Posts Tagged White Snakeroot

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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Wildflower in the Mix

Wildflower in the Mix . . .

Garden in the rough industrial area along Washington Street. (photo taken 10 20 2013)

Garden in the rough industrial area along Washington Street. (photo taken 10 20 2013)

West of Hudson and south of Christopher resides an area of wide, low factory buildings inhabited primarily by parcel carriers, garages, and light industry. One green space in the West Village is found within this unlikely section of the neighborhood.

A redeveloped residential building along Washington Street has added a red brick extension along the sidewalk that supports a narrow garden of flowering plants. Nestled within various domesticated blooms I today found a wildflower: White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima.

White Snakeroot in the mix . . . (photo taken 10 20 2013)

White Snakeroot in the mix . . . (photo taken 10 20 2013)

I was not so surprised by that what I discovered, as this is the peak season for this autumnal Asteraceae. What did stand out was the where.

Once again a walk has brought me to a moment when nature and the city intersect. It is always fine to discover a garden in a built up area, even nicer when there is a native perennial in the mix.

White Snakeroot up close. (photo taken 10 20 2013)

White Snakeroot up close. (photo taken 10 20 2013)

– rPs 10 20 2013

I profiled White Snakeroot in October 2011. You can read more about this wildflower by following this link: https://wildflowersofthewestvillage.com/2010/10/18/white-as-milk/

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Still Life, Still There

Still Life, Still There . . .

White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) blooms into December along West 11th Street. (photo taken 12 09 2011)

I have for some time been mulling over how to describe my personal relationship with urban nature. An encounter with a wildflower I enjoyed this week gave me an idea, a way to put that concept into words.

The beginning of most interactions with the natural world takes place during the survey phase when species, or phenomena, or processes, are observed, listed, and described. Wildflowers provide a rich source of such raw material. At first, each species is new. The time of year, their environment, their physical features, are all engaging and educational.

After two full growing seasons, which cover both annual and perennial plants, this first push of the project comes to a close. Personally, I have kept my eyes on the West Village, stuck to the geographic boundaries I set at the beginning, and have listed most, although not all of what I have noted (I have left out a few species as of this writing for want of better photographs and future content). I have been able to profile a variety of flowering plants, close to four dozen species, answering to some degree the “What is out there?” and “When is it out there?” questions.

“What’s next?” now begs to be asked.

The answer came to me as I was hurrying through a cold rain earlier in the week. I had slogged through Washington Square, faced into a stiff wind up 5th Avenue. My pant legs were soaked, my umbrella bending, so I turned down West 11th Street toward my neighborhood.

I crossed the Avenue of the Americas and started down the block protected on the north side by the tall buildings of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital complex. The sudden lull in the wind felt like being within the eye of a hurricane. I could slow down, relax, so I did so. As I strolled, I passed the front gardens of the red brick Federal town houses lining each side of the street. One of these, somewhat unkempt, nonetheless held a surprise: a patch of White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) still in full bloom. The plant’s umbels, like little balls of white yarn, poked their flower heads between the black iron bars of a fence, creating a lovely urban wildflower still life.

As of December 10, 2011, New York City has yet to experience an overnight freeze. This is one of the latest on record. The colorful lining of this meteorological oddity has been an extended autumn with the tree leaves, late-season wildflowers, and hardy weeds still in bloom. I profiled White Snakeroot in October of 2010. The plants I photographed for the essay were located in the same spot as the one’s I saw glistening in the rain. These flowers, then, were their progeny.

The words arrived for my revelation. The answer to “What’s next?” lies within the relationship a person can cultivate with the urban outdoors. Seeing that patch of White Snakeroot felt like greeting an old friend, the one who because of conflicting schedules or long distance you can visit only once in a year, perhaps during a specific holiday. Other examples of West Village wildflower companions came to me, but this particular one really pulled the concept from my personal rumination section and into full public expression. So, if you see a bearded and bookish grown man pausing to greet a weed, he may be me, visiting one of my friends, one of the wildflowers of the West Village.

“Nice to see you, White Snakeroot. Until next year . . .”

White Snakeroot gone to seed: "Until next year . . ." (photo taken 12 09 2011

– rPs 12 10 2011

Postscript: Read my profile of White Snakeroot by following this link: https://wildflowersofthewestvillage.com/2010/10/18/white-as-milk/

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White as Milk

White as Milk . . .

White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima, winds through a hedge line on West 11th Street. (Photo taken 10 18 2010)

A new theme has begun to emerge as the Wildflowers of the West Village project unfolds. The recent flowering plants I have discovered and profiled have been very different: one is a vine, one carries its blooms in graceful umbels, but all have reflected variations on the color white.

Like a blank sheet of paper, like a cloud, like milk: so white was another variety that began to appear around Manhattan’s west side in September. This plant preferred the shaded edges of green spaces and appeared most frequently along and within hedge rows. The leaves were deep green, ovate in shape, toothed, and ran opposite up smooth stems. The flowers were numerous, compound, and from a distance resembled miniature balls of white yarn.

I assumed this wildflower was another immigrant (my more positive term for “invasive”). When a plant becomes ubiquitous in an urban area, it is usually a transplant from abroad. This particular one had popped up in a lot of places with autumn’s arrival and had apparently taken the baton from the Common Nightshade, a European immigrant, which earlier dominated the neighborhood’s tree pits between June and August.

My search for a formal name proved to be more difficult than expected. First, I consulted my Invasive Weeds of North America, a laminated folded broadside – “A Pocket Naturalist Guide” – published by Waterford Press. The species are arranged by environment and type, yet none listed made a match. I next turned to my Wildflowers from the Peterson First Guides series. Again, nothing conclusive, although this source revealed the blooms of Boneset, from the daisy family, bore a slight resemblance to the mystery subject. The Boneset’s leaves, arranged in pairs and united around the stem, disqualified it from further consideration.

Using Boneset as a base, I dug a little deeper, and at last found my match. The main clue was again related to the color white, in this instance, milk. My search accidently encountered an online essay about a common Nineteenth Century malady called “milk sickness” caused by a wildflower named Tall Boneset or, more commonly, White Snakeroot. Dairy cattle that consumed this plant along the edges of fields would develop symptoms of trembling and vomiting, which were passed on through milk to humans. The source of the disease, long associated with witchcraft, was first pinpointed by a woman, Dr. Anna Hobbs Pierce Bixby. She used deductive reasoning to narrow down potential causes of the illness. She noted that symptoms in cattle and human sufferers appeared in the summer and declined to zero after the first frost. That timing coincided with the growing season. Cattle that grazed on managed fields also tended to be free of the disease. These facts lead her to assume the cause was a wild plant. She next observed what grazing cattle were eating in the field. One unlucky calf was tested with White Snakeroot, and the resulting symptoms, trembling and vomiting, matched those of the disease. Despite Dr. Bixby’s smart solution, the official cause was not listed by the medical community until 1928, nearly seventy years after her death in 1869.

This interesting story lead me to type “Tall Boneset” and “White Snakeroot” into the search bar at GOOGLE, and the images that popped up cried out as loud as a “Bingo!” at a county fair: leaves opposite, ovate, and toothed; flowers, held upright on umbels, grouped in tight compound balls consisting of a half dozen or so individual flowers with five pure white petals.

The individual flowers of White Snakeroot are as bright as fresh milk. (Photo taken 10 18 2010)

White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima, is another member of the expansive Asteraceae family, the daisies. The plant is also a native perennial, which explains why I could not find it in my “invasive” field guide. While poisonous and so prevalent as to be sometimes invisible in plain sight, it is also very attractive, especially when viewed up close. Like so many other Wildflowers of the West Village, the White Snakeroot could be easily integrated into a townhouse garden if tended to carefully and consistently, and if kept away from the pet cow.

– rPs 10 18 2010

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