Sunday, August 19, 2012

American Chestnut and 2 kinds of Skullcap –Mad Dog and Downy

An American Chestnut Trees grows in  one of our preserve's reforestation fields
Over the last 13 years, over 10 thousand trees have been planted at Spring Farm CARES' nature preserve. Most of these native trees are intended to provide food and shelter for our resident wildlife; a few of them are relatively uncommon in our region. Probably the most uncommon of all of these is the American Chestnut.
The unusual flower spikes on the Chestnut branches
Once a major constituent of eastern forests, the American Chestnuts were killed off by an introduced blight that spread rapidly through the country over century ago. The loss to the Eastern forest was incalculable, as so many species of wildlife depended on the trees for habitat and for their reliable annual production of nuts. Unlike the introduced Asian chestnut trees, the American Chestnut was an exceptionally tall tree and its branches were able to take their place in the highest forest canopies in the eastern US.
The green, prickly seed pods of the American Chestnut

A decade ago, I planted about 20 Chestnuts into our reforestation fields. For the last 3 years, a few of them began producing flowers; and this year, for the first time, one of them is producing nuts --not many, but it's a start. The nuts are encased in green, heavily spiked pods. Currently, the spikes are soft, but as the nuts within them mature, they turn brown and stiffen. At that point they are something that you might want to handle with some care.

Though as far as I could determine, the American Chestnut was not a species that was ever common in the Mohawk Valley, though historically, it did occur in the regions all around us (except in areas to the north). I thought that the addition of this species to our forest could possibly help to make up for the anticipated loss (from another exotic blight) of our American Beech Trees.

A Hazelnut, encased in its leafy husk
Generally, this has not been a good year for most of the nut producing trees at our nature preserve, and I suspect, throughout the greater region. Few if any of our young oak trees appear to have acorns this season. Beech Trees, which produced a reasonably good crop last year, also appear to be quite barren this year. On the other hand, the Hickory Trees have produced nuts, though our common species, the Bitternut Hickory, produces bitter nuts that are not typically favored by wildlife.
A Black Cherry Tree - covered with blossoms
This past spring I planted a grove of Hazelnut Trees near our wildflower meadow. The Hazelnuts grow into small brushy trees and can produce a decent crop of nuts. Our biggest Hazelnut tree on the property only just started producing nuts last year.
Black Cherry blossoms
Fruit producing trees, for the most part, definitely didn’t experience a banner year. One notable exception would be the Black Cherries. In our reforestation fields, the branches of these young trees are actually weighed down by their bountiful production. Believe me, the birds didn’t fail to notice this.
Black Cherries, starting to turn ripe

Downy Skullcap grows on a trail side
Some interesting wildflowers are blooming now at the nature preserve. Many are native species that we introduced into different habitat niches around the property. Downy Skullcap is a member of the mint family. At the preserve, it grows on one dry, south-facing hillside where it is surrounded by Purple Coneflower and goldenrod.
Mad Dog Skullcap, growing alongside a stream
Living in nearly opposite habitat conditions is Mad Dog Skullcap, which grows in drenched soil, like that found at our beaver wetlands. Alongside the Mad Dog Skullcap plants are Turtlehead, Square-stemmed Monkey Flower and Smartweed.

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