Helmetta, Middlesex County, NJ


NJ Turnpike south and get off at Exit 8A Cranbury-Jamesburg. Get off on the exit on the right, for Route 32 west. Just after getting onto Rt. 32 west, turn soon at the very first right which will put you on Rt. 535 (Cranbury-South River Road). Pass the Canon factory and turn right onto Helmetta Boulevard (at the intersection with an animal hospital on the right and a plant nursery on the right as of the year 2000). Go down Helmetta Blvd. For about a mile until you come to Maple Street.

You can either park in a little field on the left just past the intersection of Helmetta Blvd and Maple Street (to investigate the leatherleaf boggy area by the Helmetta Pond) or you can go down Maple Street and turn right into a parking area by the pond itself, just before the intersection of Maple Street and Ericson Road.


The name Helmetta is from Etta Helme, daughter of snuff factory owner.

The first "industrial park" in North Brunswick appeared as early as 1750 as water power from the Lawrence Brook was harnessed to provide energy for the operation of a variety of mills along its banks. Most notable among these was the Parsons Snuff Mill, forerunner of the George W. Helme Company's General Cigar and Tobacco Company, which continued the manufacture of tobacco products in Helmetta until a few years ago.

Helmetta, once a factory town, the tiny borough is best known for its namesake, the Helme Tobacco Company. The town was left without a landmark when operations at the snuff plant closed in 1993.

In 1880, George W. Helme, a Major General in the Confederate Army, built the snuff mill, and eight years later led a secession from East Brunswick. He named the small borough for his daughter, Etta.

Audubon guide:

Parts of this area resemble the Pine Barrens. In the midst of the fertile inner coastal plain, are scattered outliers of the sandy pitch-pine woods and acid cedar bogs. Helmetta is one of the few remaining examples, an island of pine barrens vegetation isolated by the extensive development of the area.

The Audubon Guide says that the southern species like the carpenter frog and northern fence lizard continue to exist here. The Pine Barrens tree frog used to be here but probably no more.

Conditions here parallel those of the pine barrens. On the high ground, just a few feet above the water of the bog, the soil is sandy and porous and supports a pitch-pine forest. The wetlands along the Manalapan River indicate a high water table, such as that which exists in the pine barrens.

From the first stop on the southeast side of the pond, you look out over a bog, ringed by dead and dying Atlantic white-cedars, with open water in the middle and floating mats of sphagnum moss.

On the hummocks along the border of the open water are typical bog plants, including sundews, cranberry, and marsh St. Johnswort. A variety of orchids have been found in the past, but their current status is uncertain.

John Medallis, Joe Sapia, Dr. Patrick L. Cooney & Audubon Guide

Acer platanoides (Norway maple) 4/30/97
Acer rubrum (red maple)
Acer saccharinum (silver maple)
Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven)
Amelanchier sp. (shadbush) 4/30/97
Betula nigra (river birch)
Betula populifolia (gray birch)
Carya tomentosa (mockernut hickory)
Castanea dentata (American chestnut)
Catalpa sp. (catalpa)
Chamaecyparis thyoides (Atlantic white-cedar)
Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) 4/30/97
Elaeagnus umbellata (autumn olive)
Fraxinus americana (white ash)
Ilex opaca (American holly)
Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum)
Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay magnolia)
Morus alba (white mulberry)
Nyssa sylvatica (tupelo)
Paulownia tomentosa (empress tree)
Pinus rigida (pitch pine)
Pinus strobus (white pine)
Pinus virginiana (scrub pine)
Populus deltoides? (cottonwood?)
Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen)
Prunus serotina (black cherry)
Pyrus malus (apple) 4/30/97
Quercus alba (white oak)
Quercus bicolor (swamp white oak)
Quercus marilandica (black jack oak)
Quercus palustris (pin oak)
Quercus rubra (red oak)
Quercus velutina (black oak)
Rhus copallina (winged sumac)
Rhus glabra (smooth sumac)
Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust)
Salix nigra (black willow)
Salix sp. (willow)
Sassafras albidum (sassafras) 4/30/97
Tilia americana (American basswood)

Alnus serrulata (spotted alder)
Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush) 8/08/00
Chamaedaphne calyculata (leatherleaf)
Chimaphila maculata (spotted wintergreen)
Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush) 8/08/00
Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)
Cornus amomum (swamp dogwood)
Decodon verticillatus (swamp loosestrife) 8/08/00
Epigaea repens (trailing arbutus)
Gaultheria procumbens (checkerberry)
Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)
Gaylussacia frondosa (blue huckleberry)
Hibiscus syriacus (rose of sharon) 8/08/00
Hudsonia ericoides (golden heather) 5/19/01
Kalmia angustifolia (sheep laurel)
Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel)
Lyonia ligustrina (male berry)
Myrica pensylvanica (bayberry)
Rhododendron periclymenoides (pinxter flower)
Rhododendron viscosum (swamp azalea)
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose)
Rosa palustris (swamp rose)
Rubus cuneifolius? (sand dewberry)
Rubus hispidus (swamp dewberry)
Rubus sp. (blackberry)
Sambucus canadensis (common elderberry)
Sorbus sp. (hort. mountain ash w/ yellow-orange berries)
Spiraea tomentosa (steeplebush) 8/08/00
Toxicodendron vernix (poison sumac)
Vaccinium angustifolium (low bush blueberry)
Vaccinium atrococcum (highbush blueberry)
Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry) 4/30/97
Vaccinium macrocarpon (cranberry)
Vaccinium stamineum (deerberry) 5/19/01
Viburnum dentatum (smooth arrowwood viburnum)
Vinca minor (periwinkle)

Apios americana (ground nut) 8/08/00
Clematis terniflora (sweet autumn clematis)
Cuscuta sp. (dodder) 8/08/00
Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) 8/08/00
Mikania scandens (climbing hempweed)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)
Smilax glauca (sawbrier)
Smilax rotundifolia (round-leaved greenbrier)
Solanum dulcamara (bittersweet nightshade) 8/08/00
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)
Vitis labrusca (fox grape)

Acalypha sp. (three-seeded mercury)
Achillea millefolium (yarrow) 8/08/00
Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) 4/30/97
Allium vineale (field garlic)
Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed)
Apocynum cannabinum (Indian hemp dogbane) 8/08/00
Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla)
Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry)
Aronia x prunifolia (purple chokeberry)
Artemisia vulgaris (common mugwort)
Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) 8/08/00
Asclepias syriacus (common milkweed)
Aster radula (rough-leaved aster)
Barbarea vulgaris (common wintercress) 4/30/97
Bidens connata (swamp beggar ticks)
Bidens coronata (northern beggar ticks)
Brasenia schreberi (water shield)
Cabomba caroliniana (fanwort) 8/08/00
Centaurea dubia (knapweed)? 8/08/00
Chamaecrista nictitans (sensitive partridge pea) 8/08/00
Chelone glabra (turtle head)
Chenopodium album (pigweed)
Chenopodium ambrosioides (Mexican tea)
Cirsium discolor (field thistle)
Commelina communis (Asiatic day flower) 8/08/00
Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)
Conyza canadensis (horseweed) 8/08/00
Cypripedium acaule (pink lady-slipper orchid) 5/19/01
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's lace) 8/08/00
Desmodium canadense (showy tick trefoil) 8/08/00
Dianthus armeria (Deptford pink) 8/08/00
Diodia teres (buttonweed) 8/08/00
Drosera intermedia (spatulate-leaved sundew)
Drosera rotundifolia (round-leaved sundew)
Erechtites hieraciifolia (pileweed) 8/08/00
Eupatorium album (white boneset) 8/08/00
Eupatorium dubium (eastern joe-pye-weed) 8/08/00
Eupatorium pilosum (rough boneset) 8/08/00
Eupatorium purpureum (sweet-scented joe-pye-weed) 8/08/00
Euphorbia cyparissias (cypress spurge) 4/30/97
Euphorbia maculata (spotted spurge) 8/08/00
Euthamia graminifolia (grass-leaved goldenrod)
Fragaria virginiana (wild strawberry) 4/30/97
Galinsoga sp. (galinsoga) 8/08/00
Galium tinctorium (Clayton's bedstraw) 8/08/00
Gnaphalium obtusifolium (sweet everlasting) 8/08/00
Habenaria blephariglottis (white-fringed orchis)
Habenaria ciliaris (yellow-fringed orchis)
Hemerocallis fulva (tawny day lily)
Hieracium sp. (hawkweed) 8/08/00
Hypericum mutilum (dwarf st johnswort) 8/08/00
Hypericum perforatum (common st johnswort) 8/08/00
Impatiens capensis (orange jewelweed) 8/08/00
Iris sp. (blue or yellow flag)
Lemna sp. (duckweed)
Lespedeza cuneata (Chinese bush clover)
Lespedeza sp. (round-headed bush clover) ?
Lilium superbum (Turk..'s cap lily) 8/08/00
Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs)
Ludwigia alternifolia (seedbox) 8/08/00 never seen so much in one place
Ludwigia palustris (water purslane)
Lycopus uniflorus (northern bugleweed) 8/08/00
Lysimachia quadrifolia (whorled loosestrife)
Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife) 8/08/00
Maianthemum canadense (Canada mayflower)
Medicago lupulina (black medick) 8/08/00
Medeola virginiana (Indian cucumber root)
Mitchella repens (partridge berry)
Mollugo verticillata (carpetweed) 8/08/00
Monotropa uniflora (Indian pipe)
Nuphar advena (southern pond lily) 8/08/00
Nymphaea odorata (fragrant white water lily) 8/08/00
Oenothera biennis (common evening primrose) 8/08/00
Oxalis sp. (yellow wood sorrel) 8/08/00
Peltandra virginica (arrow arum)
Phlox paniculata (garden phlox) 8/08/00
Phytolacca americana (pokeweed) 8/08/00
Plantago aristata (bracted plantain)
Plantago lanceolata (English plantain) 8/08/00
Pogonia ophioglossoides (rose pogonia orchid)
Polygonum arifolium (halberd-leaved tearthumb) 8/08/00
Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed)
Polygonum hydropiperoides (water pepper) 8/08/00
Polygonum punctatum (dotted smartweed) 8/08/00
Polygonum sp. (dooryard knotweed)
Pontederia cordata (pickerel weed) 8/08/00
Potamogeton diversifolius (pondweed) 8/08/00 past blooming
Potentilla norvegica (rough cinquefoil) 8/08/00
Potentilla simplex (common cinquefoil)
Ranunculus abortivus (kidney-leaf crowfoot) 4/30/97
Rhexia virginica (meadow beauty) 8/08/00
Rumex acetosella (sheep sorrel)
Rumex crispus (curled dock)
Rumex obtusifolius (broad-leaved dock)
Sagittaria latifolia (broad-leaved arrowhead) 8/08/00
Sarracenia purpurea (northern pitcher plant)
Scutellaria lateriflora (maddog skullcap) 8/08/00
Smilacina racemosa (false Solomon's seal)
Solanum nigrum (black nightshade) 8/08/00 soon
Solidago juncea (early goldenrod) 8/08/00
Solidago odora (sweet goldenrod)
Sparganium sp. (burreed)
Spiranthes lacera (slender lady's tresses)
Symplocarpus foetidus (skunk cabbage)
Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) 4/30/97 8/08/00
Triadenum virginicum (marsh St. Johnswort) 8/08/00 soon
Trientalis borealis (starflower)
Trifolium arvense (rabbitfoot clover)
Trifolium repens (white clover) 8/08/00
Typha latifolia (broad-leaved cattail)
Utricularia purpurea (purple bladderwort)
Utricularia sp. (yellow bladderwort)
Utricularia vulgaris (common bladderwort)?
Uvularia sessilifolia (sessile-leaved bellwort)
Verbascum blattaria (moth mullein) 8/08/00
Verbascum thapsus (common mullein) 8/08/00
Verbena hastata (blue vervain) 8/08/00
Verbena urticifolia (white vervain) 8/08/00
Viola blanda (sweet white violet) 5/19/01
Viola sp. (purple violet)
Wolffia sp. (watermeal)
Xerophyllum asphodeloides (turkey beard)
Xyris sp. (yellow-eyed grass) 8/08/00

Rushes and Sedges:
Carex lurida (sedge)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) 4/30/97
Carex stricta (tussock sedge)
Cyperus diandrus type (sedge)
Dulichium arundinaceum (three-way sedge)
Eleocharis ovata (ovate spike rush)
Eleocharis sp. (spike rush)
Eriophorum sp. (cotton grass)
Juncus canadensis (Canada rush)
Juncus effusus (soft rush)
Juncus tenuis (path rush)
Lycopodium (bog club moss)
Lycopodium ground cedar
Lycopodium ground pine
Rhynchospora alba (white beak rush)?
Scirpus americanus (bulrush)
Scirpus cyperinus (woolly grass bulrush)
Scirpus esculentus or strigosus (nut or umbrella bulrush)

Andropogon v. abbreviatus (brome grass)
Bromus sp. (brome grass)
Dactylis glomeratus (orchard grass)
Digitaria sanguinalis (hairy crabgrass)
Eragrostis spectabilis (purple love grass) 8/08/00
Glyceria obtusa (coastal mannagrass) 8/08/00
Glyceria striata (meadow mannagrass)
Leersia oryzoides (rice cut grass)
Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stilt grass)
Panicum clandestinum (deer tongue panic grass)
Panicum virgatum (switch grass) 8/08/00
Phragmites australis (giant reed grass)
Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem grass)
Setaria faberi (Faber's foxtail grass) 8/08/00

Ferns and Fern Allies:
Dennstaedtia punctilobula (hay-scented fern)
Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern)
Osmunda cinnamomea (cinnamon fern)
Pteridium aquilinum (bracken fern)
Woodwardia areolata (netted chain fern)
Woodwardia virginica (Virginia chain fern)

Nitella sp. (an alga)?
Sphagnum sp. (sphagnum moss)

June 1, 1929

Interesting plants of Pine Barren, moist woods, and Leather-leaf bog associations were seen by members of the TBC on Saturday afternoon, June 1, 1929, on a field excursion led by Professor M. A. Chrysler, of the Department of Botany, Rutgers University, from Spotswood, NJ.

In an area east of Spotswood, which is part of the "Pine Barren Island," shown by Witmer Stone, in his map of the state in his Flora of Southern NJ, the party found Prickly Pear Cactus, Arenaria caroliniana, Hudsonia tomentosa, in clumps quite like those found on the seashore; the curious Euphorbia ipecacuanhae, with its varied forms of leaves and Lupinus perennis.

Along the Manalapan River both Woodwardia virginica and areolata, seen for the first time together by many of the party, were found; with the handsome flower Lyonia mariana, or Stagger Bush, and Leucothoe racemosa. Opportunities were excellent for comparing Pinus rigida and echinata.

An unusual discovery was that of a hybrid oak, which had characteristics suggesting the white oak in the lobation of the leaves, or even such species as the Spanish, laurel or willow oaks, but the smaller chestnut oak, or the blackjack oak, in their size. Quercus alba, stellata, marilandica, and prinoides all grew within fifty feet of this hybrid, and one might have several guesses as to its parents.

In wet woods and a Chamaedaphne swamp near Helmetta, which the party was able to reach quickly in automobiles provided by Dr. Chrysler and his associates at the University, the party found Chamaecyparis, some of large size; Sarracenia, Drosera rotundifolia, Magnolia virginiana, Disporum lanuginosum, and Nymphaea microphylla.

Helmetta Pond
June 7, 1930

The afternoon of Saturday, the seventh of June, was spent in the vicinity of Spotswood, NJ, under the guidance of members of the Department of Botany of Rutgers University. The 26 members of the party were not prevented even by a drizzly rain from carrying out the entire schedule. At Weston's Mill the sharp break between Triassic and Cretaceous was observed, and a stop was made to see six species of Quercus and other members of the river bank community, including a stand of Pinus virginiana.

Upon reaching Spotswood a markedly different vegetation burst upon our view, and it was recognized that this region is a "pine-barren island." The two pines of this region (P rigida and P echinata) were distinguished, three oaks were added to the list (Q stellata, ilicifolia and prinoides), and the sand-binding pine-barren spurge (Euphorbia ipecacuanhae) were pointed out, especially the unexpected length of the tap root and the pronounced variation in shape and color of the leaves. Lupinus and Hudsonia were just passing out of bloom, but Arenaria caroliniana was in its prime. Some members of the party added to their lists of ericads, and others were surprised by the occurrence of Opuntia (not yet in flower).

Several specimens of the beautiful Silene pensylvanica were located, and a few plant of Cypripedium acaule. In an adjacent area the odd sight was encountered of some specimens of river birch growing up through a sand dune. The party then took to wheels once more and proceeded to Helmetta, where they saw the unusual spectacle of a sphagnum moor on one side of the road and a maple-gum swamp on the other side, with a cedar swamp adjoining the moor. Pitcher plants, sundews, magnolias, and ericads were feature of this rich area, and the time of departure of the New York train came all too soon.

M. A. Chrysler.