Spring weather always keeps us guessing. Will it get warmer today so I can open the windows or will I have to bring in more wood for the furnace? Can I go take pictures outside or will the wind make that a useless adventure?
Besides the Spring rains there are always some freak winds that come up the valley or across the mountains that ends up toppling a few trees here and there. The night of the 17th was terribly windy with some real gusts. Not sure how strong as far as miles per hour, but the trees were really swaying. The wind gusts made a wild noise sweeping through the trees. It was eerily quiet in between the gusts.
I was at Little Buffalo State Park the next morning and wasn’t too surprised to run into a DCNR employee with a chainsaw in hand. I got a few pictures of a rather large white pine that was taken down by some stiff wind. We’re very lucky that more damage wasn’t inflicted on the Clay Covered Bridge. Maybe a few shingles were lost, but the damage could have been a lot worse!
This white pine was at least 55 years old.
The sapwood released its watery contents in the areas that were damaged. When the tree was felled and cut, its vessels that transport water and nutrients were broken, and so, the sap bled out of the wood.
Nice straight trunk, maybe nice enough to be sold for board content.
In our woods we see trees that are damaged by weather every year. Some are just old trees, but others were probably damaged first by insects and then brought down by the wind.
One of the earliest blooming Spring Ephemeral flowers is Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. The days are often cold and windy at the time of year when the bloodroot blooms, but once the sun shines long enough to warm the ground bloodroot will emerge.
Bloodroot grows in eastern forests, especially moist soils in wooded areas. The Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park, Newport, Pennsylvania, is a great place to see this perennial spring flower blooming in early April.
The flowers arise from an underground rhizome in a bud fashion. If you looking for bloodroot on the early side, you might see a few flowers still curled up tight before the blossoms open.
In the image above you can see the leaf curled around the flower stem below the small white flower bud. The sword-like mottled leaves next to the bloodroot are trout lilies that had yet to bloom.
As bloodroot grows the flower stem continues to elongate and the flower opens up. The leaf of bloodroot is still wrapped around the flower stem while the flower is blooming.
Once the petals of the bloodroot flower start to open you’ll be able to see the large canary yellow stamens.
As the bloodroot flower matures the leaf also continues to develop and pull away from the flower stem.
It would be cool to see bloodroot flowers under a UV light – I wonder if the gray lines on the white petals would light up to show the pollinators where to find the pollen. You have to inspect the flower really closely to see these lines, which are barely visible in bright sunlight.
Bloodroot is considered a Spring Ephemeral, flowering only for a brief time in early spring before the trees leaf out. If you get into the woods after the tree leaves emerge, you probably won’t find any bloodroot still blooming.
Bloodroot blooms for about a week, depending on the weather in early Spring. Here in Southcentral PA we see bloodroot the first or second week of April.
Bloodroot flowers have eight to ten, white, elongated petals that seem to be attached rather loosely. Any attempts at picking the flower or digging one up will result in the loss of petals. That’s probably why we don’t see bloodroot at garden centers. They’re too delicate for any handling and would never look good in flower arrangements because of that.
The flowers of bloodroot should be appreciated in their natural habitat or perhaps in a native plants garden.
Closer inspection of the flower shows that it comes up first, followed by a single leaf for each flower. The leaves emerge curled around the flower stem. After the flower has bloomed and lost its petals, the leaf will grow in earnest.
The large round leaf of bloodroot is a unique one with a deeply scalloped edge. In the image below there are about 16 bloodroot leaves.
Some of the leaves will get pretty large – as big as your hand, or 8 to 10 inches across. No two leaves seem to have the same exact design, although they all have 7-10 deeply cut lobes each of which are scalloped or have deep, rounded notches.
Peeking underneath the leaves you can see the seed pods forming from the old flower.
Bloodroot seedpods are circled in yellow in the image above. (Click on photo for larger image.) Eventually, the flower stem will bend down to the ground where the seedpod can release its contents. The bloodroot plant disappears, or cycles back to the earth, in summer.
(Photos of bloodroot flowers were taken 3Apr2010 and photos of bloodroot leaves were taken 18Apr2010.)
Bloodroot is named for the red juice that bleeds out from a cut or damaged root. The root itself is an orange-red color. Native Americans used bloodroot as a dye and to decorate their skin. If you rub the juice on your skin it will last a few days.
Peterson’s Medicinal Plants Guide tells us that, historically, bloodroot was used in the form of a root tea to treat coughs, laryngitis, asthma, bronchitis, lung ailments and rheumatism.
CAUTION – bloodroot is toxic – do not ingest.
A component in bloodroot, sanguinarine, has been shown to have antiseptic, anesthetic and anticancer activity. Today, it is used in commercial mouthwash and toothpastes as a plaque-inhibiting agent.
At the Day Use Area of Little Buffalo State Park in Newport, Pennsylvania there is a lot to do. Besides picnicking and grilling at the provided picnic tables and pavilions, you can appreciate nature and a couple historic sites by walking the Mill Race Trail.
Mill Race Trail is wide in most places, mostly flat, and only a half-mile long, so it can be considered an easy hike. From the parking area head away from the lake and toward the covered bridge. Pass through Clay’s Bridge, a covered bridge that was originally located one mile west of its present location. It had to be moved when the dam for Holman Lake was built. The bridge was built across Little Buffalo Creek a little upstream from the lake.
Nearly everyone can enjoy the Mill Race Trail. It’s an easy walk in the woods that traces the waterway serving the old grain mill, Shoaff’s Mill. The mill is an attraction in itself. The water wheel is supposedly one of the biggest wheels around. The steel wheel measures 32 feet across. (All photos taken 3 April 2010.)
Water released from Holman Lake is diverted down the “mill race” to the water wheel. It is this race of water that the Mill Race Trail follows. Water flowing over the wheel turns the wheel and the mill grindstone. The water wheel also operates gears, pulleys and ropes that assist in transporting materials from floor to floor of the mill.
Shoaff’s Mill is still operational and demonstrated the third weekend in October during the Old Fashion Apple Festival. If you walk the Mill Race Trail, you can’t miss it! Be sure to check out the collection of grindstones or millstones at the front of the mill.
From the water wheel follow the path that the water would take to get to the mill. Look for the Mill Race Trail sign and follow the arrow.
The wooded hillside in the photo above is a great place to see bloodroot, spring beauty and trout lily flowers in early April.
Look for individual bloodroot plants to flower before their leaves are out. A single bloom is followed by one leaf for each plant.
Bloodroot flowers have eight white petals and bright yellow stamens that project from the center of the flower.
Spring beauty is another of the spring ephemeral flowers occurring in these woods. Spring beauties have leaves that look like grass and they’re about as tall. The flowers are small, the size of a nickel or dime, with five rounded white petals that may or may not have pink lines. The anthers at the stamen tips are very noticeably pink. Spring beauty flowers bloom in clusters, but often only one flower is open at a time.
The mottled, thicker leaf on the left in the image above is the leaf of a trout lily that has not yet bloomed. Trout lily flowers appear for a very short time after the bloodroot has begun flowering.
The image above looks back toward the mill. Note the mill race on the right.
Water level in the race, and therefore the amount of water going to the mill, is controlled by a gate that you can see in the image above. Note the red blaze on the tree that marks the Mill Race Trail. From here you cross over the mill’s water source and follow the path to the right.
This part of the trail is a little more natural, so watch for those tripping rocks and roots.
Looking back up the creek is a scenic view under the hemlocks.
The end of the Mill Race Trail empties out into a wide path. Go right to get back to the covered bridge. Either side of the trail in this section has plentiful spring ephemerals flowering in April. If you go, look for bloodroot, spring beauty and trout lily spring flowers.
Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is quite noticeable this time of year as its enormous leaves dominate the wetlands. Go driving around the countryside and where there are creeks, backwaters, or the edges of rivers in woodlands look for the very large, bright green leaves of this perennial plant.
Skunk cabbage occurs in the wetland areas near the Mill Race Trail where you can see other spring ephemeral flowers at Little Buffalo State Park, Perry County, Pennsylvania. (Photo taken 3apr2010.)
No flowers are visible in this image of skunk cabbage plants growing at the creek’s edge. (Photo taken 3apr2010.)
The flower of skunk cabbage is a strange one. It is the earliest flowering plant of the season by coming up as early as February. Actually, several very small flowers are grouped together in a special structure. Pollinated by flies, these posies stink like rotting flesh some say, but I don’t have any experience to make that comparison. Let’s just say, skunk cabbage has an appropriate name!
Skunk cabbage flowers appear to be miniature yellow fringes dotted on a ball which is housed safely inside a leathery sheath. The sheath is referred to as the spathe and the ball of flowers inside the spathe is called the spadix.
As the flowers become pollinated and the growth activity of the plant continues, the temperature inside the spathe becomes warmer than the ambient temperature. It gets so warm in fact that skunk cabbage flowers have been observed to melt snow from around the plant.
The spathe in the image above – at the lower right of the plant – shows the typical mottled colors of maroon, brown, yellow and light green. The spadix cannot be seen through the opening of the spathe in the image above, but the tiny flowers are visible (in person) if you inspect inside the spathe.
Peterson’s Wildflower Guide lists skunk cabbage under both green and miscellaneous brown flowers. (Remaining photos taken 5apr2010 at Edgar’s Creek.)
The skunk cabbage plants in this creek-side group are large enough or old enough to have flowered. Note that the yellow-circled areas mark the flowers at the base of the leaves.
Leaves of skunk cabbage rise out of the ground all rolled together and rise up vertically as they emerge from the ground.
As the leaves get bigger and bigger they open up more and more. Skunk cabbage leaves are enormous as they can grow 1 – 3 feet long and half as wide.
Crushing a leaf releases the same rotten odor that the flower gives off. Nobody wants to eat this cabbage! However, Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants Guide tells us that the thoroughly dried leaves collected in very early spring can be used as a cooked green or reconstituted in soup. CAUTION – If the leaves are not dried well, calcium oxalate crystals – which are removed only by drying completely – will burn and cause inflammation. In fall the roots can be collected and dried completely to make a flour.
Little Buffalo State Park is easily accessible from Route 322 in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Take Route 34 south through Newport and follow the signs to the state park. Turn right onto Little Buffalo Road and about a mile down the road, take a left onto State Park Road to get to the Day Use Area, where Spring ephemeral wildflowers can be seen.
The Fisherman’s Trail is a one mile trail that begins near the Day Use Area. It is a difficult trail for a short piece that takes you up and over some really big rocks. You’ll have to be able to climb the rocks or stairs to take the upper part of the trail.
To get to the Fisherman’s Trail from the Day Use Area parking lot, head toward the playground and continue south past the entertainment pavilion. Cross the small stream and pass the Way Car No. 12, which is an old narrow-gauge railroad car.
From the wide trail near the old railroad car follow the hiking sign to get to the Fisherman’s Trail.
From the trail sign the terrain gets steeper and rocky.
In places it’s not too obvious where the exact trail is so just keep following the yellow tree blazes to stay on the Fisherman’s Trail.
Glaciers deposited these big rocks and piled them up lke so many pebbles.
After the rocky and hilly section the trail runs downhill and flattens out to the lake level. From here the trail is an easy walk.
The end of the Fisherman’s Trail empties out into a picnic area right off the lake. There are plenty of picnic tables and a few grills, too. A bathroom is near this end of the trail, but it will only be open during the summer months, not in April or out-of-season.
Follow the lake side a little further and you’ll come upon the area where you can rent paddle boats. This area of Holman Lake is for boating, fishing, and watching nature and people. Besides rowboats, canoes or kayaks, only small electric motors are allowed on the 88-acre lake. No swimming allowed at this spot. If you want to go swimming at Little Buffalo State Park, check out their fantastic pool which is just beyond the boat rental and more easily reached from the Main Picnic Area gate on Little Buffalo Road.
I saw a couple of common loons drifting across the lake today. This is a great place to see migrating ducks and other waterfowl.
The Fisherman’s Trail was a nice trail and it got me breathing heavy in the beginning of the trail down by the dammed end of the lake because it’s really quite steep and rocky. After you climb up and over and then down the rocky area the trail widens out to a relatively flat pathway that follows the edge of the lake.
There are no wildflowers on this trail, but I did see lots of moss on fallen logs. The only interesting plant I found was Ground Pine, Lycopodium tristachyum, an evergreen, low-growing perennial of shaded woodlands. It’s also called Ground Cedar because the leaves are very small and flat and grow in rounded, fan-like shapes. Look for these “miniature pine trees” on the lower part of the trail near the dam.
Returning to the Day Use Area you could follow the lower section of the trail closer to the lake’s edge, which is more like a footpath, instead of taking the higher part of the trail through the rocky section.
This section of the trail has a lot of rocks and roots to trip over!
Once you come to the dam you have two options. Either take the steps up to the Fisherman’s Trail, where you’ll have to go by a few rocks getting back to the trail head, or cross the dam and take the steps down toward the parking area.
48 steps up to the top!
View from the dam end of Holman Lake, an 88-acre lake in Little Buffalo State Park, Newport, Pennsylvania.
The scenery was rugged and beautiful at the top of the trail and serene under the hemlocks and pines near the lake. Didn’t see one single wild flower anywhere on the Fisherman’s Trail on 3 April 2010, the day these photos were taken. At Little Buffalo State Park the best views of wild flowers are along the Mill Race Trail.
Take Route 34 exit off Route 322, go south on Route 34 through Newport, PA and just after a sharp bend in the road to the right (near the feed mill), turn right onto Little Buffalo Road. Continue for a mile or so and turn left onto State Park Road. Pass in front of the Blue Ball Tavern Museum and cross the one lane bridge. Turn right onto the first lane and proceed to the parking area on the left.
The red path shows how to get to the Day Use Area and where to park. The yellow circle marks the best place to find Spring wild flowers in Little Buffalo State Park.
The Day Use Area is set up for picnics with plenty of picnic tables and pavilions, grills, a playground, and easy access to trails and scenic overlooks.
Walk toward the creek and through the covered bridge. Take the Mill Race Trail if you want to see the Spring wildflowers. It’s an easy trail, only one-half mile long, and it is the best place to see the Spring Ephemeral flowers at Little Buffalo State Park. You’ll see some wildflowers on the hillsides and other flowers in the lowlands near the creek. Shoaff’s Mill is an attraction in itself – the water wheel is supposedly one of the biggest in existence!
Spring Ephemeral flowers blooming on 3 April 2010 –
Also saw the sword-like leaves of the trout lily, but its yellow flowers were not visible yet.
Spicebush trees or shrubs were blooming along the far end of Mill Race Trail near the creek. Bright yellow clusters of flowers bloom all along the length of the branches before any leaves appear.
If you’d like a more challenging hike, stop by the visitor’s center and pick up a map of the park. Try the Volksmarch 10K loop, the Buffalo Ridge Trail, or the Fisherman’s Trail.