The Wilds of Prince Frederick

The Wilds of Prince Frederick, Calvert County, MD

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Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) is a native wildflower that has leaf tissue winging the stem, and hence the common name.  The tall perennial occurs both in the Piedmont and coastal plain, usually in alluvial floodplains, flowering from August through October.  This plant is not to be confused with the more common and showy Bidens that are also in bloom now.

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Warming in the early morning sun, the gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor) is a native and common, solitary frog of forest trees.  They have a hearty, resonating trill.

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The nocturnal 2-inch frog has large toe pads and feeds on moths, crickets, flies and other insects.  I’ve observed this frog attached to our glass windows at night, opportunistically feeding on insects attracted to the light.

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Paulonia, also known as the princess or empress tree (Paulonia tomentosa) has inordinately large leaves in their sapling stage, as they compete for sunlight.  Introduced from Asia in the 1840’s as an ornamental, this tree has the highest board-foot value in the United States, exceeding black walnut.  Exports back to Japan allow for making wedding chests and other specialty items.  The only other leaf that even comes close to this size would be the umbrella magnolia.

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Leslie looks like that Gila monster reptile thingy from Jurassic Park.

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This young tree was being strangled by Asiatic bittersweet (the kudzu of the north) and eventually won-out, killing the invader vine.  The bark and bole deformation is a result of that battle.

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In each forest stand type we determined the dominant overstory tree, and in this case being tulip poplar.  We then assessed what represented the mean average overstory diameter (11-inches), and then performed a boring of a representative poplar to determine the precise age of the stand, since the time of the last, most influencing perturbation.

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After counting the annual rings of the core, from the bark edge to the center, where the rings were then oriented in the other direction, the forest was determined to be 18-years old, since release from agriculture.  We needed to be precise because this 100-acre forest will be rotation cut in five 20-acre cells used for spray effluent.  The University of Maryland and Maryland Department of the Environment are funding long-term research to see what age forest stand can best assimilate gray waste water, be it a 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25-year old stand.  It is assumed that a younger forest can assimilate, acquire, treat, absorb and cleanse, better than an older, more mature forest.

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Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) is a small, native tree that can form dense clonal colonies in the understory of moist, rich deciduous forests.  This deer resistant tree is frequently found in floodplain forests along stream and rivers.  Paw Paw’s relatively large leaves make it conspicuous in the summer and autumn woods.  It’s dark red-purple flowers are followed by edible fruits that look something like small lumpy bananas and ripen in late September or early October.

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The seeds are too big to be dispersed by small mammals and it has been suggested that larger ice-age mammals, such as mastodons that became extinct about 13,000 years ago, may have been the original dispersal agent.  I have however, seen paw paw seed in raccoon scat.  Paw Paw is currently being cultivated and hybridized to become a commercial fruit crop.

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Leslie, having never tasted paw paw before said it tasted like a combination of breadfruit, banana and mango.  Paw paw grows from southern Pennsylvania through to Georgia and Louisiana.  It is the hardiest species within the tropical custard-apple family.

Chemicals extracted from the twigs and seeds have recently been shown to have promising anti-cancer and pesticidal properties.  The leaves and twigs have a petroleum-like odor when bruised.  Deer do not eat paw paw foliage, but raccoon and box turtle and other wildlife eagerly consume the pulp of the fruit.

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Leafy Elephant’s Foot (Elephantopus carolinianus) is a native perennial occurring from Pennsylvania to Florida and west to Texas.  The plant prefers moist woodlands and is relatively uncommon in Maryland, but when found, often seen in large, loose aggregation.  I’ve seen this plant on several occasions, primarily on the coastal plain. The plant has large basal and stem leaves and the flower is actually four individual flowers with four petals each.

I’ve seen the similar, Maryland State endangered Elephantopus tomentosus that has only basal leaves and no stem leaves at a few sites in St. Mary’s County, MD.

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This particular job took several days, as it is part of a research grant, and the baseline natural resource inventory will be part of a decades-long study of spray irrigation waste water treatment.

While working a section of steep slope in a mature mixed oak and American beech forest, I found two eastern box turtles, one male and one female (Terrapene carolina).  Box turtles are long-lived and slow to mature, and can be found from Pennsylvania through to Georgia and west to the Mississippi River.

The home range of a box turtle is about three-acres (three football fields).  Their life span is similar to humans, living from 30 to 80-years old.  They are omnivores, eating worms, slugs, berries, fruit, mushrooms and carrion.  I found evidence that these turtles were feeding on mushrooms.  They have a strong homing instinct that causes them to try and return to the place of their birth, if moved.

Once when I was in my early teen’s, I glued a spool of thread onto a box turtle’s back, tied the end of the thread to a sapling and let him go in the woods behind our house, near where I originally found him.  After several days the spool ran out, but I was able to see a substantial trail of where the turtle traveled through our community woodlot.  Never did see the turtle again, and I trust the wooden spool finally came loose from the shell.

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Horse Balm (Collinsonia canadensis) is a perennial native that can be found in moist woods and flowering from late July through late September.  The irregular pale-yellow flower with a fringed lip has a mild hint of lemon scent and crushed leaves smell of citronella.

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The plant is also called stoneroot due to heavy/hard roots.  When dried and pulverized or made into a liquid tincture they were historically used with great success to relieve hemorrhoids, especially for pregnant females (I’m just passing it along as I read it).

 

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