Published May 22, 2015
Tags: Brooklyn, Sunset Park, trees
An enormous American Elm (Ulmus americana) crowding a yard on 44th Street near 3rd Avenue in Sunset Park. The old giant took us by surprise: the neighborhood still suffers from the blight of highway above 3rd Avenue, a product of the 1940s and a wretched vision of a promised land of highways to segregated suburbs. The massive bole towers up in the vase-shaped habit characteristic of the species, dwarfing the home it graces. It was hard to get a photographic grip on it because of its height. I wonder what its story is? Who planted it, and when?Looking from the opposite, farther end of the block, downhill from 4th Avenue: the taller, darker green is the canopy of our specimen.
I assume its isolation from others of its species has protected it from Dutch elm disease, a fungal infection inadvertently spread by a bark beetle. The damned fungus has killed off many of the great elms in our cities and towns. I recently walked along 3rd Street in Park Slope and remembered another giant U. americana that was there when I lived in the neighborhood 20 years ago. There is no sign of it now.
We are in the midst of the latest city street tree census, Trees Count!2015 This noble life form, however, is not a street tree…
Remarkable things, acorns. They’re packed with proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as vital minerals: this is why they make such great animal food. There are not many mast-eaters in Brooklyn Bridge Park, though, where I found these red-to-mahagony colored nuts breaking through the shells recently. After wintering under the big freeze — hibernating, basically — spring finds them cracking their outer shells and sprouting a probing, earth-anchoring root. These will pull the seed down into the soft duff and into the soil. These are Chestnut Oaks (Quercus prinus) and they really were these lovely colors. I don’t recall seeing this intense color before? The Horticulturist thinks this is a safety feature, like those red leaves that emerge first from tree budss, to protect against the sun’s harsh rays.Here’s another, from Black Rock Forest. This one has sprouted, but hadn’t managed to anchor in the ground yet, probably because it was on the hard-packed trail.
Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides).
And these Aesculus buds.Like lipsticks against the sky.
And down in the leaf litter: Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum).
Amelanchier. Time for the shad to blow.
Published April 10, 2015
Tags: Inwood, trees
Looking geological, an old tree slowly returns to the elements.
I’m becoming obsessed with Pinus palustris, the longleaf pine that once covered 92 million acres of the southeast from Maryland to Texas, but now exists in only a handful of preserves. I’ve not seen it in its natural state, only as old lumber repurposed. That’s a piece of it above, one of the benches at Brooklyn Bridge Park. I wrote about the strange coincidence of that wood being in my neighborhood for Humans & Nature. Here, with more pictures, are a couple of things I wrote when the picnic tables were new (again): Grain of the Universe and Against the grain.
A friend lent me her copy of Longleaf As Far as the Eye Can See where I learned much more about the trees and their world. Longleaf savannah is some of the richest habitat in the world: one survey at Fort Bragg (vast military bases have preserved the habitat, first by default and now by recognition that they couldn’t have a better place as a training ground) found 500 species of flowering plants per square kilometer. A square meter may hold 50-60 species. Some 30 genera are endemic to longleaf forests, which are really meadows, savannas, prairies. In comparison, the entire Appalachian province, with all its magnificence of trees and wildflowers, supports a (known) total of 2 endemic genera.
This longleaf savannah woodland is an evolutionary adaptation to fire — the region has some of the highest concentration of thunderstorms. The trees can grow for centuries, through firestorm after firestorm (since long before indigenous Americans used fire as their preeminent technology). They do not grow as massively as hardwoods, though: one profiled tree, for instance, nearing its 400th year, has a diameter of 14″. And it is still growing: according to the tale of its rings, it put on more girth between 1917-37 than it had in its previous hundred. These are trees that just get into their stride after a century or more.
It’s the older trees that have red heart fungus, which softens the heartwood. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers favor these for their cavity nests, which take a while to make and which they re-use. The destruction of over 95% of the wooded savannah has consequently meant these birds are on the Endangered Species List. Another fascinating connection is the high incidence of carnivorous plant species that make their home in bogs within the longleafs. “There are few other places on earth where so many plants have, in so many wonderful and diverse ways, restorted to the consumption of meat.”