Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Pittsfield to take part in state tree program


Planting trees in Pittsfield

If you live in Pittsfield's Morningside or the West Side, read on. According to a press release from the City of Pittsfield, the state [Massachusetts] will invest more than $12 million over the next three years to plant some 20,000 trees in eight gateway cities in a bid to increase the urban canopy by 10 to 15 percent. The average household in those areas is expected to save an average of $230 a year in heating and cooling costs once the trees reach maturity.

Pittsfield is one of those gateway cities where thousands of trees will be planted on private and public grounds in two neighborhoods, the West Side and Morningside. A map outlining those areas will be available at

Residents of those neighborhoods who would like a tree may call 617-626-1515 to leave a message. The local forester will contact them to set up an appointment to discuss plantings. Urban Forester Mathew Cahill said the state has over 40 different species to ensure the best fit for each location.

The program in Pittsfield is being done in partnership with the city, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team and Pittsfield Tree Watch.

Native plant nursery

Project Native's native plant nursery is being run this year by a long-standing friend and partner of the nursery, Bridghe McCracken. She has re-opened the nursery under the name Helia Native Nursery. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, at 342 North Plain Road in Housatonic. According to Project Native's Board Chairman Erik Bruun, " We are very pleased that this element of Project Native will continue as an even more robust nursery and strongly encourage you to continue using native plants for your horticultural needs.

Walk Pownal to Williamstown the rugged way

Sharing the border between Pownal and Williamstown lies a magnificent 180-acre property containing upland wildflower meadow, wetland and forest, with just enough history to make it fun for most hikers. Trails offer easy to moderate walking and visits are free to this Trustees of Reservations property.

The entrance from the Williamstown side is off Mason Road. When entering from the Pownal side, off Benedict Road, we come first to cellar hole of the Victorian-era botanist Grace Greylock Niles (who adopted as her middle name that of Massachusetts' highest peak) and who made her home within this rugged land spending years wandering wetlands and forests.

Her 1904 book, "Bog Trotting for Orchids," published by G.P. Putnam's Sons thrills the orchid and bog enthusiast with its botany and its prose. It is also a joy to read for anyone interested in the Hoosac Valley. Explore many of the bogs in southern Vermont as seen through Niles' eyes in the earliest days of the 1900s.

Niles' book opens a view into the world of a female student of nature, and her love for the flora and fauna of the Northeast. Focusing on her search for orchids in the bogs of Vermont, it offers a look back (over a century) at the history and natural history of this well-known region, and the earlier poetry and prose that influenced her. You can purchase hard- and softcover editions of this book (on-line and used book shops) or even better, if you have the paper loaded into your printer, download and print it (legally and free) from

(More) un-wanted aliens

Japanese Knotweed or Japanese bamboo has rhizomes (think roots) that spread up to 60 feet long — and even pieces of these can produce a new colony, especially along streams. The hollow bamboo-like stems grow so closely that they eliminate all other vegetation. A minimum of four cuttings during the growing season are required to eliminate it. Small patches can, and should, be dug up and discarded with trash. For wild food enthusiasts, 12-inch knotweed shoots, before leaves begin unfurling, are delicious when cooked up like asparagus — about 3 to 4 minutes. Sorry, too late this year.

Phragmites or Common Reed is a 15-foot-tall grass that spreads rapidly in wetlands and roadsides and along highways that are often salt-laden. It, too, chokes out other plants and destroys valuable wetlands for most wildlife. It is far more difficult to destroy that the previously mentioned alien.

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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