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14 novembre, 2015

14 novembre, 2015 . . .

pour Albert Camus

War in Europe, again.
How ironic
And how parallel

To continental
Historical cycles
This conflict has arisen

To Whenever,
To Wherever,
Perpetual war cataclysm.

We people are a species
Stuck rocking
On our own rodent wheel,

Rock of our own

— ron P. swegman
— 14 novembre, 2015

Enduring November Rain  (NYC 11 2015)

Enduring November Rain
(NYC 11 2015)

— rPs 11 14 2015

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Happy (3rd) Anniversary

Happy (3rd) Anniversary . . .

The view that inspired Wildflowers of the West Village - three years on . . . (photo taken 03 22 2013)

The view that inspired Wildflowers of the West Village – three years on . . . (photo taken 03 22 2013)

The scene at the base of the tree was brown and bare today. Had this state of affairs been the case three years ago, Wildflowers of the West Village might not have bloomed into the blog it is today. I hope the blue Siberian squill that grew there three years ago shall return at the close of this extended cold spell.

Until then, Happy 3rd Anniversary, Wildflowers of the West Village!

— rPs 03 22 2013

Postscript: You can compare the view above with the original photo from three years ago, which can be found in the “Welcome” section here:

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The First Day of Spring

The First Day of Spring . . .

The first courtyard flower of the year beat the first day of spring by a few days. (photo taken 03 17 2013)

The first courtyard flower of the year beat the first day of spring by a few days. (photo taken 03 17 2013)

The Vernal Equinox began in New York City today at 7:02 a.m. Snow fell just two days ago and temperatures for the week are to average ten degrees cooler than what the meteorologists state is normal for this time of year. Still, our courtyard had become decorated with a few scattered patches of pastel color, nestled like Easter eggs in the brown leaf litter from the previous autumn.

Spring is here . . .

– rPs 03 20 2013

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Before the Snow

Before the Snow . . .

Life, as in its daily living and responsibilities, has intervened between me and my heretofore regular forays into the urban natural world. I have been devoting more time to earning a living, which by its very nature prevents me from experiencing the city’s wilder life fully and freely, even though it continues to exist off the grid, figuratively, whilst on the grid, literally, of Manhattan.

My wife did take a rare personal day this past Thursday, so I did as well. After some mutual fun and adventure, I set off alone to enjoy the last hour of light before nightfall. I wandered down to Hudson River Park where I was rewarded with solitude, as a cold rain and wind had arrived, the vanguard of what may have turned out to be the final snowfall on this side of the year.

Inclement weather is the secret ingredient to a solitary outing in the city, and this one provided me with the opportunity to walk upon the compact damp tundra of the park’s grass and assume some of the odder observational poses of the nature lover – extended bends of the knees and stretches of the neck – without public embarrassment.

There was much to see. The steady rain had coaxed a lot of life from the slumbering ground of the winter season. Rich, pastel green patches of lichens covered many of the tree trunks and onion grass had sprouted around their bases. Along the edge of one small rise of ground I also found what I was most searching for – the first full blooms of the year; a patch of white feral croci of the family Iridaceae.

First flowers of 2013: feral Croci. (photo taken 03 07 2013)

First flowers of 2013: feral Croci. (photo taken 03 07 2013)

A few yards farther on, I found a single small Common Groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, in flower.

Common Groundsel at the base of a tree. (photo taken 03 07 2013)

Common Groundsel at the base of a tree. (photo taken 03 07 2013)

Near the end of my little hike, and the available natural light, I walked along a thicket of hedges and found one more hardy variety, a confident sign of spring: the Common Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, huddled at the base of some bushes.

Common Snowdrop in the bush. (photo taken 03 07 2013)

Common Snowdrop in the bush. (photo taken 03 07 2013)

I had only my smartphone available for photos on this brief, damp, and dimly lit outing, so the quality herein is not up to my usual standard, but the idea hopefully has been conveyed . . .

Once again there are wildflowers in the West Village.

– rPs 03 09 2013

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February’s Foliage

February’s Foliage . . .

Onion Grass (genus Allium) provides a small splash of color near Eighth Avenue. (photo taken 02 26 2013)

Onion Grass (genus Allium) provides a small splash of color near Eighth Avenue. (photo taken 02 26 2013)

The second month of the year has taken the “cold” portion of the phrase “long, cold winter” to an extreme: snow, some; wind, more; and cold, constant. This state of the air has locked the West Village and the rest of the region in hibernation. White, grey, and brown remain the dominant colors found in the parks and gardens of New York.

Absent this year are the blooming snowdrops and common chickweed often found in abundance along the mid-Atlantic during the latter half of the winter season. The only wild plant that has weathered the weather appears to be Onion Grass (genus Allium), which, as I reported way back in 2010, remains ensconced along the cobbled walls of Reggie Fitzgerald Triangle at the intersection of West Fourth and Eighth Avenues. The sight of this great piece of green sustains the fundamentally optimistic nature of my urban naturalist’s mood. I realize that the time and temperatures for the spring bloom should arrive by the end of March.

– rPs 02 27 2013

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The New Year: A Shuffling of the Cards

The New Year: A Shuffling of the Cards . . .

Climate change, as I have perceived it, can best be described by me in this way: Picture a pack of standard playing cards divided into the four separate suits. Now shuffle the pack just once or twice. The integrity of the pack remains mostly intact, but there are a few cards of one suit or another blended into all of the rest. So it seems with the once stable four seasons. The prevailing weather patterns of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter have been shuffled a bit so that we may see a week of eighty degree days during the middle of March, snow on a flowering May garden, a stretch of chilly rainy days in late June, and snow again; this time frosting the bright turning leaves of October.

January 2013 began cool and damp in New York City. Thick fog and rain segued into sunny days reaching into the low fifties. From the start, a small cluster of daffodil bulbs sprouted in our rear courtyard garden, grew to nearly half a foot in height, until subfreezing temperatures and snow arrived near month’s end. I documented this progress in the following photos . . .

In the Rain. (photo taken 01 02 2013)

New Year in the Rain. (photo taken 01 02 2013)

Taking off! (photo taken 01 12 2012

Taking off! (photo taken 01 12 2012

At its Peak. (photo taken 01 21 2012)

At its Peak. (photo taken 01 21 2012)

After the Snow. (photo taken 01 27 2012)

After the Snow. (photo taken 01 27 2012)

The climatic cards have certainly been shuffled so far this year. Perhaps there is a joker in the deck!

– rPs 01 29 2012

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Late Bloomers

Late Bloomers . . .

December Dandelion: a single Taraxacum officinale blooms in Hudson River Park. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

December Dandelion: a single Taraxacum officinale blooms in Hudson River Park. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Hurricane Sandy did more than deprive the West Village of power. The late October storm also stirred up personal lives, including my own. First, there were the thirty block walks uptown to fetch a hot paper cup of coffee, followed by candlelit evenings huddled with my wife and two cats around a transistor radio. Later, there was the less dramatic resettling into normal routines, which for me included regular walks around the area to seek out and survey what flora might be growing wild in the West Village.

Today, set almost squarely in the middle of December, the city experienced daylight under a blue sky for the first time in more than a week. The good walking weather coincided with an abbreviated work day for me. I took the long path home, hiking about for over four hours with no firm plan except to pass through those spots where in the past I have found wildflowers: churchyards, construction sites, public housing green spaces, and Hudson River Park.

The results were surprising in their variety if not vigor. The fine lining to the overcast and wet weather is that this combination of environmental factors has pushed off an extended deep freeze, giving some of the more hardy perennials, both native and immigrant, some bonus time to bloom . . . late.

Along with the dandelion pictured above, I found:

Canada Thistle

Canada Thistle,Cirsium arvense. (photo taken 12 11 2012) (

Canada Thistle, Cirsium arvense. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Carolina Horsenettle

Carolina Horsenettle, Solanum carolinense. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Carolina Horsenettle, Solanum carolinense. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Common  Chickweed

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media. (photo taken 12 11 2012)


Galinsoga, Galinsoga parviflora. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Galinsoga, Galinsoga parviflora. (photo taken 12 11 2012)


Groundsel, Senecio vulgaris. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Groundsel, Senecio vulgaris. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

White Snakeroot

White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Yellow Woodsorrel

Yellow Woodsorrel, Oxalis stricta. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Yellow Woodsorrel, Oxalis stricta. (photo taken 12 11 2012)

Large, medium, or small; cool white, deep purple, or warm yellow: none of these wildflowers except cold-weather Common Chickweed displayed the rich green lushness of spring or high summer, but each one proved that, even in the urban northeast, there is more December color to be had than holiday evergreen, red, and white.

– rPs 12 11 2012

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The Asters of Autumn

The Asters of Autumn . . .

A few New England Asters snuck into the corner of a West Village garden. (photo taken 10 17 2012)

The Aster family, Asteraceae, holds court in late summer and autumn. A variety of these little daisy faces can be found gracing fall fields, roadsides, and urban greenways with their white, blue, and purple colors.

Two attractive varieties can be seen throughout the West Village even now, in November, when most flowering plants have fallen to the frost. One is the New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, which can be identified by the leaves, which clasp the stem. The blooms also tend to be more sparse and reside more at the purple end of the spectrum than its close relative, the New York Aster.

Face First: Closeup view of an individual New England Aster. (photo taken 10 17 2012)

Known also as the Michaelmas Daisy, Symphyotrichum novi-belgii has stiff stems that hold alternate leaves. The blossoms have pointed rays with a lavender hue that surround a yellow central disk. The New York Aster tends to grow bushier as well, often forming tight thickets covered with flowers. This species is also popular as a cultivated planting. Large colonies can be found blooming in between the old rusted tracks of The High Line.

New York Asters bloom on the right side of The High Line’s tracks. (photo taken 10 23 2012)

One other colorful lining should here be mentioned: Both of these beautiful native perennials attract late pollinators, especially bees and butterflies.

A bush of New York Asters hosts a happy butterfly on The High Line. (photo taken 10 23 2012)

– rPs 11 14 2012

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Lily of the Village

Lily of the Village . . .

A single toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta, sits in a sun-dappled West Village churchyard. (photo taken 10 14 2012)

Churchyards afford quiet green corners in any city. A reflective atmosphere can be found and, if one searches the garden edges, so can wildflowers, decorative motifs not unlike the colorful illustrations rendered on the margins of illuminated manuscripts.

This past Sunday my wife and I enjoyed a mellow brunch and extended that mood with a stroll around the grounds of a nearby church. We found an open bench beneath a crab apple tree full of fruit. Sparrows visited us as we chatted in the dappled shade. Butterflies and honeybees buzzed by, too. A kind of city traffic humming with a much more relaxed timbre.

When we stood up to return home, I noticed a tiny patch of color nestled within the undergrowth shaded by the surrounding red brick walls. What I saw up close affected me as much as the first flowers of spring. There, within the thinning, fading green of autumn stood a single, distinctive bloom.

The flower resembled an orchid in some respects. The six pale cream tepals were sharply pointed and displayed a vibrant purple leopard print. An exaggerated pistil resembling a tropical sea anemone was likewise spotted. The leaves below were alternate, perfoliate, lanceolate, and somewhat smooth. The entire plant stood less than a foot in height. There were no other examples but this one to be seen in the garden, which left the impression I had found a wild, or at least feral, flower species that bloomed in the fall.

Back home, I felt excitement, a visceral enthusiasm that wells up less frequently now after writing about the West Village’s flowering plants for nearly three years. My personal discoveries of new species have steadily become fewer and further in between.

What has increased is my knowledge base. I ignored the football and baseball games on television and went to work, cross-referencing details with those found in my ever-growing collection of print and online resources. I used a kind of information triangulation that allowed me, after about an hour, to close in on a specific identification. The flowering plant I found in the churchyard is, in fact, a fall perennial, small in stature, with a richly spotted bloom. An Asian immigrant from Japan, it is not of the orchid tribe but rather a member of the genus Liliaceae.

Toad Lily, Tricyrtis hirta

A hardy, shade-loving, herbaceous species that grows well left to its own, the toad lily is so named for the way this flower makes its appearance in the garden. Like a little spotted amphibian sitting beside a mountain stream (the environment where it is found in its native land), this flower does resemble that handsome prince in disguise.

Reflecting on this most recent path to discovery, I found another good reason to visit church on Sunday, as well as a reminder to stay alert. You do not know the day or the hour . . . leading to the discovery of another flower! The single toad lily I found growing wild in an otherwise carefully cultivated garden reminded me that wildflowers can be found at almost any time and just about anywhere, even in a city as built up as New York.

Closeup of the leopard print coloration and exaggerated pistil of the otherwise diminutive toad lily. (photo taken 10 14 2012)

– rPs 10 16 2012

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Anything but Plain

Anything but Plain . . .

Why mow this pretty lawn . . . It’s in bloom! (photo taken 09 25 2012)

One immigrant wildflower of the West Village arrived on the western hemisphere with the earliest of the European colonists. The presence of this plant along the margins of their settlements inspired neighboring natives to call it White Man’s Footprint. Lawns and sidewalk cracks everywhere today sport the bigfoot oval leaves and stubby green spikes of the common Broadleaf Plantain, Plantago major.

A flowering Broadleaf Plantain displays its distinctive footprint. (photo taken 09 28 2012)

Another relative in the Plantain family is, to my eye, one of the most attractive of the naturalized wildflowers. The bloom of this plant is neither colorful nor large, and it is not rare or secluded. What it does possess is the slender grace of its basic form, the geometry of its flowering, which combined provide the primary source of its beauty.

The species I praise so highly is the Ribwort Plantain, more commonly known as English Plantain, Plantago lanceolata.

The leaves of this perennial plant are, as its Latin name states, long, narrow, and pointed; a spike unlike its curvy broadleaf cousin. Clusters of these form a tight rosette that can be either prostrate or bushy, depending on the surrounding environment. The leaves tend to grow more thickly and upright in consistently moist areas.

The flowers top tall, smooth stalks that spread outward on a slightly curved trajectory. A brownish spike resembling an inverted sugar cone shoots out miniscule white stamens that look like a lit sparkler frozen in time.

The subtle, yet beautiful, bloom of the English Plantain is carried by the white stamens. (photo taken 09 25 2012)

The sight of one of these plants always reminds me of Albrecht Durer’s intimate watercolor: “Das Grosse Rasenstuck” (The Great Piece of Turf). The blooming English Plantain creates a pretty still life wherever it grows, the reason why I love this plant so, and why my lawn will always be left to nature.

A great piece of turf: English Plantain. (photo taken 09 11 2012)

–  rPs 09 28 2012

Postscript: view an image if “Das Grosse Rasenstuck” by following this link:

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