In the dense backwoods of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, swampy sinks are commonly filled with a shrubby plant called leatherleaf. These plant communities, known as ganderbrush, grow over deep peat soils. Gander-brush is notoriously thick. Fox hunters describe it as pushcover, because dogs in chase can only push slowly through it, while the fox slips away by following a deer path. “Ganderbrush ponds, we call ’em. . . . You sink right down in that to your hips,” reports Jack Davis, a fox hunter from Brown Mills, in Mary Hufford’s book Chaseworld: Foxhunting and Storytelling in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. Ganderbrush grows alongside ponds and in the riverside and pitch-pine savannas of the Pine Barrens. In the 1870s these places were highly sought after by farmers seeking to establish cranberry bogs. If an area could support leatherleaf, growing conditions were perfect for cranberries as well. Although thousands of acres of ganderbrush were destroyed by cultivation during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many cranberry farms have since been abandoned or placed in conservation, and the native vegetation is creeping back in.

Jan DeBlieu