Vernal Equinox 2017 . . .
A photo can, at times, say more than words; it can almost give you a chill.
Spring is here.
Happy Vernal Equinox from the still snowy western shore of Manhattan!
– rPs 03 20 2017
A Wildflower Walk . . .
July has been hot and bright in New York City. Days of sun, dry and breezy, have dominated. A few in between, overcast and muggy, have felt like stretches of time stood still until a brief evening storm clears the air.
Wildflowers have been thriving throughout this pattern, sometimes in colonies of one variety, or in communities of two or more species. All of the plants appear to be in the midst of a good growing season.
Apply some sunscreen and take a wildflower walk. There is a metropolis of wildflowers along the path ahead.
— rPs 07 26 2015
Tired Green, Full Fruits . . .
1. Tired Green
The final leg of a recent bus trip was made easier by sharing the ride with poet CA Conrad. He boarded the Greyhound in Philadelphia on his way to an autumn artist’s residency at the Macdowell Colony. I was headed back to my West Village home. This coincidence gave us the opportunity to reminisce over our early days and share recent news. While doing so, I mentioned how I have always enjoyed this time of year marked by “the tired green of late September.”
Conrad never holds back in conversation. As a poet, he values each spoken word. He noted that poetic phrase of mine, which I have been savoring in my mind ever since.
By doing so, I have been practicing one of the techniques that has become synonymous with Conrad’s writing process. He calls it (Soma)tic Poetics: exercises involving the poet suffusing his or her self with a singular theme for a set period of time. These exercises can take various forms such as eating only orange foods, or wearing only blue clothes. For me, I began contemplating tired green foliage, to see what insights the plants’ form and color might reveal.
My use of the word tired stems from the physical wear and tear a plant undergoes during the hot sun and scattered thunderstorms of summer. Native and immigrant urban wildflowers have to endure even more stress and the color, the tired green of late September, reveals that to my eyes. The bright lime and avocado shades of May transform into a grayish pallor that also shows the underlying yellows, often edged in brown. Though not yet ready to burst into color and fall, the near future season of transition for the leaves is visible.
Some hardier species do remain in bloom. One that sports showy white petals above its aging leaves this time of year is Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense).
Tired the green may be, but there are still fresh, colorful wildflowers to be found throughout the urban landscape.
2. Full Fruits
My wife and I visited the annual Medieval Festival in Fort Tryon Park on the last Sunday of September. Located on the far upper west side of Manhattan, this park sits on a high bluff overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades, which form a true fjord. The views are breathtaking and wild, hard to associate with the conventional image of Manhattan, although the park is located on the latitude of 190th Street.
Flanking the paths of Fort Tryon Park we discovered a variety of late wildflowers such as Asters and Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).
Prevalent, too, were the fruits of many species, such as the Common Nightshade (Solanum ptychanthum), its stems supporting what look like tiny black tomatoes. Most vivid of all was Common Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). A patch of these plants resembled a wildflower vineyard lush with thick drooping clusters of burgundy and purple berries. A sign this summer, now retired, cultivated an excellent growing season.
– rPs 09 30 2013
You can learn more about poet CA Conrad by visiting his own blog (and purchasing and reading his masterpiece, The Book of Frank). Click on his name under the Blogroll . . .
Learn more about Fort Tryon Park by visiting the website of the Fort Tryon Park Trust: http://www.forttryonparktrust.org/
Late Bloomers . . .
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:
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
The Color Purple, or “Oh, It’s Canada” . . .
June is in bloom. The weather has been sunny, warm, and very dry for nearly a month. In fact, New York City has received less rain in the past four weeks (approximately two inches) than it did during just one wet day in early May. The damp early spring continues to support a healthy late spring bloom marked by steady, vigorous growth both in the variety and number of wild flowering plants. Now a second wave of wildflowers has sprung into view. The delicate pastels of April and May have been replaced by the hardier blue, white, and yellow of Asiatic Dayflower, Galinsoga, and Yellow Sow Thistle, to name a few.
The vast Asteraceae family is well represented by the Dandelion and the Yellow Sow Thistle and now another member of the genus Cirsium, the thistles, has reached the flowering stage. Groups of tall spiny plants have begun to line the West Side Highway, their flowers painting patches of delicate purple. Small in size, yet large in number, these colorful flowers are the calling card of the perennial Canada Thistle.
Cirsium arvense, an immigrant from temperate regions of Eurasia, has found a home across the northern United States and Canada. Individually, the plant rises to about three feet in height. The stems are smooth, the leaves sharply lobed and spiny. The specie’s particular shade of green lacks the bluish cruciferous look of the yellow sow thistle and the spines are neither as thick nor as painful as those of the larger bull thistle.
The flowers are numerous, light purple in color, and each is supported by a scaled calyx, one of my favorite plant structures, which to my eye resembles an ancient Greek vase. The numerous flowers of a mature Canada Thistle attract honeybees in droves. Each inflorescence is composed of florets, which these industrious insects work over methodically. Sometimes it seems as if there is one bee for each bloom.
The end result for the thistle is a prodigious amount of seeds. However, the massive flowering groups often found growing along river banks, park edges, and city thoroughfares are actually clones. A single Canada Thistle plant sends out a taproot that forms a lateral network in the adjacent area. Buds along this root system send up shoots that emerge all at a time in a growth spurt called a flush. The stalks rise from rosettes and create tightly-knit clonal colonies that can over time get out of hand.
Considered an invasive by most, I still appreciate this immigrant’s beauty. Most urban wildflowers are white or yellow. The color purple of the Canada Thistle is a welcome contrast, as are the insects, like the honeybee, and the songbirds, like the goldfinch, which are attracted to its flowers and achene, respectively.
– rPs 06 09 2011
The First Wildflower of 2011 . . .
My television viewing habits are limited mainly to cable channel shows about outdoor sports and the relatively new genre of reality series set in wilderness or survival settings. Of these, Man vs. Wild starring the indomitable Bear Grylls is my favorite. He is a daring host with British wit and his locations are often breathtaking in themselves.
One of the episodes for the show’s new 2011 season was set in the highlands of Western Scotland. As Grylls rock climbed up cliffs, captured trout from pristine pools, and made shelter and fire from peat moss, I was taken by the vast, damp landscape of rugged rock and close-cropped heather green. Ironically, the next afternoon, I visited Hudson River Park and witnessed the coalescing of an atmosphere similar to the one I had seen on television the night before. The day was cold, damp, and windy. A steady gale swept whitecaps all over the surface of the lead grey river. The grass lawns of the park had become bogs of ground-hugging green saturated with snowmelt. The wind groaned, and I joked with myself: “I could develop a new series of my own here – Swegman vs. Urban Wild!” On cue, for a span of just a few minutes, the sky opened, a beam of electrum setting sunlight illuminated the park, and the sharpness and clarity of the light casting shadows on the lawn brought forth one of those transcendent moments where nature and the city intersect, making something more than one or the other.
That day also marked the first time in nearly two months that the park had been free of snow. Along the edges, and on the margins, plant life was already taking advantage of the thaw.
Common Chickweed ringed the bases of some trees.
Tufts of Onion Grass sprouted from the lawn edges.
Common Greenshield Lichen coated the trunks of many trees.
Fate found me without a camera, so I planned a return. On the following Monday, the final day of February, I did. Camera in hand, I crossed the West Side Highway, expecting to document the first minor green expressions of the new year’s growing season. On the park side, flanking one of the entrances and well out of easy view, I found something more, quite an unseasonal sight: flowers, in bloom! A small colony of Common Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, glowed bright white above the wet brown leaf litter.
This pretty little flower is an herbaceous perennial member of the family Amaryllidaceae. A naturalized immigrant from Europe, the Common Snowdrop sprouts from a bulb that sends forth two deep green lanceolate leaves and a thin scape that holds a single lobed flower on a pedicel. An individual bloom hanging from its scape very much resembles an antique lamppost supporting a white glass light fixture.
Common Snowdrop I have learned lives and blooms in time with its name: from January to May. This species beats the only other early wildflower I have so far seen in Manhattan, Siberian squill, by a full month. The flower’s Wikipedia entry states the Common Snowdrop contains a chemical, galantamine, which has been found useful for Alzheimer’s disease. Beyond that, this bloom is refreshing to behold after months gripped tightly by ice and snow, and it now holds the distinction of being the first wildflower of the West Village for 2011.
– rPs 02 28 2011