Dry Creek Run is located on Brunswick Pike in Lambertville and shares the same parking lot as Rock Hopper Trail.
It has been raining buckets these past few days and the funky, earthy smell of decaying plant material is very much present. I actually find this smell pleasant and comforting while I also know that others find it an offense to their olfactory sensors.
After I started walking, I noticed a bunch of red berries – half native and half non-native. I think it’s important to know that the nutritional value of berries is not the same across all plant species and these differences can greatly impact migratory birds. Non-native berries typically have a higher carbohydrate content than native plants while berries from native plants are generally higher in protein /fats. Carbohydrates make birds satiated and give them a burst of energy. However, proteins/fats provide birds with sustained energy for longer periods of time, thus making berries from native plants ideal for migration. Read more about that here!
I was really hoping to get a picture of some ripe Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, berries because they are bright red and would be perfect for the forthcoming series of native vs non-native berries but unfortunately, I did not see any Spicebush berries.
Here is my disclaimer… I am not an expert in edible plants and PLEASE DO NOT EAT any part of any plant unless you are absolutely sure of your ability to correctly identify the plant). There are some plants that are extremely toxic and yes, can cause death following consumption. Poisonous berries, leaves, stems and roots exist in nature. But there are also many plants that are also perfectly wonderful and safe to eat. However, PLEASE DO NOT EAT any part of a plant unless you are absolutely sure you have correctly identified it as something safe to eat.
Now, onto the fun!
Native: Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. Jack-in-the-pulpit is one of my favorite forest finds ( and I have many favorites). I always get excited when I see those pitchers! Even though these berries look enticing, leave them for the birds and forest animals. They are not edible!
Non-native: Autum Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata. A former co-worker of mine makes the most delicious autumn olive cheesecake. She is a fabulous cook! I also like eating these berries raw. They remind me of a tart cherry of sorts. There are a lot of red berries in the fall, so please always make sure you know for certain what you type of berry you are about to consume.
Non-native: Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora, rose hips. I wonder why they are called “hips” instead of berries? Anyways, apparently they are edible. I have never tried one, but you can read more about eating them here!
Non-native: Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii. These non-native berries look an awful like native Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, berries to me in both shape and size. The plants look totally different, but the berries are similar. Supposedly, the berries are “edible” but they are very bitter and tart. Personally, I think you should just rip the whole plant out and call it a day 😉 If you want more information about eating Japanese Barberry, here is a link.
Native: Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida. I don’t know why I didn’t remember this tree has red fruit. I saw the fruit out of the corner of my eye and (was like) thought, “hmmm… looks like a dogwood but it must be a Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa” (which, by the way, has very tasty fruit and is non-native). I was completely surprised to see that this was the native dogwood and was very impressed by the size and color of the fruit! Flowering dogwood fruit is not edible and is considered toxic in large enough quantities. So leave this one for the birds!
Native: Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium, unripened fruit. These fruits will turn red then turn to black when fully ripe. I read that these fruits are edible fresh and can also be turned into preserves/jams. I also read that an overdose from this plant causing nausea, dizziness and seizures… I couldn’t find any information which quantifies the amount that would make someone “overdose”. So you should read more about it and make that decision for yourself! On a side note, the fall foliage is a beautiful red and would make a great accent plant to any landscape!
Non-native: Common Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, these fruit will also turn black when ripe. Privet fruits are toxic to humans so please leave these berries for the woodland animals!
American Basswood, Tilia americana, a native tree with very interesting looking fruit. The fruit are drupes that have a bract (modified leaf part) attached to them. My assumption is that this bract helps with seed which functions as a sail for the fruit. More importantly, I discovered that young Basswood fruit has been used as a substitute for chocolate! I am so excited about this new information and wish I had known that when I was out hiking because this tree had fruit on it! I will undoubtedly be searching for Basswood on my next hike and will taste some of the berries!
Smartweed/Tearthumb, Polygonum sagittatum, an invasive with teeny tiny recurved thorns that definitely “tear your thumb”! Ouch!
The bleeding Mycena, Mycena haematopus. I reached out to the awesome Nina Burghardt for mushroom identification help and she not only identified the mushroom I found but she also provided some cool information about Mycena haematopus. Mycena haematopus have a bell-shaped cap (campanulate) and are fragile. They supposedly release a purplish red juice when cut. I wish I had known this before my hike because I would have given it a try!
Mycena helps to decompose wood and leaves, which contain cellulose and lignin. Cellulose and lignin are the most difficult components in plant material to break down. The role fungi play in nutrient cycle is vitally important .