What’s In Bloom In June?
During the month of June in the Pine Barrens, you can find many blossoming flowers from shades of purple to yellow against the background of green pines and tan sugar sand. Orchids and pitcher plants are in bloom, shorelines in the pines are lined with pickerelweed, prickly pears are revealing their blossoms, and northern fence lizards are laying in the warmth of the sun.
The Pine Barrens are home to the only eastern member of the cactus family known as the prickly pear, Opuntia humifusa. This cactus thrives in open, sunny areas of the pines that have been disturbed by external events, naturally or by humans. The stems are thick and have a flesh-like texture with small, barbed bristles, hence the common name prickly pear. When it comes time to bloom in June, the prickly pear displays a beautiful, bright yellow flower that quickly turns into a red edible fruit.
While walking or kayaking along the muddy shores of the Pines, you may be greeted by pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata. Pickerelweed, with its bold and vibrant violet flowers and arrow-shaped leaves, is a pleasant sight to see around mid-June. This aquatic plant is an emergent one, which means it has its leaves and flowers above water and parts of the stem below water. There is a belief that pickerel like to lay their eggs in the habitat of this plant, hence where the name pickerelweed comes from.
You may also come across a purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, in blossom. These plants are native to New Jersey and are carnivorous, meaning that they eat insects! The name of the plant is associated with its pitcher shape leaves. The leaves have stiff hairs inside that point downward that prevent insects from escaping. These leaves can hold water, allowing insects to get stuck inside. Within this water are digestive enzymes that help to break the insect down for food. This whole process begins with glands that produce nectar that attracts the insects. The plant uses the nitrogen in the insects as nutrients. The pitcher plant flowers bloom high above the plant leaves, allowing pollinators to pollinate the flower without risk of death. These flowers can range from red, pink, and burgundy to yellow and white.
As you leave the muddy shoreline and make your way into the Pines, you may find a northern fence lizard, Sceloporus undulatus hyacinthinus, bathing on a log in the sunshine. These lizards tend to be shy but if you find them in action they will be searching for flies and other insects to feed on. The female lizards are gray while the male lizards are a shade of brown with narrow bands on their back. If you see blackish-blue coloring on the ribs or around the chest, then you are seeing a male northern fence lizard. These reptiles are usually four to seven inches in length and have small, pointed scales and long claws. Lizards can voluntarily lose their tail as a defense mechanism to distract the predator and give them time to escape. The tail of a northern fence lizard will regrow within several weeks if it falls off.
The Pine Barrens are truly home to a plethora of species. From cacti to aquatic plants to reptiles, you can rest assured that you will always be greeted by fascinating creatures if you take the time to tune into the environment around you. While you are out and about exploring all the flora and fauna in the pines, don’t forget to be aware of ticks!