Archive for the 'Schenley Park' Category

Jun 02 2014

Schenley Park: Subtract and Add

Published by under Schenley Park

Daisies at the Bartlett meadow, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)
There’s a lot going on in Schenley Park near the corner of Bartlett Street and Greenfield Road.  Last weekend I noticed two subtractions to make way for additions.

Making a Meadow:

If you’re familiar with the grassy hill that sweeps down from Beacon to Bartlett you’ll notice that it changed recently.  There are green grass paths, ropes to guide you along the paths, and brown grass everywhere else.  The dead grass will be “subtracted” to make a meadow!

Schenley Park, medow preparation at Beacon hill, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a map of the meadow from a presentation by Erin Copeland of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in May 2013.  Click here or on the map for the complete watershed restoration plan.

Schenley Park, future meadow at Beacon (from Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Panther Hollow Restoration Plan)

The daisies above are blooming now in the tiny meadow at the Bartlett Shelter, top left of the map.  Next spring they’ll have neighbors.


Eradicating Oak Wilt:

Across the street from the meadow, oak wilt eradication at Prospect Circle is nearing its end.  Not only are most of the trees gone but the ground is bare.  The work is so thorough that you can see the bare spot from Greenfield Road through the remaining fringe of trees (if you look for it).

Oak wilt eradication at Prospect Circle as of 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

To tree-lovers this seems sad but wildlife filled the niche immediately.  Red-tailed hawks love open-space perches and, true to form, I found a large, pale, red-tailed hawk perched on one of the remaining trees.  The smaller birds complained about her as she watched me take her picture.

Red-tailed hawk at Prospect Circle, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Though many trees were subtracted, the Parks Conservancy has already begun reforestation by adding 30 trees nearby.

New trees planted at Prospect Circle, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Watch for more additions in the months ahead.

Visit the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s website for plans and information.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 28 2014

Jack Explains Himself

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Jack in the Pulpit, Schenley Park, 16 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I found this Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) blooming in Schenley Park, he begged for an opportunity to explain himself.

Go ahead, Jack.  What’s on your mind?

First off, I’m not always a guy.  I’m both male and female but not at the same time.  What you call “Jack” is my spadix whose base is covered in tiny male or female flowers.  I can turn them off and on depending on my age and environmental conditions.  Sometimes I’m male.  Sometimes I’m female. Call me Jack or Jill.

I’m pollinated by fungus flies so I smell like a mushroom.  (Oh, really?)

My pulpit is called a spathe — rhymes with bathe.  My hood looks like a garden spade if you open it up.  I’m not happy when you do that but I understand the temptation.

Botanists cannot decide whether I am one or three species.  I, personally, am all green inside. Some of us have fancy stripes.  Click here to see.

My trifoliate leaves start near the ground and sometimes look unrelated to me, but they’re mine.  Yes, they look like “leaves of three.” No, I am not poison ivy.

When I’m female I’m quite pretty in the fall.  I drop my spathe and develop a cluster of bright red berries on my spadix.  Check back in a few months and you’ll be impressed.

And finally, don’t eat me.  I’m full of calcium oxalate. Native Americans had recipes for my use but you have to know their special preparations or you’re in for a nasty burning, possible sterility or poisoning.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 15 2014

Remarkable Journeys

Swainson's thrush (photo by Steve Gosser)

In the middle of May, Schenley Park’s bird population bursts at the seams as migrants stopover on their way to Canada.  Early this week one of the most numerous visitors was the Swainson’s thrush.

We tend to take their migration for granted, knowing the birds make long journeys from South to North America, but we’re unable to visualize it.  How far do they go?  How long do they live?

Last December in the Columbian highlands a bird banding station captured a previously banded Swainson’s thrush.  Its bands revealed the bird was captured more than five years earlier while on its journey north.

The thrush was banded near Unadilla, Nebraska in May 2008, heading home to breed in central Canada.  At that time it was at least one year old.  In December 2013 it was recaptured near Las Margaritas, Columbia 2,700 miles away, probably at its winter home.  It was more than six years old and had made the journey at least 13 times.

From Canada to Columbia, read about this bird’s journey and see the map at Klamath Call Note.

(photo of a Swainson’s thrush on migration in Pennsylvania by Steve Gosser)

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May 03 2014

Leaf Out!

Published by under Schenley Park,Trees

Tulip tree leaves unfurling, 28 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Very soon southwestern Pennsylvania will reach the moment when most of the trees have leaves.  This usually happens around May 5.

Leaf out seems a bit delayed this year but it’s making progress.  On Monday (April 28) I found a tulip tree unfurling its leaves one by one.  By Thursday the same branch looked like this:

Tulip tree leaf-out, 1 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

There’s probably another leaf inside that big bud, and then there will be a flower.

When will “Most of the Trees Have Leaves?”

For Schenley Park, I’ll let you know.


(photos by Kate St. John)

Later:  “Full Leaf” was late this year.  It didn’t happen until May 13 in Schenley Park.

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Apr 22 2014

Schenley Oak Wilt Status

Published by under Schenley Park,Trees

Schenley Park clearcut to stop oak wilt (photo by Kate St. John)

The scene is ugly but it’s therapeutic.

These trees at Prospect Drive in Schenley Park were removed because they were infected with oak wilt.  The eradication project was scheduled for February but didn’t get rolling until early April.

Last Friday it was partly complete.  The oaks were gone but their stumps remained.  These stumps will be removed, too, so the disease cannot spread.

Clearcut to remove oak wiltat Prospect Circle, Schenley Park, 18 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

How old were the oaks?  The rings on one of them tallied 87 years.

It takes more than a lifetime to grow a tree and less than a day to chop it down.  Alas, these oaks would still be here if they had not become victims of highly infectious oak wilt fungus.

When the ground is ready and the time of year is right volunteers and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will plant new trees.


(photos by Kate St. John)

UPDATE 2 June 2014: Click here for the most recent update.

4 responses so far

Feb 24 2014

Maples, Midges And Mammals

Icy trail in Schenley Park, 22 Feb 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is coming, slowly but surely.  Last weekend I took a walk in Schenley Park to see what was up.

On Saturday morning the snow was gone from the sidewalks and woods but Schenley’s gravel trails were sheets of ice.  I wore my ice cleats so I was able enjoy the sights without having to focus on my feet.  Three signs of spring attracted my attention: maples, midges and mammals.

The red maple branches look thick now because their buds are swelling …
Red maple buds, swollen in spring (photo by Kate St. John)

… and the sap is running.  I found a big hackberry whose sap was running so fast that it poured out of a limb wound and ran down the trunk in a rippling stream.  Warm days and cold nights are maple sugaring time.

Small, brown flying insects caught my eye.  Like the “flies” fisherman use to lure trout to the hook they’re impossible to identify and photograph, so I call them midges.  Their hatch in February won’t be eaten by warblers.

The mammals were active too, especially Schenley’s growing herd of the deer.   Hidden in plain sight I saw four deer browsing on saplings they hadn’t been able to reach under snow cover.  I whistled to attract their attention and three perked up their ears.

Deer in Schenley park, 222 Feb 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)


As usual I’m always surprised when my “Warm Day” February photographs look so brown.  The woods aren’t green yet but that’s just as well.  By mid-week the lows will be 8-10oF.

Maples, midges and mammals will wait a little longer for spring.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Feb 04 2014

Schenley’s Oak Wilt Trees Are Coming Down

Published by under Schenley Park,Trees

Oak stump upended to prevent the spread of oak wilt (Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service,

Don’t be surprised when you see trees being felled this month at Prospect Drive in Schenley Park.  An acre of diseased trees must be clear-cut to protect the park’s healthy oaks.

Councilman Corey O’Connor held an informational meeting last night where we learned about the project from City Forester Lisa Ceoffe and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Erin Copeland.  They described oak wilt, its treatment, and the affected area in Schenley Park which I’ve drawn on the tiny map below.  Click on the map for a better view in Google.

Location of the Oak Wilt zone in Schenley Park, February 2014 (screenshot of shared Google map)

Here are some of the 55-60 trees that will come down, marked with blue logging paint last summer. Many of them are 100 years old.
Oak wilt trees marked for removal from Schenley Pak (photo by Kate St. John)

Why is the area so large and why must it be clear cut?

Oak wilt is caused by a fungus that doesn’t spread easily but can kill a tree in 30 days.  The fungus travels in the oak’s vascular system and when the tree detects it it blocks those vessels — the arboreal equivalent of a stroke.  Watch the 13 minute video here to see how this happens.  You know the oaks are sick when you see browning leaves in mid-summer.  This is the only sign.

Oak leaves showing oak wilt (Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service,

The infection travels through an entire stand because the oaks are joined underground.  When their roots touch, they graft to share nutrients and, sadly, disease.  We only see the symptoms in summer so a large area can become infected before anyone notices.

Oak root graft (photo by Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service,


Once the fungus has taken hold, an infected tree is doomed.  The only way to save nearby healthy trees is to trench the perimeter of the infection(*) and remove all the trees inside the circle.  Sap beetles can carry the infection so the logging must be done in winter when the sap isn’t running.  (Note!  Don’t prune your oaks in spring and summer.  This opens them to oak wilt.)

When the logging begins in about 10 days, Prospect Drive will be closed each morning when the equipment arrives and reopened when Davey Tree is done for the day.  Signs will be posted explaining what’s going on and Davey Tree will have brochures for those who want to know more.  The site is easily visible from the Boulevard so the City expects a lot of questions.  Now that you know what’s going on, spread the word.

By the end of February the area will be empty, but not for long.  Site restoration begins March 22 with a tree planting conducted by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.  Who’s going to plant the trees?  Volunteers!

Schenley Park needs you on Sunday March 22, 10:00am to 2:00pm, rain or shine.  Click here or call 412-682-7275 to learn more about signing up.


(photos from by Joseph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service, and Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service. Screenshot of shared Google map. Click on the map to see details on Google.)

(* Trenching prevents healthy roots from growing into the infected zone.)

UPDATE 2 June 2014: Click here for the most recent update.

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Jan 27 2014

Schenley Park Oak Wilt Meeting, Feb 3

Back in July I mentioned that there’s oak wilt in Schenley Park.  In the weeks ahead those trees will come down.
Councilman Corey O’Connor is holding an informational meeting about the project on Monday February 3, 6:00pm – 7:30pm at the Jewish Community Center, Levinson Hall B.  (The main entrance is at 5738 Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.)

See Councilman O’Connor’s flyer below for more information.

Schenley Park Oak Wilt meeting, 3 Feb 2014, 6:00pm

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Nov 30 2013

Late November Signs Of Life

Witch hazel blooming in Schenley Park, 28 Nov 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Though it’s been cold and snowy I found signs of life in Schenley Park on Thanksgiving Day.

Above, witch hazel is blooming along the Lower Trail.  The yellow flowers don’t stand out but once you notice them you’ll see several trees sporting lemon-peel petals.

Below, bush honeysuckle stands out green against the snow.  This out of synch condition reminds us that this plant is from another country.

nvasive plant out of sync with our seasons (photo by Kate St. John)

When you see green deciduous plants in the snow, check them out.  They’re often imports.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Nov 23 2013


First snow in Schenley Park, 12 Nov 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

As of this writing we know that very cold weather is on its way (18o Sunday night!) but the question of snowfall is still up in the air.  How much will actually stick?

On November 12 the first snow of the season was quite beautiful in Schenley Park.

By now all the leaves have fallen.  Even with snow, this scene would look different if photographed today.


(photo by Kate St. John)


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