On February 16th, 2013 Rich Eldred, reporter for the Cape Codder and local botanist, led an educational walk for the Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) at the Town’s Christian Property off Portanimicut Road. The Town of Orleans acquired the 7.85-acre parcel in 1999 for $345,000 for conservation purposes, with $148,200 of the purchase price coming from a State Self-Help Grant. In June of 2000, the Town acquired, by eminent domain, the abutting 8.9 acre white cedar swamp to provide a wildlife corridor and natural habitat area for conservation and passive recreational purposes. This land also abuts OCT’s 4 acre Seikel Gift, which was given to the OCT in 1991 and can be accessed from Namequoit Road.
Before entering the trail system, Rich pointed out that the existing parking area was once an old house site, which is currently maintained as a grass habitat and is ringed with remnant ornamental species. Some of the most notable trees and shrubs were the Asiatic yew, tupilo (or yellow) poplar, American holly, Norway spruce, and English (Columnar) oak. Rich found the Tupilo Poplar particularly astonishing due to its sheer size, stating it is the largest he has ever seen on Cape Cod.
At the head of the trail Rich pointed out a shrub that he first had had trouble identifying, but keyed in to the internet to determine it was an American hazelnut. This shrub, which is part of the birch family, includes nuts that have a higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts and are eaten by squirrels, foxes, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkeys, woodpeckers, pheasants, and deer. The leaves, twigs, and catkins are browsed by rabbits and deer. The male catkins are a winter food source for turkeys and ruffed grouse. The dense, low growth habit provides cover and nesting sites for many wildlife species.
Along the upland trail Rich pointed out and described many of the local native tree species, including the white and pitch pines, red, black, white, and English oaks, red cedars, and black and pin cherries. One interesting story Rich told was about the white oaks. It is understood that in the 1700’s, the oaks that existed in England needed little time to dry out or cure before being used for ship-building. However, in America, the oaks needed 1-2 seasons to dry out before being able to use to make ships. Not realizing this, the oaks the English cut for their ships cracked and split once in the water, causing the ships to sink. Rich noted that Old Ironsides, a 44-gun United States Navy frigate and the oldest commissioned warship still afloat, is made of white oak. Cannon balls fired by the British bounced off its sides because of the strength of the properly-dried white oak.
After walking the northern trail, hikers ventured into the lowlands, which stretch along an old Atlantic white cedar swamp. In this section of the trail, Rich identified and discussed a number of wetland shrubs, including high bush blueberry, swamp azalea, maleberry (which was actually a female plant), and sweet pepperbush.
Poking out of the wetland itself was water willow. The perennial plant is common along stream and lake margins, growing to 3 feet tall, and often forms dense colonies, as seen on the walk. Rich noted that the while this wetland plant is very common here, because it is threatened by the water willow stem borer, the plant is identified by the State as a threatened species.
Despite the snow underfoot, hikers enjoyed this this educational and entertaining walk. Join us for our next “walk in the woods”, scheduled for Thursday, March 7 at 9am at the Town-owned Kent’s Point Conservation Area.