American Hazelnut, Sweet Yellow Buckeye

Corylus americanaCorylus americana, an unexpected discovery in Brooklyn. I didn’t know there was a native filbert. This is a shrubby, colonial plant of the understory. No leaves this time of year, of course, but behold the nut and those glorious dried bracts. I understand these were planted by staff.

I’ve been thinking about species lately. Life is more complicated than the systems we use to categorize lifeforms. Plant taxonomy, like animal taxonomy, has been turned over by genetics. Did you see that argument about the number of bird species being much larger than thought? In reading about trees, I see also sorts of debates about what is what. Aesculus flavaThe shield-shape beneath this bud is a leaf scar. In this case, the leaf once attached here was a big one, a compound leaf made up of 5-7 leaflets in palmate form. And those circles within it are bundle traces or scars, the now-sealed off plumbing, essentially, of the leaf. This is a case where the ID should be easy. Looking through Core and Ammons, we came to Aesculus octandra, Sweet Buckeye. Cool! But, uh, somewhere along the line, this was recategorized as A. flava, a.k.a. Yellow Buckeye. (A good taxonomy will list synonyms, other binomials used in the past.)

Using a dichotomous key to try to figure out identity of leafless trees via leaf scars, stipule scars, types of buds, etc., turns out to be quite difficult. These keys used to be standard in books to help identify plants. Core and Ammons’s Woody Plants in Winter was originally published in 1958; Harlow’s Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs is from 1941. But a key is like computer programing, if a than b; yes or no; 1 or 2. Capable of remarkable things, yes, but not as sure pressed into service for the varieties of life. On the other leaf, both of these books are still available. We still want to know, and they can be useful tools.

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It would be good, I think to remind ourselves that when the oligarchs say “regulations” what they mean are protections, however piecemeal and compromised. Protections of the land, air, and water so necessary to life. Protections against fraud and cheats (i.e campaign contributors). Protections, even, of basic human decency. I’m afraid you can’t argue that the epic mendacity of the Trump gang and his Republican enablers are capable of is good for anybody but themselves. The dupes who thought the swamp would be cleaned are discovering that the sewer is being emptied on them.

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