Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lookalike Flowers of Meadow Rue and Basswood

One of my favorite NJ native wildflowers is in full bloom now. Meadow Rue is a very large plant (up to ten feet) with a very small flower. To the left is a closeup, in the early stages, when only a few of the plant's thousands of flowers have opened. They are like tiny starbursts,

which en masse create a cloud of white in a garden that is otherwise caught in the lull between spring and summer flowerings. The photo shows a ten foot high Meadow Rue draping itself over an Ironweed (foreground), which is tall in its own right.

In this photo, the Meadow Rue flowers look like sparklers, or a mob of fireflies, surrounding the Ironweed.

I add this photo to show the remarkable similarity between the Meadow Rue flowers and those of American Basswood (Tilia americana), which is also blooming now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Politicians' Tendency to Pick On Plants

Though no one else in my home is enthusiastic about the newspapers that get delivered to our door, I continue to find little gems in them that I would otherwise never encounter.

In a 6/19 Trenton Times article on Chris Christie's opinion of New Jersey's state budget, Mr. Christie reportedly singled out for ridicule expenditures for research on plants in space. When politicians or pundits are searching for some small budget item that exemplifies governmental waste, they often choose money being spent on plants or protecting biodiversity. Though the reason for this is clear--plants and animals don't vote--it gives evidence of a widespread ignorance about plants and biodiversity, and their role in sustaining our civilization.

Past examples include Bill Clinton, who in his 1995 State of the Union address criticized spending $1 million to research "stress in plants." The long-running columnist David Broder once criticized spending money to guard Hawaii from the accidental introduction of the brown snake--a species that has wiped out bird populations on other Pacific islands.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spotting a Spotted Beetle

One day at the FOPOS office in Mountain Lakes House, I looked out the window to see a couple hikers scrutinizing something on the driveway. A little later, I was passing by them in my truck and stopped to ask them what they had seen. "A big black bug with white spots," they reported.

Alarms went off in my mind, as this accurately describes the Asian Longhorned Beetle (see first photo, taken from the internet), an exotic insect with the potential to wipe out our forests and street trees. The A.L.B., as it is commonly called, was accidentally introduced into the U.S. when it hitchhiked over from China in wooden shipping crates. Government agencies have been fighting to extirpate populations found in New York city, Chicago, Toronto and most recently in Worcester, MA.

I immediately turned around and headed back up the driveway to search for the bug. I was elated to find that the bug was not the dreaded A.L.B. but instead an Eyed Elator (2nd photo), which has two large black spots on top that must do a good job of intimidating potential predators. The driveway provided a less than safe place for the beetle to blend in.

(Thanks to Nancy, office manager for Friends of Princeton Open Space, for the identification.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

What's in bloom

Here are a few natives in bloom right now. Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) is a small, very ornamental shrub whose graceful appearance disguises an impressive capacity to endure both wet and dry conditions. When rarely encountered in the wild, it typically grows along streams, but is becoming common in the nursery trade.

Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruticosa) is a lovely shrub in the pea family. It grows along lake and river banks in Princeton. Benefiting from the cool, wet spring, it has bloomed profusely this year, drawing a great commotion of pollinating insects with its unusual color combination of purple and orange.

Other notes: Catalpa came into bloom a couple days ago. Kousa dogwoods (an exotic but non-invasive small tree that blooms later than our native dogwood) have been blooming for about a week.

Among exotic invasive shrubs, there's a useful progression of blooms in the spring that can be used for surveying populations in the field. Asian photinia is followed in blooming by Multiflora rose (just finishing up), which is followed by Privet (just about to open).

Saw my first firefly tonight.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Princeton Trails Presentation June 7th, 3pm

As many already know, there's a wonderful new pocket-sized guide to nature trails in and around Princeton available at various bookstores, and also on the web at Even long-time residents of Princeton are often unaware of the many natural wonders to be explored hereabouts. This guide can help change that. The creators of the book will be making a presentation at Labyrinth Books this coming Sunday. Profits from the book go to preserving open space. Sophie is on the board of Friends of Princeton Open Space. See more info below:

Sophie Glovier and Bentley Drezner —
Walk the Trails in and around Princeton
Sunday, June 7th, 2009 at 3PM
Labyrinth Books, Princeton
Join Bentley Drezner and Sophie Glovier, creators of Walk The Trails In and Around Princeton. Enjoy a virtual tour of the 16 walks on preserved land featured in this unique guidebook. Sized to fit in your pocket, it includes detailed parking and walking directions and effective maps, as well as beautiful photographs and 16 postcards of local trails. Their talk and slide show will introduce you to the more than 1,000 acres of preserved open space and 25 miles of trails open to the public in and near Princeton. Hidden in plain sight, most of us drive by this open space every day without realizing its natural wonders - waterfalls, secret caves, fields of wildflowers and ponds full of aquatic life.

Profits from sales of Walk The Trails In and Around Princeton are being shared with local land trusts devoted to saving open space in our region.

Labyrinth Books
122 Nassau Street
Princeton, NJ 08542

A Garden Grows in Harrison Street Park

This wildflower garden in Harrison Street Park was full of flowers last summer, and is off to a good start this spring. The photo shows five things that are helping this garden thrive in a town park.

The stakes and string clearly mark its boundaries, so the mowing crew knows to steer clear. The mulch, which the borough supplied and neighbors distributed, suppresses weeds.

In the distance, up the slope, is a parking lot, from which flows runoff during rains, providing the garden with additional water that it can absorb and use during droughts. The lack of trees growing near the garden, combined with the runoff, provides the wet-sunny conditions that are optimal for the success of a showy native wildflower garden.

Most important, and key to any garden, is the gardener, in this case Clifford Zink, who lives next to the park and has brought community resources together--plants from friends, mulch from the borough, and particularly his time and interest--to make these plantings an aesthetic and ecological asset for the park.

There is even an educational dimension--perhaps we should call it passive education, in the same way we refer to passive recreation. Investing in passive outdoor education means creating places like this where, if parents and children happen to wander over, they can discover the great variety of plants native to our area, and can scrutinize all the winged and webbing creatures that find sustenance there.