The following points of interest include excerpts from the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Forests (Krichner 1988), The Book of Forest and Thicket (Eastman 1992), and The Book of Swamp and Bog (Eastman 1995).
1. Entering the Park from Roger's Park via Overlook Drive, the vegetation reflects years of disturbance by man. Many invasive and weedy plants line the gravel road, such as Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and multiflor Rose (Rosa multiflora). Further along the road, a transition takes place into a more natural forested area dominated by native trees and shrubs. Invasive plants often become established in disturbed areas where bare soil is available for colonization.
2. Trees dominating the forested area along Overlook Drive include Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipfera), oak, hickory and sugar maple. A few Tuliptrees can be identified along Overlook Drive by their tall, straight trunks, free of branches up to the canopy. Four-lobed leaves precede the distinctive tulip-like orange-green flowers. These flowers, rich in nectar, are very attractive to insects. The seeds, consisting of elongated samaras, may be eaten by white-footed mice, red and grey squirrels, and some bird species including northern cardinal and purple finch.
3. Dead-standing trees, or "Snags," are extremely important to wildlife. A number of bird species are exclusively cavity nesters and must carve out holes or move into the abandoned hole made by another bird. Live trees do not offer the softened wood required for such excavation. The Connecticut DEP recommends that 3 snags per acre of 12 inches dbh (diameter of breast height) be available to assure the minimum requirements of most wildlife species.
4. American Basswood (Tilia americana) is considered an indicator of the mixed mesophytic forests. Several basswoods can be found along Overlook Drive. A clump of three basswood stands at the end of the stone wall, several feet along the road. This tree has heart-shaped leaves with uneven bases and flower clusters that attract a variety of the bees and insects. Red, or red and green buds along twigs provide some color during winter.
5. Thick brown vines with peeling shreds can be found climbing high in trees along the edge of the road. About 30 species of Wild Grape (Vitis spp.) exist in North America. Purple-black fruit in fall are a food source for many songbirds, including the red-eyed vireo, grey catbird, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, and northern cardinal, as well as some common game birds, such as wild turkey. Grapes are food sources for raccoons, opossums and skunks as well. Although heavy growth may cause some trees to topple, grapes are native and not invasive.
6. A common shrub of edges and open habitat is Staghorn Sumac (Phus typhinia). There is a large cluster of this sumac bordering the open meadow that appears to have been the yard of the ranger's house. This shrub turns bright red in fall and bears terminal clusters of red fruit. Both fruit and twigs are covered with fuzz resembling the velvet on deer antlers. Up to 100 bird species will feed on the fruit, but generally this is secondary food, resorted to when other sources are not available.
7. Rocky outcrops occur as the trail loops back into the forest. Plants can be observed in cracks and crevaces of the large rocks. As decomposition and trapping of soil particles increases suitable substrate for plants, mats of vegetation form over the rock surface. A progression generally follows along a succession of bare rock to lichen, then moss, followed by moss-herbaceous species, woody mat, and then a mixed species of vegetation.
8. Low bushes on either side of the trail belong to the Heath family. These small shrubs are tolerant of shade and dry, sand, acidic soil with low nutrient content. Spring brings bell-like white blossoms, with blusish-black fruit. Twigs are usually warty and in winter show characteristic red-green coloration. Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are important food sources for many bird species, as well as white-footed mice, chipmonks, skunks and bear, and the twigs are grazed by cottontail rabbits and white-tailed deer.
9. Along the upland trail running parallel to the stone wall is a sizeable stand of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). Thickets of this shrub, the state flower of Connecticut, prefer acidic sandy or rocky woods. Early June is flowering time for pink, star-shaped blooms. Foliage of this plant is poisonous to humans.
10. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is an abundant shrub within the understory at Old Quarry. Several can be observed along with the Mountain Laurel stand. An unusual characteristic of Witch Hazel is its yellow flower that blooms in autumn when little else is in bloom. During flowering, when temperature and humidity reach a critical point, seedpods from the previous year begin to open abruptly, shooting out black seeds to a distance of up to 20 feet.
11. A typical New England stone wall, noted on the assessors map of Old Quarry, can be observed along the trail. Approximately 20,300 miles of stone walls exist in Connecticut alone (Appell 1999). Stone walls were primarily built in the period following the extensive deforestation in the early 1800's. Creatures taking advantage of shelter and the rich source of invertibrates around stone walls include chipmonks, voles, skunks, foxes, and black and garter snakes.
12. Some specimens of American Chestnut (Castanae dentata) can be found in many of our local forests. A few small sprouts are located off the trail past the point that crosses the stone wall. Early the 20th century, the Chestnut dominated eastern forests, but an imported light (Cryphonectria parasitica) arrived from Japan in 1900, and by 1950 had decimated 80% of this species. There are a few uninfected mature trees in various parts of the US and work continues to discover ways to help the chestnut recover.
13. A large rock outcropping is located along the trail as it begins to slope into a small wetland area. Three species of ferns are in close proximity here, the Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis), the Polypod (Polypodium vulgare), and the Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). This microhabitat warrants a closer look, as many of the more unusual plants may be observed.
14. As the tral proceeds through the wetland, the thick, spongy Sphagnum Moss (Sphagnum spp.) also commonly called peat moss, can be seen at the base of several trees. The live portion of this plant is on the top with brown mats of dead vegetation extending below for several feet. The absorptive capacity of special hyaline cells of this plant allow it to hold up to 20 times its weight in water.
15. Dogwoods are another source of food and shelter for many species of birds. Cottontail Rabbits, muskrats, deer and beaver will eat the twigs. Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) can be seen on the periphery of this wetland, growing in clumps formed by spreading underground stems (rhizomes). White clusters of flowers in spring develop into white or bluish berries later in the summer.
16. The trail continues up a hill and looks down over a small remnant meadow. Wild fields add to the variety and aesthetic appeal of a property, as well as improve the habitat for wildlife. This small field is one of the few remaining open areas at the Old Quarry site.
17. Along the top of the remnant meadow, a shrub called American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) grows in a thicket. Catkins form as tight, finger-like projections that release copius amounts of pollen to the female flowers, which appear as groups of bright red buds in early spring. The elongated, drooping catkins are visible through the winter.
18. An outstanding man-made feature at the juncture of two trails is the stone fireplace built in 1933 by the Camp Fire Girls and the Boy Scouts. A short distance from the remnant meadow, this area was most likely open when the fireplace was built. Forest has grown up around the fireplace, and overnight camping and fires are presently not permitted at this site or anywhere else withing the center boundaries.
19. Just past the fireplace is a wildflower garden, also mentioned in John Pawloski's trail guide. On of the loveliest flowers here is the Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana), in bloom in the early spring. Look for leaves with three lobes and hairy stems. The delicate inflorescence varies in shades of nearly white to lavender. The leaves can be found in the winter, with new ones replacing the previous year's after the blooming has ceased. Seeds of the Hepatica are collected and stored by ants.
20. Asters (Aster spp.) are perennial wildflowers that grow in habitats ranging from wet to dry and from sunny to shaded. Species noted along the trail at Old Quarry include White Wood Aster (A. divaricatus), Heart-leaved Aster (A. novae-anglieae) and Stiff Aster (A. linariifolius). Look for blooms in fall, unlike many of our spring blooming wildflowers. Over 65 species of aster exist in North America.
21. A large oak stands on the hill at the side of the trail. White Oak (Quercus alba) have rounded lobes with light white scaly bark and may live several hundred years. Acorns may not be produced on trees less than 50 years old. Acorn production varies from year to year, with mast years (years when acorns are very abundant), occurring every 4-10 years. Many birds, as well as chipmonks, squirrels, bears and raccoons feast on the acorns.
22. On the hilside along the trail, there a numerous sizeable Red Oak (Quercus rubra) trees. Leaves of the Red Oak family are pointed, with bristles at the tips. Acorns of this tree mature in two years. Vigorous sprouting occurs from cut stumps, and some of the trees at this site have multiple trunks.
23. A large Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) stands past the foundation of an old dynamite shack. Leaves that distinguish this tree have 4-6 pairs of large rounded teeth, as do others in the white oak group. Swamp Oaks inhabit swampy borders but tolerate some changes in water level. The form of this tree usually appears shaggy, with turned -down branches and dead lower branches remaining on the trunk.
24. Several colonies of Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) exist within Old Quarry. Emerging in early spring, the large umbrella-like leaves shade the single white flower which produces fruit, somewhat resembling a small apple. Colonies develp in a circular pattern usually starting from a single plant. This is a favorite food of the Eastern Box Turtle, perhaps a main seed disperser of this native wildflower. You will find Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) wildflowers, which bloom in the spring, at this location. Notice how the spadix of this looks like a person speaking from a pulpit with an overhanging leaf.
25. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is another common understory shrub in Old Quarry. Preferring moist woods, tere are several specimens along the trail near the red maple swamp. Crushing a smooth, untoothed leaf or scraping a twig produces a distinct spicy aroma. Flowers in spring are yellow, and red berries (drupes) appear in the fall. A number of bird species will eat the berries, including the Veery and Wood Thrush.
26. Growing along the periphery of this former dump site are several large Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) trees. Cottonwoods have been outlawed ins some cities due to their abundant cottony seed tufts that blow about. Male and female catkins are produced on separate trees in early spring, before the triangular, coarsely-toothed leaves. A very fast-growing tree that may add five feet to its height in one year, cottonwoods are among the largest trees in the eastern USA, but may begin deteriorating by age 70 or 80.
27. Broken glass, bits of clamshells, and metal scrap can be seen protruding through the surface soil in this area which was reputed to have been an old city dump. This reflects the common misconception that swampy areas had little value and therefore these areas were often used as landfills. A seep, an underground spring rising to the surface can be observed here.
28. Following the trail towards the field house, you will see a slightly different group of wetland plants. Some of the most obvious plants in this are tussock sedges. Sedges (Carex spp.) resemble grasses at first glance, but have "edges" that differ from the softer structure of grasses. Sedges are often pioneers in the natural succession that occurs as a fen progresses to a bog.
29. Clumps of Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) line the trail as it loops toward the field house. Small white flowers are borne on separate female and male plants in the spring. Bright red berries persist through much of the winter, standing out on dark branches in a snowy landscape. Although of low nutritional value for wildlife, the berries are eaten by many bird species, often when other sources are no longer plentiful.
30. The sole remaining building at the Old Quarry Nature Center is the field house. Students from Henry Abbott Technical School built this structure in 1966. The entire 35' x 75' span is constructed to eliminate the need for central supporting posts, creating ample space for displays and programs within.