Forest Favorites

This page contains short articles by Board members about some of their favorite inhabitants of the forest ... flora and fauna.

Plant Coloration

Have you ever wondered why plants are the color that they are? As we know, most plants leaves are green in coloration; however, some varieties can be yellow, red, blue, and even purple. The reason for these various colorations depends on the three major chemicals found in leaves, chlorophyll – green, anthocyanins - red, blue, purple and carotenoid pigments yellow, orange, red. Most leaves have all of these pigments but in different concentrations so that the color of the leaf is dependent on the relative concentrations of these pigments. Over the years Horticulturists have cultured plants to produce various foliage colors by selective breeding and now you have a multitude of colors like purple leaf plum, variegated holly, blue atlas cedar, and Japanese maple to name a few. In most cases the secondary color becomes more distinct when the plant is in full sunlight so if you want your Crimson King Maple to look crimson it should be placed out in the open.

Credit: - Mike Kay

The purple color of this purple leaf plum is due to an abundance of anthocyanins in the foliage. Many new leaves that are unfurling have a reddish color and eventually turn to green once they enlarge. In this instance the leaf has more anthocyanin pigments to start with then chlorophyll develops. A possible adaptive reason for this according to scientists is that many insects and plant eating animals do not see in the red and purple spectrum very well so the new leaves are camouflaged or they look gray an unappealing to animals that would otherwise consume them. Avoiding this damage will allow these leaves to expand and feed the plant. Once the leaf has expanded its role is to trap sunlight and produce energy for the plant so that chlorophyll becomes dominant and the leaf turns green. Also, when a plant is lacking nutrients that it needs to survive like iron and nitrogen it is in a weakened state and can not produce the chlorophyll that it needs so that other pigments like carotenoid become dominant and the leaf turns yellow or dull in appearance. The changing color of autumn foliage is also due to the gradual separation of the leaf from the plant resulting in the loss of chlorophyll. Of all the colors in nature the color blue is the rarest and it is most prevalent in plants that inhabit arid conditions. A reason for this bluish color is waxy chemicals and lipids that protect the plant from water loss called anti desiccants that are found on the exterior of the leaf. Thus the blue color results as an adaptive measure to help the plant retain moisture and survive in dry areas.

Credit: - Mike Kay

The blue color in this Atlas cedar is an adaptation for growing in dry conditions.


Credit: - Tom Anderson

In meadows and along roadsides there is a wonderful bloom of daisies. In early summer, the daisy flower so prevalent in the landscape is the Oxeye Daisy, Leucanthemum Vulgare, a European native introduced to the US in the late 1800’s. It is a prevalent and a hardy wildflower; with its beauty tempered by its invasive nature displacing native wildflowers and reducing crop and pasture yields. A prolific member of the aster family, it produces lots of seeds and can regenerate from roots after mowing. It spread so rapidly across North America in the early 1900’s that today the Oxeye Daisy is often mistaken as a native wild flower.


It is not uncommon to see tips of branches and leaves turning brown in trees. There may be a number of reasons for this “flagging” of twigs including insects, disease, squirrels, or strong winds that may have broke the branch. A very common cause of flagging however, could involve the cicada, insect activity. There are nearly 2,000 species of cicadas found throughout the world in temperate and tropical climate. Cicadas are sometimes called “locusts” but they are not part of the “grasshopper family”. Cicadas are large, flying insects having prominent well spaced eyes and transparent wings with very distinct veins. Cicadas have a loud buzzing “song” usually generated by the male during the courtship ritual. This song can be quite robust reaching 120 dB at close range. Once mating occurs the female cicada cuts a slit in a tree branch to lay her eggs. This egg laying activity sometimes girdles or breaks the branch hence the occurrence of flagging in trees. The young nymphs hatch from the egg in the fall, drop to the ground where they burrow into the soil.

Cicada flagging activity in a hickory tree near Gambrill State Park

Credit: - Mike Kay

Some cicadas emerge on a fairly routine schedule annually or in cycles of 2 to 8 years while others spend a long time underground emerging every 13 to 17 years. It is this longer lived or periodic cicada that is most famous due to the sheer volume of insects that emerge on 13 to 17 year cycles. The last periodic cicada emergence occurred in 2004 in Frederick County. Scientist believe that cicadas developed the various lifecycles as a survival mechanism. Many species of birds eat cicadas and fried cicadas is considered a delicacy in China.

The annual or “dog day” cicada

Credit: - Bruce Marlin

My favorite shrubs

Over the years we have planted a number of shrubs in various reforestation, wildlife enhancement and stream restoration projects. Small growing, multi-stemmed shrubs have many desirable qualities in that they can be used in smaller growing spaces, provide dense cover for birds and other animals, create a transition zone between a high forest community and a field, do not encroach on agricultural crops like a large growing tree, produce berries and other fruits, and many have beautiful blooms that enhance the landscape.

Despite their many virtues, in my experience, shrubs are harder to establish than most trees. This probably has to do with the fact that they don’t grow as fast as young trees or get as large so they are more prone to suffer losses from animals like deer, mice and voles, and weed competition. What seems to enhance survivorship is to enclose the shrub in a protective device like a tree shelter for a couple of years, then remove the shelter during the late spring to allow the shrub to attain its proper form. (The shrub will have a spindly shape in the shelter. After the shelter is removed judicious pruning may be in order to allow the shrub to support itself.) In addition I have noticed that some shrubs tend to grow faster and survive better than others. These have become my favorite shrubs. Here are a list of my favorite shrubs with some of their characteristics and growth habits. There are still many species that I have no experience or limited experience with so this is not exhaustive; but, if you are planning a planting project you might want to incorporate some of these varieties in it to help ensure success.

Arrow-Wood Viburnum

Arrow-wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) is a very common naturally occurring shrub in Frederick County and it can often be found in moist, well drained sites throughout the region. Arrow-wood is a medium sized multi-stemmed shrub that grows to a height of 10-12’ tall. The shrub thrives in a variety of soils but prefers moist, well drained sites and it needs partial sunlight to thrive. Arrow-wood can be found in the north eastern part of the United States and Southern Canada. Arrow-wood gets its name from the fact that Native Americans often used the straight growing stem of this plant as arrow shafts.

Arrowwood in bloom near Foxville

Credit: - Mike Kay

Arrow-wood has a single deciduous leaf that has opposite branching structure. It flowers in early summer and bears fruit in the fall. The fall fruits make excellent food for birds at a time of year when food is less than plentiful. Arrow-wood has dense growth characteristics and very few insect or disease pests affect its health. As such, arrow-wood has become an important cultivar seeing a lot of landscape plantings for screens and wildlife plantings. The attractive flowers are an additional benefit.

The fruit of arrowwood

In my experience arrow-wood grows best in moist areas (not swampy) where it receives partial sunlight or moderate shade. I like planting it next to a woods edge and not out in direct sunlight. It grows fast, survives well, and produces a lot of berries within about 2-3 years time.


There are two species of chokeberry found in the United States one that produces red fruit Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and one that produces black fruit, Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa). Both species are Frederick County natives and are often planted near streams or wetlands. Chokeberries are relatively small shrubs growing to be about 3 – 6’ tall at maturity. They have simple, alternate leaves that are deciduous. Chokeberries bloom in May and produce fruit in late August to early September. Chokeberries are typically found in moist to wet conditions and can tolerate shady conditions. Chokeberries are found in bottomlands, bogs, swampy forests and they are a common plant growing along shorelines in the Great Lakes.

The chokeberry in bloom

Credit: - Mike Kay

Chokeberries get their name from their bitter tasting fruit which is not edible when eaten raw. Once cooked however, the fruits can be used for wine and jams. Chokeberries are full of antioxidants especially the black chokeberry which contains some of the highest levels of phenolic phytochemicals, an antioxidant found in any fruit. Native American recognized the value of this fruit and it was widely used for medicinal purposes.

Credit: - Mrigashirsha

The fruit of the black chokeberry has some of the highest levels of antioxidants as any fruit.

Fall coloration of black chokeberries


Chokeberry is a plant that can be planted in fairly shady conditions and seems to do well. We once planted black chokeberry on a rather steep forested embankment with very little understory. The chokeberry did well and its dense growth habits helped slow down water flow through this woods halting an erosive situation. Chokeberry can be planted in fairly wet conditions although we have never planted in a swamp.


There are more than 35 species and 700 cultivars of crabapple (Malus spp.) found in the United States and they are a frequent component of stream restoration and ornamental plantings throughout Frederick County. Crabapples are a small to medium growing tree that can grow to a height of 15’ to 30’ tall. Crabapples can grow in a variety of soils and they prefer full sunlight. Wild crabapples are often spotted as single trees in old field communities. The bloom on crabapples occurs before the leaves unfurl so they can be spectacular in appearance. The fruits ripen in late summer and early fall similar to regular apple trees. Because crabapple hybridizes so easily there is a vast array of shapes, blooms, and fruits associated with crabapple.

A crabapple in bloom

Crabapples are favorite foods for deer, raccoon, and many species of birds. Some crabapples are edible but most are very sour or bitter when eaten raw. Crabapples are often times used for jellies and jam. There are a number of plant diseases that affect crabapple like scab, cedar apple rust, and fire blight. This is of little significance for wildlife and stream buffer plantings but may be of concern if the tree is planted in a landscape setting. Many varieties have been developed that are naturally resistant to the more common diseases.

Crabapple fruit

We have had a lot of success with crabapples although it tends to be targeted by deer. So, if you have a large deer herd you will have to protect it until it is tall enough to be out of harms way. The beautiful blooms and abundant apples are a bonus unless it is being planted in a confined area. We generally don’t plant crabapples too close to school grounds.

Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is a very common, small growing evergreen tree found throughout Frederick County. Red Cedar prefers open areas and can oftentimes be found growing in old field communities throughout the region. Red Cedar can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions and is often found growing in limestone soils. Eastern Red Cedar starts out as a slow growing columnar shrub and eventually develops into medium sized trees attaining a maximum height of 50’ tall. Cedar has scaly dark green needles that are somewhat prickly and a reddish peeling bark. Cedar bears a dark blue fruit that ripens in late fall making a good winter food source for birds, especially the cedar waxwing a species that is closely associated with cedar trees.

Eastern red cedar

Eastern red cedar branches and needles

Eastern Red Cedar is a very good wildlife enhancement shrub because it provides winter food and shelter for a variety of animals. The dense evergreen canopy is especially important as winter shelter for many species of birds and animals. Cedar wood is very rot resistant and has a pleasant aromatic smell. Cedar has long been used for fence posts, animal bedding material, and novelty items like cedar chests and nature carvings. The aromatic cedar is a moth repellant and has long been used to store clothing as cedar chests.

The berry of the cedar. This berry will turn purple when ripe.

Cedar is tolerant of a wide range of moisture conditions from very dry to moist but not swampy. Cedar likes fairly sunny conditions and will not grow well in the shade. Deer tend to lave cedar alone so it will do well in most areas except for very large deer herds. Like most evergreens you don’t need tree shelters for growing cedar. Eastern red cedar has minor problems with bag worms and it serves as the alternate host of cedar apple rust. As such, you probably should not plant cedar too close to an orchard. Cedar grows slowly so it will not create a screen very fast but it retains a dense shape so in time it makes a good barrier. Cedar is a very good choice for developing old field habitats. Cedar is a good choice for planting in soils with a higher pH.


There are nearly 50 species of elderberry or elder found throughout the world. Elderberries (Sambucus) are found in every continent except for Africa and Australia. Most of the native elderberries found in Frederick County are Sambucus canadensis or Eastern Elderberry. Elderberries are found in stream bottoms and lowland areas that are moderately wet but not swampy. The elderberry bush can have multiple stems and grow to a height of 20’ tall. Elderberry bushes can live for hundreds of years. Elderberries have lancelet leaves and a white flower that blooms in mid-June in Frederick County. A purple fruit develops in August. These fruits are very valuable food sources for many birds; and, a number of butterflies and moths feed on the leaves during their larval stage.

An elderberry in bloom near Wolfsville

The fruit of elderberry is mildly poisonous when eaten raw but when cooked elderberries are used for pies, jams, tea, wine, and other liqueurs. The Scandinavians and Germans have a traditional elderberry soup.

Elderberry fruit

Elderberry is a favorite shrub of mine for streamside “riparian” plantings because it is hardy, grows fast, and has many benefits for wildlife. And, let’s not forget is beautiful bloom.

Hazel Alder

Hazel Alder (Alnus serrulata) is a native, deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub that is typically found in stream bottoms and wetland areas throughout the county. Other names given to this species are smooth alder and tag alder. Hazel alder can root sucker and create dense thickets which is good cover for a number of animals especially wood cock. Alder is a smallish growing plant growing to a height of 8’ – 12’ tall.

Alders grow in riparian areas and wetlands.

Alders are one of the first species to flower in the spring and the male catkin is a favorite food for birds especially woodcock. A brown cone-like fruit forms in the fall and persists on the plant throughout the winter.

The male catkins form in the early spring.

The cone-like fruits develop in the fall and persist throughout the winter.

Alders can grow in moist to very wet sites and I have planted them in fairly swampy conditions and they seem to thrive. Alders quickly enlarge and grow from suckers so they will develop dense thickets. In recent years it has become harder to find alder seedlings, which is a shame since it’s a good choice for wetlands and stream bottoms.


Hazelnut or Filbert (Corylus Americana) is a native species to Frederick County that I often encounter in streamside areas around Myersville and Middletown. Hazelnut is a multistemmed shrubby species that can grow up to 12’ in height and often grows in colonies creating dense thickets. Filberts prefer moderate sunlight and moist, well drained soils. Hazelnut has a nondescript flower that blooms in April and the fruits develop in August. The male catkin develops in the fall or early spring and is a favorite winter food for grouse, turkey and blue jays. Hazelnut produces a hard shelled, sweet tasting nut that is prized by many animals.

Hazelnut leaf and developing fruit.

Hazelnuts have long been cultivated for their nuts in the Mediterranean countries and most of the nuts we get in the United States are grown on plantations in Oregon and Washington State. These nuts are high in omegas 3 & 6 and are quite heart healthy. Hazelnut oil is processed and used for flavorings, baking, candy additives, and various skin care products. Hazelnuts are widely grown for ornamentals, nut trees, and stream restoration projects. Filberts have beautiful fall coloration that can range from bright orange to brick red.

Fall coloration of a hazelnut.

Hazelnut is a species we have recently been planting that shows a lot of promise. It grows quickly doesn’t seem to be bothered much by deer or rodents and seems to tolerate somewhat dry to moist sites. This should be a good choice in wildlife and riparian buffer plantings.

American Plum

There are a number a native plum trees found in the East the most common being American Plum (Prunus americana). Plum trees grow to a height of 25’ feet and have a dense branching structure with gray to purplish colored bark often times having spines. Plum trees can grow from sucker sprouts so that they often form dense thickets given enough time. Plums need plenty of sunlight to grow. The American Plum is a fairly common component of “old field” habitats throughout the county. Plums have a white colored, very fragrant flower that blooms in May with the familiar fruit forming in late summer.

American plum tree

Credit: Unknown

Plums are excellent for wildlife and they make good hedgerows and windbreaks. Native Americans used plum bark to treat skin abrasions. Wild plums are excellent for jams and jellies.

The plum flower

Credit: Unknown

The fruit of plum trees.

Credit: Unknown

Plums grow in much the same areas as crabapples. If protected from deer they will thrive. Plums should not be left in tree shelters for more than two years or cankers will develop at the base of their trunk and they will topple over once the shelter is removed. Plums are a favorite of mine for old field habitats.

Common Ninebark

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is a fast growing multiple stemmed shrub that prefers moist areas with moderate amounts of sunshine. The ninebark has flaky, peeling brown bark that can be removed in layers which is where the common name is derived. Ninebark has a white flower that blooms in late spring and it produces a leathery red fruit that turns to a straw color when it is ripe. Most species of ninebark are native to North America although one species exists in North Eastern part of Asia. Native Americans utilized Ninebark for a number of medicinal purposes.

Ninebark in bloom.

Many cultivars of Ninebark have been produced some with yellowish to purple colored foliage. Ninebark is used extensively for hedgerows in the English countryside.

Ninebark fruit.

Credit: - Sue Dingwell

Ninebark grows very quickly and gets quite expansive. It tends to like moist to somewhat wet sites and can tolerate partial shade. This is a good plant to grow when you’re looking for dense habitat.


The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a very common small growing tree growing to about 30 – 50’ in height at maturity. Redbuds prefer somewhat dry to moderately moist sites and can grow in open areas tolerating partial shade. Redbuds have a twisted trunk and spreading branches often having a zig zag shape to the twigs. Redbuds bloom in early spring before they leaf out and have a beautiful pink flower that persists for about two weeks. The Redbud is in the legume family and it produces a leguminous fruit in early fall. Numerous wildlife feed on this fruit including pheasants, quail, grosbeaks, and deer.

Eastern redbud

Rosebud leaf

Credit: Unknown

Redbuds survive well if shielded from deer for one or two growing seasons. Redbuds actually grow better if they are not in shelters but you have to weigh the pros and cons if the deer herd is high. Sometimes, when growing in shelters the redbud will die down to the root system. Don’t let that fool you. The plant will often times send up a new shoot which will grow better than the original. Redbuds can grow in partial shade and direct sunlight. Redbuds are a good choice for drier sites; and, they don’t do very well in moist to wet conditions. Redbuds grow well in higher pH soils. And, is there any bloom prettier than that of the redbud?

Silky Dogwood

Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) is a plant that is fairly common component of our riparian areas being found naturally and it is widely planted during stream and wetland restoration projects. Silky dogwood is part of the dogwood family containing a wide variety of species including our native flowering dogwood. The silky dogwood is a multiple stemmed shrubby species that can attain a height of 15’ and can grow quite wide taking up a lot of space. Silky dogwood likes damp well drained sites but can tolerate dry conditions. It prefers full to partial sunlight.

The leaf and flower of the silky dogwood

Silky dogwood has a simple opposite leaf and white flower that blooms in late spring. It bears a bluish colored fruit with white mottling in late summer which is quickly devoured by many birds. The stems of the silky dogwood turn a reddish crimson color when it is dormant providing some color in the winter landscape. Silky dogwood, along with red osier and grey dogwood are often referred to as “red twig dogwood” due to this characteristic.

The berries of silky dogwood

Silky dogwood grows very well in riparian areas and it is one of my all time favorites. It grows quickly occupying the growing space and produces fruits at a relatively young age. Deer like to browse the young plant so it should be protected with a tree shelter for a few years if the deer herd is significant. Once the shelter is removed and the spindly shrub is pruned back it begins a very vigorous growth spurt. The timing of shelter removal is important. I find that removing the shelters is May and early June is best because it gives the plant enough time to enlarge before the winter and deer inflict most of their damage during the dormant period. Mice and voles don’t seem to like to feed on silky dogwood so it’s a good choice if you have this problem. The twigs and branches of silky dogwood turn a crimson color during the dormant season so it adds winter color to the landscape. There are two other commonly planted shrubby dogwoods that are similar in appearance to silky dogwood. These are the gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) and the Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). The gray dogwood grows best on drier sites than silky while the red osier grows in very similar sites as the silky. I have had good success with the gray dogwood but have seen a number of very vigorous red osiers die suddenly from some sort of disease. As such, I usually plant silky dogwood instead of the red osier.

Article by FCFCDB