USC Citizens for Land Stewardship
Conservation and stewardship of land and natural resources in Upper St. Clair

Boyce-Mayview Park

Nature Journal: Hikes through the Old Mayview Property

by Chuck Tague

October 23, 1998, 9:30 am. Tracey Buckman and I scouted the Mayview property for a USC Citizens for Land Stewardship outing the following day. Along the ridge overlooking Chartiers Creek I noticed a leaf on the ground that resembled an american chestnut leaf. I found several others including some attached to a twig. Several side buds clustered around the end bud on the twig indicating a species of oak. The leaves pointed lobes, however, disqualified my first guess -- the round-lobed chestnut oak. The field guide identified it as a chinquapin oak or yellow oak, Quercus muhlenbergii.

We located several chinquapin oaks, all along the slope just above the flood plain. We also found pignut hickory and a bitternut hickory growing on the base of the slope. On the flood plain we located some small papaws, several american basswood trees, hackberry trees and a large american elm. Tracey showed me an old sycamore with two huge trunks. As we left, a flock of at least nine wild turkeys scattered in all directions. I had never before come across chinquapin oak. To learn more about its occurrence in Western Pennsylvania I looked it up in Wild Flowers of Western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Valley, (O. E. Jennings, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1953) Jennings wrote:

This is a large and abundant tree in the Mississippi basin, but eastward more largely confined to limestone soils . . . In our region this species is rather rare and local with usually only a few, often only a single tree, in any 1 locality, excepting the limestone regions of Central Pennsylvania, where it is more common . . ..

Near Beadling, SW Allegheny County, in a broad ravine below a limestone outcrop, Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Mason discovered a number of large trees of this species with widely ovate leaves suggestive of q. Prinus (rock chestnut oak, now considered Q. Montana.) I checked with several naturalists from Mount Lebanon but no one was familiar with the Masons or the location of the ravine.

October 24, 1998, 7:30 am. Eighteen people joined us for the walk through the Mayview Property, including Mark Bowers from the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania. The weather was clear and crisp and the leaves still colorful. Along the trail we found two giant puffballs. These large white mushrooms resembled ostrich eggs and measured nearly nine inches long. On the flood plain Mark pointed out a yellow buckeye tree, Aesculus octandra. I had never seen a naturally growing buckeye in Pennsylvania before. We measured the largest of the twin sycamore trunks. It had a circumference of 144 inches, indicating it was around 183 years old, possibly older.

October 27, 1998, 8:30 am. I returned to the Mayview property to explore the riparian community along the flood plain. Riparian communities, or the association of plants and animals that live along the edge rivers and streams, are the most diverse of the original forest communities in western Pennsylvania. Because of the fertile, level ground these were the first forests cleared by the European settlers. No undisturbed examples of this community exist. We will never know what the land was like when the settlers first ventured up tributaries like Chartiers Creek, but possibly this small neglected stretch will give us a preview of what might develop in the future. In addition to the buckeye, chinquapin oaks, hickories, papaw, hackberries and basswoods, I found red oak, sugar maple and the invasive norway maple on the slope with box elder, elms and sycamore dominating the bottom land.

Upstream from the ravine, just before the flood plain narrows and meets the steep hillside, I found a dense thicket of papaws. The five inch long leaves were still a deep green and the arching trunks ranged from one to five inches in diameter. According to Jennings, papaws, Asimina Triloba, were once common along the rich lower slopes and flood plains in the southern part of western Pennsylvania and considerable quantities of the edible fruits reached Pittsburgh markets via packets from the upper Monogahela Valley. Tall american basswood trees, many with multiple trunks, created a canopy over the papaws. Some of the trunks had a diameter of over two feet. An abundance of gray-brown nutlets hung from the basswoods, each dangling from a stalk connected for half of its length to a long, curled bract. One of the seeds fell and spun off over the papaws, the bract twirling like a propeller.

Across the small run that flows into Chartiers Creek I identified a swamp white oak, Quercus Bicolor. A large specimen with a thirty inch diameter trunk, its leaves had a wedge-shaped base with six pairs of round lobes. Beside it grew another swamp white oak, a foot in diameter with its trunk pressed tight against the trunk of a pignut hickory about the same size. American black walnut husks lay scattered across the flood plain. These soft round spheres the size and color of green tennis balls encased the sweet walnut so prized by cooks and squirrels. The husks had fallen from a gnarled old tree almost three feet in diameter. Walnut wood, with its rich dark color and the tight twisting grain, is very expensive and few trees are left to grow this thick. I approached the small pool on the flood plain where Tracey had spotted a great blue heron searching for frogs and I had watched an eastern phoebe snapping insects. Little more than a depression at the base of the slope, it is all that remains of an ancient bend in Chartiers.

In the soft soil beside the pool a neatly stacked circle of mud pellets formed a chimney around a crayfish tunnel. A fallen tree, with a diameter of about fourteen inches lay across one end of the depression. Long scaly ridges ran along the gray bark; thick branched thorns protruded from its side. I recognized it as a honey locust. Across the slope stood three more honey locusts of different sizes. I found none of the long twisting pods, but golden compound leaves covered the ground. According to Jennings, honey locusts, Gleditsia triacanthos, is a moderately large tree and occurs chiefly on moist, fertile bottom lands and slopes, particularly in limestone regions. Its position on the slope, level with the chinquapin oaks indicated a layer of limestone ten feet of so above the flood plain.

November 3, 1998, 8:45 am. The temperature fell just below 40 degrees and a slight breeze produced a typical November rustling. Most of the leaves had fallen; only the dry, brittle oaks remained. Some of the oak leaves fell. I could hear them hit the litter. The wind stopped but the dropping continued. The layer of dead leaves built up, even in the field, and I could not walk quietly. On the slopes in the ravine that leads to the flood plain few leaves lay on the ground in spite of the tall trees. Without the herbaceous layer, which was probably browsed off by deer, the leaf litter was very vulnerable to wind scouring. As I approach the ravine I stopped to admire a stand of at least 3 chinquapin oaks, a white oak and down slope, 2 red oaks, one nearly 2 feet in diameter. Sunlight shone through the leaves of the chinquapin oak, highlighting the rusty outline on the yellow leaves.

A Carolina Wren sang. The clear melodious notes echoed through the ravine. I speculated about the birds that breed along the flood plain. Of course, the common residents, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees would probably be well represented because of the decaying trees with many cavities. I remembered seeing a hole excavated by a Belted Kingfisher in the steep earthen bank across Chartiers Creek. I imagine Spotted Sandpipers nest on the sandbars. Wild turkey would surely breed here; also tiny blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Possibly Yellow-throated Warblers build tiny nests high in the sycamores. Yellow-throated Vireos and Cerulean Warblers would sing along the high slope. Singing Baltimore Orioles should sparkle in the sun shine through the sycamores. Louisiana Waterthrushes probably pass through as they move north in early April. Due to the drainage alterations in the fields, the stream through the ravine runs only intermittently and the waterthrushes do not stay to breed. What a shame we can no longer hear their cheerful Spring song. Maybe in the future. . .

Mr. Tague is the founder/publisher of the acclaimed “Nature Observer News.” He also is the featured commentator on the Allegheny Front on WYEP 91.3 FM. As an educator/naturalist, he presents programs for schools and nature centers throughout Allegheny County. He is an adjunct professor for the Rachel Carson Institute/Chatham College. In addition to many other awards, Mr. Tague was a finalist for the Three Rivers Environmental Award in 1988. He can be reached by email at