Sourland Ecosystem Preserve is located on Mountain Road in Hopewell.
Though this winter was not very cold, it just seemed to drag on and on. I have been impatient while waiting for the seasons to change. The breaking of buds signaling that winter has yielded to spring is a comforting sign of normalcy. My family has been quarantined together and we have been getting cabin fever so we headed out for a hike at the Sourland Ecosystem Preserve. We all needed to run, shout in excitement, kneel on the ground to get a better look and get our hands very dirty. The forest offers so much hope and reassurance and we wanted to soak it all in. The buzzing forest brought me the relief that I was hoping for. Buds were opening, spring ephemerals were unfurling, and frogspawn was developing in the vernal pools.
Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, fruits leftover from last fall. These fruits can sometimes be confused with European Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, but one of the best ways to tell the difference between these two shrubs is that the seed inside Blackhaw is flat and the seed inside Privet looks like an olive pit.
The forest is celebrating and the Red maple, Acer rubrum, is dropping its flowers like confetti across the forest floor.
A new life has started with this Red Oak, Quercus rubra, acorn that survived the winter and germinated!
Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, flower buds just about ready to open. I absolutely love the chartreuse flowers of Spicebush.
Searching for bugs! He reminds me of a chimp taking his stick and fishing in the log for insects.
This appears to be a European Beech, Fagus sylvatica, rather than our native American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. American Beech usually has a single trunk and grows straight up while European Beech has a shorter trunk with many branches reaching out to create an open canopy.
Important conversations are best had in the canopy.
Littlest and I enjoyed ourselves while we pretended to toast marshmallows over the fire.
Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, as beautiful and graceful as it can be.
Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, buds bursting open!
American Hazlenut, Corylus americana! In late winter, this shrub really stands out. The large catkins are the male flowering parts of the hazelnut. The female flowers are magenta and so small that you can barely see it. If you look at the three closet catkins, look up slightly and to the left and follow the branch to the end of the twig and you will see the female flowers.
I spy with my little eye a bird’s nest!
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, is my oldest’s favorite fern. Whenever we go hiking he is on a mission to find it.
A flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, flower bud about to open. Dogwoods are such underrated shrubs. I love seeing the beautiful pink shine through the dormant forest. Soon, the forest will awaken and I will no longer be able to see the dogwoods behind the shields of Maple, Sweetgum and Oak leaves.
Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, beautiful and vibrant in the muddy stream bank.
As we ended our hike, our family felt refreshed and renewed. I love that the forest can give us both the adventure and the reassurance that we need.