Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

The sabbatical project continues, exploring all that Tyler Arboretum has to offer

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Question: Has Tyler Arboretum ever experienced an earthquake?

On April 1, 2014, there was no fooling about the magnitude 8.2 earthquake that occurred offshore of Chile.  Several locations across the globe felt the ground shake and were placed under tsunami warnings.  And then, there was a M7.6 aftershock.  Did you feel these earthquakes?  Or a better question… did Tyler Arboretum feel these earthquakes?

Let me back up and give a quick “Earthquake 101” tutorial.  An earthquake is a sudden release of energy within the Earth’s crust that can cause destruction and may trigger tsunami formation.  That energy travels throughout the Earth and across the globe, and it is released through two types of energy waves – P waves (or Primary waves) and S waves (Secondary waves).  The P waves are the first to arrive at a location, and think of their movement as stretching a Slinky across the floor, and when you push forward on the Slinky, it compresses and expands the spring, and then when the energy dissipates, it returns to its normal state.  Think of rocks compressing and expanding as the P waves move through the Earth (yes, rocks do that!).  The S waves are the second ones to arrive.  They take longer because they travel through the Earth as if they were a section of stretched rope that was flicked up and down on one end.  The up-and-down wave form moves forward (ultimately), but gets there by doing an up-and-down motion along the length of the rope.  If you want to learn more about earthquakes, check out these great general earthquake resources on the Pennsylvania Earth Science Teachers Association (PAESTA) website, and the US Geological Survey has a helpful image showing the differences between P waves and S waves.

DSCN0350OK, now that you are set on the basics of earthquake the motion and the energy waves that travel through the Earth, I have to introduce a couple of additional terms.  Seismology is the scientific study of earthquake, a seismometer is the instrument that records these P and S waves, and a seismogram is the record we can see of when those energy waves arrive at a station and how intense they were (the Greek term for earthquake is seismos).  There are numerous seismometers across the globe, constantly measuring any ground movement from the energy release.  In fact, one of these seismometers is located right across the street from Tyler Arboretum at Penn State Brandywine!  It is buried in the ground in a secret location on campus, but the image to the left shows the small silver device we have (before it was buried) that is mighty in what it can record!


Below is the seismogram (the digital data recording) that our seismometer puts out.  Each horizontal line represents two hours of time.  The first record below is a snapshot from the April 1st earthquake offshore from Chile and the second one is from the M7.6 aftershock.  Can you see the energy “kick” from the P wave, the light blue right before the 0:00 time on the right in the first image?  And then on the next line, there is a larger, dark blue “kick” from the arrival of the S wave.  This data helps scientists do a little bit of math to then be able to go back and determine the location of the epicenter of the earthquake at the surface (the actual location, at depth, is called the focus of an earthquake).

The M8.2 earthquake, northwest of Iquique, Chile, April 1, 2014.

The M8.2 earthquake, northwest of Iquique, Chile, April 1, 2014, as recorded on the Penn State Brandywine seismometer.

The seismogram from the magnitude 7.6 aftershock from the Chile earthquake.

The seismogram from the magnitude 7.6 aftershock from the Chile earthquake.

Pretty impressive!  So even though you and I did not feel any ground shaking, those energy waves from Chile certainly made it all the way here to Media!

Now who can forget the 2011 Virginia Earthquake that occurred on August 23, 2011, at 1:51 pm EDT?  Yes, many of us did feel the Earth shake, and the Penn State Brandywine seismometer recorded those energy waves as well, in the image below (the X axis is distance in degrees latitude away from the epicenter, the Y axis represents how long it took the signal to arrive to these recording stations after the original energy release).  Looking for more resources on the Virginia earthquake?  Check out the PAESTA website as well.

The Penn State Brandywine station is the second line in from the left (marked by the light green triangle above)

The Penn State Brandywine station is the second line in from the left (marked by the light green triangle above)

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 1.03.47 PM

So, let’s revisit the original question… has Tyler Arboretum ever experienced an earthquake?  You bet!  We have in the past, and we certainly aren’t done feeling the Earth move under our feet….


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The Pink Hill Serpentine Barren of Tyler Arboretum – a Rare Gem

Tyler Arboretum is filled with all sorts of unique natural features to explore. Sure, there is a lot of excitement building up to the treehouses reopening this spring, and the last of the snow and ice has melted away from the multiuse trail. But let’s not forget about the gems that are outside of the fence and available for exploration – like the Pink Hill Serpentine Barren (warning – fascinating geologic knowledge coming your way!).

The beautiful "Phlox subulata" from Tyler Arboretum's Pink Hill. Image provided by Laura McPhail.

The beautiful “Phlox subulata” from Tyler Arboretum’s Pink Hill. Image provided by Laura McPhail.

You may have already traveled across this site, certainly if you have hiked along the Pink Hill Trail. It is not a coincidence that the trail has this name, for starting this month, you will see the native wildflower Phlox subulata blooming in beautiful pink. This moss phlox does very well across this grassland – which is fascinating scientifically, as native grasslands in the northeastern United States are uncommon.

But wait – there’s more! Even more fascinating is the fact that this grassland is really a serpentine barren, the last of its kind in Delaware County! What is a serpentine barren, you may ask? Let’s start with serpentine… Serpentine is a group of related minerals that are relatively soft and feel greasy to the touch that together form a metamorphic rock called serpentinite. These minerals typically have the chemical formula X2-3Si2O5(OH)4  where X = Mg, Fe2+, Fe3+, Ni , Al, Zn, or Mn. There are two main forms of serpentine – antigorite represents the more solid forms, and chrysotile represents the fibrous forms.  Serpentine is created from extremely high temperatures and pressures deep in the Earth (but still just at the upper mantle layer) at plate tectonic boundaries.  In fact, it is not uncommon to have existing olivine and pyroxene minerals in an igneous rock called peridotite be subjected to water that becomes superheated when ocean crust is near tectonic boundaries (the incredible chemical reactions that happen because of hot fluids – pretty incredible!).

Where might you find serpentine now (at least exposed at the surface)?  This quote from a 1903 publication shows that scientists have had a fascination with mapping serpentine deposits for some time.

“Parts of Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and Lancaster Counties, Pennsylvania, are noted from a geologic standpoint for the presence of outcrops of serpentine rock. This rock formation is confined to the district southwest of the Schuylkill River, extending in a somewhat southwestward direction into Maryland, near the lower Susquehanna River. The largest outcrops near Philadelphia occur in the neighborhood of Lima, Delaware County, at Newtown Square, at places north and southwest of West Chester, while isolated patches exist south of Bryn Mawr and northwest of Media. There seems no doubt but that all of the serpentines in southeast Pennsylvania are altered igneous rocks, either pyroxenites or peridotites.” — John Harshberger, The Flora of the Serpentine Barrens of Southeast Pennsylvania, Science, volume 18, number 454, page 339-343. Published September 11, 1903.

Serpentine rock (serpentinite) is throughout eastern North America in isolated rock units from Canada down to Alabama (as well as out west, but I’ll just stick with the eastern exposures); however, the most diverse and botanically-significant outcrops are in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland (see State Line Serpentine Barrens), including Delaware County.  The eroded serpentinite forms the foundation for a soil that is called – you guessed it – serpentine.  And when you hear the phrase “serpentine barren,” this typically refers to not just the exposed and eroded serpentinite but also to the ecosystem that has formed and established in these shallow soils.  You see, Eric Jones from Cal Poly explains “that serpentine soil carries the unique chemical composition containing high amounts of magnesium and low amounts of calcium. The pH of the soil greatly varies, ranging from 6.1 (slightly acidic) to 8.8 (slightly basic). In many cases heavy metals, such as chromium, nickel, and iron, are present and give the soil its red color. Serpentine soil is typically a shallow and rocky, not suitable for retaining water. These conditions inhibit plants from developing deep roots, also making serpentine soils highly vulnerable to erosion. The abnormal chemical composition of serpentine also restricts the growth of normal plant habitats, instead supporting its own unique flora which have adapted over time.”

DID YOU KNOW… Nearly half of the serpentinite found in North America is located in California, making it a natural choice for the state rock.

I hope I haven’t bored you with the science behind serpentine and serpentine barrens, but here is why serpentine barrens are important, and why we should care.  They contain very unique biological communities that are not found elsewhere on our planet.  Many of the key species in these communities are threatened and in danger of going extinct – and one of the causes of the endangered status is human development and encroachment.  But human activity can also protect, conserve, and educate others about this really special place right here at Tyler Arboretum.

One reason I’m excited about Tyler’s Pink Hill Serpentine Barren as it provides an excellent site for me to bring my students to visit. There are not many geological areas in this immediate area that are safe for us to explore (too many outcrops are along a busy road or difficult to get to), and being able to take students to this local site will help them learn more about their own space and place in the local environment. By showing students the serpentine barren, I can help students learn more about the ground on which they live, work, and go to school.   I can also introduce students to different time scales, differentiating between what happens in human timescales versus geologic time (millions of years). I think the serpentine barren is an excellent site underutilized by teachers and students, and I will be making sure that my courses explore the history and geological significance of this incredibly unique site.

To view the hill and meadow known as Tyler Arboretum’s Pink Hill Serpentine Barren, start on the multiuse trail and exit Gate 7 in the deer enclosure fence. Walk across Painter Road, then cross Dismal Run stream via two bridges to view Tyler’s Chestnut Nursery and hilltop views of the Arboretum and Pink Hill.

To read more on this subject, check out the publication Pink Hill Serpentine Barrens Restoration and Management Plan, by Roger Latham (a free PDF downloadable from Tyler Arboretum’s website).

AND, if you are STILL interested in learning more, you should mark on your calendar a speaking engagement by Roger Latham.  He will speak at an open meeting about Pink Hill and the importance of its preservation at the Middletown Township Land Conservancy Meeting on April 22, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at the Middletown Township Building, located at 27 N. Pennell Road in Lima, PA.


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A Visit to the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation

DSCN3293Many of you are aware that I am a faculty member at Penn State Brandywine, right across the way from Tyler Arboretum.  Several times a year, I make the journey to the Penn State University Park campus in State College – which also happens to be the home of the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (PA-TACF)!  I have volunteered at Tyler’s chestnut nursery, and I’ve helped bag the harvested chestnuts.  Now, I know to where those chestnuts are shipped!

The PA-TACF office is in the Forest Resources Laboratory Building.  On a sunny/windy morning, I headed over to meet with Chapter Administrator Stephanie Bailey.  Stephanie was incredibly kind to allow me to spend a couple of hours with her, and she took me around their facilities and over to the chestnut orchards on campus.  Stephanie was incredibly knowledgeable about the program and the activities of the chapter – for example, did you know that Tyler is one of more than 150 (probably closer to 200!) chestnut orchards for the PA-TACF???

I learned that the hybrid chestnut seed orchard at Penn State began in June 2002 as a partnership between the PSU College of Agriculture, PSU School of Forest Resources, and The American Chestnut Foundation.  The orchard began with 257 three-month old seedlings, with more being added each year.  There are now three orchards established in State College.

I’ll let the photos below tell the story of my visit!

The refrigeration units that house the chestnut seeds we harvest from Tyler.

The refrigeration units that house the chestnut seeds we harvest from Tyler.

I even found a bag with a "Tyler" label!

I even found a bag with a “Tyler” label!

Then it was out to one of the greenhouses to see the seedlings start their growth

Then it was out to one of the greenhouses to see the seedlings start their growth.

Then, it was time to head out to the orchards!  For those of you on top of the classification for the backcross breeding program, the chestnut trees at Penn State are BC3F2.

A beautiful view across the orchard.  You can see one of the plots, where 150 trees from each "family" (cross) are planted to ensure that at least oen of them is homozygous for blight resistance.

A beautiful view across the orchard. You can see one of the plots, where 150 trees from each “family” (cross) are planted to ensure that at least oen of them is homozygous for blight resistance.

Rows and rows of tubes to protect the seedlings put in place by volunteers (and at times, knocked down by groundhogs!).

Rows and rows of tubes to protect the seedlings put in place by volunteers (and at times, knocked down by groundhogs!).

I had so much fun going around and seeing the work being done by PA-TACF in State College.  Stephanie was an excellent host and was so enthusiastic!  She is the perfect person to represent PA-TACF, and I know our Tyler chestnuts are in excellent hands!

And feel free to view even more photos from my trip!



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Scientific American reports on the American Chestnut Tree

Work will not begin at the Tyler Arboretum chestnut nursery for a few more weeks, but you can get a head start on learning about the American Chestnut Tree in this month’s issue of Scientific American.  This magazine does a great job writing about science topics without the jargon for a non-science audience.

The website for the March 2014 issue of Scientific American only gives a short preview for William Powell’s article titled The American Chestnut’s Genetic Rebirth (A foreign fungus nearly wiped out North America’s once vast chestnut forests. Genetic engineering can revive them), with the full article available in the print issue.  But there is a wonderful web article by Ferris Jabr available for free titled A New Generation of American Chestnut Trees May Redefine America’s Forests (Before an exotic fungus nearly wiped them out in the late 1800s, abundant chestnut trees shaped the forest ecosystem, providing food and shelter for numerous other species. In coming decades Chestnut trees engineered to battle the fungus could restore these lost relationships).

In diving deeper into the archives of Scientific American, I discovered that this magazine has been reporting on the American Chestnut since at least 1855, with an article titled Grafted Chestnut Trees.  Additional articles include:

1906 – A Disease Which Threatens the American Chestnut Tree

1912 – The Chestnut Tree Blight

1913 – Fighting the Chestnut Bark Disease

1915 – Chestnut Blight Poisoning

1990 – Chestnut Blight

2009 – Chestnut Trees Return to the Eastern U.S.

2009 – Chestnut’s Revival Could Slow Climate Change (*full article online!)

I find it interesting that there were articles in the early 1900’s, and then a large gap in reporting on the American Chestnut Tree for several decades.  It is good that the chestnut is back in the news – we still have so much more to learn, and much more work to do!

I hope to see you in Tyler’s chestnut nursery soon!


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Tyler Arboretum is an IBA (Important Bird Area)

Photos at Tyler on 12/18/13
Photo on the front of the Visitor Center at Tyler Arboretum

When walking from the parking lot towards the Visitor Center at Tyler Arboretum, one of the signs you see on the outside of the building is the one pictured above. The first time I saw this sign, I immediately became curious – what does it mean to be an Important Bird Area?  What does this designation mean for birds – and for Tyler?  My Google searching led me to find the answers I was looking for!

The National Audubon Society oversees the Important Bird Areas Program.

Important Bird Areas, or IBAs, are sites that provide essential habitat for one or more species of bird. IBAs include sites for breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds. IBAs may be a few acres or thousands of acres, but usually they are discrete sites that stand out from the surrounding landscape. IBAs may include public or private lands, or both, and they may be protected or unprotected.  —  from What Is An IBA?

There is also a video produced by Audubon that offers background about the program and highlights state, regional, and national conservation activities.

The IBA Program has an impressive, interactive website that allows the user to search by state and/or through an interactive map.  I quickly found the information for Pennsylvania’s Important Bird Areas Program.

Formed in 1996, Pennsylvania developed the first statewide Important Bird Area (IBA) program in the country. A group of scientific advisors (known as the Ornithological Technical Committee) has identified over 80 IBA sites encompassing over two million acres of Pennsylvania’s public and private land. These areas include migratory staging areas, winter roost sites and prime breeding areas for songbirds, wading birds, and other species. Pennsylvania is making an important contribution to the conservation of bird habitat in the western hemisphere. Penn’s Woods are critical to many interior forest birds, providing nesting habitat to 17% of the world’s Scarlet Tanagers and 9% of the Wood Thrushes. By focusing attention on the most essential and vulnerable areas, the IBA program helps to promote proactive habitat conservation, benefiting birds and biodiversity. Audubon Pennsylvania works with a multitude of partners across the Commonwealth to advance the conservation of Important Bird Areas. — from PA’s Important Bird Areas Program

I was then able to drill down and found Tyler Arboretum on their map as part of a larger area designated as the Upper Ridley/Crum Site.

Site Description
The Upper Ridley/Crum Important Bird Area includes Ridley Creek State Park, Tyler Arboretum and a vast expanse of primarily private land north of Route 3. Other publicly-accessible sites include Willistown Township’s Okehocking Preserve (Route 3 and 926), and several preserves owned by the Willistown Conservation Trust.

Ornithological Summary
The site is significant for its use during migration and the nesting season. As a large patch of green in a fully suburbanized region, the IBA acts as a vital stopover site for many species of neotropical migrant songbirds. Several woodland species of concern stay for the summer and nest within the IBA, including Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler and Wood Thrush. Grasslands and agricultural fields in the IBA provide stopover habitat for Bobolinks and nesting habitat for a few Eastern Meadowlarks.

The Audubon Pennsylvania website has even more information specific to Pennsylvania about the IBA program, along with some helpful responses to IBA FAQs and a complete, detailed site profile for Upper Ridley/Crum.

My investigation in to the IBA program has given me an even greater appreciation for the role Tyler plays in biodiversity and conservation of our avian population.  Now I need to work on my bird identification skills to see if I can spot some of these critical species!

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Preparing for the Pancake Breakfast!

The tables are set and ready for breakfast!

The tables are set and ready for breakfast!

Tomorrow (Saturday, February 22) is Tyler Arboretum’s Pancake Breakfast & Maple Sugaring Celebration.  I love this event!  It is so much fun and offers the opportunity to get out in the winter for a fresh, hot breakfast and some time to explore the maple sugaring process (similar to my blog post on the maple sugaring class I attended back in January).  After having attended many pancake breakfasts, I decided to lend a hand today in helping set up the event.  It took a mini-army of volunteers, but under the organized and watchful eye of Sally Rogers (Tyler’s Special Events Manager), we stacked baskets with sugar and tea packets, filled bins with napkins and butter packets, and filled bottles with maple syrup from Aunt Jemima and 100% maple syrup from Vermont!  Hope to see lots of people at the breakfast tomorrow!

The griddle pans are lined and ready to go for the pancake flippers!

The griddle pans are lined and ready to go for the pancake flippers!

Don't forget that pancakes and sausage will be served upstairs AND downstairs!

Don’t forget that pancakes and sausage will be served upstairs AND downstairs!

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Roundtop Farm – the Minshall Family Farmstead

If you saw my post back in August 2013 about Touring the historic buildings, you might remember the end of the post (reproduced here):

We joked that we may meet again investigating Roundtop Farm in Ridley Creek State Park, which we learned was the original Minshall family farmstead (until I make it there, I’ll have to enjoy exploring the images in flickr)!  I also found a 1993 Masters Thesis from the University of Pennsylvania titled “Preservation in Ridley Creek State Park : documentation of the historic farmsteads.”  The thesis is available online as a free download and has more information on the Roundtop Farm home of the Minshalls, especially the case study section that starts on page 89 of the thesis (p. 193 of the PDF file).

I went searching for the Roundtop Farmstead not long after I took the Tyler Historic Building Tour – and I walked right by the building twice before I was able to find it!  Although the ruins are only approx. 20 feet off the hiking trail, it was the thick vegetation that blocked the view.  But now, in the winter months with all of the “green” missing from the trees and low plants, I had no problem finding the building – at least, what is left of it.  (At the end of this post, you can find my directions on how to find Roundtop for yourself!)

Roundtop Farm

Roundtop Farm became part of Ridley Creek State Park in 1978 in a property exchange between Tyler Arboretum and RCSP.

According to the thesis by Jeffrey Barr, the original portion of the house is believed to have been constructed in 1711 by Jacob Minshall (the second owner of the Tyler property).  Jacob’s son, John Minshall, inherited the property in 1734 and is believed to have built the additions on to the barn.  Unfortunately, it is only the house and ruins of the barn that are left standing, but Barr’s thesis has some impressive detail from his research on the chain of title of architectural records to speak about the layout of the structure and additions over the years.  I strongly encourage you to check out the link above and read for yourself!

And you can click here to view a slideshow of my images!

To find Roundtop, you can travel one of two pathways: (1) Start on the Painter Trail (formerly called the Red Trail) in Tyler Arboretum, take the turn in the trail that crosses in to Ridley Creek State Park, keep walking and Roundtop will appear on your left; (2) Park at the Sycamore Mills/Barren Road entrance at Ridley Creek State Park, and follow this map I created in Google (no log-in necessary) to find the house.

MOST IMPORTANTLY… when you reach Roundtop, do NOT enter the ruins.  Be incredibly careful and respectful of this historic structure, and keep your distance (just use the “zoom” on your camera like I did to snap some incredible photos!).

PLEASE ALSO NOTE… I made my trip to Roundtop and took these photos in mid-January, before the recent flurry of flurries we have been receiving.  I don’t know how many trees are down and how much damage Roundtop has sustained from the recent ice storms – please be safe and wait until the snow clears and you can journey on the trails once again.

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Starting Super Bowl Sunday at Tyler Arboretum

Some people wait an entire year with great anticipation for this day – Super Bowl Sunday!  This is a day where people gather around television screens in their homes, in restaurants/bars, and even in airport lounges to see two teams battle it out (and the odds are that neither team is one that you were rooting for during the season!).

Knowing that I would be glued to my TV for the Super Bowl game and commercials, munching on chips and dips and all sorts of other unhealthy snack foods, I took advantage of the mild weather this morning and took a quick stroll on the Scenic Loop at Tyler Arboretum.  If you haven’t been out in the winter months, I strongly encourage you to get out and stroll.  You don’t need to have a pair of snowshoes or cross country skiis to head out and enjoy Tyler.  The Scenic Loop was perfectly clear today and filled with others such as myself enjoying the outdoors.

Below, I’ve included some photos from my time outside this morning.  Something I really like about the winter is the ability to see across the Arboretum – the sightlines are just impressive.  Be sure to get out and snap your winter views! Although, Punxsutawney Phil tells us that we have six more weeks of winter to “enjoy”….
Tyler Arboretum

Tyler Arboretum

Tyler Arboretum

Tyler Arboretum

Tyler Arboretum

I’m also going to brush up on 14 fun facts provided by the Smithsonian Institution about Sea Hawks and Broncos – everyone loves to learn new science facts at a Super Bowl party, right?  Such as – there is no actual thing as a “seahawk.”  As to who I’ll be rooting for?  (Hint – I used to live in Colorado before moving to Pennsylvania).

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Tyler Volunteers Recognized with the President’s Volunteer Service Award

President Award logoA wonderful event was held at Tyler Arboretum on Saturday, January 25.  For the second time in Tyler’s history, the Arboretum recognized its volunteers with a national honor, the President’s’ Volunteer Service Award.  I act as a certifying agent for the award and have been authorized to administer the award to volunteers such as the outstanding individuals that selfessly donate their time and energy to Tyler Arboretum.

There are four different levels of the award (bronze, silver, gold, lifetime), with each level requiring a different number of volunteer hours earned over a one-year period based upon the age of the volunteer (children, young adults, adults, and families or groups).  For Summer 2012 – Summer 2013, I was pleased to certify 31 awards – 20 at the bronze level, 8 at the silver level, 2 at the gold level, and one lifetime achievement award.  Congratulations to Joe Cultrara for donating over 4,000 volunteer hours to Tyler Arboretum to earn the Lifetime Recognition!  Each volunteer received a lapel pin, award certificate, and a letter signed by the President of the United States of America.

President's Volunteer Service Award

Director of Horticulture Mike Karkowski (far left) and Director of Public Programs Amy Mawby (far right) recognize one of Tyler’s volunteers on January 25.

Previously, 32 volunteers had been recognized with the Presidential Service Award.  In a ceremony held at Tyler in December 2012, seven volunteers received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award:  Nick Greene, Wayne Keller, Michael Lenzi, Jack Nixon, Tom Reeves, Doug Robinson, and Pat Vaul.

Note that when you volunteer for Tyler Arboretum, your hours are automatically tracked and you will be notified if you qualify for an award.  What an exciting way to be recognized and to celebrate volunteering at Tyler Arboretum!



Maple Sugaring in the new year

Maple Sugaring

Some of the visuals and displays from the Maple Sugaring class

Today was my first class at Tyler Arboretum in 2014!  I grew up in the New England states, and when I was a kid, we used to travel to Vermont and visit the maple farms to view the sugar maple trees and to purchase 100% Vermont maple syrup.  So when I read the description for the Maple Sugaring class in the Winter 2013-14 issue of Tyler Topics, I knew this was a class for me!

Maple Sugaring

Learn about the history of maple syrup making and then venture outdoors to learn the techniques of tapping a tree, collecting sap and boiling it down to create delicious maple syrup in this adults-only program.  If you are lucky enough to have a sugar maple in your yard, you may want to try this at home!

… and, it turns out, one of the people in the class with me today was there to learn how to tap a sugar maple in his own yard!  He also shared with me how much he learned in the Terrarium Workshop the day before, and we chatted some more as others arrived for the class.  The class was led by Tyler Arboretum educator Rachel Ndeto, who did an excellent job with the basics of trees, how they grow, how they can be identified, etc.  We started with our class in the barn, looking at different samples of wood to note different features such as tree rings (and a short discussion on dendrochronology!) and tree bark.  I also found it interesting that the maple tree is one of four trees in Pennsylvania with opposite vs. alternate branches.

Then, we began focusing on the sugar maple, and how the tree needs to be tapped in the winter during certain temperature conditions – otherwise, the sap will have a different taste.  Rachel’s description of not only the branches but the “winged” bark was in all of our minds as we headed outdoors to tap a tree!  A short trek in the snow led us to a sugar maple, and Rachel took us through step-by-step how to set everything up.

Maple Sugaring

Rachel drills in to the tree (not that deep!). She drilled at an angle sloped up, so that the fluid would flow down and in to the bucket.

Maple Sugaring

The spile that is then inserted in to the hole in the tree to help direct the draining sap and water. Spiles can be carved out of wood, made of metal or plastic. The size of the spile needs to match the size of the hole drilled in the tree.

Maple Sugaring

The lid is then attached to the spile.

Maple Sugaring

Add the bucket and now… we wait!

Depending upon the diameter of the tree, up to three taps can be placed. On a day with the right temperature conditions, Rachel said that a this bucket would need to be emptied twice a day!

Maple SugaringRachel said that most of what comes out of the tree is water, which needs to be placed in an outdoor evaporator to remove most of the water.  Then, what is left in the pan is brought indoors and boiled at a temperature of 219-3/4 degrees (that’s 7.75 degrees F above the boiling point of water) for the material to become syrup.  After draining this syrup through a coffee filter to remove any remaining bugs and plant material, we have syrup!

It was fascinating to hear about the different grades of syrup, why trees have to be tapped in the winter, and how 40 gallons of sap from a sugar maple are needed to make one gallon of syrup!  And we ended the class on a real positive note – a chance to taste a sample of 100% maple syrup!

This maple sugaring class and taste of syrup is making my mouth water for Tyler’s Pancake Breakfast, taking place Saturday, February 22.  Can’t wait!

I found some interesting information from Penn State Extension on Maple Syrup and collecting sap for beginners.

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Epitaphs and Symbols on the Painter Gravemarkers

If you read my post on The Burying Ground of the Painters and Tylers, you may have noted the statement, “Papers document that Jacob Painter designed his own grave marker, as sketches for his grave and drafts of the poetry engraved on both his own tomb and on his brother Minshall’s tomb are found among Jacob’s papers.”  Someone has asked about the text on the gravestones of Minshall and Jacob Painter, so I thought I would provide the text here, for those that cannot make the trip to visit the cemetery.  As you will see, the epitaphs capture their love of nature – and the love one brother had for another.

Minshall Painter tombstoneMinshall Painter was the first of the two brothers to pass away.  He lived from March 6, 1801, to August 21, 1873.  Minshall has three epitaphs carved in his marble tombstone.  This photo looks at the north side of the grave site.

The west side reads:


The south side reads:


The east side reads:


Minshall Painter tombstone
Minshall’s grave marker has many common tombstone symbols found in cemeteries.  An urn represents a soul, or mortality.  Any object draped on a tombstone, such as this urn, indicates mourning.  In fact, the draped urn is probably the most common 19th-century funerary symbol.  The ivy represents immortality and fidelity.  Ivy clings to a support, which makes it a symbol of attachment, friendship, and undying affection.  The flowers around the base of the urn represent beauty and eternal sleep.

Jacob Painter tombstoneJacob Painter lived from June 22, 1814, to November 3, 1876.  Jacob’s tombstone has many symbols on the north and south sides, with epitaphs carved only on the east and west sides.

The west side reads:


The east side reads:


Jacob’s grave marker has many more symbols.  I have described some of them here.

Jacob Painter tombstone

The oak leaves and acorns can symbolize strength, endurance, eternity, honor, liberty, hospitality, faith, and virtue, in addition to maturity and “ripe old age.”  The pansy is a symbol of remembrance.  The lily of the valley represents purity, innocence, renewal, and resurrection.
Jacob Painter tombstone

When found on a grave marker, the philodendron is more of a decorative element than being a representative symbol.
Jacob Painter tombstone

The anchor stands for hope.  The hourglass represents the passage of time.
Jacob Painter tombstone

In general, trees represnt life.  The weeping willow tree, in many religions, represents immortality.  The flowers on the left appear to be roses, which represent brevity of life or sorrow.  The flowers on the right may be the morning glory, representing morning, youth, the bonds of love, and the Resurrection since the flower blooms in the morning and is closed by afternoon.

If you are interested in learning more about tombstone styles and symbols, I recommend the following books to further your exploration:

Keister, D. (2004). Stories in Stone: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography.

Cooper, G. (2009). Stories Told in Stone: Cemetery Iconology.


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The Burying Ground of the Painters and Tylers

Philadelphia and the surrounding region is known for its historic and scenic cemeteries.  So which cemetery is the final resting place for the founding Minshall/Painter/Tyler families of Tyler Arboretum?  A quick review of the History of Tyler Arboretum webpage will get you up to speed on the names of the family members that owned the Arboretum property for eight generations and the ones I’ll be focusing on in this post.

The earliest documentation I can find for a burial of a Minshall family member is for Hannah Minshall (1782-1838).  Hannah, married to Enos Painter and mother of Minshall and Jacob Painter, is said to be buried in an unmarked grave in the Middletown Meeting Burying Ground (also referred to as Middletown Preparative Burying Ground and Friends Hicksite Cemetery, located here on Route 352/Middletown Road).  Many well-known Delaware County names can be found on the hand-written burial lists, such as Baker, Sharpless, and Darlington.  This property is surrounded by a stone wall and is across the street from the Penn State Brandywine campus.

Sign outside of Cumberland CemeteryThis area had an immediate need for a burial site for “non-demoninational harmony” (as the Middletown Quaker Hickstie and Orthodox congregations that separated in 1827 both found their own burying grounds no longer adequate, suffering from graveyard overcrowding).  Interestingly, Minshall Painter’s written papers for May 5, 1859, mention a visit to his neighbor Thomas Pratt. Minshall had stopped at the Pratt farm, which included the land between the two Quaker cemeteries, as Thomas was “laying out a piece of ground for a cemetery laying adjoining the Middletown [Friends] grave yard.”  Bordering that stone wall and between two Quaker burying grounds was the establishment of Pratt’s Burying Ground, what is now expanded and named Cumberland Cemetery on Route 352.

The new burial ground was documented in the May 13, 1885 issue of The Chester Times (see below, and notice a familiar name in the list of purchasers in the third sentence):

A new place of sepulture, know as the Cumberland Cemetery, is a very finely located burial ground. It is situated in Middletown Township, and is part of the estate of the late Thomas Pratt. In February last Townsend F. and Horace P. Green of Media, James M. Smith, John J. Tyler and Thomas Sharpless, of Middletown, purchased the farm consisting of seventy acres and then sold all but eighteen of them, which they reserved for the new cemetery. A charter was granted by the court on April 6. The property will be laid out in lots, with avenues running to all portions of the grounds. The front of the cemetery will be embellished by a stone wall, on which an iron fence of suitable pattern will be mounted. It is thought this place will soon be come popular as a place of interment. It is on high ground, commands a fine view, and will make a fit spot for the living to place their dead. It is only a short distance from Chester. The officers of the association are J. M. Smith, President, T. J. Sharpless, Treasurer, Horace P. Green Secretary.

Minshall and Jacob Painter are both buried in “Pratt’s Burying Ground” (as they passed away before Cumberland Cemetery was officially incorporated in 1885).  Papers document that Jacob Painter designed his own grave marker, as sketches for his grave and drafts of the poetry engraved on both his own tomb and on his brother Minshall’s tomb are found among Jacob’s papers.  I have seen stories online that Minshall and Jacob wanted to be buried right next to the stone wall, so they could be buried close to their mother Hannah who was buried on the other side.

Tyler at Cumberland Cemetery

The final resting spots of Minshall (left) and Jacob (right) Painter. Note that both tombs are next to the stone wall of the Quaker burying site of their other (the meeting house can be seen above Jacob’s grave marker). If you visit this site, take a peek over the stone wall – you will be surprised to see more than tombstones within the stone wall!

The short text below is the only mention I have found of the cause of death of Minshall Painter:

Screen Shot 2013-12-26 at 8.47.28 PMThe image above is a screenshot from the article “Some Old Gardens of Pennsylvania” by J.W. Harshberger in the 1924 publication The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 48, No. 4, available online through the Penn State Libraries.

Ann Painter, the youngest sibling of Minshall and Jacob who inherited the property after the passing of her brothers (which contradicts the above article), is also buried in Cumberland Cemetery – but on the complete opposite side of the property in the Tyler mausoleum (described below).  She lived from 1818-1914 and was the wife of William Tyler and mother of John J. Tyler.  It was John J. Tyler that managed the property for Ann.

Tyler at Cumberland CemeteryJohn J. Tyler (1851-1930) was married to Laura Hoopes (1859-1944) and is buried in the only mausoleum in Cumberland Cemetery.  The structure is located on the one road that bends through the cemetery, named Tyler Memorial Driveway (as pictured to the left).  The beautiful and simple mausoleum has a stained glass window in the back and a small marble bench on a granite floor with six tombs inside.  When peering through the windows of the door, you will see John J. Tyler in the middle on the right, with Laura at rest below him.  To the left is Ann Tyler in the middle, William Tyler on the bottom, and their son William at the top who died in 1873 at the age of 25.

Tyler at Cumberland Cemetery

The Tyler Mausoleum at Cumberland Cemetery. Note Middletown Monthly Meeting in the background to the right, along with the Quaker cemetery.

If you want to further your exploration of Cumberland Cemetery, I strongly encourage you to read the undergraduate honors thesis of Eileen Fresta, who earned her B.A. in American Studies from Penn State Brandywine in Spring 2013.  Her thesis, titled “A Study of the Cumberland Cemetery in Middletown Township, Pennsylvania,” is freely available online as a PDF file.  I believe you will find Chapter 5, Middletown Township Quakers in the Nineteenth Century, of particular relevance and interest.  Visitors are also allowed to walk through Cumberland Cemetery during daytime hours.

RANDOM FACT  —  Perhaps the most well-known person resting at Cumberland Cemetery is Joshua Pusey, the inventor of the paper matchbook! There is a historical marker detailing this accomplishment along Route 352.


Minshall Painter around town

In 1857, when brothers Minshall and Jacob Painter inherited the property that is now Tyler Arboretum from their father, Enos Painter, they set about establishing a collection of over 1,000 ornamental plants for their own scientific study.  They even built the Painter Library to house their growing natural science collections and equipment, as well as their extensive and valued book collection.  The Minshall and Jacob Painter private collection was key in laying the foundation of the beauty that is Tyler Arboretum today.

My Minshall Tour around Media, PA

But Minshall Painter left his mark not only on Tyler Arboretum but around Media, PA.  Minshall is also credited with serving on the local school board and getting the Delaware County seat moved from Chester (City) to Media.  In fact, on Orange Street across from the intersection with Linden Street, you can find a sign that credits Minshall with naming the town “Media.”  However, it is not clear why “Media” was chosen – some report that it was because of the central location of Media borough in the county, while others report that the name may come from the biblical area of Medea.

My Minshall Tour around Media, PAPersonally, I feel the most valued contribution outside of Tyler Arboretum that Minshall Painter made to Media was being one of the founders of the Delaware County Institute of Science.  On September 21, 1833, a group of five individuals with an interest in science and natural history came together to establish DCIS.  Minshall Painter was one of the five founders and the first secretary of the organization.  He purchased a half block of land along South Avenue from Jasper to Front Street and secured the funds (much out of his own pocket) to construct the building that still stands today.  You can learn more about the history of DCIS from their website.  Admission to the museum is free and open on Monday, Thursday, and most Saturday mornings.

Minshall also recorded weather observations and was an enthusiastic genealogist – he compiled notes and collected deeds and other papers pertaining to many Quaker families of Delaware and Chester Counties.

Jacob Painter was not as active in the community as his brother Minshall.  As noted on this website from Swarthmore College:

Jacob Painter, while sharing Minshall’s scientific interests, was a student of language and a poet … The brothers acquired a printing press which they used to publish a number of essays on language, a system they developed for scientific nomenclature, and genealogical compilations. They were active in civic and Quaker affairs and members of Chester Monthly Meeting, attending Middletown Meeting until their resignation in 1842. While no longer formally members of the Society of Friends, they continued their interest in “liberal” Quaker concerns, including abolition and women’s suffrage, and collected classic Quaker texts.

My Minshall Tour around Media, PAAnd what about the Minshall House?  Located at the intersection of Providence Road and Front Street, the Minshall House (circa 1750) is believed to be the oldest house in Media, approximately 260 years old.  The house is located on the land Thomas Minshall purchased from William Penn in 1681, but there is no record that Minshall Painter (the great-great-great-grandson of Thomas Minshall) ever lived in the house.  The house is open for tours on Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Minshall lived to 72 years of age, but his hard work and impact still lives on in Media, PA!


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Tyler Arboretum is an Official Holly Arboretum

Photos at Tyler on 12/18/13

Sign on the front of the Visitor Center at Tyler Arboretum

When I arrive at Tyler Arboretum, I usually just park my car and walk right in to the Visitor Center to start my journey for that day.  But recently, my eyes did a double-take when I approached the Visitor Center and noticed a sign I previously had never stopped to read.  I never knew that Tyler was an Official Holly Arboretum!  I found this to be exciting news, but then I asked myself… OK, so what exactly does it mean to be an “official holly arboretum”?

I started my online search at the website for the Holly Society of America.  Below is a summary from the HSA website main page:

The Holly Society of America, Inc. is an active, non-profit organization with members throughout the United States and numerous foreign countries. The purpose of the Society is to stimulate interest, promote research, and collect and disseminate information about the genus Ilex. The society provides the medium for all people interested in hollies, including both novices and skilled growers, to communicate and exchange information through scientific studies, publications, lectures, meetings, visiting holly collections, and other educational endeavors.

Photos at Tyler on 12/18/13

A photo of the Winterberry, on the right-side of the path leading away from the Visitor Center

To be an official holly arboreta:

An organization recognized by the Holly Society of America as an official Holly Arboretum or Experimental Test Center is a public or semi-public institution that educates plant lovers in the use of holly in the landscape and that complies with set HSA guidelines. Its holly collection is properly labeled and it maintains accurate records of its hollies so that each plant can be identified by location, valid name, source, date received, size or age when received, and other pertinent facts. Annual reports submitted by Official Holly Arboreta and Experimental Test Centers are included in the Holly Society Journal.

Photos at Tyler on 12/18/13What I am very excited to see under the list of recognized organizations is that Tyler Arboretum is one of only 20 organizations from across the globe honored with this distinction!  I encourage you to check out the range of holly that are growing at Tyler.  Just along the pathway from the Visitor Center towards the Butterfly House, look to your right to see Winterberry, American Holly, Japanese Holly, English Holly, and a large American Holly tree on the left before the Butterfly House.  What beautiful plants, especially in the winter.

And I can’t resist… I have to end this post with…

Happy “Holly”-days, everyone!

Photos at Tyler on 12/18/13

One of the branches of an American Holly tree, near the Butterfly House

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Tyler’s living fossil, the Ginkgo biloba

Although you won’t find any fossils contained in the rocks at Tyler Arboretum, you will find an example of what scientists refer to as a living fossil.  What’s a living fossil, you might ask?  A term coined by Charles Darwin, a living fossil is an organism that has essentially remained unchanged in its structure through a period geologic time, typically without any close living relatives.  Examples of living fossils include the horseshoe crab, snapping turtle, pelican, and Asian elephant.

IMG_7529Right below the retaining wall of Lachford Hall at Tyler Arboretum is where you will find a living fossil that also happens to be one of the designated Painter Plants – the Ginkgo biloba.  From Tyler’s website:

The ginkgo is the world’s oldest living species of tree whose fossil records date back 150 million years when dinosaurs roamed the earth. This multi-trunked specimen has a massive trunk, measuring just over 21 feet in circumference. The fan-shaped leaves turn bright yellow in the fall and often seemingly drop overnight when temperatures dip below freezing. Female trees produce seeds with a foul-smelling fleshy seed coat; luckily the Painter brothers planted a male.

Did you know… The specific species Ginkgo biloba is most commonly characterized by the appearance of its leaves. It wasn’t until 1771 that the species was defined as “biloba” by Carl Linnaeus; bi– meaning two, and loba– meaning lobes. The Ginkgo tree is sometimes termed Ginkgo biloba L. or Ginkgo biloba Linnaeus, in reference to the scientist who defined the leaves.  This is the only species of Ginkgo alive today and found on all continents except Antarctica, but many other species were around over 200 million years ago, back when the dinosaurs roamed the planet.  But the fossil record provides more evidence that the earliest ancestors of the Ginkgo most likely date back to before the dinosaurs, over 270 million years ago.  (from UW-LaCrosse)

Other fascinating Ginkgo facts include:

  • The word “Ginkgo” is actually a mistake made by Engelbert Kaempfer (the man who originally described Ginkgo). He wrote down how the Japanese phonetically addressed this tree (as “Ginkyô”) and incorrectly wrote it as “Ginkgo.”
  • The first Ginkgo tree planted in the USA was in Philadelphia, specifically in Woodlawn Cemetery.
  • Legend has it that one Ginkgo tree in China is over 3,500 years old.

For additional information on the Ginkgo biloba, check out these additional websites:

Photo of fallen leaves from the Gingko on the Lachford Hall patio, taken November 2013.

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The Country Gardeners Annual Greens Sale

DSCN2894Today was the Annual Greens Sale by The Country Gardeners at Tyler Arboretum.  Founded in 1949, The Country Gardeners is an organization based in Lima, PA, with a mission to stimulate the love of gardening, help protect native species, and assist in good civic planting.  Each year, The Country Gardeners holds a one-day sale of fresh wreaths, pine roping, poinsettias, centerpieces, natural ornaments, and more.  The holiday greens can be pre-ordered or purchased on site, but a warning to those that think they might come at any time during the 9:30AM to 1:30PM sale time – these beautiful items go fast!

In the past, I had purchased my items on site, but this year, I decided to pre-order a wreath for my front door.  The description for the wreath read: “full, fragrant noble fir, decorated with pine cones, and a red velvet bow.”  I was not disappointed with my purchase!

I unfortunately was not able to stay for the second activity being held at Tyler today, the Woodland Winter Wonderland event.  But I look forward to the next event I have signed up for, the Natural Ornaments workshop taking place next Saturday at Tyler.

My wonderful wreath on my front door.  Happy holidays, everyone!

My wonderful wreath on my front door. Happy holidays, everyone!

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The geologic journey of Tyler Arboretum, Part 2

In my first post on Tyler’s geologic journey, I discussed how the planet is viewed by geologists, how the surface of the Earth is broken into tectonic plates that are either pulling apart (divergent boundaries), coming together (convergent boundaries), or sliding past one another (transform boundaries) – see this map and view this animation for a quick review.  These plates have been shifting and moving throughout all of Earth’s history, which means Tyler Arboretum has also traveled through geologic time.

Something else to keep in mind – our global sea level has risen and fallen throughout geologic time.  There are various causes for why ocean level fluctuates, but the main causes of this fluctuation are the changing size of the ocean basins, and the change in the volume of glacial ice over time.  The more water we have locked up in ice sheets, the less water we have in our ocean basins, and vice versa.  So when you look at a map of our modern-day continent and the position of its shoreline, note that our shoreline has changed through time, depending upon how high or low the water levels are in the ocean basins.

Comparison of two sea level reconstructions during the last 500 million years. Note that sea level has changed over a scale of hundreds of meters. It is estimated that if all of the current glacial ice sheets melt, global sea level will rise an additional 80 meters.

OK, so to review… we know there are tectonic plates that are in constant motion across the surface of our planet, and our ocean levels have gone up and down.  So what does this mean for the geologic journey of Tyler Arboretum?  Time to investigate through paleogeographic maps (thanks to the efforts of C. R. Scotese, PALEOMAP Project (!  The maps below were constructed from evidence found in the rock record.  Dark blue represents deep water, light blue represents shallow water, and the lightest blue/white color represents ice sheets.  Brown is for the land exposed above sea level, and the curved lines show the position of plate boundaries (those divergent/convergent/transform motions).  The white outlines are just for reference – although you will see the familiar shape of North America on most of these maps, please note that North America did not exist through most of Earth’s history – certainly not as we know it today!

Late Precambrian Supercontinent and Ice House World

This is the best reconstruction that we can make from the data and technology we have available for what our planet might have looked like 650 million years ago (the age is in the upper left corner, during a time period we call the Late Proterozoic Era).  Notice the Southern Hemisphere is covered with much ice, as well as portions of the Northern Hemisphere.  Can you find Pennsylvania?  We were part of a landmass called Laurentia in the Southern Hemisphere and rotated 90 degrees to the right.  You can see the outline of the modern-day west coast under water and the east coast – well, under ice!

Cambrian: the beginning of the Paleozoic Era

At 514 million years ago, the oceans are becoming filled with hard-shelled organisms for the first time, which is not surprising given the extensive shallow seas covering the continents.  Note that Laurentia has moved up to the Equator, but we know that pieces of New England and Florida were still at the South Pole.

The Late Carboniferous a Time of Great Coal Swamps

Zipping ahead to the period of time also known as the Pennsylvania Period, you can see that we are still south and not that far from the Equator.  These were the perfect conditions for the famous Pennsylvania coal deposits to form in the Equatorial Zone, while extensive ice sheets were covering the Southern Hemisphere.

At the end of the Permian was Greatest Extinction of All Time

And here we are, with Pennsylvania north of the Equator, and at one of the most significant times of geologic history (certainly for the biologic record).  When the Pangea formed ~245 million years ago, pulling together all of the landmasses into one giant supercontinent, it is estimated that anywhere from 95-99% of the file that existed on the planet at that time went extinct.  This is the largest mass extinction event in Earth’s history (not the most popular, of course).  Note that the dinosaurs still had not yet appeared on the planet!

Pangea Begins to Rift Apart

The “Jurassic” Period of geologic time really did exist – and there were dinosaurs around at the time.  It also marks the time of the formation of the Northern Atlantic Ocean and the splitting of the supercontinent Pangea, when we finally become North America!

The End of the Dinosaurs

And just for those curious, here is what our planet looked like 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs went extinct, showing the site of an asteroid impact that contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs.  Notice how high the water levels are and the absence of ice.

We are still drifting apart from Europe and Africa, as the Atlantic Ocean continues to widen at the divergent plate boundary that runs under the middle of the ocean basin.

So there you have it!  Tyler Arboretum has been under water, under ice, south of the Equator, and neighbors with fellow continents during Pangea’s formation.  Where will Tyler be in the future?  There have been maps constructed for where geoscientists believe the plates are heading – look at the maps for the future world 50 million years in to the future, 150 million years, and 250 million years!

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The geologic journey of Tyler Arboretum, Part 1

I’ve been blogging about my journeys around Tyler Arboretum, making sure I include pieces of the fascinating history of this property that has passed through the hands of the Minshalls, Painters, and Tylers.  But the history of the Arboretum actually begins well before 1681, when Thomas Minshall purchased the property from William Penn.  There is an entire GEOLOGIC history that extends much further back in time!  As a geologist and an educator, I can’t resist the opportunity to share some of the physical and environmental changes this location has gone through during Earth’s history.  I hope you find this as interesting as I do!

First, I have to start with how geologists view the planet today.  When you visit any classroom, past and present, the walls are decorated with various posters and maps.  The maps we grew up with are political geography maps, where each country on the map is a different color.  But as we know, rivers and mountain ranges and even the ocean do not stop at political boundaries.  Geologists have a different type of map we use to look at the planet – yes, we use colors as well, but the colors define tectonic plates (see map from the U.S. Geological Survey below).

The layers of the Earth (from USGS)

On this map, you will see the familiar outline of our modern-day continents, but the boundaries on this map are defined by areas of movement and motion taking place in a zone we call the lithosphere (remember learning about the layers of the Earth – the core, mantle, and crust?  The crust and uppermost part of the mantle make up the lithosphere).  The lithosphere is broken in to several rigid “plates” (each shown in a different color on the map above), where there is minimal tectonic activity in the center of the lithospheric plates, but much more tectonic activity (volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.) at the boundaries between plates.

From the map above, can you see why Tyler Arboretum does not have any volcanoes and does not experience earthquakes, but the west coast of the USA does?  We are in the middle of a lithospheric plate – close to the coast of our continent, yes, but the edge of our continent is not in the same location as the edge of our North American plate!  Earthquake-filled California has one of the most famous transform plate boundaries running almost parallel to the coast, the San Andreas Fault.  (If you are thinking back to that 2011 earthquake that occurred in Virginia, hold on – I’ll get to that in a future post!)

Earth’s history starts 4.6 billion years ago, with the formation of our solar system (view this short NOVA video for more on the solar system, and this video from National Geographic on the early formation of Earth).  Fortunately, the outer surface of our planet has cooled enough to where we formed the solid crust, and the trapped heat inside the Earth escapes through volcanoes – which just happen to occur at plate boundaries (with some exceptions, such as the Hawaiian islands and Yellowstone).  New lithospheric material is created at some plate boundaries through volcanic activity (the cooling of lava once it erupts) at divergent margins, while old lithospheric material is destroyed and recycled back down in to the Earth as molten material at other plate boundaries called convergent margins (this Smithsonian video does a great job showing the connections between plate boundaries, volcanoes, and even earthquakes).  This constant cycle of creating new material and destroying old material, as well as boundaries where plates just slide past one another, is what has caused the plates to move and change their shapes over time.

Wait… the plates are moving???  Yes, even today, all of the plates are moving across our planet, including our own North America!  Do you feel “the Earth move under your feet?”  Don’t feel bad if you do not – the plates move on average about a few centimeters a year, the same rate that your fingernails grow.

So now that I have set the stage with a very quick overview of the structure of our planet and the constant movement occurring, we are about ready to jump in to looking at where Tyler Arboretum has journeyed over geologic time!  We can’t go back to the very beginning, as the oldest rocks on the planet only date back to about 4 billion years old (remember, plate tectonics causes the constant creation and destruction of the lithosphere, so there is a good chance that really old rocks are going to meet up with a convergent plate boundary and be destroyed).  It is through the study of unaltered rocks (meaning, rocks that have not been super-heated or crushed by colliding plates) and the history of changes in Earth’s magnetic field that geologists and geophysicists have traced the positions and pathways of the plates – and that will kick off “Part 2” of my Geologic Journey of Tyler Arboretum series!  Stay tuned to learn how our current location was once under water and even located south of the Equator!

I will not be focusing on specific rock types or the history of Appalachian Mountain building in Part 2, although I will discuss the serpentine of Tyler’s Pink Hill in a future post.  For anyone interested in this part of Pennsylvania’s geologic history, I encourage you to read the Pennsylvania Geological Survey’s The Geological Story of Pennsylvania (written for a general audience).  And if you have any Pennsylvania geology questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section under this post, and I will be more than happy to answer them!  (One question I’ll answer right away – no, we have never found dinosaur bones in Pennsylvania, but the world’s first mounted dinosaur skeleton was put on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences – the Hadrosaurus foulkii, discovered in Haddonfield, New Jersey!)


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What Lies Beneath?

If you take a stroll along the Native Woodland Walk in the Arboretum, you may come across a “magical path” with “villages, hamlets, and castles, created for gnomes, fairies, wizards, goblins, and other magical folk.”  And as you continue on, you will come across this interesting structure, visible from the pathway:

What lies beneath?

Magically appearing in 2010 (with a little help from Pine Street Carpenters, Inc.), this unexplained door leading underground plays an important role in The Tyler Arboretum Writing Project.  Visitors of all ages are encouraged to use their imaginations to create a story or poem inspired by this exhibit, titled with the simple question, What Lies Beneath? Submissions (5,000 words or less) to this community writing project are collectively housed on the website:  Feel free to read through the almost 100 submissions that have already been posted.

And then, put on your own creative writing cap and submit your answer the question… What Lies Beneath?

What lies beneath?

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November’s Trail Ramble

November 2013 Trail RambleI had such a great time during the September Trail Ramble (see my blog post about the hike!), that I was excited to participate again in November’s Trail Ramble, led again by our fearless leader Lois Brooks.  The description for this month’s walk follows:

November 3 – The 3.1 mile Painter trail provides a quality hike with two stream crossings and lovely hilltop views of the Arboretum.

At first, I’ll admit I was a little hesitant to participate in this hike, especially when the Summer 2013 issue of Tyler Topics listed the following in the Take A Hike! column:

Painter Trail (most challenging, stream crossings, great views) – This trail is named for the Painter Brothers, who farmed this land.  A favorite of serious hikers and trail runners, this is also a good challenge for intermediate hikers.  This trail affords hilltop views of the Arboretum and Rocky Run, two stream crossings, plentiful wildflowers, and a chance to discover mushroom patches in the woodlands.

But Lois put the minds of myself and the rest of the trekkers to rest.  She explained the layout of the route and told us there were several places where the other trails of Tyler cross the Painter Trail in case we wanted to turn back or explore trails that were not as steep.  She said we weren’t in a race, and we could take as much time as we wanted/needed as we moved along.  This “pep talk” was extremely helpful and started us all off with a positive “can do” attitude!

November 2013 Trail Ramble

Starting out on the Painter Trail

The weather could not have been more perfect for a walk outdoors.  The crisp, fall air and sunny skies made for an enjoyable walk through the colorful leaves on the trees and on the leaves that had fallen to the ground.

November 2013 Trail Ramble

One of the many beautiful sites along the Painter Trail

Lois provided us a valuable warning, that we should be careful hiking this trail in the fall right after a heavy rain, as the water in the streams is higher and the leaves become very slippery.

November 2013 Trail Ramble

One of the two stream crossings we completed during the “ramble”

November 2013 Trail Ramble

Sunlight was able to shine through the spots where the leaves had already fallen off the trees

We did not stay on the Painter (Red) Trail the entire time.  We zigzagged between the Blue, White, and Orange Trails as well – all of which led us back to the gated part of the Arboretum to finish our hike on the Scenic Loop.

November 2013 Trail Ramble

We walked a total of 3.5 miles on this afternoon – and every step was worth the beautiful sites and sounds of fall at Tyler!

I sure hope there is a Trail Ramble for December or January – it would be great to keep walking on Tyler’s trails and to see the Arboretum in the winter season as well!  I guess I’ll just have to see what the next issue of Tyler Topics lists for the winter activities (can’t wait!).


PA Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation Fall Meeting

The Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (PA-TACF) held their annual fall meeting at Tyler Arboretum on Saturday, November 2.  If you have been following this blog, then you have seen my previous posts on the Chestnut Nursery program that Tyler participates in with The American Chestnut Foundation – all managed by the amazing volunteers that donate their time to Tyler!

The meeting began with some announcements by the chapter president, and then the morning continued with two talks on “A Sense of Place – Northern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service” and “Are Deer Facilitating Plant Invasions?”  After some general membership announcements and lunch, the talks continued with “USDA-ARS Research Update on Renewable Fuels from Agricultural Feedstocks and Forestry Feedstocks…” and the final talk by… yours truly!  I was asked to give a talk that served as an overview of Tyler Arboretum (what I titled “The Tyler Experience”).  After my talk, the meeting adjourned to going over and visiting Tyler Chestnut Nursery and/or going on an exploration of Tyler’s sites and trails.  The full agenda can be viewed online.

The meeting was held in The Barn and had over 50 people in attendance.  I sat in the back row and saw an audience very engaged and passionate about not only their work restoring the American chestnut, but also very interested in learning about the related topics shared by the speakers.

2013 PA Chapter Meeting, The American Chestnut Foundation

Kristine Averill (PhD candidate from Penn State University) speaking on her research, examining whether deer demonstrate a preference for native or invasive exotics

As my academic training is mostly in the physical sciences and not as deep in the natural sciences, I learned quite a bit at this meeting!  I’ve had an introduction to the chestnut work through my own reading and volunteering with Tyler, but this conference was very helpful in framing the “big picture” of the ecosystem and related fields.  I was also interested to see the PA Chapter was selling Biltmore Sticks, a measurement tool I had read about but had never seen before (learn more online and in this video about this field tool).


Photo of a Biltmore Stick

There was also a mention during the General Membership Announcements section about the need to do even more outreach, and the chapter had this very nice display set up that was geared to teach younger kids about the American chestnut.  I agree that each one of us has the opportunity to “get the word out,” whether it be through public talks or using social media (you can “like” the PA-TACF Facebook page) – or, by blogging (like I do!).

2013 PA Chapter Meeting, The American Chestnut Foundation

Display created by the PA Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, used for outreach and education purposes

Overall, I was honored to be able to share the mission of Tyler with this group, as well as provide a peak in to the history, nature, and education mission of the Arboretum.  And I even learned some new items along the way – the USDA Forest Service is doing science to keep “forests in forestry,” deer population management will help in managing plant invasions, and there is much research being done (and that continues to be worked on) relating to biofuels.

This is one of many, many events I know where Tyler serves as a host for outside organizations to have meetings, receptions, etc.  For the PA Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, I can’t think of a more perfect setting they could have selected for their meeting!

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Pumpkin Days 2013

It finally arrived! Tyler Arboretum’s biggest event of the year – Pumpkin Days – was held October 19 & 20. The weekend was packed full of various “edutainment” opportunities, with all proceeds benefiting the Arboretum and supporting continuing educational programs and conservation efforts – clearly, a win-win day for all involved!

DSCN2571Pumpkin Days had a little of everything for everyone. I saw several kids walking around with their faces painted while painting pumpkins, playing games, and watching balloon sculptures being formed before heading over to climb in to Stubby the Traveling Helicopter (thanks, American Helicopter Museum!). Families were enjoying making their own scarecrows and taking hayrides, while I saw everyone enjoying the Penncrest High School Pep Band perform. I was even able to catch some of the Baywings Falconry show!

An event such as this takes an enormous amount of planning by the Tyler Arboretum staff, and staffing by all of the wonderful volunteers that give their time to supporting Tyler’s mission. (Did you know it takes over 300 volunteers to help host Pumpkin Days???)  I assisted on Saturday morning with getting people from the buses that brought visitors over from the Penn State Brandywine parking lot through the cashiers to go off and enjoy the beautiful fall weather we were having. It was fun to chat with old and new member of Tyler, as well as first-time visitors to the Arboretum – they certainly picked a great day to visit!


I’m looking forward to my next visit on Saturday, November 2, when I’ll be speaking at the meeting for the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, hosted by Tyler Arboretum. It should be a very informative day, celebrating all of the work being done to preserve and protect the American chestnut. You can learn more about the meeting at the TACF website.

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Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies for Pumpkin Days

I spent some time this morning baking pumpkin cookies for Pumpkin Days at Tyler Arboretum.  When my husband, came home this evening, he decided to jump in and make some cookies as well.  If this were a cookie throw-down, he would win the battle – I can’t compete with his dessert-baking skills in the kitchen.  In fact, this same recipe for his cookies won in Drexel University’s Faculty/Staff Dessert Competition a few years ago (he teaches chemistry at Drexel).

So, if you are looking for some “award-winning” cookies at Pumpkin Days, try the

Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

(courtesy of Dan King!)

8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 extra large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (or any other type of chip, such as white chocolate, butterscotch, etc.)
10 ounces of another type of chips (he used dark chocolate chips for the second type of chip)
5 ounces dried cranberries


1. Preheat the oven to 325°. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, the sugar and the light brown sugar with an electric mixer until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the eggs until smooth.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix in the chocolate chips.

3. Using a small ice cream scoop, drop the batter onto a greased or non-stick cookie sheet, leaving about 3 inches between cookies for spreading. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until brown around the edges. Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes before removing to a rack to cool.

Dan's multi-chip cookies!

Dan’s multi-chip cookies!  The orange chips were in a bag of Nestle Toll House Halloween semi-sweet chocolate and orange colored morsels.

Again, cookies and other baked goods can still be dropped off at Tyler Arboretum on Friday!  Learn more about contributing your baked goods here.


Pumpkin Cookies for Pumpkin Days

I spent this morning not “at” Tyler Arboretum, but instead doing something “for” Tyler Arboretum – baking cookies for this weekend’s Pumpkin Days celebration!  Pumpkin Days is the largest event Tyler hosts each year and is filled with everything from hayrides to scarecrow making to pumpkin painting.  With the beautiful weather forecast for this weekend, I can’t wait to spend the time outdoors in such a beautiful setting, volunteering my time at the event as well (Why not join me???  You can volunteer for a half day on Saturday or Sunday, and then spend the other half of the day taking in the festivities – sign up today!).

But back to the cookies… at Pumpkin Days, Tyler has a bake sale!

This is our biggest event of the year, and revenue from delicious bake sale donations helps support Tyler’s gardens, natural areas and educational programs. Cookies, brownies, cakes, breads and cupcakes are all needed and pumpkin-themed treats are especially popular.

With the “call to bake,” I started looking for an appropriate-themed dessert, and while digging through my recipes, I came across the perfect recipe from – believe it or not – my Junior High School days!  Yes, I kept all of the recipes from my home economics classes in the 7th and 8th grade from Plainville Junior High School in Plainville, Connecticut.  I’m sharing this simple recipe here for you to try yourself (especially if you end up purchasing my cookies at Pumpkin Days and want to make them for yourself!).  This recipe is quick, simple, and a great way to involve family members in the baking process.

Pumpkin Cookies

DSCN25482 Tbsp. shortening
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 beaten egg
1/4 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
dash ginger

Cream shortening and sugar.  Add egg.  Add pumpkin, mix well.  Gradually stir in flour, salt, spices, and baking powder.  Mix until smooth.  Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  Yield: one dozen.

(I actually quadrupled the recipe and hoped to get four dozen, but my yield was only three dozen.)


Check it out – Dr. G’s most awesome pumpkin cookies!

Note that YOU can still bake something and drop it off at Tyler today (Thursday) and Friday! Learn more about contributing your baked goods here.

See you (and/or your baked goods) at Pumpkin Days!

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More work at the Chestnut Nursery

I blogged previously about my first time volunteering with Tyler’s American Chestnut Nursery volunteer crew, a group that goes out every Thursday morning in the spring through fall to “assist with pollination and fruit harvest as well as maintaining the tree nursery, as part of the breeding program for The American Chestnut Foundation.”  I joined the group again on Thursday, September 19,  for harvest time!

Chestnut Nursery Volunteering - 09/19/13Chestnut Nursery Volunteering - 09/19/13The group met at the Maintenance Shed first to pick up gloves, tools, buckets, a ladder – all the supplies we would need across the street at the nursery.  Then we carpooled over and set to work!  We split in to two teams and started to carefully remove the chestnut burrs from the trees.  I say “carefully” for two reasons: (1) for research purposes, we had to record which burrs came from which trees, watching for crossing branches so we did not mix burrs from different trees in the same bucket; and (2) these burrs are prickly!  Ouch!  Thank goodness my work gloves were pretty thick, and Tyler was able to provide gloves to those volunteers that did not have their own.  Since we had enough people to work in teams, we worked on collecting the burrs at the higher reaches of the trees, while others held the ladders and caught the burrs as they fell to the ground.

Chestnut Nursery Volunteering - 09/19/13Chestnut Nursery Volunteering - 09/19/13We filled our buckets with burrs, ones not yet open and ones ready to have the chestnut seeds removed, and headed back over to the Maintenance Shed for our second task of the morning – removing the seeds, counting the number of seeds harvested from each tree, and packing them up in Zip-Lock bags with moist soil for shipment to Penn State University.  At Penn State, the seeds will remain in the bags and be placed in a 40 degree refrigerator until the spring.  In just one morning, we collected over 1,000 seeds!  That is alot of seeds, but there are so many more burrs that need to be removed from the trees.  It looks like we will be very busy in the next few weeks!  Although the nursery is fenced in, preventing deer from eating the seeds, birds are finding their way over the top of the fence, so there is some urgency to collecting as many seeds and burrs as possible to help with the research and overall mission to save the American Chestnut!

The final total of seeds sent to Penn State from Tyler’s nursery will clearly number in the thousands (John Wenderoth thinks the 4,000th seed will be shipped this week).  And to think that Tyler Arboretum is only one of over 150 chestnut orchards participating in the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation…. wow!  I have made a note to myself that, during a future visit to Penn State University Park, I’ll see if I can get a look at the storage area for all of these seeds and hopefully meet the chapter staff.  Volunteering with Tyler’s Chestnut Nursery group is certainly getting me excited for the PA-TACF fall meeting, being held at Tyler on November 2nd!