Monday, April 21, 2014

Wild Sumac in Spring!

Post contributed by Meredith, Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew Leader:

This week, after a seemingly un-ending winter, the Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors crews have finally noticed some signs of spring in the Saint Paul parks! Cardinals have been singing, grass has been greening, and buds have been emerging.  During our time in the parks this week we noticed a particularly special plant showing signs of spring.  It stumped us at first.  We noticed slender, singular twigs emerging from the snow covered ground.  These twigs were covered in a fine down-like material and the middle was a white, spongy wood.  A few days later we noticed that these branches had something very familiar to us emerging from their tips, a conic clump of small red berries! Do you know what we were seeing?
Have you seen it in our parks?  Wild Sumac is a deciduous small tree or shrub that grows about 25 feet tall and has a broad, open crown. It forms dense patches of male or female plants which have alternately pinnately compound leaves.  Wild Sumac is native to the Eastern United States and the Midwest and is planted ornamentally in all temperate regions of the world.  Check out this USGS map of the native range of Rhus typhina. Rhus typhina berries serve as important food source for many game birds, song birds and mammals and was shown to be a significant food source for moose on Isle Royal, Michigan. Besides its visual beauty and interest sumac is also edible and can be used as a dye.  Check out this recipe for sumac lemonade!
We hope you are enjoying the start of spring as much as we are!

Como Park Bluebird Trail Up and Running!

Post contributed by Sharon, volunteer bluebird trail monitor:

Gilbertson nest box
New Peterson nest box
Ten of the eleven nest boxes on the Como Park Bluebird Trail are now up and awaiting occupants. We added two Gilbertson design boxes this year and two new Peterson design ones. The Gilbertson boxes detach completely, allowing a view of the nest from the top. There will be no hanging boxes as in past years; all are mounted on posts with predator guards attached. These are much easier to monitor.

Many bluebirds were in the park today, singing, sparring, and catching insects, but they’ve not yet begun to build their nests. House sparrows did begin a nest in one box; I removed those materials.
A male and female pair search for insects

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Getting Ready for Spring!

Post contributed by Matt, Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors Crew Leader:
Youth Outdoors crew member planting
native seeds in the hoop house
With the spring thaw finally coming, it’s time to start planting again!  For the past few weeks the Conservation Corps of Minnesota (CCM) has been working on removing common buckthorn, red mulberry, honeysuckle and other invasive plants from the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation (SPPR) park system.  Now that the weather is getting warmer, CCM and SPPR will start planting native plant species to replace the invasive plants that have been removed.  This is an important step in the restoration process because it guards against erosion and helps native plants establish themselves in an area.
To get an early start on this the CCM has been helping SPPR with preparing sugar maple, purple prairie clover and a variety of native Minnesota prairie grass seeds for planting.  Both youth and adult CCM crews worked to separate and clean seeds that had been collected from the Saint Paul Park System and then plant them in trays to get ready for final planting in the parks.  The youth involved in this project had a great opportunity to learn about how native plants are essential for conserving our water resources and preventing erosion.  Over the course of two days the CCM prepared and planted 532 sugar maple seeds, 490 purple prairie clover seeds and 1062 prairie grass seeds in starter trays.

Mixture of native prairie grass seeds
The Minnesota prairie grass seeds and the purple prairie clover will both be used to augment and restore natural prairie area within the Saint Paul parks system.  Minnesota once had 18 million acres of prairie land but this has dwindled down to 150,000 acres.  Prairies help Minnesota's water cycle with their deep root systems and provide a natural habitat for native animals.  Native prairie plants come in a wide array of shapes sizes and colors so they add a great aesthetic to our park system as well.