By Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant and Sheila Vincent, Group Programs Coordinator
On September 27-29, Sheila Vincent and I led a DNS trip to the Pennsylvania Wilds, a swath of 2-million acres of protected forest and wilderness in the north-central part of the Keystone State. A great array of wildlife can be found here, plus spectacular scenery. The fall color looked great , despite the gray rainy weather when we arrived.
On our first venture into the Quehanna Wilderness, we visited the largest colony of White Birch known to exist in Pennsylvania. Primarily a northern species, these tree thrive in areas of disturbance. In fact, this section of wilderness is part of the vast Allegheny Plateau, created by the grinding of glaciers during the last Ice Age. The birches are part of the Marion Brooks Natural Area, a preserve that also features unique plants such as Cucumber Magnolia, Lady’s Slippers, and an array of ferns.
In the disturbed soil around a man-made pond, we encountered a tremendous concentration of Redcoats, a striking lichen. A lichen is the pairing of a fungus and algae in a mutualistic relationship. Most lichens are gray or dull green– few are as vivid as the Redcoat.
A mysterious wildflower drew our attention. With purple stems, asymetrical leaves, and straw-colored blossoms, the Gall-of-the-Earth is a distinctive member of the Aster family. There is disagreement as to the origin of the plant’s name. One camp holds that the drooping flowers look away from the sun, thus symbolizing the bitter descent of fall into winter. The other camp suggests that the bitter-tasting roots, used to treat dysentery and rattlesnake bite, gave the plant both its names.
For a bunch of naturalists exploring an unusual ecosystem, every discovery seemed noteworthy. This bizarre paper wasp nest, built just a foot above the ground, had the extra protection of hawthorn spikes.
The botanical diversions were great, but of course the big attraction up here is of the four-legged variety. Would we see any elk? Would we get to hear the haunting bugle of battling bulls? Stay tuned for the second half of our story…