Posts Tagged 'plants'

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.

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.

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.


Diospyros virginianaThe calyx of the American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is this beautiful cross shape. Diospyros virginianaA few stay on the tree as the fruits come down, but most fall with the fruit. Diospyros virginianaThere’s still some fruit on the trees. Most of it, though, is on the ground, and some of that is well beyond eating stage. We need more possums!

(My intelligence community tells me that the “Date Plum” Asian persimmon (D. lotus) at NYBG holds onto its calyces, giving the tree a tiny-star-studded look.)

Spiny Gall

gall2Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a good gall-tree. One species of aphid, Hormaphis hamamelidis, forces the tree to make cone-shaped galls on the leaves. The young aphid grows up inside this, protected from its enemies. Another species of aphid, the Spiny Witch Hazel Gall maker, Hamamelistes spinosus, makes the tree make these hard, spiny galls that come off of the twigs.gall1Ken Chaya, who identified these for us, cut a couple of them in half. A spider had taken up residence in one. Another had the white filaments of a cocoon within.

Have to admit missing most of the White-tailed-Deer-in-Harlem story, for I have no interest in television news ratings-fodder. In response, Jason Munshi-South had a good editorial in the Daily News on the need for a sane policy on urban wild animals.

Central Park Flora

img_1757Recently, we got to join Regina Alvarez, Daniel Atha, and Ken Chaya for one of their Central Park flora expeditions. For three years, the trio have been searching for wild — that is, not planted by the park — plants in Central Park.img_1760Atha, who has travelled the world over collecting plants, uses an elegantly simple set-up for his plant press. Two boards, some newspaper sheets, and adjustable straps. The Waldo Tribune fits perfectly.img_1762This is a Rosa: full identification would come later. img_1763The trio have doubled the number of known grass species in the park, found some very rare Pumpkin Ashes, and cataloged a lot of exotica. The links above will give you more details of their adventures in wild and perhaps not so wild sown plants that make Central Park their home.
For instance: Groundcherry (Physalis) or Tomatillo. In bloom in December. groundc1.jpg

A 20 Point Guide for Defending Democracy. (So many points, four long years.)

Still Skipping

img_1287What a late, endless fall. This picture of a skipper was from last Friday, and there was at least one other of these quirky butterflies still working these amazingly productive ground-hugging buddleia.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m going full Thoreau in these posts. The inspiration for this blog was both a naturalist and a citizen. How could I be anything but?

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.


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  • Osprey are loud. But nothing beats the falsetto meow-roar of the Indian Peafowl. 12 hours ago
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