Category Archives: hiking

Baldpate Mountain – A family hike in February

Baldpate Mountain is located in Hopewell NJ.

Link to the trail map

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There are 10 miles of hiking trails on Baldpate and while I have walked many of the trails, I have never completed the entire Blue Trail. Usually, when we bring the kids, we choose the Red Loop Trail. If I am out with my friends, we will hike the Ridge Trail.

My Littlest just turned 3 years old this week and his desire to show off his speed, climbing, and balance is in over-drive.  We decided to hike a trail with a lot of rocks to hop and climb on so that he could burn off some of his Wild Boy energy.

My oldest was confused asked me, “Why are we parking at this parking lot?” He had been all over Baldpate Mountain with me in the baby carrier as an infant, later as a toddler and now as a “really old” 5-year old.  He was quite distressed and insisted that we were “NOT at Baldpate Mountain”. He loves the vista from the meadow near Strawberry Mansion, which is also one of my favorite places in the Sourlands. After I explained that we would still see the view but we had to climb big rocks to get there, both Wild Boys were ready to go!

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Even at my age, I love stepping stones as much as my kids.

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I appreciate the whole body effort of my Littlest. He will hop across all those stones just like his big brother.

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Horizontal logs are an absolute must when perfecting those balancing skills.

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Littlest and I had hiked part of the Blue Trail when he was a few months old and we had stopped at this very same log to look at all of the nutshells. I love how you will see some of the same familiar sights even if you haven’t been on that trail for 1.5 years.

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We all get in on the rock hopping fun!

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Peak-a-boo!

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A Sourland boulder must always be appreciated and climbed.

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Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, is a popular roosting place for many bat species in the Eastern United States. The Indiana Bat, Myotis sodalis, in particular, likes to hide within the loose bark of this tree.

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One of the reasons I love winter hikes is that you can discover the hidden views. During the summer when all of the leaves are out, this view will be completely different.

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I believe that this is some sort of non-native Buttercup, possibly Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis.

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Common Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, making an appearance.

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I love all of the big trees on this side of the mountain.

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Taking a little break.

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Multiflora Rose, Rosa Multiflora, is already sending out new leaves – in February! It has been alarming how mild this winter has been and I am so afraid of how this affects our ecosystem as a whole. There is such a thin balance between bloom times, insect emergence, migrations, and breeding season that when one thing starts too early, the whole balance is thrown off.

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A hardscrabble up these rocks!

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Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, leafing out early. Unfortunately, this invasive is almost always one of the first plants I see to leaf out in the spring.  But let’s be honest, it is still winter! Garlic Mustard is edible and can be substituted for garlic in pesto. Yum!

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Running to the world’s edge – also known as the “septic mound”… We usually travel to the higher meadow but when the Wild Boys saw this wide-open view, they took off.

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Rolling down the mountain.

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Snacks after a hike well done!

Elks Preserve – A crisp January hike!

Elks Preserve is located on Crusher Rd in Hopewell.

Link to the trail map.

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I rarely see the sky so brilliant blue as I do in the winter season. It was 25 degrees F when my friend and I met at the Elks Preserve in Hopewell, but the wind was still and the sun was strong, so it did not feel nearly as cold as it actually was. Even though it was freezing, the birds in the forest were raucous and exuberant in their singing. I don’t know why they had ants in their pants, but they were making such a fuss that it had us both excited to head out into the woods.

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The contrast between the dormant forest floor and vibrant blue sky was enticing. It was as if the forest was whispering to us to come in and explore.

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When I saw this plant covering one section of the forest floor, I was completely stumped! It seemed similar to an Eastern Red Cedar or an Arborvitae, but not quite so. I spent a lot of time reading online and searching through my plant ID books before I narrowed it down to a species in the Diphasiastrum/Lycopodium genus.

I am fortunate to know people with expertise in identifying the local flora. I reached out to a local expert, Gemma Milly of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. She informed me that it was Club Fanmoss/Running cedar, Lycopodium digitatum.

Gemma also said that “In the old days, they used to collect them to use the spores to fire photographic flashes– it’s highly volatile!”. When I touched the strobili (the candelabra like structures above the leaves) and the sporangia (the yellow candle part of the candelabra) a cloud of spores came floating out. I was in a trance kneeling on the side of the path, watching the clouds of spores drift around in the morning light.

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Can we all just take a moment to “oooh” and “aww” at this gorgeous plant?

The clustered, red drupes on the left are a type of Viburnum, Viburnum spp… The berries on the right are of Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, single drupes that are often paired along the stem.

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Evidence of a cambium eating insect. Since I don’t know what species of tree this is (there was no bark left to help me identify), then my ability to find clues as to what type of insect or larvae made these marks is limited. I love fallen logs, there are always goodies hiding on, in or under them!

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We spotted a frog frozen under the water. At first, I had thought it was a wood frog, but I was confused since I know that wood frogs could freeze during the winter but they usually did so on the land.

I reached out to two local herpetologists, Jeff Hogland of the Watershed Institute and Mark Manning of Hopewell Valley High School for their input. They both informed me that this was a Pickerel Frog, Lithobates palustris, not a Wood frog, Lithobates sylvaticus, and that unfortunately, my amphibian friend was most likely dead – not hibernating.

Jeff told me that “Several species of frogs can actually freeze, and survive – the spring peeper, wood frog, and gray tree frog included – but pickerel frogs are NOT among them”.

Mark said that “pickerel frogs in mountainous habitats like the Sourlands tend to move towards spring seeps and seepage areas during the winter, where the temps stay around 55 degrees F, the oxygen is high and the insect larvae provide food. If the main body of the stream remains moving during cold periods, it might duck under rocks but I’ve never seen one frozen on the top like that. The recent warm temps probably brought this frog into a mid-winter activity period, and it might not have moved fast enough to escape the cold blast today”.

I love that there are so many people in this area that are so knowledgeable and are willing to share information with others!

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My friend took this picture and said: “FOR SCIENCE!”.  Sometimes you have to get dirty to get the picture you need 🙂

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I love Pin Oak, Quercus palustris, acorns. They are really small but have such beautiful stripes!

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My friend observed the deer tracks at this little pool.  She was able to see that the deer had stepped into the slushy pool to take a sip (you can see the hoof print where her hand is). The deer put its face into the pond to take a deeper drink and then continued walking (see in the picture below).

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In this picture, you can see the “dribble” line from the water dripping off the deer and the hoof prints on both sides in the slush. If my friend hadn’t pointed it out, I honestly don’t think I would have noticed this at all!  One of the most fun things about hiking with others is that even though you both may be in the same place at the same time, you will each experience it differently.

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I have never seen anything like this before! I don’t know why the heartwood is creating these rays on the sapwood, but I wished that I could cut this log up into “cookies” and bring them home to make something with. What an absolutely beautiful treat in the forest!

If you look at this cross-section of a tree, you will see multiple layers. On the outside is the outer bark, which provides protection for the tree. It helps keep moisture in and the cold (and hopefully – but not always) insects out.

The next layer is the inner bark or phloem. The phloem moves sugars produced through photosynthesis in the leaves downwards to the rest of the tree. The phloem is short-lived and over time, dries up and becomes cork which works as a protective layer along with the outer bark. Sometimes the phloem layer is referred to as “inner bark”.

Next to the phloem is a powerhouse – the cambium layer. This is a thin layer of cells that will differentiate to create new phloem, xylem (the next layer) or new cambium cells. The cambium is the growing layer, causing the trunk, branches and stems to grow in diameter every year.

Xylem, the next layer, moves water up from the roots to the leaves of the trees. Sometimes the xylem layer is called “sapwood”.

The strongest layer of the tree is the heartwood. The heartwood is comprised of “dead” xylem and it forms the structural component of the tree. The heartwood of a tree is often a different color than the rest of the tree because it contains extractives that can have antifungal properties, decrease desiccation and promote stability.

At the very center of the trunk is the pith, which is made up of spongy cells called parenchyma. Different types of trees can have different types of pith. Some piths are star-shaped (stellate) such as in Oaks.  Alders have a triangular pith and Ash trees, Elms and most other trees have round (terete) piths. Piths can also be solid or chambered, hollow, spongy and come in a multitude of colors such as pink, yellow, brown, green, black or white.

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A bluebird, Sialia sialis! I am not very proficient at bird IDs, but there is no mistaking this bird! It has such a vibrant blue back and a big, round rust-colored chest and belly. Until now, I had only seen this bird in meadows and I was so excited to see it here in the woods.

Somerset Sourland Mountain Preserve – A Winter Solstice hike with my oldest.

The Somerset Sourland Mountain preserve is located on Mountain Rd in Hillsborough.

Link to trail map.

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The Winter Solstice has come and gone and though it will still be cold, I am looking forward to the longer days. Life can be hectic this time of year with all the holidays and many people are so busy trying to clear their desks before the new year that it often seems that there is more work to accomplish than there are hours in the day.

I had to put the brakes on, slow down a bit and spend some time with my oldest. His budding independence is evident in his questions and desire to explore for himself. I decided to let him lead me on a hike through the woods. I asked him where he wanted to go and he said on a hike with “lots of rocks for climbing”.  My first thought was of the Sourland Mountain Somerset County Preserve. There are also a lot of rocks for climbing at the Sourland Mountain Hunterdon County Preserve and I often take my Wild Boys there when I am hiking with them. The area is fairly flat, which makes it easier for me as the littlest will inevitably want to be carried. This time, however, it was only the two of us.

There were a lot of people in Somerset Preserve that day. I rarely see others while I am out on the other Sourland trails, and the Wild Boys are also not used to encountering other people while hiking. My oldest asked me what all the people were doing there. He thought that it was odd that no one was stopping to lift up logs, smash acorns or climb on rocks. A couple of times, he tried to show a passerby some of his discoveries just to have them say “oh, that’s nice” and keep on walking without pausing to take a look. My heart sunk at the disinterest of others.  I told my son that many people come to walk in the woods in order to exercise and not to explore. We really enjoy exploring and we always go slow and take in the beauty and mystery with the anticipation of discovering something new that day.

Today’s hike was led by my oldest. He picked the trails, and told me what to take pictures of. I loved watching him explore and decide what needed to be photographed.

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A Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, stood out on the mostly brown and gray landscape. My big dude ran right for it and pointed it out to me.

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All of the boulders needed to be climbed!

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Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, in fruit. When I asked my son what he thought this plant was, he said “Truffula seeds!”. The Lorax has been in regular rotation as a bedtime story in our house and he has been very passionate about planting trees and spreading seeds around so that the Lorax and the Brown Bar-ba-loots, Swomee swans and Humming fish will come back.

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We found a hole in a tree! Anyone home?

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Nope! We pondered the possibility that it might be home for a small animal like a squirrel. Maybe an owl? Or a perhaps a bat?

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Moss with seta and some spore capsules, Tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, samaras and a Hickory, Carya spp., nut. We loved touching all of the different plants and plant parts. They were soft, hard, crunchy, cold and wet.

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This tree was so big that he couldn’t give it a proper hug.

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This tree was just right.

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A Winged Euonymus, Euonymus alatus. We felt along the branches and found that sometimes the “wings” come out on 4 sides of the branch and sometimes only on two sides.

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Getting a really good look at the moss.

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My big dude wanted to make sure I took a “big” picture of the moss so everyone could see it as well as he could.

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A boulder with “polka dots” aka Lichen!

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We picked some Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, and sniffed it. I was informed that it was “peee-ew, stinky!”. As a side note, I was trying to look up the proper way of spelling what sounds like “P.U.”. Some linguists believe this arose from the latin word “puteo” which means “stink” or “rotten”. If you have any other ideas on where that phrase came from, let me know!

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Checking for trolls under the bridge.

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The cold crisp December air and the bright blue sky.

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Ice needles! We were crunching along the frozen ground and accidentally kicked up a chunk of soil only to discover that it was not really soil but ice needles. We picked them up and turned them over observing all of the beautiful crystals that crunched satisfyingly under our feet. Ice needles are formed through a process called “Ice Segregation”. This process occurs when the soil is saturated with water (from all those rains we have been having!) and the temperature of the soil is above 0 degrees C and the air temperature above the soil is below 0 degrees C. Ice begins to form at the interface between soil and air, and through capillary action, pulls up water from the soil to form these little needles as the water freezes and expands. Read more about them here!

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The “sitting tree”. This tree had a perfect trunk for sitting, thinking and getting a better view.

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An empty Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, hull filled with ice crystals. We talked about how the the empty hull was like a little cup holding water that animals could drink from.

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Breaking some Red Oak, Quercus rubra, acorns open with a rock (because we do not have teeth as sharp and as strong as a squirrel).

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The inside of the acorn is white!

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The mesmerizing layers of an acorn cap.

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A really soft patch of moss growing in a crack in the rock.

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The fruit of a Tulip Poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera. The fruiting body is comprised of many samaras. A samara is a nut or seed that has a wing or wings. Another example of a samara is the fruit of the maple tree.

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I love listening to the rattle of marcescent leaves of the American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, as the wind rings them like chimesMy oldest asked why some of the trees still had leaves and others did not. I explained to him that some trees keep leaves on to help them stay warm in the winter. A deeper dive reveals that leaf marcescence occurs when a deciduous tree does not drop its leaves. This phenomenon occurs in quite a few species belonging to the Oak (Fagaceae) family. A marcescent leaf does not form an abscission zone at the petiole (the leaf’s base) and the twig it is attached to does not form a protective cork layer. Generally, in most deciduous trees, a hormone called “Auxin”, is sent out from the leaf to the tree saying “I’m working hard!” and the abscission zone does not develop. If the amount of Auxin decreases due to stress (drought, disease, injury) or lack of photosynthesis, the abscission zone will form and the leaf will drop off. It is not entirely clear why some trees exhibit marcesence and others do not, but it is more typical on younger trees. It is thought that these inactive leaves may protect from herbivory or protect young leaf buds from desiccation during the winter.

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He asked me why people write all over the tree and if it hurt the tree. I often ask myself the same questions as to why people would carve their names into a tree. I told them that it was probably so that they would remember their time in the woods and that while it wasn’t good for the tree to be cut, it wasn’t going to harm the tree too badly as long as they don’t cut too deep.

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A slippery-slide trail down the ridge!

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Investigating the miniature waterfalls.

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Could we possibly go on a hike without me skipping at least a few heartbeats? I dare say, “Not!” The icy, slippery rocks needed to be jumped upon because they were “jumping stones”, after all.

Goat Hill – An Autumn walk with friends and the Spotted Lanternfly.

Goat Hill Overlook is located on Coon Path in Lambertville.

Link to trail map.

IMG_9907It is getting colder faster than I had expected. Perhaps it’s the rush of autumn where it seems that every living creature is frantically trying to prepare for the winter. This time of year always makes me a little anxious because there is always so much to do – and the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting colder. There have been some nights recently that have dipped below freezing, and it is so startlingly cold when I open the door to go feed my chickens that I have to turn around and put on a few extra layers before attempting the walk outside. There had still been some leaves left on the trees the night before this week’s blog  hike, but temperature at my home was in the low 20’s from the arctic blast that came through, and all the trees seemed to have dropped their remaining leaves overnight in protest. I met up with two of my college roommates to go on a mid-morning hike before heading down to New Hope for lunch. It is always so enjoyable to go hiking with others, because we each bring our own experiences and knowledge to the hike, and I just love chit-chatting and exchanging knowledge.IMG_9881I find this time of year really special, because many things that were hidden with the cover of the tree canopy are exposed. Bird and squirrel nests are suddenly visible, fruits and nuts and, of course, the bright blue sky with the dancing branches criss-crossing the sky. I have been to this trail many times, but somehow missed this large Sumac, Rhus spp., right near the parking lot. I think this is probably Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, but without getting a closer look at the stems I can’t be sure.   IMG_9886A woolly bear caterpillar Pyrrharctia isabella. This is the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth. Honestly, this is one of the few times that I think the larval stage is actually cuter than the adult stage. There is a lot of folklore around the colors on the woolly bear. It was said that if the black segments were larger than the brown segments it would be a harsh winter, and if the orange segment was larger it would be a mild winter. You can read more about it here. I think the orange and black segments look about equal length, so I feel safe that our winter would not be too harsh this year!IMG_9888These ghostly white berries look ominous, as they should! They are the fruit of poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. Every part of poison ivy, from the roots, fluids, bark, and leaves to the berries contain the same oil irritant that causes a nasty rash on most people. Poison ivy belongs to the Anacardiaceae family, which includes many edible plants such as cashews, pistachios, and mangoes. Sumacs are also in the Anacardiaceae family and some of them are also edible. It is really important to remember not to eat any plants or fungi you find on your hikes unless you are 100% confident in your identification. There are many healing and nourishing plants in the woods, but there are also some that are very toxic.IMG_9893I had never ventured off the main trail at Goat Hill before. All of the maps I had seen only showed the main trail. Even though I saw blaze markers, I never bothered to explore the different trails, because the main overlook was so lovely. Well, my friends convinced me to veer off and I am glad they did. There are so many overlooks on this trail and after some digging, I found another trail mapped (linked at the top of the page) that shows where the other blazes lead to. I am definitely going to set some time aside to explore these other trails!

While my friends were still gazing over Washington’s Rock, I saw a beautiful sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, and I wanted to take a picture capturing the colors and textures of the bark. I was really immersed in trying to get the right light and so completely focused on what I was doing, that I didn’t even hear my friends come up behind me. “What are you trying to take a picture of: the  spotted lanternfly?” I stood up and said “What??? Where??” One of my friends laughed and said, “Right in front of you!” I looked down and, right at waist height, was a spotted lanternfly, a mere 12 inches below where I was looking. I was so shocked that I could be standing within inches of something and yet completely miss it. Well, once that spotted lanternfly was seen, it wasn’t long for this world!

One of my friends who was on the hike with me is Laura Kenny. She works for Penn State Extension and I am going to turn the rest of the blog post over to her.



Thanks, Carolyn! 

My name is Laura Kenny, and I am an educator with Penn State Extension. Penn State Extension is a modern educational organization dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses, and communities. Partnering with and funded by federal, state, and county governments, we have a long tradition of bringing unbiased support and education to the citizens of Pennsylvania. We make a difference locally through focused engagement, and more widely to customers connecting in the digital landscape. 

As an educator with Penn State Extension, I have been learning about the invasion of the spotted lanternfly (SLF) since I began my job in 2016. This planthopper was accidentally introduced to southeastern Pennsylvania from Asia in 2014, and a quarantine zone was established to slow its spread. Businesses and organizations that transport material into or out of the quarantine zone were required by the PA Department of Agriculture to take a permit course about the SLF to learn how to avoid transporting it into new areas. The PA quarantine zone currently includes 14 counties.

Despite this good work, the SLF spread to New Jersey. In 2018 it was found in Mercer, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties. Since then, populations have established in 8 counties along the western border of the state, which are now under an official quarantine. See https://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/prog/spottedlanternfly.html for a map and more details. As of September 2019, it has also been spotted in Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut. 

So, what do you need to know about the spotted lanternfly?

  • They do not directly hurt humans or animals- no bite or sting. It is currently unknown if they are toxic to ingest.
  • They are destructive pests that feed on plant sap using a piercing mouthpart.
  • Their favorite host plant is the invasive tree-of-heaven, but they will feed on more than 70 other plants and trees.
  • They can cause losses in agricultural crops by weakening plants, and their sugary droppings promote the growth of mold on valuable crops. The tree fruit, grape, vineyard, and ornamental industries are particularly concerned about this pest. 

IMG_9897The adults look like tan moths with spots on the wings and a bright red wing underneath (see picture above). In the late summer and fall, you will see adults and egg masses. Earlier in the spring and summer, they look completely different as nymphs. See this site for pictures of the nymphs: https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-what-to-look-for.  Egg masses containing 30-50 eggs each look like a smudge of brown clay (see pictures below) and are very easy to miss! We found several egg masses on this tree and destroyed them by scraping at them with sticks. It’s better to use a plastic card to scrape them into a sealable bag for disposal or add some rubbing alcohol to the bag to kill them.  However, we had no bags on us, so we tried to squish the masses the best we could!IMG_9899Can you spot the egg masses in this picture?IMG_9899It is amazing how well they blend into the background!IMG_9900This freshly laid egg mass is still moist, but they can appear lighter in color as they dry.IMG_9901What should you do if you see a SLF or egg mass?

Confirm identification. The nymph stages in particular can be confused with other insects. If you’re sure it’s a SLF…

Destroy it! First, kill the SLF or scrape the egg mass. You can send the specimen to the NJ Department of Agriculture’s lab for verification, you can take a picture and send it to SLF-plantindustry@ag.nj.gov and slanternfly@njaes.rutgers.edu, or if you can’t take a sample or picture, call 1-833-223-2840 (BADBUG0) to report the sighting.

If you live within the quarantine zone, you should check your vehicle for SLF life stages or egg masses any time you drive out of the zone.  You also should not transport yard waste, brush, firewood, etc. Here is a handy checklist of items that are likely to transport SLF and which should be inspected thoroughly before moving: https://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/pdf/NJResidenceSLFChecklist.pdf

For more information on SLF, check out these resources:

https://njaes.rutgers.edu/spotted-lanternfly/

https://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/prog/spottedlanternfly.html

https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly

https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/PlantIndustry/Entomology/spotted_lanternfly/Pages/default.aspx

Dinosaurs in the Sourlands – A very wild walk through the woods

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Roar!!!

The warm summer days were over much sooner than I had expected.  The air got colder, the days shorter and I just want to stomp my foot down and roar, “SLOW DOWN!”

My Wild Boys love dinosaurs, and autumn is the time when I make dinosaur sweatshirts and tails for them to dress up.  It had barely become October when my oldest started asking for a new dinosaur sweatshirt.

In between rainstorms, the weather has been beautiful and the autumn colors are in their full glory. The Wild Boys and I decided that it was time for an adventure, so we headed out to the Sourland Mountain Hunterdon County Preserve for a hike.IMG_8502Dinosaurs love to climb boulders!IMG_8510They are off!IMG_8513Sometimes, little dinosaurs need a bit of reassurance. I love holding hands with my brave dinosaurs as they exploreIMG_8521Littlest found an American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, nut.IMG_8530Summiting the highest point he can find!IMG_8534My big dinosaur reminds me of an iguana basking in the sun!IMG_8535Sourland boulders.IMG_8544Two dinosaurs planning some mischief!IMG_8556I love how this tree is growing directly on this rock. Where there is a will there is a way!IMG_8564White Rattlesnake Root, Prenanthes alba. IMG_8573American Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, seed capsule.IMG_8577American Witch Hazel flower buds. They will be blooming any day now!IMG_8584If there is a boulder, this dinosaur will have to climb it!IMG_8587The sulfur yellow buds of Bitternut Hickory, Carya cordiformis.IMG_8605Littlest Dinosaur points the way to go home!IMG_8610“What are you putting in your pockets little dinosaur?”IMG_8611Bitternut, Carya cordiformis, nuts!IMG_8612White Wood Aster, Eurybia divaricata (Aster divaricatus), looking so lovely in the October morning light.IMG_8634Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, in fruit. Indian Pipe is a parasitic plant and receives its nutrients from a host rather than photosynthesis. The plant is white because it does not contain chlorophyll and as it ages and produces fruit, it turns brown.

Indian Pipe is a really interesting parasitic plant because it does not parasitize upon another plant, like Mistletoe and Dodder. Indian Pipe is parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi.

Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with their host plant, providing them increased water and nutrient uptake. The host plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates formed during the process of photosynthesis. Many tree, shrubs and grass species form these relationships with mycorrhizal fungi, and some of these relationships are so specific that only certain species of fungi will colonize the root systems of certain plants, while others are more generalists and will colonize multiple plant species.IMG_8641Red Oak, Quercus rubra, acorn!IMG_8645Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, nuts!IMG_8652The bounty from our adventure!IMG_8664My big dinosaur wanted to give back the food he had gathered to the woodland creatures, so he carefully sorted each of the nuts and left them out on the rock to be found.

Rocky Brook Trail – A quick hike on a surprisingly chilly early September morning.

Rocky Brook Trail is located on Rt. 518 in East Amwell.

Link to hiking trail map.

IMG_7326Sometimes, it just gets away from me. On one of the first days of September, I hiked the Rocky Brook Trail. So many responsibilities and events came up and time flew by. With the busyness of life, I just did not have a chance to sit down and write.

Unlike some of my other more tedious tasks that can be easily forgotten, writing about my hikes is a calming and reflective time for me. When I think about Rocky Brook Trail and as I look at my pictures, I am transported back to that chilly and quiet morning.

My morning hikes in Spring and Summer were loud and boisterous, filled with the sounds of millions of organisms attending to their daily business. But in this chilly morning air, all is quiet. Many of the insects have mated, laid eggs and perished. Some of the birds have begun their migration to their winter homes, while others remain under a metaphorical blanket this morning until the temperature rises a bit more. Then they will emerge from their night’s lodging place and commence their day.

I have been asked a few times recently if I take notes when I hike. The answer is “sort of”. I don’t write anything down, but I use my pictures to bring me back to the sights and sensations of the particular location.

As I walk through a preserve, I try to be mindful. I focus on what I am experiencing…what the air smells like, what I hear, what the ground looks like and feels like under my boots, what I see in front of me, below, above and on my periphery.

My intention is to be fully present. There are times that I forget to take pictures, especially when I become entranced by a beautiful animal or when I am lost in a meditation while gazing at the water as it meanders around rocks and tree roots. There is so much beauty. I often lose track of time as I watch the leaves fall slowly and gracefully from the tree canopy.

IMG_7328A Spined Micrathena, Micrathena gracilis. The Punk Rock spider of the Sourlands 😉IMG_7331I have never seen the Stony Brook this shallow! I have been to this trail a few times since May and was not able to cross the stream because the water was very high.  IMG_7334Desiccated lithophytes. A lithophyte is a plant that grows on bare rocks. These plants were once under the water.  But with the lack of rain, they were exposed and subsequently, dried up.IMG_7345Crustose lichens up close. IMG_7351Death in the Sourlands. This is a decaying body of some sort of moth or butterfly. I attempted to identify it but soon gave up. There are so many amazing butterflies and moths in New Jersey but I don’t know enough about them to tell the difference without their wing markings.

Check out this link to see the moths and butterflies of New Jersey. I think I would faint if I saw a Scarlet Winged Lichen moth!IMG_7359Water striders breaking the surface tension of the water.IMG_7363White Wood Aster, Eurybia divaricata.  IMG_7369The contrast between the rocks and the forest canopy was mesmerizing.IMG_7373What gorgeous and welcoming steps into the forest!IMG_7376Peace.IMG_7385Bottle brush grass, Elymus hystrix. This grass is just about the only grass that I can identify with confidence!IMG_7389I cannot get enough of these beautiful spider webs in the morning sunshine!IMG_7393American Hogpeanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata. I am getting more and more curious about what these Hogpeanuts taste like!IMG_7399Great blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, looking stunning this morning.IMG_7403Chicory, Cichorium intybus, is an invasive. But I am not going to lie. I love these gorgeous flowers.

Cedar Ridge Preserve – Spiders and Butterflies!

Cedar Ridge preserve is located on Van Dyke Road in Hopewell.

Link to trail map.

IMG_5223August has begun to whisper, “Summer is coming to an end.” I detect a slight early morning chill and I am a little wistful, realizing that it will soon be too cold for short sleeves. The moon rises earlier and sets later and the days are cooler and shorter. August is bittersweet as summer reaches its peak and I must soon say “good-bye” to my favorite season of the year.

This morning, the air is cool and damp and the meadow is glowing with hundreds of spider webs. I intended to take photographs of butterflies, but I was soon entranced by all the different spider webs, the sheer numbers of them! Everywhere I looked, there were webs…some vertical, others horizontal and a few were funnel shaped. The owners were staked out on a couple of the webs, but others seemed suspiciously empty. I enjoyed observing their hunting strategies and wished I could have seen what happened when they caught their prey.

IMG_5136I really like this trampoline web! I didn’t see the owner, but I like to imagine the tiny spider bouncing up and down doing back flips!IMG_5211Who is hiding in there?IMG_5213There you are! A grass spider in the family, Agelenidae.DSC_0591These spiders do not have sticky webs. Instead they run very fast to catch their prey.IMG_5146A loose knitted spider web. I love the big loops, heavy with dew.DSC_0585A tight and symmetrical web. I wonder why the center is transparent but the outer circles are not? Perhaps to confuse their prey into flying towards the midpoint of the web?DSC_0594A Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus! It was my oldest who informed me that the Monarchs are the “Kings of the Butterflies”. I then realized that the significance of the name, “Monarch” had eluded me! Children can be wonderful teachers.DSC_0600At first, I was frustrated because I could not get a picture of the monarchs flittering about.  But I really like this picture of the two Monarchs flying together with the background in focus. It adds to the whimsical beauty of this August morning.

Have you ever seen a swarm of Monarchs? It is incredible! When I worked at Liberty State Park, I once came upon a swarm of well over 100 Monarchs resting inside of the old train terminal. When they startled, they took off in a massive cloud spinning and twirling around each other, out of the building and into the blue sky. It was a moment of awe and wonder and I desperately hope to see it at least once again in my lifetime!DSC_0609This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, kept teasing me. Every time I tried to get close for a picture, it would flit away.DSC_0664I persisted and finally got the picture I wanted! My oldest loves to tell me that butterflies have a proboscis.  I don’t think that he has actually seen a proboscis and he is unsure about where the proboscis goes when the butterfly is not eating. Now I can show him! Here is a short video about the Butterfly proboscis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZZaaVV2nyM DSC_0644I believe that this Butterfly is a common Wood-Nymph, Cercyonis pegala. I was elated when I realize that wood nymphs are not just imaginary creatures in stories!IMG_5177Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis. Whenever I see Elderberries, I always giggle as I recall “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the French knight who said “I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of Elderberries!”

If you are not familiar with this wonderful comedic film, please take a moment to watch the skit.IMG_5174These fruit were not ripe yet, but I still wanted to get a closer look…and to take a whiff in order to know what Elderberries really smell like 😉IMG_5187A side-view of Jewelweed/Touch-me-not, Impatiens capensis. Look at the vents and the tail on this flower! It is absolutely gorgeous!IMG_5193Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, dainty and quite beautiful this morning.IMG_5165Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, both whimsical and tropical in their appearance. I was mesmerized by their charm.IMG_5217Heall-All, Prunella vulgaris, magnificent in this morning light!IMG_5242Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota. A common name for this plant is “Wild Carrot”. Queen Anne’s Lace is a native edible. But BEWARE! There is a common plant that also grows in this area called “Poison Hemlock”, Conium maculatum, and is often mistaken for Queen Anne’s lace because it resembles it so closely.

Poison Hemlock is one of the most toxic plants growing in the wild in our country and it should be avoided.  Every part of the Poison Hemlock plant is poisonous and the toxins can be absorbed through the skin.IMG_5183Here is a picture of Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum. It is often found growing in close proximity to Queen Anne’s Lace.

This article shows side by side pictures of both plants and will help you detect the differences.IMG_5251A second breakfast of Blackberries, Rubus allegheniensis, graciously provided by the forest.DSC_0612I spy with my little eye a very noisy little bird…DSC_0630A Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas. A college friend of mine who is a bird enthusiast helped me identify this little bird.  Slowly and through practice (and asking friends who dabble in ornithology), I am starting to expand my knowledge of native bird species and identification. IMG_5254

A dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis. Ticks are in the class Arachnida, meaning that they are in the same class as spiders. Unlike male deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis, male dog ticks do feed on their host.

In my experience, I more often. find dog ticks on myself if I have been in grassy/meadow areas and deer ticks when I have been in the woods

Another species of tick now present in New Jersey is the Long Star Tick, Amblyomma americanum. All three of these species can transmit diseases to humans and their pets so it is important to make sure that you check yourself and your loved ones every time you have been outside.

Checking for ticks is part of our bedtime routine. Each night before bed, we do a tick check. There are times when I don’t want to sit for a tick check, but in all honesty, it takes less than 2 minutes to check a child and about 4 minutes to check an adult.

Some of these ticks in their nymph stage can be very tiny (about the size of the tip of a ball-point pen), so it is important to get a good look and investigate every unfamiliar “freckle”.

 

Dry Creek Run – On the hunt for frogs!

Dry Creek Run is located on Brunswick Pike in Lambertville.

Link to trail map!

IMG_5007I love the smell of the forest after a rain, the commingling of fresh and musky. I was on the trail before 8 am, and the forest was bursting with bird songs and the rustling sounds of unseen animals. A morning hike is a wonderful way to start the day. It always refreshes me and renews my connection with the Earth.

The feeling I have when I enter the woods is similar to the excitement my children have when I tell them they can have a boo-bop (My Littlest can’t say “ice pops”).

My kids anticipate the crinkling sound of the boo-bops wrapper, the sweet taste of sugar, and the icy-cold pop cooling the hot summer heat.

In the forest, I love the sound of the birds, the pungent scent of wet earth, the cacophony of woodland animals alternating with stillness… the most perfect summer treat.

IMG_5008The magenta flowers of Smartweed, Persicaria spp., stood out beautifully against the green backdrop.IMG_5011Even though the idea of trying to identify Sedges to species level gives me agita, I always love to see them in flower.IMG_5012Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, studded with water droplets that look like crystals.IMG_5016Peek-a-boo! No berries are safe from me!IMG_5018 These wiggly squiggly lines are from a leaf minor, Liriomyza eupatoriella, who uses White Snake root, Eupatorium rugosum, as its host for its larva.IMG_5023Sassafrass, Sassafras albidum, looking picture perfect this morning.IMG_5025I think this is American Jumpseed, Persicaria virginianaIMG_5027This white tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, looked pretty annoyed that I startled them out of the bed.IMG_5036Stickseed, Hacklia virginiana. I love that the fruits look like little ornaments hanging off the branches. I don’t love how they stick to just about everything!IMG_5043When I first saw this I thought it was a fruit until I picked it up and realized it was hollow. This is a gall, which is an abnormal growth on a plant that is triggered by a pest or a disease.IMG_5045A sea of Hogpeanuts, Amphicarpaea bracteata. Have you ever seen someone and totally blanked on their name even though you knew them? Well, that happened to me when I saw the Hogpeanuts.  I knew I knew the name but I just stared at it blankly and couldn’t retrieve it from my mental rolodex.IMG_5048White Avens, Geum canadense. The young leaves of this plant sort of look like strawberry leaves.IMG_5049When I saw this bench tucked in the woods, I imagined a person sitting there, deeply in thought while writing beautiful poetry.IMG_5058This Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, came up through the boardwalk. It is a common plant but I always feel happy when I see the brilliant orange flowers.IMG_5068I am pretty sure this is Heal-all, Prunella vulgaris. There aren’t any flowers on it, but based upon the leaves and the flowering stalk I am pretty sure that is what it is. I really love the purple flowers of this little plant!IMG_5073Black-and-gold Flat Millipede Apheloria virginiensis. Apparently these little critters produce a cyanide substance that can cause skin irritation so please look but do not touch!IMG_5079The trail was littered with fruit! Pignut hickory (Carya glabra), Bitternut (Carya cordiformis), Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), Pin Oak (Quercus pallustris), Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

While walking along the trail, I heard a chorus of frogs. I knew that if there were that many frogs, there needed to be a body of water. I was watching the clock because I had to get back to the office by 9am for a meeting but I HAD TO FIND THE FROGS! I did make it back to the office on time, but I had to run all the way back to my car.

IMG_5052Isn’t this little pond gorgeous?! Hearing the frogs and finding this pond was the highlight of my morning.IMG_5057What a perfect place to come and just be with nature. It was so loud and so quiet at the same time.

Goat Hill Overlook – Leaving work a little early to get outside on a beautiful week day.

Goat Hill Overlook is located on Coon Path in Lambertville.

Link to Hike information and map.

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The past few days have been absolutely beautiful, albeit unseasonably warm.  After some sneakily ingested halloween treats, the boys were boisterous and we all needed to escape to the outdoors.  We all put on our high-visibility clothes (it is deer hunting season!) and headed out to Goat Hill Overlook. During deer hunting season it is a good idea to always call ahead to see if the trails are open to the public.  You can go to the Sourland Conservancy’s website to see who owns the property and then call ahead of time to make sure the preserve is open.

Tom Ogren wrote a wonderful booklet titled, The Story of Goat Hill.  This preserve is the embodiment of the history of this area from the Revolutionary War to the hiding of moonshine inside blocks of  cheese during Prohibition and an epic battle to preserve this beautiful land. I don’t want to give anymore spoilers, you will have to read about it for yourself!  We always have copies of “The Story of Goat Hill” at our events, but you will also be able to purchase it on the Sourland Conservancy’s online store.

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A garter snake, Thamnophis spp., sunning itself on the trail.  This little one had a big ole’ bulge in its belly, which meant that it was probably digesting its last meal.  Garter snakes eat a variety of foods varying from slugs all the way to rodents. I hope that you are all proud of me for standing this close to take a photo.

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Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, has perhaps the most deep red fall foliage in our area of the country.  Flowering Dogwood is a native tree which erupts into showy Spring blossoms encouraging pollinators and later into beautiful Fall foliage and berries providing sustenance for birds!

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These boys couldn’t contain their excitement for sprinting down the forest path.

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My big dude was jealous that my littlest got a piggy back, so he climbed on board for a ride too.

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White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima, seeds getting ready to fly.

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This multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, caught some fur (or maybe jacket insulation?) in its thorns.

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In general I am not a fan of graffiti, particularly in parks but I’ll have to admit that I always smile when I see this heart.

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I love reaching the summit of a hike.  When the ground levels out and the sky opens up, it is like the world is saying “Welcome!”.

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I really love this preserve because the trail is wide and the hike is fairly easy and you are treated to this wonderful panorama.  It usually takes between 10-15 minutes to hike from the parking lot to the overlook, which makes this a great trail for almost anyone.  I am not sure if you would be allowed to drive up the trail although it is wide enough to accommodate a car to bring someone who is handicapped to the overlook, but I would call NJ DEP and inquire about the regulations concerning handicap access.

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Looking for boats.

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I think it can be easy to brush past conversations with small children because “they won’t remember”, but these are significant learning opportunities for all of us.  Slowing down and taking the time to just talk with children is important to them but it also benefits the adult. I don’t think I have ever thought quite as deeply about something as when my child keeps responding with “why” to every answer I give.  While at times, the reflexive “why” can be maddening, it also helps me refine my own understanding of the information I acquired and my personal beliefs.

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I enjoy my solo hikes in the Sourlands, but I really love watching my children play and explore the Sourlands.

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My big dude spotted this fort and immediately needed to investigate!

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Both of my dudes loved to play in here.  In our home, our sunroom is in a constant state of wooden train layouts and couch forts.  I’ve given into their need-to-build-things and just let them play, but I hope that perhaps after experiencing this “outside fort” that they will turn some of their energy into designing and building forts outdoors so that I can have my couches back.

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Beautiful dark blue lichen!

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Crab apples, Malus spp.  Apples are an introduced species from Asia, but many species have become naturalized.  Apples belong to the rose family, Rosaceae.  Many commercial fruit species belong to this family, pears, apricots, plums, nectarines, raspberries, blackberries, and almonds.

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The sun is setting earlier these days so we had to head back down the hill sooner than we would have liked.

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This T-Rex found a walking stick but wouldn’t hold still for a photo.  I suppose I should know better than to expect such a ferocious and fast animal to stay still for such a silly thing as a photo.

Omick Woods in Spring – A totally different experience!

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Last time I was here, I was alone and everything was snow covered.  This time, the wild boys and my sister came out for the hike.

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Common Blackberry, Rubus allegheniensis, mmmm…  I can’t wait for those flowers to turn into fruit!  Black Raspberry, Rubus occidentalis, looks very similar to Blackberry, but the backside of the leaves of Black Raspberry are silver/green while the Blackberry leaves are green on both sides.

Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, displaying its three leaf forms (simple, mitten, trident).  I am not sure if I love Sassafras more because of its name or that it smells like fruity pebbles, but I always giggle to myself whenever I see it.  Most often it grows as an understory shrub, but it can reach 20ft in height.

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Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa, a NJ native with fabulous spike flowers.  I have heard that some herbalist recommend making a tea from Black Cohosh to induce labor.  While this plant is beautiful and would make a wonderful garden plant, I would seriously discuss taking any type of herbs/medicine with your doctor especially if you are pregnant!

Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica.  The picture on the left is a very young plant and does not yet have compound leaves.  The photo on the right is also young, but it is displaying the compound leaves typical of green ash.  Currently the Green Ash is being threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).  The EAB has been devastating the green ash all along the East Coast, but has only has entered New Jersey in recent years.

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High Bush Blueberry, Vaccinium corybosom.  I will definitely be coming through this area again in July/August!  There are few things better than vine-ripened fruit!

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Maple leaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium, a native understory plant.  While both Maples and Maple leaf viburnums have opposite leaves, the viburnum leaves are fuzzy and the maple leaves are not.  These viburnums also do not grow much higher than hip height.

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False solomon seal, Smilacina racemosa, with its terminal flowers!

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True Solomon Seal, Polygonatum spp., with flowers/fruit in the leaf axils

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Epicormic leaves on American Beech, Fagus americana.  Trees will produce these epicormic leaves or shoots when it needs to increase photosynthesis due to damage to the tree or some other stressor.  As you can see in this picture, the leaves are coming out of an area that had previously been damaged.  This does not always occur at every point of damage in a tree, but it is more likely to occur here or near the root flare.

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Perfoliate Bellwort, Uvularia perfoliata!  I just love this little plant!  I think it is so cool how the stems perforate through the leaf.

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Wine Berry, Rubus phoenicolasius, an invasive berry species.  Similar to Black Raspberry and Blackberry, but the berries tend to be a little more tart.  It is one of those lovable invasive species that many hate to remove.

 

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Tracker-in-Training!  My Dude pointing out all the animal tracks along the way!  )

(Raccoon on the left, Deer on the right

IMG_6244Princess Tree, Paulownia tomentosa, flowers!  An invasive ornamental, but I can’t help but love those beautiful tubular flowers!

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Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, a native with wonderfully fragrant flowers!

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Tick Trefoil, Desmodium spp., there are several species that are native to New Jersey, but I am not sure what species this is.

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Littlest Dude did not want to be carried, he wanted to walk and protested until I put him down to walk.

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Autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, a common invasive found in these parts.  The red berries are often eaten by birds, but they are also edible for humans!  One of my former co-workers used to make a fabulous Autumn Olive cheesecake, with a compote of Autumn olive on top.

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I am not sure if this is Slippery Elm, Ulmus rubra, or American Elm, Ulmus americana.   Both of these species are found in this region and are very similar in characteristics.  My initial gut reaction was Slippery Elm, but I cannot say for certain.

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If its hairy, its scary!  A large poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) vine growing up a tree.  Don’t lean against this one!

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I feel like this looks like a scene out of Jurassic Park!  Except minus the dinosaurs!

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Worm!