March 2014, Yellow Trail

Yellow Trail
By Don Recklies,  Naturalist

Forest Restoration Workshop #210
Saturday March 19, 2014

Saturday proved to be a mostly sunny, warm day, perfect weather for our Workshop and one that would lead us to believe that Winter was truly over. However, those of us with any experience whatsoever knew that this was just a teaser with more cold weather and possibly snowstorms to come.   None-the-less, we just had to enjoy the day knowing that beneath our feet spring bulbs were stirring and that all around us trees were pushing sap up from their roots to fatten buds getting ready to break.

It was because of those trees that 5 of us were in the woods with small loppers and pruners, setting out to cut woody vines down from the trees along the Greenbelt edge of Rockland Avenue.  We started where an old branch of the Yellow Trail exited to Rockland Avenue, just south-east of the intersection of Rockland and Manor Road. There a mixture of European Bittersweet and Porcelainberry wound about and rose into the trees like tropical lianas. We noted that some of the vines were dark brown and shaggy – obviously species of grape – and carefully left those untouched. The others we proceeded to cut high and low and where possible unwrapped them from saplings and trees. We concentrated on Bittersweet, which in some cases was thick enough to require the largest loppers in our arsenal, but also pruned Japanese Honeysuckle where we found it twining up the smaller saplings and shrubs.

Once we had that edge clear, we proceeded up Rockland toward Nevada, noting that for the most part there was little Bittersweet except at road intersections. At the corner of Rockland and Florida was an exceptionally dense vineland; there much of the Bittersweet was too large even for our largest loppers. A few of these vines lay on the ground, growing through a tumble of downed trees, and we wondered if the load of vine and leaf that had grown up into the canopy had been instrumental in bringing these trees down. The vines had rooted repeatedly where they had lain on the ground for sufficient time, and each rooted section will send up new vines as Spring progresses.   Presumably the new young, smaller vines will not be able to supply as much nourishment to the roots as did the vigorous growth in the canopy, and the entire plant should be more easily shaded out and weaker for us to cope with in the future.

The largest vines, of which there were many, had to be cut with a saw, and the going was slower than when loppers alone sufficed. Remember that these are woody vines, as strong and tough as small trees, and it is only their habit of twining, twisting growth that makes their woody cores commercially useless as stick lumber. Many of the largest vines were lumpy and stringy, appearing as if they were vines that had been braided together and compressed into one.   This was indeed the case; when cut with our saw we often saw that the stringier vines had several centers and had obviously been created by multiple individual vines twining about one another to better reach above the ground. We were making good headway until our saw broke at the very end of our work session, and that was justification enough to stop for the day.   There is more to do there, and we will probably schedule to go back in the Fall or next Spring.

After the work session we took a brief walk up the ravine to look at where we will be performing a clean-up in the next Restoration Workshop. Other than our annual beach clean-up in September for the Ocean Conservancy’s Annual Coastal Cleanup, we usually don’t engage in this activity, but we had noted that many of the recent winter storms had washed trash into the ravine and the portion of Richmond Creek above and below the Bluebelt pond and thought it would be a good project to remove it. We proposed this project to the Richmond County Savings Foundation and received one of their Green Challenge Grants for this work and for a later clean-up at Walker Pond. If all goes well with these we might continue to schedule a cleanup each year in the Greenbelt, and for next year I already have in mind the vernal ponds and road edge along Rockland Avenue close to Forest Hill Road.

After February’s Restoration we had looked at the leafless trees and tried out Michael Wojtech’s field guide to bark, finding that it did not include Sweetgum (that tree was out of the geographic range of the guide). I mentioned that I was sure that the many residual Sweetgum seedballs that litter the ground at the end of Winter must contain at least a few seeds on which birds and small mammals might forage. Had I been more observant I might not have made that statement. A week later I had occasion be at Long Pond and Mt. Loretto, and I took the opportunity to collect Sweetgum balls. I picked up seven from different locations (and therefore from different trees) making sure that they were relatively shiny and fresh, not dull old seedballs surviving from winters past, and took them home to examine closely. I shook them out into a tray and counted…. zero seeds. I even cut one open to see if any were somehow lodged in the bottom of the cone-like capsules that had contained the developing seeds, and all I found was a tough, fibrous core that makes these balls so durable and uncomfortable when trod upon. Each ball bore numerous split cone-shaped capsules – on one I counted 68 – and each capsule might have held one or two tiny winged seeds.   Although possible, it is unlikely that all of the seedballs I collected had been infertile (a paper found on the web from the Holden Arboretum noted that on average each seed ball in a favorable habitat would produce 56 viable seeds, or as few as 7 if conditions were poor – and our trees seemed very healthy), so flailing about at the tips of branches in windy weather these dehiscing seed capsules must be very efficient indeed at distributing their seeds (dehiscent: a botanical term referring to a dry fruit that splits open along a seam) leaving few seeds to fall in the shadow of the parent tree.

We had no use for Weed Wrenches on this last Restoration, but during our walk I informed our volunteers that due to the manufacturer shutting down with no more available for purchase we would no longer have access to the Weed Wrenches owned by the Department of Parks. For the time being we would have to make do with just the two that we owned, certainly making extraction of reasonable amounts of Arailia elata (the alien Devil’s Walking-stick) difficult for us, but that I had found on the web a Canadian company that was making a similar product called a Puller-bear. We have purchased one to try out to see if we could recommend it to the NYCDPR. I had hoped to have it for trial at this last Restoration, but haven’t received it yet. It won’t be of much use next month, but I’m anxious to see if it’s durable and works as well as the very efficient Weed Wrench.

DfR 3-23-2014