By Emilie Wetzel, TTF Intern
Even with winter’s approach, Tacony Creek Park, one of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation‘s watershed parks, is teeming with life…you just need to know where to look!
Last Wednesday morning, twenty neighborhood nature-lovers met at the gateway at I Street and Ramona Avenue for this month’s “Nature’s Hidden Surprises.” Judith Gratz, our local environmental educator, led us in looking for insects and plants active during the winter.
As we walked, we carefully turned over logs to find insects. Underneath, we found many tiny springtail bugs hopping about as well as earthworms, millipedes, and some Halloween-colored box-elder beetles that were hibernating together. We also saw many entry holes in logs where female bark beetles had gnawed tunnels into the wood in order to lay their eggs. After we finished observing these cool critters, we made sure to replace the roofs of their log homes so as not to disturb them any longer.
We discovered a lot about plants on our walk, even though most leaves have fallen from trees. Judith taught us that leaf scars on tree twigs can identify leaf-less trees. Leaf scars are the marks that remain on the surface of the twig after the leaf has fallen in autumn. The shapes of the scars and the “faces” or patterns within the scar are very unique and act like a tree fingerprint.
Judith also taught us about plants with leaves in a “basal rosette” formation. Basal rosette plants have flat, low-lying leaves whorling out from one part of the stem like spokes on a wagon-wheel. Many of these plants have a deep taproot stocked full of nutrient reserves, allowing them to stay green all winter long! Thistles, dandelions, and mullein are the best-known plants with basal rosettes.