Lathrop’s Christmas Trees

by Barbara Walvoord

Way back into history,  the shortest days of the year have been a time to fear cold, storm, hunger, and evil spirits. Evergreen trees symbolized the ability to survive the winter and the promise of a green earth.  People brought evergreens into their homes as protection against evil spirits.

Today, many Lathrop residents will bring cut Christmas trees into their homes, but our Lathrop land–our wider home–has thousands of evergreen trees, not just symbolizing the ability to survive the winter, but actually helping our creatures do so.

The two most common evergreen trees on Lathrop land are eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Together with our red maples and white oaks, they form a common type of New England forest that, if kept healthy, nurtures a rich diversity of wildlife.

One thing our evergreens do is provide dinner: seeds of white pine  and hemlock feed rabbits, squirrels, bears, and many birds including Continue reading Lathrop’s Christmas Trees

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Liberating Lathrop’s Red Osier Dogwood

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Dec. 16, 2016)

Autumn and winter are good times to remove invasive shrubs, so resident volunteers have been out with loppers and pruners.   Among the tangles of invasive multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, and shrub honeysuckle, we often find the native red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), its bright red branches twisting and leaning to find the light or to escape the smothering thicket of invasives.

It’s always a great pleasure to find, and free, this lovely, useful native plant.

REsident Eleanor Herman removing invasive shrubs and vines from the woods behind Cranberry Lane homes. November, 2016
Resident Eleanor Herman removing invasive shrubs and vines from the woods behind Cranberry Lane homes. November, 2016

Native Americans used red osier dogwood in many ways, peeling the bark for a tooth brush; eating the berries to treat colds, bleeding, or diarrhea; making tools, bows, arrows, baskets, and red dye; and mixing it with other plants for  smoking. Continue reading Liberating Lathrop’s Red Osier Dogwood

Lathrop Forests Fight Global Climate Change

by Barbara Walvoord
(First published in Lathrop Lamp Post December 8, 2016)

My granddaughter Lauren Warner enjoyed our north campus forest one day last winter.  But our forests are not just wonderful places to walk and play. They help fight global climate change by storing carbon. 

Our Lathrop forest is part of the so-called “midlatitude forests” stretching from the Carolinas up into New England, Canada, and the Midwest.  The past few years of carbon monitoring at the Harvard Forest have shown that these forests are reducing the global increase in carbon by more than 10 percent. Continue reading Lathrop Forests Fight Global Climate Change

Lathrop’s “Free Fifty” Forest–An Amazing Achievement

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in Lathrop’s Lamp Post, Nov. 10, 2016)

November is a month of truth for a forest. Most native shrubs have lost their leaves or turned to muted colors. But some very dangerous invasive plants are still going strong, their vibrant colors now highly visible, as they crowd out native plants but fail to provide the food that native wildlife needs: 96% of birds need insects, not just nectar and seeds, to raise their young; 90% of insects eat only native plants (Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home).

Lathrop’s “Free Fifty” Forest project has been removing invasive plants from 50 acres of forest on both campuses. These before-and-after photos, taken 2 years apart in the same spot, tell the story of our amazing achievement. The top photo, taken in November of 2014, shows red leaves of invasive burning bush and yellow-green leaves of invasive honeysuckle invading our forest on the east campus. The bottom photo, taken two years later in Nov., 2016, shows all the invasives removed. Now the native winterberry (center left in the photo), as well as native high-bush blueberry and others are thriving in our woods, supporting more wildlife than before.

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The next photo, taken April, 2014, shows invasive Japanese barberry coming into our north campus woods along the stream. The photo below it shows two years later, 2016, a bit later in the season, where you can see the dead barberry in the middle, and other plants thriving around it.

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north-barberry-gone-6-20-16img_1034 Continue reading Lathrop’s “Free Fifty” Forest–An Amazing Achievement

Walking on Water: The Barnes Aquifer at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 4, 2016)

If you walk the east campus woods, you are walking on top of a small portion of the Barnes Aquifer, which stretches under Easthampton, Southampton, Westfield, and Holyoke. It’s one of the most important water sources in western Massachusetts.

About 14,000 years ago, melting water from glaciers carried clay and silt down to the sea, but deposited the heavier sand and gravel right here, as a great underground aquifer, perfect for collecting and purifying water. In 2015, Easthampton won a gold medal for the best tasting water in the U.S.

Surface water soaks down into the aquifer, along with whatever pollutants it is carrying. Roads, homes, and businesses can interfere with healthy regeneration of the aquifer

Water moves out of the aquifer in two ways: the water moves up into the bottoms of streams that flow over it.  In at least two places on our east campus, streams emerge from underground, as in the photo at the top of this page.  To find this disappearing stream, walk down the mid-woods path, then keep going straight across the mid-woods meadow, bearing a little to the left, to an orange flag at the woods’ edge.  The stream is a short way into the woods.  Flags mark the spot.  Be careful not to step into a hole. Trail map at https://lathropland.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/trail-eh.pdf

Also, multiple wells supply 1.2 billion gallons of Barnes Aquifer water per year to 60,000 people.

About 25 years ago, tests showed that some wells drawing from a part of the aquifer exceeded federal standards for contamination by TCE (trichloroethylene), a common degreaser and cleaning agent and a suspected carcinogen.  Experts ran hundreds of tests and tried to identify contamination sources. Easthampton built a treatment plant, and Holyoke closed its contaminated wells. The Barnes Aquifer Protection Committee now works to protect the quality of the aquifer (http://bapac.pvpc.org/html/more-bapac.html). One of its projects is to prevent development on key plots of land that are important to recharging the aquifer.

A proposal to protect one of these key plots will be considered by the Easthampton City Council on Wed., Nov. 16, at 6 p.m.  Please join us, as several members of the Lathrop Land Conservation Committee drive (over the Barnes Aquifer) to the meeting to show our support for the project   Contact me (walvoord@nd.edu or 203-5086) if you’d like a ride. More information at http://kestreltrust.org/PDF/470/CookInfoSheet1Ehamp.pdf

Lathrop Hawks on the Move–or Not

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, October 29, 2016)

A few days ago, I saw a red-tail hawk (Buteo Jamaicensis) on the move: it dove for a songbird that was on the ground–and missed.  The little bird shot away to the side, while the hawk pulled up like a plane whose landing is suddenly aborted.

Hawks have to be on the move to eat. Red tails circle or perch, then dive onto their prey with talons outstretched.  Two hawks sometimes collaborate to catch a squirrel: one hawk swoops down on one side of the tree, and, when the squirrel scoots over to the other side of the tree, the other hawk swoops down and snatches it. Continue reading Lathrop Hawks on the Move–or Not

The Power of Berries

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Oct. 22, 2016)

Our Lathrop berries are powerful forces in nature. Through the fall and winter, the sweet fruit provides critical  nourishment for our birds, chipmunks, and bears.  But to the plant, a berry is a seed with an enticement–a sweet treat that gets some creature to eat the berry and pass it out the other end, in some distant place, with a nice little blob of fertilizer. Berries are a plant’s wings–they allow it to spread beyond its rooted place.

For that very reason, the berries of invasive plants are really bad news.  Berries eaten and then excreted spread invasive burning bush, barberry, and honeysuckle from our landscaped areas into our forests, where they crowd out native plants, but fail to provide the insects, cover, and nesting areas that our wildlife needs. Birds that eat these berries unwittingly spread their own destruction.

One of the worst berries is the alien invasive buckthorn berry, because it gives birds diarrhea, thus weakening them as winter approaches.  Nineteenth-century European settlers brought buckthorn with them, but they didn’t bring the enemies and competitors that limit buckthorn’s spread in its native land. Buckthorn’s heavy thickets crowd out our native plants and change the composition of the soil, making is less hospitable to natives.

Another bad berry is invasive bittersweet vine, whose orange berries are popping out now, as the vines smother our trees.

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As we have been removing these bad berries at Lathrop, we have saved and nurtured our good berries: pin cherry berries cascading from their branches (top of this page)  black cherry; arrowwood vibernum; red mulberry; high-bush blueberry, whose popular berries are almost all eaten by now; grey dogwood, with its unusual waxy white berries; winterberry, which some of us have planted in our gardens for a fall and winter show of brilliant red berries lining every branch; and, pictured below,  wintergreen berries nestling one by one on our forest floor.

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We are making our land a feast of powerful berries.