Know Your Native, Winter Edition

Believe it or not, staff at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy do not hibernate during the winter.

Angela, Jaci, and Jake taking care of a tree in Highland Park

While some of us cozy up in the office with woolly sweaters and Big Gulp-sized mugs of coffee and tea, there are those of us that are out in the parks in any weather. Two such dauntlessly awesome staffers are our horticulturist Angela and our gardener Jaci. Regularly spotted outside in ultra heavy duty winter wear, they recently visited the office clad in all-weather work boots carrying a box of treasures — seeds and buds and clippings from plants around the parks. These finds, hidden in the drab colors of winter, were an unusual learning experience and a fun way to study the parks in winter.

If you’re a regular reader of our blog/social media, you might have caught our Know Your Native or What’s In Bloom segments. During the growing seasons, Angela compiles pictures of blossoms and buds from the park gardens for her monthly What’s in Bloom series. Our more sporadic Know Your Native highlights local plants that staffers find and photograph around the parks.

This week, we’re meshing the two. And adding a fun mnemonic twist. We’re also bending the rules; technically, none of these finds are currently in bloom. And a couple of them aren’t natives, but we’re throwing them in, too. Let’s get started! (Note: Information about these plants came from the great Missouri Botanical Garden.)

Tulip (Liriodendron tulipifera)

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A large deciduous tree native of eastern North America, the tulip tree, otherwise known as the yellow poplar, is easily identified by its tulip-shaped flowers seen here. The flowers can be tough to spot in spring since they bloom after the tree’s leaves pop open. Its genus name comes from Greek leirion (lily) and dendron (tree). Tulipifera means tulip bearing.

Fun fact: Native Americans made dugout canoes from tuliptree trunks. Source.

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

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Tripping over the large spiked fruits that we think look like boot spurs is an easy way to identify the invasive horse chestnut, or conker tree. When the skin of the fruit breaks, you can find one or two dark brown horsechestnuts, a relative of the buckeye (but not the chestnut), inside. Check back with these trees in the spring when they show off white, red and yellow flowers.

Fun fact: The alternate name for this tree, conker tree, comes from a British-Irish children’s game that dates back to the 1800s. For this “game,” children would tie strings to the spiked fruits and bop each other over the head until the fruit broke. We’re not sure if you win when the fruit breaks…? Don’t try that at home.

Goldenrain (Tree Sapindaceae)

In the winter, you can identify the invasive goldenrain tree by the papery seed capsules that are a bit reminiscent of Chinese lanterns. The tree blossoms in early summer with flowers of varying shades of yellow, which make a golden yellow carpet under the tree. This tree is air pollution resistant, helping it thrive in urban areas.

Eastern beech (Fagus sylvatica)

The European beech has been a popular ornamental tree in the United States since the mid-1700s. The trunk has a distinctive smooth, gray texture that seems to fold and melt around branches. Leaves of the beech tree aren’t abscissed in fall, meaning they hold on to their leaves all winter. Female flowers give way to two triangular nuts held in spiny capsules, seen here:

Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

A native to eastern North america, no doubt you’ve noticed the sweet gum’s signature ‘gumballs’ spread out at the base of these trees. These spiky globular fruiting clusters are the product of female flower. The name of this tree comes from the sweet-smelling ‘gum’ that the tree exudes when cut.

Fun fact: The tree’s gum has indeed been used for chewing gum. It’s also been used to make incense, perfumes, folk medicines and flavorings.

Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina)

Identifying this native tree is a bit of a gimme. Shown here are the nut-like fruits that cluster like bells. Watch in April when the trees flowers start to bloom in even more obvious bell shapes. Like a bell rung for dinner, these gorgeous flowers seem to bring in warmer weather.

Like to learn more about what makes up our park flora? Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to catch our Know Your Native features, or subscribe to our blog at the bottom right corner. And if you haven’t picked up a copy of our gorgeous Invasive Plants of Pittsburgh guidebook, order one today! 

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

We just have to throw in one more, because we can’t resist. We’ll leave you with Staphylea trifolia, otherwise known as bladdernut. While not the most attractive name, this native does show some pretty flowers in spring!

This blog was originally posted in February 2014.

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What’s in Bloom — July 2015

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

If gardens and libraries are everything you need, then you have to love Schenley Plaza. With the main branch of Carnegie Library just across the street, the Plaza gardens are the perfect spot to hunker down with a tasty book.

And all season long, the garden blooms put on quite a show.

These gorgeous flowers don’t happen by accident. Chosen based on bloom times, pest/disease tolerance and color, the flora in the Plaza are actually All-America Selections varieties. Qualified as an official display garden, the Plaza beds are tended frequently by Parks Conservancy gardeners, the flowers rotated throughout the season. Here are some that are in bloom right now:

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 Blanket flowers looking sunny.

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Four colors of zinnias.

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A pop of purple from purple coneflowers.

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A plethora of petunies.

A short way from the Plaza is the newly established meadow at Beacon and Bartlett streets. Seeded with native plants, the meadow is also in blossom. Stop by now to see for yourself this incredible field of black-eyed Susans (click the image below to enlarge!)

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Black-eyed Susans. Click image to enlarge.

Want to help us keep park gardens growing? Interested in learning more about what’s growing, and where? Find our new garden guide here on the website, and while you’re there, sign up as a horticulture volunteer!

Life and Love Celebrated in Schenley Plaza

You might see a flower bed in Schenley Plaza with a plaque in tribute to Jacqueline Reid Gerjuoy among the daffodils that reads, She loved gardens. We loved her. A few feet away a circular bench also stands in her memory, She lived with love for all and malice towards none. “That was Jac,” smiles Ed Gerjuoy, her husband for 68 years.

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Gerjuoy met Jackie at UC Berkeley in 1938. He was a graduate student in physics, she was a junior undergrad. The couple married in 1940 and eventually had two sons while Gerjuoy went on to be a physics professor at the University of Southern California.

In the summer of 1952 Gerjuoy took a temporary position in the Westinghouse labs. He found Pittsburgh beautiful and told Jackie how nice it was in his calls to her. He was offered a permanent position at Pitt (where he is still professor emeritus) and took it, relocating Jackie and the boys to the steel city. “I didn’t know that there was a steel strike going on that summer,” Gerjuoy remembers. Two days after his wife’s arrival the mills again started churning steel and emitting huge clouds of dust. “That almost ended my marriage,” Gerjuoy laughs.

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The family stayed in Pittsburgh and when Jackie passed in 2008 Gerjuoy selected the Parks Conservancy’s brand new Schenley Plaza to commemorate her. He also established the Jacqueline Reid Gerjuoy Nature and Environmental Resources Collection at the nearby Carnegie Library. “Half my money is hers and I wanted to spend it on her,” he says. “The only thing that makes me sad is that I didn’t tell her my plans before she died. She would have loved to be in Schenley Plaza.”

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Days before Gerjuoy’s 97th birthday, on a dreary-turned-sunny Sunday, a dozen kids from Temple Sinai and their adults kneel in those garden beds, bringing them to life. In a flurry of trowels and small garden gloves, hundreds of flowers take root.

Nearby, Gurjuoy and his two sons sit on the bench devoted to Jackie, laughing and chatting with the Parks Conservancy’s own Jaci, the caretaker of the Plaza gardens.

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Jackie loved gardens.

Sweaty and smiley, the kids finish planting and head over to where Gerjuoy and his family sit. Slowly, someone starts singing “Happy Birthday.” Everyone chimes in.

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And they love her.

Star Light, Star Bright: Shining the Stars at Mellon Park Walled Garden

The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
Carl Sagan

All of our volunteers are all-stars. One group that recently worked in Mellon Park’s Walled Garden, however, was particularly star-studded.

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Seven volunteers from Macy’s joined Parks Conservancy Horticulturist Angela at the site of the Mellon Park art installation on a sunny Sunday to get the stars in the lawn to shine brighter than usual.

Armed to the teeth with toothbrushes, they spent the morning cleaning the 150 stone markers hidden in the lawn. The markers, part of an installation in memorial of Ann Katharine Seamans, reflect the stars and planets in the same alignment of Katharine’s birth in 1979.

Want to learn more about this special space? Read more about the Mellon Park Walled Garden art installation.

 

 

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These bright, shiny faces lit up the park. Many thanks, Team Macy’s!

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Interested in getting your company/organization out into the parks for a volunteer day? Click here!

Native Plants and Transplants: Meet Our New Zone Gardener

Native Plants and Transplants: Meet Our New Zone Gardener

When I told my family I was moving to Pittsburgh after college, they could not understand why I would want to live in such a dirty city.

It was noisy, dreary, crowded and depressing. Green, open spaces — besides where the Pirates or Steelers played — were not what came to mind when they thought about Pittsburgh.

Rosie, embracing her new home in Frick Woods.

 

After all, I enjoyed the simplicities of a rural upbringing; a world without cable. Play time included exploring the woods, creeks and meadows — my backyard. Traffic involved not being able to pass an Amish horse and buggy or farm tractor on a country road.

Invasive grapevine choking a tree.

I admit moving to an urban area was an adjustment — especially before I knew what the “Pittsburgh left” meant. But folks here are friendly and happy to share their favorite spots in and around the city. I found great comfort and relief in discovering the many nearby parks and exploring them. A short drive or long walk and I could be in the middle of the woods.

Before coming to the Parks Conservancy, I established the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden in Bellevue, an urban garden that provides fresh produce to two food pantries. I was also a grower at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and the Watershed Coordinator/ Environmental Educator at the Snyder County Conservation District. I hold a BS in biology from Lycoming College.

Sedum groundcover growing on shaded slope.

I am excited to be a part of the Parks Conservancy team, serving as the Zone Gardener for the Frick Woods Nature Reserve. My focus will be identifying and regenerating native plants and developing sustainable, multi-purpose gardens while tackling the removal of invasive species in the Reserve.

The winter months are ideal for familiarizing oneself with the park. I will be spending time journaling my observations and prioritizing restorations sites. I will also be in charge of the gardens surrounding the new Frick Environmental Center. These gardens will showcase native plant species of western Pennsylvania, allowing park visitors to see them in their native habitat throughout the Nature Reserve.

Orange bark of invasive Norway maple.

Managing over a hundred acres is not an easy task and I’ll need your help, Pittsburgh. I look forward to working with Urban EcoStewards and volunteers. Conquering invasive plants and restoring native habitats will be a rewarding experience that we can reach together.

Rosie Wise, Zone Gardener with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Let’s Talk About Parks

Let’s Talk About Parks

When my brothers and I were kids, the first person to reach the morning news would claw their way to the cartoons section, grab a bowl of cereal, and post up on the corner of the couch. Tough luck to the next one of us that tried to pry them away from their comics; might as well grab another bowl of sugary cereal and wait for your turn in line. (Which could take quite a while; there are seven of us.)

Starting last month, there’s another section of the newspaper that kids can squabble over (or share, if they’re a little more civil than my family). Every other Tuesday, we have a special section for our younger park pals: Let’s Talk About Parks. In it are tips to identify park life, explore trails, play and learn in the natural world. (Don’t tell the young ones, but adults can also read this section, too.) Here’s a bit of what we’ve shared so far:

Amphibians

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Taiji Nelson, Naturalist Educator/professional frog catcher.

 

The wetlands and ponds in the parks (we recommend the seasonal pools in Highland Park) create excellent habitat for frogs. Here are some commons ones that you can see and hear:

  • Spring peepers. You can hear for their raucous nocturnal singing after spring and summer storms.
  • American bullfrogs. Spot these big hoppers during the day, Chances are, they’ll see you before you see them and dive into any nearby water.
  • American toads. Found in damp, cool areas of the woodland floor where their coloring — brown to gray accented by spots and warts — provides excellent camouflage. Find these amphibians deeper in the parks.

Salmanders are always looking for the best rock or downed tree to hide under. Students in our Young Naturalists program this year studied salamander habitat by laying out wooden boards in the woods, turning them over once a week to see what had started living there.

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Do not touch the salamanders! Sincerely, the Young Naturalists.

When looking for salamanders, carefully turn rocks and logs over, being sure to put them gently back in place when you’re done. If you find a salamander, don’t touch it! Salamander skin is sensitive, even a small amount of handling can harm or kill them. Northern dusky and red back salamanders are especially common species in our area.

With winter approaching, amphibians will soon go into hibernation. Green frogs will stay at the bottom of ponds or streams, while wood frogs, distinguishable by a black mask around their eyes, hide in the leaf-litter before entering a semi-frozen state until spring. If you find one of these “frogsicles” in the winter, they will appear to be dead. But don’t be fooled; their bodies manufacture an anti-freeze to protect their internal organs until warm weather returns.

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Young Naturalists flipping over boards in Frick Park to observe what creatures live there. Boards were purposely set up over five weeks to survey forest floor habitat.

Fall flowers

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Goldenrod in Highland Park. Photo by Melissa McMasters.

While we’ve had to bid a fond farewell to summer wildflowers, fall has its own impressive display of flowery color and texture. Here are some that you can spot on just a short walk through Schenley Park:

  • Goldenrod. Growing extra tall in the meadow at the Bartlett Street Playground, this hardy yellow flower is often confused with ragweed, a common cause of pollen allergies.
  • White wood asters and purple New England asters. Sprinkled among the meadow grasses, these plants produce clouds of delicately fringed flowers atop thin dark stems. Asters provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators, as well as seeds for songbirds after their bloom is completed.
Purple aster plus pollinator. Photo by Melissa McMasters

Purple aster plus pollinator. Photo by Melissa McMasters

  • Obedient plant. This spikey plant is distinguished by clusters of pink tube-shaped flowers and named because its individual flowers can be bent in any direction and will stay in that position “obediently.”
  • Snakeroot. Found in the shade of the woodland on the Panther Hollow Trail, Snakeroot’s dark green leaves are contrasted by puffy white flowers that are fuzzy to the touch.
  • Pokeweed. This plant can reach heights of 10 feet and is adorned with clusters of reddish-purple berries.
  • White Baneberry or Doll’s Eyes. Identify this plant by its white berries with a black center.
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Pokeweed in Schenley Park

Learn more about exploring and discovering your parks through the bi-weekly “Let’s Talk About Parks” segment in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The next feature, set to print September 23rd, features biking in Frick Park!

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy

Speaking for the Trees

Speaking for the Trees

Last week, a bloom of garden writers cropped up in Schenley Plaza. There was laughter, there was garden conversation, there was… a flash mob to the song “Happy.”

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Did we mention that garden writers are a rowdy bunch?

The 600 or so party animals gardeners from across U.S. and Canada were in town for the Garden Writers Association convention and made a special stop in Schenley Plaza to see the award-winning gardens that are on display there — for free! — all year long. They were also there to scope out the Every Tree Tells a Story exhibit, made possible by Davey Trees and the Cultural Landscape Foundation and going on now around the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.

During their stop, we asked them to do what they do best — tell some stories! Davey Trees recorded 70 or so really amazing tree tales, which are posted to their YouTube channel. Here are some of our favorites:

And our Most Favorite Video Award goes to…

Have you visited the Every Tree Tells a Story exhibit yet? Catch it before it ends on September 1st!

If you would like to speak out for the trees, we invite you to join us at our Park Tree Fund launch event on Thursday, August 21st. The Park Tree Fund exists to maintain and strengthen our urban forest. With your support, we can keep Pittsburgh’s trees growing strong for generations to come. Now that would be a great story to tell.

We want to hear your tree story! Post your stories to the comments section below.