Last Friday we went to South Mountains State Park for our winter visit. We went in the fall and learned all about how to identify trees by their leaves. Revisiting in winter allowed us to see things that were less visible in the fall. Last time, we saw that the Eastern Hemlocks were under attack by parasites. Unfortunately, those trees look worse now even after being treated with pesticides. The ranger was afraid most of them might be lost. We found the egg cases of the small beetle on the undersides of the needles. Among the new leaves we learned to identify were the Red Oak and the Tulip Poplar. We were able to review our knowledge of other leaves, such as Sycamore, Sweet Birch, and Red Maple from the brown, crunchy leaves we found on the ground. The Rhododendrons and Mountain Laurels looked the same as they did in the fall. The ranger told us a story about how he was walking in the woods once and thought he heard a stream close by. He walked in all directions trying to find it, before finally realizing it was the Rhododendrons. When the temperature drops quickly, they roll up their leaves to protect themselves, and it makes a crackling noise! It was great to be able to see the changes to the hiking trail from Fall to Winter. We will go again in mid-April to see the wildflowers in bloom. Maybe there will be Ladyslippers!
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Dr. Jen Spencer is the Director and Lead Teacher of Willow Tree Community School. She enjoys hiking, writing, and discussing philosophy and education reform.