Posts Tagged New York

Autumn Whites

Autumn Whites . . .

White Aster & Snakeroot (Manhattan, NYC, 11 2016)

White Aster & Snakeroot
(Manhattan, NYC, 11 2016)

Russet variation of deciduous oaks and maples see their feet dressed in filigree of wildflower white as sparse as lace, or as morning frost on lawn, or the first accumulated dusting of flurries.

Friends appear like snowflakes clung to a window. … ”

Lines of poems shaped like prose recited aloud in the out of doors can be a symptom, if one allows it, of mind, perhaps your own, ruminating, meeting, encountering such attractive intersections of nature and the city.

Here it remains, on the west side of Manhattan, where civil island meets tidal river at a time when sun sets are fast and temperatures bring a shiver.

The cold months are hinted on the rippled gray sky, felt on the wind, not far.

– rPs 11 21 2016


Postscript: Thanksgiving is on the menu. Centerpiece: Wildflower White (Asteraceae, various)

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Burdock in Bloom

Burdock in Bloom . . .

Blooming Burdock in a Breeze (photo taken 08 12 2014)

Blooming Burdock in a Breeze
(photo taken 08 12 2014)

“Elephant Ears” spoke to a detail everyone pointed out whilst on walks through the leafy city neighborhood of my boyhood. Autumn hikes and winter downhill sled rides encountered “Burrs” on the wool clothing that kept me warm. The plant continues to make its presence known as a sure neighbor.

Today Lesser Burdock is in bloom throughout the region. Attractive stands of Arctium minus, of the family Asteraceae, can be found along the west in Van Cortlandt Park and in Riverside Park and in scattered patches farther south in Manhattan. The latter stands remain lush until gardening companies turn wild plant fields to brown lawn.

No negativity from here shall be introduced to the curating of plants. I do continue to uphold a broader definition than recent standard, as in my lexicon I do include IMMIGRANTS rather than “invasives” or “invasive species” – terms to me that beyond technical definition ring hollow given the diverse people, the first source of all these mixed species, who have also come to populate the Western Hemisphere.

Burdock varieties hail from Continental European sources. The plant lives as a vigorous green, edible when young, with health benefits as a digestive. The innumerable hooked spines of the seed heads, burrs, inspired a Swiss inventor, George de Mestral, to do the studies that resulted in the useful tool we have named Velcro.

The plant rises from a stout central stem that supports lobed ovate leaves that narrow toward the tips, all arranged in a graceful, aesthetically pleasing manner, like draping pachyderm ears. Some leaf parasites often tunnel their way within, leaving topical asymmetrical veination as summer progresses. Flowers appear tight and spiked in a purple to true pink quality akin to thistles. Once browned by the end of the season, seed heads become bunches of burrs on stalks. Animals: birds, and the most prevalent mammal of all, people, when out of doors, all help to spread the Lesser Burdock to a greater range.

A quartet of young "Elephant Ears" (photo taken 08 12 2014

A quartet of young “Elephant Ears”
(photo taken 08 12 2014

Greater hardiness marks this plant’s vitality as well. Ava Chin, author of Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal, describes mingling Burdock with other early winter greens.

But now high summer reigns August. This year’s is damp and cooler, averaging in the eighty degrees Fahrenheit, giving more urban green than on hot, dry years. Burdock is in abundance in this weather. Burdock is in bloom.

Blooming Burdock Bough (photo taken 08 12 2014)

Blooming Burdock Bough
(photo taken 08 12 2014)

– rPs 08 13 2014


Read More About Burdock. “Earthy, Crunchy Burdock” by Ava Chin: The New York Times City Room blog, Urban Forager, 12 18 2010:

Wikipedia biography of George de Mestral:

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Wildflower Cabin in the Woods

Wildflower Cabin in the Woods . . .

The Cabin (photo taken 06 21 2014)

The Cabin (photo taken 06 21 2014)

Bloomsday remains the 16th of June as time continues to pass through a June in bloom.

River runs and a weekend visit yet again along the west side, along the banks of the Hudson River, this outing situated near the southern end of Lake George, also an impressive water body filling big grooved earth in the domed range of the Andirondack Mountains.

Lake George, Looking North (photo taken 06 22 2014)

Lake George, Looking North (photo taken 06 22 2014)

The Hudson River’s glinting flow could be seen from a small clearing in the trees on the cabin’s west side. The sun was high on the first days of summer. Evenings followed around a crackling forest kindling fire accompanied by starry nights and the tumbling sound wave of the water flush in strong motion.

This Hudson face here is lined by trees and ferns that flank and shade a broad, cobblestone, relatively shallow and even trout river. The translucent flow rips. Wading best done makes the sport a fusion exercise of yoga, hiking, and bouldering, blended. One stretch possesses a scattering of exposed monoliths near to both sides with numerous current slots and runs that hold recalcitrant trout; a rare mix of brook, rainbow, and brown. The full environment bears green banks, buffering sounding, moving water; crisp air in the form of mild breezes; and, at the start of this new summer, bright sun, almost white, filtered little by washed blue sky.

The sum mixed on this outing weighty enough to have left quite an imprint, more a full sensory movie that shall play again and again, I am sure, in one mind during subway rides.

Hudson River as Trout Stream (photo taken 06 22 2014)

Hudson River as Trout Stream (photo taken 06 22 2014)

Page white cumulus, real whipped cream toppings tipped by a twist from a painterly brush, arrived middle morning from the direction northeast. A sloping hillside hike back to the cabinside revealed feral white daisies, true Marsh Speedwell (Veronica scuttelatta), and a small number of burnt orange flowers, Asteraceae, fixed atop taut fuzzy stalks standing center of basal rosettes. This flower is one I included in my novella, Little Hills. The excerpt here conveys my point:

“They walked the cut path, passing here and there through the lingering sun-warmed aroma of grass. Young Robert pictured these patches of scent as invisible little cloud islands in the air. To either side of them, brilliant orange hawkweed blooms posed on the top of slender fuzzy stems rising from basal rosettes. A few white cabbage butterflies dappled small shadows around the flowers.”

Orange Hawkweed in Dappled Shade.

Orange Hawkweed in Dappled Shade.

Orange Hawkweed (species Hieracium). I also encountered a more yellow variety beside one of the roller coasters I dared engage on the park grounds of Great Escape: Six Flags.

Yellow Hawkweed at Great Escape: Six Flags.

Yellow Hawkweed at Great Escape: Six Flags.

Hawkweed: a wildflower I may always associate with summer fun with family and friends.

Wildflowers in the West Village spirit, still.

– rPs 06 26 2014

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Yellow Rockets Beside the Road

Yellow Rockets Beside the Road . . .

Winter Cress or Yellow Rocket, Barbarea vulgaris, in bloom at the end of Jane Street. (photo taken 05 18 2012)

The Brassicaceae, the mustards, are certainly one of the most successful immigrant wildflower families to have arrived and settled in the Americas. My study of these herbaceous plants has allowed me to more fully comprehend the point of Jesus Christ’s parable – the mustard seed equals ubiquity.

The first species I noticed residing in the West Village was Shepherd’s Purse with its gracefully-postured racemes and distinctive heart-shaped seed pods. The flowers of the biennial Garlic Mustard caught my attention for the first time last season. Most recently, as early as February, I found Hairy Bittercress, which turns out to be one of the first wildflowers to bloom in springtime New York.

The weather this spring season has been a bit out of sorts. April’s dry warm days have been replaced by May’s cool showers. This flip-flop of the traditional weather pattern has resulted in lush conditions. Some mornings, when I look out into the courtyard garden, the scene full of roses, azaleas, and hydrangeas fits the look of, if not the accepted definition of, a temperate rain forest.

The sheer amount, the sheer vigor, of the city’s blooming plant life has been impressive. I hoped to find a new species within all that green and pastel color, perhaps one somehow overlooked in the first two years of my West Village wildflower search. And I did; a new face appeared to my eye amongst the yellow wood sorrel, sow thistle, and dandelion set in a deep green bed of mugwort:

Winter Cress, Barbarea vulgaris

The showy racemes of this pretty plant are what give its presence away. The funny thing is I had seen it, a lot of it, before; I just didn’t know it. During trout season drives to and from fishing destinations, I had noticed numerous patches of yellow color along the roadsides. What I was seeing was not so much individual blooms like dandelions, daises, or thistles, but something akin to a golden mist or haze just above the grassline. I didn’t have an opportunity to stop for a close look, so I stored away my observations for future reference.

And then, this week, during a rare sunny day, I approached on foot the parklet located at the end of Jane and Horatio Streets on the western edge of Manhattan. What I saw, in scattered places, was similar to the yellow clouds I had seen along the roads in rural Pennsylvania and New York state. Compact rounded clusters that resembled a burst of fireworks frozen in mid-air. When I began my quest for a positive identification, I held that image in mind, which made me smile doubly wide when amongst my references I stumbled upon Winter Cress; its colloquial name is Yellow Rocket.

Rooted to the ground, Winter Cress has pinnately-divided, deeply-lobed basal leaves that if picked before the plant blooms make a reasonable, seasonable green. The stems are glabrous and support thin silique like other members of its species. Unlike the other Eurasian mustards I have found growing in the West Village, Winter Cress does not bloom white. The individual flowers are tiny, have four deep yellow petals, which are clustered in a half dozen or so terminal racemes that are tighter and rounder than other mustards, giving this biennial a bushier profile that conveys the shape of fireworks descending to earth.

An individual Yellow Rocket raceme reveals the bloom consists of multiple tiny flowers. Each one has four petals. (photo taken 05 23 2012)

– rPs 05 23 2012

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The Yellow Centerline

The Yellow Centerline . . .

Stands of Yellow Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) paint the West Side Highway's median bright yellow. (photo take 06 08 2010)

The search for wildflowers within city limits leads the urban naturalist to the edges, the fringes, and the medians.

Median strips are one of the best places within a city to find wild plants in bloom. Variety and quantity are both possible because the green strips between roadways are often public, yet maintained only sporadically, two factors that allow wild plants to reach the flowering stage.

The borders I drew for the Wildflowers of the West Village contain two sizeable median strips. The first is located east to west on West Houston Street. The other one runs north and south between the frantic lanes of the West Side Highway.

I was exploring the middle oasis of the latter when I discovered scattered stands of plants about waist high with sharply lobed leaves that displayed the chalky blue and green coloration of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale. The upright blooms borne on sturdy smooth stems consisted of yellow gold florets supported by a ribbed calyx shaped like an urn. There were so many opening buds that the median had become a living yellow centerline.

My first reaction was to find a name for the colorful faces I was greeting for the first time. The quick reference I carry is Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson, the condensed version that is part of the Peterson First Guides series. This edition is narrow, perfect for the back pocket, and the species are arranged in color-coded sections, which is probably the single-best organizing principle for flowers.

My personal copy of Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson. (photo taken 10 06 2010)

Peterson and his books have been a part of my life since I was a grade school nature boy. He himself was a native New Yorker, born in Jamestown in 1908, and later a resident student in New York City proper. His body of work is extensive, earning him a rightful reputation as one of the greatest naturalists and outdoor artists of the Twentieth Century. Peterson is regarded primarily as an ornithologist and illustrator; his Field Guide to the Birds being the standard of the genre.  He authored, co-authored, and illustrated numerous other titles, including the vast Golden Guide series: little hand-sized books I read and reread, with images I contemplated so often and long I could, in some cases, see and read the pages in my mind’s eye.

I have not internalized my condensed version of Wildflowers to such a degree, so I flipped through my copy right there between the lanes of the West Side Highway. The yellow section lead me right to an exact match on the bottom of pages 52 and 53: the Sow Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus.

As with most thistles, this one is a Eurasian immigrant from the extended daisy family. The basal rosette from which the plant rises, its toothed leaves, and the composite bloom of yellow florets all bear a close resemblance to its cousin, the dandelion. Both wildflowers are members of Asteraceae.

The Sow Thistle’s blooms are hermaphroditic and go to seed in the familiar form of white parachutes that take to the wind and spread far and wide. Like other ruderal species, the plant can take root wherever a seed lands, including the often neglected narrows of roadway medians.


Close-up of a Yellow Sow Thistle bloom, which is a composite of hermaphroditic florets. (photo taken 06 08 2010)

The cruciferous look of the sow thistle’s leaves advertises its edibility. Serve fresh with balsamic vinegar for a mildly bitter salad green akin to endive. When steamed, the flavor becomes closer to Swiss chard. As with most wild greens, the younger leaves near the top of the plant possess the most palatable flavor and texture. Those near the bottom, although more substantial in size, become stringy and bitter with older age.

An individual Yellow Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) stands in Hudson River Park. (photo taken 08 16 2010)

– rPs 10 06 2010

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