Little Bennett Regional Park: botany foray

sidetrackanother fordYesterday’s unexpected snow and ice caused trip leader Carole Bergman to simplify this morning’s field trip to Little Bennett Regional Park, lest we go slip-sliding away. We ended up following the track of the old Hyattstown Mill Road, from Clarksburg Road along Little Bennett Creek as far as the creek ford. I have visited the park a couple times last year, but this is the first time I’ve spent an appreciable amount of daylight time north of the creek.

Bird activity was surprisingly lively. We found a few Eastern Bluebirds at the woodcock clearing, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) farther down the trail.

oldieBut the main objective of this trip was fall/winter trees. As the sky cleared and the snow melted, the canopy dropped slush bombs on the group, but we soldiered on. Carole pointed out generous examples of Post Oak (Quercus stellata), some huge old Black Willows (Salix nigra) in a creek bottom, Carpinus caroliniana in fruit (nuts protected by involucral bracts), Witch-hazel in flower.

Carole and fringefit for bearsSpecial trees for the trip: Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), in the image at left, with Carole in the foreground, and a solitary shrub of Bear Oak (Q. ilicifolia), in the image at right. Harlow writes, “Seton [The Forester’s Manual, 1912] says it was called bear oak because this animal was about the only one that would eat its intensely bitter acorns.”

hanging on, barelyOn the way back to the rendezvous point, we took a side trip to the Burnt Hill parking area in the extreme northeast edge of the park to find a small patch of American Chestnut (Castanea dentata). The trees are protected with exclosures, lest hungry deer munch every last bit of green sprout from these desperately regenerating trees. One of the three we looked at had a limb bearing leaves (now yellow) and a few fruits. But the real value of these trees is in their genetics. American Chestnut Foundation breeders have collected pollen from these individuals, in their attempts to raise strains that are resistant to blight.