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Hopewell Borough Park – A much needed picnic and walk


To say we had a rough week would be an understatement.  Both of my wild boys were very sick this week and it was pretty scary for us.  They are doing much better now and back to their old selves but the time spent in the hospital always leaves a mark on me.  Not going outside disorients me and I feel so disconnected with the rest of the world.  I (we) needed to get outside for a little while and so Hopewell Borough Park felt like the right place to go.  While there was very little sunshine, the air felt so good and just being able to move freely was so healing.  We picked up some sandwiches from the Peasant Grill and headed to the Gazebo at Hopewell Borough Park to have a little picnic before playing and going for a walk.  I’m really trying to savor these t-shirt days.  I love summer and always feel so sad when the weather starts to change and it becomes too cool for t-shirts.  I know there can be some days in the October that are warm enough but it is just not the same as the wonderful hot weather of summer.  In my opinion, summer is never long enough!


This sneaky plant caught me by surprise!  When I saw it I knew it was in the Solanaceae family, the Nightshades!  Other familiar plants in this family are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant and tobacco! It also looked really similar to the ground cherries growing in my garden, so I thought perhaps it was an escape from someone’s garden….  Apparently there are quite a few ground cherry, Physalis spp., species native to this area!  I am not too sure which species this is, I am leaning towards Smooth Ground Cherry, Physalis subglabrata, but I am really not sure.  This was just a surprise and a delight to know this plant is just hanging out here in Hopewell Borough Park.


White Snake Root, Ageratina altissima, a native woodland flower.  I learned this plant as Eupatorium rugosum, and will forever think of that name first.  I love this flower and how it stands out so brightly in the forest in the fall.  It is sort of like the last “horrah!” of summer and once these little flowers close, it is time for the forest to go to sleep for the winter.


I think this is a Fall Webworm moth, Hyphantria cunea.  It is considered to be a native pest, and constructs its tents in hardwoods such as hickories and walnuts, birches and cherries.  Apparently the fall webworm is not as detrimental as the spring/summer tent caterpillar because they rarely kill their host tree.  I looked up what these caterpillars look like as adults, and they are pretty cool looking.  Sort of like an abominable snowman in moth form.


A green frog, Lithobates clamitans, sitting on what I originally thought was a rock but it turned out to be a very large piece of foam cushion….  Just another weird thing in the Sourlands!


Goldenrod, Solidago spp., head high and a foreboding sky.   Even though the sky was dark, it didn’t feel like it was going to rain.  There was not any heaviness to the air and there was not any wind.  This is the view that I needed to help restore me from this week.  When I feel overwhelmed one of the things that make me feel better is just going outside and getting lost for awhile.  Even though I wasn’t lost and couldn’t let myself become consumed in this field because I had the wild boys with me  (I really just wanted to push pass the Rubus and just lay down for a few), it felt so good just to stop and stare into this field.


My wonderful co-worker, Laurie, showing my big dude a “nature door”.  He was so excited to run under this Spruce, Picea, and play in the “house” that this tree created.


Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, a native plant that is edible at certain stages and toxic at others.  The young shoots of the plant apparently are OK to eat, but the berries and the mature plant are both toxic.  I know those berries look so inviting, but please do not eat them!


Taking a stroll through the lower meadow.  Trails like this give me so much pleasure.  It is not often you can walk through such a thicket and see how nature is moving through succession.  The upper meadow with just herbaceous plants, the lower meadow with a mix of woody plants and meadows and then the forest.  I love these successional transitions.  It reminds me Venn diagrams with their overlapping portions.  Some species can live in a meadow but not in the shrub layer. Some in the shrub layer but not the mature forest.  It is just wonderful being able to walk through this and see this transition in action.

St. Michaels – A quick hike and an obligatory stop for stone skipping with the Wild Boys.

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The Wild Boys were SO excited to come out with me today.  It was hard to get them out the door to come to the office but once I said “We are going to go for a hike after we leave the office!” they couldn’t wait to get in the car.  One thing that I have realized with my boys is that they don’t look at the sky and worry about the rain that might come, they just see that its daytime and there might be clouds but don’t worry about the future.   I wish that I could go back to a time when I didn’t worry about future things such as the mortgage, appointments, health issues, rain!  One of the best things about playing with my children is that they are just so in the moment, and they often drag me with them.  They slow me down and force me to enjoy all the small (and big!) beautiful things that can only be enjoyed in this precise moment, there is no room for worrying about something that may or may not happen later.    IMG_4232

Asiatic dayflower/Mouse ears, Commelina communis, an introduced species that can sometimes be invasive.  This is one of the few times in my life that I have seen a truly blue flower.  I was stunned when I saw it because I have never seen anything quite like it out in the woods before.  The blue was so striking that I had a hard time parting with this little plant.  I think it is important to note that not all introduced species are “bad” or “invasive”. Native species can also be considered invasive, although this is not as common.  An invasive species pushes out other organisms, reduces total ecosystem function and causes harm to other organisms (including humans!).  Usually it is an introduced species that becomes invasive because it is released from predation and disease in its new environment and is able to spread rapidly.  Asiatic dayflower is pollinated by bees and the seeds are eaten by song and game birds.  Sometimes invasive species can fill a niche that was left when a native plant has been extirpated (locally extinct).  For example, there was a native dayflower, Virginia dayflower, Commelina virginica, that is extirpated in NJ and PA, so this introduced species may possibly be filling the niche that was left by the Virginia dayflower.


American Hogpeanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata, a native new-to-me plant that I had a tricky time trying to identify.  When I saw the flowers of this plant, I knew it was in the Pea family, Fabaceae, and the leaves looked like Trefoil (leaves not shown here), but I could not find any Trefoils (Desmodium) that grew like a vine.  I then thought maybe it was a sweet pea… nope!  I searched and searched and searched, and then I saw what I was looking for on google images (lots of good key terms such as “Fabaceae, vine, purple flowers, three-leaves”) … I clicked on the image and it brought me to the NJ Invasive Species Strike Team handout (Yay strike team!).  Of course, I didn’t know what it was called so I scrolled and scrolled and then FINALLY on page 62 there was an image and a name of the plant I was trying to identify.  Once I had the name, I was able to reverse identify this plant to confirm what it was.  This plant is pretty cool, apparently the Pawnee and the Chippewa used to eat Hogpeanuts and make remedies with the roots.  IMG_4264

I didn’t see it, but I felt its presence…  It was either Wood nettle, Laportea canadensis, or Stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, ouch!!!!  I know, I know…  It is edible, it has health benefits…blah blah blah….  This plant is such a pain in the… arm!  I was carrying my littlest because he was being thwarted by the tall weeds and didn’t want to push through it and I felt the familiar hot stinging pain of formic acid and histamines burning my skin.  If you are feel so inclined, I found this video about stinging nettles and their health benefits.  The speaker is pretty jazzed about nettles and seems knowledgable, so if you have the time and interest, check it out!


Wild ginger, Asarum canadense, a native perennial with beautiful deep red blooms in the early spring .  I have read that you can dig up the roots and mix them with sugar and the taste is similar to culinary ginger.  IMG_4358

Splash!  A big splash and the “thunk” of a rock breaking the surface tension of water’s surface is so utterly satisfying.


These wild boys could not get enough of this stream, both of them tried to just run in and go swimming.  I loved playing in streams when I was little (even a puddle was wonderful) and I love watching my children splash around.  The tactile sensation of the wet cold water, the sound of it splashing and the sight of all those waves and droplets…  It is beautifully stimulating and calming at the same time!


Slenderleaf False Foxglove, Agalinis tenuifolia, a beautiful native that attracts long-tongued bees and butterflies.  This plant really stands out with those beautiful purple flowers on such delicate stems.  When I was standing up, it looked almost like the flowers were floating on air.IMG_4341

Look at this chaotic beautiful mess of flowers!  It seems like it should be some sort of abstract painting rather than just perfectly sitting on the edge of a hiking trail.    If it weren’t for the Wild Boys I would have spent a lot longer trying to compose a better picture of this to show how beautiful it is, but they were running off ahead of me and I since I haven’t been on this section of trail before, I felt it better to keep on eye on them rather than take pictures of this gorgeous clump of flowers.  I suggest someone go out and capture this beautiful mess before the flowers die!IMG_4352

The Wild Boys tickling a Hickory, Carya spp., seedling.  I didn’t realize until now when writing this, that you can see my big dude’s temporary Sourland Mountain Spirits tattoo.  The boys came to the office with me in the morning to get a couple of administrative things in order before the Sourland Spectacular (it was so fun and if you didn’t do it this year, do it next year!) and the owner of Sourland Mountrain Spirits stopped by the office and gave him a temporary tattoo.  He has worn it proudly for 5 days now… we are not allowed to wash right side of his right calf….  I digress…  The plant to the right of my littlest is the cause of so many people’s woes in the late summer and early fall.  It looks innocent enough, but it is one of the leading causes of hay-fever.  This is Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia.  Goldenrod, Solidago spp., often gets blamed for the back to school season allergies, but Goldenrod is just the innocent bystanders in this affront of your senses.  Goldenrod with its flashy yellow flowers attracts pollinators to spread its pollen, Ragweed has inconspicuous flowers that are wind dispersed.  There is no reason for a plant to put energy and resources into making flowers showy if the plant is not trying to attract something (example: pollinator) to it.  The plant will allocate those resources instead to making a TON of pollen that can be blown in the wind.  Unfortunately Goldenrod and Ragweed bloom at the same time, and Goldenrod has those flashy flowers so they are unfairly blamed for the fall sneeze.

Thompson Preserve – Autumn is coming!


It is Labor Day Weekend and the summer is coming to an end.  I know plenty of people that claim that summer is not over until September 22, life in the natural world does not follow such a rigid calendar.  The vibrancy and thrill of summer is fading to the warmth of Autumn gradually tucking everything in for the winter.  It begins with the night insects changing guard and then the Goldenrod starts to bloom and the Sycamore and Tulip poplar leaves turn yellow to brown.  I may be anthropomorphizing, but I see the panic in the insects and birds, frantically trying to get the last bit of nectar and fruits before their migration and breeding is over.  The mosquitos frenzy to get their blood meal before the first frost kills.  This time of year is so beautiful, yet I always dread it.  I start to to feel anxious because I know summer is coming to an end and there were still so many things I wanted to do.

I had originally planned to go out for this hike with my Wild Boys, but the forecast called for 80% chance of thunderstorms and I didn’t want to be a mile out with two kids and a storm coming.  My boys LOVE going on these hikes and would have a conniption if I tried to cut it short and head back to the car.  Though it didn’t rain or thunder, I had a lovely walk on my own through Thompson Preserve.  I do love taking the Wild Boys with me, but I am not going to lie and say I did not enjoy this walk alone.


I am pretty sure this is a Michaelmas-daisy, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, a native with beautiful showy flowers.   These flowers are great for pollinators and can add a great burst of color to your garden!


Touch-Me-Not, Impatiens capensis, in flower and in fruit.  If you look to the left of the flower, you will see two seed pods.  Those are the fruit of Touch-me-nots and why I presume they were given their name.  If you gently squeeze (or even touch) these little pods, they explode (ballochory) sending their seeds flying through the air.  I loved doing this as a child and I equally enjoy doing it as an adult!


Gone to seed….  The ostentatious colors of summer are fading now that fertilization has taken place and the expectant seeds are starting to disperse and await their gestation period until next spring.


Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus divaricatus, a beautiful native that often grows on the edge of fields right next to a forest.  If it wasn’t for the guilt of cutting plants meant for pollinators, I would have made a bouquet to take home.


Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, a native with a lot of herbal history.  I reached out to the trusty Sourland Stewards for help with this identification and as per usual they did not disappoint! This plant has a long history as a medicinal plant, used to treat fevers, flus and other maladies.  I have read that this plant was also used to deal with the pain from broken bones however I have also read that the plant got its name from being a diaphoretic used to treat an influenza called Break Bone Fever.


Showy Patridge Flower, Chamaecrista fasciculata, a beautiful native in the Pea Family!  Another common name for this plant is “Sensitive plant” and apparently the leaves fold when touched, similar to the Mimosa tree.  This is a great plant to have on your property because it is not only beneficial for pollinators, but tasty for wild game and songbirds that eat its fruit.


Arrowleaf Tear Thumb, Polygonum sagittatum, a native with the same common weed as an invasive, Mile-a-Minute/Tear Thumb, Persicaria perfoliata.  I had asked my friend, Dr. Julia, for help with identification and she had told me its the same common name for the same problem, there are small recurved thorns that “tear your thumb”.


Oriental Ladysthumb, Polygonum cespitosum, an invasive that I have known for years, but never bothered knowing their name.  I see this weed everywhere and I am a little embarrassed that I never knew what it was called.


I am not really sure why this is happening.  It is the carcass of a deer, hanging from a branch about 10-12ft up in a tree.  There is a stream bed close to this, but this was definitely not left there from flooding.  There haven’t been mountain lions spotted in this area for a very very long time, and even if there were, I don’t think a branch of that diameter could hold the weight of a mountain lion and a deer carcass.  The next predator would be a bobcat, which have been known to take down a deer, but I highly doubt that it would be strong enough to drag it up into the tree.  So…. a weird person put it there?  Maybe?  I really don’t know…  Just another strange sight in the Sourlands!


Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, a native with beautiful fall foliage.  I love the texture of this leaves and I always need to take a whiff of the leaves.


Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, berries.  As despised as this plant is, birds everywhere love to eat these berries and spread this plant all over.


Tulip Poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, looking worn and ailing.  These leaves put their time in, growing, photosynthesizing and now returning to the Earth to become next year’s fertilizer.


Flat top goldenrod, Euthamia graminifolia, a native goldenrod that is not a Solidago!  This is another Dr. Julia special, because it looked like a Solidago to me but not like a Solidago I had ever seen (Solidago is the genus name for Goldenrod).  Similar to other Goldenrods, this plant is great for pollinators and birds.


The sky looked so foreboding, but it was all talk.  Not a single rain drop all morning!


Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, one of the first trees to surrender their leaves.


A predator stalking its prey!  Red sunflower aphids, Uroleucon helianthicola, and I believe an Asian Lady bug, Harmonia axyridis.  I used this dichotomous key to figure out what type of lady bug this is.  The Asian Lady bug was released in New Jersey (Go Jersey!) in the 1980’s as a biological control for aphids, mites, scales and many other pest insects.  This lady bugs (actually they are beetles, Coleoptera) have been able to decrease our dependence on pesticides.  Biological control organisms go through rigorous trials before being released, but in my personal opinion, I’d much rather see the use of bio control than the blanket spraying of pesticides that wipes out the good “bugs” as well as the bad.  Biological control organisms are selected because they specifically target the pest organism and supposedly have very little affect on other species.  While there have been times that the biological control agent goes rogue and doesn’t do what they were released to do, it is rare.


Canada Thistle, Cirsium arvense, infected by the bacteria, Pseudomonas syringiae.  The bacteria causes apical chlorosis causing sterility in the plant.  Here is an article that goes in depth about this disease.  A trusty Sourland Steward/farmer helped with the identification of this plant.  Apparently it is a pest of many farmers and this bacterial infection has been a benefit to them!IMG_3592

Showy Tick Trefoil, Desmodium canadense, a pretty native with a pain in the butt method of seed dispersal….


Caught #InTheSourlands !  Showy Tick Trefoil seed dispersal in action.


My “souvenirs” that I removed once I got back to the office.

Sourland Mountain Preserve – A very rainy Monday morning hike

Sourland Mountain Preserve is located on East Mountain Road in Hillsborough.

Link to the Hiking trail map and description.


You know you have a true friend when they don’t bail on your early Monday morning hike even though it is down pouring.  I absolutely love hiking in the rain, there are so many different smells and sounds and it feels like you are in commune with the wild things.  I get a similar feeling when night hiking – I am out of place but in the most delightful and adventurous way.  We found a lot of mushrooms on this hike, and so I reached out to the marvelous Nina Burghardt, a distinguished mycologist and former president of the New Jersey Mycological society.  I went on a Mushroom Foray that she lead for the Sourland Conservancy and was blown away by all the different types of Fungi and her wealth of knowledge.  Nina graciously identified the mushrooms we saw and gave me some helpful information on how to identify them.


An escargatoire!  A nursery of slugs.  Slugs are shell-less mollusks (phyllum Mollusca) in the class Gastropoda.  Gastropods are the largest class in the phyllum Mollusca and perhaps the most diverse.  Gastropods can be both aquatic as well as terrestrial and have some of the most intricate shells you have ever seen and some have shells that are pretty much non-existent!


Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica, bark.  I love how bark looks like it fits together like puzzle pieces.  Tree bark is not consistent through time, just like our skin.  When we are young are skin is smooth and as we mature, so does it  We develop our own furrows, ridges and creases that distinguish us and our stories from those who have not lived as long.


This mushroom, Megacollybia rodmanii, reminds me of the iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe standing on the subway grate with her dress flying up all around her.


I loved all the raised paths along this trail.  Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy scrambling over rocks but these raised paths make this trail a little more accessible to those who are not quite as nimble as they might have once been.  Also, I think it just looks really pretty to see winding paths through the woods.  Some of these raised paths were pretty far in and I can imagine how much time and effort it took those who built it to bring in all the wood and supplies.  Imagine being a few miles in and then realized you left your hammer back in the car?!


These fantastical orange mushrooms are, Pholiota limonella!  Autocorrect changed the species name to limoncello, which obviously made me want a cocktail.  The picture really doesn’t do the mushroom justice, it was spectacularly orange, in great contrast to the dark wet colors of the rain soaked forest.  These mushrooms are saprophytic and work as decayers of organic matter.


Little Toad!  This is either an American Toad, Anaxyrus americanus or a Fowler’s Toad, Anaxyrus fowleri.  I was informed by the trusty Sourland Stewards that these two species hybridize in our region.


Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, creates a perfect habitat for black legged/deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis.   Deer ticks are the vector for the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, that causes Lymes disease. Japanese Barberry creates the perfect habitat for deer ticks to thrive, get their first meal and reproduce.  This article from entomology today goes into more detail about the effects of this invasive plant on the increase of the deer tick population and increase of Lymes disease.


Chanterelles, Cantharellus spp.  Prior to going on a hike with Nina, I had never seen a chanterelle in the wild before.  Now I see them EVERYWHERE!


Someone lost an earring.  I love the thoughtfulness of the finder to hang the earring up on the trail blaze, and I hope that the owner reunites with their lost item.

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Purpletoothed Polypore, Trichaptum biforme.  The young mushrooms can be a brilliant violet color that fades as the fungi matures.  Polypores are also hardworking saprophytes that decay hardwoods.


We stood here scratching our heads over this tree.  How did this happen?  What is holding it down?  The tree is still alive and there is nothing pining it down in this arch.


Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii, and Japanese Stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum, invasion.


Old Man of the Woods, Strobilomyces floccopus.  I wonder why this mushroom was given this common name…  This is a young Old Man of the Woods (hehe), but as they mature the cap  starts to look like a perfectly scored loaf of fresh bread.


A fly, Drosera spp. hanging out on the underside of a mushroom.


Mimosa?  I’d love one, thank you!  Oh… the tree… right….  Mimosa (also called Persian Silk tree), Albizia julibrissin, is an invasive ornamental belonging to the bean family, Fabaceae.  I learned about this plant during my undergraduate study and now I am obsessed with it.  Mimosa has a really interesting response to stimulus, whether it be touch or sudden change in temperature.  Turgor pressure is what gives plant cells structural stability, and this crafty plant is able to change that turgor pressure in the leaves, causing them to fold.  This response is hypothesized as a way to protect the plant from herbivory and desiccation.  Before you do anything else today, please watch this video!  I promise it will be a very interesting 16 seconds of your life… and you should also watch the stronger response video too!  I bet you won’t be able to contain yourself from tickling the next Mimosa you see!


Cedar Ridge Preserve – a restorative Monday Morning Walk

Cedar Ridge Preserve is located on Van Dyke Rd in Hopewell NJ.

Link to NJ Trails hike map and description.


Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis.  This flower is the first sign of the autumnal season for me.  It is a little darker when I wake up in the morning and the air has a slight chill to it.  Lately I have been challenging myself more to try to identify more new plants.  For awhile I had reached saturation level, and would see a plant I didn’t recognize and be able to say “Hmmm… don’t know that one” and walk on.  Now, I am on an all out plant-blitz, trying to figure out everything I don’t know (except grasses, rushes and sedges… those I will still happily “Hmmm… I don’t know” and walk on).  I have been reaching out to friends, former colleagues and even new acquaintances (hopefully soon to be friends!) and playing “Name that plant!”. My good friend Julia Perzley, soon to be Dr. Julia Perzley (Go Julia!), has been a major contestant in this game and I wanted to give her a shout-out as a meadow forb wizard!


Heal-all, Prunella vulgaris, a native flower belonging to the Mint Family.  I surmise from the name that this plant was used in traditional medicine.  I love that I have been working in ecology for 11 years, and on a weekly basis I can go out for a hike and consistently see plants that I have never noticed before.


Queen Ann’s Lace, Daucus carota, with the “blood drop”.  While the story of a drop of blood dropping on this flower is quite the folk lore, in all actuality this red spot acts as a homing beacon to pollinators!


A spider’s net that has caught nothing but dew.   I love hiking after/during a light rain or early on a dewy morning because you can see all of the stunning spider webs!


This native purple beauty is called New York Ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis.  I daydream of having a front garden with flowers this color…  I think I am going to have spend some time this winter researching seed sources for some of these lovely flowers!


Agrimony, Agrimonia parviflora.  I reached out to one of our fabulous volunteers Pat Coleman, who works both as a Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Instructor and a Bowman’s Hill Wildflower preserve volunteer naturalist.  A truly lovely lady with a ton of wisdom!  A common name for Agrimony is “fairy’s wand” and in folk lore it was used to ward off witches!


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, on Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium purpureum.  Joe Pye Weed is an excellent choice if you want to attract a plethora of butterflies!


Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus, on Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.  Here is a link to the National Wildlife Federations webpage about Monarchs.


Blackberries, Rubus allegheniensis!  Yum!


A little bench in the woods overlooking a stream.  What a wonderful spot to sit and ponder, or perhaps write a poem?


A massive Momma spider protecting her egg sack and itty bitty baby spiders.  I really wasn’t sure what kind of spider this was and I asked around and the consensus is a wolf spider, family Lycosidae.  I have never seen a spider quite this large on the East Coast.  When I worked in the Mojave Desert I would regularly see Tarentulas, particularly in November during their breeding season.  If you think this is some other type of spider, I would love to know what you think it is!


Itty Bitty Baby Spiders!


Grapes, Vitis spp.!  This is most likely River grape, Vitis riparia.  It was growing very close to the stream bank and the leaves look very similar to river grape, however I am not 100%.  In the past, I have only ever identified grapes to their genus and this is my first exploration into the different species of grape.

IMG_0893I think this is a Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus.  I really am not any sort of entomologist, and I will not tell a lie that I hope it is a Fiery Skipper because I think that is the most amazing moth name I have ever heard!  This is also a new-to-me plant.  I believe this to be Water Hemlock, Cicuta maculata.  From what I have been reading, it is one of the MOST toxic plants in the United States.  I was giving myself an anxiety attack (yikes!) from reading into this plant and learning how toxic it is!  Here is an article about how to identify it.


What a lovely place to stop and enjoy the woods!  I could just imagine relaxing in those chairs with my husband and watching my boys play in the stream.


Burdock, Arctium minus, an invasive with beautiful flowers and annoying burs!


There were a bunch of little fish swimming around in this deeper area.  I should have brought along my fishing pole!




Chanterelles, Cantharellus spp.!  I love that they look like little gold nuggets thrown across the forest floor.


I have no clue what this mushroom is, but I think it looked fabulous and wanted to snap a photo.


Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, without flower petals.  I love that they look like little pinecones on sticks.


Death in the Sourlands…  I think this little one is a Mole, family Talpidae. Moles spend most of their time underground and have very poorly developed eyes.  I couldn’t find too much information on Moles, such as what species this might be, just a handful of general articles (here is one to peruse).   Most of the articles I found were for pest control….


A Red Milkweed Beetle, Tetraopes tetraophthalmus, on a Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, seed pod.  I love that this little beetle is orange and black just like a monarch…  hmmmm…. coincidence?  Probably not!  Many insects have color patterns that warn predators that they are toxic and to stay away.  What a wonderful thing nature is!



Baldpate Mountain – A Friday morning walk with some botanically enthusiastic friends


A picturesque Friday morning in July.  When I am inside, light and temperature are fairly constant and very predictable.  It can also be changed by a flick of a light switch, a closing of blind, an increase or decrease of a thermostat.  When you are outside and the temperature and light are perfect it is so much more satisfying than when you are inside.  When you are outside and this perfection encloses you, it feels like the whole universe is welcoming you and beckoning you to explore.  I will admit that I was hurried and frazzled upon arriving at our meeting spot but once I stopped and took a breathe and saw what a beautiful morning it was, I calmed down and relaxed.  This was going to be a fun morning of wandering around looking for plants and enjoying engaging conversation about ecology.


I was running late this morning and so I didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast before meeting up with my friends.  As we hiked into the woods I was more than delighted to pick wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, and blackberries, Rubus allegheniensis, and add them to my yogurt.  Truth be told yogurt is not exactly the nicest to eat while walking, but when you’re running late, you gotta do what you gotta do!


Please gaze upon the beauty of Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa, flowers.  For real, can you believe that these are natives that are just so spectacular that they put out these enormous inflorescences in the middle of the woods???


Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, berries!  When they ripen they will turn a bright red and apparently can be used instead of allspice!  Here is a post by a forager about how to harvest and use Spicebush.


An ammunition carton…  I really don’t know much about guns, but it looked fairly old.  We at first thought it might be a geocache box…  It wasn’t.    I don’t really know what else to say about this other than it was an unexpected find!  If I learn anything more about it, I’ll come back and update the post 😉


Yellow Toadflax (or my preferred name: Butter-and-eggs!), Linaria vulgaris, an invasive but oh-so-pretty field weed.  One Butter-and eggs plant can produce up to 30,000 seeds per year…  needless to say, these plants are hard to get rid of once they become established!


Foxglove Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis, a native flower loved by many different types of pollinators.  Foxglove beadtongue also a unique characteristic called a “nectar guide”, which are lines that run along the inside of the tubular flower, guiding pollinators to the back of the flower where the nectar is held.  Read more about it here!IMG_9925

At the top of Baldpate mountain.  On my birthday for the past few years I have woken up early, picked up a bagel and had myself a picnic then headed into the woods for a solo hike.  I love bagels… I love Badlpate… Its a great way to start another year of living!  Even if you aren’t up for a big hike, just parking and hiking up this hill and having a picnic is a great way to get some fresh air and enjoy the view!


American Germander, Teucrium canadense, another mint family (Lamiaceae) native!


A bumble bee, Bombus spp., on a Wild Bergamot (also known as Bee Balm), Monarda fistulosa.  Wild Bergamot is in the mint family (Lamiaceae) and has mint scented leaves that can be used to make tea.  This gorgeous flower is native to the United States, can tolerate a range of soil conditions and is attractive to bees and hummingbirds alike!


An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, enjoying some Wild Bergamot!


A beautiful pollinator habitat.  Supporting pollinators with native plants can create an absolutely stunning landscape.  Who wouldn’t want to look out their backyard and see this?


A Scarlet Tanager, Piranga olivacea!!!  I am not a birder by any means, but I was SO excited to see this bird!  I first saw the red on a tree out of the corner of my eye and thought it was a trail blaze and then quickly realized it was a bird.  The scarlet tanager is greatly impacted by habitat fragmentation because they are considered “interior” birds.  The Sourland Mountain region hosts the largest contiguous forest in central NJ and provides critical habitat for these birds and many other plant and animal species.  Here is a handout for land owners on how to improve habitat for the scarlet tanager!


European chestnut, Castanea sativa, and Chinese chestnut, Castanea mollissima, leaves.  American chestnuts, Castanea dentata, was once a dominant tree species in the United States and has since been mostly wiped out from the Chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, which is a fungal disease that attacks the vascular cambium layer of the tree and cutting off the flow of nutrients within the plant.  There is large push to try to breed resistance into American Chestnuts to make them resistant to this blight (the European chestnut is susceptible to the chestnut blight, however the Chinese chestnut is not).   On October 12, my dear friend and I will be giving a talk titled “American Roots” on the history of the American Chestnut and the efforts that are being made to bring this iconic species back to American forests.  There will be history, science and music – a night of lots of fun!  Make sure to check out the Sourland Conservancy’s website and the Facebook page for updates about registration.


A sea urchin in the Sourlands!!!!  Just kidding 🙂  This is a Chinese Chestnut, Castanea mollissima, bur.   The burs open to reveal the nuts when they are ripe.  Be careful, they are super sharp!

Pryde’s Point – Meadows, woods, streams and old ruins!

Pryde’s Point has two parking lots, I parked at the one on Rocktown-Lambertville road in West Amwell.

Link to hike map and more trail information.


I find the greatest connection to the world around me when I am knee deep in it.  I also find the greatest connection to other people when we are walking and talking.  This morning I met up with my good friend and college roommate for a hike through Pryde’s Point.  There is something so freeing about being able to walk through nature and talk through what is going on in our lives.  When the talk might stray to a place that is not ready to be talked about, a butterfly or a bird may streak across the view and pull you out of that conversation.  The depth of the forest also allows for deep thoughts and feelings to arise and be expressed in a way that can’t happen in closed rooms.  I love going on walks with people, it is in my experience, the best way to get to know someone.  Or in this case, to catch up with a friend I haven’t seen in a while.


Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, an invasive brought to the United States from Europe to be used in textiles.  Now iI am not great at identifying meadow forbs so I asked another friend with some identification help.  I absolutely love playing highway botany (my husband points out plants for me to ID while we are on a road trip) and getting text messages from friends and family of different plant photos or questions.  It is such a fun distraction and I love to nerd out learning and figuring out new-to-me plants.


An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus.  This is a very common (and beautiful!!!!) butterfly in New Jersey.  The host plants for this butterfly in its larval stage are Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, and Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipiferaRead more about the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail here!


Watch out Vampires!!  Blue Vervain, Verbena hastata, a native flower with a whole lot of folk lore attached to it!  In case you have a vampire problem, apparently Vervain can weaken or even kill a vampire 😉 .   Vervain is also great for butterflies, so instead of planting Butterfly bush, plant vervain instead!  Attract butterflies and get rid of vampires, what more could you ask for in a plant???


Blackberry, Rubus allegheniensis!  How lovely it is to stroll and snack on these tasty aggregate drupes! Yum!


A Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus, probably the most famous and recognizably butterfly around!  I want to set up a tank and raise some at home for my wild boys to watch them grow.  My 3 year old already informed me that “caterpillars turn into chrysalises and then turn into butterflies” in his adorable dialect that turns “L”s into “W”s.  Whenever we find inch worms or caterpillars he always asks me what they will turn into, and frankly I don’t have a very good answer for him most of the time.  I think I need to find some sort of ID book that will have moths and butterflies in their larval stage.


Jewel Weed (Touch-me-not), Impatiens capensis, flower.  I know I talked about these flowers in an earlier post, but just look how stunning it is!  It is so tiny and can get hidden very easily, but I think it is just a spectacular little flower!


Bittersweet Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, an invasive that was introduced from Europe.  This beautiful flower harbors a poisonous berry that is toxic to humans and livestock.   Apparently, you will have to eat more than just a couple berries to feel its effects, but children (who probably are more likely to put random berries in their mouths) are more sensitive to the toxin, solanine.


This might look like I took a picture of spit… but its not, well sort of!  This is actually from a spittle bug (Cercopidae Family).  There are over 20,000 different species of spittle bug, but I personally have never seen an individual bug! The spittle bug makes a secretion and then fills it with air and essentially forms a mass around itself to hide from predators as well as protect itself from temperature extremes and desiccation (drying out).  I always love pointing these out to people because they look so gross, but are actually super cool. Read more about spittle bugs here!


Porcelain Berry, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, an invasive that has some of the most gorgeous berries I have ever seen.  When grape (Vitis spp.) leaves are young they can be confused with Porcelain berry leaves, but once they are in fruit, you will know for sure which is which.  I know its invasive but those berries are so beautiful its hard to believe that they are real!  Read more about Porcelain berry here!


Goldenrod Bunch Gall!  This goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) had an egg laid on its terminal end by a midge (Rhopalomyia solidaginis), which caused the stem to stop growing, but the leaves continued to grow.   Apparently there are about 50 different types of galls formed on Goldenrod species!!!  My mind is totally blown and you should read more about it here!


I don’t know if this is considered a “round gall” or an “elliptical gall”.  Perhaps there are two gall makers battling out for the same stem space?


Dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum, and its leaf beetle, Chrysochus auratus.  This beetle not only is amazing to look at (you can even see a reflection of me taking a photo of the beetle on its shell!!!), it can do the moon walk!  The sap of dogbane is thick and sticky and often causes other insect herbivores to have their mouth parts stick together, but this little beetle does a moonwalk and drags its mouthparts along the leaf to clean off the offending substance.  Read more about it here!


I was thoroughly confused to see all these Hostas growing in the woods.  As my hiking companion said “There must not be any deer here!”.  My hostas are constantly assailed by the neighborhood deer and rabbits, but these lovelies were growing to their fullest potential, blooms and all!  There is a little cottage just outside of this photo frame, so they were probably planted intentionally.  I couldn’t find any information on this cottage or who lived here.


I didn’t notice any signage about what this place was prior to it becoming a park.  There was a little cottage right above this photo, but it did not look to be very old.  These ruins were right by the stream and my guess probably flooded often.  I wonder what this was used for.


Life always tries to find a way!  This is an American Beech, Fagus grandifolia, doing its best and shooting out epicormic branches trying to survive.


False Solomon Seal, Maianthemum racemosum, fruit.  Someone had asked me the other day about the fruit being edible and I didn’t know.  I have now found out that people used to use the roots of the plant to treat coughs.  According to Penn State University, a tribe in California used False Solomon Seal to stun fish in streams so they could harvest them.  There was no explanation on how this happened…  Did they jump out at the fish and yell “SURPRISE!!!!” and throw handfuls of little fruits at the fish and stun them?  I hope that is how they did it, because I too would probably fall over stunned if someone where to do this to me…

Pecans, Carya illinoinensis!!!  One of the few true native edible nuts to the United States!  While New Jersey is not in the Native Range for pecans they do happily grow here.  I will definitely be coming back here in November to look for pecans!  I think it would be fabulous to make a pecan pie from NJ pecans!