I love going on hikes with nature enthusiasts. It is fun to walk, talk, and point out all the plants and animals while learning more about our environment. On June 1st, the Sourland Conservancy hosted a hike with naturalist Betty Horn, a highly respected botanist. I was very excited to listen to her insights and stories about the plants around us.
Betty was a wonderful hike leader who didn’t just teach us about plants, but also talked about the evolutionary mechanisms which explain some of the traits plants have. She spoke of the medicinal or historical uses of some of the plants we encountered.
My family came out for this hike. But since my Wild Boys know that the outdoors is for playing, running, shouting and asking loud questions, it was difficult to manage their enthusiasm and still participate in the group. After awhile, my husband and I surrendered and let our Wild Boys just be wild and we went on our own way. I decided to return to Cedar Ridge very soon in order to hike with one of my friends.
A friend and I came to Cedar Ridge a week later and walked the same trail. She taught me bird identification and I taught her about plants. We went early, so the air was wet and just a tad cool but warmed up to become the most lovely spring morning.
A group of nature enthusiasts ready to botanize!
Betty asked everyone to pick some of the White Clover, Trifolium repens. She explained that the white flower head was comprised of many florets and that there is a pollination strategy that the plant exhibits by only opening one row of florets at a time. This strategy encourages pollinators to visit the flower more often and increases the likelihood that the flower will be pollinated.
Littlest making sure he doesn’t miss out on the botany excitement!
Betty explained to the group that it’s best to the hold the magnifying glass up to your eye and then move the flower to the proper distance to examine. My big dude is figuring out which distance is clearest for him.
My Wild Boys are used to waiting around while I investigate plants and attempt to identify and photograph them. I love how my boys always find something to do and play on while they wait.
Betty teaches the rhyme, “Sedges have edges. Rushes are round. Grasses have knees that bend to the ground.”
Sedges and grasses are the absolute bane of my botany existence. I still have flashbacks of graduate school, in my advisor’s lab with a dissecting microscope and a copy of Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual of vascular plants of the Northeastern United States. I spent hours trying to identify the 20 different species of Carex that I collected for my graduate thesis. **Shudders** If I never have to identify another Carex species for the rest of my life, I will be a happy woman.
On the hunt for more flowers!
Betty holding up a species of Brassica in fruit as she speaks about the seed dispersal mechanism of the plant. Brassicas are part of the mustard family.
Often in movies, the edge of the forest looks scary. A place that is dangerous and has ROUSes that can gobble you up.
When I see my son at the edge of the forest, I don’t see danger. I see a kingdom with palace walls that stretch to the sky. Cathedral ceilings let in the most perfect amount of sunlight which spotlights the understory plants below. It is a place of wonder, beauty, secrets and adventure. It is magnificent and I love watching my children run into the woods, always ready for new discoveries and adventure.
Betty pointed out a Jewelweed/Touch-me-not, Impatiens capensis.
Leaflets of three, let me be! Poison Ivy, Toxicodendrons radicans.
Betty teaches the hike participants about Pink Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica (Persicaria pensylvanica). She explained that it’s called “smartweed” because it is spicy and “smarts” if you eat it. I had always thought it was called Smartweed because it outsmarts me at every turn and each time I think I that I have rid my garden and yard of it, I find new ones.
I love to see how everyone is so relaxed and happy to be out in nature learning about plants!
Littlest was looking for birds and simultaneously using my husband’s sideburns as reins.
It is amazing to watch my oldest grow and mature. He was so patient and such a good listener during the hike. He was digesting the information from Betty and then asking me follow up questions. I love watching him process information, turning it over, examining it from different angles and questioning it.
When we came upon an old wall in the forest, Ian Burrow, a Sourland Conservancy volunteer and archaeologist, told the group about the history of Cedar Ridge and the significance of the wall. He wrote a wonderful report on the hidden cultural landscape of Cedar Ridge. It is so jam-packed with information and you can read it here!
Ian described how the type of rock and the shape of the wall is typical of the Sourland Mountain region. The rocks are wedge- shaped and they angle inward with flat rocks stacked on top.
Jack of the pulpit…or is it Jill of the pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. This plant exhibits sexual dimorphism, which means that the plant can change genders each season depending on nutrient availability. It takes more energy to be female and produce offspring, so if there is not enough nutrient availability, the plant will grow as a male with only one leaf and will not produce fruit. If the previous year was good, the plant will become female and produce two leaves and fruit. Nature really is amazing!
At this point, the Wild Boys needed to be wild, so we turned around and headed back. I came back a week later with my friend and bandmate to go on an early morning hike. We are both working moms and find it hard to fit in time for ourselves. So this before-work hike was just what we both needed. She has been really interested in birding, so as we walked she would take out her binoculars and identify different birds and then pass her binoculars on to me and tell me key characteristics of the birds. It is such a special connection that nature can bring to people. We can share knowledge, create new experiences and find a little bit of peace.
Hawkweed, Hieracium spp.. I found some of the common names of this plant quite amusing such as “Mouse-Ears”, “King Devil” and “Yellow Devil”. Usually common names run along the same vein, but not this plant!
Red Clover, Trifolium pratense. In this picture, you can see the first two rows of florets are open but the rest are still tightly shut near the center of the flower head.
Pink Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica (Persicaria pensylvanica). I love the magenta color of the flowers, especially against the surrounding greenery.
Bellflower, Lobelia spp.. I have been kicking myself repeatedly for not bringing my ID book or at least taking a sample of this Bellflower. I recognized that this was a different species than what I had encountered before, but I assumed I had gotten a good enough look at it that I would be able to figure out the species. Well, I was wrong in my assumptions. There are quite a few species of Lobelia in New Jersey and many of them have very subtle differences. There is also a lot of phenotypic variation (a phenotype is the physical expression of the plants genes and it is affected by the plant’s environment) which upon brief examination might mislead you. So, in the future, I will remind myself to carry my flower guide, slow down, take more pictures (or maybe a small sample if I can’t get a good picture) and not make so many assumptions. Slowing down and not making so many assumptions is probably just a good life goal for me, anyways.
Meadow Broccoli! Just kidding! I’m not really sure what this is, I think some sort of Sedge (Carex) but I didn’t take a sample back with me to key out with my plant guide book. It will just have to remain a “Mystery meadow Broccoli” until someone lets me know its actual name.
Evening Primrose/Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa. When I saw this flower, I knew immediately that it was an Oenothera species. However, I had never seen this species before. I am more familiar with the Common Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, but the stems of the common species is “sturdier” and the leaves are broader and I also do not recall the flower petals having such dark yellow lines.
Forget-me-nots, Myosotis spp.. I am not sure what species this is, but I know there are a few native species and a few non-native species in New Jersey.
White Beard Tongue, Penstemon digitalis. I really love these white flowers. They are so beautiful and showy and on my list of native flowers to plant at my house.
Here it is, the reason for two grown woman to shriek at the top of their lungs and jump back three feet… The huge, the terrifying, the fierce… Crawfish, Orconectes spp.!!!
We were moseying along on the path, chatting about life and suddenly my friend stops in her tracks and says “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT?!” I looked down and said “Oh, that’s a Crawfish. Maybe a bird dropped it”.
At the time the poor thing was laying flat and we both assumed it was dead. But of course, when you find a dead thing on a path you must pick up a stick to poke it with. Well, when I picked up a stick and was about to poke, the crazy crustacean lifted up its mighty pincers ready for battle. I dropped my stick, my friend and I both screamed and jumped back while holding each other. Frankly, I am surprised about how startled I was and how loud I screamed. Truly, you would have thought Big Foot had come out from behind a tree from the way we acted.
I can’t help but laugh at myself when I look at this picture. I also couldn’t stop giggling while writing this section. What an absolutely wonderful time I had during both of my hikes! And to have it end with being scared silly by a crawfish!