Sumac: A Forest Scout, a Bird Food, a Spice, a Dye, a Medicine, a Pipe, a Smoke…

by Barbara Walvoord.  For Lamp Post, October 23, 2014

If you walk along the edges of woods and fields at Lathrop these autumn days, you will see small trees with large red spikes–our native Sumac. These plants are not poisonous (the poisonous kind do not have the red spikes). There are about 35 species ; one that we see at Lathrop is Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhena).

Sumac is an early colonizer of open land, so you will see it at wood edges and in unmowed fields. On the east campus, there’s a beautiful stand of it along the fire lane at the end of Mulberry Lane and another stand on the path between the Huckleberry Lane houses and the wetland. That area used to be open all the way to the wetland, long-time residents tell me. But now, like all dry land in our area, it wants to be a woods. Sumac, creeping out toward the path, is the scout. That area is quite heavily invaded by Multiflora Rose, invasive Honeysuckle, Oriental Bittersweet vines, and Buckthorn, so we are happy to see this native plant that nourishes our insects and wildlife much better than the alien invasives. Sharon and I have been moving along that hedge, hacking away the tangle of invasives, so the stand of sumac is a lovely respite.

Sumac is an important wintertime food for wildlife. Look on the ground or on the snow under the sumacs to find the scattered red “bobs” of sumac, where birds, squirrels, or other animals have strewn them about while feasting. Continue reading Sumac: A Forest Scout, a Bird Food, a Spice, a Dye, a Medicine, a Pipe, a Smoke…

Save our Trees from Invasive Vines

Vines are important for birds and insects. They grow in edges and thin woods rather than in dense woods. Nowadays, though, with the segmentation of woods and with old fields growing into young woods, as on Lathrop’s property, there is so much edge and thin woods that vines are overwhelming.

There is a native grape vine that grows straight up into the tree. Most of its leaves have lobes, like a maple leaf, but larger. It produces grapes and nourishes lots of wildlife, so we want to keep some. However, we have lots of it, so it’s okay to cut it when it’s threatening a tree or shrub you value.

Alien vines–kill as many as you can. They do not support as many insects as our native vines, and, having left behind the enemies and Continue reading Save our Trees from Invasive Vines

Lathrop’s Bobcat(s)

Last night, at dusk, Sharon and I saw the bobcat again behind our house on Huckleberry Lane. This picture was taken by resident Chuck Gillies in his back yard near our home.

About twice the size of a house cat, our bobcat walked out from the wetland shrubs, sprayed and rubbed a few trees to mark its territory, walked onto the grassy swale, and very quietly lay down. We thought, Oh, it’s taking a rest. But no, it was hunting–lying still, waiting for all those bunnies to think they were safe.

Pretty soon, it rose into a crouch, slowly gliding forward, ears cocked, muscles rolling under the spotted coat, paws laid down ever so softly, totally intent on its supper. Nocturnal, it was just beginning its night’s hunt.

Bobcat scat on snow in wetland behind Huckleberry Lane. Not pointy end. Photo by Sharon Grace, winter 2014.
Bobcat scat on snow in wetland behind Huckleberry Lane. Note pointy end. Photo by Sharon Grace, winter 2014.

It was hard to tell who this bobcat was. If it was mama, then she may have had mostly-grown kits nearby. Born in early spring, they’ve been learning to hunt since August. She would be the only female in her 5-acre territory, and she’ll defend it even against her own kits, driving the poor children out of her acres around Christmas time, when they are under a year old.

If it was papa, then he was a bit bigger–maybe up to 28 pounds– and his, ahem, area of activity could overlap the territories of several females.

Bobcats eat mostly rabbits (and your cat or dog if you leave it out). They don’t stalk people, and will retreat from our approach, so walking our land you are quite safe from bobcat attack. However, they are vigorous and skillful hunters, and have been Continue reading Lathrop’s Bobcat(s)

St. Michael’s Feast — For Monarch Butterflies

It’s nearly Michaelmas–Sept. 29, the feast of St. Michael– and, right on target, the flowers that colonists called “Michaelmas Daisies” are blooming in Lathrop’s fields.

Today, people call them asters, whose name means “star,” for their multiple petals in a star-like shape. Many of the native asters in our fields are various shades of purple

The purple New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) are a major source of nectar for monarch butterflies, which have hatched on our milkweed during the summer and are preparing for their long, long fall journey to Mexico. The butterflies are fleeing the dark, cold nights, from which St. Michael, the powerful, devil-fighting archangel, is invoked to protect those of us who have to stay here. Continue reading St. Michael’s Feast — For Monarch Butterflies

Resident Survey Results: We Want to Be in Nature!

Thanks to those of you from Lathrop East who responded to the questionnaire from the Land Conservation Committee, distributed in early August. We received 26 responses, and many helpful comments, which will enable us to focus our planning on the needs of our residents.

The questionnaire was sent out in the hope that it might generate interest in our beautiful meadows and woodlands, especially among those who might not have been able to visit them recently. And so it did! Many respondents expressed a desire to be taken out to see the land. We think this now becomes a real possibility in some areas, what with the recent offering of the use of Lathrop’s electric car and golf cart. Stay tuned! Continue reading Resident Survey Results: We Want to Be in Nature!

Wonderful workshop on Land Conservation (But we WILL plan easier walks than this!)

If you saw 14 soaking wet people trudging along the east campus woods path on Saturday, September 13, that was us.

Earlier, more than 30 people, including Lathrop residents and local land conservationists, had gathered in the Mt. Tom room to see a highly informative presentation on invasive stilt grass by Cynthia Boettner, Director of the Invasive Plant Initiative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

stiltgrass workshop 003

Activities Director Deborah Peavey had made the arrangements, and Meriam Elgare at the front desk helped to direct guests and Continue reading Wonderful workshop on Land Conservation (But we WILL plan easier walks than this!)