Cheesequake State Park

Last edited July 15, 2002

By James H. Faczak, Naturalist Cheesequake State Park

Spring and summer are the seasons for viewing the magnificent selection of wildflowers located along the trails of Cheesequake State Park. Located in Middlesex County and accessible off exit 120 of the Garden State parkway, the park contains a vast array of wildflowers, which are easily viewed from the various hiking or walking trails.

Cheesequake's earliest blooming wildflower Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) pokes its head through the frozen ground in late February. Its stout flower enclosed in a leafed hood will dry by summer and be surrounded by large leafy foliage. Look for these plants in wetland areas at the Park.

Beginning in April, spring wildflowers start to emerge from the warming forest soil. Each wildflower's mission is to complete their lifecycle before the canopy layer of the forest "leafs-out" and impedes the much-needed sun light from penetrating through to the forest floor. In April, a walk along the Yellow, red or Green Trails will provide excellent viewing of many species. Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) can be found in the sandy soil areas adjacent to the trails. Look for them being careful not to disturb their five pedaled white or pink blossoms, which are seriously damaged by picking. Lookfor Star flower (Trientalis boraelis) and Common violet (Viola sororia) that highlights the forest trails. A stroll down Museum Road is a wonderful starting point for viewing Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) in late April. The roadway edge area provides the habitat for Yellow Hawkweed (Hieracium pratense) Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Periwinkle (Vinca minor) and Milk weed (Asclepias syriaca). Perrine Road is a great area to view Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis). The Perrine Road area along with the Yellow Trail is also a preferred habitat for Pink lady slipper (Cypripedium acaule), which bloom in May and June. This pink orchid can be found in scattered clumps throughout the Park. It's sac like flower structure provides a mechanism, during an insect's visit, for the promotion of pollination. Cheesequake hosts one of the best collections of Lady Slippers in the State of New Jersey. Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) also abounds in the area with its small white five-petal flower.

A trip through the cedar swamp on the Green Trail will provide the wildflower observer with many opportunities to view the magnificence of natures fragile blossoms. Sessile Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia), Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), and Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) will provide a natural light show. The insectivorous Round-leafed Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) can be found on the surface of the sphagnum bog called Interval Pond, located off the Red trail Its small white five-petal flower rises above the red sticky leaves on a leafless stalk. Before you enter the Gordon Field area look for Wild Lily of the Valley (Mianthemum canadense) to brighten your path along the forest floor.

The Arrowsmith Point section of the Park is a marvelous place to view wildflowers while observing the several breeding pairs of Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). Partridge Pea (Cassia quadrifolia) and Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) reside along the pathway's edge. Small patches of Pink Lady Slippers are also present.

The variety of wildflowers in the Park relates directly to the diverse vegetative communities located throughout it. These communities include a coastal salt marsh, fresh water marsh, White Cedar Swamp, pine-oak forest, oak-hard wood forest and small bog. Historically, several plant species are known to exist within the Park that are presently threatened or endangered in New jersey. Large Marsh Pink (Sabatia dodecandra) found in the salt marsh and Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) inhabiting the cedar swamp are examples of the rarer vascular plants potentially viewable.

The fresh water wetlands and forest at Cheesequake is dynamic. Hydrology changes, invasive species and herbivory within the Park are effecting species diversity. Currently, the invasive species and herbivory within the Park are effecting species diversity. Currently, the invasive species Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) and Japanese Stilt grass are spreading through several areas of Cheesequake. Their rhizomatic root system provides the means for extensive reproduction. Uncontrolled, these aggressive species will suppress much of the regeneration ofnative plants, yielding a monotypic speciation of the forest understory area. Cheesequake State park is a study site for the control of these species, the New Jersey Office of Natural Lands Management is conducting the project.

A full comprehensive list of vascular plants can be viewed at the Park Interpretive Center located on the Red/Green Trail, Wednesday through Sunday. The Center contains many live or recreated exhibits of native flora and fauna and history events of the Cheesequake area. The phone number is (732) 566-3208.