The Henry Morgenthau Preserve is a 32-acre sanctuary set along and under the shoreline of Blue Heron lake.
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.
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 Tree (Acer rubrum) is the dominant tree species found in Red Maple Swamps. These trees can thrive in a variety of adverse conditions and occur in many types of hydrogeological settings. Red Maple Swamps are the most abundant type of freshwater wetland throughout the Northeast.
The Red Maple flourishes due to its 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.
*From the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Service “Environmental Fact Sheet.”
White Pine Plantations
If you look around the preserve, you will see several thin evergreens. These are Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana), a conical evergreen tree. They are sun-lovers and indicators of secondary growth woodland.
The leaves of the Eastern Red Cedar are sharply needle-like and three-sided and its twigs are four-sided. The heartwood is reddish and aromatic. Birds consume its fruit and disperse the seeds over wide areas. They are passed, undamaged, through the birds’ digestive tracts and eventually dropped.
Its wood is used for furniture, pencils and fence posts. When dried, the outer bark provides excellent tinder. Oil from its leaves is used in perfumes and flavoring is derived from its berries.
Black Birch (Betula lenta) is 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. Black Birch wood is hard and heavy and frequently made into furniture. Oil of wintergreen is also harvested from the tree’s sap and leaves. At one time, its fermented sap was an ingredient of Birch Beer.
White Pine (Pinus strobes) is the longest-lived of this community. This native species likes open, sunny habitats and, in favorable conditions, can live almost 200 years. It is identified by its bluish-green needles that are grouped in bundles of five.
The bark of the young white pines is smooth, while older trees have broad, flat, and scaly ridges. All conifers, or cone-bearing trees, typically have a central stem (trunk) from which branches come off in whirls. The very tip of this central stem is called the leader, because it leads the upward growth of the tree.
If you look closely at the pines along the White Trail, you will see the larger ones grow in a straight line and were planted in the early 1940s. As you continue along this trail, which merges onto the Blue Trail, you will notice several more White Pines along the shore of the lake. These grow in a more random pattern and are probably offspring of the planted pines.
White pines are one of the most important and tallest of timber trees. Straight-grained and easily worked, whole trunks were once used for ship masts. It was once lumbered so extensively that few virgin trees remain.
Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) is found in the sandy area of the preserve along the lakefront. 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.
The Henry Morgenthau Preserve sits on metamorphic and igneous rock. It is part of the New England Upland, which is composed of rocks of the Precambrian and Early Paleozoic Age. The bedrock is part of the Bedford Gneiss (pronounced: “nice”) formation. Gneiss is a coarsely banded, metamorphic rock formed from the effects of heat and pressure. It is found in deeply buried older rocks involved in mountain-making processes and is arranged in layers of quartz, feldspar and mica.
The latest geologic events that significantly affected the present landforms were caused by several consecutive periods of glaciers during the Pleistocene Epoch, which began over one million years ago and ended only 10,000 years ago.
The largest boulder in the preserve, located at the split of the Blue and White Trails, is over six feet in diameter. It was carried by glacial action thousands of years ago.
The preserve is highlighted by historic stonewalls that run through the heart of the forest and along its borders. Many of the walls date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, when this part of the United States was an agrarian society. During that time settlers to the area cleared the forests for open pastures, crops and livestock.
Rock heave, a natural occurring phenomenon in Lower New England, causes the upward thrust of ground surface during cold weather. This geologic action was a nuisance to farmers of the area, who had to continuously clear the fields of rocks. However, when wood was in short supply, the rock was recognized as a cheap and renewable source of material to build walls and houses.
Within the preserve one can find excellent examples of walls that served as boundaries for open pastures, crops and livestock pens. Currently, the walls play a large role in providing habitat for smaller creatures in the preserve and serve as highways and lookouts against predators.
An extensive restoration of the stonewalls was recently completed to preserve their beauty and historic significance for generations to come.
Blue Heron Lake
The preserve also contains the largest holding of shoreline along Blue Heron Lake. The lake was made by damming up the run-off from surrounding streams and wetlands. It was enlarged from a marshy pond sometime before 1936. The lake is now 45 acres and has several small islands. The maximum water depth is 18 ft., but most of the lake is from 10-to-12 ft. deep. The most abundant fish species are bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, and large mouth bass.
Birders to the preserve have documented over 120 species of birds in or near the preserve. Among the most frequently sited are: Goldfinches, Northern Orioles, Titmouses, Nuthatches, Scarlet Tangiers, Green Herons, Pilieated Woodpeckers, Ringed Neck Ducks, Buffleheads, Red-Tailed Hawks and, of course, Great Blue Herons.
The preserve hosts an abundance of wildlife. Visitors can observe the tracks of raccoons by the lake, deer rubs on the trees made by white-tailed deer, and large holes on trees made by woodpeckers.
Coyote, fox, opossum, various moles, striped skunks, muskrats, beaver, chipmunks and several squirrel species are also present and are often sited by visitors walking the preserve trails. In addition, several types of reptiles and amphibians have been seen, including spotted salamanders, painted and snapping turtles.
The bog bridge located on the Yellow Trail just north of the Big Oak takes visitors through one of the small wetlands found at the preserve. Wetlands are among the most important ecosystems on earth because they cleanse polluted water, prevent floods, protect shorelines and recharge groundwater aquifers. Among their distinguishing characteristics are the presence of standing water, unique wetland soils, and vegetation adapted to or tolerant of saturated soils.
Wetlands also support rich biodiversity, an extensive food chain and provide unique habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna. They are often located between dry terrestrial systems and permanently flooded deepwater aquatic systems like rivers, lakes, estuaries, or oceans. A wetland dominated by trees and shrubs is variously referred to as a marsh, swamp, bog, wet meadow, pothole or slough.