Category Archives: Plants

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!

 

 

Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain: A (very) short hike with my assistant

Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain is located in Hopewell Township off of Fiddlers Creek.

NJ trail maps and description: http://njtrails.org/trail/ted-stiles-preserve-at-baldpate-mountain/

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My assistant today… He was not overly enthusiastic about accompanying me on this brisk (34 deg F) morning hike, or with me stopping every few minutes to bend over to look at something on the ground.

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A lovely log to sit and eat a picnic lunch on.  Lots and lots of shelled acorns and larger nuts, such as hickory nuts were laying on the ground all around this downed tree.  This is probably a spot where a squirrel sat to munch.

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Spring beauties finally in bloom!  I did not see with their flowers fully open, but perhaps that had to do with the air temperature.  These are the first native flowers I have seen this season!

 

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The forest is starting to green!  Unfortunately, the green haze seen here is almost entirely composed of the invasive plant species such as Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, and Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora.

 

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…A little further down on rt. 29… a Committee of Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura

Omick Woods in Winter

Omick Woods is located on Rock Town Road in East Amwell, NJ.

Link to NJ Trails maps and description

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I really enjoy hiking in the late winter/early spring.  There is still the quiet and stillness of winter, but there are little hints of spring’s promise popping up.

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Spring Beauties, Claytonia virginica, working its way out of the blanket of leaves.

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Red maple, Acer rubrum, buds bursting at the seams.

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Tulip poplar, Lirodendron tulipifera, seeds ready for flight.

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Fruit of Shagbark Hickory, Carya Ovata, open and bare.

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Death.  Perhaps a leg bone of white tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus?

 

The First Sign of Spring

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When the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) buds start to swell, the trees glow with a red aura throughout the canopy.  What I love about the Red Maple, is how discreet this first glimpse of spring is.  It is so easily missed, but once you become aware of it, you will start to look for it at the end of every winter.

There are many reasons Red Maples are special to me.  I love the subtleness of their buds turning red, it feels like a secret whisper to only the acutely aware that spring is here.  The flowers are not as obvious as Dogwoods and Magnolias, but they are equally as showy and beautiful when you get close.  They are able to survive in water logged soils and rocky uplands alike and provide habitat and food for a variety of mammals and birds.  All of these things are nice, however the reason that every time I see Red Maples in bud is because it reminds me of when I found out I was pregnant with my first child.

It was March 2014 and spring break from graduate school.  My husband and I planned to take a road trip down to Savannah, Georgia and then make our way out to Cumberland Island.   As we drove from New Jersey to Georgia, I spent hours staring out of the car window.  My laboratory at school had no windows, so I spent the majority of my time in a closet piping microliters of bacterial and fungal DNA into tubes.  While in New Jersey there were no signs of spring, as the hours ticked by as we drove south, I started to see hints of spring along the highway.  The first were the red maples, their branches glowing with their deep vibrant red when we hit the border of  Virginia and North Carolina.  Then came the vines; multiflora rose, catbrier, and raspberries, their stems turning green before they leaf out in South Carolina.  Then grasses and soon oak flowers in Georgia.  I’ve seen this transition so many times at home, but it was so fun to watch it happen as we drove.  It was like watching spring on fast forward.  We spent a few days wondering around Savannah and I was in awe of the Live Oaks and Spanish moss.  We then drove south to St. Mary, Florida and took a ferry to Cumberland Island.  If you have not yet been to Cumberland Island, I suggest you stop doing whatever it is that you are doing, and go.  The Live oaks of Savannah were gorgeous, but to see them on Cumberland Island with those big beautiful ferns and the Spanish Moss… it is a place of magic and fairytales!

When we started our drive back to New Jersey, the green colors along the highway faded, but when we arrived back home, the Maples with their expectant red buds were swollen and about to burst open to reveal their hanging flowers.  The next morning, I found out that I too, was expecting.

 

More information on Red Maples:

Red Maple is in the Aceraceae family, which is characterized by deciduous leaves that come off the branch opposite of each other.  While it may seem insignificant to note opposite leaves, it is an important identification characteristic because there are only a handful of tree species in this region that have leaves that are opposite one another on a branch, the majority of species have leaves that are alternate (and a few that are whorled).  Another familiar characteristic of trees in the Aceraceae family is that their fruit are samaras.  A samara is a indehiscent (does not split open when dried to reveal seeds) fruit that has wings.  You may have called them “whirly-gigs” or “helicopters”, or split the fruit end and stuck it on the bridge of your nose and pretended to be a rhinoceros.  The leaves of red Maple usually have 3 lobes, but occasionally can have 5.  The leaf margins are serrate (sharply toothed) and the underside of the leaf is glaucous (covered in white, waxy substance).  The flowers are pink to red drooping racemes.  Racemes are a flower cluster, where each flower has a long stem and they all attach at a single axis point.  Red Maples are also unique because they are considered polygamo-dioecious.  A dioecious plant is when there are separate male and female plants, however, a polygamo-dioecious plant can have both male and female flowers on the same individual, or one tree entirely female flowers or entirely male flowers.  The root system of Red Maple is shallow, which is typical for species that live in water logged soils.

Red Maples are medium sized trees that grow quickly, reaching a height of 50-70ft.  They are a cosmopolitan species, enjoying a vast range across almost half of the United States and living in both swampy, water logged sites and rocky upland habitats.  This species can be an effective pioneer species and become established on disturbed sites.  Red Maple can also grow in many different forest cover types and is utilized as a street and shade tree.  While once a minority in our forests, Red Maple has become a dominant species due to its ability to thrive in multiple habitats and has become a major component of Eastern forest cover.  They can live as far north as Nova Scotia, West to Wisconsin, South to Texas and are found across the entire East Coast of the United States.

The Red Maple also provide habitat for common flickers, screech owls and pileated woodpeckers.  When growing in floodplains and riparian zones, wood ducks will nest  in their cavities.  It is important to note that Red Maple is toxic to cattle and horses and this needs to be kept in consideration for those keeping livestock.   Red Maple is an important source of timber and is often used in furniture, flooring, instruments, veneer, pallets, cabinetry and more.  The sap of Red Maple can also be reduced to make maple syrup.  While the sugar content in Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is greater than Red Maple, you can still use its sap to create maple syrup but the ratio of sap:syrup is greater.