Bicycle Botany: The Strange Vine


When I first started riding my bike here I quickly learned the best routes for cycling in rural Chester County because 1), there were few cars on the roads and 2), the roads were full of cyclist. Easy enough. 

My favorite route, and apparently the favorite route for many Chester County cyclist, includes Brandywine Drive, which along the west branch of the Brandywine Creek. Brandywine Drive dead ends into Telegraph Road. If you take a left on Telegraph Road, it turns into Embreeville Road (also known by a numeric moniker Route 162), which slides past the old Embreeville Mill. As you go along on this stretch of road on your left will be the Cheslan Preserve, part of the Natural Lands Trust. This is same group that manages the Stroud Preserve, which I refer to as "my back yard."

In the winter when no leaves are on the trees one stretch of Brandywine Drive that tightly hugs the West Branch of the Brandywine Creek provides a very nice view across a low wooded riparian area. One plant here has always stood out like a giant neon beacon because it is the only broadleaved plant with evergreen leaves. It lies about 100 feet off the side of the road. I can tell that it is some kind of vine and every time that I see it I say to myself "one of these days, I'm going to stop, walk across that flood plain and see what the heck that thing is. 

Well, Saturday was that day. I finally stopped and fought my way through a large patch of multiflora rose (not an easy thing to do when you are clad in spandex) to get a better look at the mystery plant. I looked and quickly determined I had not an inkling of a clue as to what it was. I broke off a small branch, which included some leaves and a few fruiting bodies and brought it home for closer inspection. 

At home I looked at the fruit. It was divided into four parts which reminded me of another plant. I took me a minute but I finally remembered that the plant that it reminded me of was called winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus). Now, you may remember a blog post last spring about winged euonymus. It was a plant that I had a great deal of trouble identifying with a traditional identification key. I resorted to typing in the key features of the plant into google and seeing what I came up with. I figured that if I suspect this is a Euonymus my best chance of identifying was with google and not my botanical text. 

Ergo I entered "Euonymus evergreen vine" into the little box on my computer screen. In 0.19 seconds I had over 70,000 webpages with Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei). There you have it. Mystery solved. I am very grateful that we live in such interesting times. I am especially grateful for the home computer and the internet. It is indeed a good time to be an amateur botanist! 

I tried to take some photographs of the wintercreeper from that ride, but it was late in the day and the light was bad so they didn't some out that well. To rectify this, I decided to jump in the car and bring William along with me to get a better picture of it, and look for other early spring wildflowers and creepy crawly things. I'm glad we did. We had a great time. See photos of our visit to the Cheslan Preserve here

Ride lots, stop often!