Welcome to Lower Hudson PRISM's Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest Survey page!!!
Do you love being outdoors and searching for interesting critters and plants in nature? Or maybe you love taking photos when you are out hiking or gardening? Or maybe you just love scavenger hunts! Our EcoQuest surveys allow you to become a part of the action and help us document invasive species in our region while having fun in the process! To become an EcoQuest surveyor, all you need to do is download an easy- to-use mobile app, iNaturalist, and register here for further instructions. Once iNaturalist is downloaded, you can immediately start photographing and uploading pictures, instantly connecting you to thousands of other citizen scientists just like you!
To help you build up your knowledge of invasive species in our region, we offer a monthly challenge which keys in on (a) focal invasive species (and sometimes a native plant counterpart). Each month, Lower Hudson PRISM staff will announce a new scavenger hunt-style challenge to find and document an invasive plant or animal (and/or their native counterpart!) by taking and sharing photos via iNaturalist. See below for this April's Water Walk challenge, instructions and other past challenges. While you do not have to join our specific project to participate in the challenge, we HIGHLY encourage you to do so. Search for us, Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest , on iNaturalist and join today to upload your photos directly to our project! Become an official member of our team today!
Water Walk: April 2021
Curly leaf pondweed can be identified by its oblong leaves (4-10 cm. long) that are wavy and serrated- they look a bit like skinny lasagna noodles! Photo credit: thepondshop.com
Does your idea of the perfect spring day outdoors involve a nature walk along a stream? Enjoy picnicking with your family on the shore of a lake or pond in your community? Then you are all primed and ready to participate in this month's EcoQuest Challenge called Water Walk which will focus on two invasive species that are associated with water: the aquatic invasive species, curly leaf pondweed, and black alder, a tree typically found nearby a water source.
To participate in this month's challenge, take a look at the plant life submerged close to shore the next time you are out in a park with a water body close by. If you see a submerged aquatic plant with leaves that look a bit like lasagna noodles or bacon, then it's likely you are seeing curly leaf pondweed which typically gets a jumpstart on the growing season over native aquatic plants. As you walk along the shore of this water body, also be on the lookout for a single-stemmed tree or multi-stemmed shrub (it can grow as both!) that has both male and female catkins (flowering spikes, see picture below) and lots of raised, white bumps called lenticels. It may be an emerging invasive plant, black alder. To be sure, we recommend looking at the leaves that have fallen beneath the alder - if the fallen leaves are roundish, have toothed margins and have a stunted, notched tip (see photo below), then it's most likely black alder and not one of its native lookalikes like speckled alder which has pointed leaf tips (Note: look at multiple fallen leaves - not every black alder leaf has the notched tips so look around!). The catkins of black alder also tend to grow on longer stalks than native alders.
To help build your ID confidence, check out this field ID video created by Invasives Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino. If you think you might have come across one of the invaders during your Water Walk, let us know by posting a photo to iNaturalist and help us map the distribution of these species in our region.
Black, or European/common alder, can be identified at this time of year by its distinctive catkins (male and female flowering structures) that can persist over winter as well as by looking for bumpy lenticels on the bark (look in the background of the photo of the hand holding the leaf). While the leaves won't be out this month, you can look for the presence of last year's leaves that have fallen off the tree and see if at least some of them are notched at the tip (pictured here is an example of the notched leaf during the growing season). Photo credits: Brent Boscarino and landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu
I want in! How do I get started?
1. Download the iNaturalist App by visiting your phone's app store, or register to use it on iNaturalist.org.
2. Visit iNaturalist's Video Tutorial page which has very clear step by step instructions on how to photograph your target species and upload to the iNaturalist database or check out this 5-part Seek and iNaturalist tutorial we created that provides a detailed and informative introduction to both Seek and iNaturalist.
3. Register here so you receive notice of each month's species.
3. Take photos of this month's EcoQuest challenge target specie(s) by using the iNaturalist app directly (note: this is the easiest way to take and upload photos since your location can automatically be part of your observation)
Take photos of the target specie(s) on your smart phone, then later upload them to the iNaturalist site on your computer.
4. You can either add photos directly to our iNaturalist project Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest or simply upload your photos to the overall iNaturalist database. Our curators will then sort through the posts and add any invasives you found to our project!
5. Keep searching! Your photos will be used to help scientists track the spread of invasives in our region. It's important stuff!
This is fun! How do I stay informed of each month's challenge?
It's simple! Once you've downloaded iNaturalist and signed up for the project, you will receive notifications from iNaturalist about the next month's challenge as the date approaches! If you have any questions or problems, just shoot an email to LH-PRISM's Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino, at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will be happy to help!
Please also visit the NYBG EcoFlora page to learn more about their history of EcoQuest challenges in New York City.
FORMER ECOQUEST CHALLENGES
Heavenly Objects: March 2021
The heart-shaped leaf scars found just under the leaf buds on the newer growing branches of mature tree of heaven and young TOH saplings are good winter ID features in addition to the presence of its papery seeds which can persist in winter ad look a little like oblong eyeballs. These branches and young TOH also tend to have bumpy lenticels, often seen as white dots on the stem or branch. Photo credit: marylandbiodiversity.com
When we think of heavenly objects, maybe images of the solar system or Mars exploration come to mind (way to go Perseverance Rover!). But this EcoQuest Challenge’s Heavenly Objects refers to another type of alien in our midst – the invasive spotted lanternfly (SLF) and the egg masses it lays on its preferred host species, tree of heaven (TOH). Many of our veteran Invasives Strike Force surveyors know how to recognize TOH in the growing season, but identifying it in the winter without its distinctive smell and pinnately compound leaves requires a new set of detective skills. Tree-of-heaven’s “cantaloupe-rind” bark and heart-shaped leaf scars are two features to be looking for at this time of year. Once you’ve located TOH, we are asking volunteers to not only upload their discovery to iNaturalist, but take the additional steps to survey the tree for the presence of SLF’s putty-like egg masses and to photograph and report any possible sitings to us at email@example.com.
For a detailed look at the relationship between SLF and TOH including its winter ID features and variations, please check out this educational video and winter field ID guide created by Brent and you’ll be ready to start start your quest for Heavenly Objects!
Spotted lanternfly egg masses are usually about an inch wide and and a couple of inches long. Each covered egg mass can contain about 30-50 individual eggs. Photo credit: Brent Boscarino
Angling for Archangel: February 2021
Yellow archangel, whose leaves seen here have a green center surrounded by streaks of white, can quickly take over a forest understory if it escapes cultivation. Photo credit: kingcouty.gov
Have you ever thought you found that "perfect" groundcover plant for that bare patch in your garden, only to have it quickly spread and take over your entire garden? Been fighting it ever since? Thus is the nature of invasive groundcover species like this month's EcoQuest Challenge focal species, yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon). Unfortunately for our native habitats and ecosystems, the impacts of invasive groundcover plants are not just limited to private properties and landscaped areas, but they are becoming increasingly problematic throughout our region's natural areas. Yellow archangel, like most invasive-type groundcover plants, can spread and come to dominate understories and gardens by sending out stolons, or runners, which are creeping horizontal stems that take root at certain points along its length. In other words, if you try to pull the plant out and break off the stem without pulling up the roots, it will just resprout. Yellow archangel also has the potential to spread up vertically in a vine-like manner over low-growing vegetation and tree stumps. But how do these groundcover species like yellow archangel go from a garden and landscaping setting to natural areas and start impacting forest understories? One way is through spreading out horizontally to natural areas from adjacent properties, but another primary mechanism for spread is improper garden and yard waste dumping, disposal and composting. It can also spread through seed and potentially attach to clothing and gear. So, if you have this species in your garden and want to get rid of it, be careful to dig out the shallow roots and dispose of the plant in bags destined for the landfill.
Key ID features
Yellow archangel's opposite leaf arrangement, splotchy white coloring, hairy surface, and coarsely rounded toothed margins are all still prominent in the winter. Sometimes the center of the leaf can take on a darker/black hue in the winter versus its typical, standard green. This photo was taken in the winter when the green is less vibrant than during the main growing season.
Yellow archangel is a type of dead nettle and is also in the mint family, which is characterized by its square-ish stems and of course its smell (the leaves of yellow archangel can produce a faint aroma of mint when crushed during the growing season). Why is it called yellow archangel, you might ask? That's due to its leaf shape and opposite leaf arrangement which resembles angel's wings! The coloration on the leaves is referred to as variegated, or exhibiting irregular patches or blotches of color. Most of the yellow archangel in this region have silvery-grey to white streak marks/blotches on top of its green base color. The leaves are coarsely toothed and tend to come to a rounded point at the tip. It produces yellow flowers that grow in pairs close to the stems which can grow up to 1-2 feet tall. You won't see the flowers at this time of year though, as the plant blooms in the spring. The main features you are looking for at this time of year are the silvery grey to white streaks, toothed edges, hairy surface and angel wing-like appearance to its oppositely-arranged leaves. Check out this field ID video made by Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino for more details on how to ID yellow archangel in the winter!
While yellow archangel is not currently listed as invasive in the Hudson Valley and northern New Jersey, it is considered a noxious weed and highly invasive in other parts of the U.S., especially in the Northwest. It is currently listed as a Tier 5 species (on our LH-PRISM's "watch" list) meaning it is a species that has exhibited invasive tendencies in other regions and that more information and research is needed on its distribution and impact in our region. A great candidate for our EcoQuest Challenge!
Taboo Bamboo!: January 2021
The yellow-stripe sulcus groove is a hallmark feature of yellow groove bamboo.
Are you a frustrated homeowner whose neighbor's landscape bamboo has spread to your own property? Have you seen bamboo growing along a roadside or in a natural area and are worried about how it might impact that ecosystem? Then join this month's EcoQuest Challenge where we will focus on two species of bamboo that are currently on the prohibited list of invasive species in New York State: yellow groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) and golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea). These two species are types of “running bamboo” which can spread quickly through rhizomes, or underground modified horizontal stems that can strike out roots at lateral intervals as well as new stems up vertically through the soil.
One of the distinguishing ID features of these Phyllostachys bamboos is a groove, called a sulcus, found just above each joint, or node, on the bamboo stem. These grooves appear as concave notches, or partially hollowed out portions of the stem that run between the nodes. In yellow groove bamboo, these grooves are yellowish in color on every other internode (or segment between nodes), especially in younger bamboo stems (see photo above). This yellow groove stripe tends to fade as the bamboo matures. Yellow groove bamboo also has a slightly rough, sandpapery feel to the stem if you run your hand upwards. Occasionally, you may see a zigzag-like growth pattern to the lowest few internodes on yellow bamboo which is not a feature of most other species of bamboo (although not EVERY yellow groove bamboo stem has this growth pattern- see photo below).
The zigzag-like growth pattern to the base of some yellow groove bamboo.
Golden bamboo can be identified by its more yellowish to golden stems (versus the more greenish hue of yellow groove bamboo), though stem coloration can vary from stem to stem. One distinguishing feature of golden bamboo is that in SOME of the stems, you may see distinct, swollen internodes that are bunched up together at the bottom of random canes. While this is not featured in each stem, look around within the bamboo patch to see if you can find any stems that have this characteristic (seen below).
These and other features are summarized in this video presentation by Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino. Please check it out! We are primarily looking to upload photos of escaped bamboo and along roadsides and in natural areas, NOT necessarily on private property. If you do upload photos from a property, please mark as "cultivated" in iNaturalist! Good luck hunting for these taboo bamboos!
Compressed internodes on some random canes of golden bamboo. Photo credit: Caryn Rickel
Learn How to Reed! December 2020
A look at an invasive common reed monoculture stand in winter. Photo credit: massaudubon.org
Have you noticed that many of our region’s wetland habitats and riparian zones are dominated by dense stands of only one type of tall reed grass? Wondered what it is or whether it’s a problem? It is very likely you are looking at invasive common reed, Phragmites australis ssp. australis, a perennial grass that has overtaken many of our natural riparian and wetland landscapes, adversely impacting native plant and wildlife diversity in the process. In this month’s EcoQuest Challenge, we are asking volunteers to be on the lookout for this nefarious invader as well as its native counterpart, American common reed (Phragmites australis ssp. americanus). We are adding this native species to this month’s EcoQuest because it is far less common, is likely underreported in our region and we need your help in finding it so that land managers do not unknowingly eradicate it thinking it is the invasive subspecies! We know you are up to the challenge!
Both types of Phragmites have tall, stiff erect stems that can grow up to 15 feet high and are tannish brown at this time of year. At the top of each stem are obvious influorescence heads that tend to droop to one side and are about a foot or more in length. The leaves grow alternately along the top half of the stems, are about 1+” wide and taper to a point, resembling a scythe blade. One way to tell apart the two subspecies is by looking at the influorescence heads. Invasive Phragmites influorescences tend to be much fuller and more branched than the sparser and less branched appearance of native Phragmites. Another way to distinguish between the two subspecies is by looking at its lower stems. The culm, or inner stem, of Phragmites is covered by a protective sheath during the growing season. In late fall/winter, that protective sheath will begin falling off and/or is not tightly attached to the culm in native Phragmites. The protective sheath in invasive Phragmites typically remains tightly attached to the culm in multiple overlapping layers that are more difficult to peel off throughout the winter.
The inner stem, or culm, of Phragmites is covered in a sheath during the growing season. At this time of year, native Phragmites will have lost most of its sheath or it is in the process of falling off/easy to peel. The sheaths of invasive Phragmites tend to adhere tightly to the culm in multiple overlapping layers. Photo credit: Daniel Carter, prairiebotanist.org
Another distinguishing feature to examine is the culm itself (once the sheath has been peeled back to expose it). Native Phragmites culms tend to be smoother and shinier, whereas invasive Phragmites are a little rougher when rubbed, with raised ridges running parallel to the stem’s axis. Lastly, you can look for the presence of circular black fungal spots on the culms of native Phragmites but these circular black fungal growths are rarely, if ever, found on invasive Phragmites. These spots are not to be confused with mildew, which appears on both subspecies, and has more of a sprawling growth pattern and not organized into distinctly round circles.
These and other features, as well as an introduction to the invasion history and ecology of Phragmites, are summarized in this video presentation by Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino. Please check it out! We also found this webpage from the Prairie Botanist blog very helpful. It contains links to other short field videos that highlight the winter ID differences specifically and was a good informational resource for use in creating this post and presentation. Thank you to Dr. Daniel Carter for his work on developing those resources!
Best of luck EcoQuesters. Have fun “Learning How to Reed!”
The Buckthorn Stops Here! November 2020 EcoQuest Challenge
Common buckthorn leaves have toothed margins and 3-5 pairs of leaf veins that curve towards the tip of the leaf. Note how the leaves are arranged ALMOST (but not quite!) opposite of one another on the stem. Photo credit: Paul Wray, Iowa State University.
Common buckthorn can have persistent round, dark berries throughout the late fall and winter. Note the spear-like thorns at the end of the twigs- another key characteristic of buckthorn. Photo credit: bugwood.org
While many of our beloved native plants have already lost their leaves and green color, there are many invasive species that “buck the trend” of leaf and color loss in late fall. This month’s focal species (common and glossy buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica and Frangula alnus, respectively) are two such examples of hardy invasive shrubs that tend to hold their leaves longer, retain their green color longer and show more persistent berries than their native counterparts. At this time of year, both buckthorn species may have round black berries on them that tend to grow in clumps (if the plant is female). Common buckthorn leaves are usually arranged NEARLY opposite to each other on a branch, have toothed edges and 3-5 pairs of prominent veins that curve towards the tip (see above photo). Also be on the lookout for spear-like thorns that are often found at the tip of their twigs (see above photo!) Glossy buckthorn leaves do NOT have toothed edges and have 8-9 pairs of veins (see photo below). To learn more about these and other diagnostic ID features of buckthorn in the field, watch this Fall/Winter ID video created by Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator Brent Boscarino and/or between minutes of 14:26 and 19:25 of this Invasives Strike Force Intermediate training workshop webinar which focuses on both of the invasive buckthorn species on our EcoQuest list for this month. PRISM partner, Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, also created this fun, shorter field ID video that focuses on common buckthorn. Lots to choose from! Help us spot these invaders and report their distribution by joining our EcoQuest today. The buckthorn stops here!
Glossy buckthorn contains more paired leaf veins than common buckthorn and does not have toothed margins on its leaves like common buckthorn does. Photo credit: Gary Fewless, bugwood.org
Can't Miss Miscanthus!: October 2020
Photo credit: bugwood.org; misin.msu.edu
Calling all EcoQuest volunteers! October is upon us and as you are out enjoying the beautiful leaf-peeping season, you can participate in this month's EcoQuest Challenge, Can't Miss Miscathus!, which will track the distribution of an emerging invasive perennial grass, Miscanthus sinensis, or Chinese silvergrass. Miscanthus is a popular ornamental grass with a clumping growth pattern (above photo top row) that is escaping cultivation and beginning to negatively impact native biodiversity in natural areas in northern New Jersey and the Lower Hudson Valley. Miscanthus comes in a variety of cultivars as an ornamental, but most of the naturalized (escaped and established) populations in our region can be identified by its leaves that contain a diagnostic longitudinal white stripe along the midrib (see above photo, bottom left). Another key identifying characteristic is the flowering head of Miscanthus that resembles a pinkish/tannish feathery brush (see above photo, middle row) and usually will have silky white/silver hairs and bristles on the seed head at this time of year (see below photo). To learn more about these and other diagnostic ID features of Miscanthus in the field, check out this ID video that also relates how to tell it apart from other look-alikes that you may come across. Finally, a quick note that we are only looking for posts of Miscanthus outside of a garden/ornamental setting. Happy hunting!
Photo credit: gardenia.net
Beech Leaf Investigation: September 2020
The telltale striped banding pattern of BLD in the Frederick P. Rose Preserve in Waccabuc, NY. Photo credit: John Zeiger, Westchester Land Trust
One of the more worrying patterns emerging from anecdotal and official reports from volunteers and partners in the field concerns the health of beech trees in the lower Hudson Valley. Many of our region’s beeches are showing signs of stress, with numerous reports of leaves curling up, darkening, and eventually withering and falling off, thinning out the canopy. These symptoms are not only being seen in older beech trees, but young saplings as well.
Beech leaf disease (BLD) is one possibility that scientists and land managers are exploring as a potential explanation for the symptoms being reported in our region. BLD was first discovered and reported in 2012 in Ohio but has expanded its distribution to include parts of Ontario, and Connecticut as well as Westchester, Suffolk and Rockland counties in New York State. The primary diagnostic symptoms of BLD includes striping of beech leaves between leaf veins; these striped bands tend to start as dark green and later progress to lighter green, then brown and withered as they lose their ability to photosynthesize (see photo above).
Adding more complexity to this issue are recent reports of large swaths of beech trees in portions of Fahnestock State Park and Granite Mountain Preserve in Dutchess County, N.Y. that are showing similar signs of beech leaf distress (i.e., turning dark green, rolling/curling and withering of leaves- see photo below). However, many of these symptomatic trees in Dutchess County lack the clear diagnostic banding and striping that would point to BLD. Other possible culprits include beech anthracnose (a fungus that causes necrotic growths and a brown, scorched look to the leaves) or eriophyid mites that cause a lightening of leaves on the topside and dimpling on the underside. Another prevailing hypothesis is that the leaf curling and darkening of the leaves (without the other disease symptoms described above) is the direct result of freeze and snow events that occurred in early May of this year. If this is the case, we can hope that the beeches may recover next year, but that growth and potentially beech nut set will have been significantly impacted.
This September’s Invasive Strike Force EcoQuest Challenge is focused on beech leaf health in an attempt to determine how widespread this problem is in our region. If you see beech trees showing any signs of striped banding OR multiple curled up dark green leaves (see photo below) on a given beech tree, please post to iNaturalist under “Beeches”. Make sure to check out this informative video created by our Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino, on some tips for how to ID beech trees and how to tell it apart from other lookalikes as well as what symptoms/diseases to be looking for! You can also find a great presentation done by Joyce deVries Tomaselli of Cornell Cooperative Extension- Dutchess County with a lot of helpful, detailed tips and information on BLD or you can visit the Ohio State Buckeye Yard and Garden onLine website for good information and photographs on different diseases afflicting beech trees.
The withered, dark green appearance of beech leaves in the Granite Mountain Preserve, next to an asymptomatic beech leaf (top left) for reference. Most beech trees in Granite Moujntain and in certain areas of Fahnestock State Park are presenting this withered, crinkled dark green appearance minus the striped bands suggestive of BLD. These symptoms may be the result of frost and snow events that happened in early May of this year. Photo credit: Julia Rogers, Hudson Highlands Land Trust
Browsing for Blue: August 2020
The brilliant blue color and oval shape of mature sapphireberry fruit is highly distinctive. Sapphireberries typically begin turning this radiant blue (immature fruit is green) in late summer and into early fall. If you see a plant with this color berries, be sure to look for oblong leaves which will have a rough feel to them and have tiny serrations on the margin to further confirm that it is sapphireberry. Photo credit: Keri VanCamp
This month, we are asking our volunteers to be on the lookout for any type of blue-colored berries, with a particular eye out for an emerging invasive species in the Lower Hudson PRISM region, sapphireberry. Sapphireberry, also known as Asiatic sweetleaf, is a deciduous shrub that can grow to heights greater than 20 feet and is most clearly identified by its brilliant, sapphire-colored berries that mature in late summer into early fall in the lower Hudson Valley. The oblong, simple leaves of sapphireberry are alternately arranged and have a rough, sandpapery feel to them. The margins or edges of the leaves have minute serrations on them as well which help distinguish them from native wild blueberries and huckleberries which have smoother leaf margins.
Make sure to check out this informative video created by our Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino, on some tips for how to spot sapphireberry and how to tell it apart from other plants that may be "showing blue" at this time of year like wild blueberries and invasive porcelainberry! While the focus for this month is on sapphireberry, we encourage you to search for and post photos of any plants that are showing blue berries in August and into early fall! Don’t forget that you can also use the Seek app (which can help with your initial ID in real time!) if you’d like a little more of a confidence boost in your ID skills prior to posting the picture to the iNaturalist app. Sometimes this dual method helps alleviate some of the guesswork associated with initial picture angles and photo distances when photographing on the iNaturalist app.