Greetings from the Boroughs

I know… Friday and no Rambler is like a bagel with no sesame seeds, a pizza with no grease, a fried vegetarian (egads) dumpling;  there’s just something amiss.  What am I yammering about?  Just spent the week in the city of New York, borough of Brooklyn to be exact (and Lawng Ayeland for a spell).  While you roasted, we slogged, which was kind of nice actually.  I did some scouting of the local flora and fauna and I thought you might enjoy a peek.

New York certainly has plenty of “native” plants, in that they were not imported from Europe or Asia.  However, few would be considered “endemic”, being found only in New York state, while California has literally hundreds.  While NY shares a similar climate and geography with almost a dozen states, southern California is penned in by 10,000 foot plus tall mountain ranges and one of the harshest desert regions on the planet.  This makes it harder for species to immigrate or emigrate, while most New York species can be found up and down the eastern seaboard north of the Mason-Dixon.

Onto the local heroes.  My favorite tree was the Willow Oak, with two on a leafy block of Park Slope over 75 feet tall shading half a dozen brownstones each.  You guessed it, the leaves resemble willow foliage:

Quercus phellos

Quercus phellos

Most striking bird was easily the cardinal.  They don’t migrate or molt so they are a year-round stunner.  Local relatives include the grosbeaks and the lazuli bunting.

Cardinalis cardinalis

Cardinalis cardinalis

I’m always impressed how many places milkweeds pop up.  I always thought they were a tropical family, so was excited by the local representatives.  Like our narrow-leafed milkweed the sap is a favorite of dozens of insects including butterfly larvae.  These weren’t close to blooming but I thought you deserved a preview.

Butterfly weed - Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly weed – Asclepias tuberosa

First time I caught a glimpse of this bird I thought it was a towhee relative, hopping and scratching at the ground.  As far as I can tell catbirds are named for their mewing call, the origin of “catbird seat” will remain an esoteric mystery.

Gray Catbird - Dumetella carolinensis

Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis

Bleeding hearts are awesome because you can easily dig them up and share with friends and their flowers remind me of a mutant cross between a lupine and a larkspur.  Has anyone tried to grow these out here?  I’m guessing they may work on the coast.

Bleeding hearts

Bleeding hearts

As a dreary Tuesday morning in Chinatown (I ate chicken’s feet at a Dim Sum, lots of bones, not terrible) erupted into a glorious sun-spangled spring afternoon I headed for the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  For some reason it was free, who am I to complain.  After wading through the gawkers hyperventilating on the azaleas and lilacs I finally found my way to the native garden.  It was hidden, somewhat demure but super-sexy and of course ended up being the highlight of the day.  I met Chris and Uli who are responsible for the design and maintenance, they were kind enough to indulge my inner plant dork for a few minutes.  My favorite plant in the garden:

May apple

May apples

Member of the barberry family, the leaves remind me of Trilium which we have up north and in the Sierras.  They form rhizomatic colonies in the deep shade of the deciduous forest and is also known as “devil’s apple.” The white flowers are bursting now while the somewhat toxic and occasionally medicinal “apples” form in summer.

As I ambled the leafy loop I ran into a fellow bird-nerd, who spotted my binocs and made the obligatory query regarding my avian highlights.  As I regaled him with absolutely nothing we (I) spotted one of these flitting high in the maples.

American redstart

American redstart

At first I thought it was a red-winged blackbird (which they have as well), my partner-in-dorkitude graciously corrected me.  They flash their wings and tail to startle insect prey out of hiding.

Finally we have the current favorite plant of Cope, New York Botanical Garden stud, former housemate and one of my formative influences:

Aralia racemosa- Spikenard

Aralia racemosa- Spikenard

This fella has no shortage of cool common names, American Spikenard, Life-of-Man and petty morel.  The berries are inedible but the roots are used to flavor teas.

Next week back to California I promise, thanks for joining me.


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2 Responses to Greetings from the Boroughs

  1. Ann says:

    Loved it

  2. We have spikenard in the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange County. I wonder if you bumped into my brother in Brooklyn.

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