Plants


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Each morning, first thing:  canopy over Little Crum Creek.
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awake–                                felled trees–                          the clarity of our time
….snowfall                           ….spaces that shape
……..traced limbs

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After a long, white winter, the emerging red horns of Japanese knotweed can be quite alluring.

Early in spring the plant appears to reward our welcoming indulgence, quickly stretching above the beautifully ubiquitous and flowering fig buttercup (lesser celandine).

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But, like many of our streams, Little Crum Creek has grown quite crowded with its cosmopolitan congregation of introduced species.  And few represent the “invasive” tendencies of some species as well as Japanese knotweed.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine the creek banks at a time before the knotweed arrived.  It was introduced to the UK from Asia in the early 19th century.  And, by the 20th, it had crossed the Atlantic as both an ornamental and a fast-growing erosion control.

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These days, come March & April, it is among the first appearing on the riparian floor.

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Growing up to a few inches per day, it is soon waist high.

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And by the middle of May it is well on its way toward towering nine feet or higher.

Dense new stands of green shoots mingle with the browned growth of last season. 100_3932 (2)

It’s easy to see why government organizations have dubbed the knotweed an invasive species.

Rooting with rhizomes, the plant spreads underground, sending up neighboring stems in dense stands that crowd and shade out other plants.

Ultimately, instead of controlling erosion as once intended, knotweed now diminishes the diversity of creekside plants and grasses, actually making the banks
less stable than they could be.

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In several stretches, as far as the eye can see, knotweed lines both sides of Little Crum Creek.

Some folks recommend eating the young shoots and brewing knotweed tea.
But controlling or removing the plant is a special challenge.   Many sources recommend several years of herbicide, followed by replacement plantings.  Just digging out the knotweed can break up the rhizome, spreading new growth wherever the pieces fall.  In any case, when rising waters wash downstream, the plant often re-establishes wherever it lands.

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 Whatever your position, by late summer, wherever it has survived flash flows and human efforts at control, the hope inherent to its inflorescence augurs Japanese knotweed’s continually looming presence along our streams.

 

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Summer azure nectaring flower.
Summersweet going to seed.

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One of Little Crum Creek’s native spring ephemerals, a colony of Mayapple
survives the smother of English Ivy to flower and start
some berries full of seeds for summer ripening.

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Around mid-March, hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsute) started showing lilliputian blooms in the lawns and borders of Little Crum Creek,

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multiplying, through April, long capsules of seed above its leafy rosette,

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so that, by May, it’s ripening fruit might be ready to burst and launch a hundred-fold patter of seeds at the slightest brush of a stepping foot.

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Last summer uncovered a colony of leaves all in mottle like trout that swim.
But not a flower stood among them.

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Fortunately, some weeks earlier on a nearby stroll, a friend
had introduced me to the blooming trout lily.

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We’re now prepared to meet the flowers of Little Crum Creek that, save this brief and delicate week in April, are either a long time coming or a long time gone.

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And knowing what to expect, both this spring and next,
from opening come morning till closing toward night,
we can all visit while they last.

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John Bartram introduced Europe’s most widely spread maple tree to Philadelphia in the 1750s, and it’s probably best known for some seasonal features.

In summer, the Norway maple casts a deep leafy shade on the ground.

And kids like to peel open its ripening green samaras, pasting the sticky sides to their noses.

In late fall, the tree’s foliage is brilliant yellow.

And its browning seed pods helicopter down in copious amounts, seeming to fill every surrounding inch and crack of ground.

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Now, in spring, with so many other trees in bloom, it can be easy to overlook the Norway maple’s green inflorescence.

Fortunately a gray squirrel happens along, nibbles off a twig, and lets it fall to the ground.

Then we get a better look at the clustered flowers, resting on the tree’s surfacing roots, amid the refuse of prior seasons.

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