Author Archives: Ecroteau

July 18, 2015 – Forest Restoration Workshop – High Rock

Forest Restoration Workshop #227 July 18,  2015

By Don Recklies,  Naturalist

It rarely happens,  but this day the weather didn’t seem to favor us: it wasn’t hot – and that was good – but the sky was overcast and a moderate rain fell constantly during my commute to High Rock Park. Dom picked me up at New Dorp and we arrived early so we had time to sit in the car and wonder who might show on such an unpromising morning. Hardy souls began to arrive; first Elaine who dropped off refreshments, then Richard, Sandra and Jillian. We lingered a bit to see if anyone else would appear, then took ourselves and a few tools down slope toward Loosestrife Swamp… and the morning became just fine. The overcast melted away and, as weather reporters like to say, we began to “experience periods of cloud and sun.”

Today we planned to pull more Oriental Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) from the edge of the swamp close to the picnic tables. This wisteria has been resistant, it just refuses to lay down and die. Several years ago we noticed that it had gained a solid foothold there and had spread about 80 or 100 feet along the slope. At the west end of the patch wisteria had grown into the tops of several understory shrubs and was reaching higher. We pulled out as much as we could, and removed almost all the climbers from the that end of the patch. At the east end, however, the roots were deep and well entangled in glacial till underlying the soil, making it almost impossible to pull them out in one piece. Here the vines often broke, and we knew we’d have to come back again and again until the roots left behind had exhausted themselves and the plants died.

Then weather intervened and several trees fell in that precise spot making it impossible to get at wisteria underneath the tangle of fallen trunks and branches. We came back again and did what we could knowing each time that there were many root fragments left behind waiting to throw up new shoots. This time most of the storm debris had been removed, and we could get at most of the new vines. There was plenty of wisteria and also Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) as well, and we went after both. The soil was rocky but the bittersweet came out fairly easily; pulling wisteria, however, was still difficult, vines still breaking and leaving roots behind. Dom, who has been at every workshop at this spot said he didn’t recall it being so hard to get those vines out. We kept at it and made sure there were no vines left to blossom and seed next year.

Since this was a small spot we didn’t spend all our time pulling vines. For what remained of our session we set out with weed wrenches to uproot Devil’s Walking Stick alongside the road up to the administration buildings. We spent less than a half hour so we didn’t get all of these.

For the walk after we decided to make a loop from Lake Orbach to Pumphouse Pond and back. The clouds were back again, but no rain. There had been rain this week and last, so the woods were damp and fertile, apparently just the right amount of moisture in the soil to cause mushrooms to pop up. On the way we met lots of them: a variety of gilled mushrooms the most conspicuous of which were amanitas (the group that’s home to the most poisonous of our mushrooms) and russulas, and a number of boletes, the mushrooms that have pores beneath their caps instead of gills. We plucked one of these with yellow pores and watched how the yellow surface bruised green-blue when scratched or squeezed. If we were mycologists we’d use these various color changes as one of the clues to identifying the species.

We also saw a good number of ghostly white Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora), both newly emerged plants whose waxy-white blossoms hung toward the ground to keep out the rain (otherwise the pollen might be washed away) and older pollinated plants whose flowers were turning brown and upright. Those not in on the secret think that these are some kind of mushroom, but they are real flowering, seed-bearing plants that lack chlorophyll. Because they don’t have chlorophyll (which gives the green color to most other plants) to produce their own nutrients from sunlight and CO2 they must find them it their environment, and so they steal those nutrients from the threads of fungi in the soil.

But there’s where things get interesting; we’ve known for over 70 years that many fungi have a symbiotic relationship with trees in which the tree manufactures carbohydrates with its leaves and provides carbohydrates to the fungus, and the fungus provides the tree with more water and minerals from the soil than the tree’s root hairs could acquire on their own. In fact, the general belief today is that well over 90% of all green plants have such a fungal relationship, and that these fungal hairs unseen in the soil are a critical part of our environment. Some years ago scientists performed an experiment in which they exposed trees to CO2 in which the ordinary carbon had been replaced with a radioactive isotope that could be traced with instruments. Then when they looked to see where the radioactive tagged CO2 would show up again one of the places where they found it was in the tissue of the Indian Pipes. The tree supplied the fungus with carbohydrates manufactured with the radioactive carbon, and the Indian Pipe robbed the fungus to obtain its food. Really, you can’t make this stuff up!

Indian Pipe wasn’t the only parasitic plant we saw. At Lake Orbach some of the emergent vegetation was draped with a net of a thin, golden-brown vine called Dodder. Unlike the Indian Pipe, Dodder has a limited ability – very limited – to photosynthesize. When the Dodder seed sprouts, it is green and has tiny, anchoring roots. As it grows the tiny vine twists about seeking an acceptable host plant and when it finds one it spirals up, piercing the plant with tiny hairs called haustoria that penetrate the conductive tissue of the host. This is a necessary accomplishment; if the Dodder doesn’t latch on to a host soon after sprouting it will expire. Dodder uses its haustoria to absorb water and nutrients from its host. As the Dodder has accomplishes this vampire-like deed (well, not exactly, we all know that vampires – the bats that is – lap blood with their tongues from incisions that they furtively make) it abandons its infant roots and previous green existence, and pursues its new life as a free-loader. If you look closely at the vines you might see what appear to be widely spaced tiny scales; these are vestigial leaves, not functioning, but not yet entirely abandoned.

While at Lake Orbach, Pumphouse Pond and Hourglass Pond we looked for water lilies, but all the impressive White Water Lilies (Nymphea odorata) were just beginning to open after the previous rain and just a little too far away for a good view without binoculars. At Pumphouse Pond a few of the globular yellow blossoms of the Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar lutea) stood out of the water on long stems. Unlike the White Water Lily, these yellow globes never unfold their petals but open only at the very top to admit pollinators. I wonder why they remain ball-like; are they, perhaps, trying to keep certain ravenous insects out?

We returned along the shore of Lack Orbach, ducking under dense tunnels of Sweetpepper Bush, Highbush Blueberry and I don’t know how many other riparian shrubs, getting showered with water every time we bumped a low spreading branch. By then it was getting warm, and I at least found the sprinkles refreshing. Back at High Rock, our Restoration was over; it was good.

A Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) hanging out by Pumphouse Pond. These aren’t poisonous – we have no poisonous snakes on Staten Island – but if annoyed they will defend themselves vigorously (i.e., they’ll bite you if you grab them).

A nice Cauliflower Mushroom (Sparassus spathulata) on the Yellow Trail toward Pumphouse Pond: a good edible for foragers if found in good condition.

Below left: Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora), flowering plants that lack chlorophyll so they have to parasitize threads of fungus in the soil.

Below right: Dodder (Cuscuta sp.), a parasitic vine that extracts nutrients from the plants it grows upon. If you look closely just left of the center of the picture you can see one of the haustoria with which it syphons nutrients from its host. (this photo was from October of a previous year)

Below left: the White Water Lilly (Nymphea ordorata)

Below right: a Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar lutea) [from NJ -I couldn’t get close enough to photo ours last Saturday] DfR 7-22-2015

40th Anniversary Event – Aug 9 – Goodhue Woods

Sunday,  August 9,  10 a.m. to 12 Noon The Goodhue Woods (1975 – 2015) –

When City Councilman Michael McMahon approached Protectors of Pine Oak Woods for assistance with the preservation of this special north shore habitat Ellen Pratt did not hesitate to commit Protectors complete support. She quickly gathered together Staten Island’s leading environmentalists and pieced together a collection of supportive essays and letters advocating the preservation of the property. Councilman McMahon brought Protectors’ publication to City Hall and convinced City Council to fund the purchase of the Goodhue Woods.   In 2009,  the City Planning Commission approved the purchase, but the monies set aside by City Council were misappropriated. Once new funding was secured 15 acres of the Goodhue Woods were officially transferred to city Parks in April 2013. Join Cliff Hagen as he explores this city park property.   Gather at the corner of Brentwood and Prospect Avenues. For more information email Cliff Hagen at or call him at 718-313-8591.



Save the Date

In the beginning of August you will be receiving the following invitation to our Anniversary luncheon


Please join us as we

Celebrate the

40th Anniversary


Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, Inc.

And the

Accomplishments of Ellen O’Flaherty Pratt


Sunday, September 20, 2015

12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.


Li Greci’s Staaten

697 Forest Avenue

Staten Island, NY

Cost: $ 70.00 / person

RSVP: September 8, 2015

Why Join Protectors?

We each have a stake in the future of Staten Island. We live here, ed learn here, help play here. We raise families, work hard and enjoy summer days and wintery nights as the years go by.

When you join Protectors, you join Staten Island’s oldest all-volunteer environmental organization. When you join, you become part of an organization working to make Staten Island a better place to live.

When you join Protectors, you meet caring, concerned Islanders. You learn to understand Staten Island’s habitats; you learn to love our parks, you may learn new hobbies: bird watching, photography, walking in natural areas, identifying plants.

When you join Protectors, your calls for environmental preservation are heard. Your calls to halt overdevelopment are echoed. When you join Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, our voices, together, are amplified and every elected official, appointed bureaucrat and decision-maker in government listens.

Join Protectors of Pine Oak Woods today so you can take part in the conversations that we are shaping the future of Staten Island, our Borough of Parks.


—Ellen Pratt and Cliff Hagen


 (photo by Lawrence Pugliares.)



March 21, 2015 – Forest Restoration Workshop Report

Forest Restoration Workshop (223),  Mar. 21,  2015 Note its been awhile since I got any reports out,  so this is an old report compiled from notes…

A soft snow had fallen overnight; with little wind, so all around branches were mantled with a 3″ layer of fluffy, white snow. The view from picnic tables at Loosestrife swamp was magic, a tracery in high contrast black and white. Looking across the swamp we could see precisely the wind shadow created by the surrounding hills; up to a certain level branches were mounds of white, but above they were bare and stood out starkly. It was almost as if an artist had been chalking them from bottom to top and abruptly stopped part way up for lunch.

We had gotten a “heads-up” that the Cub Scouts would join us again, and so they did, but this time for the most part a different group of kids. During the usual confusion while everyone greeted and sorted themselves out we got organized by circulating the sign-up sheet and opening the tool shed to get out what tools and gloves we though we’d need. It was swiftly warming up and piled snow began flaking off the branches in huge chunks. I pulled off my hat and plunked our paperwork on the trunk of a nearby car just in time to get a load of snow down my neck and all over the sign-in sheets. For some reason the others thought this was amusing…

We passed out gloves and pruners to the kids and weed wrenches and large loppers to the adults. After the obligatory warning to carry the pruners point down or let a big guy or girl carry them, we set off along the trail to Pumphouse Pond beside the Moravian Cemetery fence. We planned to cut and pull whatever invasive vines and plants we found along the way, and I feared we wouldn’t have enough for everybody to do some work. As usual, I shouldn’t have worried.

It didn’t take long to encounter our first patch of Aralia sprouts, dozens upon dozens, all small. The melting snow and some rain the week before made the ground soft enough that most of the kids could uproot the smaller sprouts by hand. Many sprouts that could have been pulled were cut, I suppose just to use the tool. We didn’t have to go far to find larger plants that needed mechanical aid to uproot. Sometimes 2 or 3 of the scouts had to pull at a plant, and sometimes they called over of the adults with a weed wrench. Often they manipulated the wrenches by themselves and eventually produced several piles of thorny, tangled sticks which we left off the trail.

Had it been a little later in the year we could have harvested some of the Spring buds which I am told by foragers are quite good to eat. Almost everyone says they have to be new buds, however, thumb sized or so. (Should you search on the web, make sure that you are looking at recipes for the oriental plant, Aralia elata, and not our other Aralias – there are several very different native plants in the same genus. Most of the recipes seem to be for tempuras.) Walkingstick buds are a foragable food I’d like to try, but it seems I’m either too intent on rooting the plants out to think about collecting some, or I’m too late in the season for the delicate spring buds… Well, someday…

We continued to Pumphouse Pond where we took a break for cookies and oranges. A cursory look around indicated that we had pretty well cleared that spot of Araila, and that we could ignore it for the next few seasons until new shoots have sprouted. The temperarture was fast rising, and there was little snow left on the branches. The snow on the ground was wet and easily packed, so the scouts got busy rolling it up to build a snowman on the trail. It seemed appropriate to use cut Aralia for the arms, and some of the many fallen sweetgum seedballs for the eyes, etc. (Thanks, Brian, for the pic) To do anything else would have been anticlimactic, so we then gathered our stuff and went home.


February 21, 2015 – Greenbelt Nature Center

February’s Workshop proposed to be even less promising than January’s. The previous four weeks had been much colder than in recent years and in that frigid period what snow had fallen had little opportunity to melt. Saturday day broke cold and a bit gloomy and was likely to discourage additional volunteers coming out; moreover,  by some quirk of memory I had the idea that Dom would be back with us and that Elaine would be away,  therefore it was likely that there would at most be three of us. This Workshop had us scheduled to remove what we could of alien Devil’s Walking Stick seedlings and saplings from the small infested triangle between the two arms of the Department of Parks’ restoration site adjacent to Rockland Avenue.

I was wrong; that dingy day saw five of us ready to brave the snow and do what we could. The trails were icy and there were several inches of snow on the ground. Moreover the ground was hard. Three weeks of sub-freezing weather had hardened the surface in spite of an insulating blanket of snow, and that, I thought, would probably make yanking things out of the ground difficult. Lugging ponderous Weed Wrenches to the restoration site would have been arduous and a bit hazardous where we would have to negotiate eroded portions of the Red Trail. Weighing all up, Dom and I decided that it would be better to cut vines along the flat portion of the Nature Trail close to where it intersected the Blue, so on the way to the Nature Center we stopped at High Rock to gather loppers, gloves and pruners.

There we got our first indication that indeed, the weather wasn’t cooperating. When we tried to open the door of the storage shed we discovered that it hadn’t been opened recently and that several inches of icy snow prevented it from swinging. This snow and ice wasn’t stuff that you could just brush away; it was thick and hard. There were no suitable tools in the car (of course they were plenty of suitable tools in the shed that we couldn’t get into), so we went to the administration building and garage to see if we could find something that might serve. Nobody home and all locked up… We poked around and discovered the handleless head of a discarded broken shovel and as it was the only “tool” available took it back to the shed. It wasn’t a very effective implement, but five minutes of jabbing, scraping and prying provided enough room to swing the door open just enough to slip inside and fetch our tools.

At the Nature Center we crossed the bridge and followed the trail, cutting vines along the way. Dom, Chuck, Brian and Elaine took loppers and went ahead toward the trail intersection where we knew there were many large uncut vines. I lagged behind because I was determined to root out some Araila saplings we encountered in order to try out a new tool. Well, sort of a new tool…

In the past we had several workshops whose object was to remove small, new infestations of the alien Devil’s Walking Stick before they got out of hand. The best way for us to handle these plants was to yank them out of the ground with a lever called a Weed Wrench. Somewhat more than a year ago the manufacturer ceased production of this tool, and because no more were available the Parks Department would no longer loan us any of their Wrenches. Since we did not have many of our own it was impractical to schedule a workshop targeting these plants. Last year we purchased a competing device made in Canada called a Puller Bear, which worked on the same principle. After trying it out, it was my opinion was that although usable, it was a somewhat lighter duty tool more suitable for removing stuff like Multi-flora Rose. Recently I discovered that a company in the US had begun marketing a slightly improved Weed Wrench clone called The Uprooter, and Protectors promptly purchased one to try out. Long story short, it looks just like a Weed Wrench, colored white not orange, and it works just fine. Maybe now Parks will allow some of their Wrenches to come out and play with us.

Although I had to jam the tool down through the snow to get close to the base of the Aralia saplings, I was able to yank out a good number. In a few places hard and rocky ground won out and I had to leave those plants in place, and in others a few roots broke off in the hard soil. These roots may sprout again in the Spring and we’ll have to pull those out in future workshops.

After a short break – Clementines again, a nice break from bananas and naturally refrigerated! – we finished (no one was up for a walk afterwards this day) by cutting large Bittersweet vines that we saw further off the trail. There’s a lot to do on that section of the Nature Trail: more Oriental Bittersweet, Multi-flora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, Oriental Wisteria and even some Porcelain-berry. We’ll be back.

As I write this today we’ve had a series – thankfully! – of warm days. Spring is demonstrably on its way and the Greenbelt is threaded with rivulets of snow melt. Three weeks ago advance guards of Redwing Blackbirds were already “konk-a-reeing” and marking out territory in the marshes, and I’ve seen photos on the web of overwintering moths in New Jersey observed to have come out of their hibernating places (but I didn’t see these live, myself). Buds should be swelling and getting ready to break, and soon we can look forward to seeing Skunk Cabbage, Pussy-willow catkins, and Red-maples starting to flower. Spring Peepers sounding at the edges of vernal pools too! Spring just can’t get here any sooner.

January 17, 2015 – High Rock Park

I anticipated January’s Restoration Workshop to be an ill-attended,  cold affair. It was deep winter – a time when volunteers are typically few,  Dom, one of our regulars was away, and early weather reports suggested the day was going to be clear, but very cold. “Probably only four of us,” I thought, so I was somewhat surprised to find a volunteer waiting in his car by the shed at Nevada Avenue. I asked him what he was waiting for, expecting the answer to be that he was waiting for one of the many Greenbelt sponsored weekend events to begin, and was even more surprised when he said he was waiting for a group of Cub Scouts that were coming to some kind of a restoration project! No-one else was around so that would have to be us!

And so they did come. Eventually there were 10 of us, Protectors, kids, and parents included. We passed out gloves and tools – clippers to the small people and loppers to the others – and set off toward this month’s site on the Blue Trail south of Seaview. There was a lot of youthful enthusiasm to be handled, so on the way Brian explained what the colored blazes on the trees meant, and had a few of the scouts take turns following the blazes to lead the way. I had a needless worry that the distance might be a little far, that boredom might set in, but there was plenty of energy to get us there.

There was one young girl among the boys, perhaps a sister but I didn’t ask, who was perceptive and quite comfortable in the woods. As it turned out, one of the parents was active in Leave No Trace, and the scout leaders had done a good job of passing that organization’s values to the kids. Tenants of Leave No Trace is to stick to the trails, do no damage and leave no debris in the woods. Follow this link if you want to learn more:

Our work area has been heavily disturbed and infested with a variety of twining, woody vines and other, non-native and un-wanted plants. We could only make a dent there, so we concentrated out efforts on vines immediately adjacent to the trail – of which there were decidedly no lack. This allowed us to work in from the trail side and avoid some of the briars; none-the-less the thorns did cause some unexpected grief. In several places, especially where there were Pin Oaks close to the trail with skirts of descending branches, Bittersweet had twined up and almost covered the entire tree. The only way to disencumber these “teepees” of twisted vines was to begin from side accessible from the trail.

The adults used the loppers and went after the really big stuff, and the kids were set to looking for small saplings and shrubs encumbered with Japanese Honeysuckle. We explained that the small plants were much more vulnerable to being strangled by the vines than the larger trees, but that we went after the big vines too because they would otherwise keep producing seeds and make more trouble in the future.

At the break Elaine distributed cookies and fruit – clementines this time – and afterwards the rinds were collected to be brought back and discarded at High Rock. I’m afraid I usually break one of the rules of Leave No Trace when we have bananas; these I usually pitch off the trail out of sight, explaining that the skins will be brown and almost invisible in a day and will return some elements, especially nitrogen and potassium, to the soil. Citrus is a different matter however; it is both slow to rot (some sources say citrus takes 50 times as long as bananas to decompose) and remains very visible, so I don’t leave those peels behind.

We ended this workshop a few at a time, leaving according to our individual schedules. I was pleased to note that everyone leaving early was familiar enough with the Greenbelt to need little or no direction to find the way back. The last of us followed one of our young leaders who did a pretty good job of following the blazes – in fact a very good job considering that we chose to come back by a slightly different route than we had taken coming in. He got us to where we could see the parking lot from an upper slope and then we were all home free.

We few remaining didn’t have a lot of time left, so after storing the tools and gloves we chose to make a quick loop to Walker Pond and back. This turned out to be a nice crisp, clear day to be in the woods, a day to enjoy… _ _ _ _ _


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