Late Spring in South Mountain

Starting in the cooler days of late April, my friend B and I spent some time off the beaten path in South Mountain Reservation hunting morels. While we never found any, for whatever reason, one good side benefit was I’ve finally starting learning how to recognize trees.

When I was a kid, our family recreation largely revolved around camping. We had a trailer and all the gear, and spent almost every weekend, plus a few solid weeks when my dad was on vacation, at various state parks in Ohio. One of my favorite things to do was (and is) hiking, and as part of that I got involved in some of the organized activities. Somewhere I still have my “Ohio State Parks Junior Naturalist” sew-on patch!

But I never really got the finer points of recognizing trees, except for the really obvious weeping-willow or paper birch. So hunting for mushrooms was an effective prod, because they are best found (as if I’d know) near certain kinds of trees.

Complicating things somewhat was being out in the woods before any of the trees were in leaf. One tree B taught me right away is the yellow, or tulip, poplar. Often the tallest trees in forests around here, they’re recognizable by their tremendous corinthian-column aspect. They first branch very high up, and their trunks are T-square straight, with almost no taper, no bending, no twisting. If you see a tree trunk that looks like a plumb line from the sky, it’s probably a tulip poplar. They frequently grow in groups:
Poplar Grove
They also don’t spread out much at the base; there’s no massive root system showing above the ground. Sometimes they have a twist at the bottom, like they’ve been screwed firmly into the ground:
Single Poplar
Another tree that’s a snap to recognize (and this doesn’t have anything to do with mushrooms) is the beech. In their symbiotic relationship with man, they provide a long-lasting writing surface. The Audubon Society book even lists this as one of the ways of recognizing them:
Despite its size, the Rez (as the kids call it) has a few micro-environments as well. There’s a nice pine forest section, and a few stands of native rhododendron and mountain laurel.
Mountain Laurel Forest
This forest is along the Millburn side, just before the dam and the abandoned mill (where the Myst-like dials are).
Winding Path to Mill
While the Rez sits atop what was an upwelling of lava long ago, there are some traces of glacial action here as well, such as this SUV-sized rock serving as an excuse to put up a picture of my dog, Brandy.
Speaking of wildlife, the day after I took these, my daughter and I went out to Echo Lake over in Westfield, where we saw this denizen of the not-so-deep sunning on a rock.
Union County (that’s where Westfield is) has some lovely parks, and this is one of the nicer ones. The cold early spring we had forced a lot of things into bloom at the same time. Here’s a rhododendron:
Blooming just a little ways from this huge azalea:
This azalea was huge — probably twelve feet high. I don’t remember seeing them when I was growing up in Ohio. I think it’s too cold there in the winter (correct me if I’m wrong). When I lived in Brooklyn twenty years ago I first saw (or at least first noticed) them.

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