Wildlife and Vegetation

Creature Corner
Written by BJS

I am continuing the fish theme this month with the thought of acquainting or reacquainting Victory Lakes community members (in preparation for the fishing season) with the fish that inhabit our lakes. After all, a fisherman definitely wants to be able to identify what he/she has hook. And, if you are not a fisherperson, you just might like being able to shock a veteran fisherman with a comment like “Hey, that’s a good sized Chain Pickerel you just caught!” Chain Pickerel are an exciting and popular catch in the U.S. as they are aggressive fighters once hooked.

Early spring and late fall are usually the beginning and end of fishing season. But these are the best times for catching a large pickerel. During the summer pickerel hide in the weeds but during the colder fishing months the weeds are dormant. In early spring or late fall, a fisherperson will get a jump up on the fish if he/she knows where pickerel like to hang out when the temperature is cool. Concentrating on fallen timber may yield good fishing results. Look for overhanging brush and trees as these are other favorite hiding spots. Most attractive are lily pads which are always present but may be yellowed and thinned out at this time. If you know where the lily pads are usually present in our lakes, you have a good chance at baiting a pickerel.

Chain Pickerel are considered the runts of the pike family. On average it takes 5 years for a pickerel to reach 2 pounds. They rarely attain more than 4 pounds. But the heaviest pickerel on record was caught in1961 in Georgia with a weight of 9 pounds 6 ounces. New Jersey holds the former record of 9 pounds 3 ounces. Length varies and I will quote one fisherman’s interesting categories of pickerel lengths: small-14 in. and under, average-15 to19 in., pretty good-20 to 25in., big-26 to 30 in., monster-31+in. Also known as jackass and grass pike, Chain Pickerel have a greenish to bronze background coloration fading to yellow on the underside. They are distinguished from other pike by black or dark green chain like markings on their sides and back. Juvenile chain pickerel are steel blue in color and will not attain the markings until they are 6-8 in. long. Their bodies are long and slender with duck-bill shaped snouts and needle-like sharp teeth. The entire cheek and gill cover are scaled and there are 8 pores on the underside of the jaw. There is a vertical dark streak extending downward below each eye.

Chain pickerel spawn in the swampy areas of lakes in early spring right after ice out. They do not build nests and there is not any parental care of the young. Eggs are dropped usually sticking to underwater weeds. Most eggs do not survive to hatching. Hatching takes place 7 to 12 days later and the young attach themselves to vegetation by means of an adhesive gland on their snouts. They begin to feed after about a week and may reach a length of 6 in. by summer’s end. Sexual maturity is usually attained at 5 to 6 years. A pickerel can live as long as 10 years, at which time the fish reaches the “monster” status described above. Chain pickerel are sometimes called “chained lightening” because of their method of acquiring food. A fish will hide near or under vegetation waiting to ambush anything it can swallow. It is omnivorous and will eat insects, birds, frogs, mice, and snakes as well as other fish such as minnows, sunnies, and weaker pike.Chain pickerel are sometimes used in fish management programs to reduce the overpopulation of some fish species such as sunnies. They are a headache for trout enthusiasts as they will attack trout as large as themselves and have been responsible for reducing trout populations. Hunting for food usually occurs in shallow water (10 ft. or less) in the morning and early evening, probably the best times to fish for Chain Pickerel if that is your intent.

And if you are up for ice fishing in the dead of winter, it is more than likely that a Chain Pickerel will be the fish you bring up through the ice hole. Check out articles on “Pike Fishing” at the NJDEP website; one article addresses fishing for pike in early spring and the second describes ice fishing.

Personal anecdote: About twenty years ago I was canoeing with a young nephew on Upper Victory. Tired of paddling, my young friend picked up the fishing rod he had brought along for the ride and dropped the hook (that had no bait) over the side as I continued our way home. He suddenly shouted “I got one!” and proceeded to reel it in. I am thinking “probably an old shoe.”
But, of course, he lands a foot long pickerel (“no bait? What kind of monster is this?”) into the canoe with those needle teeth only inches from my bare toes! Screaming inside my head as he anxiously tells me he doesn’t know how to unhook it, I somehow manage to cut the line and get the fish back into the water. So, Dave, how do you unhook a pickerel without causing damage to the fish or yourself? Not that I plan on meeting another pickerel this way ever again! As I have said before, I do not fish and I was much dumber then than I am now!


Botanical Blog
Written by BJS

Pink Lady’s Slipper
Cypripium acaule
Moccasin flower

While I was visiting with Anna May, she excitedly informed me that her “Lady Slippers were up” and they had begun to multiply throughout her garden. I was envious of her success because many years ago the natural area of my yard had contained one Lady Slipper. Despite my efforts to protect it, the plant evidently died and did not appear one spring.  Lady’s Slippers are considered endangered in some areas because they take a long time to grow and because people pick them. The Pink Lady’s Slipper is native to temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, primarily from Newfoundland to Manitoba in Canada and from New England west to Minnesota and south to Alabama in the United States. It is a member of the orchid family. There are three other Lady’s Slipper species of which two are native to South America and one to the Far East. We will concentrate on our native species in this article. The plants grow in dry to moist areas and are found in the acidic soil of pine-oak forests. They grow, flower, and multiply best in early forest succession when the tree canopy allows filtered sunlight to reach the ground. Full sunlight is too intense for survival. As the canopy thickens with growth, less sunlight reaches the plants causing them to bloom less as the light is needed to produce the energy for flower production. If a canopy disturbance occurs, such as branches being removed by man or nature, the increased sunlight will restore plant vigor.

The reproductive organs consist of two lateral anthers (part of the stamen [pollen organ] that contains pollen) and two stigmas (the upper tip of the pistil [seed bearing organ] that receives the pollen).  The Lady’s slipper has a distinctive petal, or labellum, shaped like the toe of a slipper. An insect searching for food will fall into this toe.  Because the labellum offers no footing to the insect except at the back of the cup, the insect must climb up toward the center of the flower to escape. At the center there are two exits. The insect will encounter one of the anthers and collect pollen on its back. When the insect visits another Lady’s Slipper, it will fall into the cup again. During its climb out the insect will encounter one of the stigmas on which it will deposit the pollen, thus cross-pollinating the Lady’s Slipper plants. The seed does not have a food supply in it like most seeds do. It relies upon a fungus to help it grow. The threads of the fungus will attach to the seed and break it open. The fungus will then pass on food and nutrients to the seed. The fungus has been specifically identified as mycorrhiza of the Rhizoctonia family. The seed takes many years to grow and remains dependent upon the fungus. When it becomes a mature plant, it returns the favor to the fungus by providing nutrients that the fungus could not get by itself. Pink Lady’s Slippers can live to be twenty years or more. The Lady’s Slipper plant has only two oval leaves that lie flat on the ground. This position exposes the maximum leaf surface to sunlight for photosynthesis. A single flower is borne on the stem. Not all plants will flower each year. Individual flowers will rarely seed as they are not near other Lady’s Slipper plants for cross-pollination. The roots are fragile and brittle. They grow only in humus where there is more oxygen and can ramble 12 inches through the humus but rarely extend into the soil. How can I transplant my Lady’s Slippers? Untold numbers of plants have been killed while attempting to transplant the lady’s slippers for rescue or collection. Digging deep round holes is inappropriate and breaks the shallow roots as they extend through the humus. A broken root tip will not regenerate and a new root must come from the base of the plant. Root breakage minimizes the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. Seeds and young Lady’s Slippers remain dependent upon the fungus so transplanting these to a disturbed site can affect the root/fungus interaction.

A plant can be transplanted with caution. Roots are formed annually just after flowering, so this is the best time to transplant. Vigorous plants should be chosen. The flower stem must be removed so that energy is devoted to root maturation rather than seed production. Dig the plants early in the morning to prevent water loss through transpiration. Loosen soil 2 feet from the crown with a pitchfork. Then use a long, narrow bladed spade to make horizontal slices 6 inches below the plant, moving in a circle around the plant. Gently shake the root ball while lifting to free the plant and keep the roots intact. Cut damaged roots at the point of breakage with a sharp knife or pruners. This will help the plant to compartmentalize the wound and prevent the entry of pathogens. Pick a site that has other Lady’s Slippers (preferred but not necessary), acidic soil, little vegetation to compete with, and dappled sunlight. Rake the ground free of surface litter exposing the mineral soil. Apply a thin layer of composted leaves or leaf mold over the soil. Situate the plant on top taking care to spread the gangly roots evenly across the surface. Use leaf mold mixed with a little soil from the original and new sites to cover the roots. A light coating of mulch can be applied but if the crown of the plant is buried too deep the roots will die. Thoroughly water after transplantation. Never transplant during the hot hours of the day; if necessary, place the plant between layers of moist sphagnum moss in a pot that is in the shade while waiting for cooler hours. Water the plant periodically after transplantation during drought conditions and weed if there is an abundance of overgrowth of the area. The plant may not come up the next year but may return the following year. A better way to encourage proliferation… Plants can be obtained from nurseries but they are pricey. If you follow this route, ask if the plant was collected from the wild or if it is laboratory/nursery grown. Wild plants rarely survive because of damage. If you have Lady’s Slippers in your yard, you can help by hand pollination. Natural pollination yields 10% but hand pollination assures 100% success. Only a small percentage of seeds survive to become mature plants but, fortunately, a flower will produce 15,000 to 20,000 seeds. These plants are being lost to habitat destruction, such as leaf raking. If you find a slipper plant in your yard please keep the area around it in a natural state and prune the canopy above for filtered sunlight to encourage flowering.