In the upland forest of Bunker Hill Bogs, you will see oaks, pitch pines, sassafras, and other native trees and shrubs adapted to the sandy soils of our area. Different layers of vegetation from taller trees to shrubs to groundcover provide a variety of food sources, cover types, and nesting sites for the animals in the forest.
Pitch pine (Pinus rigida) is a hardy tree resistant to fire, drought, and injury. It grows well in the nutrient-poor, sandy soils of the Pine Barrens, and is the dominant pine tree in the region. Bundles of three green, stiff needles sprout from branches, and sometimes directly from the trunk. The bark is thick and layered, offering extreme fire-tolerance. After a fire, pitch pines will re-sprout on the trunk or from the stump. The seeds in the pine cones are a source of food for many bird species and small mammals.
Oaks (Quercus spp.) provide food and cover for a variety of wildlife. The acorns, which mature in early fall, provide food for birds (like woodpeckers, jays, wild turkeys, and wood ducks) and mammals (like squirrels, chipmunks, and deer). Oaks are host to numerous insect larvae (caterpillars), which are eaten by birds and fed to their babies during nesting. The larvae of more than 500 butterfly and moth (Lepidoptera) species are found on oaks – more than any other tree species in the forest!
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a unique tree with four different shaped leaves – oval, right “mitten,” left “mitten,” and three-pronged (“ghost”). Oil from the bark has traditionally been used to scent soap and candles, and Native Americans used several parts of the tree to make medicines.
Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), one of the understory shrubs growing here, is New Jersey’s state fruit. Both lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) and highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) shrubs are growing along the Purple Heart trail. They have small, white, bell-shaped flowers which bloom in April and May. Native bees visiting the flowers for the sweet nectar do the important job of pollination, which leads to delicious berries that ripen in June and July. Mockingbirds, robins, cardinals, bluebirds, and other songbirds eat the berries, as do mammals such as squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, foxes, and white-tailed deer. Of course, we enjoy them too, eating them fresh or using them in pies, muffins, and other dishes. In fall, blueberry shrubs “paint the understory red” with their showy scarlet/bronze foliage.