Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Here's a shot of Erythronium grandiflora, or glacier lily, growing in Jefferson Market. This is a new plant for me. I noticed it growing in the southeast corner of the park

Erythronium is a Liliacaea family bulb, native to North America, particularly in the low lands of the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas. This is also why it has the other common name of yellow avalanche lily.

Erythronium grandiflorum shares the genus name with about twenty other species, with common names such as trout lily, E. americanum (due to the fishlike, speckled leaves) and dogtooth violet, E. dens-canis (due to the tooth-shape of the bulb).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Albert's Garden

I have been walking past this tiny community garden on 2nd street quite a bit lately and finally stopped to take a photo yesterday morning.

I was struck by the ragged beauty of this redbud.

The rest of the modest garden is lovely, with a huge mass of bleeding heart in the very background. Forget the tulips and cherry trees, a booming redbud and Dicentra spectabilis is incontrovertible evidence that spring is, finally, upon us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pinxterbloom Azalea

The photos of this lovely plant were recently sent to me by a reader. This plant's common and scientific name are both mouthfuls: Pinxterbloom Azalea, or Rhododendron periclymenoides.

With such great, multisyllabic words like that, I think we can keep this post simply to etymology.

Rhododendron, in Greek, literally means rose-tree (rhodo: rose; dendron: tree). Periclymenoides means 'looks like periclymen.' -Oides is always a great clue in nomenclature; it means 'looks like.' But this is only helpful if one knows what periclymen means. That's a species name for a honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymen. This rhodi looks like that honeysuckle. Both have flowers that change in color as they age, and that's the reason they are given this species name. Periklymenon was a Greek argonaut who was also a shapeshifter.

Okay, so that settles the scientific name. But why a clumsy word like pinxterbloom? Pinxter is Dutch for Pentecost and this plant has the common name as it blooms during the liturgical holiday. The word azalea is from the Greek azaleos, which refers to the ability of this plant to withstand dry climates.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shagbark Hickory

I spent Easter Sunday (which seems to have been the only sunny day we've had in ages) at Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.

New Canaan soil, and the surrounding areas, seems to have the magic recipe for attracting shagbark hickories (Carya ovata). I never seem them in Dutchess County, or even further west in Connecticut, but they seem to flourish in this area (and many other areas, I am sure).

I pointed one out to my traveling companion on the train heading to New Canaan. I said, 'Isn't that just fantastic bark?' He immediately volleyed back, with utmost seriousness, 'It is. It really is.' I was excited to see that he got what I was talking about, then I look over at him and realized he was being sarcastic. Ah well.

Even if you didn't like the aesthetic qualities of this bark, you probably would enjoy its culinary gifts. Hickory bark is often used for grilling and smoking meats and can also be used to make a sweet syrup, similar to maple syrup. The nuts, though borne in small qualities, are also tasty.

Carya is the Greek name for walnut (and indeed Carya is in the Juglandaceae, or walnut, family). Carya was the daughter of the king of Laconia and was turned into a walnut street (it's a long story).

Oh, in case you're interested, here's a shot of the house itself.

It is pretty beautiful and you are wowed by the site and the technical undertaking. The size of the glass panels along inspire a bit of awe, not to mention the massive steel I-beams that frame the building.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chaenomeles speciosa

Chaenomeles speciosa, or flowering quince, is in bloom these days. I passed the one below at the Liz Christy Garden, though I wish I could have run up to Conservatory Gardens to get a snapshot of the large quince hedge on the north side of the gardens. You should definitely head up there this weekend. Not only is the quince in bloom, but you can also see the beds of tulips and no doubt, a mix of late-season daffodils.

This plant does not bear the tasty fruit that makes quince jellies, that plant is Cydonia. Chaenomeles have small, bitter, apple-like fruit. However, the two genera are related, found under the umbrella of the Rosaceae family, along with - to name a few- apples, plums, pears, cherries and peaches.

Chaenomeles is one of those great heirloom-y plants, common in Victorian-era gardens. Most species are a hybrid of C. speciosa, or C. x superba (or both). There is not a wealth of modern cultivars for this plant and as a result, you may find this to be a bit of a high maintenance plant. For instance, the hedges of quince in the Conservatory Gardens are perpetually covered with aphids.

The name Chaenomeles is derivative of the Greek word for chainen, which means to split, and meles, the Greek work for apple (like Malus - the genus name for apple).

Monday, April 6, 2009

More reasons to eschew Bradford pear

I know I may have discussed this more than enough but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Bradford pears are a scourge of our modern landscapes.

I get it - they are cheap and grow quickly. But the cheapness accounts for the excessive ubiquitousness of this plant, and, at least in this case, the fast growing quality means that the wood lacks structural strength and is thus susceptible to major limb loss. After that, it is not long before the whole tree begins to rot out and die off. In the meantime, I think we can all agree that trees like this,

are an eyesore. The weak wood also accounts for the tree's poor ability to withstand snow and wind loading, which can likely result in the tree ultimately looking like the specimen above.

This plant is so common that people with allergies suffer most when the tree is in bloom. And although Bradford pear is primarily used as an ornamental plant, it is increasingly seen as an invasive species, growing wild on roadsides and in wooded areas near the suburbs.

Don't use Bradford pears. For reals.

An endnote: I knew that I had used the term "dreaded Bradford pear" in a post at one point or another. But I couldn't remember which post it was, so I googled the three words, in quotes, to track down the blog entry. I was pleasantly surprised to know that I am hardly unique in using the word 'dreaded' in associate with 'Bradford pear.' In fact, it appears that 114 websites utilize the term "dreaded Bradford pear" -- it's good to know I am not alone in my opinions!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Magnolia stellata

This is a fairly perfect specimen of star magnolia, Magnolia stellata, growing in the East Village.

Star magnolia blooms, in general, about 2 weeks or so earlier than saucer magnolia. They are both fabulous spring plants.

Star magnolia, is in that weird category of small tree/large shrub. Too small for a tree, too big for a shrub. I try to sidestep these definitions as often as possible because there is no clear cut answer, though I lean to categorize this as a tree.

Magnolia is one of the oldest genera of flowering plants, indeed Magnoliaphyta is the phylum that includes most angiosperms.

Stellata, as one can guess, means star-like and refers to the somewhat starry, strappy tepals of this flower. Tepals, like bracts, are another evolved versions of plant strucutures that, while not connected to the sexual properties of a flower, are key in attracting the right pollinators and ensuring the plant survives and reproduces.