Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day weekend

Fleabane (Erigeron sp.) pollinator

Yellow stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta) pollinated (stamens turning dark)

Two-flowered cynthia (Krigia biflora) & pollinator

Lady beetle on blade of grass

Box turtle and walking stick

Little evening primrose (Oenothera perennis) flowers and foliage above. A new plant for me, found at FoHVOS' Skyview Preserve.

Another new plant, same preserve. Spring forget-me-not (Myosotis verna). Flowers closeup (foliage of Vicia sp. to the right), foliage, and raceme.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gone for a walk...

Early Summer Wildflowers

I usually figure there's a lull in wildflowers that starts in late May and lasts through to July. I'm sure a lot of this has to do with deer overbrowse, and all of the plants I'm not seeing bloom. Nevertheless, the logic runs like this: in the spring, many of the woodland floor plants receive their greatest amount of sun, before the canopy leafs out. They bloom during or shortly after this period of greatest light availability. This is a truism for spring ephemerals, but presumably also pertains to the next generation of woodlanders: bellwort, showy orchis, violets, violet wood sorrel...

The meadow plants, on the other hand, are in less of a "hurry" and tend to bloom later in the season -- sun availability being fairly constant. Many make their decisions about how many flowers to produce based on the bounty of the current season -- certainly the case for asters and ironweeds and heleniums and the like -- and not the case for hepaticas or bloodroots, woodlanders which bloom (or not) based on the banked root-food of prior seasons.

At any rate, there seems to be a quiet time, as the woodlanders diminish in blooming species but before the heavy-hitters of the meadow commence. This in-between time is punctuated by some great standouts (black cohosh always comes to mind, as does purple milkweed), but the rate of blooming seems surely less to me.

Today I took a short walk seeking out some of the "in-betweeners". Many were plants with fealty to specific niches, perhaps areas of low competition -- there were several interesting species in the mossy, acidic, somewhat droughty open oak woods near the pond. Here I shall begin, with...

Vaccinium stamineum, known as deerberry though it is unclear to me why, its relatives at least (other Vacciniums, Lyonia, etc.) being among the less-favored browse plants in our local flora. Differentiated from blueberries and huckleberries by the open flaring bell-shaped flower. Otherwise looking quite generically heath-y, leaves slightly fuzzy, stems not unlike black huckleberry...

Hypoxis hirsuta, yellow stargrass, I never understood the "hirsuta" until I took this macro photograph and saw the hairs on the leaf-blades. The plant is only about 6" tall, maybe 8", so I guess I never got down there real close before.

Hieracium venosum, this photo and following. Rattlesnake weed, one of Rachel's favorite "underdog" plants along with miterwort and anything pin-headed (like Eleocharis). The foliage is pretty much all basal, so this plant's niche is in extremely dry woods where the barren soils reduce competition. Often found among chestnut oaks, but only in more open woods.

I meandered down towards the skunk cabbage past the end of the pond. I presume the whole pond was once a skunk-cabbage filled low swamp along a stream. I imagine that cinnamon and royal ferns lived there too, maybe some blue-flag iris or marsh marigold too (this was the olden days, after all), or at least some black ash... there's a similar swampy oxbow downstream with the Osmundas and Fraxinus nigra in full regalia still.

I was headed there to check the spring cress for mature seeds (not ready yet), and among the green siliques saw this Stellaria longifolia, which has all kinds of common-name mismash but I think of as a longleaf chickweed - the "native" chickweed.

I cut up through the sliver of old woods that divided pond from fields a century ago, to where the double-trunked linden stands. One trunk fell last winter, but lower branches of that trunk are surviving on a sliver of Xylem still raggedly attached to the stump. So, I got a close-up of this (soon-to-flower?) linden, leafy bracts fully formed.

Many yellow flowers about now... the rattlesnake weed, king devil hawkweed, cinquefoil, the last of golden ragworts... and this Cynthia (Krigia biflora). Ever notice the cool gray-green of their foliage and stems, succulent but want, almost orchid-like? Very pretty, with a dandelion-like flower but in a deeper, more orange hue.

For a few years I just saw this plant as a basal rosette, looking vaguely like a less finely-rendered wild yam root. I think it was my "mystery plant" of 2008 or 2009. Finally I broke down and asked a botanist I had the privilege of working with for a few days. "Carrion flower" he said... Smilax herbacea. An herbaceous, vining greenbriar. I guess the deer nailed it too often and it was a while before I found my own individuals in flower. Of course, this one was blooming beautifully just fifty paces from my front door, that's how it seems to go with plants.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bird droppings lead to ferns

At ease and looking like a bird dropping, a moth on a blue flag iris blade

I haven't attempted to identify this moth. The library had only one book on moths - one with some color, but mostly black and white images. The printing plates weren't lined up - blurry. Many moths are blurry like nightjars. Cryptic wings, dusty.

Dusty with the stuff that makes them fly, so said a voice from my childhood. Don't handle them too much, the dust comes off, then they won't be able to fly. Can't recall the owner of that voice.

A caterpillar on a sensitive fern leaf

From just a bit of research, I'll guess it is an early instar of spicebush swallowtail. I've never heard of a caterpillar eating a fern. Ferns...Not much wildlife value, comes a more recent voice. From what I've observed it is true, so let me challenge my assumptions.

In Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, two entries show under ferns as host plants - pink-shaded fern moth and black arches moth. Pink-shaded looks like this:

Yes, they look like Goldie's woodfern, a spectacular fern that we found in a nearby forested wetlands. It is on New Jersey's List of Endangered Plant Species and Plant Species of Concern.

Pink-shaded's common foodplants are "ferns, such as New York fern." I will be looking more closely at New York fern from June to October (2 generations).

Black arches is a generalist, among a variety of meadow and early successional woody foodplants, it eats bracken. Wagner suggests seeking the caterpillar in moist to wet meadows with abundant goldenrod in the autumn.

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Birds use the fuzz from cinnamon fern to build nests.

American Wildlife & Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits shows just a few animals eating ferns, especially evergreen ones: ruffed grouse - Rattlesnake, woodfern (no species noted), and Christmas fern leaves; deer and hares - Christmas and others.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dividing the leeks and the loaves: the wild feeds the hungry crowd

Typical wild leek habitat in the Sourlands

Smaller than poppy seed, these mites(?) crawled upon the leek leaves.

Wild leek and spring beauty

Finding food that agrees with my stomach is difficult to find.

Tuning into an NPR cooking show, I listened to a caller ask for recipes for pickling wild leeks. "It's ramps season," she breathed into the phone. "Oh yes," chuckled the host.

After discussing "rampinis" (the caller's term for a martini seasoned with pickled wild ramps), the host stopped simpering and became serious, "You know I've heard that ramps are becoming rare in some areas because people are so interested in them."

"Oh no," replied the caller. "There's so many of them. People leave them alone." I suppose she's not a person then, because it seems as though she is harvesting them. Grammar aside, I'm prone to many errors myself, I'm concerned.

If every foodie, gourmand, locavore, Edible Jersey reader, wildcrafter, hiker, and curious bystander sought wild leeks in my area, there would be no wild leeks left. Period.

Yes, period.

And, that's all she son just woke up.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Working through drizzle and hunger, pressing my bladder's capacity to new limits, we sped through the last of the big planting in the garden - tomatoes, peppers, beans. Grandma was over caring for our son.

In the right foreground, the giant Solomon's seal is thriving - last year it provided enough roots to make tinctures for us, two friends, and a gift for another. This year it has spread even more and we ate a couple stems like asparagus. It was tasty and unlike many wild edibles needed only brief cooking.

Many wild edible books advise boiling greens in many changes of water - not much tastes so good with that much cooking. Sure the tannins are leached out, but I'd prefer fresher spring greens after a long winter of long stored apples and meat and increasing bitter potatoes.

Also pictured on the right is a 5' tall beach plum raised from seed. Incredible blooms this year - and for the first time.

Onion starts from Agway and our greenhouse are doing well, and we're getting nice broccoli-like florets from the purple kale. It's quite lovely with purple-blue-green stems and brilliant yellow flowers. And, so much easier to cultivate than broccoli.

Meadow's progress

Meadow - 5/15

Meadow - 5/14

Weather changes quickly in spring.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sing sang sung

Found American ginseng a few days ago

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More walking

Along the Teetertown Ravine road:

Solomon's plume (Maianthemum racemosum)

Meadow garlic (Allium canadense)

Beetle on early meadow rue.

I'll go with early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum). Moist or rocky woods, ravines, alluvial terraces. Yes, I'd like to make my home on an alluvial terrace.

Diapers are done and sun's out, to the laundry line...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Days of walking and not much sleep

Woodland sunshine along a rill, Senecio sp.

Diabase boulder field with fun plants like doll's eyes, bladdernut, American chestnut, and paw paw

Mystery Geum species along a wooded rill.

Transect with invasives removed, but no woody recruitment...lots of seeds in this degraded (pastured??, then logged and then clogged with multiflora rose) but diverse section of forest. Too many deer...

Blackhaw in bloom

My son needs break along the trail and we find last year's nests.

Warm sunshine, a good place, and company helps me keep going...

My son, 5 1/2 months, seems to be in the midst of a growth spurt...restless nighttime sleep with many of wake ups, short daytime naps, increased desire to be close and held, and bursts of newborn baby crying jags that make my husband and I nostalgic.

"Ohhhh, the newborn cry," we sigh as though caressing a Valentine from long ago--a soft, velveteen heart glued to a doily, signed in ink by someone whose sharp-edges have been softened by an aged pencil eraser.

Time and distance, time and distance makes all things better.

We rambled, despite poor sleep, far this weekend. "Just a short walk up the High Road to the transect, then right back," we agreed. Jared carried a short but awkward fence to place around Canada lilies that are overbrowsed (never flowering) by deer. I carried our son and an overstuffed backpack.

I've seen one Canada lily flower in the Sourlands since moving here about 6 years ago. We returned the the site many times and never found it again. We've since honed our plant identification skills in general and specifically for deer ravaged nubs, twigs, and dwarfed herbs. I can say that, yes, there are many Canada lilies in rich, moist woodlands near my home. Most have just one or two leaves, so stressed by deer browse.

Those of us who bite our fingernails can relate to the lilies--they try to grow, but then nip, nip...grow, nip, nip...grow, nip, gr, nip, nip...g, nip. Not much left to nip, but a misshapen shadow.

Driven by the misshapen shadows and memory of a single orange bloom in a tangle of multiflora rose, we walked on, photographing, observing. Of course, we rambled the long way home.

Showy orchis


Yesterday was much the same, though for the first half of the day we had more company. Here are images from our walk at Cushetunk:
Pennywort, another plant on the New Jersey Natural Heritage list

This moth(?) chased away a swallowtail 3x its size.

Wild geranium, beautiful and so named "wild" rather than "false" geranium, I wonder

Sarsparilla - a tremendous component of the herb layer in portions of the forest. A friend that I know well from the Catskills and rarely from the Sourlands. A treat to see it in bloom.

Perfoliate bellwort is often browsed at home, but we saw more robust colonies in bloom...browsed there, too, unfortunately

Along the powerline right of way we found:

Pinxter bloom azalea in flower. In the shaded edge with pale petals.

In the sun with darker pink petals.

The delicate branching pattern of our azalea.

Jared read that in the 1950s pinxter was the 3rd most common shrub at Cushetunk. Though looking hard, We saw no pinxters blooming in the forest. Under the canopy, the pinxter drops down to ground cover size. In the image above it is dwarfed by lowbush the forest, where forest nesting birds shrubs to raise young...

Too many deer.

The azalea can grow faster than the deer can browse it when receives extra shot of sun. Pinxter can grow 10' tall, maybe more, and in the sun at Cushetunk it was no more the 6.5' tall. More typically it was hip high.

Notice a theme? Good, now eat some wild hunted, Jersey grown white tailed deer.