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Walks on Weston Conservation Land

Elmer Jones





The Case Municipal Purposes Land is owned by the Town of Weston, managed under the stewardship of the Weston Conservation Commission, and farmed by Land's Sake, a private non-profit organization. Its area is about 48 acres.


In 1909, Miss Marian Roby Case started Hillcrest Gardens on the fields now farmed by Land's Sake. Hillcrest Gardens was a practical school of agriculture and gardening open to boys of Weston and the surrounding towns. In 1911, Miss Case wrote “Hillcrest is an experimental farm where we wish to work up the scientific side of agriculture as well as to employ boys of the town through their long summer vacation.” The boys worked in the fields here during the mornings; and, then in the afternoon, studied in classes held elsewhere on the Case Estate. The school operated from 1910 until 1943. In 1944, Miss Case willed all of her land to Arnold Arboretum. In 1986, the Town purchased this area from Harvard University as it had purchased other areas of the Case estate from Harvard for schools and the town pool during the late 1940’s and in 1957.


Further information concerning the Case Family and Hillcrest Gardens (or Farm) may be found in The Weston Historical Society Bulletin, XVIII(4), May 1982 and ibid., XIX(1), October 1982. A discussion of the Case Family and of the Weston part of the Arnold Arboretum is found in the interview with Dr. Donald Wyman among the oral histories kept at the reference desk of the Weston Public Library.




Use the parking lot at the junction of Newton and Wellesley Streets for the Land's Sake Garden.





During this walk, we shall consider some plantings of the Arnold Arboretum, an interesting small marsh, and some geology. Many of the trees are experimental plantings of the Arnold Arboretum. These trees are mainly from the Orient and were planted in Weston to test their hardiness. Since Weston's winter temperature averages about 10° cooler than at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, any tree that could survive several Weston winters would thrive in Jamaica Plain.


From the parking lot, walk just past the farm stand and look towards Newton Street at the area between the two bird houses. You should notice several flat terraces one above the other. These flat terraces are former beaches of Lake Sudbury. Lake Sudbury was a glacial meltwater lake which formed as the glacier wasted away about ten thousand years ago. The Lake ran from what is now the Wayland border east to Green Lane. There are several spillways from this former lake which can be seen in this vicinity.


Head left to the large Norway maple behind the farm stand. A native of European forests, the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) closely resembles North America’s sugar maple in leaf shape and habit. The easiest way to distinguish between the two species at a distance is to observe the bark. At maturity, the surface of a sugar maple’s trunk is somewhat scaly, patchy, or peeling, and often displays a faint pink or orange tint. On the other hand, the surface of a Norway maple’s trunk is more regularly furrowed, vertically ridged bark. At closer range, there is a simple test. Remove a leaf from the sugar maple and it bleeds a clear sap; while a leaf removed from a Norway maple bleeds a milky sap. In this country, the Norway maple’s role is chiefly as an attractive shade tree. However, Nina Danforth, who is a native Westonian, environmental educator, and a founding Trustee of Land's Sake, reports that the Norway maple is considered a pest in Massachusetts. She states that Norway maples spread rapidly to the edges of mowed areas killing out any native vegetation present. As the Norway maple has a dense shade, it prevents grass and other plants from growing. This maple does not turn brilliant colors in the fall as do our native maples. In Europe, its hard wood is used for furniture and the bark has been used for a reddish-brown dye.


Turn to your right and continue about 100 feet along a path parallel with the edge of a garden. On your right, there are six Korean mountain ashes (Sorbus alnifolia). This tree flowers in May and develops showy pinkish red, orangish red, or scarlet fruit in the fall. To your right about 25 feet further on, there is a pair of Japanese pagoda or scholar trees (Styphnolobrium japonicum, formerly Sophora japonica). These trees are taller than the mountain ash and have alternate compound leaves with 7 to 17 ovate leaflets per stem. As its name suggests, the pagoda tree is found around Buddhist temples. Flowering during July through mid-August, it is one of the last trees to flower in our area.


On your left between the pagoda trees is a weeping willow (Salix elegantissima). There are about 75 species of willow in North America and they hybridize freely so it is difficult to be sure which species or hybrid one is observing.


Passing between the pagoda trees keeping the large spruce to your left, you come to three golden larches (Pseudolarix amabilis). This tree, a native of China where it grows at altitudes of 3000 to 4000 feet, was introduced into the United States in 1854. Larches are members of the conifer family that lose all their needles each fall and remain bare throughout the winter. Most pine trees develop new needles each year and then shed their two year old needles in the fall so that they are never bare. See how the needles of the golden larch spread like fans from spur-like branches and note that on the underside you can see two grey bands of stomata, the tiny pores that admit atmospheric gases into the leaf. About mid-October, the light green leaves turn a clear golden yellow. This fall color is brief but wonderful. Dr. Donald Wyman noted that these trees are often as wide as they are tall.


As you near the stone wall along Newton Street, you can walk into the center of a group of six dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). This tree, like the larches, drops its needles each fall and, like the gingko tree, can be considered a “living fossil”. From about 90 to 15 million years ago, through the last of the Age of the Dinosaurs and well into the Age of the Mammals, this tree was one of the most prevalent conifers in the North Hemisphere. When the climate was less harsh, it even grew in the Arctic. About 15 million years ago, the cooling climate and a change in rainy seasons caused the dawn redwood’s range to shrink tremendously, until it became restricted in modern times to one small area in eastern Szechwan and western Hupeh, China. The genus was first described in 1941 by Miki from a fossil discovered in Japan in Lower Pliocene strata. In the same year, a small population of this species was found living in a remote valley in central China. In 1947, Arnold Arboretum funded Chinese botanists who found metasequoia seeds and sent them to Boston in January 1948. These seeds were distributed to arboreta and botanical gardens throughout the world. Thus, this species has been reestablished throughout North America during the last 50 years. Its fall color may be described as pink, orange-brown, or red-brown. Its closest kin is the bald cypress with which it shares many traits. Both trees grow in a feathery-pyramidal habit, prefer wet soil, are somewhat salt tolerant, and lose their leaves in the fall.



A digression is required at this point. First graders know that the Mesozoic Era (245 to 65 million years ago) was the Age of Dinosaurs. During the first period of this Era, the Triassic, New England was snug in the heart of Pangaea, a super continent. At the onset of the second period, the Jurassic, a rift developed that became the present Atlantic Ocean. The dominate plants at this time were the gymnosperms which produce “naked” seeds which are not enclosed in a fruit. During the Mesozoic, four main types of gymnosperms were present: conifers (the cone bearing ancestors of modern pines, spruces, and redwoods); ginkophytes (one species survives as a “living fossil”); cycads (several species such as the sago palm still survive elsewhere in the world); and the extinct cycadeoids. Fossils of some of these plants, as well as dinosaur footprints, are preserved in the sedimentary rocks of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In the final period of this Era, the Cretaceous, the first of modern flowering plants developed. Some flowering plants such as the grasses, which include our cereals, appeared during the Cenozoic Era (65 million years ago to the present). With this development, many browsing animals were replaced by grazers. Thus, this planet evolved into a suitable habitat for the development of mankind.


Continuing our digression, the gingko is not represented on this part of the Case Land. However, a gingko or maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba) can be found across the street at the back of the island in the parking lot between Field School and the Library. It is one of the oldest of trees and has been growing on earth for 150 million years. Some paleobotanists believe that the gingko is the oldest genus of plant still living. Its leaves, which turn yellow in the fall, are unusual in that the veins start at the base of the leaf and then fan out in a series of dichotomous branches to the edge of the leaf. Remember the gingko is a gymnosperm and is more closely related to the pines than to the broad-leaved angiosperms. The angiosperms have a more hierarchical network of major and subsidiary veins which can be observed on any green shrub or tree leaf and compared with those of the gingko leaf.


The gingko is free of pests and diseases, but subject to air pollution. The tree is tolerant of poor soil as it forms a symbiotic relationship with actinomycetes, a bacterium that helps its roots to fix crucial nitrogen from nutrient-poor soil. Present research indicates that gingko may be medicinally useful as a treatment for asthma, toxic shock, memory problems, and blood problems. The gingko is dioecious, with separate female and male trees. It has a prolonged reproductive cycle as the five months between pollination and fertilization are followed by nine months of seed maturation. The seeds on the female tree resemble apricots (translation of the Chinese term gingko is silver apricot) but are not true fruits being simply seeds enclosed in a thin fleshy coat. When the seeds fall to the ground and begin to rot, they smell like rancid butter or very dirty athletic sox; thus, the male tree is preferred for ornamental plantings.



Leaving our digression to return to your walk, to the right of the dawn redwoods is a Magnolia kobus labelled “Wada's Memory”. This magnolia was grown by C. S. Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum. It has six inch white flowers in late April. Flowering is followed by the emergence of a bronze foliage which soon turns to dark green before turning to a rich yellow in the fall. There is unlabelled magnolia on the Wellesley Street side of the dawn redwoods which blooms in late April. The flowers have 15 white petals and are considered by some to be the most beautiful of the magnolias. This tree is probably a ‘Merrill’ magnolia which was raised from seed sown in 1939 at the Arnold Arboretum. This hybrid (Magnolia x loebneri) is the result of a cross between M. korbus and M. stellata.


About 75 feet beyond the magnolia, near the junction of Newton and Wellesley Streets, are a group of sourwoods (Oxydendron arboretum). Sourwood, a member of the heath family, is also called the sorrel tree or the lily-of-the-valley tree. It is a native of southeastern United States. Its flowers are white urn shaped, about a quarter of an inch long, and bloom in June to early July. In fall, its leaves turn yellow, red, and purple; often all colors appear on the same tree. Also, in this area, there is a collection of grafted cultivars of the Higan cherry (Prunis subhirtella) which bear flowers with a delicate lavender color in April.


Reverse direction and head back past the dawn redwoods and along the stone wall next to Newton Street, you will pass between two “Sunburst” honey locusts (Gleditsia triacanthus “Sunburst”) and then to the right of three mountain ash (Sorbus rosaceae).


Just beyond the mountain ash lies a small wetland below a spring. The Case family had the water from this spring piped under Wellesley Street to their houses. For safety reasons, the well was filled in 1994. The delicate marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) is found in this small marsh. Also, one may find grasses (the grass family has about 10,000 species worldwide), a rush (the rush family has about 400 species worldwide), and sedges (the sedge family has about 4000 species worldwide). The grass family (Gramineae) is recognized by certain characteristics: Grasses have narrow leaves with parallel veins and small inconspicuous flowers which are arranged in two rows. Grass stems are usually round and hollow except at the joints, easily visible bulges, where the leaves attach. Think of the 1960s’ counterculture jargon, “grass means joint” and you will never forget how to recognize a grass. The long thin blades are those of soft rush (Juncus effusus). Rushes are recognized by the facts that the leaves lack joints, the flowers are like tiny lilies with three petals and three sepals arranged in a circle, and the fruit is a small three-parted capsule that remains on the plant for most of the season. Rushes tend to grow in cool, wet areas such as this seep. Sedges, like rushes, tend to grow in cool, wet areas and their stems lack joints; however, the stems of a sedge are mainly solid and often triangular, “sedges have edges” and the flowers are arranged spirally on the stalk. I bet you can rapidly find several sedges in this small area and distinguish them from the many grasses.


Next, you will come to the curious “Temple’s Upright” sugar maple (Acer saccharum “Monumentale”) with its very short branches. It often harbors several bird nests which can be seen in the fall after the leaves have dropped. Just to the right of this columnar sugar maple is an American sugar maple (Acer saccharum) with its spreading shape and orange bark.


To the left of the columnar sugar maple, there is a group of four Washington hawthorns (Crataegus phaenopyrum). These are broadly oval to rounded, dense, thorny trees. As the leaves unfold, they are reddish purple changing to dark green at maturity; fall color varies from orange to scarlet through purple. These trees flower in June. The fruit colors to a glossy red in the fall and persists all winter which makes it a nutritious food for birds.


About 50 feet ahead and to your right, there are four Carolina silverbells (Halesia monticola). This tree which is native to our southeast has a wonderful white, rarely pale pink or rose, bell-like flowers lasting about two weeks from late April into early May. The flowers emerge just before the leaves. In late summer, the fruit forms as a green ovoid four-winged drupe which eventually turns brown. The appearance of the fruit leads to this tree also being called the “Green Olive”. Rhododendrons grow well under silverbells in the southern woods. The combination makes an outstanding spring display.


Looking down the slope, you will see a grove of nine Kurile dahurian larches (Larix gmelinii japonica) with fine deciduous needles which turn golden in the fall before they drop.


You should now turn away from Newton Street and head for the spectacular European beeches which were planted by Mr. and Mrs. John Case in the 1870's. The first beech is a cut-leafed variety (Fagus sylvatica laciniata). Look at the leaves to see that 7 to 9 deep serrations on each side extend one-third of the distance from the edge to the midrib. Interestingly, the degree of serration varies on any one tree with the leaves at the top being more serrated than those at the bottom. One might guess that this pattern allows more light to reach the bottom leaves. Thus, the tree can capture more energy from the sun. Clones of the central tree arise from the roots to form a ring of smaller trees about the central trunk. When the central trunk dies, one of its clones will become predominate. Enter into the chamber about the main trunk and enjoy a wonderful green cathedral.


The second beech is a copper beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea). The young leaves are a deep red-black and with time change to purple-green, and, in some cases, eventually turn green.


Leave the beeches and walk downhill between a blueberry patch at your left and a raspberry patch on your right and head straight along a farm road. To the left of the pine stand, there is a weeping Sargent’s cherry (Prunus sargentii). Its leaves are tinged red as they emerge, become shiny dark green in summer, and range from yellow to bronze to red in the fall. From late April to early May, its flowers are single pink blossoms ranging up to one and a half inches across and they open before the leaves appear.


Continue along the road heading towards the magnificent, lone Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). The needles occur in pairs and persist about three years. Note that the branches have a distinct orange-yellow bark.


Before passing the pine, turn left towards Newton Street and continue to the spreading silver linden (Tilia tomentosa horizontalis). This tree flowers in late June to early July. The yellowish-white flowers are very fragrant and are borne in 7 to 10 flowered pendulous, long cymes. A cyme is a broad, loose and flat cluster of flowers. Some people are allergic to the fragrance or the pollen of the lindens.


Just beyond is a bigleaf linden (Tilia platyphyllos compacta) which flowers in early June. Its yellowish-white flowers are also very fragrant and are borne in 3-flowered, sometimes 6-flowered, pendant short cymes.


Return to the farm road and head back to the farm stand repassing many of the trees that we have admired. A bee keeper maintains his hives on this land and supplies Land's Sake with honey. Many of the flowering trees (cherries, crabapples, hawthorns, lindens, as well as others) supply the bees with a good supply of pollen and nectar.

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