Forensic Botanizing: Woodland Forbs

On this Christmas Day, I visited the Woodcock Preserve in the Town of Clifton Park.  I was rewarded by spotting this Barred Owl (not a great image, but you can find it near the middle of this photo).

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

I had also viewed this owl in practically the same spot during my hike here on New Year’s Day to begin 2016.

As I continued my hike, I chose to wander along the Blue Trail since this portion of the preserve is open at this time of year.

Blue Trail trailhead - Woodcock Preserve

Blue Trail trailhead – Woodcock Preserve

My hike inspired me to offer you a winter plant ID quiz.  To identify each plant, simply click on “Answer” beneath each image.  Have fun!

Wishing all a very Merry Christmas!  Here’s hoping everyone enjoys happy trails in the New Year.

Christmas Fern

Christmas Fern


Beginning to Look Like Winter

Fall...into Winter

As Fall progresses into Winter…

The winter solstice will occur on December 21.  The arrival of this new season will mark the return of the shortest days of the entire year.  We should all consider extending these short days with evening outdoor activities as well as being prepared to make the most of the daylight hours available. 

Here is a list of winter outdoor activities to consider:

Winter is a great time for birdwatching from the comfort of your own home.  Consider putting up a few bird feeders.  For more info about winter bird feeding, please view my prior post.  Winter is also an excellent time to learn about animal tracks.  View this guide to winter tracks.

Read about how snowflakes form.  View the science of snowflakes. View a slideshow of photographs of snowflakes. 

Speaking of snow, here are some recipes and other ideas for you to consider:

Happy trails!

Columbus Day = Time to pick the cranberries!

Columbus Day marks the date of a very enjoyable autumnal ritual of mine – picking wild cranberries.

Today was a gorgeous day for a slog through my favorite bog.

Panoramic view of a bog

Panoramic view of a bog

Closeup view of bog

Closeup view of bog

In particular, I was hoping to find the fruit of Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon).

First cranberry! (Large Cranberry = Vaccinium macrocarpon)

First cranberry!

Ripe cranberry ensconced in diversity of bog plantlife

Ripe cranberry ensconced in diversity of bog plantlife

My cran-apple lunch out on the bog

My cran-apple lunch out on the bog

This year, I actually found very few.  The hard freeze (especially in this lowland) during the peak bloom time of these plants clearly prevented many of them from bearing fruit.

Ripeness, size and quality of the cranberries I found

Ripeness, size and quality of the cranberries I found

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my outing and found enough to add to baked goodies later this fall and this coming winter.

Looking for some culinary inspiration with cranberries?  Take a peak at these suggestions.

Wild Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce, New England Style

Cranberry Mors

Homemade Fresh Cranberry Juice

Wild Cranberry Jelly

Cranberry Recipes: Create a Cranberry Feast

Cranberry-Wild Rice Bake

Cranberry-Wild Rice Stuffing

Wild Rice and Cranberry Salad

Fresh Cranberry Desserts

Cranberry and Wild Blueberry Pie

Want to know more about wild cranberries?  Read this.

Happy trails!

Spicebush berries

Now is the time to find these beautiful ruby red berries throughout our area.

Spicebush berries

Spicebush berries

Spicebush is an understory shrub found in open forests and along forest edges in rich, moderately moist soils.  It typically does not grow much more than about eight feet tall.

In the latter half of April, Spicebush can be found blooming throughout our area.



However, as shown above at this time of year, our focus shifts to the red berries that these shrubs have produced.  Their aromatic spiciness lend themselves to some culinary creativity.

Recipes for your consideration:

Spicebush Tea

Makes a single serving of hot tea.

  1. Place one tablespoon of chopped berries in a cup of just boiled water and let steep for 15 minutes.

Spicebush Ice Cream
Makes approximately 1 quart


  • 2 pints half and half, OR 1 pint heavy cream plus 1 pint whole milk
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground spicebush berries
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
  1. Over medium-low heat, bring one up of the cream, the honey, and the salt to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.
  2. Whisk in the remaining cup of cream, the milk, the ground spicebush, and the vanilla if using. Cover and refrigerate overnight or as long as twenty-four hours.
  3. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and follow the machine manufacturer’s instructions to freeze.

Spicebush Berry Ice Cream

Makes about 1 gallon


  • 2 c. whole milk or almond milk
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • About 40 spicebush berries
  • 1 c. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Have the bowl of the ice cream maker frozen and ready to use.
  2. In a blender, blend the spicebush berries and whole milk or almond milk until the berries are ground into small specks.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, ground berries, cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil.
  4. As the milk mixture is heating, combine the yolks and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl. Whisk until the yolks are light yellow and thick.
  5. Once the milk/cream mixture has just stated to boil, whisk about 1/3 of it into the yolk mixture. Add another 1/3 of the hot milk to the yolks, then add it all back into the saucepan. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the mixture over low heat for 3-5 minutes, until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Do not let the custard come to a boil or the yolks will be overcooked.
  6. Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer to catch any lumps and stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and chill.
  7. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for your ice cream machine, and churn the custard until thickened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer container and chill until firm.

Spicebush Poached Crab Apples

Makes 1 cup


  • 1 cup cherry-sized crab apples, stems still attached
  • 1/4 cup sweet Riesling
  • 1/8 cup white sugar
  • 2 dried spicebush berries
  • Pinch salt
  1. Wash crabapples and set aside.
  2. In a small pot, combine the sweet Riesling, sugar, spicebush berries and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently.
  3. Once the sugar has dissolved completely, add the crabapples.
  4. Simmer for approximately five minutes, remove from heat once the skin on the apples bursts.
  5. Store the crabapples in the poaching liquid in the refrigerator. Enjoy cold!

Apple-Spicebush Chutney (recipe is in the narrative of a story that appeared in The Atlantic)

To learn more about this native shrub –

Plant Guide: Spicebush (USDA PLANTS Database)

Happy trails!

Welcome to Autumn!

The autumnal equinox will arrive Thursday morning.  The shorter days and cooler nights to follow will usher in a new season of vibrantly colored foliage throughout the area.  Read about the status of fall colors throughout New York.  View a quick guide to the fall colors of tree leaves.

Wild Geranium

Here is a list of other autumn activities to consider:

However, I invite you to view fall colors…from a different perspective.  Most of these plants can be viewed in your community, your neighborhood, even in your own backyard.

Happy trails!

Time to harvest the hazelnuts!

The nuts of both species of hazelnuts typically are ready for picking locally in late August or early September.

Your targets will look like these:

American Hazelnut

American Hazelnut

Beaked Hazelnut

Beaked Hazelnut

Each is ripe when the shell has turned to a brown color, which occurs before the outer husk turns brown.  If you wait to pick them when the husk has turned brown, you will likely not find any – resident critters (mostly chipmunks and red squirrels) will have harvested them before you!  However, do not pick any nut if its shell is green, cream or whitish in color – it is simply not yet ripe.

When picking them, I recommend wearing leather gloves because of the tiny sticky hairs on the husks.  If you don’t, your fingertips can become quite painful to the touch – it may feel like you’ve been handling fiberglass insulation.Sticky hairs on husk of hazelnut

Photo Credit:

Let your harvest air dry for several days.  Doing do should enable you to peel the husk off of each nut more easily.  After you remove the outer husk, I suggest that you rinse the nuts (still in shell) with water.  Then, let your husked harvest air dry for at least a couple of weeks before cracking open – doing so will help ensure the nut separates easily from the shell when you crack them open.

I find use of this type of nutcracker works best –Nutcracker

View nutrition information regarding hazelnuts.  Unfortunately, some people have an allergic reaction when eating hazelnuts.

For all of us who can enjoy these tasty nuts, please view these recipes for ideas and inspirations of how to enjoy them.

For those of you interested in perhaps growing your own hazelnut shrubs, look to these planting guides for more information –

Happy trails!


Mayapples now ripening

The fruit of these native wildflowers are ripening now.  Mayapples are most often found in forests with good soils, also referred to as “rich woods.”  They are common woodland plants found throughout our area; I have inventoried them at virtually every property listed on my Area Nature Preserves, Parks and Trails page.

Earlier this year (by mid-May), Mayapples were in bloom.


Mayapple bloom

Now, however, this is what to look for:ripened Mayapple fruitPhoto Credit

But, like all fruit, it is important to pick them when fully ripened, so that you can enjoy its fullest and truly unique flavor.  Wait until the skin is a translucent yellow (as shown above); don’t pick them when they are a somewhat opaque yellow or when they are still greenish (as shown below).Mayapple fruit

Photo Credit:

The flavor is delicious and seemingly tropical; I don’t believe it compares with anything.  If you concur and are now wondering what to do with your freshly-picked fruity treasure, consider this recipe:  Mayapple Marmalade.

The book shown below contains additional Mayapple recipes; one each for punch, jam and jelly.  This book also contains many other recipes using a wide variety of wild edible plants.Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook (book cover)

For a more technical reading about Mayapple, view a U.S. Forest Service research paper.

Happy trails!