Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fresh Trail in the Milford Experimental Forest

Freshly cut trail in the Milford Experimental Forest
During the Festival of Wood two weekends ago I had the pleasure of getting to know and then sharing freshy cut trail within the Milford Experimental Forest. The house in which I grew up and am presently residing sits just outside the boundary of this 1,200 acre wood on Schocopee Road. If you've been following my blogs for the last few years, you have probably already seen mention of this land on numerous occasions. These are the woods in which I first came to love the out of doors, its plants, its animals, and the feeling of the dirt on my skin.

The Sawkill Stream leaving the swamp that can be found at the connecting point of the two main trails in the Milford Experimental Forest
There are, however, few trails through these woods. I usually always followed the course of the Sawkill Stream to keep direction or simply wandered off the gravel road that dissects the property and hoped for the best, either running into the stream or a familiar jumble of rocks or a sideways bending tree that told me where I was. The gas pipeline, as unromantic as that sounds, has always been one established "trail" that could be followed through here as well as a four-wheeler trail that ran alongside it that wasn't officially maintained until about 15 years ago, when Peter Pinchot opened the land up to public use. Before this, it was exclusive property of the Pinchot family, although Peter was always generous with allowing his neighbors to enjoy the land, neverminding my friends and I camping and exploring as we wished, my mother and I taking walks with the dogs, and giving my father permission to hunt turkey.

A rock cairn marking the trail
And so now, there is a second true trail. This new trail does not yet have a name but I think it needs one. Being that at its one terminus are experimental plantings of American Chestnut saplings, I am unofficially deeming it: The Chestnut Trail. A group of volunteers led by Robert Remillard have been hard at work on this trail since last year and the work is evident. What is most pleasing to me is that this trail now connects with the first established trail by simply doing an easy rock-hop over the stream through the swamp. I now have a perfect 2.6 mile trail running loop, with just a short .07 miles of that on gravel road. The Chestnut Trail is also where I led the plant walk during the weekend festival.

Thank you to the families that attended the plant walk - the children were an absolute delight, so attentive and inquisitive! Also ,thank you to those that visited the Conservancy table and purchased books!

And although I know these woods well, I have even met a new plant face along this trail...

Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle Americana)
I have been familiar with the coastal Pennywort (Hydrocotyle) species, Marsh Pennywort (H.umbellata) and Large-Leaf Pennywort (H.bonariensis) since my first hike on the MST, but never had I met Water Pennywort (H.americana). It is easily identified as a Pennywort with its roundish leaf bearing scalloped margins, tiny star-shaped flowers that grow from the leaf axils, and by the way in which the plant creeps. However, what does distinguish it from coastal Pennywort is that the leaf stem does not attach directly to the center of the underside of leaf, but rather attaches at its heart-shaped base. Also dissimilar, are its numerous leaves arranged alternately along the stem. Coastal Pennywort, although spreading by runners, bears only basal leaves.

Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle Americana) growing plentiful amongst various Violets (Viola spp.), False Nettle (Pilea pumila), Rough Bedstraw (Galium asprellum), Northern Willow Herb (Epilobium glandulosum), and Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
This Pennywort likes to grow with its roots in the water or moist soil. I found it along a shallow creek atop which had been laid several flat rocks for walking. This little nook is one of the richest habitats I've found along this new trail. Unfortunately, I have researched every plant book I have and done several google searches and can find no record of it being used as food...however also no record of it being poisonous. Therefore, I may just have to nibble a little bit of leaf and see how it goes. If this is an edible green growing abundantly from the pristine waters, I can't let it go to waste!

Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) flower
Another intriguing plant that has made its home here is Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata).
It was once used widely in herbal medicine as a deobstruant (the action of breaking up stagnation/obstructions) and has the unique ability to enhance the actions of other herbs. It also has a history of use by Native Americans as a purgative. Lobeline opens the lungs and respiratory system allowing for deeper breathing, relaxes the nervous system, and can also induce vomiting therefore acting as a detox. When the leaves are chewed it has a similar taste to tobacco and a relaxing effect, therefore it could be used as a tobacco substitute.

The inflated seed pods of Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)
The whole flowering plant may be used as medicine, although the seeds are the most potent. Contraindications are "feeling spacy" or nausea, the latter which can be prevented by taking as tincture as opposed to a tea. As a tincture, use only small amounts (5-15 drops) to treat illness. If this dosage does not affect the individual, then this medicine simply may not be what's needed.

Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera)
And of course, how could I not mention the abundance of Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera)! To find this delicious edible, you may have to venture left at the fork, heading towards a deer exclosure, just as the Chestnut Trail begins. Here there are abundant communities of this little flower to be found growing in the tall grasses. It seemed so long since I had seen Chickweed in flower, however not yet close enough to Fall to be expecting a second flowering, so I was rather excited to find these healthy beauties. The entire above-ground-parts are edible (leaves, stems, and flowers). Try them tucked into sandwiches and wraps or tossed in salads. They are light and crisp and easy to identify with their opposite leaves, 5 deeply cleft white petals (giving the appearance of 10), and black-tipped conspicuous stamen.



  1. Hi Heather!! First of all, as an avid hiker myself, I love this blog. Wow. I think I need to add the Milford Experimental Forest to my bucket list :)

    1. It is a very special trail and through woods long owned by the Pinchot family. Thank you and I'm glad that you're enjoying the blog!

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