News from the preserves, parks and backyards of Princeton, NJ. The website aims to acquaint Princetonians with our shared natural heritage and the benefits of restoring native diversity and beauty to the many preserved lands in and around Princeton.
Sunday, March 28, 2021
A Mink and Other Spring Sightings
Thursday, March 25, 2021
Some Unusual Trees
Here are some encounters with unusual trees in Princeton.
Sunday, March 21, 2021
Amphibians Risk Their Lives Crossing Herrontown Road
This past Thursday, March 18, I received a phone call from Fairfax Hutter with news that the amphibians would be migrating that night. A long spell of dry weather had held the frogs and salamanders back. Now, with rain and temperatures in the 40s, they would be moving in large numbers towards vernal pools to breed. Fairfax was headed out to the Howell History Farm area to protect amphibians crossing the road, but she was hoping I could grab a reflective vest and flashlight and walk along Herrontown Road. Directing traffic would have required coordination with the police, and lacking the necessary equipment, I didn't get out there until Saturday morning, to see if what sort of traffic control could be warranted in the future.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
Be On Guard for Lesser Celandine
(This post is from 2021. Click here for more recent posts about nature.)
From backyards to front yards to curbsides to parks and nature preserves, a small invasive flower is on the march. Dominating the landscape in early spring with its yellow blooms, it turns March into LOOK AT ME, ME, ME!, because that's all you will see when lesser celandine coats the ground. Just to hoodwink homeowners, the name "lesser celandine" has sometimes been supplanted by the name "fig buttercup," but it's all the same plant, whose latin name is Ficaria verna.
My posts about the plant date back to 2007, when I heard people mistakenly calling it "marsh marigold," which it most emphatically is not. Back then, lesser celandine was most entrenched at Pettoranello Gardens and rapidly spreading downstream into Mountain Lakes. Hopefully, when Princeton hires an open space manager, a more coordinated effort can be launched to reduce the plant's spread and protect areas not yet infested. Homeowners tend to like the plant at first, then become appalled as it begins taking over the yard and spreading to the neighbors'.
Use herbicides on lesser celandine? The nature of good and evil.
Those who care enough about their yards and the local ecology to want to stop the plant's spread may also feel qualms about using herbicides, which are the only practical means of control. Removal by digging is cumbersome, time-consuming, and adds unnecessary weight and bulk to your trash can. I encourage people to think of herbicides for nature the same way we think of medicines for people. We know all medicines have some level of toxicity, but we use them in a minimal and targeted way to protect our health. Doesn't nature deserve the same sort of intelligent intervention? It's important to make a distinction between spot spraying for lesser celandine and the blanket application of pesticides and chemical fertilizers on lawns. Glyphosate and Roundup are not synonymous. There are wetland-safe forms of glyphosate available online, not made by Monsanto. If treating lesser celandine that has invaded lawns, use an herbicide that is selective for broadleaf plants so that the grass survives.
While avoiding blanket condemnations of herbicides, I also like to avoid thinking of invasive species as "bad plants." Like so many of the problems that plague us, they are "too much of a good thing." Unfortunately, though it might be tempting to keep a few lesser celandines in the yard, its super aggressive behavior makes that very risky. Best to eliminate it altogether. Winter aconite, on the other hand, is a nonnative that looks a lot like lesser celandine but has not to my knowledge spread into natural areas.
Selected past posts:
2019: Fig Buttercup--Little Flower, Big Problem - Photos of fig buttercup's (lesser celandine's) spread, along with a discussion of why this invasive species creates more problems than other common invasives.
2018: A World Paved With Fig Buttercup? - Lesser celandine's other common name is fig buttercup. This post documents in photos and text the astonishing spread of this plant in the Mountain Avenue neighborhood.
2017: Winter Aconite and Fig Buttercup--Related Flowers, Contrasting Behaviors - These two early blooming yellow flowers look very similar, but behave very differently.
2016: Letter On Lesser Celandine Strikes a Nerve - a letter in the Town Topics that got quite a response
2016: Alert, Monitoring for Lesser Celandine - This post includes links to treatment options.
2015: Marsh Marigold vs. Lesser Celandine - Lesser celandine is frequently mistaken for the native marsh marigold, which is a larger plant and very, very rarely seen.
2013: Will the Real Marsh Marigold Please Stand Up--a Confusion of Yellows - Some photos help distinguish lesser celandine from marsh marigold, dandelion, and celandine poppy.
2007: Pretty, but... - My earliest post on lesser celandine.
Monday, March 01, 2021
Nature as a Partner, Even in Winter
Working With Nature
In winter, with the plant world frozen and the ground cloaked with snow, it's easy for a gardener to feel cut off from the nature that has meant so much to us through this pandemic. It's possible, though, to work with nature even during this season of suspended animation. The elemental aspects of nature are always ready to be tapped. Welcome sunlight through windows to help brighten and warm the house. Hang washed laundry on racks to let the air effortlessly absorb the moisture. Moisten plates in the sink to soften the dirt before washing. To do these things is to participate in a partnership with nature. Snow can be seen as a natural way of recycling light. It brightens the world rather than letting the light be swallowed by the drab browns and grays of the winter landscape.
Nature as Energy Detectivelocation of spider webs can sometimes indicate where warm air is escaping from the house in winter. The patterns that snow makes on roofs as it melts tell a lot about what's going on inside. Above the garage of this building is a living space on the left, and a stairwell on the right. Because the living space is insulated, the snow is slower to melt.