Yesterday my family and I explored the Island Beach State Park. The park preserves a long section of a barrier island, just off the coast of central New Jersey. The dunes, salt marshes, and forests that are preserved are very beautiful and I learned a lot of eastern seaboard ecology from my afternoon in the park. There were several species that are not found in northern Michigan that I became familiar with.
New Jersey hosts the greatest extant of the Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida). It grows on poor soils and can be found in the north eastern part of the US, from Maine all the way down to Kentucky and North Carolina. It is not an important timber species because of its slow growth and crooked trunks. It is fire resistant and its seeds are released from the cones through fire. It is called “pitch” because its sap was used in the day of wooden sailing ships to seal leaks.
Park managers are fighting against the invasive species, the Common Reed (Phragmites australis), seen below, that forms dense matting and blocks out other species. It is native to America, but the European strain of the reed, grows out of control. It is found in the southern Great Lakes and all over the Eastern Seaboard. My daughter Ocean noticed them and asked what was that “type of bread”, referring to to its similarity to wheat. It was quite common in the salt marshes on the leeward side of the island.
I did not know that there was Prickly Pear Cactus native to the east coast. Below is a photo of the Opuntia humifosa, which can be found from southern Minnesota to Florida. I only thought they were found out west and in Latin America.
The beach, dunes, and forests are absolutely spectacular! The drive through the park kind of feels like Florida, with its flat terrain and thick, low, forests. Replacing the palms are Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana), which is found all throughout the eastern half of the United States. It is a pioneer species and survives on poor soil and disturbed habitats. It is also long lived and there were some large specimens to be seen.
It was a really nice day in the park and thank you to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for its work in protecting this part of the island.