Botany Contest Winners
Many thanks to all those who participated in our Botany Contest. We received some lovely responses, a few of which are reprinted below. The winner of our random drawing on April 4th was Bobcat Saunders who received a $25 gift certificate for Hackensack Riverkeeper Eco-Programs or Keeperwear.
Spicebush, Unsung Marvel
By Bobcat Saunders
Walking home the back way one night, I was suddenly stopped by a smell as surely as by a big fishhook through the nose. Spicebush! But Spicebush doesn't grow behind my home, it's too dry. Well, I looked, and there was a one small sapling with a few struggling leaves. Although it didn't last, I will always remember how its scent was so dramatic.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a wonderful plant with a characteristic fragrance in the leaves and twigs. It is not easily noticeable, but provides summery, lush, green, fragrant foliage, for people and especially birds. The spreading 6-10 foot high bushes provide roosting and nesting for many birds, including some of our most melodious. Because the berries are about 60% oil, they are a favorite of migrating birds who need to tank up before their long trip south.
Mature forests are in layers-the climax trees (oaks here), the understory bushes, the smaller herby plants, the ground huggers. Understory shrubs in Northeast New Jersey are mostly viburnums, except in moist area like shady stream edges. There the deciduous Spicebush flourishes. It has simple leaves, alternate, pointed-oval, smooth 6-8 in. long by 3 in. wide, widest at 2/3 up from the leaf base. Clustered small (less than 1") flowers come in March-April, before the leaves. Small oval seeds start green, in June, finally turning bright red in late August.
Besides giving food to birds, it provides food to people, too. The leaves, fresh or dried, or winter twigs, can be steeped to make a mild, aromatic, very pleasant tea. The dried, ground, ripe seeds smell wonderful, and can be used as a spice in baked goods, curries, etc. The early colonists used this as a substitute for allspice during the Revolution, when regular supplies were blockaded by the British.
So treat your senses. Learn to identify Spicebush, and you too can relive history, while you spark up your cooking. Just leave enough for our feathered friends!
Grandma’s Favorite Flower
By Naomi Gamorra
Glen Rock, NJ
I picked Lilac (Syringa vulgaris-common Lilac). The color - The Smell, the Benevolence of the plant! Lilac is an amazing flower. I remember being disappointed when I was 5 years old because Lilacs did not taste as good as they smelled. The Lilac has special significance for my mother, sister and I. My dear Grandmother's birthday was on May 5, apparently the same day that our Lilac Bush bloomed. Every year my Grandmother would receive a whomping bouquet of Lilac blooms. My grandmother passed away 20 years ago, but to this day when the Lilac blooms, my mother will say, "That was Grandma's favorite flower" and then I will say "I know, we always brought her Lilacs on her birthday." And then we will smile a sweet sad smile and remember her fondly.
Saved by the Buttonbush (Bush Globe Flower)
By Claire Allison
I strayed from Route 17 and Route 59 in Suffern to better see the stream chasing along its S-curve on soothed pebbles and boulders. Here this stream spreads and warms on its stony deltas; then it takes the hint and dips beneath Route 17 and the NY Thruway towards Manhattan. From country to city the Ramapo runs but takes a long moment on the plain at Suffern.
Some “posted” markers along the stream sent me up to the cement roadway. There in the middle lay a tiny bird, a casualty of the roadway in the July sunshine.
It roused to impel itself across the roadway away from my approach, but I reached to capture in my hand the burnished blue of a young, anxious barnswallow.
My tiny captive seemed intact so I thought to release it at the stream. But it flopped in the undergrowth; it was stunned. Little bird, I thought, we need to get help.
To the stream with my morning’s coffee cup; the little bird on the front seat in a hollow of my knapsack; the tiny beak resting in a drop of water. A sudden dart to swill down the moisture; another drop put down and then a fierce snap at the liquid pearl; this bird is healing itself. Let me get help.
First, to soften its pillow on my knapsack on the front seat—to the riverbank to select a billowy cluster of soft leaves from a shrub springing from water’s edge; tiny white blossoms studded the foliage, a perfect cradle. Route 17 led us away from the country and towards the city and help.
Thankfully, the Flat Rock Sanctuary in Englewood came to mind. The Sanctuary celebrates nature. I made sure the bird had water as I rushed to reach the place. They were closing but I brought my little patient to the attention of the nature guide who was saying goodnight to his owls.
We got help. I was guided: Barn swallows consume bugs in flight. Chopped beef would do; Water the bird with a medicine dropper. So spoke the nature guide.
Aha, he said, when he saw the nest I had made from the leafy shrub that grows on the Ramp River’s banks. ‘This is a buttonbush. This bird may survive,’ he cheered me. We put the buttonbush nest into a small cardboard box he produced. A few last minute instructions. Suggestion to take this barn swallow to the Raptor Trust in Millington. They rehabilitate injured wild birds. We all bid adieu.
The Raptor Trust was a major partner in saving this beautiful wild thing. They nurtured it for three weeks. Then it was released.
Millington is New Jersey’s finest horse country and the barns are beautiful, as are the barn swallows.
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