Starry Late Spring Flowers

Carrionflower (Smilax herbacea)

Some flowers are pollinated by flies. Skunk cabbage, I've heard. Wild ginger, too. Bloody, meaty looking flowers. Stinky flowers.

After a recent hike, I was disappointed that I didn't smell a carrionflower I had photographed. The following week, I found another plant in bloom. I smelled the flower. Cadaverous. I told my husband to smell it. It's very similar to the "Yuck, taste this,"command.

"Awful. Smells like a dead animal," he said.

I smelled it again. Reminded me of white-tailed deer roadkill that I smelled for weeks as I biked to my summer job during high school. I lived near the top of the Riegel Ridge in Hunterdon County. Getting to work was easy, though I rode my squeaky brakes the entire way. I pedaled uphill. After a day of janitorial work, I smelled of Green Clean and latex dish gloves. Then, the odor... I could not pedal fast enough.

"Yeah, it's bad. Amazing."

Deer eat the h*ll out of that plant. I usually see only a whorl of 3 beautiful leaves. So, I am spared the aroma and the flowers. A fly is denied her nectar or pollen.

Deer eat the h*ll out of everything these days. My mother reported they ate the foliage of garlic mustard in seed.

When we returned from an overnight at their house this afternoon, we found deer had eaten the h*ll out of, well, everything. Wild geranium, maple leaf viburnum, fringed loosestrife, sanicle, boneset, cut-leaved coneflower, currant...

"They ate this," I said pointing to a plant. "I don't even know what this is."

"It's wreath goldenrod," replied my husband.

"That's it, I'm putting up a fence. I'm going to Agway for posts. Now."

At the Belle Mead Co-op, I stood in the pesticide aisle price comparing Bonide's Slug Magic by volume. "Small, medium or large? Do I really want to have this much? Better price. I can always get more. Lots of rain in the forecast. Lots of slugs to kill." A senior to my left looked over another white container filled with poisonous juices.

I picked up Deer Off and the largest container of Slug Magic. The friendly young fellow at the counter asked how I was doing. "I'm going on a killing rampage."

"She is, too," he said pointing to the senior who had just purchased her Kool-aid.

I couldn't utter any friendly words, still outraged by the deer overpopulation. I said thank you multiple times. It was all I could do.

 Sanicle or Black Snakeroot (Sanicle marilandica)

 A modern way of taking field notes

 Solomon's plume (Smilacina racemosa)

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)

Getting Out of the House With a Toddler - Witherspoon Woods, Princeton, NJ

Climbing big, flat diabase boulders made us both smile.

Witherspoon Woods, a trail on the Princeton Ridge for the rugged, experienced toddler who likes rocks, boulders, sticks, and patches of challenging trail. It is also a trail for the botanically discerning Momma who does not like to see all the native plants browsed by deer. Despite the terrain, my son walked at a quite a clip, leaving little time for me to photograph.

Witherspoon Woods, ash seedling regeneration at the trailhead speaks of a deer management program that is working well. I'll be back to observe the spring wildflowers.

Further along the trail, more ash regeneration beneath a white oak. Now, the deer population must be lowered further to allow slower growing and deer-preferred species like white oak to regenerate. Reduced deer-vehicle collisions, Lyme disease cases, and browse of horticultural plantings and less-preferred native species are the first good signs. Now, we need to keep the pressure on deer management to observe the next good signs: return of the understory shrubs like maple leaf viburnum and pinxter azalea and forest herbs like showy orchid and bellwort.

My son has learned the following requests since our last outing:

Follow Momma.
Back on the trail.
This way.
[That stick is] too big.
Multiflora rose.

Momma follows baby. She attempts to monitor baby, make photographs, and considerately carry the tall walking stick her son bequeathed to her.

I'm able to maintain a chirping, sing-song voice learned in my year as a Waldorf School of Princeton classroom assistant, now that I have to repeat the above requests once or twice. My son gets "multiflora rose" with no help from me.

The start of the trail appears to be post-agricultural. The young trees, flat land, minimal canopy diversity and stone row tell that story.

A former quarry(?) site along the trail. Splitting pins(?) remain the in the diabase. 

We weaved our way over and between boulders and dragged sticks from the trailside. When we reached a particularly confusing trail junction we paused for our second snack. 

I fed my son broccoli. My son fed me almonds, and then himself one without my noticing until the next broccoli floret was delivered. He was ready for a nap and did not appreciate an index finger probing his mouth. After the almond was ejected, we worked on nap time and my son fell asleep in my arms.

Already bulky with a backpack and wool jacket on, I didn't dare stuff him into the Ergo Baby carrier dangling from my waist. He became heavy very quickly, so I trotted down the trail until reaching another trail junction - all trails in all directions were marked with yellow blazes.

I hewed left and recognized a fallen and resprouting flowering dogwood, a triumph in the deer ravaged Princeton area.

If for no other reason, having botanical interests can help in trail orientation. I recall an acquaintance telling of two hikers lost calling in for help via cell phone. "What do you see around you?" they were asked. "Trees," they replied. Luckily, they were found.

About halfway back, a hiker with two dogs approached. The dogs began to bark hysterically and strain at their leashes.

"Do you have a dog?" she hollered.

"No, I have a baby. A baby that was asleep."

"Oh, ok."

Not ok, I thought, as I rushed past her barking hounds. My son stared with bleary eyes. The parking lot was visible. As we neared, my son became proportionally heavier. Back at our car, my son was happy to explore the parking lot and the car.

I thought we had walked further than we actually did. The return trip was much quicker with my son asleep in my arms. 

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.

Fall Flowers

Woodland sunflower at Harry's

There are two places in the region where I know I can see fall flowers, more or less as they're supposed to be. One is a little country road near Frenchtown NJ with very steep banks. The other is at my friend Harry's-- he has about a dozen acres of woods inside a deer fence.

Wreath goldenrod, white wood aster, heart-leaved blue wood aster, turtleheads, woodland sunflowers - I miss the New Jersey I've never seen, where these plants lined every shady roadside, where joe pye weed and sneezeweed and New York ironweed earned their names.

Typical Sourlands Road

Sometimes our roadsides and woods edges are as bland as our lawns, between the depredations of the deer and the erratic mowing of municipal road crews. Slowly the flowers have disappeared from our lives, slowly enough that few people seem to have noticed. Instead, we've taken for granted the impoverished monotony of our surroundings.

Land without flowers: A potentially beautiful dry oak woods at the Somerset Sourland Mountain Preserve, which shamefully has no deer management in its entire 2500 acres

I took an interesting walk the other day, at Woodfield Reservation, in Princeton. Along the trails in the mature woods, I was thrilled to see long stems of wreath goldenrood, and the tenacious bright blooms of white wood aster. Looking closer, I saw that the native shrubs and trees had put on good growth during the season as well. Princeton's bold deer management initiative seems to be working.

Wreath goldenrod

Woodfield Reservation has its share of invasive plants - even species barely seen elsewhere have a strong presence here, like oriental photinia, and linden viburnum. Yet, looking around, these non-native shrubs were frequently surrounded by native spicebush thickets. Young invasives were at the same height as recovering maple-leaf viburnum and sapling dogwoods. And everywhere in between, the goldenrod and aster bloomed.

Recovery amidst invasion: shrub layer at Woodfield Reservation

I thought to myself-- maybe this is what recovery looks like. We'll never have "perfect", uninvaded woods again. But, I think I can live with the occasional winged euonymus or linden viburnum if it's flanked by forty spicebush. The multiflora rose and barberry largely get shaded out by a thriving native shrub layer, and the dinky annual japanese stiltgrass is nowhere in sight. Ecological restoration work undertaken in concert with natural recovery will be more effective at healing.

After that walk, I've started to think of white wood aster and wreath goldenrod as "indicator species". If I may be so bold: When our flowers come back, we'll know that the recovery of our natural world is underway.


New England Aster

Heart-leaved blue wood aster, shielded by boulder, Ridge Road