Posts Tagged 'New York Botanical Garden'

May Day

Some mammals for Monday and May Day.Did you ever wonder why they, and we, are called mammals? I have to admit I never did until last week.
Linnaeus came up with the term Mammalia in 1758, from the Latin mammae, meaning the breasts. This we all know. Yet everything else Linnaeus named is based on male characteristics. His botanical system, for instance, is based on the male sex parts of plants. So why not the hairy quadrupeds and bipeds with three ear bones, fur, four-chambered hearts, etc., too? Why not John Ray’s term Pilosa (hairy animals)? Or, sticking with the milk part, the Lactantia or Sugentia, both of which mean “the suckling ones”? Therein lies a tale which I’m writing for work. We shall return to this question.

I like the return of May Day as a radical holiday. Get out there and smell the flowers while you act up.


Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides).Toothwort (Cardamine).Trillium.Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), unrelated to ginger root (Zingiber).

Raptor Wednesday

AccipiterIt sometimes seems like I have a raptor sighting every day. So, for the last month, I’ve been keeping tabs. My “daily raptor” is a good practice. In the political shitstorm, it is my daily rapture.

Over the 31 days of January I had 37 raptor sightings, the majority of them (21) from my windows. Others were seen around and about Brooklyn (Bush Terminal, Green-Wood, overhead here and there) and the Bronx (in and near NYBG). There have been four species: Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine, Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawk. Cooper’s and Red-tailed are the most frequent. Some of these sightings were undoubtedly the same bird, like that reliable male Kestrel on the antenna (who hasn’t been seen since the 16th). My protocol was loose; if I saw a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk circling the neighborhood ten minutes after seeing a juvenile RTH circling the neighborhood, I didn’t count it as another sighting. But if I saw a juvenile three hours later, I did.img_2241

So how about some eagles? I’m leading a Brooklyn Brainery excursion to Croton Point Park on Feb. 11th.

“I believe that what we need is a nonviolent national general strike of the kind that has been more common in Europe than here. Let’s designate a day on which no one (that is, anyone who can do so without being fired) goes to work, a day when no one shops or spends money, a day on which we truly make our economic and political power felt, a day when we make it clear: how many of us there are, how strong and committed we are, how much we can accomplish.” Francine Prose.

Betula Lenticels

Betula lentaLenticels are pores in the bark of trees (and some plants and some fruits) through which trees exchange gasses. Many lenticels are raised dots, but birches, like this Black (Betula lenta) have scar-like horizontal ones. There’s a danger with all these passages inside though; they can also be the route of disease.

B. lenta is also known as Cherry, Sweet, Spice, Mahogany Birch. Oil of wintergreen used to be extracted from the sap and leaves. Wintergreen flavor today is mostly artificial. This is a native from southern Quebec down to Georgia and into Ohio, a character-ridden tree of the mature Appalachian forest.

[Shadow of a neighboring branch for effect.]

“What the Hell is Wrong with Senate Democrats?” You shouldn’t be surprised to see Democrats in the Senate vote for Trump’s wrecking crew. They want to be seen as people who can “work” with these monsters. Seen by whom? The Democrats play by some obscure rule of collegial civility that the GOP stomped to death years ago. All they can do is match up the boot-marks on their faces for the next kick. They are, after all, one side of the ruling rot so surgically elucidated by Zephyr Teachout.

I heard three U.S. Senators at yesterday’s rally at Battery Park against the white supremacist Bannon’s unconstitutional executive order: Gillibrand, Schumer, and Booker, (they were rhetorically impressive in ascending order), but not one pledged to throw a sabot into the wheels of the Senate, which is the only way a minority party can wield power.

After all, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Dirty Coal) used cloture 900 times to stymie the Democrats in the upper house during the Obama years. This former aid to Harry Reid explains how the unanimous consent thing works in that ridiculous and anti-democratic institution and how withholding it can gum up the works. Not stop them, unfortunately, but we need every thing we can get. It’s obstructionist and cut-throat and Democrats had better start using it. Every god-damned day.

In Winter

Aesculus hippocastanumThe dried fruit capsule of the Horse-Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is distinctively prickly. weedsI just started a class on Native Flora in Winter at the New York Botanical Garden. I hope to share some of what I learn in the coming weeks. Let’s start with: the mints (Lamiaceae) are one of the easiest families to identify in winter; they have square stems, opposite branching, and smell minty-great.

But in the meantime, the horsey Aesculus is generally unmistakable, littering the ground with conkers and spiky capsules. But should you not find any of those trouts in the buttermilk, look to the tree’s bud scars: they are horse-shoe shaped with seven “nails.” This classic park tree is also an introduced species, so it will not be not covered in the course. But I just love those prickly capsules.Gymnocladus dioicusHere is a North American native, a Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus). But, on 5th Avenue near Green-Wood, somewhat out of its historical Old Northwest range. This youngster probably came from the nursery with this cargo of lichens. Lichens are highly sensitive to air pollution, so, alas, they may not linger on this busy avenue. Note those characteristic long furrows. They won’t be so pronounced in maturity (knock wood), but they certainly are in youth.

And now for some highlights of the Women’s March(es). And some of the signs, some of them not at all pretty.

Longleaf Again

Pinus palustrisI’ve written about the Longleaf Pine several times, including in this essay for Humans and Nature, but I’ve never seen a living example of the tree until recently. Alas, it’s just a stripling of 25 years or so of age at NYBG, perhaps 25 feet high.Pinus palustrisBut look at those needles!

Pitcher Plant

SarraceniaOne of the Sarracenia pitcher plants at NYBG; they’ve at least 7 American species in the Native Garden, though only one, S. purpurea, is native to New York.

Something’s blocking the tube here, but this moth still can’t seem to get out. No, this isn’t a metaphor for the times.

But, speaking of natives: my people came to the U.S. at least 200 years ago on my mother’s side and in 1870 on my father’s. I myself was born overseas, in Japan, where my parents were stationed with the U.S. State Department. I grew up in Poland, Canada, Italy, and Germany, as well as in MD and VA around DC.

Cosmopolitanism has always been my thing. There are lots of different kinds of Americans, and I like it that way. I live, after all, in the multicultural-polygot metropolis of Brooklyn, New York.

Yet this scoundrel of a con man Trump has used the filthy flag of nativism to gain power, giving unprecedented moral support to the worst aspects of our history, the Klan and neo-Nazis, causing a spike in verbal and physical violence against people black and brown, not least in schools. Eternal shame on those dupes who voted for this garbage, even if all they thought and hoped they were voting for was “change”; eternal support for all they threaten. I’m a middle-aged white man, but I utterly repudiate the bullshit stereotypically assigned to my ilk and will do all in my power to undo it.

Bronx River Dreams


Knowing the new regime is Republican is enough to know that the environment will be under assault. The air we breath, the water we drink, the soil that feeds us ~ it’s all real estate to these folks. Trump made many scattershot promises and threats, and his M.O. is blustery bullshit ~ his scriptwriter calls it a negotiation tactic ~ so it’s hard to say what he’ll do exactly. His hopeful fans will be betrayed as a matter of course, of course, on the economic side. But the scum-sucking profiteers around him are known entities.

Three-fourths of the American people didn’t vote for them, so there should be some hope in that fact. (Hmm, if only there was an organization, say, a party, that could harness the American majority for national parks, climate change preparation, and….)

Lizard City

Podarcis siculaDid you know that there are lizards living in New York City? Podarcis siculaNo, I don’t mean captive ones. As their name suggests, these Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis sicula) originated elsewhere but seem to have adopted to our climate and habitat (NYC and Naples are on the same latitude, you know). Last week, when the temp got up to 70, several were sunning themselves in the NYBG Native Garden.Podarcis siculaThese were introduced on Long Island in the late 1960s. They’ve spread out. I’ve seen them in Queens’ cemetery belt, too. The Northern Fence Lizard was also introduced, on Staten Island, but I’ve never seen one. There are, however, native lizards living in the Hudson Highlands.img_1091There are at least four lizards visible here as this bold-as-brass feral cat wanders by.


Carya glabra
Pignut Hickory, Carya glabra. Let this fill your screen…Carya glabraIn addition to birds, bugs (warmth-dependent), and the last of asters, we’ll be looking for similar leaf color tomorrow on our tour of Prospect Park.


Bookmark and Share

Join 685 other subscribers
Nature Blog Network