This is an update on the back-field habitat restoration work party Jim organized Sunday, May 11th, at CR.
At first glance this back-field site appeared to be a wasteland, but Marie and I surveyed the field before the rest of the work party arrived and found a lot of plant diversity. Even more plants were discovered 11 days later.
Our work party included Lon, Marie, Annette, Ray, Christie, Sarah and myself. Our first priority was to remove the huge amount of the largest diameter Black Birch (Betula lenta) saplings overgrowing the area. The smaller Black Birch saplings had not leafed out yet and pretty hidden in the thickets where they were growing. They are pretty easy to spot now though and are small enough so most can be pulled by hand, so a couple hundred were pulled May 23rd. Other saplings removed were Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and Oak (Quercus species).
To provide a little more perspective on the site – since the original mature forest was clear-cut about 5? years ago it has developed into a fine young forest habitat providing really good cover, nesting and food for wildlife. It is excellent bunny habitat! In fact, we found plenty of rabbit droppings in the area. There is also at least one animal burrow on the sloping hillside. There are also large piles of branches from the original clear-cut piles along one side of the site, providing ready-made wildlife cover. This is the sort of habitat restoration the NRCS is currently helping us with on about 30 acres of mature forest at Candlewood Ridge and Avery Farm. This 30 acres of mature forest has little plant diversity and habitat value compared with the young forest habitat that will be created. The back-field site also gives us an idea of the sort of vegetation that may colonize restored areas of the big CR field that will not be mowed in the future.
Acid-loving ericaceous plants provide the dominant vegetative cover on this back-field site. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) has regenerated vigorously since clearcutting, but will have to be managed in the future so it does not overgrow the desired habitat. Quite a few bushes of Pink Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) are also located in near the center of the field, but do not appear to have recovered from the clearcutting or are browsed too heavily to flower. The rest of the ericaceous plants are berry producers. There are at least four kinds of blueberries; Common Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Hillside Blueberry (V. pallidum), Black Highbush Blueberry (V. fuscatum) and Highbush Blueberry (V. corymbosum). There is also an abundance of dense cover provided by Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) and the taller Blue Huckleberry (G. frondosa).
In addition to the ericaceous plants mentioned above, there is a large colony of ~10 ft. tall berry-producing, Withe Rod, (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides), sometimes called Wild Northern Raisin for its sweet berries in late summer. This is in flower now and is an obligate wetland plant. Maple-leaved Viburnum (V. acerifolium) which is also a berry producer was also found. Shadbush (Amelanchierspecies), which was flowering earlier now has berries which are almost ripe. It produces the earliest edible berries. Huge numbers of the semi-woody Common Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) are also present, which are currently about to flower and will provide abundant berries for wildlife. Its very sharp thorns also help to discourage predators and people from entering the area. A number of trees such as Gray Birch (Betula populifolia), which actually has beautiful white bark, Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), another berry producer, and willows (Salix species) have been saved as well. Also found were several Sweet-Fern (Comptonia peregrina) which is not a fern, and is a good early successional plant because if can fix nitrogen in nitrogen poor soils. It is in the same family as another nitrogen-fixer, Small Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis). Flat-branched Tree Clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium obscurum), sometimes called Princess Pine was also common.
It is a little early in the season to observe many herbaceous plants. Arrowhead Violet (Viola saggittata var. ovata) flowered earlier. Bristly Sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida), and its relative Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) were found. A yellow-flowered Lysimachia (Lysimachia species) that has not flowered yet is widespread in open areas as is the grass-like Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) forms soft grass-like carpets. Lots of Hay-Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), which has running underground rhizomes and forms large colonies, is also sprouting.