I've had a lot of fun over the past few years as I've learned more and more about our wonderful botanical hobby. My interests in southern style horticulture and landscaping surprisingly spilled over into my love for the outdoors and exploration without having to go very far from my local area and I owe that to South Jersey's unique position on the eastern coastal plain. Our positioning here has allowed for a lot of plants with a more southern bias to find their northern terminus in our state so like the exploreror that I am I set out to find them. Some were easier than others..alot easier actually as all I had to do was walk outside my front door to see trees like Willow oak, Virginia Pine, and Sweetgum. They are extremely prevalent and common in what ill call the upper Southern interior New Jersey. But some trees were more rare and I had to make an effort and ask questions to find them such as Magnolia Virginiana, Short leaf Pine, and Southern Red Oak but with a bit more effort those were found easy enough. However the last group..were the real diamonds in the rough..the trees that were so rare they became a quest for me..my white whales..These trees required research, questions, longer drives and forest treks..these are the trees that are unquestionably part of the Southern forest biome but by God's good graces scratch, claw and climb there way up the Eastern coast and just barely bless us with their presence in this state.. the three White Whales are as follows:
This was the first "white whale" that I became enamored with. A true Southern Pine and extremely common just across the Delaware bay on a southwest heading. It is a NJ native but only in the far south including Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem counties in coastal habitats that hug the Delaware Bay. My first successful sighting of this tree occurred about 6 years ago in Belleplain State forest, then again on an outing with Joe K, and finally I discovered the pinnacle of the tree in Southern New Jersey in a state park in Cape May.
Range of Loblolly:
Belleplain State Forest
Pure Stand in Cape May
The Second White Whale is Southern Bayberry aka Wax Myrtle
Range of Wax Myrtle
This tree is one of only four BLE's that are native to the state and happens to be our rarest one. Native all the way down to the Bahamas its surprising to me that it finds its way all the way up the coast to just barely make it into NJ. I first found this tree in Cape May point State Park but my second sighting of it was more special and yielded a lot more impressive specimens.
Which leads us to the last of the White Whales and by far the RAREST of them all. A tree that has evaded me for years now. Now this tree may not be as popular or well known as the other two but that's not what made it a White Whale..it is just exceedingly rare in southern NJ and no one knew anything about it so I couldn't ask anyone, and random trips to where I thought their prime habitat would be yielded no results..until I found this.. directions directly to a stand!
Heres a bit more information about Water Oak for those who may have never heard of it.
So I set out with my good friend and fellow explorer Terry. About an hour and a half South of my house we got to our general destination..
A dirt road in the middle of nowhere
So I have learned through all my adventures that directions to a specific stand of trees is always a blessing however that doesn't mean your going to get out your car and smack right into them! Knowing that I didn't expect to just run into Water oak possibly one of the rarest native trees in NJ so Terry and I had our detective caps on...We parked on the side of the road mentioned in the directions and cut directly into the woods!
After about 15 mins of bushwacking through thorns, spider webs, bugs, and vines..we had our first sighting!!
BUTTTT it wasn't Water Oak..after 10 mins of deliberation we determined it was just a very unique looking Willow oak...
But never discouraged we continued on..until I had the thought of instead of looking up...look down..years of leaf litter on the ground would maybe provide us with clues..
To me like finding those first trickles of Gold while panning a river...my elusive prey was within my grasp!!
Then finally after years of searching..I looked up and shouted to Terry.. I SEE ITT!!!!
Years of searching..finally in my hands..
On the edge of a depression that during wetter times would flood easily and an open field for sun light..
We excitedly broke out into the open field for an unencumbered look..
A beautiful sight for me..
The supporting cast of trees in their habitat all represent the forests of the lower Mid-atlantic and upper South
Southern Red Oak
All in all.. a great time. I have one other tree I want to find but I don't consider it a White Whale..so this closes the book on this chapter for now!
Thanks for looking!!!