Environment & Nature

Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci and Councilman Ed Smyth joined Andrew Steinmueller, President of ARS Landscape & Design, the first business to “adopt” and beautify two pieces of public property under the Adopt-a-Corner community beautification program, for a special unveiling of the installations at the southwest entrance to Heckscher Park in Huntington on June 24.

ARS Landscape & Design planted their first Adopt-a-Corner installation at the Prime Avenue entrance to the park in September of 2019 and added a second installation at the Main Street and Prime Avenue corner entrance to the park, maintaining both installations throughout the year. 

A box of complimentary wildflower seed packets was installed by the landscape company at the second installation, from which visitors to the park can take a complimentary seed packet. A second box of seed packets will be installed next to the first installation on the western Prime Avenue entrance to the park within the week.

Businesses, organizations and residents can adopt, beautify and maintain a select piece of public property approved by the Town of Huntington for one year, with the option to renew for a second year. 

Supervisor Lupinacci sponsored the Town Board resolution creating the Adopt-a-Corner program in October 2018 after Andre Sorrentino, the Town’s Director of General Services, approached him with the idea to involve the greater Huntington community in beautification projects across the town.

“Adopt-a-Corner is quality of life initiative, that offers a creative outlet for residents, business owners and organizations to display their pride in the Huntington community, while helping beautify our town at no cost to our taxpayers,” explained Supervisor Lupinacci. “Thank you to ARS Landscape & Design for these inaugural Adopt-a-Corner installations and for the seed packets they are giving away.”

“I am the prime beneficiary of this Adopt-a-Corner installation because my office is located across the street,” stated Councilman Smyth. “I see this beautiful corner every day. I encourage everyone to make the town look its best by adopting a corner. The resident or business which adopts a corner may put place a small plaque with their name or dedicate the corner in honor of someone.” 

“Over these past few months, we have been faced with a pandemic that forced us all inside and gave us all a feeling of uncertainty. Audrey Hepburn once said ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,’ I hope that by planting these gardens, I can spread a little joy and hope for what tomorrow may bring,” added Steinmueller.

Pictured in photo, from left, Councilman Smyth; Andre Sorrentino; Supervisor Lupinacci; Andrew Steinmueller (holding Addison Steinmueller); Bonnie Steinmueller (holding Ashton Steinmueller); Liz Steinmueller; and Joseph Digicomo. To apply to adopt a corner, visit www.huntingtonny.gov.

Photos courtesy of the Town of Huntington

Kevin Reed. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

At the beginning of this month, the North Atlantic started its annual hurricane season that will extend through the end of November.

Each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers a forecast in May for the coming season. This year, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center anticipates a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season. The Center anticipates 13 to 19 storms, although that number doesn’t indicate how many storms will make landfall.

These predictions have become the crystal ball through which forecasters and city planners prepare for a season that involves tracking disturbances that typically begin off the West coast of Africa and pick up energy and size as they travel west across the Atlantic towards Central America. While some storms travel back out to sea, others threaten landfall by moving up the Gulf Coast or along Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.

Kevin Reed, an Associate Professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and Alyssa Stansfield, a graduate student in his lab, recently predicted the likely amount of rainfall from tropical cyclones.

Alyssa Stansfield at the 33rd Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology in 2018. Photo by Arianna Varuolo-Clarke

 

Using climate change projection simulations, Reed and Stansfield came up with a good-news, bad-news scenario for the years 2070 through 2100. The good news in research they published in Geophysical Research Letters is they anticipate fewer hurricanes.

The bad news? The storms will likely have higher amounts of rain, with increased rain per hour.

“If you focus on storms that make landfall over the Eastern United States, they are more impactful from a rainfall standpoint,” Reed said. “The amount of rainfall per hour and the rainfall impact per year is expected to increase significantly in the future.”

In total, the amount of rainfall will be less because of the lower number of storms, although the intensity and overall precipitation will be sufficient to cause damaging rains and flooding.

Warmer oceans and the air above them will drive the increased rainfall, as these storms pass over higher sea surface temperatures where they can gain energy. Warmer, moist air gives the hurricanes more moisture to work with and therefore more potential rainfall.

“As the air gets warmer, it can hold more water in it,” Stansfield said. “There’s more potential rain in the air for the hurricanes before they make landfall.”

Stansfield said the predictions are consistent with what climatologists would expect, reflecting how the models line up with the theory behind them. She explored how climate change affects the size of storms in this paper, but she wants to do more research looking at hurricane size in the future.

“If hurricanes are larger, they will drop rainfall over a larger area,” which could increase the range of area over which policy makers might need to prepare for potential damage from flooding and high winds, Stansfield said.

While her models suggest that storms will be larger, she cautioned that the field hasn’t reached a consensus about the size of future storms. As for areas where there is greater consensus, such as the increased rainfall their models predict for storms at the end of the century, Stansfield suggested that the confidence in the community about their forecasts, which use different climate models, is becoming “more apparent as more modeling groups reach the same conclusion.”

Alyssa Stansfield at Sequoia National Park in 2018. Photo by Jess Stansfield

In explaining the expectations for higher rainfall in future storms, Reed said that even storms that had the same intensity as current hurricanes would have an increase in precipitation because of the availability of more moisture at the surface.

While storms in recent years, such as Hurricanes Harvey, Florence and Dorian dumped considerable rain in their path because they moved more slowly, effectively dumping rain over a longer period of time in any one area, it’s “unclear” whether future storms would move more slowly or stall over land.

Several factors might contribute to a decrease in the number of storms. For starters, an increase in wind sheer could disrupt the formation of some storms. Vertical wind sheer is caused when wind speed and direction changes with increasing altitude. Pre-hurricane conditions may also change due to internal variability and the randomness of the atmosphere, according to Reed.

Reed said the team chose to use climate models to make predictions for the end of the century because it is common in climate science for comparison to the recent historical record. They also used a 30 year period to limit some of the uncertainty due to internal variability of weather systems.

Stansfield, who is in her third year of graduate school and anticipates spending another two years at Stony Brook University before defending her graduate thesis, said she became interested in studying hurricanes in part because of the effects of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Alyssa Stansfield at Yosemite in 2019. Photo by Kathy Stansfield

When she was younger, she and her father Greg used to go to the beach when a hurricane passed hundreds of miles off the coast, where she would see the impact of the storm in larger waves. At some point, she would like to fly in a hurricane hunter plane, traveling directly into a storm to track its speed and direction.

Stansfield said one of the more common misconceptions about hurricanes is that the category somehow determines their destructive power. Indeed, Superstorm Sandy was a Category 1 hurricane when it hit New York and yet it caused $65 billion in damage, making it the 4th costliest hurricane in the United States, according to the NOAA.

After Stansfield earns her PhD, she said she wants to continue studying hurricanes. One question that she’d like to address at some point is why there are between 80 to 90 hurricanes around the world each year. This has been the case for about 50 years, since satellite records began.

“That’s consistent every year,” she said. “We don’t know why that’s the number. There’s no theory behind it.” She suggested that was a “central question” that is unanswered in her field. 

Understanding what controls the number of hurricanes will inform predictions about how that number will change in response to climate change.

FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER: Jay Gao

Jay Gao

Hometown: Stony Brook

Photographer: When empty-nested, I bought myself a Nikon D750 camera, my first DSLR, at the end of 2015 as a New Year’s gift. Before that, I had experience in using compact point and shoot cameras.

Favorite camera: Nikon D750, an entry-level full-frame DSLR. I love its strength in low-light performance. 

Favorite lenses: For wildlife, I mostly use Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary, and for travel I like to use Nikon 24-120mm f/4. When shooting flowers, I prefer to use Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G.

Favorite locations: I love to visit the Stony Brook Mill Pond and Stony Brook Harbor with my camera. It is a beautiful place all year round and there are so many kinds of birds. As a matter of fact, this is mostly where I have been practicing my bird shots. My other favorite spots include my backyard, West Meadow Beach, Nissequogue River State Park and Sunken Meadow State Park.

Have you entered any photo contests? I won first place in the 2018 Better Newspaper Contest of New York Press Association; was selected to exhibit in the Oversea Chinese History Museum in Beijing by the committee of the 4th World Overseas Chinese Photography Exhibition (2019); and won in the “China’s City View” theme of Impression of China photography contest in 2020, although the display was canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Favorite aspect about taking photos: I enjoy going out and shooting with my camera. In addition to appreciating and sharing of the beauty of mother nature, you can benefit from the fresh air and physical exercise.

Best advice to get that perfect shot: 

Go out often and enjoy. When shooting birds, pay attention to the background and try to get close to their eye levels. I mostly use these camera settings: manual mode (1/1200 s, f8 and auto ISO), single point continuous focus and continuous shooting. I love to use the back button focus.

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James in January. Photo by David Luces

While plans are not set in stone, Gyrodyne in St. James now has some guidance regarding its proposed sewage treatment plant after a recent meeting of the Suffolk County Sewer Agency.

During a June 22 Zoom meeting, the agency members unanimously granted Gyrodyne what is known as conceptual certification for the plant, explaining that certification gives the applicant guidance regarding the type of wastewater disposal methods but is not an official approval.

Currently, the Town of Smithtown is conducting an environmental review of Gyrodyne’s proposal to subdivide the 75-acre-property to build a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

If approved, the Gyrodyne Sewer Treatment Plant, which can handle 100,000 gallons per day of wastewater, could possibly be connected to new sewer lines in St. James.

Before the June 22 meeting, the county agency received letters opposing the approval of the treatment plant from state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Setauket Harbor Task Force co-founder and trustee George Hoffman, environmentalist Carl Safina, chair of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition/United Communities Against Gyrodyne, Cindy Smith, and others asking that any kind of approval not be granted.

Englebright wrote in his June 19 letter that even conceptualized certification would violate the intent and spirit of the State Environmental Quality Review Act. He also listed a sewage treatment plant would have a significant impact on Stony Brook Harbor, which is only a mile and a half from the proposed STP. The concern also was expressed by other writers.

Englebright said in his letter that the applicant only included the onsite wastewater needs when it came to the certification.

“Yet the applicant’s own SEQRA filing and numerous news reports indicate plans to tie in the St. James Business District, which is currently installing sewer pipes on Lake Avenue which would nearly double the amount of wastewater discharged to groundwater to 170,000 [gallons per day],” Englebright wrote.

During the Zoom meeting, Hoffman said if someone was looking for the worst spot to put a STP, the Gyrodyne property would be it. Smith said that the entire area should be studied, including watersheds all along Route 25A.

Safina was also on hand for the Zoom meeting.

“The Gyrodyne plan appears to be an attempt to simply pull a fast one on all the residents in and around the Stony Brook Harbor watershed,” he said.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) added his comments during the Zoom meeting. While he said, “I wish this property was preserved forever,” he added that the owner could do whatever it wanted with it.

“I’d rather have open space but I’m a realist,” he said.

Mark Wagner from Cameron Engineering attended the meeting to represent Gyrodyne. He said the treatment plant would actually decrease the nitrogen leaving the site and going into the watershed.

Hauppauge-based attorney Tim Shea addressed concerns voiced about Gyrodyne selling off land parcels in the future. He said while the company anticipated selling off such parcels, buyers would have to enter a property owners association. Members of the association would be required to maintain the STP.

Before Gyrodyne can move forward with constructing the STP, the Town of Smithtown must complete the SEQRA review and the county sewage agency must grant final approval.

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

Republican and Democratic congressmen from Long Island are promoting a bill that would cancel the taxable status placed on grants for prototype denitrifying septic systems in Suffolk County and offer relief to those who received those grants. 

Both U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) are promoting legislation that would essentially reverse the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s ruling that grants for the experimental septic systems were taxable, despite Suffolk County and other local officials saying there was precedent for such grants on home-based environmental devices being tax free.

“Cesspools and septic systems have been identified as the largest single cause of degraded water quality on Long Island,” Suozzi said in a statement. “This bill may not sound exciting, but it has a real impact on real people’s lives and pocketbooks.”

The IRS ruling came down in January of this year after Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) asked the IRS for such a decision. The comptroller sent tax bills to homeowners who had taken up such grants in 2019, saying the county should have constructed the program to make sure that the feds would tax the contractors, not those who received the grants. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement that “the notion that Suffolk County homeowners would be taxed for participating in a water quality program that will make their water cleaner simply defies all logic.”

Zeldin said they have to protect taxpayers.

“This program’s goals are laudable, but we must ensure people can actually use the program to achieve those goals. While all levels of government work to find a solution, due to the urgency of this situation, we are running the gamut on every option, including this legislation to provide immediate relief,” he said in a release.

The bill would also retroactively allow people who received the grants to amend their 2019 tax returns for grants received in the same year.

The legislation is expected to be included within a larger congressional infrastructure package that will be voted on within the next few weeks.

Chris Friedl, of Backwoods Landscaping and a Comsewogue High School graduate, plants sunflowers for Comsewogue’s graduating seniors. Photo by Andrew Harris

Comsewogue school district is trying to leave its seniors with a little bit more than a diploma for all those who saw their last high school year cut short.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione and Superintendent Jennifer Quinn look at the sprouts of sunflowers in Jackie’s Garden. Photo by Andrew Harris

The district has planted hundreds of sunflowers in the high school courtyard, known as Jackie’s Garden after the late wife of former Superintendent Dr. Joe Rella, who in February also passed away. 

The seeds number over 320, and should bloom into massive golden yellow flowers by the fall. 

The plantings came together thanks to Chris Friedl, 26, from Backwoods Landscaping. A 2012 Comsewogue graduate, he said he was very empathetic to the 2020 graduating class who were missing out on so much as a normal senior year. 

“It sucks, there’s no other way to put it,” Friedl said. “Going through all they’re going through with all this adversity, it’s incredible.”

Andrew Harris, a special education teacher in the district, said he floated the idea to district officials earlier this year. Friedl jumped at the chance to help. He was also the person who donated material for Jackie’s Garden several years ago. He has come back now and again to provide small upkeep to the flower boxes. 

After clearing and cleaning the empty planting boxes, the district hosted a ceremony May 16 where students’ names were read as the landscaper planted the seeds.

Friedl asked if he could plant a seed for Joe and Jackie Rella. Though the garden was meant for students, Harris told him he could.

“He always remembered my name out of thousands of students,” Friedl said of Rella. “Nobody had a bad word to say about him or Jackie, which just says miles about the kind of people they were.”

A day and a half after they were planted, Harris said he came back to the garden. There, growing in the earth, he thought he saw weeds. Normally sunflowers take five to 10 days before one sees them start to sprout, but the two seeds planted for the Rellas were indeed springing from the earth.

“The hair on the back of my neck started to stand up,” Harris said. “I remembered how when I told Dr. Rella about this particular butterfly that kept coming back to our garden, even though we never had any butterflies before. He told me in his gruff Brooklyn-accented voice, ‘Andy, I believe with every fiber in my body that that is a sign from Jackie.’ I looked at the new sunflower sprout and had no doubt about what it meant.”

Official info on Comsewogue graduations is still to be determined, though students were delivered their caps and gowns this week.

Friedl offered some advice to seniors.

“Stay strong, the entire community is behind you, and keep your path,” he said. “The community really wants you to succeed.”

Many Illnesses Carried by Ticks Share Symptoms with COVID-19

A deer tick is a common type of tick on Long Island. Stock photo

With summer close by and as New York State continues to relax shutdown restrictions, residents will naturally want to get some fresh air. But while open spaces like parks and nature preserves provide a temporary reprieve from the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also home to ticks. These arachnids can carry Lyme disease and other serious tick-borne illnesses. Experts say this is the time when ticks are most active and when their numbers increase. 

“We have already passed a month of tick activity here on Long Island,” said Jorge Benach, distinguished Toll professor of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology and Pathology at the Renaissance School of Medicine, Stony Brook University. “With minimal contact because people were staying indoors due to the pandemic, we have seen less cases.” 

Benach said that could change in the coming summer months, especially with an already large tick count this year. Currently, we are entering the second phase of tick season, which is when the arachnids are in the nymph stage and are harder to spot.

“For some reason Long Island has a heavy population of ticks,” Benach said. “It has the perfect environment for them and they really thrive.”

Three species of ticks call Long Island home. The deer tick can carry Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and other illnesses, while American dog tick can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The lone star tick can transmit tularemia and ehrlichiosis. 

“The lone star tick, we believe, is the most aggressive of the three species, and we didn’t know it existed until 1980,” the distinguished professor said. “And then it somehow found its way to Long Island.”

A 2019 study, headed by Benach and Rafal Tokarz, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, with co-authors from SBU and Columbia, found prevalence of multiple agents capable of causing human disease that are present in three species of ticks in Long Island.

Another concern this season is that tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and anaplasmosis have symptoms that overlap with those of COVID-19, including fever, muscle aches and respiratory failure, but without persistent coughing. 

“It is true that they have overlap in the initial symptoms, but once you get past that first stage it should be easier to diagnose if that person has a tick-borne illness,” Benach said. 

Tick-borne diseases are usually treated with antibiotics. The effects range from mild symptoms that can be treated at home to severe infections that if left untreated can lead to death in rare cases. 

The distinguished professor stressed the need for people to be aware of ticks when they are in certain areas outdoors. 

Repellents and wearing long-sleeve pants and shirts can be good deterrents for ticks. Other tips include walking along the center of trails, washing and drying clothing when you come home and keeping pets from areas that could be tick infested. 

Benach said there is a misconception that humans get ticks from dogs. Instead, it is more likely one gets a tick from being in the same space as your dog.

“You should be checking yourself, and if you spot a tick get it off as soon as possible,” he said. “If you develop any symptoms or illness contact your doctor.”

Luna Moths are among the largest moth species in North America.

By John L. Turner

With a 65th birthday looming on the horizon for later this summer, I recently found myself, not surprisingly, thinking about “Bucket Lists” — lists comprising places to visit or things to do before “kicking the bucket.” It’s a concept made popular from the movie “The Bucket List,” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as two terminally ill older men living out their last desires, and the impending birth date — signaling a lifetime spanning two-thirds of a century — motivated me to develop “bucket list” priorities for the time I have left.

So I began to think about different types of bucket lists. Travel destinations with my family; bird trips; visits to major league baseball stadiums (been to about half of them) and, of course, the ultimate global nature bucket list — snorkeling with Whale Sharks in the coastal waters off Belize, witnessing the Wildebeest migration in the African Serengeti, sitting quietly near any one of our closest relatives — Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Bonobos, or Orangutans in the tropical forests of African and Asian countries — or walking in reverence amidst tens of millions of Monarch Butterflies at their winter roost in the highland fir forests of Mexico.

But there will be no exotic far-flung places for this article; this bucket list is more modest in scope, relating to natural phenomena that I long to see on Long Island. For a few of these, I’ve witnessed them many years ago but for others I await the first experience.

Here goes:

Seeing a Smooth Green Snake 

 Of the nearly dozen native snake species found on Long Island, undoubtedly the most beautiful is the Smooth Green Snake. It is a tropical lime green color on top and lemon yellow on its belly with a golden-colored eye. They are a bit wider than a pencil with adults reaching about two feet in length. You’d think such a brightly colored snake would stand out but laying motionless in grass they can disappear. I have never seen one on Long Island or anywhere else and would love to!

While on the subject of snakes I’d also love to see a Hognose Snake again and especially one performing its famous ‘death feign’ act. I’ve seen this behavior twice in my life, once on Long Island, but both experiences were decades ago. If disturbed the snake often but not always feigns its death by writhing spasmodically and rolling onto its back and abruptly “dies”. Adding to the convincing nature of the act the Hognose can even spill blood from its mouth by rupturing capillaries that line it. Of course, it’s all a ruse to stop a potential predator from attacking.

Finding an Ovenbird nest 

 In larger woodlands the Ovenbird sings out with its ringing teacher! teacher! song filling the spaces between and under the trees. With a little bit of luck you might find this songbird perched on a branch in the sub-canopy as it sings, its little warbler body shaking as song spills forth loudly. Despite years of searching on many a forest floor I’ve never found their “Dutch oven”-shaped nest which gives the bird its name. 

Twice in the Pine Barrens, once in Shoreham, the other in Riverhead, I’ve made a concerted effort to look for their nests, after observing nearby adults with food in their mouths. On my knees I very slowly and carefully inspected the forest floor starting where I thought, based on the bird’s behavior, the nest might be. Methodically, I spiraled outward in my search but, alas, despite half an hour of on-my-knees-searching came up empty.

Spotting a Giant Silk Moth 

Buck Moth

If you want to familiarize yourself with a remarkable, stunning, spectacular (fill in your own adjective here once you’ve seen what they look like) group of insects native to Long Island, check out photos of the following moth species: Luna, Cecropia, Polyphemus, Promethea, and Buck Moths. These are among the largest flying insects we have with wingspans as large as six inches. 

At one time they were common but no more. The host trees they depend upon as caterpillars are still relatively common to abundant on Long Island so its not a loss of food that explains their decline; widespread spraying of poisonous pesticides is the suspected cause for their significant drop.

The last of three live Luna Moths I’ve seen on Long Island was a decade ago. I’ve never seen a live Promethea or Cecropia and the last Polyphemus was six years ago — a ragged individual so beat up from bird strikes it was weakly fluttering along the asphalt in a shopping center parking lot. I scooped it out of harm’s way but it died later that day. 

Fortunately, the beautiful black, orange, and white Buck Moth, one of the iconic species of the Pine Barrens, is still common. Spared from spraying in its vast Pine Barrens forests, the Buck Moth can be observed during the day flying around the dwarf pines of Westhampton in the autumn as male moths seek out females to create the next generation.

Seeing a River Otter 

One of the bits of good news relating to Long Island wildlife is the sustained natural reintroduction of river otters, presumably from wandering individuals emigrating from Westchester and western Connecticut and island hopping to the North Fork via the island archipelago of Plum, Little Gull, Great Gull, and Fisher’s Islands. However the prospecting animals did it, they’re here now. And while I’ve seen wild otters in locations off Long Island and seen otter signs on Long Island, in the form of otter runs and scat (fishy poop) as close by as Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket, I’ve not seen one of these charismatic creatures here.

Observing a Mola mola  

Mola mola

This strange looking enormous fish (in fact it really doesn’t look like a fish) is often seen by fisherman and whale watchers afloat in the Atlantic Ocean in the summer. Also known as the ocean sunfish, they are world’s largest bony fish weighing in at more than one thousand pounds. They can dive deeply and after returning from cold ocean depth, they warm up by turning on their side to bask in the sun, showing off a flattened profile, a view that many (except me!) have enjoyed.

Do you have a nature-themed bucket list?

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

By John L. Turner

Insight as to the value placed on a wild plant by past generations can be gained by how many common names it’s been given. Typically, a plant with the minimum of just one name has it as a means by which to recognize it and to distinguish the plant from other species. A plant with a number of names, though, suggests a species of greater significance, value, and utility, and such is the case with Shadbush, a common understory shrub or small tree which grows in Long Island’s deciduous forests.

The Shadbush blooms in late April to early May (top photo) and produces edible fruit in late spring to early summer (above). Stock photos

This attractive tree goes by a few names: Shadbush, Shadblow, Serviceberry, and Juneberry. The reference to shad stems from more ancient knowledge of recognizing patterns of nature. Many years ago shad, a species of river herring, was significantly more abundant than today and the spring shad runs up major rivers to reach their spawning grounds was an important event for many people, providing an ample supply of cheap protein. 

Perhaps it was the shad fisherman, or maybe others, but they noticed this tree blossomed at the time the shad were on the move. The five-petaled white blossoms meant migrating shad, hence the connection made permanent by the common name of Shadbush.

The white blossoms of the Shadbush in late April through early May also provided another signal — that winter was done, the ground has thawed, and the dead could receive burial service with caskets sometimes adorned with sprigs of the Serviceberry blossoms.

If the flowers are pollinated, berries form in late spring to early summer, giving rise to the last of its common names — Juneberry. The berrylike fruit is delicious and relished by numerous wildlife, including many birds. Us humans like them too and often turn the fruit into pies, jellies and jams. Technically, the fruit is known as a pome, as are apples, and this isn’t surprising since both apples and Shadbush are members of the Rose family.

The genus name Amelanchier is a french word first used to describe the species.

Four species of Shadbush occur on Long Island, with three of the species found in rich but well drained soils  and one on the eastern end located on sandier, more droughty soils. They range from being a modest multi-stemmed shrub just a few feet tall to a tree 20 to 30 feet high. In forest settings, given its smaller stature, Shadbush grows under taller oaks, black birch, and hickories and, where common, produces scattered “blossom clouds” of white beneath these taller trees. It has attractive smooth grey bark and its leaves are small and oval with toothed margins. Come autumn the foliage turn orange/red, adding a nice splash of color to the forest.

Whatever you wish to call it Shadbush has so much going for it — from its rich folklore, to pretty flowers, attractive bark, and tasty fruit — that I hope you make its acquaintance and perhaps try a berry or two.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.