Flowers of the Pine Barrens – Leatherleaf


Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) is in full bloom now, an early Spring flower in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.  Also known as Cassandra, you can find this low growing shrub growing along ponds, bogs, and slow moving streams.

Leatherleaf grows in large colonies and produces rows of small. white, bell-shaped flowers.  Out hiking this weekend, I found these flowers in three different locations.

The Pine Barrens are off to a beautiful start this year and, with the help of Howard Boyd’s Flowers of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, I hope to find (and photograph) several other flowers this Spring.


Spring in the New Jersey Pine Barrens


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.

A field of flowers

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.

New Jersey's Pygmy Forest

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!

Late Winter Walk in Allaire State Park

Today was about as nice as you can expect for late winter around here, so I took advantage of the warmer temps and lack of rain to get out for a long walk around Allaire State Park.   The Park preserves the remains of an old iron works and makes for a really nice location for a day out.

Back in the early 1800’s James P. Allaire , a New York iron manufacturer and engine builder, purchased a large track of land here in New Jersey that became known as the Howell Works.  The Works were a rich source of bog iron at the time and became a major industrial center in the 1830’s.    James Allaire ultimately retired to the Howell Works and spent the remainder of his life in this house. 

Remains of a Blast Furnace at Allaire State Park

Bog iron forms in the swamps and bogs found throughout this part of New Jersey and blast furnaces like this one were used to extract the iron that used by Allaire’s factories in New York.   This is the only one left in the park and is protected from the weather by the structure built around it. 

This area was very isolated in the 1830’s, so the Howell Iron Works had to be a self-sufficent town.  Several of the building remain and are used as bakeries, gift shops, or as visitor centers.

The church survives and is still used for weddings and special ceremonies.  Notice the steeple is built at the rear of the building – the original building is located at the front.  When the church was expanded, the original structure couldn’t support the weight of the steeple, so it was added to the rear of the building.

The iron works needed lots of water and there are several canals like this one – Spring must be on the way.  The frogs are already laying eggs in several places throughout the canal!

And another sign of Spring – the skunk cabbages are pushing up everywhere throughout the swamps.