Elks Preserve is located on Crusher Road in Hopewell.
Off he goes! We arrived at Elk’s preserve and while I was still unbuckling my littlest from his carseat, my older son took off through the woods. We have never been to this preserve before and he could not contain himself and had to be the first one out in the woods exploring. The land of Elks Preserve was farmed until 1973 and was purchased by Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Spaces (FoHVOS) in 2002.
I am not going to lie, I was overflowing with pride as my three year old was pointing out and identifying different plants for my father. He was so excited to share his knowledge that he was stopping us every couple of yards to tell us about something that he saw.
I am pretty sure this is Eastern Hay-scented Fern, Dennstaedtia punctilobula. I really love ferns and I need to get on the ball with identifying them. Like most plants, the best time to differentiate between species is when the fern is in the reproductive stage. Hay-scented gets its name because when you walk through a patch of it, it will smell like newly mowed grass.
Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis! The spores of sensitive fern are formed in the summer but are not released until the following spring.
White Avens, Geum canadense. I received some identification help from the trusty Sourland Stewards with this one! Whenever I go out on a hike I try to snap photos of plants I don’t know, and this one was new to me! White Avens is a native flower in the rose family and is good at attracting butterflies as well as being a nectar source for bees!
My big dude can’t read yet, but he got so excited and shouted “Eggs!” when he saw this sign. I love informational signage on trails, they make great teaching spots and when they have photos it can help encourage kids to look for specific plants and animals. We didn’t see any eggs, but we did see a green frog!
Arrowwood Viburnum, Viburnum dentatum, a native shrub that is deer resistant and great for pollinators. They have showy white flowers in the spring and have blue/black berries that are eaten by birds. This is an excellent choice if you want to add some shrubbery to your property!
Ribbet Ribbet! A wood frog, Rana sylvatica. These frogs are one of the frog species that the Sourland Conservancy in conjunction with Mercer County Parks, work to protect during their breeding season. In the early spring, these frogs migrate to vernal pools to breed, which can be treacherous when that involves crossing busy (or even not so busy!) roads!
Can I get a round of applause for babies in tie-dye and suspenders?
White Oak, Quercus alba, seedlings. There are some tell-tale signs that this is a deer managed forest, and this is one of them! Tree seedlings! White tailed deer think these young trees are tasty treats, leaving the understory of forests bare except for a few unpalatable (and often invasive) species. These seedlings are the future of the forest and it is critical to keep white tailed deer populations in check in order to ensure a healthy forest community for our children and future generations.
Look at all these young Tulip popular, Liriodendron tulipfera, trees! As you can see in this picture, most of the understory is about the same height. This can be an indicator for how long this forest has been managed.
Littlest hitching a ride on PopPop and my big dude running down the path.
The fallen trees are Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana. Eastern Red Cedar is a pioneer species that needs full sun. As forest succession occurs and other tree species establish and grow taller than the Eastern Red Cedar and shading them out.
Stopping for a quick snack of Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius.
Thinking big thoughts in the forest.
Stemonitis chocolate brown slime mold! When I saw this, I knew it was some sort of fungus but had no clue what it was. After spending some time googling around the internet, my mind is blown! This stuff is so funky and wild looking. I found this great article that goes into more detail and has great photos. Also, take some time to watch this video of the Chocolate brown slime mold forming sporangia! Sporangia (singular form: sporangium) are the reproductive structures formed by fungi and some plants (example: ferns) that produce and store spores.
Throwing leaves in the stream, a past-time enjoyed by those of all ages.
A vernal pool created by a fallen down tree. Vernal pools are critical habitat for many amphibians in the Sourland Mountain region, such as the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) and many frog species. These pools are important for breeding adults because they do not sustain fish populations which are major predators for salamander and frog eggs. Vernal pools are seasonal, and they tend to be full in the early spring and partially or fully dry out during the summer. This pool is relatively deep and it had recently rained so that may be part of the reason that it still has water.
Ribbet! A green frog, Rana clamitans melanota, hanging out in the vernal pool!