Spring has arrived in New Jersey and, with it, a renewed interest in all things outdoors. Around this time last year, my wife and I were touring through South Africa on our trip of a lifetime. We had an amazing adventure and, a year later, I find myself thinking often of the places we visited and people we met along the way. Unfortunately, I developed a Morton’s neuroma in my right foot shortly after returning home and, along with it, burning and shooting pain that made hiking and bird watching (two of my favorite activities) nearly impossible. After several months of treatments, though, the pain has lessened and I am eagerly returning to my outdoor pursuits. A walk though the New Jersey Pine Barrens feels like a visit with a dear old friend – you don’t really know how much you love something until it is taken away.
A few month’s ago I picked up a copy of Howard P. Boyd’s Wildflowers of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Over the last few years I have been slowly developing an interest in improving my plant indentification skills and figured that starting with flowers is as good a place as any to start. Boyd’s book arranges flowering plants by season, so a newbie like me has some idea of what to expect as I venture out. The weather forecast was not promising yesterday, so I opted to visit a couple places I had gone to before as part of field trips.
My first stop was a place I blogged about back in April, 2010 for another look at Conrad’s Broom-Crowberry (Corema conradii). First up in Boyd’s book, this low-growing shrub produces small flowers at the tips its gnarled branches. Plants produce either male or female flowers and photographing them means lying flat on the ground and straining to get a good look through the camera’s eyepiece.
And there they are – beautiful tiny purple-red flowers at the tips of each branch. Broom-crowberry is listed as an endangered plant in New Jersey, growing only in a small, restricted area of the pine plains.
My next stop was the Pygmy Forest, a globally rare stunted forest ecosystem. At maturity, this pine and oak forest reaches heights of only 4 to 5 feet – I am standing in front of a mature, fully grown forest in this photo. Amazing New Jersey.
Walking back to the car, I noticed rustling in the leaves just off the trail. Hoping that it wasn’t a snake (though it would have made a good photo), I carefully approached the rustling sound and discovered a pair of eastern fence lizards locked in a passionate embrace. When mating, the male fence lizard grasps his mate’s neck with his mouth (you can see him biting and holding onto her neck in this photo). If their mating is successful, she will lay about 15 eggs which will hatch this fall.
I visited a few other places before the rains came and I heading home. It felt great to get out and about and to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Pine Barrens again. I can’t wait to do more!