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Why Meadows Become Forests

Eastern red cedar seedling in an old field

Plant community succession: Why meadows become forest.

The normal plant community in the New York City to Philadelphia region is forest. This region receives an average annual rainfall of roughly 44 inches, distributed throughout the year. This means that woody vegetation will become established in undisturbed sites, given sufficient time (including dry, sandy soils of back dunes and pine-barrens). Periodic disturbance of storms, fires or clearing is what keeps some sites open. Without human interference, fire is a very infrequent cause of disturbance in this part of the country. Unlike the western United States we rarely have dry lightning, the regular cause of fires in the west. In the northeast, according to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), lightning is almost always accompanied by rain. With few exceptions (some pine-barrens species), our native plants are not adapted to fire. […]

Norway maple (Acer platanoides), an invasive tree

Acer platanoides Norway maple Aceraceae (sometimes included in the family Sapindaceae)

Norway maple is a canopy tree up to 65 feet tall native to Europe. The bark of mature trees is black, with narrow, longitudinal fissures and ridges in a fairly regular pattern. The bark of young trees is gray and smooth. The terminal winter buds are large, 0.6-0.9 cm (0.25-0.35 in.), wider than twig tip. They are green, to dark purple, and there are 3-4 pairs bud scales. The twig and leaf stalk sap is milky. These are some of the distinguishing characters that differentiate Norway maple from sugar maple and make identification of young trees easy.

The leaves are opposite, with a blade 8-18 cm (3.2-7.2 in.) wide, wider and darker than A. saccharum (sugar maple) leaves, but otherwise very similar. The autumn color is clear yellow, never red or orange, and the leaves turn color later […]

Callery Pear

Bradford Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’): Is it really Sterile?

A native of Korea and China, this, now ubiquitous horticultural tree, was first grown from seeds by the USDA Plant Introduction Station in 1963. It is very easy to grow and transplant, has white flowers in spring, leafs out early, holds its leaves well into autumn and has good color in late November. It also resists disease and insects. No wonder it is grown and planted so widely. There is also a story, apparently believed by many landscape architects, that it does not produce viable fruit, in other words, that it is sterile. So no worries about it being invasive, right?

Well, unfortunately, it is not at all sterile. Most individual trees produce crops of small, brown fruit the seeds of which are quite viable. Evidence of this can be seen along Route 440 in south Staten Island in New […]