The dried fruit capsule of the Horse-Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is distinctively prickly. I 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.Here 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.
Published January 14, 2017
Tags: Brooklyn, Green-Wood, plants, trees
The calyx of the American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is this beautiful cross shape. A few stay on the tree as the fruits come down, but most fall with the fruit. There’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.)
Damn it! I really wanted to start on a positive note, but the bad news just keeps coming. Oak wilt has been discovered in Brooklyn. This is a lethal fungal infection of oaks and other species, its spores spread by beetles.
When I was in Green-Wood on Friday, I heard a chipper hard at work. As I got closer, I realized it was grinding up one of my favorite old Red Oaks! That’s about 7 feet of stump still to go. This is the tree whose globular fungal growths, which have nothing to do with the wilt as far as I’ve been able to tell, have piqued my curiosity before. The sixth image down here is what these mushrooms look like when fresh.
Here’s more about the disease.
Oaks are so damn important. Their relationship to a host of life forms, particularly insects and birds, puts them deep within a spreading web of ecological connections (Muir Webs). And we have a lot of oaks here in the city, on the street and in the parks and woodlands.
I mean, it’s a double-whammy: a killer orange fungus soon to be soiling the White House, and a nasty fungal pathogen going after some of our grandest trees.
Witch-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.Ken 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.
Published December 15, 2016
Tags: Central Park, plants, trees
Recently, 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.Atha, 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.This is a Rosa: full identification would come later. The 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.
A 20 Point Guide for Defending Democracy. (So many points, four long years.)
Published December 13, 2016
Tags: Brooklyn, elm, Sunset Park, trees
Published December 10, 2016
Tags: Brooklyn, Green-Wood, trees
Trump’s entire proposed cabinet is made up of enemies of science, experts in “the dark arts of misinformation.” EPA-bound Pruitt, for instance, is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the oil and gas industry.