Rocky Brook Trail – A secret trail full of beautiful flowers and bird songs

Rocky Brook Trail is located on Rt. 518 in East Amwell, NJ

Link to map and trail description

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I could not find this trail head.  I had double checked on the map before leaving the house and I thought I knew where it was…  But when I drove by the spot I couldn’t find it.  I drove almost a mile further east on Rt 518 before turning around and heading back west driving slowly trying to find the trail head.  Then I got pulled over… Apparently I had a break light out, and all this slowing down was alerting the officer of the death of my break light.  The officer was absolutely lovely and when I told her I could not find this trail head, she pointed to this spot right behind my pulled-over vehicle and said “This must be what you are looking for”.  Never in a million years would I have seen this spot while driving back and forth along Rt. 518, so I am very happy that I got pulled over so that I could 1). Hike this gorgeous trail and 2). Fix my break light 🙂

***If you are trying to find this trail, if you are at the Rt 31 and Rt 518, turn east on Rt 518 and go a little over 1/10 of a mile and on the left side of the road before the little bridge there will be a turn off and that is where the trail head is***

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Christmas Tree Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) fiddle head.  I am not very good at fern identification, but this one pretty easy to distinguish from other species.  It gets its common name because it stays green or mostly green throughout the winter.

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I hope that I will never get to the point where I don’t get excited about crossing a stream via stepping stones!  I was filled with glee when I saw these and I just love standing in the middle of the stream looking end to end.

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Spreading bellywort/Straw Lilly (Uvularia sessilifolia) not quite ready to flower.  I have to admit, while this  plant  is dainty and has a gorgeous cream/yellow bell flower, I am more in love with its sibling, Perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata).  The Perfoliate bellwort has leaves that look like the stem has perforated (hence the name) through the base of the leaf.

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American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) leaves fresh from their buds.

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Beach nuts dried and empty.  American Beech will start producing fruit once it is about 40 years old and generally produces fruit on 2 to 8 year intervals.

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Beach Drops (Epifagus virginiana) is a parasitic plant that feeds off of American Beech trees.  These plants do not contain chlorophyll because they obtain all of their nutrients from their host.

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Tall Rattlesnake root/Tall White Lettuce (Prenanthes altissima), I think!  At one point I knew this plant for sure, but when my mental image and name tag popped into my head, it said “Snake root”, which apparently is an Aster.  I love having an inner catalogue of plants, and sometimes I feel like my brain flips through all the plants like a rolladeck.  Often though, I stand there staring at a plant, mentally sifting through my database and know that I know the plant, but forgetting both common and latin names.  Sometimes when I go to look something up, I stare at my computer screen blankly, grasping for even the first letter of the name of thing I want to look up.  Maybe its lack of sleep from two children, but it seems to happen more often now than before.  Either way, I am fairly confident this is Tall Rattlesnake Root.

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Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis), the other fern that I can identify.  Truly, Christmas Tree Fern and Sensitive fern are the only two that I am confident about.

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This picture doesn’t really do the view justice, but the ground was just a carpet of spring beauties.

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I believe this is False Solomon Seal, Smilacina racemosa.  True Solomon Seal, genus Polygonatum,  have flowers in the leaf axils, while False Solomon Seal has terminal flowers.  I am sure there are other ways to distinguish between the genera, but I am not confident telling them apart.  Here is another blog that has both plants in different life stages.

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Spring Beauty Rust, Puccinia mariae-wilsoniae, is a rust fungus that infects Spring beauties.

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Rue Anenome, Thalictrum thalictroides (Anemonella thalictroides).  I love this dainty little plant.  It has these little leaves that shimmy at the slightest breathe but support these beautiful white flowers.

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The Common Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale.  I know that this is considered to be a weed, but I think this is such a pretty flower and making a wish then blowing its seeds were a favorite childhood past time.  Also, I just found this fun video about using a dandelion stem as a whistle!

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Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens) is a New Jersey native.  I always get a kick out of this flower because its a yellow violet… not a violet violet…  OK… I know I’m a dork, but I can’t help it!

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Just a couple of Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginiana) being perfect and beautiful.

These are both Galium spp.  They have a couple different common names such as Cleavers, Goosegrasss, Woodruff, Bedstraw and my personal favorite, Stickywilly.  I always prefer to use latin names, because a “common name” can be different by region or two different plants can have the same common name.  However, the Genus and species combination is unique to each individual species.

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Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is another New Jersey native.  It has berries that are eaten by birds and you can often find it climbing up trees and your house.  We have some growing along our fence and it often crosses our deck and tries to climb up our siding.  This plant always evokes the song, “Virginia Creeper” by Old Crow Medicine Show.  Its a great song to be playing in your head as your walk through the woods, although caution should be taken because you might find yourself dancing a little jig alone in the woods!

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It is a little hard to see what is going here, but it is a young tree with a bunch of debris stuck on it about 2ft off the ground.  When you see trees or bushes around a stream/river with large clumps of leaves and debris stuck on them, it is an indicator of how high the water level was during a flooding event.   This young tree was about 6ft from the current stream flow, so this indicates that the stream was at least 6ft wider and 2ft deeper than what it was when I took this picture.  There have been times when I’ve seen this natural flood height indicators in branches over my head!  It is an amazing reminder of the power of water and how fast it can change!

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Jewel Weed/Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens capensis) is a friend of those allergic to Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).  If you accidentally touch the itchy foe, you can crush up some Jewel Weed stem and rub liquid on the area, and supposedly it will help prevent a rash from forming and or help relieve the itchiness of rash.  I am not allergic to poison ivy, so I cannot comment on how well it works, however I have used crushed jewel weed to treat stinging nettles and it did make a difference for me.  If these reasons alone are not enough to love this plant, let me give you three more!  If you break off a leaf and hold it underwater, it will look like there are little jewels on the leaves!  The flowers on this plant are a gorgeous orange and just so lovely to look at.  Last but definitely not least, what I loved about this plant as a child, the seed pods explode!  Ballochory, aka ballistic seed dispersal, is my most favorite form of seed dispersal.  Its so fun and I used to stand at clumps of Jewel Weed and poke all of the pods hoping to get a big explosion.  They bloom between July-September, so make sure to find your own clump and waste some wonderful time exploding seed pods!

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