Mountain laurel in bloom

Mountain laurel in bloom
Mountain laurel is in bloom at West Rock, as seen on the Gold Trail.

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Interesting and Unusual Plant Species at West Rock

Due to its geology and geography, West Rock has microclimates that will support plant species that may not been normally seen in south central Connecticut. As a park and former water company property, people have also planted trees at West Rock.
These are some interesting plant species found at West Rock that are not commonly seen elsewhere.

Striped Maple Tree
The striped maple (acer pensylvanicum) is an understory tree with large leaves and distinctive green and white striped bark. There are striped maples at the northern end of Baldwin Drive and at the northern end of the Regicides Trail near its final crossing of Baldwin Drive.
This map from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the striped maple  is not common in southern Connecticut: information in the tree:

The striped maple may be seen along Baldwin Drive.  I will upload a picture of a tree with healthy leaves when I can take one.

Red Pines
There is a stand of red pine trees (pinus resinosa) on the White Trail along Lake Wintergreen near the intersection with the Orange Trail, and also along the Orange Trail descending to the lake. The trees have reddish-orange bark, hence their name. While the White Pine has clusters of five needles, the Red Pine has clusters of two needles. Their location along the lake indicates to me they were planted when the land was designated as watershed. The red pines are clearly dying off. I do not know the cause, but they are subject to various insect and fungal problems:
This map shows that the Red Pine is normally found in locations north of the state, excepting a small section of north-central Connecticut.
This website has an excellent collection of red pine photos:
This red pine fell along the White Trail in 2010.

Larch (larix laricina) is a needle-bearing tree that drops its needles in the fall. There is a stand of larch on the White Trail, just south of the junction with the Purple Trail. When walking south on the White Trail, from the Purple Trail, the trail descends a short, steep hill, then veers to the right. Just as you descend this short, steep hill, look up to see the many tall, thin larch trees.
This map shows the distribution of the tamarack larch, which lives in western Connecticut and points generally extending north into Canada: This website has some excellent photos of the larch. I will add a photo of a larch from West Rock when I take one:
Larch (tamarack) trees tower over the White Trail,
just south of the junction with the Purple Trail, June 2015.

This close up of a larch branch that fell to the ground shows the needles,
which the tree drops in the fall.
Larch trees stand tall to the blue skies in April 2015, ready to grow new needles.

Devil's Walking Stick
Devil's walking stick (ariala spinosa) is a shrub with sharp spines seemingly everywhere. This is plant is native to the southern United States as seen on this map: I would not classify it as an invasive species because I have seen it in two areas at West Rock, on the Regicides Trail where the powerlines cross the trail near the northern end of the park, and on the Red Trail where it parallels Lake Wintergreen.
More information about the plant may be found here:
Devil's walking stick on the Regicides Trail, Sept. 2014.
Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus
There is eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) along the southern portion of the Regicides Trail. I have not actually seen it myself at West Rock, but have seen it at Pleasure Beach in Bridgeport. This is a native plant, as seen on this map: information about the plant can be read here:

Links about Plants and Trees

  • Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England, written by Tom Wessels with etchings and illustrations by Brian D. Cohen, is a book that provides information to help hikers interpret forest disturbances. Through a series of scenarios, the author teaches the reader how to observe and understand current forest conditions to determine if the forest was disturbed by fire, pastures, logging, blights, beaver activity and blowdowns. Naturally (pun intended), forests are usually changed by some combination of these forces. While the book is written from the author's perspective in his home state of Vermont, the conclusions apply to Connecticut.

1 comment:

  1. Hiker Tom,
    Prickly Pear can be found just off the south overlook road. As the road takes a sharp left and then a right on your want up, you can proceed on foot straight just before the right turn. There you'll a ledge outcrop and you'll see a large cluster of prickly pear beneath a large cedar tree.