Sourland Mountain Preserve: A lesson in surrendering.

Sourland Mountain Preserve (Hunterdon) is located on Rileyville Rd in Ringoes.

Link to map and hike description.

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To say that my Friday was a bad day might be an understatement.  The morning started out so promising and then quickly went downhill.  My littlest generously offered my computer a cup of hot coffee which it graciously consumed.  Then, just a mere few hours later at my place of employment, my oldest was sitting at my desk very patiently waiting for me.  Out of nowhere he slowly fell off my chair, flinging his beverage across the room and covered the desk, printer, filing cabinet, chair and carpet.  I stood and stared in disbelief, began to laugh… and then I cried. We try so hard to control our lives, believing that we can be the master of our own future. But sometimes things happen which we don’t expect and we have to abandon our illusion of control.  After this office debacle, I decided to surrender to the universe. I relinquished my plans and decided not to push my own agenda. We went into the woods and played and because of this I was only able to take a few photos.  We spent most of our hike talking about leaf color, size, shape and textures . The wild boys and I climbed rocks, searched for lichens, discussed the softness of moss and crunched as many leaves as possible under our feet.

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The Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora, has lost most of its leaves revealing its dense thickets of impenetrable fence.  Multiflora rose and Green briar, Smilax rotundifolia,  were the bane of my fieldwork life.  When doing field work for my Masters degree, I bled through my shirts and pants from the thorns of these two plants.  Multiflora Rose is non-native while Greenbriar is native, but I really detest both plants. When I see this fence of brambles, I thank goodness that no one is requiring me to walk through them!

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As much as I don’t enjoy the temperatures becoming colder and the days shorter, I love watching the forest preparing for its winter slumber.  The plants are dropping their leaves and tucking in the forest floor until the days start to lengthen again and the ground begins to thaw.

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Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, in bloom.  I love this pretty shrub with such wild- looking flowers!  They possess a somewhat inconspicuous quality as they blend in with the Fall colors.  Yet, they are one of the most outrageous flowers in the woods and so fantastical with their party-streamer like petals.  I am always on the hunt for these unique beauties in Autumn.

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When we finished our hike, we made a pile of the leaves we collected in the woods.  Rough leaves, smooth leaves, big leaves, small leaves, yellow/green/red/orange/brown and even polka-dotted leaves!  Children love to play games, so we played “I spy” and looked for red leaves, then big leaves, then pointy leaves and so on.  My littlest is on the young side for some of the adjectives I gave to my oldest, but he did happily participate with color and size prompts.  Children learn through direct experience with Nature and being able to work on shapes and colors while outside is a double bonus.

I love taking my boys out on hikes not just for the exercise (and post-hike naps!) but also because they explore and use their imaginations.  My oldest decided that he was a mountain lion and ran and roared at the top of his lungs. My littlest copied his brother but also went off on his own exploration.

I am happy to report that this hike lifted my spirits and restored me to a place of well-being.  Even though this morning seemed like a complete and utter disaster, at the end of the day we were all healthy and safe.  What more could I ask for?

Baldpate Mountain – An unintentionally long hike with friends!

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Walking in the woods is a wonderful way to relax, exercise, think and catch up with friends!  Recently, two of my friends were off from work on a Monday so they each drove 45 minutes to come join me on one of my blog hikes!  I was so delighted to have their company and to share Baldpate Mountain with them.  Baldpate is one of my favorite places to hike in this area.  I have spent so much time in these woods that it almost feels like my own backyard.  Even though I am very familiar with the preserve, I still discover new and fun things.

I warned my friends that I got lost here once when I was hiking around with another friend.  I thought that I knew where I was going, but I clearly had no idea.  My friends said they trusted me and so we took off.  Well… needless to say, I went down a trail I thought I was familiar with, but apparently I was not.  I led them 1.5 miles down a trail that I had never been on before.  I then realized that we were headed in exactly the opposite direction than I had planned to traverse.   While this new area was really cool and I discovered a lot of new geology and ruins, it was way past lunch time and we were famished! Our hungry bellies propelled us at amazing speeds and we hiked out of the preserve much faster than when we hiked in!

This post is possible because of a community of naturalists! I reached out to quite a few people to help me because I encountered so many “New-To-Me” organisms and I had no clue where to begin.  I asked Pat Coleman for help when I couldn’t identify a plant down to species.  I reached out to my favorite Lichenologist, Dr. Natalie Howe for help with identifying the lichens we found.  The ever generous Nina Berghardt identified our mushrooms and gave us some super cool information.  I also asked Paul Kurtz of the NJ Department Of Agriculture for help with identifying an insect and egg mass that we found and he provided some really interesting information. Thank you Natalie, Nina and Paul for your help and Knowledge!

All of these wonderful people have given talks or have lead hikes for the Sourland Conservancy.  They have volunteered their time and their expertise and I am very grateful to them for helping me learn more about the amazing Sourland Mountain region.  The Sourland Conservancy has a wonderful community of passionate, intelligent and caring members and volunteers who devote an incredible amount of time and energy to the protection of the Sourlands.

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I can’t go to Baldpate without checking out the Chestnuts!  This is a Chinese Chestnut, Castanea mollissima.  I am surprised that they aren’t called “Land Urchins”!  I was hoping to find some ripe chestnuts but all of the ripe ones had been eaten and the ones that were on the ground and not eaten were also not ripe.  Maybe one day!

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I think this is Wreath Goldenrod, Solidago caesia.  I have seen this goldenrod at so many different research projects and sites but I had never identified it.  I just always called it “Solidago flowers in axils” (Solidago canadensis, the more common species has terminal flowers).  One of the great pleasures I have in my current position is that I (now) have the time to identify particular species which I previously had to leave as “unknown”.

When collecting field data, we usually try to maximize the amount of species identified within a limited time-frame.  This often leads to assigning an “unknown species” a number or code, and continually identifying that “unknown” by its number, rather than by its latin name.  Now that I can go out and identify plants at my leisure, it allows me the extra time to spend and try to figure out what the plant names really are.

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Common Blue Wood Aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium.  This is another species that I have seen so many times and only identified it as “Aster spp.”.  This flower is so lovely and I love seeing it peaking out in the woods.

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I sent this funky mushroom looking thing to Nina and she told me that this is actually two mushrooms.  The honey mushroom Amillaria is being attacked by Entoloma abortivum.  The result is an edible mushroom that resembles sweet bread.  When you see these marshmallows type things, look around for a white mushroom with grayish gills. These white mushrooms turn pinkish due to their  pink spores.  I read more about these mushrooms and I discovered that there are many Poisonous Species of Entoloma.  I know I have said it many times before but I will say it again:  Do NOT EAT any mushrooms unless you are 100% sure what it is!  As my friend said while we were out on our hike, “Everything is edible, ONCE”.

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Linden Viburnum, Viburnum dilatatum, berries.  This is an invasive species of viburnum.  I’m sure this plant was brought over because of their beautiful red berries but it has since escaped and now I see it everywhere in the Sourlands.

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An egg mass from some sort of Gall wasp.  We didn’t know what species, but this was too cool of a picture not to post!

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My friend, Dr. Natalie Howe, is a Lichenologist and she is probably one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met.  She is just wonderful! She recently gave an engaging and fascinating talk at the Sourland Conservancy‘s Train Station Seminars on “Lichens of the Sourlands”. After her talk, I became really excited about searching for Lichens in the Sourlands.

During this hike, I found a stick covered in Lichens, so I snapped a photo and sent it off to her.  Here are her ID notes: “Flavoparmelia caperata (big green one); Candelaria concolor (tiny orange one); Parmelia sulcata (blue grey with white cracks); Physica millegrana (just underneath the orange one).”

I had thought there were perhaps two species, not four!Watch this video that describes “What in a lichen?

Lichens contain:
Fungus
Bacteria
Algae
Yeast

26% of lichens in Mercer County (and probably the Sourlands) are foliose.
3% of lichens in Mercer County (and probably the Sourlands) are fruticose.
Over 50% are crustose.

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A log covered in moss.  In the background you can see what looks like a little forest of brown “sticks”.  Those sticks are called “setae” and they hold up the sporophytes.  Mosses do not produce seeds.  Instead, they produce spores which are contained within the sporophytes.     IMG_5876

Coral fungus, Ramariopsis kunzei.  This little one was about the size of a silver dollar and just looked so cute and perfect!

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Pat Coleman helped me identify this Clearweed, Pilea pumila. While we were out hiking, we decided it was a nettle of some sort.  Then I “bravely” (or perhaps, “stupidly”) volunteered to see if it was really stinging nettles. Luckily, it was not!  I was completely stumped in this identification because it clearly looked like a nettle but did not sting like one.  Pat told me that this Clearweed is in the same family as nettles but minus the sting.

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Spooky or mystical?

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While we were walking along and chatting, I saw this out of the corner of my eye and whipped around shouting “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT?!”  I nearly caused a three-person pile up with my sudden stop but it was worth the near collision.  This happens to be a Walking Stick Insect which has been attacked by the fungus, Beauveria bassiana.  I brought this picture to the Sourland Conservancy’s Train Station Seminar on “The Spotted Lantern Fly” and I asked the presenter, Paul Kurtz, if he knew what may have happened to the insect.  He told me that Beauveria bassiana is a naturally occurring soil fungus which is entomopathogenic.  Many soil insects are immune to this fungus, but most foliar (leaf living) insects are not.  This Walking Stick could have picked up the fungus if it had been on the ground and then succumbed to the fungus.  There is presently a lot of research concerning the use of this fungus as an organic pesticide.  You can read more about it here.

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I finally found a Turkey Tail, Trametes vericolor!!!  When we saw this, I was very excited because, up until this point, we had only found False Turkey Tails.  I mean, this looks exactly like an actual turkey’s tail.  As my friend pointed out, Turkey Tail has scalloped edges whereas False Turkey Tail does not.  I love exploring with other people because we all see different organisms and patterns and it makes it so much more fun to learn with each other.

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Hen of the woods, Grifola frondosa.  My friends spotted this big, beautiful mushroom while I was off in la-la land trying to figure out our present location.  Obviously, being in la-la land was most likely the reason why I got us lost in the first place.  I own a couple of chickens and this mushroom does remind me of their fluffy bottoms.  When I first heard of the name “Hen of the Woods”, I immediately thought “Chicken of the Woods” but I knew that I must be confused.  Again, this is a great reason to always learn the latin names of organisms.  Then, you will always know for sure what someone is talking about!

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Mile-a-Mile, Polygonum perfoliatum, berries!  I had never seen the berries of this plant before and was amazed at how beautiful they are.  I spied the berries first and ran towards them. My initial squeals of excitement were quickly followed by groans when I realized to whom the berries belonged.

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Leopard Slug, Limax maximus.   This critter was enormous and almost the length of my hand!

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These woodland mushrooms, Lycoperdon perlatum,  are quite risqué in their attire 😉 .

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Ground cherry, Physalis spp., husk.  It is possible to see so many beautiful things in nature if you only slow down for a a moment and take a look!

 

Sourland Mountain Preserve – A beautiful Saturday hike with my family

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

Link to map and hiking information.

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It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and my husband and I decided it was a good day for a hike.  I have actually never hiked in the Sourlands on the weekend.  I always go on hikes on weekday mornings so I was completely surprised to see a PACKED parking lot!  In all the years I have been hiking these trails, I may see a few cars in the parking lot but never anything like this!  At first we thought about maybe going to a different preserve that wasn’t so crowded, but decided to head into the woods anyway.  I am so happy we did!  Even though the parking lot was crowded, the woods were not crowded at all.  We saw people maybe every 15 minutes or so, but it never felt like it was crowded.

This rain has just been doing wonders for the forest fungi!  There were so many mushrooms, so I need to say a big THANK YOU to Nina for being wonderful and answering all my mushroom questions!

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Hopping like a frog from rock to rock!

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This was another new-to-me plant!  I reached out to the trusty Sourland Stewards and they were able to ID this plant.  I know that I have said this before, but they are such a wonderful resource for all your stewardship needs!  This native vine is Moonseed, Menispermum canadense.  Moonseed is named for its crescent shaped seeds.

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This was another new-to-me plant!  Black Snakeroot, Sanicula canadensis.  This native plant attracts bee pollinators and apparently is unpalatable to deer!

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My kids really enjoyed running over all the bridges in the forest.

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I thought to myself as I took this picture, “I know there is something interesting about Daddy-long-legs but I can’t remember exactly what it is…  Well, this arachnid is not a spider.  Taxonomy identifies classifications of organisms according to Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and species.  Spiders and Daddy-long-legs are both in the Class Arachnida, but spiders belong to the Order of Araneae and Daddy-long-legs belong to the Order of Opiliones.  Daddy-long-legs do not have fangs or venom while spiders most certainly do!.  I find these differences and similarities absolutely fascinating.  You can read more about it here!

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My wildboys (and husband) running through the woods.

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Sometimes, I forget that something which may seem like a small obstacle for me can be quite a large obstacle for someone else. And vice versa…

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A waxy cap, Hygrocybe (H. conica or H. acutoconica).  These species of Hygrocybe often appear late in the season.  I saw a lot of these mushrooms on this hike.

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A boy among giants.

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Another non-native red berry!  Burning bush (Winged Euonymus), Euonymus alatus.  Burning bush was originally used as an ornamental, but has escaped from our lawns and has invaded our forests.

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Evidence of a forest snail.  Truth be told, I had never seen a forest snail until a few years ago.  I was on Baldpate Mountain and picked up a snail shell and was completely shocked.  I am not sure why I was so surprised, but I suppose I had always thought of  a snail as an aquatic animal.  There are many species of terrestrial snails and depending on their species, will eat plant matter and fungi or even prey on nematodes.  Can you imagine watching a snail stalk its prey?  Pretty wild!

A Gilled Bolete, Phylloporus rhodoxanthus.  Apparently the cap will turn blue if you pour ammonia on it.  Read more about Gilled Boletes here!

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I forgot to ask Nina about this mushroom, so I will take a stab at identifying it…  I think this is a Mycena galericulata.  Honestly, I really don’t know too much about identifying mushrooms but I always get so excited when I find them!  I need to go out on more mushroom forays to learn.

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Musclewood, Carpinus caroliniana.  This tree gets its common name from the sinewy look of its bark.  I love these trees and I can never keep myself from running my hands along their trunks.

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Another waxy cap, Hygrocybe miniata.  It was so small and dainty I almost missed seeing it!

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A coral fungus, Ramariopsis kunzei.  These fungi can look pretty wild as they grow larger.

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White Turtlehead, Chelone glabra, a beautiful native.  Yet another new-to-me!  Truly, how wonderful to walk through this world and learn something new each time!

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A millipede!  I tried to figure out which type of millipede this is, but I couldn’t quite decide on a specific identification. What’s the difference between a centipede and a millipede?  A hundredth to a thousandth!  If you don’t find my puns amusing, you can read more about the difference here!

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A Leopard Earthball, Scleroderma areolatum.  Nina told me to “note how each small scale is encircled by a clear area (areola)”.  I thought this was such a cool little find!  I saw it on our way out of the woods.  One of the fun things about an out-and-back hike is that you see all the things you missed on your way in!

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More red berries!  False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum, berries!

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More black berries! Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum spp., in fruit!  I think this is Smooth Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum biflorum, but the plant is in rough shape and my toddlers were tired so I didn’t spend too much time trying to identify it down to its species.

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My heart was bursting while out on this hike with my family.  My wild boys were running, shouting and exploring and my husband and I were in awe of how much they have grown.  I love watching the children pick up acorns, rocks, leaves and sticks and  inspect them while thinking about their next move.  Sometimes, it’s an object to throw or it’s a tool or  it may be a coveted treasure to be carried for the whole journey.  As we walked down the mountain, I held  my oldest son’s hand.  I asked him if he had a nice morning and he shouted a resounding “Yes!”.  I then said, “I love you so much” and my three-year old responded “I love you so much too, Mom.  We love each other the same”.

 

Sourland Ecosystem Preserve – A wonderful way to welcome a new week.

The Sourland Ecosystem Preserve is located on Mountain Rd in Hopewell.

Link to map and trail description.

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Mondays are generally viewed as the most “blah” day of the week although I actually think Sunday evenings are even more “blah”.  Getting up early, packing lunches, driving to school and work…  I mean… I get it.  However, I love Mondays because it is hike day! I know that not everyone is so fortunate as to have a job which requires them to enter the woods and lose themselves there each week.

All this rain has provoked a proliferation of fabulous mushrooms!  I have seen more mushrooms this week than I think I have seen all year!  Red ones, yellow ones, puffballs and corals!  I have had a hard time containing my excitement! I reached out to Nina for identification help.  As always, she came through for me  and has provided some interesting information about these mushrooms.  Thank you, Nina!

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Chicken of the Wood, Laetiporus sulphureus!  I have been on a hunt for one of these ever since I learned about people foraging for mushrooms.  I spotted it about 50 yards away from me and I zeroed in.  You can read more about Chicken of the Wood here!  You can read more about other edible mushrooms here!

Here is my usual disclaimer: DO NOT EAT anything unless you are 100% sure that you have identified it correctly and especially, do not eat Mushrooms!!!! Even though I was pretty confident that this mushroom was Chicken of the Wood,  I still asked an expert for confirmation of my identification.

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The majestic American Chestnut, Castanea dentata!  I don’t think I can tell you how much I love this tree and I have never even seen a mature one!  The history of this tree is fraught with tragedy and love.  American Chestnut is in the same family as Oaks and Beeches (Fagaceae).  When you look at the leaves, you can see its resemblance to red oaks and beeches and the fruits of these trees hold some similarities.

I am now going to share a small excerpt from a paper I wrote during graduate school about the ecological and social significance of the American Chestnut:

“The American Chestnut was important to the ecosystem because they were not only fast growers, which provided habitat for different animals, they also produced nuts that animals could eat. The American Chestnut had made up approximately 25% of the native eastern hardwood forests, which an average diameter at breast height of 90-120cm and a height of 25-40m. Both native Americans and European settlers alike ate the fruit of the American Chestnut, and the European settlers found the wood to be a preferable source for timber. Some of the many reasons the American Chestnut was prized because the wood-grain ran straight and the wood was hard enough to be used for support but was also soft enough to be easily worked with.  The tree would sprout again from the stumps of harvested trees, so foresters would not need to replant.  Lastly and potentially most importantly, the wood is also rot resistant.”

Ahhh.. graduate school…  It was such a dark hole but also such a wonderful opportunity to learn!

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Evidence of Chestnut Blight, Cryphonectria parasitica.   I am going to put in another excerpt from my paper!  Here goes!

” The Chestnut Blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) is a fungus that was thought to be
introduced to the United States from imported Japanese Chestnuts, in the late 1800s. In 1904, the blight was identified in New York City at the Bronx Zoo. Within 50 years of C. parasitica’s identification, it spread through almost the entire range of C. dentataC. parasitica spread at an approximate rate of 37km per year, and had spread from across C. dentata’s native range, killing 4 billion American Chestnuts within a 50 year timespan.

Cryphonectria parasitica affects C. dentata by entering through a wound in the trees bark, and while it grows, it destroys the cambium inside the trunk, branch or twig. This fungus is considered to be a filamentous ascomycete fungus, and colonizing the wound through geminating ascospores or conida into the cambrial zone. The fungus releases oxalic acid which decreases the pH and becomes toxic for the tree.  However, it is very desirable environment for fungus. The growth of this fungus results in a canker, which in turn girdles the stem, branch or trunk, and cuts off the transportation of nutrients through the phloem to promote cambrial growth. C. parasitica cannot enter through the root system, so the tree is able to asexually reproduce through epicormic shoots erupting from the root collar. However, these shoots will become infected after they emerge.”

OK, I know that was very nerdy but  honestly, this is the type of topics which propelled me through graduate school.  I am so utterly fascinated by what happened to the Chestnut and what researchers at the American Chestnut Foundation are doing to bring this giant back!

On October 12, my good friend and I will be giving a talk about the American Chestnut and playing some music at a fundraiser for a American Chestnut restoration project in New Jersey.  If you have any interest in coming or donating, here is a link to check out!

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Exidia recisa, a jelly fungus.  I  have recently learned that many fungi and lichen do not have common names because, as my good friend Natalie said, “They are not commonly talked about”.  You will find  fungi and working hard decomposing dead wood.

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Goldenrod, Solidago spp.  I am not sure what species this is because I have not  seen a species quite like this Goldenrod before.  I was going to skip posting it because I didn’t know what it was .  I asked a few botanist friends and there (they) weren’t sure either.  I decided to  “crowd source” an answer!  If you know what species this is, please let me know!

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False Turkey Tail, Stereum ostrea.  This mushroom is a saprophtye, which means it lives on dead or decaying organic material.

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Boogie-Woogie-Aphid, Grylloprociphilus imbricator, on an American Beech, Fagus grandifolia.  Another common name for this aphid is the Beech Blight Aphid.  As you can clearly see, the Boogie-Woogie-Aphid is a far superior name.  I first noticed these aphids a couple of years ago while walking through Heylar woods in North Brunswick.  They are the funkiest aphids I have ever seen.  When they feel threatened, they wave their rear ends in the air (**singing in my head** like they just don’t care).  Aphids are sap suckers and from what I have seen, these tiny dancers don’t cause significant damage to the beech trees.  Sometimes, the “honeydew” (a cute name for poop) from the aphids can grow a sooty mold fungus known as Ascomycete.  This fungus does not hurt the tree but it is unsightly.  Here is a funny and interesting article from Scientific American about the Boogie-Woogie-Aphid.

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This mushroom belongs to the genus Russula.  There are many species of Russula and they can be very bright and colorful or dark like this one.  You can read more about Russulas here!

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Wolf-far Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum.  Could there be a better common name????  Excuse me while I continue to cackle out loud while sitting at my desk!  I was going to write more about this mushroom, but I can’t because I keep laughing.  Read more about it here.

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A marbled orb weaver, Araneus marmoreus.  This little one got me by surprise!  I was inspecting some flowers and then I saw it drop and for a split millisecond and I thought it was a crab!  Why a crab?  Well the abdomen was really round… it moved really fast… I don’t know why I thought “crab” but I did!  I have never seen a spider like this before!

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This fungi was too rotten to identify, but I still think it looks really cool.  I love all the different textures and colors.

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A brown hooded owlet moth caterpillar, Cucullia convexipennis.  The caterpillars eat Asters and Solidago (seen here).  I am not sure why it is called an Owlet moth, but you can see more pictures here!

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This mushroom is in the genus, Lactarius.  Latin names often have a wonderful way of clueing us in to something particular about the organism.  In this case, mushrooms in the genus of Lactarius, lactate! These mushrooms will release a latex substance when damaged.  Read more about Lactarius here!

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Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.  I couldn’t capture the blue of the flower petals.  There was another specimen, but it looked a little worse for wear so I went with the one pictured.  This was yet another new-to-me plant.  I love that no matter how many plants I learn about, there will always be more to learn!

Here is your fun fact for the day!  The species name, siphilitica, is from the word “Syphilis” because it was thought to be a cure for it.

 

Dry Creek Run – Autumn berries abound!

Dry Creek Run is located on Brunswick Pike in Lambertville and shares the same parking lot as Rock Hopper Trail.

Link to map and more hiking information.

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It has been raining buckets these past few days and the funky,  earthy smell of decaying plant material is very much present.  I actually find this smell pleasant and comforting while I also know that others find it an offense to their olfactory sensors.

 

After I started walking, I noticed a bunch of red berries – half native and half non-native.  I think it’s important to know that the nutritional value of berries is not the same across all plant species and these differences can greatly impact migratory birds.  Non-native berries typically have a higher carbohydrate content than native plants while berries from native plants are generally higher in protein /fats.  Carbohydrates make birds satiated and give them a burst of energy. However, proteins/fats provide birds with sustained energy for longer periods of time, thus making berries from native plants ideal for migration.  Read more about that here!

I was really hoping to get a picture of some ripe Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, berries because they are bright red and would be perfect for the forthcoming series of native vs non-native berries but unfortunately, I did not see any Spicebush berries.

Here is my disclaimer…  I am not an expert in edible plants and PLEASE DO NOT EAT any part of any plant unless you are absolutely sure of your ability to correctly identify the plant).  There are some plants that are extremely toxic and yes, can cause death following consumption. Poisonous berries, leaves, stems and roots exist in nature.   But there are also many plants that are also perfectly wonderful and safe to eat.  However, PLEASE DO NOT EAT any part of a plant unless you are absolutely sure you have correctly identified it as something safe to eat.

Now, onto the fun!

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Native: Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.   Jack-in-the-pulpit is one of my favorite  forest finds ( and I have many favorites).  I always get excited when I see those pitchers!  Even though these berries look enticing, leave them for the birds and forest animals.  They are not edible!

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Non-native: Autum Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata.    A former co-worker of mine makes the most delicious autumn olive cheesecake. She is a fabulous cook! I also like eating these berries raw.  They remind me of a tart cherry of sorts.  There are a lot of red berries in the fall, so please always make sure you know for certain what you type of berry you are about to consume.

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Non-native: Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora, rose hips.  I wonder why they are called “hips” instead of berries?  Anyways, apparently they are edible.   I have never tried one, but you can read more about eating them here!

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Non-native: Japanese Barberry, Berberis thunbergii.   These non-native berries look an awful like native Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, berries to me in both shape and size.  The plants look totally different, but the berries are similar.  Supposedly, the berries are “edible” but they are very bitter and tart.  Personally, I think you should just rip the whole plant out and call it a day 😉   If you want more information about eating Japanese Barberry, here is a link. 

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Native: Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida.  I don’t know why I didn’t remember this tree has red fruit.  I saw the fruit out of the corner of my eye and (was like) thought, “hmmm… looks like a dogwood but it must be a Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa” (which, by the way, has very tasty fruit and is non-native).  I was completely surprised to see that this was the native dogwood and was very impressed by the size and color of the fruit! Flowering dogwood fruit is not edible and is considered toxic in large enough quantities.  So leave this one for the birds!

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Native: Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium, unripened fruit.  These fruits will turn red then turn to black when fully ripe.  I read that these fruits are edible fresh and can also be turned into preserves/jams.  I also read that an overdose from this plant causing  nausea, dizziness and seizures…  I couldn’t find any information which quantifies the amount that would make someone “overdose”.   So you should read more about it and make that decision for yourself!  On a side note, the fall foliage is a beautiful red and would make a great accent plant to any landscape!

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Non-native: Common Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, these fruit will also turn black when ripe.  Privet fruits are toxic to humans so please leave these berries for the woodland animals!

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American Basswood, Tilia americana, a native tree with very interesting looking fruit.  The fruit are drupes that have a bract (modified leaf part) attached to them.  My assumption is that this bract helps with seed which functions as a sail for the fruit. More importantly, I discovered that young Basswood fruit has been used as a substitute for chocolate!  I am so excited about this new information and wish I had known that when I was out hiking because this tree had fruit on it!  I will undoubtedly be searching for Basswood on my next hike and will  taste some of the berries!

Smartweed/Tearthumb, Polygonum sagittatum, an invasive with teeny tiny recurved thorns that definitely “tear your thumb”!  Ouch!

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The bleeding Mycena, Mycena haematopus.  I reached out to the awesome Nina Burghardt for mushroom identification help and she not only identified the mushroom I found but she also provided some cool information about Mycena haematopus.  Mycena haematopus have a bell-shaped cap (campanulate) and are fragile.  They supposedly release a purplish red juice when cut.  I wish I had known this before my hike because I would have given it a try!

Mycena helps to decompose wood and leaves, which contain cellulose and lignin.  Cellulose and lignin are the most difficult components in plant material to break down. The role fungi play in nutrient cycle is vitally important .

Hopewell Borough Park – A much needed picnic and walk

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.