Welcome to Jamaica. Jamaica, Vermont. No Caribbean for me, but that is just fine. I am happy to be where the days are cool and the evenings cooler. While spring sprinted by in what felt like just a few short days at home in southeast Pennsylvania, happily it is still spring here. 43 degree evenings, days in the mid-70s. Heaven to me.
I am house sitting in this area, the southwest corner of the state, near where Vermont, New York and Massachusetts all come together and attempting to make this an inexpensive bit of time away. Spending lots of time writing and exploring and not spending money. I brought all the ingredients to make my meals and stayed away from places designed to separate me from my money opting for hiking and other botanical explorations.
If you ever find yourself in the area, plan some time to explore (botanize?) Jamaica State Park.
Jamaica State Park – Gorgeous from the second you cross a one lane bridge with dubious looking (but perfectly safe!) planks. A portion of the 16-mile West River Trail runs through the park and makes for an enjoyable wander along the West River. Boulders and riffles abound making a nice soundtrack to your explorations. There are a couple options for heading off the rail trail and I have explored two of them while I am up here.
On day 1 I took the advice of the ranger because I am ALWAYS in search of waterfalls and opted for the Hamilton Falls Trail. Hard to believe what the trail map says that this used to be a truck and wagon road. It is narrow and rocky and steep in some parts. Perhaps because it is spring it also was very wet and mucky in some portions. And I have to admit, the mosquitos were so bad at that time that I had a hard time stopping to get photos of plants and scenery along the way. (Public Service Announcement: If you are going to hike in mid-June in Vermont, bring that friend of yours that always seems to get eaten alive so the mosquitos leave you alone. I am not usually bitten by mosquitos and even donned some all-natural insect repellent and still they swarmed and feasted!) So photos of plants are limited.
As discouraging as the mosquitos swarms were, it was encouraging to see all of the young Hemlocks along the trail. There were large hemlocks as well, in their favorite locations in shady damp ravines. Unlike on nearly all the hemlocks at home I didn’t see sign of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid and the bright green new growth of the young trees were pest free and a cause for optimism to be sure.
Day 2 I decided to get an early start. The morning was cool with a breeze and I thought I may beat the mosquitos to the park. While it certainly wasn’t as bad as the day before, I did decide I am going to have to reevaluate my repellent selection. But I was able to get a few more photos of the plant life along the Overlook Trail.
The Overlook Trail takes you to the summit of Little Ball Mountain.
Along this trail I found cause for distress. No, not more mosquitos, the presence of Beech Bark Disease. Each small beech tree seemed to have puckered, spotted, damaged bark. Normally a stalwart of the eastern deciduous forest, standing tall and strong for centuries, this sign of weakness in these trees may signal a long-term change in forest dynamics.
On a more positive note I also found some terrific ground covers including the most un-dogwood-like dogwood – Buncherry (Cornus canadensis). This is a dwarf, woody groundcover that spreads by underground rhizomes. It has the familiar flowers of Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) but tops out at only 9″ tall. Always on the lookout for groundcover alternative, we in southeastern PA would love to be able to grow this but we are too warm. This plant will not do well south of Hardiness Zone 6, which is creeping farther north each decade.
Lycopodiums also sprouted among the fallen leaves all along the trail. There are various types of lycopodiums. Known as clubmosses, these plants look positively prehistoric and that is because they are! Sometimes called ground pine, princess pine or running cedars, these spore-bearing plants evolved more than 300 million years ago.
After making it to the top of the trail and back, I returned to my car on the West River Trail. I followed a side shoot down to the rounded pale boulders that make the West River’s shoreline. While boulder hopping I look down and see a familiar native plant that we can grow at home – Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea). I have not seen this plant so close to water before in the wild, typically finding it in drier areas, woodland openings, and meadows.
This is a great thing about getting out into nature, you can see where plants like to grow, and where they will grow, so when you are planning your landscape you can better place the plants you chose. Or choose plants more suitable for the conditions of your landscape.
Royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) also sprouted among the boulders with their feet in the shallows of this whitewater river. Looking as regal as their name indicates, they have spread filling nooks and crannies along the water’s edge.
Finally, in this park – a new-to-me flower. At first quick glance upon entering the trail and engulfed by a sea of mosquitos I thought this was the Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides). Later, upon closer inspection, while trying to photograph it I knew the striped flowers with the yellow center were not those of the pure white rue anemone. What was this plant? With a hunch from the heart-shaped leaves that this was some kind of sorrel (Oxalis sp) I took the photos and headed back home to learn the name of this plant. Why didn’t I Google it? There is ZERO service in this park. ZERO. Which is peaceful. And which prevents you from the immediate gratification of a positive identification. Field guides never fail but I never fail to forget my field guides.
Isn’t this beautiful? Note heart-shaped leaves like a clover. This is the flower of Mountain or Northern Woodsorrel (Oxalis montana). Previously I have only encountered the yellow and purple woodsorrels.
I have hiked for decades in the woodlands of New England. I have learned many plants this way and revel in finding them each time I return. And after all these years, here is a new one to me. Beautiful and more importantly difficult to grow in garden conditions. Which means we need to make sure our lovely open spaces, our parks and our preserves stay protected and open to the public. We have so much to learn from the winding woodland paths that surround us.
What is the most recent plant you discovered?