For several weeks now, I've been gathering edible weeds at White Barn Farm – an organic farm and CSA located on 1A in Wrentham, MA. While the farmers wait for rows of peppers and tomatoes to ripen, the same rows are already yielding pounds of wild vegetables. One of my staple greens right now is Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), a warm weather plant that really takes off by early July. In some cases, a single plant can fill a salad bowl.
Common Purslane has crisp stems and fleshy leaves that are widest near the tips. The plants often have several branches originating from a common point, and unless neighboring species help to prop it up, it sprawls out horizontally on the ground. If the plants are fresh and green, I'll simply snap off branches, rinse them, and chop them up for salads. Occasionally, funky leaves or portions of stems need to be discarded, but the vast majority of plants I'm finding right now are in prime condition.
The largest dragonfly I saw was the Common Green Darner (Anax junius). I couldn't find one perched for a photo, but several kindly hovered near me so I could observe them with my binoculars. Their all green abdomens and large size make them quick to pick out. They seemed to spend much of their time chasing other dragonflies from their airspace.
The second most visible was the Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta). I found numerous males perched on small dead twigs and pond-side vegetation -- making them accessible to photograph. They are a bit smaller than Common Green Darners and the male has a distinctive all dark-blue body.
Male and female Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) were also on the pond. They perched in similar locations to the Slaty Skimmers. Side by side, the Blue Dashers were noticeably smaller.
Further from shore, I watched several red-tinged Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) hunting close to the water and landing frequently on emergent plants.
Along the shore, I noticed this female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) perched vertically on a yellowed-leaf of Climbing Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara).
But the award for daintiest creature on Fuller Pond goes to a damselfly that I found resting on a small twig poking out of the water. Unlike dragonflies, damselflies typically hold their wings back over their bodies when at rest.
During the last week of June, I discovered a single clump of an unfamiliar shrub. After identifying it using a few reliable plant guides, I was confident that I'd located New Jersey Redroot (Ceanothus americanus), also called New Jersey Tea. As the latter name suggests, the leaves of this shrub can be used to make a caffeine-free tea substitute -- a use reportedly popular during the Revolutionary War.
I often recognize plants by look alone, but sometimes my nose can help nail down an identity. Such is the case with Small Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis).
Distinctive bluish waxy fruit -- which ripens in the fall, but can remain on the shrub into the following spring -- can often be found along the twigs of this shrub, below the most recent year's green growth. In early summer, the tiny fruit is green and forming, but it is still a solid field mark.
The resinous leaves provide another clue. Rubbing them gently with my fingers releases their pleasant aroma. Last week, I dried some Small Bayberry leaves to use as a food seasoning, similar to the culinary bay leaf.
This shrub grows in many Plainville locations, often thriving in poor soil conditions. I often find it along roads, power-line cuts, and in old fields. Small Bayberry also grows in many coastal locations, and is frequently used in landscaping.