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exploring south

branch preserve


This is the beginning of an educational trail that travels through The Land Conservancy of New Jersey’s South Branch Preserve. Follow the trail to learn about the work we do here and the flora and fauna around you.


The Land Conservancy has planted four species of warm season grasses on this site. They are big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass and switchgrass. Native, warm season grasses have multiple uses and benefits. Native, warm season grasses are capable of producing more biomass with less nutrient and water input than cool season grasses. They include spring bird nesting habitat, summer cover and forage, and winter cover. Warm season grasses also provide erosion protection. These grasses are adapted to local soils, temperatures, nutrients and rainfall; making them more resilient to the effects of drought than introduced grasses.

As the name suggests, native warm-season grasses have their peak growing rates during the summer, when cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue, are dormant. Because they are well adapted to their areas, these grasses are long-lasting and require little to no fertilizers or herbicides. Roots for native grasses often grow longer than non-native species. This allows them to reach more water and nutrients, decrease compaction of the soil, increase water infiltration, and prevent soil erosion. Because of their soil and water quality benefits, more farmers are incorporating native warm-season grasses into field borders, hedgerows, buffer strips and other conservation plantings. Native plants attract native pollinators, which are often considered more efficient pollinators. By attracting good insects, birds and bats, they serve as pollinators for many of the plants that provide the food we eat.


The Community Garden at South Branch Preserve was built for the benefit of the local residents so that they would have a place to grow their own organic vegetables and flowers. There is a total of 145 (10 X 10) plots in the garden which includes irrigation, a shed and a sitting area.  Gardeners not only grow food for their own families, they donate produce to the local food pantries for others in their community.  The Land Conservancy established the Community Garden in 2013 and you can contact them at (973) 541-1010 if you are interested in leasing a plot for the season.


This bluebird box is part of a bluebird trail at the Preserve. More than 25 bluebird boxes have been placed along the fence that surrounds these four fields (which totals 37 acres). Eastern bluebirds as well as other box nesting species are beneficial in helping control insect populations. These boxes will help increase the numbers of these beautiful birds. Most of the boxes were occupied last season by not only bluebirds, but tree swallows and house wrens, which are also beneficial to controlling the insect population. You will see many of these birds perching on the fence and posts as you walk the trail.


Over 7,185 native trees and shrubs have been planted in these four fields in a project to reforest this area. You may see some of the stakes with these plants as you look over the field areas. Native trees that have been planted here include red oak, white oak, tulip poplar, sugar maple, red maple, hackberry and quaking aspen. Some of the native shrubs are red chokeberry, black chokeberry, gray dogwood, witch hazel, smooth and staghorn sumac, winterberry, nannyberry, blackhaw and spicebush. Reforesting this area will help reduce any runoff  that may enter the South Branch of the Raritan River which provides drinking water to over 1,500,000 people in New Jersey. As these trees and shrubs grow, along with the warm season grasses, they will help increase the diversity of wildlife in the area.


Red maple forested wetlands, better known as red maple swamps, are the most abundant freshwater wetland type throughout the northeast. As indicted by its name, red maple (Acer rubrum) is the dominant tree species found in red maple swamps. Red maple is tolerant of various site conditions, and red maple swamps occur in various hydrogeological settings. Red maple swamps can occur on river terraces, in oxbows, behind natural levees, and on the low-lying inner floodplain of rivers. They can also be found in undrained basins. Such swamps exhibit the characteristic mound-and-pool topography, where trees and shrubs are rooted primarily in mounds. Red maple swamps can also occur on slopes or in shallow depressions along intermittent or upper perennial streams.

Arrow-wood Viburnum

Arrow-wood viburnum is an upright, rounded, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub which typically matures to 6-10' tall with a similar spread, but may reach a height of 15' in optimum growing conditions. Non-fragrant white flowers in flat-topped corymbs (to 4" diameter) appear in late spring. Flowers give way to blue-black, berry-like drupes which are quite attractive to birds and wildlife. Ovate, toothed, glossy dark green leaves (to 4" long). Variable fall color ranges from drab yellow to attractive shades of orange and red. Native Americans reportedly used the straight stems of this shrub for arrow shafts, hence the common name.

Swamp Hummocks

A hummock is a small knoll or mound above ground. They are typically less than 15 meters in height and tend to appear in groups or fields. It is difficult to make generalizations about hummocks because of the diversity in their morphology and sedimentology. An extremely irregular surface may be called hummocky. Hummocks may form as a result of clasts migrating to the surface through frost push and pull mechanisms. As the clasts rise they push up on the ground above forming bulging mounds. Swamp Hummocks are mounds typically initiated as fallen trunks or branches covered with moss and rising above the swamp floor. The low lying areas between hummocks are called hollows.

Tussock Sedge

Tussock sedge is one of many grass-like plants called sedges. Sedges are often hard to tell apart, because they all have long, green, triangular (shaped like a triangle) stems with rough edges. Tussock Sedge grows in moist forests and marshes. They are usually right at the water level, or just above the water level. Tussock sedge grows in clumps up to two feet tall and two feet wide. As leaves die, they build up around the living plant, making a "tussock" or little hill. Flower stems and flowers are reddish-brown. Tussock sedge blooms in May and June. The seeds of this plant are eaten by mallard, wood duck, wild turkey, Northern cardinal, dark-eyed Junco, squirrels, and other animals. White-tailed deer eat the leaves, and moles eat the roots

Highbush Blueberry

Highbush blueberry, is a species of blueberry native to eastern North America, from the Great Lakes region east to Nova Scotia, and south through the Northeastern United States and Appalachian region, to the Southeastern United States in Mississippi. Other common names include blue huckleberry, tall huckleberry, swamp huckleberry, high blueberry, and swamp blueberry.

Glacial Boulder

A boulder that has been carried by a glacier to a place far distant from its place of origin. It is a large smooth mass of rock detached from its place of origin.

Cattail Marsh

These are robust emergent marshes dominated by common cat-tail (Typha latifolia), or less commonly, narrow-leaved cat-tail (Typha angustifolia). This type can occur in a variety of landscape positions including river backwaters, protected pond and lakeshores, and upland depressions. Shrubs may be present but cover less than 20%. This community is also common in disturbed landscapes (e.g., roadside ditches, storm water detention basins, disturbed portions of other wetland communities), where bare soil is available for colonization. This community may also occur where other wetland types have experienced an increase in nutrients, such as fertilizer run-off. The substrate may be muck or mineral soil. The surface is usually flooded for most of the year. Associated species include wool-grass (Scirpus cyperinus), arrow-arum (Peltandra virginica), bur-reed (Sparganium americanum), sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata), wapato (Sagittaria latifolia), beggar-ticks (Bidens spp.), smartweeds (Persicaria spp.), duckweed (Lemnaminor), and sedges (Carex spp.) – especially tussock sedge (C. stricta). The invasive species common reed (Phragmites australis ssp. australis), narrow-leaved cat-tail (Typha angustifolia), and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) are frequently a major problem in these systems.

South Branch Raritan River

The South Branch of the Raritan River is a 50 mile long tributary that starts in Budd Lake and travels through The Land Conservancy’s 209 acre South Branch Preserve. It is part of the Raritan River watershed which flows into the Raritan Bay between the town of Perth Amboy and South Amboy. The South Branch of the Raritan River provides water to more than 1.5 million New Jersey residents.  Nearby Budd Lake is the headwaters for the South Branch of the Raritan River.

Black Walnut

The black walnut is a large deciduous tree attaining heights of 30–40 m (98–131 ft). Under forest competition, it develops a tall, clear trunk; the open-grown form has a short trunk and broad crown. The bark is grey-black and deeply furrowed. The pith of the twigs contains air spaces. The leaves are alternate, 30–60 cm long, odd-pinnate with 15–23 leaflets, with the largest leaflets located in the center, 7–10 cm long and 2–3 cm broad. The male flowers are in drooping catkins 8–10 cm long, the female flowers are terminal, in clusters of two to five, ripening during the autumn into a fruit (nut) with a brownish-green, semifleshy husk and a brown, corrugated nut. The whole fruit, including the husk, falls in October; the seed is relatively small and very hard. The tree tends to crop more heavily in alternate years. Fruiting may begin when the tree is 4–6 years old, however large crops take 20 years. Total lifespan of J. nigra is about 130 years. Black Walnut does not leaf out until late spring when the soil has warmed and all frost danger is past. Like other trees of the Fagales order (oaks, hickories, chestnuts, birches, etc.), it has monoecious wind-pollinated catkins. The flowers comprise separate males and females, which do not appear on the same plant at once in order to prevent self-pollination and inbreeding. Thus, two trees are required to produce a seed crop and Black Walnut readily hybridizes with other members of the Juglans genus.

While its primary native region is the Midwest and east-central United States, the black walnut was introduced into Europe in 1629. It is cultivated there and in North America as a forest tree for its high-quality wood. Black walnut is more resistant to frost than the English or Persian walnut, but thrives best in the warmer regions of fertile, lowland soils with high water tables. Black walnut is primarily a pioneer species similar to red and silver maple and black cherry. It will grow in closed forests, but needs full sun for optimal growth and nut production. Because of this, black walnut is a common weed tree found along roadsides, fields, and forest edges in the eastern US. The wood is used to make furniture, flooring, and rifle stocks, and oil is pressed from the seeds. Nuts are harvested by hand from wild trees. The black walnut nutmeats are used as an ingredient in food, while the hard black walnut shell is used commercially in abrasive cleaning, cosmetics, and oil well drilling and water filtration.

Monster White Oak

White Oak is a large tree, growing up to 100 feet tall. Its trunk can get up to four feet across. White Oaks usually grow in forests with other oaks, but can also be found on edges of lakes, ponds, and streams. Leaves of White Oak are four to nine inches long, with between five and nine lobes (finger-like parts). They are bright green on top, and whitish underneath. White Oak leaves turn red or brown in the Fall, and will often stay on the branches of younger trees in the Winter. This particular white oak is approximately 200 years old.

White Ash Trees

White ash (Fraxinus Americana), also called Biltmore ash or Biltmore white ash, is the most common and useful native ash but is never a dominant species in the forest. It is a tall, straight tree with a conical or rounded crown of foliage. The white ash has compound leaves that are made up of 5 — 9 (usually seven) leaflets. It grows best on rich, moist, well-drained soils to medium size. Because white ash wood is tough, strong, and highly resistant to shock, it is particularly sought for handles, oars, and baseball bats. The winged seeds provide food for many kinds of birds. White ash grows naturally from Nova Scotia to northern Florida in the east, and eastern Minnesota south to eastern Texas at the western edge of its range.  White ash has demanding soil fertility and soil moisture requirements. These requirements may be provided by soils derived from a variety of parent materials-limestone, basalt, shale, alluvium, and fine glacial till. A large number of soil types may support white ash.

Witch Hazel

The witch-hazels are deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees growing to 9–26 ft) tall, rarely to 39 ft tall. The leaves are alternately arranged, oval, ) long and broad, with a smooth or wavy margin. The genus name, Hamamelis, means "together with fruit", referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year. Witch hazel blooms from October to January.  Each flower has four slender strap-shaped petals, pale to dark yellow, orange, or red. The fruit is a two-part capsule containing a single glossy black seed in each of the two parts; the capsule splits explosively at maturity in the autumn about 8 months after flowering, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 33 ft, thus another alternative name "Snapping Hazel".

Black Birch

Growing in forests throughout eastern North America, this common native tree’s ambium (the green layer under the bark) contains the non-steriodal anti-inflammatory oil of wintergreen, which you can smell if you scratch-and-sniff the twigs or bark.

Chew on the delicious twigs like chewing gum (this also alleviates bad breath), or steep them for tea. A strong cup may be the equivalent of ¼ to ½ an aspirin.

Gray Birch

Gray birch is a small tree growing with multiple trunks and can usually be found at the edges of open areas. Living only about 30 years, it is a common pioneer species on abandoned fields and burned areas. Gray birch grows quickly to 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 inch trunk diameter, with an irregular open crown of slender branches. The flowers are wind-pollinated catkins 5–8 cm long, the male catkins pendulous and the female catkins erect. The fruit, maturing in autumn, is composed of many tiny winged seeds packed between the catkin bracts. The wood is medium hard and is used for high grade plywood, furniture, drum shells, spools and firewood.

American hornbeam

American hornbeam is a native plant to New Jersey It prefers deep, fertile, moist, acidic soil and grows best in partial shade, but will grow in full sun. Its chief liabilities in cultivation are a relatively slow growth rate and difficulty in transplantation. It is not drought-tolerant.


Any of several woody, usually prickly dioecious vines of the genus Smilax, having greenish unisexual flowers, heart-shaped leaves and thorny stems and usually bluish to black berries. Also called greenbrier.

Monster Tulip

Tulip poplar trees ( liriodendron tulipfera) with their straight trunks and large branches can reach well over 100 feet in height. This tree is a perfect example of the size these trees can get.  In the deeper forests tulip trees may reach more than 100 ft. in height before the first limbs appear making it a very valuable timber tree. It is fast-growing, without the common problems of weak wood strength and short lifespan often seen in fast-growing species.

Red Maple Tree

Red Maple is one of the most common and widespread deciduous trees of eastern and central North America. This unusually large red maple is probably close to 200 years old. The U.S. Forest service recognizes it as the most abundant native tree in eastern North America. Many of its features, especially its leaves, are quite variable in form. At maturity it often attains a height of around 50 ft. Its flowers, petioles, twigs and seeds are all red to varying degrees. Among these features, however, it is best known for its brilliant deep scarlet foliage in autumn.

Over most of its range, red maple is adaptable to a very wide range of site conditions, perhaps more so than any other tree in eastern North America. It can be found growing in swamps, on poor dry soils, and most anywhere in between. It is used commercially on a small scale for maple syrup production as well as for its medium to high quality lumber.

Large Boulder

There are several large boulders along the river here at the South Branch Preserve. When the Wisconsin glacier retreated it left these rocks in its path. The word boulder is short for boulder stone, from Middle English bulderston or Swedish bullersten.

Black Cherry

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is the largest of the native cherries. It is also known as wild black cherry, rum cherry, and mountain black cherry.  The fruit of the black cherry is eaten by a host of birds and mammals. When the cherries are ripe check the trees for flocks of feasting birds.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage is a large-leafed plant that grows in wet areas, especially near streams, ponds, marshes, and wet woods. It is easy to recognize, with its huge leaves rising directly from the ground. Skunk cabbage is one of the main staples of food in the early spring when black bears exit their winter dens.

Large White Oak

White Oak is a large tree, growing up to 100 feet tall. Its trunk can get up to four feet across. White Oaks usually grow in forests with other oaks, but can also be found on edges of lakes, ponds, and streams. Leaves of White Oak are four to nine inches long, with between five and nine lobes (finger-like parts). They are bright green on top, and whitish underneath. White Oak leaves turn red or brown in the Fall, and will often stay on the branches of younger trees in the Winter.

Large Red Oak

Red Oak  (Quercus rubra), commonly called northern red oak or champion oak, is an oak in the red oak group. It is a native of North America, in the northeastern United States and southeast Canada. The northern red oak has been called “one of the handsomest, cleanest, and stateliest trees in North America” by naturalist Joseph S. Illick, and it is widely considered a national treasure. It is especially valued for its adaptability and usefulness, including its hardiness in urban settings. This medium to large tree is also known for its brilliant fall color, great value to wildlife and status as the state tree of New Jersey.

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