I had the honor of participating in the 27th Annual Mid-Winter Bird Census this past week, and my assigned location was in Wissahickon Park, a watershed gorge along the Monoshone and Wissahickon Creeks. Sadly, I didn’t see many birds that day, but I did discover many mysteries and natural wonders while hiking the rocky trails of the Wissahickon.
Winter is a wonderful time to visit natural areas near you, such as my trip to Wissahickon Park. You get to focus on the structure of the plant community and observe many details that would go unnoticed when the trees are all leafed out or blooming during spring and summer.
What’s that Black Fungus on the Trees?
One thing I noticed was an odd black mold on some leaves, twigs, and tree stumps. What the heck is that black stuff?
After a bit of internet research, I finally found my answer.
Wooly Aphids came to us from Japan. Each species of these aphids feed on specific host plants, such as Alder, members of the Rose family, or in this case Beech.
The Beech Wooly Aphid (Grylloprociphilis imbricator) feeds by sucking the fluids from Beech leaves and twigs. They leave behind a sugary honeydew which collects on the leaves and other parts of the tree, and can invite a fungus to form, called Black Sooty Mold.
Black Sooty Mold is difficult to remove, and may inhibit photosynthesis in the tree.
The Forest Does Not Take Care of Itself
Although Wissahickon Park has been protected and restored to wilderness in many places, this does not mean that this forest is able to take care of itself after so much human disturbance.
Located in a city surrounded by millions, the forest shows significant signs of a degrading ecosystem. Lack of plant and tree diversity. Severe erosion problems along tributaries. Too few seedlings for a future healthy forest. Overabundance of deer herds, invasions of exotic plant species that choke out native vegetation, and human use that introduces water and air pollution, all contribute to a forest in need of our help.
~ Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers
Erosion and degradation along the creek banks is created by too much traffic, including the heavy automobile traffic on Lincoln Drive, which parallels the Wissahickon Creek, and reconstruction and fortifying measures have had to be undertaken to preserve both the roadway and the creek banks.
A pastoral scene like this:
Has become a scene like this in some places:
When Superstorm Sandy blew through the area with its high winds, many trees were snapped off and blown over, especially along the top of the ridge
Winter is also a good time to observe the health of the ecosystems of the Wissahickon Park. Invasive plants are easy to spot because many of them are green in an otherwise winter brown landscape. Invasive plants tend to flourish in disturbed landscpaes, and with so many people around, there is sure to be disturbance to the landscape.
Bamboo and English Ivy are widespread throughout the park, including behind the Bake House with colonial garden at Historic Rittenhouse Town.
Many other invasive plants are spreading through Wissahickon Park, including:
- Mile a Minute
- Multiflora Rose
- Oriental Bittersweet
- Japanese Knotweed
- Bishops Weed
- Norway Maple
- Japanese Honeysuckle
- Porcelain Berry
- Tree of Heaven
Natural areas like Wissahickon Park are wonderful places to explore and observe nearby nature and plant communities, but they need our help to survive. Please consider volunteering your time at your local park, nature center, or wildlife refuge. You’ll meet other cool people and work to make a difference in your community.
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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