What a Galling Spring

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Spring means new, rapid plant growth throughout the mountain resulting in an abundance of flowers, fruit and possibly galls. The spring of 2020 has been galling or vexing for so many and now the time has come for plants to be galled. Galls are abnormal growths of plant tissue induced by insects and other organisms. Throughout Wintergreen, plants are being used by hosts for a variety of organisms creating unique forms that are easy to identify.

One of the most common galls at Wintergreen is the Oak Apple gall. Oak Apple galls are green golf ball shaped growths with a thin shell and a spongy core. These galls are created by Oak Apple wasps that inject an egg into the midrib of a leaf and chemically trick the tree into growing a protective shell over the developing larvae. The larvae will use the tree growth for browse as it grows. The gall is often used by other insects to host their larvae, sharing the space with the growing wasp. As the season progresses the gall will change to brown in color and harden. Despite appearing woody with age, the gall is a modified leaf. The good news is this gall does not injure the tree. Heavy infestation of Oak Apple gall may cause premature leaf drop.

Spindle galls are another gall found on a variety of trees throughout the mountain. The cause of this gall is the Eriophyid mite. The gall causes odd deformations in the form of spiky growths off the upper surface of the leaf. It is most commonly found on cherry and maple trees at Wintergreen. The mites trick the trees to grow around the larvae serving as both residence and dinner. Despite the appearance of being loaded with galls, the tree is not injured. Treatment of these galls is not recommended.

Cedar-apple rust is another tree issue throughout Wintergreen that is easily identified. This fungus is most commonly found on eastern red cedar and forms hard woody galls covered in gooey orange fungal growth. This rust can also be found on apple, hawthorns and serviceberry. It rarely causes damage to the host but certainly is not appealing to the eye. They do occasionally cause damage to fruit of the apple, hawthorn or serviceberry tree.

So when you feel that this spring can’t be any more galling to you, know that spring is the time for galls at Wintergreen. If you have a growth or insect that is affecting your plants, feel free to send pictures to forestmanage@twnf.org and I can assist in identification and treatment options.

 

 

 

Oak Apple gall

 

Spindle gal

 

Cedar-apple rust

 

Here Come the Bears

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Memorial Day weekend is a point on the calendar when the mind turns to summer. This generally brings warmer weather, cookouts and many more visitors to the mountain. This season also marks the start of what I call “bear season”. With an increase in attractants such as lovely smelling grills, the bear/human interactions begin to rise steadily. Admiring and desiring to see bear is a good thing but how to minimize negative interactions?

Spring is particularly difficult on bears. Coming out of winter dens, food is scarce. Black bear subsist on mainly insects/larvae and emergent forbs and grasses early in the season. Foods paramount to their growth are the soft and hard masts of mid summer and early fall which are not available at the present time. Feeding themselves in spring requires more movement to find sufficient calories. Wintergreen represents a food island for many bears in desperate need of sustenance. The sudden increase in food sources such as misplaced garbage or groceries left in a car from Memorial Day to July 4th often create negative interactions at Wintergreen. 

How do we as individuals deal with bear in our backyard? Adopting the mindset that it is their backyard as well is the first step. Bear are highly intelligent animals that have been roaming these mountains forever. The bear at Wintergreen have learned to associate homes and cars as potential food sources. Knowing they are here and the way they view the homes at Wintergreen is a baseline on how to act. Place all attractants in the appropriate place. Dog food should not be outside. Garbage goes in a community dumpster and is not stored temporarily outside. Groceries brought up the mountain should immediately be taken inside. Always act like there is a bear looking for food outside your house at all times. If it isn’t a bear, a raccoon or a raven will gladly accept your “offerings” as well. By all means, don’t feed bears! A bear fed at your house will be a nuisance at your neighbors. Once a habit is learned, it is rarely unlearned by a bear. Feeding bears is also illegal in the state of Virginia (code 1-230) so just don’t give in to that temptation. 

Many Wintergreen owners and visitors have gotten the treat to see a bear up close and personal. When we come face to face with a bear how are we to act? Know first that the bears roaming the development at Wintergreen act differently from bears seen in the remote backcountry at Wintergreen. Bears that spend much time amongst the developed areas become very accustom to our presence and smells. They tend to almost act like you aren’t there. This is both positive and negative. It is positive because they don’t associate individuals as a food source as they would a backpacker in the Shenandoah National Park. At Wintergreen the cars and homes are the food sources generally. It is negative because it becomes hard to scare them off with our presence alone. A habitual visitor needs to be addressed. First, be extra vigilant to ensure no attractants are present. Second, notify the Wintergreen police. They need to monitor the presence of nuisance bears. You may need to develop a plan of determent. Air horns are an easy thing to use and keep on hand. Other methods that have proved useful are electric fences and paintball guns. Both options are non-lethal but offer enough incentive for the bear to leave your area alone. Make sure you communicate with your neighbors to ensure they know of the habitual bear and that they are being diligent as well. 

Living in bear country requires each individual to be diligent in how we live. Bear smart individuals create a community that has positive bear interactions. The bears are coming so be vigilant in the way you live amongst the wild things so that each interaction is positive.

 

Bear on deck

 

 

Beautiful Brook Trout

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


My outdoor recreation of choice would be fishing by a large margin. In my mind each season has a particular fish associated with it. As I drove home by Back Creek this week, I was reminded that association is shared by many others. The banks of that small creek were covered with fisherman chasing after freshly stocked trout. While fisherman along Back Creek where chasing stocked variations of different types of trout, my strongest fish association with spring is the state’s only native trout, brook trout. 

The beauty of the brook trout is unmatched among freshwater fish in Virginia. Their red and yellow dots on a shading of blue create an artful display to look at. Virginia’s state fish lives in over 2300 miles of streams in Virginia, more than all the southeast states combined.  Mature brook trout grow only to 8-10 inches long but considering the size of the pools they reside, these diminutive trout are still big fish in a little pool. They tend to live in cool streams of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. There preferred habitat is cool shaded streams in the 50-60 degree range with high water quality. 

Brook trout tend to be the canaries of the coal mine for stream health. The historic range of brook trout snuck out into the Piedmont of Virginia. Habitat degradation and warmer temperatures have sent the species receding into the mountains in search of cooler abodes. They are very sensitive to turbidity. Siltation decreases insect habitat and thus decreasing their food source as well as interfering with their reproduction. Trout eggs are laid on stream gravel and clean gravel is necessary to ensure oxygenated water is getting to the eggs. They are also very sensitive to a variety of chemicals getting into the streams via air pollution and point source pollution. 

Brookies are my favorite spring fish to chase for a few reasons. The first reason is their location. They tend to be in tough terrain where fewer fishermen prefer to go. I love solitude in my pursuit of fish and brook trout offer that in spades. For instance, I was walking through the upper reaches of Paul’s Creek in the Crawford’s Knob Natural Area Preserve and passed by a three foot wide and eight inch deep pool and looked down to find a 6+ inch brook trout waiting for something to float down into his mouth. Another reason I love this fish is its voracious temperament. While easy to spook, this fish will attack almost anything that happens to fit in its mouth. They also put up a great fight for such a little fish. 

Wintergreen has lovely trout streams within its large acreage. Paul’s Creek is home to an all-native population. This creek can be accessed via the Paul’s Creek Trail in Stoney Creek. The creek has no special regulations so any legal fishing gear is permissible. Stoney Creek is a stocked stream but does have natives in its upper reaches. This stream requires fly fishing gear and a daily permit if a non-property owner at Wintergreen. Wintergreen property owners can fish for free. Whatever type of gear you prefer to use, I recommend something small and manageable because the pools are tiny and the forest is tight to both streams. 

Brook trout are a jewel of a natural resource in our back yard. Although small and often overlooked, this fish offers a great opportunity to recreate in solitude to anyone willing to put in the work and endure a bit of labor in your hobby. Get out and find some this spring!

 

Brook trout

 

 

Taste of the Trail

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


The love of specific plants comes for a variety of reasons. Some plants rate highly due to their spectacular flowers such as trillium or Canada lily. Plants that fill a niche in the environment often claim a soft spot in our mind. Hay scented ferns and sedum are wonderful for the niche they fill in our forests. The attribute that makes a plant rank high on my list of favorites is edibility. I love walks in the woods punctuated by nibbling on edible plants. Spring is the prime time to begin a habit of “nibbling” as you walk.

An easy first plant to add to your trail “menu” is wood sorrel. This is easily identified by each leaf being comprised of three heart shaped leaflets. It can be confused with clover but since that plant is also edible there is no consequence for mistaken identification. Wood sorrel has a tart lemon-like taste and is high in vitamin C. It is high in oxalic acid which can cause problems digesting calcium so eat in moderation. Pick off leaves, flowers or immature seed pods and eat fresh. It is best to avoid old stalks and leaves. It can be found throughout most yards, gardens and along almost every hiking trail in the U.S.

Most times of the year I avoid greenbriar. Its tough thorns and thick fence-like growth makes it a nuisance when walking off trail. In the spring, I have a totally different opinion of the plant. Often growing vigorously in old homesteads or areas of past human disturbance, greenbriar is undervalued as an edible. The new growth or greenbriar “tips” are abundant and delicious this time of year. While the tips can be cooked, this plant is best utilized by snapping off the top light green colored portion of the plant and eating fresh. You can generally tell how tasty they are by the large amount of deer browse seen on greenbriar tips. Hurry and get this plant soon before the deer do!

Garlic mustard is a plant that deserves our disdain. This invasive plant replaces many of our native plants and changes the chemical composition of the soil in the process. That being said, this plant sure packs a punch in the edible department. This plant contains vitamins A, B, C and E, as well as potassium, calcium, omega fatty acids and many more nutrients. Leaves, flowers and roots are edible but avoid the leaves and flowers later in the season due to bitterness. The internet is loaded with garlic mustard pesto recipes which are quite unique. Your kitchen will smell like garlic in the preparation of this dish. Rarely will I say this but please go pick all the garlic mustard you want. Parks in Maryland and Minnesota go as far as hosting an annual garlic mustard festival aimed at riding it from the landscape and putting it into people’s bellies!

One of my all time favorite sources of food in the wild is the beautiful redbud tree. This nitrogen fixing woody plant offers multiple options for nibbling. The lovely flowers are high in vitamin C and add great color to any salad. The seed pods are high in antioxidants and protein. You can go as far as using the unopened buds as a caper substitute or snacking on young leaves as you venture through the forest. Think of this wonderful tree as the health food store of our forest or yards.

The spring is the time to test out these food sources. The plants are succulent and fresh in the spring and become hardened off by the first day of summer. Enjoy these food options as you wander the forest!

 

Wood sorrel

 

Common greenbriar shoot

 

Love for a Legume

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Certain trees have quite visible value such as the towering redwood or picturesque live oak. Some trees prove their value in food production for wildlife such as the white oak or pawpaw. Many trees are valued for their precious wood qualities such as mahogany or black walnut. Every once in a while you run into the tree that encompasses a wide variety of qualities. The Swiss army knife of trees at Wintergreen is the black locust.

This nondescript tree is a member of the pea family that fills the important niche of a pioneer species. This short lived woody plant grows primarily in full sun environments but is widely adaptive to a variety of elevations, microclimates or soils. Black locust has a shallow aggressive root system that leads to the tree being seen as a noxious invader of desired vegetation. They flower from late April to early June and produce a legume type seed pod 2-4 inches long filled with seeds. They are a short lived species that rarely lives longer than 80-90 years.

The beauty of black locust is often lost in facts as well as its relatively plain appearance. Let me start with the historical view of this tree. Our colonial predecessors considered it among the most significant tree in the landscape. Botanists believe it was one of the few examples of a tree exported by Native Americans from the mountains to the coastal plain. According to William Starchey, the first arriving colonists found it planted by the native dwellings in the coastal plain of Virginia. It was used primarily to form their bows due to its fascinating toughness. The tree exhibits remarkable resistance to rot and was thus foundational to the building of Jamestown as well as having been used for fence posts and in garden beds. Black locust has also been a mainstay for wood heat in the home due to its very high BTU value. It has also been called “the tree that won a war” in reference to its role in helping the United States win the War of 1812. The British ships were fastened together by oak nails. The American ships used locust nails. When introduced to cannonball attack, British ships came apart while the American fleet held together.

Black locust is a very valuable tree to the environment. Being in the pea family means it takes nitrogen out of the air and deposits it into the soil for other plants such as grains and trees. The leaves have tremendous nutritional value to wildlife and the flower is an important source of food for honeybees. These flowers are also a tasty treat for humans. Head to your favorite search engine and type in “black locust blossom fritters” and you will not regret the small effort for a lovely treat. It also fills the pioneer niche well. Old abandoned fields are often bastions of invasive plants. Black locust is key to transition these fields to forest natively.

The tree also acts as a bit of living history. Due to its short lifespan and need for extensive amounts of sunlight to germinate and grow, when you are walking through the woods and see a black locust amongst the towering oaks and poplars, you know the forest looked very different 80-90 years prior. As you walk through trails such as the Old Appalachian Trail or Upper Shamokin Falls you can find patches of black locust throughout the canopy. This is a good “signpost” in the woods of what happened in the Wintergreen landscape in the 1920s and 30s. The chestnut blight had reached Virginia by 1914. The chestnut Wintergreen forests began dying and logging commenced to extract the valuable timber. Large gaps in the forest were created enabling the establishment of the black locust we still see lingering in our forest.

Every plant in our ecosystem has a niche to fill but few are more dynamic in their role than black locust. Whether providing for the honey bee or helping America win a war, the black locust proves to be an invaluable part of our landscape. Be sure to make note of this indispensable tree the next time you are out hiking.

 

Black Locust Tree