Dry-Mesic Inland Mixed Oak Forest
This is the most common community type present in Mountain Lakes, found in tracts ranging from small woodlots to the large expanses present in Wilcox and Frederick parks. Oak species–white, red, scarlet, chestnut, and black–comprise the majority of tree species, though American beech, tulip tree, sugar and red maples, American ash, eastern hemlock, flowering dogwood, cherry, and birches can be found in lesser numbers. This community was once called the oak/chestnut forest, and, judging from the number of resprouts present, particularly in Wilcox Park, American chestnut must have once been quite common here. Although the species was destroyed as a viable forest tree in the early decades of this century by a fungus blight, the still-vital rootstocks continue to send up shoots, which grow into shrubs or small trees until they are girdled and killed back by the blight, which is still active. One tree seen in Wilcox Park was approximately forty feet in height, with a trunk diameter of nine inches, and was mature enough to produce nuts–a rare event. It is unusual for a chestnut to reach this height, breadth or maturity, though the tree’s bark showed blight damage which will soon destroy it.
Unfortunately, a similar but more permanent fate, appears to be likely for the eastern hemlocks in the area, due to hemlock decline and the woolly adelgid, an insect pest. Eastern hemlock may be eliminated as a major forest tree by the end of the decade over large areas in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut (Benzinger 1994). Almost all the hemlocks seen during the survey showed damage, and many were dead or dying. At present, there appears to be no practical method to control the problem in forested tracts, though individual ornamentals can often be saved by spraying.
Blueberry species, black huckleberry, blackberry species, sassafras, witch hazel, mountain laurel, and spicebush are the predominant shrub species in this habitat. A wide variety of herbaceous species are also present, the most common of which include aster and goldenrod species, marginal and fancy woodferns, Canada mayflower, sedges (Carex species), garlic mustard, and a variety of clubmosses; a surprising number of orchid species were found here. In certain areas this community grades into the next.
Orchids of Mountain Lakes
A surprising variety of orchid species were found during the survey period, mostly in Wilcox and Frederick parks, and on conservation easement and private land near Route 46. Although there are approximately fifty-five species of terrestrial orchids found in New Jersey, none of them are particularly common in comparison with most other plant families which occur in the state. Nine species of orchids were found growing in the Borough: pink lady’s-slipper, yellow lady’s-slipper, spotted coral-root, autumn coral-root, club-spur orchid, ragged-fringed orchid, rattlesnake plantain, helleborine, and large whorled pogonia. None are threatened, endangered or rare listed species, but all except pink lady’s slipper (sometimes called moccasin flower), are local, elusive, and not often seen. Some, like the coral-roots, may not appear above ground every year. Yellow lady’s slipper, once a relatively common species in northern New Jersey, has greatly declined due to collecting and habitat destruction and degradation. The population of small whorled pogonia, which is rather uncommon, is large and in an unusual location; this is a very showy species, though it does not frequently bloom.