Monthly Archives: April 2018

Hopewell Borough Park – A beautiful spring morning with two wild boys

Hopewell Borough Park is located on South Greenwood Ave in Hopewell, NJ

Link to trail and description


Sweet Gum, Liquidambar stryraciflua, “gum ball”.  Sweet gum trees are facultative wetland species, meaning that they prefer to live in wet areas but do not require a wetland habitat.  The leaves of Sweet gum are star-shaped and the branches can develop corky ridges that look almost like small wings.  Whenever I see these fruit on the ground, I immediately look up to find the parent plant.  Even though these fruit look spiny, many small mammals and birds eat them.


The joy and excitement of a young child seeing a new bridge to cross.  I wish I could have some of this fearlessness when I trek into a new territory in life.


“Leaflets of three, let it be”!!! Just kidding!  When I first saw this plant I immediately jumped to conclusions and assumed Poison Ivy, Toxicodendrons radicans, because of the compound leaves of three with those lobed margins.  However, this is NOT Poison ivy, it is Box Elder Maple, Acer negundo!  How do I know?  Easy!  Poison ivy has an alternate leafing pattern, meaning that leaves alternate along the stem, while Maples have an opposite leafing pattern.  If you look at the photo in the left, the stem in the background clearly shows leaves coming off the stem opposite of each other.  As a warning, sometimes when plants are very young they can look opposite when they really are not because the spacing along the stem is so close that it looks opposite when it is actually alternate.  The first year or two of true leaves on a tree/shrub can be simple (only one leaf) instead of compound (multiple leaflets) which can also make identification tricky.  Your best bet for identification of young woody plants is to look at the buds.  Bark and leaves can (and often!) change with age, but those buds will be your best friend when it comes to identifying your plant!


Callery Pear (Bradford pear), Pyrus calleryana, an escaped ornamental turned invasive species.   It is often planted for its “lollipop” shape and white spring blooms.  The fruit are eaten by birds and spread throughout forests.  There are many wonderful native plants that should be considered as alternatives to planting Callery pear such as Serviceberry (Shadbush), Amelanchier arborea, or Black Cherry, Prunus serotina.


River Birch, Betula nigra, with its distinctive pealing bark.   This interesting tree is native to New Jersey, and as its name suggests, it loves to grow in wet areas, such as river banks.  The pealing bark on this tree is truly impressive and makes for a great ornamental!  When I first learned about this tree, my instructor told me Native Americans used to peal this bark off a tree and use it as paper.  Since then I have tried to find any evidence in writing of this happening, and I can’t find a single article referencing that.  They might have made it up as something fun to say in class, or perhaps the person who taught them had shared that information and it has been passed down from year to year.  I know that Birch trees were made into canoes, but paper?  I really don’t know!


My Littlest… the butt scooter…  leaving his mark on the playground like a slug leaving a slime trail 🙂

Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain – A cold and beautiful morning of hunting for spring ephemerals

Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldmate Mountain is located off of Rt. 29 in Hopewell, NJ

Link to maps and description



Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, are native to New Jersey and can be commonly found in rich, moist soils.  I love seeing this plant out in the “wild” because it is such a show-stopper that it almost seems that there is some wild gardener going out and planting these flowers just for the beauty of them.



Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata (formerly Dentaria laciniata), is another native New Jersey spring ephemeral.  This plant belongs to the Brassicaceae, “Mustard”, family.   I was surprised when I learned this was a Brassica species, because I generally think of yellow flowers when I think of this family.  I also am usually inclined to pull out a Brassica because there are many that are invasive, so I am delighted to know that this little gem belongs here!


Blood root, Sanguinara canadensis…. sigh….  This is my most favorite (I have many favorites) spring ephemeral.  I was little late this year so I missed the full glory of their blooms, but even partially closed, they are still so beautiful.  Perhaps one more “sigh”??

When I was first taught to identify this plant, my mentor pulled it up and showed me the red roots.  It looks pretty grisly and indeed bloody and so the latin genus, Sanguinara, took root in my mind and I have never forgotten the name.  I did not have the nerve to dig up the root and kill the plant to snap a photo, but if you search the internet for “Sanguinara canadensis roots” you can see what I am talking about!


Just another Blood root looking like a lamp post because I cannot get enough of these flowers!


Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, can have different leaf forms depending on the age of the plant.  When young, the leaves can have lobes and sinuses similar to Oak, Quercus, species and tend to be pubescent, hairy.  As the plant matures, the leaves generally become oval/ovate and glabrous, smooth.  Many plant species experience a physical and or chemical change in their leaves depending on age and how much sunlight their leaves are exposed to.  Even on a single tree, the leaf shape and internal structure of the leaf can vary depending if it is a canopy leaf getting a lot of sunlight or a understory leaf in the shade.


Spice bush, Lindera benzoin, is a New Jersey native and an aromatic plant.  Whenever I am walking through the woods, I am often using all of my senses to explore the scene around me.  Whenever I see a plant that I am not entirely sure what it is, I feel the leaf to see if its hairy or waxy, and then I bruise it to see if it releases any aromatics (obviously if I even suspect its poison ivy, Toxicodendrons radicans, I don’t touch it!).  When Spice bush is leafed out, it seems non-descript and does not scream “I AM SPICEBUSH!” so I constantly walk up to it and give it a rub and a sniff.  It is sort of like that person that you bump into on a regular basis and can’t remember why you know them, but it is very obvious to you that you SHOULD know them… turns out its the person you sat behind every day in homeroom for 4 years….  I don’t know why this plant always gives me trouble, but at least when its in flower I know exactly what it is.


Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, showing Rose Rosette disease.  This disease is caused by a virus, Emaravirus sp, spread by a eriophyid mite.  This virus can infect anything in the Rosa genus, so many gardeners are worried about it infecting their garden plants.   The removal of Multiflora rose from your property (and the surrounding area) is important to reduce the chance of Rose Rosette disease from spreading to your ornamental rose plants.


White Wash aka Owl droppings.  Seeing a white wash like this usually indicates that an owl was roosting somewhere overhead.  I scanned the trees above but did not see any owls.  I did not want to go off trail and try to find an owl pellet, but you can often find owl pellets near a white wash.  When an owl eats its prey, it generally eats the animal whole.  The parts that are not able to be digested, such as bones, fur and teeth, are regurgitated as a pellet, while the rest are digested and continue through the rest of the digestive tract.


Eastern Red Bud, Cercis canadensis, is another one of my favorite spring blooms.  The magenta flowers are so pretty and I can spot them from a far distance and know exactly what I am seeing because I don’t know of any other flowering tree with that bloom color.  Eastern Red Bud is in the Fabaceae family, which is the Pea family.  When the flowers are open they have the classic pea flower shape and they also grow pods for fruit!

Rosedale Park – Not quite in the Sourlands, but a beautiful park none the less!

Rosedale Park is located on Federal City Road in Pennington, NJ.  It is part of Mercer Meadows.

Link to trail maps and description



Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica!  I have been waiting a month to see those beautiful petals in bloom!  The corms (underground tubers) of this plant are edible, and while I have not personally tried them, I hear that they taste like chestnuts.


Ramps!!! Allium tricoccum, these are also called Wild Leeks.  I have been wanting to harvest them for years, but I have only found two small groups of them growing and I worry about depleting this lovely cohort.  I am keeping an eye out for larger patches so I can collect some to eat.  If anyone knows of any great foraging spots, please let me know!  These plants are so popular, there are festivals dedicated to them, however over-harvesting is leading to declines in this native plant.  It is always tempting to collect all that you see, but you may inadvertently extirpate a species from a park.  If you want to get into foraging, please get to know your forage sites and harvest responsibly!


May Apples, Podophyllum peltatum, another wonderful spring plant!  These plants have a two year cycle.  In the first year, they put up one stem with a large leaf.  The second year, they will have a “Y” branched stem, with a leaf on each arm of the “Y” and a flower at the connecting point.  I love watching the leaves of May Apples unwrap themselves.  It reminds me of unravelling myself from my blankets in the morning and stretching out to the morning’s sun.  The ripe fruit of May Apples is edible (in small quantities), HOWEVER, most of the plant is HIGHLY toxic.  I DO NOT recommend eating this plant….  I know many people have eaten it, but when there are so many other plants that are edible and won’t kill you, why eat it?


Yellow Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum, gorgeous as can be!


Wood Anemone, Anemone quinquefolia, about to open its petals.  Usually you will find small clusters of these flowers growing together.


Can you spot the Garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, amongst the sticks?  I am very proud of myself because usually when I see a snake I run in the opposite direction shrieking, but today I was brave and leaned in for a picture!

Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain: A (very) short hike with my assistant

Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain is located in Hopewell Township off of Fiddlers Creek.

NJ trail maps and description:


My assistant today… He was not overly enthusiastic about accompanying me on this brisk (34 deg F) morning hike, or with me stopping every few minutes to bend over to look at something on the ground.


A lovely log to sit and eat a picnic lunch on.  Lots and lots of shelled acorns and larger nuts, such as hickory nuts were laying on the ground all around this downed tree.  This is probably a spot where a squirrel sat to munch.


Spring beauties finally in bloom!  I did not see with their flowers fully open, but perhaps that had to do with the air temperature.  These are the first native flowers I have seen this season!



The forest is starting to green!  Unfortunately, the green haze seen here is almost entirely composed of the invasive plant species such as Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, and Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora.



…A little further down on rt. 29… a Committee of Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura

Nayfield Preserve – A rainy morning stroll

Nayfield Preserve is located on Rt. 518 in Hopewell Township.

Link to NJ Trails map and description


A mix of snow and rain on this early April morning.  There is something special for every time of year in the woods, but a cold and rainy morning is wonderful for the solitude and almost guarantee that you will not have to share your walk in the woods with other Homo sapiens sapiens…IMG_3791

It had been snowing before I got to Nayfield preserve, but by the time I was out, the snow had turned to rain and only small amounts of snow still laid on the ground.


In a few short months, this field will be tall with Goldenrod, Solidago spp., Mugwort, Artemisia spp., and many other field species and teaming with pollinators and birds.  Right now, the field is still sleeping but when you look closely, you can see signs of the the field starting to stir with life.


An egg case on Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora.  My best guess would be that this egg case belongs to a Praying mantis.  I don’t have much entomological experience, this is just a guess based upon looking at other insect egg casings.  If you know what it is, I’d love to know!


American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, exhibiting marcescent leaves.  Marcescents is when a plant retains tissues that normally fall off at the end of their season, such as leaves or flower parts.  Scientists are not entirely sure why some species do this, but it is thought that perhaps it helps protect buds from winter desiccation or deter herbivory.  Often it is seen on younger specimens, but sometimes when a plant reaches maturity it will no longer hold on to leaves.


Spaghnum moss, Spagnum spp.  Also known as peat moss, is in the phylum, Bryophyta.  I loved teaching moss life cycles when I was in graduate school.  This spaghnum is in the Gametophyte stage of its life cycle.  You will find Sphagnum in wet areas all around the Sourlands (and the northern hemisphere).  They tend to acidify the soil that they live in and can retain large amounts of water.  Its always fun to go out for a hike a day or two after a heavy ran and when you walk on the spaghnum it can feel like you are on a water bed.


Trout Lily leaves poking through the leaf litter.  Sometimes I wonder why plants were given their common name, but there is no doubt in my mind as to why this was named trout lily!  I can’t wait for their yellow blooms!


More Spring beauties, Claytonia virginica, coming through!  I am waiting on baited breath for those flowers!  It will be any day now!



Red Oak, Quercus rubra, acorn.  The large size, color and absents of a cap are the key identify characteristics for this acorn.  Often when identifying tree species, people want to identify them by their bark or leaves, but unfortunately due to phenotypic plasticity, bark and leaves are not always consistent.  Fortunately, reproductive structures, such as buds and fruit are not nearly as affected by this phenotypic variations.

The phenotype (physical characteristics) can vary greatly on the environmental conditions while the genotype (genetic make-up) does not.  The reproductive structures carry the genetic material of plant onto the next generation, so that is why looking at those structures are lot more dependable when trying to identify a particular specimen.


Crunch Crunch Snap!  That all too familiar sound you hear when you are in the woods alone and you suddenly realize you are not actually alone…  Can you Spot the fox?


The American Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes, is common in the Sourlands region.  They feed on small mammals, birds, worms and berries.  I never get over the excitement of seeing a fox with their beautiful orange coats and fluffy tails.  This particular fox did not care one iota that I was there, but I have been thinking of the fox all day!


Of course, where there are foxes, there is fox scat!



St. Michaels Farm Preserve – Tracks and Scats

St. Michaels Farm Preserve is located in Hopewell township, with entrances on Rt. 569 and Aunt Molly Road.

Link to NJ trail map and description


Snow melt and spring rains mean muddy trails, which is great for spotting animal tracks!  White tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, leave distinct tracks along the trail.


Black Walnut, Juglans nigra, nestled between multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora,  and Lesser celadine, Ranunculus ficaria.


Lesser celadine, Ranunculus ficaria, in bloom.  This pretty little invasive was brought to America as an ornamental.  Its ability to thrive in varying light and moisture levels made it apt to escape and soon it began invading

It is a fast grower and is easily able to out-compete native spring ephemerals.  It is often found along river banks and form thick covers, often emerging before other ephemerals.


Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, a beautiful and odoriferous native.  The foliage of this plant contains crystals of calcium oxalate, which is toxic to many vertebrate species.  However, some animals, such as snapping turtles, will eat the young plants early in the spring.


Coyote (Canis latrans) Scat…  It looks like the coyote ate a bird and probably a rodent.  The scat was fresh and I could actually hear the coyote(s) not too far from where I found it.