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?”

On Nature’s Schedule

The northeast faced a cold winter this past year with record breaking snowfall, some of which still persists in our fare city of Boston. A harsh season can have major impacts on plant communities, including damage to the plants themselves as well as delaying flowering and fruiting.

To collect enough seed for the Seeds of Success program, our team must reach plants at the peak of their fruiting season. This requires our team to keep a keen eye on the dozens of species we work with and how each population is developing.

As colleagues in the south and out west report that their seed collections have started, we closely watch our forests and salt marshes for sign of ripening seeds. Mother nature does not abide by our schedules and all we can do is to prepare and observe so that we are ready when the time is right.

The anticipation is building as our fieldwork increases and we are very mindful of potential opportunities to collect viable seeds. It is still too early to tell how the past winter will effect this season’s seed collection.  But with the current long, hot days, the biting cold of early winter seems long ago and there is huge amount of work to be done before the end of this work season.

Clear skies and a fresh breeze (but no ripe seed) greeted us at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, ME

Clear skies and a fresh breeze (but no ripe seed) greeted us at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, ME