Fall Arrangements

Hello, everyone. I’m writing you all today because there is something I need to get off my chest. It’s been weighing down on me for some time now. I don’t think I can keep it in much longer. I figured that the CLM blog would be a safe space to come out and say this…..I love plants. Okay, I’m actually COMPLETELY OBSESSED with PLANTS. I can’t stop looking at them and thinking about them. I eat, sleep and breathe plants. I dream about them. Sometimes I even talk to them. I love house plants, food crops, native grasses, wildflowers, weeds, even some invasives! Cacti, moss, conifers, C3, C4, lichens since they’re like half plant, ALL OF THEM ARE BEAUTIFUL. That’s why this internship has been so perfect for me. I get paid to walk around and look at plants, and touch them too; “botanize” if you will. I’ve gotten to flex my identification chops and learn about hundreds of natives. I’ve gotten better acquainted with where they grow, when they bloom, and even when they fruit. I feel like the friendship between me and my green companions has become more personal, in a way.

In true friendship spirit, plants and I enjoy sharing activities together. One of my favorite activites (besides cooking and eating) is floral arranging. I found it to be very cathartic when I was stressed out in college, or when I’m sad about something. Floral arrangements are great way to take a little piece of a hike or a garden home with you. If you know how to dry the plants, their beauty can last quite a bit longer. You can take a nice bouquet home to your honey for smiles and smooches. Give one to a stranger for a weird look/new friendship. Make a centerpiece to gaze at while eating dinner, brighten up a room, or hang a seasonal wreath on a door. 

Now, I don’t want y’all to think I was just walking around pickin’ daisies when I was supposed to be working. It’s rare that I pick a flower unless I’m having a hard time trying identify the species, so I take a specimen to press for a later time. I always want to leave as many flowers for the pollinators so they can transform to fruits and seeds and spread their genes. It’s the cycle of life, folks. The only time I’ll interfere with the flow of the cycle, is when the plant is invasive. I don’t have a problem taking it out of an environment it does not belong in. When I was doing my capstone research on a dry prairie ecosystem, I would often make a bouquet of the invasive exotics encroaching on it at the end of a field day. It was enjoyable to make something pretty, while also helping manage the land. Imagine if florists did that! 

When making arrangements, I like to emulate the habitats the plants came from in the shape and sectioning of the piece. This is my own botanical style because I’m an amateur without any formal training. When constructing an arrangement, I try to incorporate elements of the plants’ homeland. I want my final product to be reflective of the open field or woodland path from which (it/they) came originally.  I also like to take in consideration the season that they bloom in. Spring might be most people’s favorite time of year for natural beauty, but I personally really like the muted and earthy shades of Autumn. Plus, when everything has already flowered and gone to seed, there’s no worrying about whether you might be stealing a bumble bee’s food.

In this native grass wall piece, I have collected Scirpus cyperinus, Schizachrium scoparium, Juncus canadensis, Andropogon glomeratus, foxtail, and 2 non-natives I have yet to identify. It is representative of a wet meadow in Tuckahoe wildlife management area.

In this native grass wall piece, I have collected Scirpus cyperinus, Schizachrium scoparium, Juncus canadensis, Andropogon glomeratus, foxtail, and 2 non-natives I have yet to identify. It is representative of a wet meadow in Tuckahoe wildlife management area.

Soldiago sempervirens, Bacchris halmifolia and foxtail are bundled in this quick little boutonnière bouquet I put together.

Soldiago sempervirens, Bacchris halmifolia and foxtail are bundled in this quick little boutonnière bouquet I put together.

Crafting floral arrangements is a way to repurpose nature’s own expression of evolution as a medium for new art, beauty, decorations, and mementos. You can touch them, smell them, and best of all, compost them when you’re ready to make a new one!

Decomposing my Troubles

“Fungi are the grand molecular disassemblers in nature. Fungi are the interface organisms between life and death. They generate soil.”

  • Mycologist Paul Stamets

There is something lurking in the swamps of New Jersey. It breathes oxygen. It respires CO2. It devours the dead for dinner.

What I’m talking about is fungus, of course!

When making plant collections in thick forests, it’s hard to miss the unique shapes and vibrant colors of the fungus that are contrasting with the brown and green background.   

This internship not only strengthens my skills in plant identification, but additionally gives me the opportunity to expand my realm of knowledge to other aspects of biotic life.  Like finding a 1up mushroom in a mario game, it’s like a prize to see a brightly colored cap along the path I’m hiking. As a naturalist, I enjoy matching each new plant or fungi to their correct species epithet, and learn about their functionality. Social media platforms, like Facebook, currently host tons of group identification forums. The online community is always helpful to plant-nerds like me whenever the right answer cannot be found in my field guide. So as I walk along, I snap a quick picture of these photogenic fungi and continue on my way. Here are some of my favorites:


Cortinarius iodes

“Violet cort”

This fungi gets a slimey cap after it rains.


Artomyces pyxidatus

“Crown coral”

An elegant coral mushroom.


Amanita muscaria var. Guessowii

American Yellow Fly Agaric”

What a pretty baby growing on the path!


Boletus edulis


The choicest of all mushrooms. Highly prized in Europe, they can sell for over $50 a pound dry.


Trametes Versicolor

“Turkey tail”

I often see these more than any other mushroom in my travels. Has medicinal and anti-cancer properties.


Pleurotus ostreatus

“Oyster mushroom”

These were growing on Fagus grandifolia, although they normally grow on oaks. They have a fishy smell and are commercially cultivated. I have noticed that the wild variety has a more fragrant smell than cultivated ones.

“Bicolor bolete”

Boletus bicolor

The “Bicolor bolete.”

This fungi, sports a red stem and cap, and yellow pores. It is apparently edible and bruises blue.


Laetiporus sp.

Chicken Mushroom”

MY FAVORITE. Serve em up anyway you like, batter em, fry em, stick em in a stew. Unmistakable and easy to spot. They have sulfur colored pores beneath. Tastes like chicken.


Lycoperdon pyriforme

“Pear Puffballs”

This species is white inside and can often be found growing on wood.

Clavaria sp.

Clavaria sp.

“Flame fungus”

When I saw these poking out from under the leaf litter I just thought, “Wow, the Earth is weird.”

I would have loved to pick some of these toadstools, however, I only had a permit to collect seeds, so I had to leave them be. When foraging mushrooms, it’s good to keep in mind that picking them will not destroy the mycelial networks that they sprout from. In fact, picking the mushroom can spread the spores that are produced from the fruiting body further when they are carried in something like a basket. If it is your style to pick, then try and cut or pinch the end that has soil/debris on it, (the part that you would cut off before eating) and leave it on the ground or on a piece of wood nearby. By incorporating this into your foraging habits, it can help proliferate culture in the future.

I saw most of these mushrooms in Northern New Jersey in both the piedmont and Appalachian ecoregions. I have also seen some in the pine barrens. Within the permits of the Mid- Atlantic Regional Seed Bank, one of the most biodiverse areas to collect is the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1960. Half of the refuge is designated wilderness area, and was the first wilderness under the management of the U.S. Department of Interior. Perhaps the area’s preservation from half a century ago left the mycelial networks intact better than the other areas I’ve explored that have roads through them. I usually associate the presence of a diverse array of fungi with a healthy swamp ecosystem.

There are roughly 5.1 million species of fungus on earth, of which 10 percent produce fruiting bodies or “mushrooms.” From food, to medicine, to bioremediation, to plant communication to decomposition; fungus is integral part of life in our world. Even when there aren’t any fruits to be seen, you can be sure there are webs of mycelial networks just beneath your feet.

There are secrets in New Jersey

New Jersey has a secret. It wears an industrial mask and is draped in a costume made from the fabric of loud boardwalks, clubbers, and miscellaneous state stereotypes.

But, beneath the façade, there is something very—very different. The secret’s out, New Jersey is bursting at the seams with plant life and environmental diversity.

My partner, Robbie, and I have gained a lot of memorable and joyous experiences exploring NJ and its plant life. We have driven through rough and gritty dirt roads deep into the soul of the Pine Barrens. We did not find the Jersey Devil, but we did find adventure.

We camped under hearts of oaks and pines, nestled in the rib cages of blueberries and huckleberries. N.J. unveiled its rare Lysimachia terrestristhe and Pogonia opioglossoides to us in the summer’s boiling bogs brimming with sun dew and pitcher plants.Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 10.10.03 PM

We have taken shelter from the sobs of the earth and its storming pulse under the spiral bark of the Atlantic white cedar.

We’ve inhaled the aromatic scents of Rhododendron viscosum of the Appalachian Mountains tucked away in the northwest of the state.


Rhododendron viscosum

We kayaked through the narrow veins of the creeks, and saw the Spartina species thriving on the scalps of muscle clams.

Egg Island, NJ

Egg Island, NJ

We escaped the vicious greenflies and their shocking vampiric bites.

We traced roads that evolved into thick, impassible tickets. We baked like potatoes in the summer’s oven. We searched through the labyrinth of dunes seeking beach plum (Prunus maritima), bear berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) , and heather (Hudsonia sp.).

Endless Gaylussacia baccata

Endless under stories of Gaylussacia baccata

We saw proud bald eagles, and ravenous osprey gripping fish in their razor talons. We saw black face terns plummeting and breaking the skin of the sea. We eaves dropped into conversations of sand pipers and red winged black birds as they discussed territory defense strategy.

Turkey Beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)

Turkey Beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)


Our alarm clocks were not actual timepieces, but roaring torrential downpours, leaky tents, and whippoorwills gossiping into the night.

Our breath would escape our lungs from the snakes slithering across our boots.

We were freckled with ticks.

We waited patiently for nesting terrapins to cross the road.

We learned the language of the land and had the opportunity to listen closely. It spoke in gentle whispers. It said, “I have a secret. Can you guess what’s under this mask?”