Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Plants to Interact With at Community Park North

Here are some plants to seek out for good smells, food and entertainment in Community Park North. The first one, Spicebush, is Princeton's most common native shrub. It has thick, dark green leaves, and if you pick a leaf and crumple it up, you will be rewarded by a wonderful citrony smell. The shrub's berries, hidden along the stem and still green this time of year, will help with identification.

Spicebush is related to sassafras, a tree whose roots were originally used to make root beer. It also grows in the park, and has fragrant leaves that come in three shapes, one of which looks like a mitten.

Along the nature paths, you'll likely see a brambly plant with a whitish bloom to the stem and clusters of green, pink, red and black berries. This is the native black raspberry. The berries are pretty tasty after they turn black. Watch out for the thorns, and be sure of identification before eating anything, of course.

One of the funnest plants in the woods is the jewelweed. Try picking one of its swollen seed pods (just above the orange flower in the photo) and see what happens. Also, try putting one of the leaves underwater and check out what happens to its color. Jewelweed is a wildflower that grows in low wet areas, which is often where poison ivy grows. Conveniently, the juice of the jewelweed stem can be rubbed on skin to treat poison ivy.

One plant that you may want to avoid interacting with, but which definitely wants to interact with you, is the stickseed. Later in the season, it grows green seed burs that will coat your pants if you happen to brush against a plant. It's clever "schtick" is to use you to spread its seeds.


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