Tom's Blog

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Nice New Jersey tea

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is now in full bloom and we have a lot of nice examples on our ridge-top savanna (Unit 11A). This Unit is especially interesting because parts of it were original prairie remnant. (It was completely open at the time the 1937 aerial photo was taken.) Although it was fenced for grazing, it was sufficiently far from the barn so that cattle probably rarely reached it.

I first discovered this area soon after it had been cleared of invasive brush and found three small New Jersey tea bushes and a few lead plant (Amorpha canescens). (Although not as showy, several lead plants can be seen in the photo to the left.) Since then, with annual burns and continued weeding, both the Ceanothus and the Amorpha have spread. Although we have planted both species nearby, the area shown in the photo has been allowed to grow on its own. New Jersey tea is primarily a savanna species, but it is also found in prairies, such as the area shown here. It is especially gratifying that we have so much of it at Pleasant Valley Conservancy, since it has a Coefficient of Conservatism of 9!

New Jersey tea is in the same family with buckthorn (Rhamnaceae). It is indeed shrub-like, but because we burn our savannas annually, it must start over each year. In California chaparrals other species of Ceanothus form large bushes.

The seeds of New Jersey tea are small and hard and are difficult to germinate. Before we plant them we throw the seeds into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then quickly douse them with cold water. This treatment, together with fall planting that gives them cold moist treatment, seems to work, and we now have quite a few well established plants.

The easiest place to see New Jersey tea at Pleasant Valley Conservancy is along the trail that we have mowed across the middle of Unit 11A. This trail starts where the Side Road and Saddle join (near the Rocky Overlook), and is well worth a stroll, as it takes you through a fine open savanna. (The last part of the trail goes through a closed savanna and ends up at Toby's Prairie.) In addition to the great plant life, this trail is an excellent place to see red-headed woodpeckers and butterflies.


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