Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lacebark Pine

This is one of the bigger Lacebark Pines (Pinus bungeana) that I have seen in New York - it was taken at the New York Botanical Garden.

Lacebark Pines were first discovered by westerners by a German-Russian biologist named Alexander G. von Bunge. He found it in the mountains of Central China in 1831.

The tree above is a pretty mature specimen, but they rarely are seen larger than 30 or 35 feet tall. The needles are fairly short and malleable and are occur in fascicles of three .

But the best part of this tree is the bark:

I have a soft spot for any exfoliating bark (sooner or later I will post some Stewartia pseudocamellia photos, too), but I really love the Lacebark Pine because its bark is full of green and yellow hues. It looks almost like camouflage, whereas a lot of other exfoliating barks exhibit more neutral shades of gray, brown and white. The only unfortunate thing is that, since it is an evergreen, you can walk by the tree and never notice the bark.

New Link

I stumbled upon a blog called "Building Decks and Fences" (sexy name, eh?) today and thought I'd pass it on. There is some good anecdotal info and commentary on bad detail design, etc.. It's west coast-based, from what I can tell from a quick scan, but still seems like a helpful site to check out occasionally.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Black Locust in Bloom

This post is perhaps a week late, but I have posted enough photos of Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) bark, that it seemed remiss not to post a blossom.

These trees have been in bloom along highways and abandoned spaces for about two weeks. The flower structure is pretty typical for a Fabaeceous plant (or a Legume).

I read recently that this family is the third biggest flowering plant family, succeeding the Orchid (Orchidaceae) and Sunflower (Asteraceae) families.

This particular tree is on Chrystie and Stanton.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Video! Sensitive Plant

The video below is of Mimosa pudica, or Sensitive Plant. I have early childhood memories of this plant - of touching the leaves and watching them retract on their own - but I can't remember where I encountered it. Though the plant is native to South and Central America, it is an invasive weed in Southeast Asia, so I can only guess I saw it when I lived there.

The leaves, like some other plants or flowers (Four O'Clocks and Morning Glories come to mind) will close when the sun goes down, and reopen at sunrise. However, they also will close up when touched. Though unusual, this is somewhat more common in the Mimosa genus.

Pudica is Latin for bashful or shrinking.

This is my first video upload and it's not really the greatest quality, but hit play to see the leaves withdraw after being touched.

NYBG Part 2

These are some perennials in the conservatory space of the NYBG. They were forced for the Darwin exhibit.

Unfortunately, these specimens are so highly hybridized, it is somewhat pointless to try and pin down the species names.

Borage (Borago):

Lupines (Lupinus):

Lily (Lilium):

Poppy (Papaver):

Monday, May 19, 2008

Perennials at NYBG, Part 1

I spent Saturday with some friends at the NYBG. Here's a few shots of what's in bloom right now. Tomorrow, I will post a few more shots, though some of those plants were forced to bloom early for their Darwin exhibit.

Larkspur (Delphinium):

False Indigo (Baptisia):

Giant Onion (Allium giganteum):

Peony (Paeonia):

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea):

Poppy (Papaver):

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Horsechestnuts, Sag Harbor & Central Park

The Horsechestnut's botanical name is Aesculus hippocastanum. Apparently, Aesculus was a name to imply that the tree was oak-like, but the acorns were edible. Hippo- is Latin for horse and -astanum refers to a chestnut itself (the genus for regular chestnuts is Castanea). The species name was applied to this tree because horses were historically fed the chestnuts of this species to keep their coats shiny. I'm told that us humans don't have much appreciation for the nut, which is good, since in high enough quantities, the fruit is toxic.

Central Park is loaded with Horsechestnuts, though there are few that are planted with enough space that you can stand a hundred feet away from the tree and appreciate its silhouette. Not so with this lovely specimen. That, plus the fact that it was blooming, plus the fact that it was next to such a sweet Victorian home, compelled me to get a good photo of it.

Naturally, no sooner than I write the above, I stumble on this Horsechestnut in Central Park:

So, nevermind what I said previously! Here's a close up of the flowers:

I love how showy the stamens are and hadn't really appreciated the fragrance from these before. It's quite perfumey, more than I had imagined.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cytisus, Lower East Side

I noticed that one of the bars on Allen and Stanton has planters full of Cytisus scoparius, or Scotch Broom:

Such a cool-looking plant, at least when it's in bloom. The common name is pretty self-explanatory; the rigid stems have historically been used for broom brushes.

I was curious to find out more about Scotch Broom and stumbled on its profile on

There was too much for me to digest and condense for my entry (plus, I'm tired today), but I did learn the plant triggers some pretty intense physiological reactions. It's used as a cathartic and diuretic, and some of its other side effects made me think that Scotch Broom is the perfect plant for the LES. You see, apparently shepherds would watch sheep eat the broom and note that the sheep would first become excited, and then become "stupefied." Sorta the same thing that happens around here all weekend and most weeknights.

Hey, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Flowering Dogwood, Ditmas Park

Here's a shot of a Dogwood (Cornus florida) in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.

Most plant people know that the what looks like a petal on the dogwood is actually a bract. The real flowers are the small yellow part in the middle of the blossom. Here, you can see the way the stems actually turn upward, so the petals (or bracts) are parallel with the ground. This is an easy way to spot Dogwoods in the winter. I always describe this to my students by saying the branches look like a waiter's arm, carrying a tray. (It helps, honest.)

There's a whole religious story about the dogwood that I am not going to repeat (you can find it pretty easily anywhere else on the web), but I will go into the origin of the common name. Dogwood wood is very hard and was used by native Americans for skewer-like tools, then referred to as dags (from the French dague, meaning dagger). The name of the tree was first Dagwood. Then somewhere along the line, the name changed to Dogwood. And so began a lot of bad horticultural jokes about bark.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spring Perennials, Tompkins Square Park

Allium giganteum (Giant Onion):

The smaller white plant to the left is a Fritillaria, but I am not sure what species.

Cimicifuga racemosa
, or Black Snakeroot:

Though the above is a pretty diminutive plant, it has an interesting story. Another common name for this is Bugbane or Bugwort because the plant has natural insect-repellent tendencies. This is actually more true for species of Cimicifuga in other regions. Cimex is Latin for bug (bed bugs are Cimex lectularius) thus the origin for Cimi-. -fuga derives from the Latin fugare, which means repel. Racemosa refers to the flower structure. Flowers that bloom along a single stalk are called racemes.

Iris germanica, or Bearded Iris:

Iris or irid refers to a multiple of colors or a rainbow. Presumably the Latin appellation is due to the variety of Iris colors available.

The word bearded refers to the small hairy strip on the Iris's fall. The fall is the morphological term for the lower three petals. The actual petals are only the upper three. The beard on these falls is essentially a landing strip for pollinators, leading them to the inside of the flower.

Epimedium x rubrum, or Red Barrenwort:

Epi means on or above. Medium, is middle. I'm not aware of the meaning for this Latin name. However, in common names, -wort almost always is a clue to some medicinal or folk use of the plant. While one's first assumption is that the plant is then to be ingested by those who can't conceive is accurate, the historical reason people attributed to such barrenness was a low libido. This was used to cure impotence. The first viagra. It was also used for rheumatism and a potpourri of other ailments. None of those benefits have been scientifically proven.

Aquilegia x hybrida, or Columbine:

Didn't we all learn the word aquiline during SATs or PSATs (or was that just my school?)? It means curving like an Eagle's beak or Eagle-like. Aquilegia thus refers to the long arcing curve of the petals. The common name, Columbine, means dove-like. Aquilegia is a sentimental favorite of mine. It's available in blues, pinks, and a native species has smaller flowers in a deep, salmony orange. Even the hybrids re-seed pretty well and can spread well in the right conditions. Its distinctive foliage is referenced in the name for Meadow Rue, Thalictrum aquilegifolium, which has leaves much like the Columbine.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

More Butterfly Garden Pics

Some shots of the meadow that runs across the middle of the 1 acre exhibit. This is more or less the same view (different angle). You can see Baptisia australis (False Blue Indigo) is in bloom in the foreground, right in this shot:

Below, it as stopped blooming and Coreopsis grandiflora (Tickseed, midground) and Penstemon digitalis (Beard Tongue, background) has begun blooming. When the Penstemon begins blooming, you hardly notice the red foliage of its cultivar 'Husker Red,' though it adds a nice contrast during the rest of the season.

Neext is an autumn shot from the small outdoor pond (essentially midground left of the above photos), looking back towards the location where the top two photos were taken. Most of the meadow flowers have gone to seed as have the grasses. The large plumes behind the hawk sculpture are from Miscanthus x. giganteus. They weren't in the original plan (they'll become too big), but we needed last-minute filler.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bronx Zoo Butterfly Exhibit

Next week will be the 3rd birthday of the BZ's Butterfly Garden. I was lucky enough to work on this project during my three years working at the Zoo. There were dozens of people who contributed to it: architects, artists, sculptors, scientists, engineers, operational staff, educators, etc..

Construction completed in a shockingly fast (for a public project) 10 months. I was lucky to be working with a talented group of in-house designers, a great project manager, experienced directors and skilled contractors (my role was strictly landscape architectural). Not to mention, it was a treat to have a job site located a quarter-mile from the office. The last few weeks were harried, but if you'll pardon the cliche, it was a true labor of love.

So, to commemorate, I am posting a few photos this week of the project. If you haven't been, go check it out and tell me how the site is aging (I haven't been since last spring). I warn you now that the site is, no doubt, severely overplanted! (This can be the case when you need 'instant' plant growth for a public project.)

The site, before construction:

The same spot, after opening (this is the exhibit entrance):

Monday, May 5, 2008

Eastern Redbud

This particular tree isn't in New York - instead it's in South Jersey, near the beach. But no doubt, you've seen this plant around the city. The best spot in New York City - to me - to see redbuds, (Cercis canadensis) is on the path that leads up to the main loop of Central Park, from 5th Avenue and 85th Street. The redbuds there are planted on a slope so you are walking at eye-level with the canopy. There are also a lot planted around the NYU campus - in planters and in building courtyards.

There is a species of redbud in Europe commonly called the Judas tree. The folklore behind its name is that this tree was used by Judas Iscariot when he hanged himself, in shame for betraying Jesus. When he did this, the flowers on the tree (which once were white) turned pink with shame.

I can't find much about the derivation of the word Cercis. In Latin, Cerc- refers to a tail. Perhaps the tail shape of the small flowers? You can see the similarity of this flower with a sweet pea, which makes sense as they are both in the Fabaceae, or Pea, family.

People love redbuds for the bright pink flowers bloom all along the stems and branches of the trees, which is unique. But each spring, I was once again confused about when they bloomed. Sometimes they would bloom before the cherries, sometimes after.

Some background: All woody plants in a temperate region need a specific amount of daylight and minimum temperature to bloom. Some plants, like Forsythia, have no day-length requirement, and bloom almost immediately after a spike in temperature. Others, however, like redbud, need a certain number of days over a certain average temperature. Redbuds need 30 days of 50° plus weather before they bloom. This is probably one of the more rigorous thresholds for a spring-blooming plant and thus you see a lot of variation each spring as to when it blooms. It must be another reason people feel such sentiment towards the plant; when they bloom it means that spring is truly here and that the 40° days are behind us!