Exploring Plants in a West Milford Forest # 2 Eastern Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Eastern Skunk Cabbage spadix (right) with emerging leaf (left)

Welcome! Today we will discuss the lowly Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), a plant that many may view in disgust due to its odor. That said, no other native plant can boast that it is the first of our native perennial spring wildflowers to bloom every year! You can find Skunk Cabbage in bloom as early as February though personally I have even seen it in bloom in December one year.

Skunk Cabbage is an obligate plant (which means it is almost always found in wetlands). So if you have stumbled across this plant you are most likely in a wetland (though I’m sure you will be aware of that fact long before you spot this plant 🙂 )!

Eastern Skunk Cabbage

Eastern Skunk Cabbage

The leaves, which appear as the flower is withering, can be as big as two feet or even bigger. While the leaves may have a resemblance to cabbage, it is misleading. Skunk Cabbage is not actually related to any cabbage species. Some people have even compared the leaves to Hosta Plants.

Skunk cabbage earns the ‘skunk’ in its name because it releases a harmless but nasty smell if one of its leaves get torn or damaged. The smell helps attract flies who cross-pollinate the plant by laying eggs in the spadix.

Eastern Skunk Cabbage 1

Eastern Skunk Cabbage

A cool fact about Skunk Cabbage is that it uses energy stored in its roots to generate heat! This plant can actually help to melt snow around it! Black bears have been known to eat the young green leaves in early spring along with different species of birds. That said, overall, Skunk Cabbage is a minor wildlife food plant and is toxic for human consumption.

Thank you for tagging along today!

If you liked reading about the virtual tours and plants on NJUrbanForest.com please don’t forget to subscribe! 🙂

Check out Plants of NJ to learn more!

Exploring Plants in a West Milford, NJ Forest # 1 – Northern Red Oak

Welcome back! Today will be the first entry of a new series on NJUrbanForest.com.

The purpose will be to introduce to you some of the common plants of the forests of West Milford, NJ!

Northern Red Oak 3

Northern Red Oak

Today we will be focusing on the state tree of New Jersey – the Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra).

Northern Red Oak 2

Northern Red Oak Leaf

The Northern Red Oak was chosen as the state tree of New Jersey in 1950 due to its long life and strength. The Northern Red Oak wetland indicator status is FACU (Facultative Upland) which means the tree normally grows in uplands but may be found sometimes in wetlands. The tree is one of the tallest in NJ and can obtain heights of up to 100 feet.

The Northern Red Oak is found from Canada down to Georgia and is the most common  and fastest growing oak on the east coast. Mature trees have lines on them similar to ski slopes. Sometimes the Northern Red Oak is confused with the Black Oak but can be differentiated by its leaves which are not as glossy and are of a thinner texture.

Northern Red Oak

Northern Red Oak Sapling

I hope you enjoyed learning about this wonderful tree!

If you liked reading about the virtual tours and plants on NJUrbanForest.com please don’t forget to subscribe! 🙂

Check out Plants of NJ to learn more!

Wildlife of Beach Haven’s Mordecai Island!

Mordecai Island

Eastern side of Mordecai Island

Welcome! Today we will be exploring the wildlife of Beach Haven’s Mordecai Island from a distance. Mordecai Island is named after Mordecai Andrews who owned over 900 nearby acres in the 1700s.

The 45 acre salt marsh island (which was at one time part of Long Beach Island) is located in Barnegat Bay just off the western coast of Long Beach Island New Jersey.

Mordecai Island is a designated important bird area of New Jersey.

Diamond Back Terrapin near Mordecai Island

Diamondback Terrapin seen near Mordecai Island

Mordecai Island also provides important habitat for Horseshoe Crabs and Diamondback Terrapins both of which thrive in the brackish waters of Barnegat Bay.

Diamondback Terrapins were once very common in New Jersey. Road kills and overdevelopment have threatened their numbers in recent years. Mordecai provides much needed breeding ground for these beautiful turtles.

Horseshoe Crab numbers have also been reduced in the past few decades. Important places like Mordecai Island will help to ensure their survival by providing much needed habitat.

The western side of Mordecai Island has lost about 26 acres since the 1930s due to strong tides and increased nearby development.  Mordecai Land Trust is a non-profit that helps to ensure that the habitats on Mordecai Island stay healthy and they work with their partners to help decrease the loss of Mordecai Island salt marshes.

Mordecai Island Wetlands

Mordecai Island located to the west of Long Beach Island

There are colonies of Ribbed Mussels (which humans generally do not eat) found near the shores of Mordecai Island. These mussels help support the root structures of some saltwater plants such as Smooth Cordgrass which in turn helps to prevent further erosion.

Mordecai Island is comprised of of both high salt marsh and low salt marsh with each consisting of their respective plant communities including:

Bald Eagles on Osprey Nest

Bald Eagles on Osprey Nesting Platform Mordecai Island

Let’s take a look around and see what wildlife we can spot. Wow! We’ve lucked out already! Two majestic Bald Eagles are sitting on an Osprey nesting platform!

The Osprey nesting platform the Bald Eagles are perched on was built in 2016 which replaced an earlier one that was constructed in 1994.

American Black Ducks

American Black Ducks near Mordecai Island

What are those ducks we see near the Bald Eagles? Mallards perhaps? No, they are American Black Ducks. American Black Ducks winter in a variety of wetland habitats in the eastern United States including salt marshes like Mordecai Island.

Common Loon with Buffleheads

Common Loon with airborne Buffleheads near Mordecai Island

And look! A Common Loon with some Buffleheads flying in the background! We may think of a Common Loon as only belonging to the wilderness of an isolated freshwater lake deep in the North Woods but as we see here they are found near salt marshes in the winter time.

Other birds known to use the habitat found in and around Mordecai Island include the below among others:

Several of these birds are endangered here in New Jersey.

Red-Breasted Merganser

The back of a Red-Breasted Merganser near Mordecai Island

Turning our attention back to the water near Mordecai Island we spot a Red-Breasted Merganser with its back to us. It’s a funky looking bird whose haircut reminds me of a late 1970’s punk rocker.


Buffleheads near Mordecai Island

Wow! We have seen quite a few cool looking birds today. Our last treat is a flock of Buffleheads who have just landed in the calm waters off of Mordecai. Buffleheads are the smallest of the diving ducks.

Thanks for joining me today on our wildlife viewing extravaganza!

You can check out the latest Mordecai Island bird sightings here!

Great books!



Exploring Manhattan’s Peter Detmold Park!

Peter Detmold Park Entrance 1

Welcome to Manhattan’s Peter Detmold Park! The park is named after a former president of the nearby Turtle Bay Association. The park is located near East 49th to East 51st Street along the FDR Drive near the East River.

Peter Detmold Park Walkway

Welcome! Coming in from the East 51st Street entrance there are two sets of  steep brown stone steps. The first level leads to a walkway which goes over the popular Peter Detmold Dog Park below. The walkway crosses over the FDR and leads down near the East River via a short promenade with benches and trees including Bradford Pear (invasive) and Pin Oak (native). If we continue going down the stairs we go into the park itself. Let’s take the walkway to the East River first before we explore the rest of the park.

Cherry Blossoms Peter Detmold Park

Kwanzan Cherry Trees in bloom Peter Detmold Park

As we walk along the walkway we notice several beautiful trees in bloom including Kwanzan Cherry Trees and a Redbud Tree blooming.

Redbud in bloom Peter Detmold Park

Redbud Tree in bloom Peter Detmold Park

Arriving at the promenade there are sweeping views of Roosevelt Island with Queens in the background along with views looking north and south.

59th Street Bridge

Looking North towards the Ed Koch Bridge (Queensboro) Peter Detmold Park

Arriving at the promenade we see fantastic views looking north of the Ed Koch Bridge.


Looking south with U Thant Island and the Williamsburg Bridge Peter Detmold Park

Looking south we see the Williamsburg Bridge along with U Thant Island (aka Belmont Island). It’s the small pile of rocks off in the distance in the photo above.  The island was created during the construction of the tube that carries the 7 train from Manhattan to Queens.

Seaside Goldenrod Peter Detmold Park

Seaside Goldenrod Peter Detmold Park

Looking down near the East River some spontaneous Seaside Goldenrod is seen growing.


Brant East River Peter Detmold Park

As we admire the Seaside Goldenrod a pair of Brant come swimming up from the East River.

Ringed-Billed Gull at the East River Peter Detmold Park

Ring-Billed Gull Peter Detmold Park

A watchful Ring-Billed Gull eyes us as we take in the surroundings. Let’s head back over the pedestrian overpass to the park.

Peter Detmold Park

Peter Detmold Park Looking North towards the Dog Park

Here we are in the heart of Peter Detmold Park. Though we hear many cars on the nearby FDR the park still feels peaceful and is away from the chaotic atmosphere of the rest of midtown Manhattan.

Mourning Dove Peter Detmold Park

Mourning Dove with Iconic Pepsi-Cola Sign

As we continue on our walk through the park we see a Mourning Dove perched on a railing with the iconic Pepsi-Cola sign behind it over the East River.

Honey Locust Canopy Peter Detmold Park

Honey Locust Canopy Peter Detmold Park

We even have an urban canopy over our heads of mature thorn-less Honey Locust Trees.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Peter Detmold Park

Red-Bellied Woodpecker Peter Detmold Park

As we admire the Honey Locust Canopy we hear and see a Red-Bellied Woodpecker chipping away on a dead section of one tree.

Black and White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler Peter Detmold Park

On our way out we spot a migrating Black-and-White-Warbler bouncing away on the cobblestones. So cool!

Peter Detmold Park Entrance 2

We have now left Peter Detmold Park at the East 49th Street entrance. Let’s make sure to close the gate as many dogs and their owners frequent the park.

Thank you for tagging along!

Check out the latest bird sightings here!

For Directions Click Here

Great Books on Urban Parks and Flora!

Green Metropolis: The Extraordinary Landscapes of New York City as Nature, History, and Design

Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape

Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City



Beach Haven’s William Butler Park!

William Butler Park

Welcome to Beach Haven’s William Butler Park (aka Taylor Avenue Park)! The park is named after the first mayor of Beach Haven, NJ.


The park features shoreline along Barnegat Bay along with restrooms, gazebos, benches, basketball courts and a public boat ramp. A dog park is located south of the basketball court.

William Butler Park

William Butler Park

To me, the most special part of William Butler Park is the native plant garden and the shoreline along Barnegat Bay.


Native Plant Garden William Butler Park

The native plant garden includes such diverse plants as:

These plants (among others planted) provide good examples of what native plants thrive near the Barnegat Bay and help support native birds, butterflies and bees.


Native Garden with Barnegat Bay William Butler Park

If you live near Barnegat Bay you can use  this attachment as a guide to what native plants to use in your own backyard –> Going-Native


Hibiscus Native Plant Garden William Butler Park

While there is still plenty of life in and around Barnegat Bay the bay itself is starting to get stressed by certain types of pollution such as:

Residents and visitors to areas surrounding Barnegat Bay can all do their part to help the bay by not littering as all water leads to the bay.


Mallard Hen with Two Ducklings William Butler Park

During my last visit there were educational signs present detailing the fauna found in and around Barnegat Bay such as:

There used to be millions of Oysters in Barnegat Bay. While they are still present, their numbers have been diminished due to pollution. Oysters play an important part in helping to purify the water and stabilize shorelines. Reclam the Bay is helping to ensure that Oysters presence will be continued and increased!

Mallard with ducklings Barnegat Bay William Butler Park

William Butler Park is worth checking out to learn more about native plants at the shore along with all the life found in Barnegat Bay. The view isn’t bad either 🙂


William Butler Park is found on Taylor Avenue behind Bay Village in Beach Haven, NJ.

Great Books on Barnegat Bay!

  1. Closed Sea: From the Manasquan to the Mullica – A History of Barnegat Bay
  2. The Bayman: A Life on Barnegat Bay