Wildflowers at Shaver’s Creek
I hadn’t been out to Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in three or four years, and suddenly I’ve been there twice in one week. Last Wednesday morning I went on the last Migration Morning Bird Walk of the season, and yesterday I went back out with a couple of friends for a wildflower walk led by Shaver’s Creek program director Eric Burkhart ’02g.
Eric has a master’s in horticulture from Penn State and knows not only the scientific stuff about various plants, but the medicinal roles, the folklore, the whole bit. I learned a ton of stuff from him in just one hour of strolling through the woods—stuff I’ll probably forget in a week, but oh well.
In the photo at left, Eric is holding a stalk of an extremely invasive plant called garlic mustard. If you live in Pennsylvania, there’s a good chance you’ve got this in your backyard right now—and, if so, you might want to go out and pull it all up soon, before it goes to seed. It’s a non-native plant that out-competes many other plants and will pretty much take over Pennsylvania’s forests if given the chance. A single garlic mustard plant, according to Eric, can produce 10,000 to 15,000 seeds. Yowza.
The purple flower he’s showing in this second photo is purple trillium, also called “stinking Benjamin” (I have no idea why). It’s one that the Shaver’s Creek folks have actually planted in the woods, in hopes that it will take hold. Eric has a contact in the Johnstown area, where there’s a lot of strip mining; the friend tries to save plants like this one from the bulldozers and get them to Eric. Interestingly, trillium is really hard to grow from seed—it takes seven years—so you’re not likely to find it in a greenhouse. It’s just too much work.
In the same area as the purple trillium, Eric showed us—and told us the stories behind—a bunch of other wild plants, including true solomon seal, black cohosh, blue cohosh, and Pennsylvania cress, or winter cress. Then we’d amble on for about 10 yards, and stop, and Eric would show us five or six more plants: Canada mayflower, may apple, false sarsparilla, jack-in-the-pulpit, partridgeberry. Here’s a photo of a wild geranium, also called wood geranium or crane’s bill. Lots of people buy this at greenhouses to plant in their yards.
I learned that there’s a plant that looks like poison ivy but isn’t—it’s box elder, and you can tell the two plants apart by the fact that poison ivy has alternate leaves and box elder has opposite leaves. I learned that “cohosh” is an Algonquin name meaning “women’s medicine.” I got to sniff onion grass (nice) and skunk cabbage (not so nice).
At some point I’d like to learn more about Eric’s work—he’s leading a project to encourage Pennsylvania farmers and property owners to grow ginseng commercially. He might make for a good story for The Penn Stater sometime. In the meantime you can read more about that aspect of his work in stories from Research/Penn State and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Tina Hay, editor
Entry filed under: The Penn Stater magazine, University Park campus. Tags: Eric Burkhart, garlic mustard, ginseng, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, purple trillium, Research/Penn State, Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, strip mining.