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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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