aggressive  birds that will kill bluebird parents, chicks and eggs they find in order to claim a nest box for themselves. While starlings are not usually an issue with properly made nest boxes, the house sparrows should never be allowed to occupy a box.

The Assistant Park Naturalists at Grafton held an educational program in the beginning of April about bluebirds. Almost 20 people attended; a lot of great nest boxes were made and brought home to spruce up personal yards. These bluebird boxes will become part of the successful citizen science project that has been helping bluebird population numbers rebound since the 1970s.

Photo by Deb Brzozowski

Photo by Deb Brzozowski

Photo by Deb Brzozowski

Just a few days ago, the bluebird nest boxes at Grafton Lakes got their first check up. After knocking on the box to inform any birds of our presence, we checked for signs of nest building and cleaned out any bugs that had overwintered in the boxes. Bluebirds build their nests from dry grass or pine needles, and we did see both a partially constructed nest and one that was completed. Hopefully soon we will be hearing little bluebird voices in Grafton!

If you’re interested in helping these beautiful birds there are many websites that have nest box instructions and dimensions for building your own box. Just make sure your box has adequate drainage holes, ventilation and weather protection.

Put up a box this spring, grab your binoculars and settle in to see some amazing sights of nature in your own backyard!

For More Information:

On bluebirds: www.noble.org/ag/wildlife/ebluebirdnestboxes/

The Birders Report has a variety of nest box plans available including bluebird and wood duck boxes.

Article and photos by Deb Brzozowski (debstepin.blogspot.com)

Happy Earth Day!

NYS Parks is celebrating Earth Day 2014 with the official launch of our blog, Nature Times, produced by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. While you can find all the information you need on the locations, amenities, and policies of state parks at the official NYSParks.com website, this blog will provide information on the ongoing projects, programming, recent wildlife sightings, and general subjects of interest that relate to the New York Parks system. For our first post, we’d like to look forward to the new growth that comes in the early spring.

Each year, as the snow begins to melt and it seems like warm weather is right around the corner, the spring ephemerals push their way out of the cold, muddy ground and give us the first glimpse of spring color at the end of the long, grey winter.

The spring ephemerals are a group of perennial plants that emerge in early spring for a short period of time in which they grow, reproduce, and then die back down to their roots until the next year.

The adaptive strategy of spring ephemerals is most common in deciduous forests because it allows small plants to take advantage of the high levels of sunlight that reach the forest floor before all the trees regrow their leaves.

Click on the pictures in the photo gallery to get a closer look at a few of the spring ephemerals  we can find in New York State Parks in the coming months, and as you’re watching outside for the appearance of spring flowers, don’t forget to check for new posts each week on NYS Parks Nature Times!