Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wildwood, NJ & Doo Wop Architecture

I've been on vacation this week, visiting my family on the Jersey Shore. Tuesday night in an uncharacteristic moment of vacation ambition, we ventured a few towns further south to visit Wildwood, New Jersey.

I'd heard of Wildwood my whole life - it's a popular resort and to my ears as a child, it sounded downright dangerous (I envisioned it to be like Boy's Town in the Disney version of Pinocchio). But after I had read about the great "Doo Wop Architecture" Wildwood had to offer in a New York Times article some time ago, my interest was piqued.

Its signage is great, particularly to me, since I wrote my thesis on roadside vernacular architecture and the way the automobile influenced the way buildings are designed.

From Business Week Online:

Doo Wop Motels, Wildwood, N.J. — Named after a popular 1950s singing style, Wildwood's Doo Wop motels are colorful beach resorts that line 40 blocks of New Jersey shoreline. Considered the largest collection of mid-20th century commercial resort architecture in the nation, the motels are famous for their neon-bright colors, funky signage, and exotic architecture of saw-toothed angles, crazy overhangs and space-age "Jetson" ramps. More than 100 of these iconic reminders of the recent past have already met the wrecking ball, and more are slated for demolition.

It's great stuff. It all reminds me of a set from a Quentin Tarantino movie. Desolate and dated, but with a sad sense of failed optimism.

The beach itself, as you can see below, is huge. It must be a quarter of a mile wide, and is clearly incomplete without the monster truck course that you can see in the bottom left of the photo.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Madison Square Park, Passionflower

Here, at perhaps the busiest entrance to Madison Square Park (at 23rd Street and Broadway), the statue of former New York Governor and United States Secretary of State (for Lincoln and Johnson) William Seward watches me try to snap a photo, despite the many passersby.

Madison Square Park is a favorite of mine. For starters, it's one of the only places in the city where I can find Daphne x burkwoodii and Aesculus parviflora. It's a city park that is just big enough to get 'lost' in, as opposed to smaller pocket parks like Bryant. Finally, there's a rotating display of sculpture and art, lawn spaces for picnicking and of course the Shake Shack.

The park also has a beautiful selection of seasonal planting -- this detail shot above shows tree philodendron (or Philodendron bipinnatifidum) and red canna lilies (Canna s.) are used in lieu of more traditional annuals.

A closer glance shows they also use Passiflora incarnata or purple passionflower. There are about 500 species of passionflower, though this vine species is perhaps best used as an annual vine 'round these parts.

Most amazing about this plant is the showy, unusual flower structure. If you want a more detailed description, check out this site. Basically what appears to be ten petals are actually five sepals alternating with five petals. The sepals are recognizable by the tiny 'awn' or thread at the tip (see the sepals above at 7 o'clock and five o'clock). The stringy threads are corona filaments. Above them, five stamen provide pollen and the three stigma above them are the female parts of the plant.

Passiflora is not named such because it elicits passionate thoughts, but because Spanish Christian missionaries derived symbolism in the flower structure for the passion of Christ. Who knew?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Black-Eyed Susan

A very short post on this Friday. Below we have Rudbeckia, better known by many as black-eyed Susan.

Indeed this is probably one of the most recognizable flowers by people otherwise uninterested in plants. Its flower structure, like an aster, is a composition of disc and ray florettes.

There is a wide variety of species of this plant - some are perennial in this area, others do best as annuals. The most popular are Rudbeckia fulgida (fulgida means 'shiny'), and R. hirta ( which refers to the scratchy, rough leaves) .

Rudbeck was a Swedish botanist and the genus is applied to him.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Please, please, please send me to Antarctica

Hi there!

If you are reading this site, chances are you are either a faithful reader (thanks for that) or you clicked on this link after you saw my entry for the Blog Your Way to Antarctica contest.

Well, thank you for checking the site out. This gives me a chance to share a bit more information about John and me, and you can also sample some of my writing, so you get a sense of my voice and what my blog posts from the expedition may 'sound' like. Most of the regular plant blogs on this site are short. So I hope to add some prose pieces that are decidedly un-plant-related in the future.

If you are a regular reader then let me explain: I'm competing for a trip to Antarctica. The blogger who gets the most votes will get to accompany a crew on a two week voyage and be the 'official blogger.' Antarctica has been on my God-I-Want-To-Visit-This-Place-Someday-I-Wish-I-Was-Rich List for quite some time. This could be my chance...! So please do me a solid and go to the link and add a vote for me. I'd be incredibly grateful!


Hibsicus syriacus

Shortly after I snapped a few photos of yesterday's plant, Cleome hassleriana, I was happy to see Hibiscus syriacus growing on the west side of Stuyvesant Park.

Hibiscus syriacus, also known as rose-of-sharon, is a keystone heirloom plant in Victorian-era gardens. Indeed it was one of the most popular shrubs planted during this time and well up until the second world war. It's loved for good reason, too; it is tough, drought tolerant, requires little fertilizer and blooms from mid-summer to early fall. All you must do is give this plant a dry, sunny location. In shade it fails to bloom as profusely and the plant can get a mildew if it's too wet.

The foliage is recognizable, though late to leaf out. Leaves are trident-shaped with curly edges. During the summer, when the plant is in bloom, large buds form profusely along the stem. (A warning - this plant can self-seed with great success, so in the wrong setting it can become a maintenance problem).

The overall habit is a vase-shaped shrub, reaching eight to ten feet. This specimen was a bit ragged-looking and I felt I'd be doing the species an injustice to include a photo of such a sub-par specimen. Though the actual flowers looked great.

The flower itself should look familiar - just last week I posted a relative of this plant - Malva moschata and last summer I posted about Hibiscus moscheutos. All are recognizable for their unusual staminal column.

Regarding the species name, syriacus would indicate this plant is from Syria and I made that assumption the last time I talked about Hibiscus. That was a mistake. When the plant received its species name it was assumed the plant was from Syria. It is actually native to Asia, more specifically, Korea. In fact, this plant is the national flower of South Korea.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cleome hassleriana

Here we have a few stragglers -- maybe from seeds set last summer -- of the annual called Cleome hassleriana or spider flower growing in Stuyvesant Park.

Cleomes are great annuals - tall and showy with flowers in pink, purple or white, with very long, very pronounced stamens (similar to spider legs, thus the common name).

As for the origin of the genus name, Cleome is neither Latin or Greek based. Instead it is derivative of an ancient European word for 'mustard-like plant.'

I wasn't sure if I had ever written about this lovely annual -- I had to search the blog before I realized that Cleomes featured in one of my very first blog entries, back on December 31, 2007. I didn't quite have the regular format worked out back then, and hadn't written much about the plant, besides its use in a seasonal palette.

I definitely didn't mention the palmately compound leaves -- so similar looking to another iconic leaf. I feel obligated to quote my herbaceous plants professor from college: "Do not smoke this plant. It will just make you sick."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Clethra alnifolia

Right near the oakleaf hydrangea from Wednesday's post, stands a Clethra alnifolia, or summersweet or sweet pepperbush, preparing to bloom.

Clethra is a native, summer-flowering, disease-resistant, fragrant shrub with lovely red fall color. So as a result it's clearly a wonderful plant to have on your palette. The one drawback it does have is that it's very late to leaf out. Your lilacs will be in bloom and bulbs will be popping out of the ground, but if you don't know any better, all you'll do is obsess over whether or not that damn clethra has died on you. It hasn't; it just likes to sleep in, so to speak. This is hardly a dealbreaker - the plant is too lovely not to use. Just forewarn skittish clients, or tuck it further back on a border so other things can mask it's bareness in the spring.

is literally the Greek name for alder (which I suppose is confusing for Greek people learning plants) and alnifolia is Latin for Alnus (alder) like foliage.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Good morning!

A couple shots of oakleaf hydrangea (or Hydrangea quercifolia) below.

As you can see from the foliage or guess from the species name, the leaves of this plant almost look like giant oak leaves. Quercus means 'oak' and folia means foliage or leaves. Thus, oak-leaf hydrangea. In autumn, these leaves will turn a deep bronzy-red, ultimately falling to reveal a fibrous, exfoliating bark.

The flowers are similar to a mophead hydrangea, though this plant only is available with a creamy white blossom that slowly turns pink. Like many plants, this flower's showiest part is the set of four bracts that radiate from the actual reproductive parts of the flower.

I took these en route to the park last night, but unfortunately the photo of the plant's habit was taken in a rush, and is disappointingly blurry. I'll include it below, just to give you an idea of the size and shape of this lovely plant. The specimens below are most likely a straight-species, though cultivars are available of dwarf plants which that better fit small locations.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Musk Mallow

Lately, I've noticed a larger variety of perennials growing in the Time Landscape on Houston Street. I'm not sure if they actually would have grown there naturally, per the mission of the Time Landscape, but they are certainly pretty. (Some background: The Time Landscape purportedly represents the flora that would be found growing here had Manhattan never been developed by man - sort of like a precursor to the Mannahatta project.)

In any case, it's lovely to see musk mallow, or Malva moschata, growing nearby:

If the species name rings a bell, it may be because it has the same root word for the species name of Hibiscus moscheutos. Like swamp rose, this plant has a musky scent. And indeed, the two plants are related -- both are members of the mallow or Malvaceae family.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Becoming a Mural

It's been a while since I've posted any murals lately and it's rare that I get to see one being made, so here are a few posts of the new addition to Houston Street, near the Bowery.

There's a great site documenting previous murals on this wall at 12oz

The Brazilian group painting is called Os Gemeos - which means 'the twins' in Portuguese. More of their work here.

Before the Keith Haring mural was on this wall, I remember the old one that said Soho Kitchen in cursive font. I can't find a pic of it online, but am pretty sure I have a copy of it printed somewhere. I'll scan it and post, as an addendum to this site.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Below, two shots of Tradescantia virginiana (or a hybrid) in Giverny, France. It's also in bloom right now in New York City.

is named for John Tradescant the Elder, a botanist from the early 17th Century; virginiana refers to the fact that this is a New World plant. As for the common name, I think I've mentioned before that when a common name ends with -wort, it is a clue that the plant has some homeopathic uses. Spiderwort, obviously enough, was used to cure spider bites (though I'm not sure it really works).

Tradescantia is in the Commeliniaceae family, and is related to the edible plant Commelina communis (or day-flower) . It's also related to a bedding plant called purple heart (Tradescantia pallida) and the popular indoor plant, Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trumpet Creeper

Here are some shots of trumpet creeper, or Campsis radicans, growing on the fence at the Liz Christy Garden on Houston Street.

Campsis means 'curved' in Greek and refers to the curved stamens in the flower. Radicans means 'rooting' in Latin, referring to this vine's ability to develop roots along its stems and thus spread up trees, on buildings and along fences.

We've discussed relatives of this vine before, namely Jacaranda and Catalpa -- both members of the Bignoniaceae family.

Though it's timely I finally show photos of this lovely summer vine today -- lately I've been doing a fair amount of research on tropical plants, specifically those that thrive in Hawaii, and have been surprised by how many Bignoniaceae family plants feature in this environment. And it's true -- as I realize now -- that the majority of genera in this family are found in the tropics. Catalpa and Campsis are rarities in the family as they are found in such a temperate/cold climate.

Friday, July 3, 2009

We have become Seattleites

Yesterday marked the beginning of the three-day holiday weekend for me. So I met some friends at 230 Fifth - a somewhat pricey bar that has fantastic views of the city. It was optimistic to meet there, considering how much rain we've had in New York lately.

Before my friends arrived, it began to drizzle. A few people determinedly opened umbrellas at their seats, hoping the clouds would pass. When my first friend arrived, the deluge began. (It was perhaps the fifth storm we had yesterday -- as it seemed to rain on the hour and be clear on the half hour, as regular as a bus schedule.)

I had to respect these folks:

Then again, if I were drinking a magnum of Moet & Chandon (which they were), I wouldn't let the rain stop me, either.

Earlier in the week, I gave my students an exam where the rain was, at times, falling sideways. We submitted to it like abused children. Yesterday: more of the same. As I've mentioned before, I am so very, very tired of this weather!

But, I suppose the one silver lining around the many, many clouds we've seen is that the storms move fast. And it wasn't long before we could return to our seats.

Have a good (dry, hot) Fourth!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sweetbay Magnolia

Not far from yesterday’s sawtooth oak in central park stands another diminutive beauty (and this one isn’t even invasive!), the sweetbay magnolia, or Magnolia virginiana.

Magnolia virginiana is more Elinor Dashwood than Marianne -- the two sisters from Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility. It’s the less outrageous counterpart to Magnolia soulangiana. The white flowers are smaller and they never cast a profusion of blossoms over the entire tree, like the floral frenzy of the saucer magnolia in early spring.

But, while you don’t have a riot of color and perfume when sweetbay magnolia is in season, you do have a slow burn. Sweetbay magnolia sets a steady pace that means it will bloom for months in the summer, as opposed to the ephemeral display of the saucer magnolia. This is demonstrated in the above photo and the following two. Above, you see a flower bud and below, a flower that is just about to open.

In tandem with buds forming and opening, you have fully-open blossoms like the one below. The flowers are creamy-white, similiar to Magnolia stellata, perhaps, but less strappy and flimsy. They are lovely flowers -- and fragrant, too -- but you need to get a bit closer to this plant to appreciate its beauty. Much like Elinor.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sawtooth Oak

This sawtooth oak, Quercus acutissima is growing in one of my favorite parts of the park -- the area behind the Met by the magnolias I've discussed in the past. There's almost always such a nice mix of activity here; people strolling from the Met or picnicking on the lawn near the Alexander Hamilton statue, runners making their way along the loop or dads walking their son or daughter home from a little league game on the nearby ballfields.

And I do love this oak, subtly standing sentry on all this activity. Which is why I was so dismayed to learn that has listed it as a problem plant. Apparently, it has begun to spread from ornamental plantings into forests along the east coast. That fact will keep me from planting this tree in the future, but it won't stop me from blogging a little bit more about it.

Sawtooth oak, as you can see from the photo above, is an apt name for a tree with such leaves. Small, hairlike spines along the leaf margin look much like the blade of a saw. Their glossy, strappy shape create a unique canopy, too.

Below, immature acorns have started to form. They will not fall for another 18 months or so.