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!

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

Taiji with bullfrog

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

Walking on the Wild Side: Wildflowers in the Parks

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
Lady Bird Johnson

Have you noticed the parks’ coltsfoot, twinleaf, and Dutchman’s breeches looking especially radiant this week? Don’t think that it’s just the rain that we’ve been enjoying lately. They’re looking extra fine because it’s National Wildflower Week!

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Violets doing what they do best.

Our region’s natural landscape is quite unique, you know. Down to the smallest Heartleaf foamflowers, we’re able to enjoy everything that grows here thanks to our region’s particular climate (hypothermic winter temperatures included).

Right this very moment, spring ephemerals (plants that bloom only for a short time, usually when they have the advantage of full light before tree leaves start to open) are in their full glory. And out to appreciate this tiny rainbow of colors this week were community members at the annual Urban EcoSteward Wildflower Walk in Frick Park.

Couldn’t make it? Read on for the highlights and join us for another wildflower show this month!

Wild walks

What do you notice as you walk through the parks? The trees? The pathway? The thousands of little blooms now peppered between the trees?

Just a stone’s throw from the water fountain on the trails by the old Frick Environmental Center, we were amazed to find a dozen or more different flower varieties — some of them completely hidden by overhanging leaves — right in front of us. The 40 or so adults and children split up into three groups with Parks Conservancy naturalist educators and Urban EcoSteward walk leaders. Together, they all played a huge game of “Where’s Waldo?”, spotting the colorful wildflowers along and between the path.

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Christmas ferns starting to unfurl.

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Bluebells just starting to flare out, a bit past their prime.

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Kids and adults walking the trails to find wildflowers.

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Two kids with Naturalist Educator Mike spot some squaw root aka bear corn.

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Squawroot, otherwise known as bear corn.

Digging in

After becoming experts on bellwort, woodland phlox, and trillium, everyone grabbed some gloves and shovels and went to work. In anticipation of the brand new Frick Environmental Center, wildflowers and trees in the vicinity of the new building have been flagged. These flags aren’t marking what will be removed — they’re marking what will be preserved.

Everyone — kids and adults alike — helped to move marked wildflowers from the building areas to a safe spot further up the trail. Families and neighbors worked together to carry burlap bags with the flowers on top to safe ground before being watered.

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Bellwort, bluebells, and an orange preservation marker.

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Working together to replant some bluebells.

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Moving some wildflowers to their new home.

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Nobody works alone!

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Watering the newly planted wildflowers.

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Happily replanted Heartland foamflowers.

New to wildflower spotting? You can pick up a very helpful Newcomb or Audubon guide from your local library! These handy books are broken up into flower shapes, sizes, and colors, making identification easy.

While a good number of plants were relocated at the Wildflower Walk, we need help moving the rest of the bunch before Frick Environmental Center construction gets underway. Register here to volunteer to replant wildflowers this month with us!

Programming like the annual Wildflower Walk is free and open to the public. And did we mention… fun!? Don’t miss our next outing, the Urban EcoSteward Summer Gathering. Click here to sign up.

 

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

What’s in Bloom — May 2014

What’s in bloom in Pittsburgh’s parks this month? Everything! The garden beds seem just as relieved as we are that the unpredictable winter cold is over, and they’re really putting on a show.

Highland Park is vibrant all day throughout the gardens, but visit at sundown for an extra special splash of color.

Highland Park is vibrant all day throughout the gardens, but visit at sundown for an extra special splash of color.

In anticipation of Saturday’s 16th Annual PNC Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Spring Hat Luncheon, our horticulturist Angela Yuele and gardener Jaci Bruschi have really put their green thumbs to the many beds in the Highland Park Entry Garden — and the results are absolutely gorgeous.

“If you have not  been to the Park recently, you are in for a real treat. Sometimes we forget to appreciate the beauty in our own back yard,” wrote one Highland Park neighbor of the stunning blooms.

The Highland Park Entry Garden will be getting extra special attention not only this Saturday at the Hat Luncheon, but also next Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday kicks off the first Weeding Wednesday, the bimonthly gathering of volunteers that help to keep the immense garden looking grand. Friday is National Public Gardens Day, a celebration of public gardens usually marked by free admission to botanical gardens and arboreta across the country. We can all feel extra appreciation for the Entry Garden on this day, because we Pittsburghers get in for free every day!

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Daffodil ‘Bravoure’ blooming in abundance

Iris Pumila, Dwarf Iris ‘Manhattan Blues’

Iris ‘Manhattan Blue’

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Bright-eyed daffodil ‘Pheasant Eye’

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Iris Pumila, Dwarf Iris ‘Baby Blessed’

 

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Ultra fragrant hyacinth ‘Pink Pearl’

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Iris species

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Water lily tulips peeping through the leaves

Colors are popping up throughout the garden beds

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White daffodil ‘Mt Hood’

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A standoffish daffodil ‘White Lion’

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Vibrant grape hyacinth

Stop and really smell the flowers next week — become a regular volunteer at Weeding Wednesdays! We recommend it as a way to relax, get to know your neighbors, fit in some nature time, and maybe even take out some stress on the weeds. Sign up to get started here.

What’s in Bloom – A Celebration of Summer Flowers

Highland Park Entry Garden

Asiatic lily (Lilium ‘Apeldoorn’)

Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii Six Hills Giant)

Coral bells (Heuchera x brizoides)

Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum)

Yarrow (Achillea ‘Parker’s Gold’)

 

Mellon Park Walled Garden

Astilbe (Astilbe)

Daylily (Hemorocallis ‘Happy Returns’)

Hardy geranium (Geranium x ‘Brookside’)

Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)

Lavendar (Lavandula angustifolia)

 

Riverview Chapel Shelter

Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’)

Tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora)

Yarrow (Achillea)

 

Schenley Park Visitor Center

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’)

What’s in Bloom – May 2013

Seems like we skipped over spring and went straight into summer. That’s okay, it just means it’s time for some late spring/early summer blooms! Check out what our horticulturist, Angea Yuele, and gardener, Jaclyn Bruschi, have been up to in our May 2013 What’s in Bloom.

Highland Park Entry Garden

Catmint ‘Six Hills Giant’

Baptisia

Blue Starflower

Columbine

Dianthus ‘Zing’

Iris Species

Iris ‘Cranberry Crush’

Peony ‘Edulis Superba’

Peony ‘Fairbanks’

Salvia ‘Eastfriesland’

Mellon Park Walled Garden

Dianthus ‘Firewitch’

Hardy Geranium ‘Brookside’

Peony ‘Festiva Mazima’

Rhododendron ‘Album’

Riverview Park Chapel Shelter

Golden Alexanders

Heirloom Purple Iris

Salvia ‘May Night’

Schenley Plaza

Salvia ‘May Night’

Yarrow ‘Paprika’

Now that you feel fully inspired to go frolicking amongst the flowers in Pittsburgh’s gardens, check out what else we’ve been up to in our new spring 2013 newsletter, the Voice.