Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Vintage" Subway Cars

I had missed out on seeing the authentically-vintage subway cars on the V train platform last winter, but I was still excited to catch a glimpse of these old red cars the other night. Evidently, they are used to carry flatbeds of trash.

Being short, I always preferred these cars because they had the longer metal straphangers:

My Grandmother...

I'm taking the rest of the week off and am spending Saturday celebrating my Grandmother's 98th birthday with the rest of our extended family.

This is her, circa 1926, Philadelphia:

She's a total rockstar, and I'm lucky to have her in my life.

See you Monday!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

American Elm bark

I've already discussed American Elms on this site before, but I wanted to post this pic of the bark, just for kicks. This tree had four major branches originating from one place on the trunk and as a result, it collected water quite easily. You can see how this resulted in the green stain to the left. I found this simply beautiful and wanted to share it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cotinus... Meh.

Here's a somewhat sad-looking Cotinus coggygria (Smoketree or Smokebush) growing behind some yews, near the reservoir on the east side of Central Park:

Personally, I can't say much for Cotinus. It's simply an odd plant. The flowers that you see below aren't actually flowers. Instead they are (essentially) hairy stems (called pedicels and peduncles) that support the very small and very few flowers which bloom without notice. For what it's worth, these panicles are very weird and interesting looking:

In my class, we have discussed where it could make a decent contribution to the landscape and I am stumped to think of a scenario where a better plant cannot be used. It's kinda sloppy looking unless pruned consistently, and it just looks otherworldly. I think it would be a distraction to an otherwise harmonious planting.

The name, Cotinus coggygria is derivative from the Greek words kotinus, meaning 'olive' and kokkugia, the Greek name for Smoketree.

Finally, we (okay, mostly I) decided that it would be a smart plant to use in an "otherworldly" setting. Like Disneyland, maybe.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

More Giverny, and summer perennials

I love these two plant combinations - the yellow on yellow and below that picture, the pink on pink.

First, we have Lilies and this other perennial (I don't know yet what it is. If you know, please comment. Eventually I will look it up):

Next, Phlox and Hibiscus with Hollyhocks (Alcea) in the background:

ADDED: the yellow perennial is yellow loosestrife, Lysimachia puntata.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Here's an underused tree; Davidia involucrata, or Dove Tree:

It's named Davidia for Father Armand David, or Père David, a French Franciscan missionary and naturalist. He is also honored by being the namesake for Père David Deers and Chinese White Pine (Pinus armandii).

It's white, drooping "flowers" are really bracts and are in bloom in late May or early June.

The common name of Dove Tree refers to the appearance of white birds sitting on the branches, though I think I prefer the alternate common name of Handkerchief Tree.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Since I started this blog, a handful of people have told me (via email) that they have tried to comment and could not do so without registering. I have changed this, so comment away if you like.

...I note this so you can comment in the future if you so chose. If you don't - if no one ever does - I will try not to feel too sheepish about this potentially embarrassing post.

Also: I see that on Friday I had 70 unique individuals hit this site. Which is about four times the average high. I can't quite figure out why so many people visited on Friday, but if you did, let me know, please?

Northern Catalpa

Northern Catalpa, or Catalpa speciosa, is in bloom right now. Here's a specimen on the South Jersey shore:

Catalpas are in the Bignoniaceae, or Trumpet Creeper family. Accordingly, it's related to Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) as well as Jacaranda. The similarities among these are most notable in the long, tubular, almost trumpet-shaped flowers.

Catalpas aren't used for ornamental purposes very often - the large leaves, flowers and persistent pea pods make for a high-litter plant. (You can even see the flowers scattered on the lawn above.)

The word Catalpa is a bastardization of the Native American word Catawba. The Catawba tribe applied their own name to this tree, marking the species as their tribal totem.

Friday, June 13, 2008


For no good reason, here's a few shots I took when I went to Giverny two years ago.

Claude Monet lived and painted in the building above with his children and his soon-to-be second wife. Of course, everyone is aware of Monet's talent as a painter, but perhaps what is less known is his skill as a paysagiste, or landscape designer.

Of course, I can't post anything about Monet without this:

And this:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Japanese Tree Lilac

Japanese Tree Lilac, or Syringa reticulata, is in bloom:

The above is a pretty typical scene for Sarah Roosevelt Park in the early morning hours. Almost all year long, the neighborhood ladies spend the morning on the basketball courts, doing Tai Chi.

The blossom on Syringa reticulata:

It was quite overcast the morning I took this, so it was difficult to get a focused shot, without the flash. As you can see, the actual flowers are much smaller and less tubular than a common lilac. They also lack the fragrance of Syringa vulgaris or S. patula, etc.. Still, their summer blossoms and general toughness mean that municipalities are using them more and more as street trees. Reticulata refers to the reticulate (ridged) undersides of the leaves.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Crown Vetch

Securigera varia, or Crown Vetch, is probably one of my favorite weeds.

I used to relish seeing it each while driving back and forth from Blacksburg, Virginia (where I studied horticulture at Virginia Tech) and my parents' place near DC. Though it can be invasive, the sprawling legume does a good job of controlling erosion on the steep hillsides that go hand-in-hand with highway construction. Along I-81, these roadbanks were coated in the purple flowers from June through August, always indicating that summer - real summer, complete with hot, hot days - had arrived.

I wanted to write about why this plant had been given the moniker Crown Vetch, but unfortunately the information is sparse (at least online info). From what I can dig up, the previous genus for Securigera was Coronilla, meaning Corona or Crown. Vetch is a common name for another Fabaceous genus, Vicia. Vicia faba, incidentally, is the Fava Bean. So I can break down the actual Latin for the common name, but how it was applied to Securigera, I can't really say.

A few other photos of wildflowers (or weeds, depending on your perspective) are below.

Red Clover, or Trifolium pratense:

Oxeye Daisy, or Leucanthemum vulgare:

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Well, as you can see from this shot, the fruit on Amelanchier canadensis have developed and are only weeks away from becoming ripe.

I suspected this was Amelanchier canadensis and not A. arborea, since generally, A. arborea will be a treeform and A. canadensis will be a large shrub. Dirr prefers the latter for its spectacular fall color and personally I think this plant is best used as a small multistemmed tree/shrub (above) as opposed to a single stem 'lollipop tree.'

How fortunate for me that even in the middle of Soho (on Crosby Street between Spring & Prince), I can find A. canadensis and, a few feet further north, stumble on A. arborea:

These photos demonstrate the differences in habit, but what best indicates that they are in fact two completely different species are the fruits. A. canadensis blooms one week after A. arborea. Compare the different states of the fruits:

A. canadensis

A. arborea

You can see that A. arborea is much more ripe, proving they are two different species.

At first glance, to me, the fruit resembles a blueberry and for some time I incorrectly assumed it was an Ericaceous plant. However,
if you look closer, they clearly resemble a rosehip and are Rosaceous. The fruits are flavorful -- they taste like tart blueberries, though they do have small pits or seeds in them.

The name Serviceberry has a New England root. Up north, the fruit would ripen around the same time the ground would thaw. Once the ground thawed, burial services could be held for those who had died the previous winter. Thus, Serviceberry.

Another common name for this plant is Shadblow or Shadbush. Its origin refers to the fact that the plant is in bloom when the Shad begins its annual sojourn upstream to mate.

I think I've written enough about this plant for one blog post, but I have to add a brief editorial. I think this is a spectacular tree, particularly when in a multistemmed form. It has a fine, elegant habit and its rose-tinted, striped bark looks beautiful in the winter. The lovely flowers arrive in mid-spring and the fruit adds a late-spring/early summer interest. Finally, the fall color is yellow-gold and sometimes, if you're lucky, it is an orange so bright you feel like the plant must be on fire or is at least plugged into some electrical outlet. It's a wonderful tree.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Palm Bark

I was thinking about titling the entry, Speaking of bark... But it was too corny & Andy Rooneyesque. I couldn't do it.

Nevertheless, here are some shots of the various barks on tropical palms. On most temperate trees , the trunks become wider & taller. Palms usually just get taller. You can see how that affects the bark. Palms have more horizontal lines, as if the trunk is being stacked taller.