Monthly Archives: September 2018

Hopewell Borough Park – A much needed picnic and walk


To say we had a rough week would be an understatement.  Both of my wild boys were very sick this week and it was pretty scary for us.  They are doing much better now and back to their old selves but the time spent in the hospital always leaves a mark on me.  Not going outside disorients me and I feel so disconnected with the rest of the world.  I (we) needed to get outside for a little while and so Hopewell Borough Park felt like the right place to go.  While there was very little sunshine, the air felt so good and just being able to move freely was so healing.  We picked up some sandwiches from the Peasant Grill and headed to the Gazebo at Hopewell Borough Park to have a little picnic before playing and going for a walk.  I’m really trying to savor these t-shirt days.  I love summer and always feel so sad when the weather starts to change and it becomes too cool for t-shirts.  I know there can be some days in the October that are warm enough but it is just not the same as the wonderful hot weather of summer.  In my opinion, summer is never long enough!


This sneaky plant caught me by surprise!  When I saw it I knew it was in the Solanaceae family, the Nightshades!  Other familiar plants in this family are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant and tobacco! It also looked really similar to the ground cherries growing in my garden, so I thought perhaps it was an escape from someone’s garden….  Apparently there are quite a few ground cherry, Physalis spp., species native to this area!  I am not too sure which species this is, I am leaning towards Smooth Ground Cherry, Physalis subglabrata, but I am really not sure.  This was just a surprise and a delight to know this plant is just hanging out here in Hopewell Borough Park.


White Snake Root, Ageratina altissima, a native woodland flower.  I learned this plant as Eupatorium rugosum, and will forever think of that name first.  I love this flower and how it stands out so brightly in the forest in the fall.  It is sort of like the last “horrah!” of summer and once these little flowers close, it is time for the forest to go to sleep for the winter.


I think this is a Fall Webworm moth, Hyphantria cunea.  It is considered to be a native pest, and constructs its tents in hardwoods such as hickories and walnuts, birches and cherries.  Apparently the fall webworm is not as detrimental as the spring/summer tent caterpillar because they rarely kill their host tree.  I looked up what these caterpillars look like as adults, and they are pretty cool looking.  Sort of like an abominable snowman in moth form.


A green frog, Lithobates clamitans, sitting on what I originally thought was a rock but it turned out to be a very large piece of foam cushion….  Just another weird thing in the Sourlands!


Goldenrod, Solidago spp., head high and a foreboding sky.   Even though the sky was dark, it didn’t feel like it was going to rain.  There was not any heaviness to the air and there was not any wind.  This is the view that I needed to help restore me from this week.  When I feel overwhelmed one of the things that make me feel better is just going outside and getting lost for awhile.  Even though I wasn’t lost and couldn’t let myself become consumed in this field because I had the wild boys with me  (I really just wanted to push pass the Rubus and just lay down for a few), it felt so good just to stop and stare into this field.


My wonderful co-worker, Laurie, showing my big dude a “nature door”.  He was so excited to run under this Spruce, Picea, and play in the “house” that this tree created.


Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, a native plant that is edible at certain stages and toxic at others.  The young shoots of the plant apparently are OK to eat, but the berries and the mature plant are both toxic.  I know those berries look so inviting, but please do not eat them!


Taking a stroll through the lower meadow.  Trails like this give me so much pleasure.  It is not often you can walk through such a thicket and see how nature is moving through succession.  The upper meadow with just herbaceous plants, the lower meadow with a mix of woody plants and meadows and then the forest.  I love these successional transitions.  It reminds me Venn diagrams with their overlapping portions.  Some species can live in a meadow but not in the shrub layer. Some in the shrub layer but not the mature forest.  It is just wonderful being able to walk through this and see this transition in action.

St. Michaels – A quick hike and an obligatory stop for stone skipping with the Wild Boys.

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The Wild Boys were SO excited to come out with me today.  It was hard to get them out the door to come to the office but once I said “We are going to go for a hike after we leave the office!” they couldn’t wait to get in the car.  One thing that I have realized with my boys is that they don’t look at the sky and worry about the rain that might come, they just see that its daytime and there might be clouds but don’t worry about the future.   I wish that I could go back to a time when I didn’t worry about future things such as the mortgage, appointments, health issues, rain!  One of the best things about playing with my children is that they are just so in the moment, and they often drag me with them.  They slow me down and force me to enjoy all the small (and big!) beautiful things that can only be enjoyed in this precise moment, there is no room for worrying about something that may or may not happen later.    IMG_4232

Asiatic dayflower/Mouse ears, Commelina communis, an introduced species that can sometimes be invasive.  This is one of the few times in my life that I have seen a truly blue flower.  I was stunned when I saw it because I have never seen anything quite like it out in the woods before.  The blue was so striking that I had a hard time parting with this little plant.  I think it is important to note that not all introduced species are “bad” or “invasive”. Native species can also be considered invasive, although this is not as common.  An invasive species pushes out other organisms, reduces total ecosystem function and causes harm to other organisms (including humans!).  Usually it is an introduced species that becomes invasive because it is released from predation and disease in its new environment and is able to spread rapidly.  Asiatic dayflower is pollinated by bees and the seeds are eaten by song and game birds.  Sometimes invasive species can fill a niche that was left when a native plant has been extirpated (locally extinct).  For example, there was a native dayflower, Virginia dayflower, Commelina virginica, that is extirpated in NJ and PA, so this introduced species may possibly be filling the niche that was left by the Virginia dayflower.


American Hogpeanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata, a native new-to-me plant that I had a tricky time trying to identify.  When I saw the flowers of this plant, I knew it was in the Pea family, Fabaceae, and the leaves looked like Trefoil (leaves not shown here), but I could not find any Trefoils (Desmodium) that grew like a vine.  I then thought maybe it was a sweet pea… nope!  I searched and searched and searched, and then I saw what I was looking for on google images (lots of good key terms such as “Fabaceae, vine, purple flowers, three-leaves”) … I clicked on the image and it brought me to the NJ Invasive Species Strike Team handout (Yay strike team!).  Of course, I didn’t know what it was called so I scrolled and scrolled and then FINALLY on page 62 there was an image and a name of the plant I was trying to identify.  Once I had the name, I was able to reverse identify this plant to confirm what it was.  This plant is pretty cool, apparently the Pawnee and the Chippewa used to eat Hogpeanuts and make remedies with the roots.  IMG_4264

I didn’t see it, but I felt its presence…  It was either Wood nettle, Laportea canadensis, or Stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, ouch!!!!  I know, I know…  It is edible, it has health benefits…blah blah blah….  This plant is such a pain in the… arm!  I was carrying my littlest because he was being thwarted by the tall weeds and didn’t want to push through it and I felt the familiar hot stinging pain of formic acid and histamines burning my skin.  If you are feel so inclined, I found this video about stinging nettles and their health benefits.  The speaker is pretty jazzed about nettles and seems knowledgable, so if you have the time and interest, check it out!


Wild ginger, Asarum canadense, a native perennial with beautiful deep red blooms in the early spring .  I have read that you can dig up the roots and mix them with sugar and the taste is similar to culinary ginger.  IMG_4358

Splash!  A big splash and the “thunk” of a rock breaking the surface tension of water’s surface is so utterly satisfying.


These wild boys could not get enough of this stream, both of them tried to just run in and go swimming.  I loved playing in streams when I was little (even a puddle was wonderful) and I love watching my children splash around.  The tactile sensation of the wet cold water, the sound of it splashing and the sight of all those waves and droplets…  It is beautifully stimulating and calming at the same time!


Slenderleaf False Foxglove, Agalinis tenuifolia, a beautiful native that attracts long-tongued bees and butterflies.  This plant really stands out with those beautiful purple flowers on such delicate stems.  When I was standing up, it looked almost like the flowers were floating on air.IMG_4341

Look at this chaotic beautiful mess of flowers!  It seems like it should be some sort of abstract painting rather than just perfectly sitting on the edge of a hiking trail.    If it weren’t for the Wild Boys I would have spent a lot longer trying to compose a better picture of this to show how beautiful it is, but they were running off ahead of me and I since I haven’t been on this section of trail before, I felt it better to keep on eye on them rather than take pictures of this gorgeous clump of flowers.  I suggest someone go out and capture this beautiful mess before the flowers die!IMG_4352

The Wild Boys tickling a Hickory, Carya spp., seedling.  I didn’t realize until now when writing this, that you can see my big dude’s temporary Sourland Mountain Spirits tattoo.  The boys came to the office with me in the morning to get a couple of administrative things in order before the Sourland Spectacular (it was so fun and if you didn’t do it this year, do it next year!) and the owner of Sourland Mountrain Spirits stopped by the office and gave him a temporary tattoo.  He has worn it proudly for 5 days now… we are not allowed to wash right side of his right calf….  I digress…  The plant to the right of my littlest is the cause of so many people’s woes in the late summer and early fall.  It looks innocent enough, but it is one of the leading causes of hay-fever.  This is Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia.  Goldenrod, Solidago spp., often gets blamed for the back to school season allergies, but Goldenrod is just the innocent bystanders in this affront of your senses.  Goldenrod with its flashy yellow flowers attracts pollinators to spread its pollen, Ragweed has inconspicuous flowers that are wind dispersed.  There is no reason for a plant to put energy and resources into making flowers showy if the plant is not trying to attract something (example: pollinator) to it.  The plant will allocate those resources instead to making a TON of pollen that can be blown in the wind.  Unfortunately Goldenrod and Ragweed bloom at the same time, and Goldenrod has those flashy flowers so they are unfairly blamed for the fall sneeze.

Thompson Preserve – Autumn is coming!


It is Labor Day Weekend and the summer is coming to an end.  I know plenty of people that claim that summer is not over until September 22, life in the natural world does not follow such a rigid calendar.  The vibrancy and thrill of summer is fading to the warmth of Autumn gradually tucking everything in for the winter.  It begins with the night insects changing guard and then the Goldenrod starts to bloom and the Sycamore and Tulip poplar leaves turn yellow to brown.  I may be anthropomorphizing, but I see the panic in the insects and birds, frantically trying to get the last bit of nectar and fruits before their migration and breeding is over.  The mosquitos frenzy to get their blood meal before the first frost kills.  This time of year is so beautiful, yet I always dread it.  I start to to feel anxious because I know summer is coming to an end and there were still so many things I wanted to do.

I had originally planned to go out for this hike with my Wild Boys, but the forecast called for 80% chance of thunderstorms and I didn’t want to be a mile out with two kids and a storm coming.  My boys LOVE going on these hikes and would have a conniption if I tried to cut it short and head back to the car.  Though it didn’t rain or thunder, I had a lovely walk on my own through Thompson Preserve.  I do love taking the Wild Boys with me, but I am not going to lie and say I did not enjoy this walk alone.


I am pretty sure this is a Michaelmas-daisy, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, a native with beautiful showy flowers.   These flowers are great for pollinators and can add a great burst of color to your garden!


Touch-Me-Not, Impatiens capensis, in flower and in fruit.  If you look to the left of the flower, you will see two seed pods.  Those are the fruit of Touch-me-nots and why I presume they were given their name.  If you gently squeeze (or even touch) these little pods, they explode (ballochory) sending their seeds flying through the air.  I loved doing this as a child and I equally enjoy doing it as an adult!


Gone to seed….  The ostentatious colors of summer are fading now that fertilization has taken place and the expectant seeds are starting to disperse and await their gestation period until next spring.


Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus divaricatus, a beautiful native that often grows on the edge of fields right next to a forest.  If it wasn’t for the guilt of cutting plants meant for pollinators, I would have made a bouquet to take home.


Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, a native with a lot of herbal history.  I reached out to the trusty Sourland Stewards for help with this identification and as per usual they did not disappoint! This plant has a long history as a medicinal plant, used to treat fevers, flus and other maladies.  I have read that this plant was also used to deal with the pain from broken bones however I have also read that the plant got its name from being a diaphoretic used to treat an influenza called Break Bone Fever.


Showy Patridge Flower, Chamaecrista fasciculata, a beautiful native in the Pea Family!  Another common name for this plant is “Sensitive plant” and apparently the leaves fold when touched, similar to the Mimosa tree.  This is a great plant to have on your property because it is not only beneficial for pollinators, but tasty for wild game and songbirds that eat its fruit.


Arrowleaf Tear Thumb, Polygonum sagittatum, a native with the same common weed as an invasive, Mile-a-Minute/Tear Thumb, Persicaria perfoliata.  I had asked my friend, Dr. Julia, for help with identification and she had told me its the same common name for the same problem, there are small recurved thorns that “tear your thumb”.


Oriental Ladysthumb, Polygonum cespitosum, an invasive that I have known for years, but never bothered knowing their name.  I see this weed everywhere and I am a little embarrassed that I never knew what it was called.


I am not really sure why this is happening.  It is the carcass of a deer, hanging from a branch about 10-12ft up in a tree.  There is a stream bed close to this, but this was definitely not left there from flooding.  There haven’t been mountain lions spotted in this area for a very very long time, and even if there were, I don’t think a branch of that diameter could hold the weight of a mountain lion and a deer carcass.  The next predator would be a bobcat, which have been known to take down a deer, but I highly doubt that it would be strong enough to drag it up into the tree.  So…. a weird person put it there?  Maybe?  I really don’t know…  Just another strange sight in the Sourlands!


Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, a native with beautiful fall foliage.  I love the texture of this leaves and I always need to take a whiff of the leaves.


Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, berries.  As despised as this plant is, birds everywhere love to eat these berries and spread this plant all over.


Tulip Poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, looking worn and ailing.  These leaves put their time in, growing, photosynthesizing and now returning to the Earth to become next year’s fertilizer.


Flat top goldenrod, Euthamia graminifolia, a native goldenrod that is not a Solidago!  This is another Dr. Julia special, because it looked like a Solidago to me but not like a Solidago I had ever seen (Solidago is the genus name for Goldenrod).  Similar to other Goldenrods, this plant is great for pollinators and birds.


The sky looked so foreboding, but it was all talk.  Not a single rain drop all morning!


Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, one of the first trees to surrender their leaves.


A predator stalking its prey!  Red sunflower aphids, Uroleucon helianthicola, and I believe an Asian Lady bug, Harmonia axyridis.  I used this dichotomous key to figure out what type of lady bug this is.  The Asian Lady bug was released in New Jersey (Go Jersey!) in the 1980’s as a biological control for aphids, mites, scales and many other pest insects.  This lady bugs (actually they are beetles, Coleoptera) have been able to decrease our dependence on pesticides.  Biological control organisms go through rigorous trials before being released, but in my personal opinion, I’d much rather see the use of bio control than the blanket spraying of pesticides that wipes out the good “bugs” as well as the bad.  Biological control organisms are selected because they specifically target the pest organism and supposedly have very little affect on other species.  While there have been times that the biological control agent goes rogue and doesn’t do what they were released to do, it is rare.


Canada Thistle, Cirsium arvense, infected by the bacteria, Pseudomonas syringiae.  The bacteria causes apical chlorosis causing sterility in the plant.  Here is an article that goes in depth about this disease.  A trusty Sourland Steward/farmer helped with the identification of this plant.  Apparently it is a pest of many farmers and this bacterial infection has been a benefit to them!IMG_3592

Showy Tick Trefoil, Desmodium canadense, a pretty native with a pain in the butt method of seed dispersal….


Caught #InTheSourlands !  Showy Tick Trefoil seed dispersal in action.


My “souvenirs” that I removed once I got back to the office.