Sunday, October 30, 2011

Indian Wells

No trip home is complete without a drive down to Indian Wells to see the ocean. Following the major wind and storm that battered the northeast the water was calm and an off-shore breeze was blowing off the top of the rolling surf making it look so gorgeous. Any day that includes a glimpse of the ocean I consider a good day.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

one path, four leaves

I've been feeling bad that I haven't been writing and posting more so this morning I figured I would use my phone to snap a few quick pics while on my morning walk setting up my work day. Here's a tiny installment of some of the fall foliage out there these days...
Sassafras albidum (common sassafras)
Called "the mitten tree" by my mother-in-law the leaves of this tree are variable, meaning they can take a few different shapes. Often you will see them like the one above with leaves that have one or two sinuses (the "dimples" or depressions in the leaf) and otherwise those large, rounded lobes. Sassafras love a wet location so you will find groves of them near waterbodies where they can still get some sun. They can be a great understory tree and advantageous colonizer when revitalizing woodland areas.

Quercus alba (white oak)
When beginning to learn species within the massive genus of oak trees, botanically known as Quercus, one of the first steps is learning the difference between the pointed, bristle-tipped oaks and the softer lobed oaks. The one above, with those pronounced lobes that are softer and smoother looking indicate that it is in the white oak group. In this case, I imagine this is a white oak, as they often have this fabulous deep red to maroon fall color. The other oaks, the ones with the more pointed bristle-tips are red oaks and their various relatives, and they too can have remarkable fall color. Most oaks take on a much more earthy bronze fall color but some like this white oak and the scarlet oak, a bristle-tipped oak named Quercus coccinea, show off these rich pigments of deeper reds and purples.

Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree)
Liriodendron, like all the others in this post, is a North American native and wonderful tree to find in the woods. Commonly called a tulip tree, Liriodendron produce a flower in spring that looks like a green, orange and yellow tulip blooming on the large angular branches that grow overhead. The tree itself can often be easily identified in the landscape because they can grow straight as an arrow and reach up to 100' comfortably. In the fall the color of the foliage is a rich, vibrant yellow. I tend to think that the leaf too seems to resemble a tulip's silhouette but I am not sure if that has any link to the common name.

Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum)
If you didn't know you might think this tree was some kind of maple with that five-pointed leaf and insane red fall color. But alas, it is it's own species, commonly known as a sweetgum. As far as stunning native trees I have always liked sweetgums, and when fall comes around you realize why they always make the various "top ten" fall foliage lists. The tree itself is not necessarily as tough as some of the oaks and maples out there but situated in the right spot they thrive and add great character to our woodland settings.

Friday, October 28, 2011

tree ID: Acer saccharum (sugar maple)

Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are always such a beauty in the fall landscape. This tree is definitely one of the reasons we live and love the northeast this time of year.
I first learned to love this tree in high school up in Vermont at the Mountain School where we would manage a sugar maple forest and make our own maple syrup right there in the woods. Now years later and in a city of millions I am still so elated by this species when I see it. Sugar maples get to 60-75 feet tall and at maturity have a great variable bark that is filled with plates and ridges of dark bark. And as you can see it is almost unparalleled in terms of it's fall color. One tree will be a spectacular wash of green to yellow to orange to red, all vibrant and on the same tree!
hardy in USDA Zones 4-8
buds are imbricate, cone-shaped and sharply pointed, gray-brown, glabrous

Monday, October 24, 2011

return of the Korean chrysanthemums

Yes, it's that time of year again. The 2000 or so Korean chrysanthemums up at the Conservatory Garden in the north end of Central Park are busting out in their annual late October show destined to make you smile and stare in awe at the range of colors and forms before you.
The seed of these classic mums was originally gifted to the garden by Mrs. Lasker in honor of her mother back in 1947 if I remember correctly. Every year the 2000 plants are grown locally and planted in the garden in May, then grown all season, pruned in order to be made bushier and more full, and explode with this amazing mix every fall.
Korean chrysanthemums are actually sun loving perennials but in order to make room for the 20,000 tulip bulbs planted each November these plants have to be treated like annuals and pulled every year. ...but don't worry, the plants are not just thrown away, they are transplanted and reused in other areas where they can continue to grow and flourish or they are recycled and become compost to feed next years crop.
(...and alas these would be the only shots I would get this year before the unbelievable storm that hit the last weekend in October causing such devastation to the park, including the premature razing of these displays along with the thousands of trees and shrubs horribly affected. but for pics of the mums from years past just click on the tags below. -aef 11.2.11)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Plant ID: Lavatera?

The other day a coworker and I were walking by a tree pit near where we work and saw a plant that caught our eye. Knowing that he had not planted it, my friend was curious to know what it was and how it got there. The plant stood a few feet tall and maybe two feet wide with a great palmate leaf and smallish pink flowers.
The above picture is a bit blurry (I apologize) but you can see that the flower looks a little bit like a Hibiscus. When you study plant morphology and systematics you learn detailed characteristics specific to different plant families. Seeing this flower I could tell right away it was a member of the Mallow family, Malvaceae. The next time you take a careful look at the ornate center of a Hibiscus flower you will see that the stamen, the male reproductive part of a flower with their anthers and filaments of pollen, wraps completely around the pistil, the female reproductive part of a flower with it's protruding stigma designed to receive pollen. Therefore when I saw this cup-shaped flower an it's unique center ("prominent staminal columns" if you wanna get geeky) I knew it had to be some kind of mallow. But from there we were stuck. I took a few pics with my camera phone and hoped I might be able to figure it out.
So thanks to my reference library and a little down time I was able to learn that there is a great genus of plants in the Malvaceae family called Lavatera. Known mostly as tree mallows the genus includes over 20-25 different species of flowering plants found on every continent except Antarctica. Some are more woody and can get to be large shrubs while others stay smaller and more herbaceous, maintaining softer green branches and stems. One of the latter of the two kinds is Lavatera trimestris, which is what I think this guy might be. Well, that or a close relative or bred cultivar in any event. An easy to grow annual native to the Mediterranean most books describe it as growing three to four feet tall and up to three feet wide, a definite match to this mysterious garden volunteer. Commonly called annual mallow there are a number of different cultivars of L. trimestris these days, all of which have slight variations of these delicate pink flowers. Certainly I could be wrong, but this seems like a pretty logical match and so far is my best guess. Certainly if anyone out there has an opinion one way or another I would love you to comment and share your thoughts.

So then the question is, how did it come to be in this space if my friend didn't plant them there this spring? An interesting thing about a bunch of the European and Asian plants within the Malvaceae is that even though they are hardy to warmer zones and climates I have found that their seed can still sometimes over-winter and survive in the right situation. I first noticed it with a great plant called Abelmoschus manihot, commonly called aibika. Grown in annual displays in a garden where I used to work the curator and I would be amazed over numerous years to see that some of the Abelmoschus seeds that formed in fall and fell across the path into the perennial beds germinated and became their own glorious 5-6 foot plants the following spring and summer. Abelmoschus is only considered hardy in USDA zones 10-12 so here in New York (a Zone 6b or 7a) the plant itself clearly cannot make it through our frozen winters but the seed we assessed must have a tough enough seed coat that in a protected spot they can still germinate when the warmer seasons return. Of course it is perfectly possible that someone else had some of these seeds and broadcast them in this tree pit without us knowing, but now I wonder if perhaps the plant was grown there last year or the year before and this years crop was thanks to some magnificently durable little seeds that were able to tough it out amongst the leaf litter. Or maybe it was grown in a nearby spot and like the Abelmoschus seeds they happen to make their way to this sunny protected spot where the conditions where right for germination this spring. In any event it will be great to continue to monitor this spot and see if the Lavatera comes back again next year, or even migrates to another part of the landscape.

Plants and their determination to grow and thrive even in challenging climates, fascinating and inspiring on so many levels.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

no photoshop required

Out the living room window I looked west towards Manhattan to see this fabulous red spot amidst the gray clouds. Grabbed a quick snap before it faded. No photoshop required.

another killer couch-side cloud show

Ha, "couch-side cloud show", try saying that five times fast!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Smiths kind of evening

A gray, rainy day in the city today. Soaked to the bone all day at work out in the elements I couldn't be happier to be home and dry and sitting. ...a Smiths kind of evening for sure...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Notes from Around Town: Central Park's North Woods

This is one of the waterfalls in the ravine, a section of the North Woods of Central Park. Up in the central, north end of the Park is a section of woodlands that I find many people don't know about. And they definitely don't know that it is this beautiful, but they should, as should you. This spectacular bit of woods is right in Manhattan, smack dab in the middle of lower Harlem, and it's sensational. When Olmstead and Vaux designed the Greensward Plan which would ultimately become the blueprint for Central Park they wanted the North Woods to resemble a place both men loved, the Adirondacks. The result would be this 90-acre woodland of rolling topography and waterways, flowing choreography and stunning visuals of landmarks fused within nature. From bunkers dating to the War of 1812 to stands of towering tulip trees, from perfectly constructed stone archways to a wildflower meadow the North Woods is such a pleasant surprise for plant, wildlife, and landscape lovers in the city. One of these days I will take my good camera and take more shots for later, more lengthy posts. But yeah, you can get lost in the woods and love it, right in the heart of Manhattan Island.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"even in California!"

Today at lunch a friend out on the west coast posted this pic she took to my facebook page. "Even in California!" she exclaimed and made me laugh. Thanks Jody, you're awesome!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

my kind of bloody mary

For the weekend we trekked north of the city a couple hours to celebrate the recent wedding of two dear friends of ours. Erika and Keith, now the Mighty Moores(!), treated us all to an intimate backyard ceremony and unparalleled pig roast thanks to Arkansas Tom's Razorback BBQ. It was wonderful to cheer the newly-weds who have been together since junior high school and catch up with friends and family alike. Thanks to our cousins nearby in Fishkill we were able to take a couple days outside of the city and really enjoy the fresh air and easier pace of the Hudson Valley. Sunday for lunch we decided to go down to the riverfront in Newburgh, NY. There we discovered the River Grill, and thanks to our fun server (gracias Jesus!) we enjoyed one of the most lavish bloody mary's I've ever seen. Check out this Belvedere vodka bloody mary complete with Old Bay rimmed glass, celery stalk and olives, not to mention a little shrimp cocktail to boot! Admittedly a few bucks more than your typical brunchtime beverage but hey, it was a weekend to celebrate, and I have to say, it was deee-lish!