It’s going to be a cold week with Christmas festivities at the tail end, so I wanted to get outside yesterday despite the rain. We drove about 50 minutes to Whitesbog Village, and it was well-worth the distance and eventual “OMG we’re missing our toddler’s nap window! Now she’s literally pulling her hair out!” moment on the way home.
Whitesbog, a registered national and state historic site, is part of Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. It features a “village” of beautiful old buildings and 3,000 acres of cranberry bogs, blueberry fields, reservoirs, sandy roads, woodlands, streams and trails. Not only that, it’s a site on New Jersey’s Women Heritage Trail due to the work of “Blueberry Queen” Elizabeth Coleman White. She’s the one who brought Jersey blueberries to the masses after extensive research for growth habits, taste, scent and texture.
According to the Whitebog website, White also focused her research on the American holly (ilex opaca). “She even founded her own nursery business?Holly Haven, Inc.?and is credited with having helped to rescue the American holly from obscurity. She was even one of the first members of the Holly Society of America, founded in 1947.”
Volunteers have worked hard for decades to restore and preserve Whitesbog Village, including White’s old house. It’s a gorgeous place to stroll along paths lined with mountain laurel and other native plants, view cranberry bogs, check out White’s original test garden and experience the beauty of the Pines.
The Whitesbog General Store was closed yesterday morning, which was a bit of a bummer, because I was looking forward to picking up a few last-minute Christmas gifts. It’s typically open Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm February through December, and carries blueberry and cranberry preserves, honey, candy, books on the Pine Barrens, and items handcrafted by locals.
The store and other buildings within the village date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. The largest building, which is basically rubble now, was the packing and storing facility that was damaged in two different fires. In the other adorable buildings, Whitesbog Preservation Trust tells the story of Whitesbog Village and holds events, such as art shows, festivals and a holiday craft fair.
We knew we were in a good place when we walked up to find this awesome banner of a Jersey Devil playing banjo. Whitesbog regularly holds a Blueberry Music Jam, an acoustic jam for local musicians, which I’m hoping Tim will attend, banjo in tow.
The trip was still fun without anything in particular going on and a tiny bit of rain. Speaking of that rain, inspired by a story in the Introduction of a book I’m reading, How to Raise a Wild Child, I let Mae try splashing her boots into the puddles. She’s a kid. She should be allowed to splash in that puddle to see what it’s all about, even if it means she gets a little dirty.
One highlight was meeting a landscaping volunteer who saw me taking pictures and led me to the most awesome looking fungus. He admittedly isn’t a “fungus guy” so wasn’t quite sure what it was, but he did then proceed to show us all kinds of plants, native and not. He’s most certainly a plant guy, a weekend botanist, as he says.
The volunteer showed us a small American climbing fern (lygodium palmatum), a rare native fern with S2 status, meaning there are only 6 to 20 known occurrences in the state due to habitat destruction.
Speaking of destruction, here’s a photo of the old packing and storing facility, or what’s left:
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, when the more showy flowers of spring, summer and fall die off, some of the other aspects of the landscape finally get time to shine. This evergreen moss, which popped up all over the grounds and trails, is a beautiful contrast to the greys and browns of winter. Seeing it here led me to, once again, look into native mosses that could work in our garden. We don’t live in the Pine Barrens — we don’t have that sandy soil — so while this one wouldn’t work, there are others. But that’s for a later post.
Looking out from the trails closer to Elizabeth’s old home, the scene is stunning even on the gloomiest day just before winter settles in. I can’t wait to return in different seasons to observe how it changes.
Part of the trails has a boardwalk, which Mae loves, and there is a real range of plant species. The forest of Whitesbog includes sweet gum, pitch pine, red maple, black gum, holly, and Atlantic white cedar.
We believe this next photo is of a really old American sweet gum, but would love to be corrected if we’re wrong. Identifying trees without leaves while wrangling a dog and toddler can present a challenge at times.
The grounds around White’s house have a mix of natives and non-natives, though as far as I understand, the Whitesbog Preservation Trust’s goal with maintenance is to keep her collection of friendly non-natives healthy, get rid of invasives and add only plants native to the Pine Barrens and this region in particular.
This low-growing shrub, bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), can be found close to White’s house, and is prettier than this photo suggests. It’s a great native groundcover for those of you with that signature Pine Barrens sandy soil. It’s a host plant for the Hoary Elfin, Brown Elfin and Freija Fritillary butterflies, and its bright berries are edible.
As always, we have lots of other plant photos to share, and will continue to do so on Instagram. But all in all, it was a great little family adventure. And again, we weren’t even there when one of the many events was happening!