After a short winter, April has brought with it an early welcome to wild signs of spring. The once dull Pawpaw Trail is now alive with soft greens and pinks, as new growth shoots forth from the forest floor and tall trees begin to leaf out.
Spring ephemera are the first signs that warmer weather is here, although these signs do not last for long. A favorite ephemeron in Piscataway Park is the native jack-in-the-pulpit, a low-growing plant that bears green hooded flowers. Found in the leaf litter at the crest of the Pawpaw Trail, a look upwards reveals the thick pink blossoms of the redbud tree and the burgundy flowers of the pawpaw, which will in summer bear oblong edible fruit. A favorite food of squirrels and raccoons, the pawpaw played an important role in naming “Accokeek,” which is often translated to mean place of the wild fruit. Both redbud and pawpaw trees are native to North America, along with the eastern bluebirds that have taken to flitting through the Native Tree Arboretum, with their bright blue wings and ruddy red breasts.
The northern edge of the arboretum follows a portion of the Ken Otis Bluebird Trail, a line of 20 wooden boxes that provide the eastern bluebird with places to nest. Over the past century, the eastern bluebird has had to contend with habitat loss and the introduction of competing species like the house sparrow and European starling. By providing bluebirds with habitat and monitoring their nest boxes for predators and other problems, the Foundation has joined the efforts of the Maryland Bluebird Society—our local North American Bluebird Society affiliate—to bring the bluebird back.
What can be found on the Pawpaw Trail today? What was there yesterday, and what will be there tomorrow? Take a closer look—at the small leaf of a newly emerged plant, the brown bark of an elderly tree, the feathers of a passing bird—and let each tree, plant, and wild creature remind you to conserve this life and the land that is their home.
Trail Treks is a monthly column that explores the walking trails in Piscataway Park. This year, we will highlight the Pawpaw Trail, which is located at the western end of our grounds and leads through a mature forest. Look for more reflections from the Pawpaw Trail as 2012 progresses.