The Preserve

The Morgenthau Preserve is comprised of four different ecological communities: a Sugar Maple Forest, an Oak-Hickory Forest, a Red Maple Swamp and White Pine Plantations.

Sugar Maple Forest

On your visit to the preserve you will find that Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) are the predominant tree in the preserve. They have five-lobed leaves and paired, winged seeds. These seeds are eaten extensively by the wildlife, in particular, songbirds, nuthatches, finches and grosbeaks.

The Sugar Maple's bark has dark, vertical grooves and ridges, and the trunk grows tall and straight. Unlike the Red Maple, this tree is very shade-tolerant and lives for many generations. In the fall, its foliage turns a fiery yellow-orange. It is also the state tree of New York.

The Sugar Maple is prized for its lumber and its sap, which is made into maple syrup. Trees tapped for maple syrup are collectively known as a sugar bush. At least thirty gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup.

Another species included in the preserve's Sugar Maple Community is the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). This tree forms one of the predominant types of climax forest of the Eastern Deciduous Forest.

Oak-Hickory Forest

Dominating the landscape on the Yellow Trail is a massive White Oak tree (Q. alba). Naturalists estimate the tree's age at 400 years old. This makes it one of the oldest Oaks in Westchester County. This magnificent tree is a stunning example of the best known of the Oak species. This species is noted for its ash-gray flaking bark and light green, evenly round-lobed leaves. Oaks, of this type, are referred to as "Wolf Oaks" because they thrive alone in open spaces where the tree's broad crown could develop a majestic appearance. At one time, this tree was probably used to provide shade for livestock when the forest was cleared for pastures and crops.

The White Oak is also an outstanding lumber tree for furniture, boats and barrels. Its large, pointed acorns were also prized and harvested for food by the Siwanoy and Kitchawong tribes who once lived in this area.

The Black Oak (Quercus velutina) is also a member of this community. Its pointed, shallow-cut leaves and dark, block-like bark distinguish it from the White Oak.

Black Oaks may cross-pollinate with Red Oaks (Q. rubra), giving rise to hybrids possessing characteristics of both. Its extensive root system and dense wood allow Black Oaks to withstand winds and heavy snow that may topple less hardy species. Under favorable conditions, these tall trees sometimes grow to 75 ft. in height. Black Oaks do well in dry soil but may be found in moister conditions as well.

Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is often found with Oaks in open woods. They are identified by their flaking, shaggy bark. This is a shade-tolerant tree with bark that curves outward at the top and bottom. It scales off in long thin plates. The compound leaves are set alternately upon the twig. In September, it produces a crop of sweet, egg shaped nuts with four-parted husks that are eaten by squirrels, turkey and deer.

Red Maple Swamps

The Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is the dominant tree species found in the swamps along the Yellow Trail. These trees can thrive in a variety of adverse conditions and occur in many types of hydro-geological settings. Red Maple Swamps are the most abundant type of freshwater wetland throughout the Northeast and flourish due to their ability to produce a heavy seed crop nearly every spring. Even its damaged seeds germinate rapidly and have the ability to sprout vigorously from stumps and a variety of disturbed sites.

White Pine Plantations

White Pine (Pinus strobes) is the longest-lived of this community and is located where the Blue and White Trail merge. This native species likes open, sunny habitats and, in favorable conditions, can live almost 200 years. Its bluish-green needles are grouped in bundles of five and the bark of the young white pines is smooth, while older trees have broad, flat, and scaly ridges. Following the Blue Trail along the sandy shoreline of Blue Heron Lake you will see a grove of Scotch Pines (Pinus sylvestris). The needles are shorter than those of White Pine and grow in clusters of two. The trees have bright, orange-peeling bark on the upper parts of the trunk and branches. These pines are a non-native species imported from Europe. They have spread throughout this area from forest and Christmas tree plantings. Another member of this plantation further down the trail is the Black Birch (Betula lenta), commonly known as Sweet Birch. It is a tall, straight, black-barked tree and is unlike other native birches, which possess a papery bark. The young trunk is marked with thin, horizontal stripes called lenticels. Deer, mice and rabbits browse the twigs, and grouse favor its seeds. When broken, the twigs emit a spicy wintergreen odor.