Naturalist’s tour cites the beauty – and danger – of some wildflowers
Did you know yellow daffodils are toxic?
There was a chill in the air on the morning of March 18, but it did not deter a group of 30 adults and children who took a stroll through Scotland Run Park to see the first blooms of spring wildflowers.
Walking out of the nature center in Clayton to begin the park tour, the children “oohed and aahed” at the bright yellow daffodils along the fence near the gate, as Gloucester County naturalist Dan Duran warned them that while pretty, daffodils can be toxic and deadly.
Duran led the St. Patrick’s Day Spring Wildflower Talk and Walk after a brief speech inside the center, where children looked at displays about wild birds and animals built into the walls.
An assistant professor at Rowan University, Duran teaches environmental sciences and has discovered 13 new species of plants during his travels around the country.
“I almost died the last time I went to Texas,” he recalled, explaining how he got lost when the battery on his hand-held guidance gadget failed. In survival mode until he found his way west, Duran said he found a clearing and ate edible plants.
During his presentation at the nature center, Duran said that there are not a lot of plants in flower now, and that the crocuses bloomed one month ago.
“They come from Europe, and are not native to New Jersey,” he said.
Duran’s slideshow at the center depicted wildflowers that flourish in South Jersey, including the yellow-red trout lily; Virginia bluebells; spring beauties; blue violets; the downy yellow violet; and the grape hyacinth, which is not native to the U.S.
“The common blue violet turns purple, and it is the state flower,” he pointed out.
Because of the deer overpopulation in South Jersey, it is difficult to find a pink lady’s slipper. Duran has only seen one in the park.
One surprising fact amazed Duran’s audience: There are 50 species of orchids native to New Jersey. There used to be 58, but eight species are now extinct. Pollinated by bees, orchids have delighted humans and animals alike for some 20 million years on Earth, according to the naturalist.
“One of my favorite flowers in late May is the mountain laurel,” he noted. “And, in the Pine Barrens only, there is the flowering pixie moss.”
Those on the tour spotted the first blooms on a red maple tree, which is native to the state. Duran pointed out the bright buds just sprouting.
Close to the water he found fresh green needles on a pitch pine tree, also native to New Jersey. Definitely not native to the area were the pretty blooms on a Japanese honeysuckle bush that delighted participants.