Friday, April 30, 2010

From Oahu to Washington

Well, I got back from Hawaii on Wednesday and am still kinda struggling with jetlag (and the pile of emails that I've yet to address). A couple people have written me messages regarding this blog and if you are reading this, thank you! I will get back to you soon. I promise.

Areca palms (Dypsis lutescens) at a
plant nursery in Wahiawa

Between site work and my free time in Oahu, I took about 1200 photos! I will do you, dear reader, the favor of not sharing them all. (And indeed, I can't post work photos, which is a shame since the work was quite fun.) I'll sort through some of the best pics and pepper in posts from Hawaii in the months to come.

View northeast from Diamond Head summit

It's also as good a time as any to announce that I'll soon be moving away from New York. This summer I will relocate to Washington DC. My 11 years in Manhattan have been wonderful, but it's time for a change. I hope to freelance and slowly build a practice of my own in the region where I was first introduced to the worlds of horticulture and landscape design. The fact that my parents, brother and sister live there certainly sweetens the deal.

Haleiwa Town on the North Shore

I've always struggled with classifying myself as a "New Yorker" -- but this trip to Hawaii brought some of my New York characteristics into comic relief. While hiking at Diamond Head, I could precisely time when to pass other hikers with the agility of one who regularly walks on crowded Soho sidewalks, darting tourists along the way. A couple from Vancouver actually started following me, impressed with my steady (but polite - really!) progress to the summit.

Can you spot the sea turtle?

I wore my Yankees ballcap everywhere, trying to avoid getting too tan. On the north shore, a couple heard me approach the hotel elevator and held the door for me. When I entered the car, sure enough, the woman was wearing a Red Sox hat. We mock-gruffly nodded to each other, amused to find rival fans so far from the east coast.

Mineral falls, Waimea Valley, North Shore
(yes, that's me in the ballcap).

As a New Yorker, I was startled to find such scant Hispanic influence in Hawaii. It's obvious enough that there wouldn't be a large Hispanic culture, but I still found myself surprised to find the second language in Honolulu is Japanese. Not that my Spanish is particularly great -- these days it mostly consists of sentences used in MTA ads ("si ve algo, di algo").

Mango farms, flanked by Norfolk Island Pine
(Araucaria heterophylla).

And bagels. God, let's talk about bagels. I may be a reluctant New Yorker, but my pride in our wonderful bagels is only equal to my dismay when I rediscover this truth, which happens to be every time I leave the five boroughs. I met a woman in Waikiki who asked (upon noting my hat) if I was a New Yorker. She was from Centereach, Long Island. The next thing she said (quite woefully, I might add): "I miss bagels."

Dole Pineapple Plantation (an aside: when in Hawaii,
it's always worth it to spring for the convertible)

I love New York, in the deep, complicated, and at times barbed, way one loves a former lover. I want what's best for New York. I'm a little bit afraid of what life will be like without New York. But I know that it's time to leave New York, before I become embittered by New York. I'll visit often (and will continue to teach plants at Columbia). But it's time to be on less intimate terms with New York.

Ironwoods (Casuarina equisitifolia),
Sunset Beach, North Shore

Now then, what to do with this blog? For the next month or two, I'll continue to blog at this site. Then I'll pick up right where I will leave off: DC, Plants & Other Stuff. It's a ridiculous title, but when I started this blog, I named it New York, Plants & Other Stuff because I really wasn't sure what the blog would be about. Over the years, it's crystallized into a site that celebrates the diminutive features of the plants all around us. I hope to continue a blog with the same tone in DC. I'll keep this site active and will most likely link to former posts regularly. I hope you join me as I move a few states south.

Okay, ONE pic of the site work. Shh, don't tell.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Aloha! ...And other stuff

So, I am blogging today from beautiful, warm Honolulu, Hawaii.

I am here on a job until the end of next week. So my blog posts may be a bit spare. I had every good intention of blogging while here, but the first work day was pretty busy and I suspect that won't change. So, forgive me for a thin site this week.

But, before I go completely on hiatus, a few shots from Central Park, as of last week.

First up, Rhodotypos scandens, or jetbead.

Jetbead is one of those plants you never notice until it's blooming. It's a small, nondescript shrub with attractive jade-green foliage. But when it blooms, it's quite lovely. It used to be called white kerria, as the foliage resembles Kerria japonica but most people know it as jetbead now, named such for its black persistent berries. Rhodotypos is native to Japan and China and is invasive.

Another beauty in bloom right now is Halesia tetraptera or Carolina silverbell.

It's easy enough to discern why it's called silverbell; the lovely white blossoms hang like little bells. The seed pods are why it's given the species name tetraptera which literally means four-winged since the seed pods look like little starfruit.

This one below is a gorgeous mature specimen just northeast of the Central Park Bandshell.

That's it for now. I hope to tweet some photos from Hawaii this week so please follow me at! If you don't well, then I will certainly have a wealth of blogworthy photos for when I'm back.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Like last week's post on daffodils, today's post is sorely overdue. It's about one of my favorite spring-blooming ornamental trees: the crabapple.

I simply love crabapples. There's something so wild and unsophisticatedly beautiful about them. And of course, many of them are like the two specimens below: utterly laden with flowers.

I'd say this pink is just about the perfect hue (that is, until I consider the redbud, also blooming now). As you can see, the flowers open up a darker pink then slowly turn lighter. The single flowers of five petals are not as fussy or hybridized as the heavy double flowers of a cherry, and the stamens on a crabapple are quite showy too.

It probably seems a little silly to call a tree "unsophisticatedly beautiful" (and spell check disapproves) but if you look at the branching habit below, perhaps you'd agree. There's a stubby, wild character to the tree's overall shape that makes them appear a little less cookie-cutter than a flowering cherry. Though I'm sure we can find plenty of lollipop-shaped crabapple cultivars.

I'm not trying to make this blog post a "crabapple vs. cherry" discussion, but I often feel Malus is overlooked this time of year for the benefit of their showier relative (indeed both are in the Rosaceae family). And... since we're enumerating the merits of this plant, I'd have to add crabs have lovely fall color and showy fruit (though, cherries have good fall color too).

Crabapples or Cherries? It's like Betty or Veronica, the Beatles or the Stones. What do you like most?

A bit on etymology: Malus is derivative for the Greek word for apple or the more general Greek word for fruit. The Latin word for apple is also Malus and, interestingly enough, the word for evil ('malum') derives from the word for apple. This evidently refers to the story of Adam and Eve and equating apples with evil. It's also worth noting that the precursor to this tale of an infamous apple involves the Greek Goddess of Discord, Eris. Eris was miffed because she wasn't invited to a wedding, so she tossed an apple engraved with "for the most beautiful" to the wedding guests in a strange yet successful attempt to rile up the competitive spirits of Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

From the NYBG Orchid Show

If you didn't make it to the NYBG Orchid Show last week, then my apologies. It was a really lovely exhibit with what seemed to be tens of thousands of orchids.

I could spend weeks sharing photos and information about the difference species of orchids on display, but it's spring so I'd rather get on to all that is in bloom. A lot of what's in bloom have been covered before by this blog, such as: Cornus florida, Cherries, Virginia Bluebells, Muscari, Fothergilla and Magnolia soulangiana. But there's a lot that have yet to debut on this site, and I need to get to work.

In the meantime, here's some gorgeous orchids to get you inspired about the garden indoors.


Cattleya (I think!)





Finally, I must have had some case of orchid fatigue, because I didn't note what these species were. I loved them ,though - so different from a florist's orchid. If you know the species please write in!

I loved this - the long, thin sepals and mottling color. I just wish I wrote the name down! Alas, next year....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Corylopsis glabrescens

Here's another new plant (for me): Corylopsis glabrescens or fragrant winterhazel. I noticed this plant's not too far from the Callicarpa japonica I posted about last December.

This is the second Corylopsis species I have posted on this site; last March I put some pretty sub-par photos of Corylopsis pauciflora that was growing in the East Village. Like that species, one of the characteristics of Corylopsis that I like so much is the creamy whitish-green blossoms. Corylopsis is in the Witch Hazel or Hamamelidaceae family, though C. glabrescens is, without a doubt, the most fragrant.

This plant is native to Asia though has not be documented as invasive. It's quite tough and I'm very partial to the fuller flowers of this species (unlike the strappy flowers of witch hazel or the bell-shaped flowers of C. pauciflora).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Stachyurus praecox

I absolutely love it when you are walking around some hidden corner of a botanical garden and discover a new plant - it's like finding a twenty dollar bill in recently-unpacked summer clothes. I saw this from afar and was intrigued. The hanging racemes almost looked like little beaded curtains.

Turns out this plant is Stachyurus praecox or spike-tail. It's a Japanese native with beautiful, creamy white flowers in racemes that are easily 6" long. Evidently the spring foliage is a bright chartreuse, however the fall color is unremarkable.

Stachy- means 'spike' and oura means 'tail'. Thus the genus name and common name both refer to the flowers. Praecox derives from the Latin word praecoquere which means 'early,' 'preripened' or 'unseasonable.' We can even break that word down further: prae means 'before' and coquere means 'to cook' or 'boil'.

These blossoms should last a bit longer, so if you check out the Orchid Show before it closes this Sunday, walk around to the south side of the conservatory and visit this hidden treasure.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

That Big Magnolia, Scaled....Sort of

As soon as I uploaded the photos I took of yesterday's giant star magnolia, I regretted that I hadn't taken a photo of it with a person or some other way to scale it.

Sure enough, within moments of publishing yesterday's post, I got an email asking how big it really was.

With some irreverence, I've attached a picture of the tree with Shaquille O'Neal photoshopped next to it. The Shaq's about 7' 1". I think he's pasted into this photo at about the right size, making this specimen about 45-60' high. No promises on that estimate though!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Biggest Star Magnolia I've Ever Seen

So, I went to the NYBG's Orchid Show on Saturday, along with what seemed like most of the city. The conservatory was packed to the gills, but the show was lovely and one can't help but be awed by the quantity and variety of orchid species on display.

I'll certainly be posting about those plants in the weeks to come, but this week I'll focus instead on what's happening outdoors.

First up, this specimen, which is undoubtedly the biggest star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) I've ever laid eyes on. Amazing, isn't it? I've posted about Magnolia stellata before and have more than a few posts on the genus Magnolia as well. I don't have much to add today, save that I saw this at the NYBG grounds on the left of the path that leads directly to the conservatory from the cafe building. I was dumbstruck by the size and a little sheepish. I must have walked past this tree dozens of times and never paid much attention to it. Only when I saw it in bloom did I register what it was and how remarkable its size is. Shame on me.

It also made me a liar as far as my current students are concerned. Just last week we were speculating on the lifespan of this species. I guessed that they rarely last more than fifty odd years. However, this seemed to be grouped with some trees that were listed as 75-100 years old, so I would guess this specimen could easily be a septuagenarian!