Plants of New Jersey # 8 American Chestnut


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American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) which is part of the Beech family. The American Chestnut tree was an important member of the eastern forest found in the United States. A wide variety of wildlife including the extinct Passenger Pigeon fed on its chestnuts. American Chestnuts began to die off in 1904 due to imported Chestnut Blight  via infected Chinese Chestnut Trees.

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Typical cankers from the Chestnut Blight on an American Chestnut Tree

The blight is a fungus dispersed by spores in the air, raindrops and animals. It was first noticed in NYC. Check out the book American Chestnut : The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree for more information on how this tree may be brought back to life and become the dominant species of the Eastern Forest once more.

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American Chestnut Sprout

American Chestnut once comprised as much as 25% of the forest canopy prior to the blight. Today the tree is part of the understory as a sprout. Oak and Hickory trees have replaced the once dominant Chestnut in the canopy. Where a mature American Chestnut Tree once reached 100 feet before the blight struck, today the sprout only grows to maybe 15- 20 feet or so before the blight kills it. We see these sprouts because the blight affects the trunk of the tree and not the roots.

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American Chestnut

Sprouts of American Chestnut can be found in moist uplands. Farmers once considered the American Chestnut to be a weed tree as it grew fast and often where it wasn’t wanted. There are some mature American Chestnuts that settlers took with them out west far out of their native range and thus far have not been inflicted with the blight.

American Chestnut Leaf

American Chestnut Leaf

The leaves of the American Chestnut are similar to the American Beech but are longer. Check out this resource from the American Chestnut Foundation on how to properly identify American Chestnut — > American Chestnut Field Guide

American Chestnut Turnure Park

American Chestnut Burs

At this point you may be thinking, “this article is rubbish! I get chestnuts all the time from the grocery store“. And here is my gotcha moment! Those chestnuts are either of a European or Asiatic variety. It is said that the taste of the American Chestnut was far more sweeter than any other. A tree that people sometimes confuse for the American Chestnut is the non-native Horse-Chestnut Tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) whose nuts are toxic.

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Plants of New Jersey # 7 American Beech


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American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) which is part of the Fagaceae family of plants.

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Plants of New Jersey # 6 Striped Maple


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Striped Maple

Welcome! Today’s plant of discussion is the Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum). Striped Maple is an understory tree that thrives in deeply shaded moist woodlands of northern New Jersey. The tree is labeled FACU which means that while it is usually found in uplands it occasionally may be found in freshwater wetlands.

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Striped Maple Bark with White Lines

The bark is reddish-brown or even a shade of green with white lines (as in the picture above) which turn brown over time (as is the case with the picture below). These lines are where the tree gets its name from.

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Striped Maple Bark with Brown Lines

Striped Maple is a small tree usually only growing to a maximum of around 30 feet. It is a small but beautiful tree! The tree is found growing on the east coast from Nova Scotia to northern Georgia.

Animals which use the Striped Maple for Food (especially in the winter) include the below among others:

Striped Maple

Striped Maple Leaves

The leaves of Striped Maple are three-lobed and resemble a goose foot (which is why the tree is also known as goosefoot maple 🙂 ). The leaves turn yellow in fall.

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Plants of New Jersey # 5 Poison Ivy


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Poison Ivy Leaves Carpeting the Open Woodland Floor

Welcome! Today we will discuss Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Poison Ivy can be found growing as a hairy vine, a shrub reaching over three feet tall, or as a trailing vine on the ground. The flowers of Poison Ivy are green and appear in the late spring or early summer. The berries appear in late summer first as green then later as gray or white. New leaves are a lighter green than the mature leaves.

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New Poison Ivy (Light Green Leaves) vs. Mature Poison Ivy (Dark Green Leaves)

Poison Ivy thrives near fences, open woods and areas of disturbance. I’ve seen Poison Ivy growing anywhere from freshwater wetlands to dry upland woods. It is not picky about soil! At least sixty species of birds have been known to eat the berries which persist through the winter. This of course helps spread poison ivy. Good for wildlife but bad for humans!

Birds that eat the berries include the below among others:

Poison ivy contains a clear liquid known as urushiol which causes a burning itching rash in many people.  All parts of the plant contain urushiol. Be warned! You can still get a painful itchy rash even in winter if you touch a hairy vine. 

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy Rope

It helps to remember the following jingles to remind you of the dangers of this plant:

  • “Leaves of three, leave them be”
  • “Hairy rope, don’t be a dope”
  • “Hairy vine, no friend of mine”

Common plants often misidentified as Poison Ivy include the below among others:

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Poison Ivy on the Left, Virginia Creeper on the Right

Taking a look at the picture above is an easy way to tell the difference between Poison Ivy which is on the left and Virginia Creeper which is on the right. Virginia Creeper has five leaves whereas Poison Ivy has three.

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Plants of New Jersey # 4 White Baneberry


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White Baneberry in bloom in late spring

Welcome! Today’s plant is White Baneberry aka Doll’s Eyes (Actacea pachypoda). This plant belongs to the buttercup family and is found in mature woodlands. The plant is perennial which means it comes back year after year.

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