Eastern Gray Squirrel Observations

On a colorful fall day with some rainy drizzle, I sat watching two squirrels running down an eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and jumping onto an American beech (Fagus grandifolia), biting off small branches full of leaves, and running back up the tree as fast as they could climb. Back and forth—the two squirrels took turns and continued this behavior for several hours as they worked on their nest-building.

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American beech has always been one of my favorite landscape plants because of its winter interest: the leaves hold on to the tree all winter long.  Every spring, I enjoy trying to guess what day in the first week of April the leaves will finally fall off. Of course, these leaves would be excellent nest-building materials. Eastern squirrels will also use pine needles and white oak leaves if available, and squirrels, being social creatures, will share their nests during certain times of the year.

Another fun squirrel behavior is to see them use their bushy tail as an umbrella in the rain as they sit on a tree branch. A little rain does not keep them from being active and enjoying their habitat. This is a prime example of the importance of planting native trees for habitat.

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator

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Beech Drops and Bedrooms

800px-Epifagus_virginiana_2For two of my children, sharing a bedroom is a source of constant contention. Attempts to maintain peace—including a line of tape down the center of the room and a “rules and regulation” sign tacked to the door—have been short-lived. They wait with ill-concealed anticipation for their older sister to leave for college and vacate a bedroom.

While cohabitation can prove problematic in the human world, examples of two species successfully sharing space are common in nature. Meander along the Tuckahoe Creekside Walk, and you may spy a scattering of beech drops on the forest floor. These less-than-showy brown annuals are one of the roughly one percent of plant species that do not produce their own carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Completely lacking chlorophyll, beech drops subsist on nutrients siphoned from the roots of the American beech tree.

Beech drops are fall ephemerals, appearing only briefly to flower. The rest of the year is spent underground, firmly attached to the beech tree’s roots. Beech drops do not seem to harm their hosts, making them an example of commensal symbiosis, in which one species benefits while the other is neither helped nor harmed.

Going on a treasure hunt for beech drops and other similarly intriguing plants is a wonderful way to engage children in the outdoors. With luck, the serenity of nature will follow them home. At least for a little while.

by Jenny Houghton
Assistant Director

Photo credit: By Eric Hunt – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 

Got Eastern Wild Turkey?

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photo courtesy of Kerry Wixted

Have you seen Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) near your home or in a roadside field? The answer is probably yes, since Maryland now has a healthy population of more than 40,000 wild turkeys!

Wild turkeys eat foods such as insects, acorns, seeds, fruits, and leaves. They are found close to forest lines so they may safely roost in trees at night. Wild turkeys nest in spring in fields or in areas thick with vegetation. They usually lay 9–12 eggs that hatch in about 26–28 days. Sadly, more than 50% of poults will be lost to cold or predation.

Humans are not the only ones who enjoy eating turkey—so does the fox! Foxes will eat adult turkeys and nesting hens. Nest predation usually occurs by raccoons, opossums, skunks, and snakes.

Eastern Wild Turkey are fun to watch, whether they are slowly crossing the road in a straight line or clumsily landing from flight on a farm field. I remember back in the ’90s when Maryland’s turkey population was around 10,000. Today’s increase to more than 40,000 is truly something to feel good about and gobble about!

 

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator

Project Greenhouse!

Great things are going on at the Arboretum’s greenhouse! Thanks to funding from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, Arboretum staff and volunteers recently replaced the torn plastic covering and old fittings. Wire lock bars will secure the new covering, and a rolling bar will allow the plastic to be rolled up and down as needed.

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Funding from Stanley Smith will also purchase a shade cloth, irrigation tubing, and inflation fans for the greenhouse. The current heating unit will be serviced and gas lines rerouted to allow for the roll-up bar configuration.

When work on the greenhouse is completed, it will be used to propagate plants for the Arboretum’s native plant nursery.  The additional space will also be available for programs and wreath decorating, helping the Arboretum grow in more ways than one.

by Assistant Director Jenny Houghton and Land Steward Kathy Thornton; photos by Leslie Cario

Report: November Soup ‘n Walk

Saturday, November 17

Today was the best weather of the week. It was sunny and in the 50s with just a brisk breeze. We had 25 paid guests and some who had not been to S&W before but were members, as well as some friends of members. Margan and I each led half the group. We did the same trails, but in opposite directions. The theme for today was searching for the acorns, nuts, berries, and seeds that are food for wildlife.

My group walked to the wetland and looked at the bicolor oak. The leaves were already brown. Earlier, they would have been dark green on top and light and fuzzy on the bottom, hence the name bicolor or swamp oak (Quercus bicolor). The group then received a map showing the location of many trees in the Arboretum and a sheet with leaf and acorn diagrams of the white and red oaks that can be located at Adkins. Someone volunteered that the white oak leaves have rounded lobes and the red oak leaves have pointy stipules on the lobes. Another question was asked about the acorns, which were not abundant this year compared to last year. White oak acorns take one year to mature, whereas red oak acorns take two years, and this was not a good year for either. Squirrels like the lower tannic acid in the white oaks and will eat them first. When they bury or save the acorns to keep them from sprouting, they nip off the tip of the acorn. Red oak acorns have more tannic acids, which keep them from sprouting as quickly. Squirrels have been shown recently that they can recover up to 90% of buried acorns. The other 10% seem to benefit our forest when they sprout.

We kept walking past a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) and black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees. These nuts also feed our wildlife, especially the squirrels and some of the birds and deer who like nuts. We passed the dogwood (Cornus florida)with their maroon color leaves and noted that the berries have already disappeared as food for birds and that many buds are showing for blooms next year. We walked past the meadow and stopped at a huge northern red oak (Quercus rubra). These leaves have red petioles! We looked for acorns and found only one, which was probably last year’s.

northern red oak

northern red oak

Next to the pavilion, we identified a southern red oak (Quercus falcata) by its leaves. We passed several sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum) showing next year’s buds. The berries were eaten earlier this summer from the female trees.

southern red oak

southern red oak

Heading into the woods, we passed some blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum) with colorful red leaves. These bloomed in May, and the birds enjoyed the berries soon after. Many beech trees (Fagus grandiflora) were visible in the landscape. The young trees still had leaves of green and gold and were quite picturesque all around us.

Next, we started down Creekside Trail to find some hickory trees. These trees have compound leaves with five to nine leaflets.

mockernut

mockernut hickory

The mockernut hickory (Carya glabra) is common and has five leaflets. The wetland, now visible from the trail, was quite full, and I mentioned that oaks have a hard time here except for the swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii). When I turned around, there was a lovely swamp chestnut oak still sporting some colorful yellow-brown leaves!

swamp chestnut oak

swamp chestnut oak

Our next view as we turned was the Tuckahoe River graced by a large beech tree (Fagus grandifolia), which blooms in early April. The beechnuts that follow in May are quickly found and eaten by squirrels, deer, and birds.

beech

beech

Now we had to hurry back, but not before we stopped at a large white oak (Quercus alba) with its flaky bark, moss covering, and hearts a’ bursting seeds nearby.

white oak bark

white oak bark

Most of these seeds have been eaten by birds. A post oak (Quercus stellata) with its maltese cross-like leaves was next on the left.

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post oak leaves

We hurried past the paw paw trees (Asimina triloba), which were losing their lovely yellow leaves. The delicious fruit fed wildlife in September.

oaks and acorns

After leaving the rustling leaves on the trail, we entered the art gallery for our hot split pea soup, apple date salad, rye walnut bread with apple butter, and oatmeal cranberry chocolate cookies. Yum. There were samples of white oak leaves, blueberry leaves, sweet gum leaves, and beech leaves on the tables and buffet. New bookmarks for next year, our 14th year, and copies of the recipes were on the tables. After eating, we talked about the good things in the delicious foods we were enjoying. Soluble fiber in the peas and apples lowers cholesterol. Bread-making hints were discussed, as well as the omega 3 good fats in the walnuts and canola oil and how to store them. We had walnuts for sale, with Adkins getting a $40 profit.

Volunteers who are essential to this effort were Pat B., Joyce A., Sheila D., Emily C., Martha S., Marilyn R., Margan G., and Tawna M. My thanks to all the volunteers and staff who make this healthy outreach fundraising event possible. The weather just seems to cooperate each month, except for last September with the hurricane scare.

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One member invited her mother from Lewes, DE, to celebrate her birthday. Another very young member was also enjoying the walk, apple butter, and lunch. We had a reporter here from Chesapeake Publishing, so more publicity is coming on the health and wellness value of our S&W. Members came from many other counties in Maryland and were looking forward to next year. They said they would be coming again and indicated that it might be a long wait to next February. There were suggestions for posting the S&W notes/blog on our website. Two I.A.L. members from Chesapeake College were here, and I mentioned a four-week nutrition class that I will be doing there next February at the Wye Mills campus and in March at the Cambridge Center. Check the Chesapeake College website in January. Thanks to all!

by Julianna Pax
Maryland Master Naturalist