Our 20+ miles of trail in Lawrence and Hopewell Townships offer an abundance of eye-catching flora, and we want to help our friends identify them. Welcome to What’s Blooming on the LHT, our new “field guide” to Mercer County plants.
June means the LHT is awash in flowers and foliage – particularly white and yellow flowers and lush greenery. How many of these wild plants can you spot?
Don’t let the dainty white flowers of Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolate) fool you. This invasive, non-native species, introduced from Europe as a food plant, can crowd out and overtake endemic wildflowers and plants while disrupting soil microbial life. The plant, a biennial, usually grows to about three feet tall, can smell of garlic in the spring, and produces smooth heart-shaped leaves and clusters of four-petal white flowers on tall stems. The weed is a prolific seed producer and can self-pollinate, so when you spot these feel free to weed them out!
A native plant, Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) has already bloomed – though you may have missed it. Before the leaves you’re seeing now emerge, the plant produces a mottled brown or maroon hood-like blossom. Later, as the weather warms, broad, bright green leaves measuring up to 16 inches emerge in clumps. The plants thrive in low-lying, wet conditions and proliferate in wetlands. Crushed leaves produce an unpleasant odor that attracts pollinators, hence the name. And, fun fact: it’s thermogenic, meaning it can generate warmth allowing its flowers and first shoots to escape frozen soil.
Yellow Rocket or Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris) is another non-native from Europe, but unlike garlic mustard, it is not generally considered invasive – or destructive to native species and habitats. An herbaceous biennial, growing over two feet tall, it features green to purplish, hairless stalks that erupt with bunches of long-blooming, four-petal flowers that fade to angular seedpods. The plants spread by reseeding and can often be found clumped in fragrant yellow colonies across meadows and other grassy areas. The leaves of winter cress are edible – they have a sharp, lemony flavor and were historically eaten in Northern Europe to help prevent scurvy.
Another native, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), is notable for its unusual blossoms – cylindrical, hooded, green with white or brownish purple striping, and similar in appearance to the carnivorous pitcher plant. That said, the jack-in-the-pulpit’s flowers don’t feed on insects, they merely hope to attract them to aid in pollination. An herbaceous perennial, it features glossy leaves clustered in groups of three on stalks growing up to three feet tall. A prolific bloomer through spring and summer, by August jack-in-the-pulpit plants produce clusters of bright red berries attractive to the endemic birds and mammals that share the plant’s damp, woodland habitats.