Tuesday, June 29, 2021

What's Bloomin' As June Ends

As June draws to a close, and the song of the cicada fades into history for another 17 years, here are some of the flowers blooming in my yard and in sunny openings at Herrontown Woods. 

Purple milkweed is less common than the common milkweed--a rare example of common names making sense. It spreads underground a little too aggressively, like the common one, but has a richer color to the bloom and slightly narrower leaves. Its blooms go through an evolution of color as they form--a very nice feature. We (that's the first person singular form of "we") found it growing near Veblen House and transplanted some to the Veblen Circle of wildflowers at the Barden (Botanical Art Garden).

Foreground here is another native milkweed, butterflyweed, which is lower growing and doesn't spread underground. Rarely seen in the wild around here (a couple specimens in the Tusculum fields that may still be there), I've seen it mostly in midwestern prairies with black-eyed susan and other prairie wildflowers.

The red in the background is beebalm, another incredibly bright and beautiful native wildflower, seen in gardens more than in the wild. It spreads underground, but not in a dominating way. We'll see if hummingbirds come to visit after their long migration.

Most people know the purple coneflower, from gardens rather than in the wild. 

Less known is the fringed loosestrife, not to be confused with the invasive and unrelated purple loosestrife. Fringed loosestrife has a shy flower that faces downward, yet the plant itself is surprisingly aggressive, and should only be planted where it can't spread. Yet another example of a native wildflower that is relatively rare in the wild yet gets rambunctious in a garden. Other examples would be groundnut, virgin's bower, and bladdernut. 

This photo doesn't do it justice, but here is tall meadowrue growing in a sea of jewelweed. The orange tubular flower of the jewelweed is visible in the lower left. Deer love to graze on the jewelweed, which is a native annual that often is seen trying to compete with Japanese stiltgrass in the wild. Hummingbirds love the jewelweed flowers, which keep appearing throughout the summer, and kids love to explode the springloaded seedpods. The tall meadowrue flowers need to be viewed up close to appreciate their subtle beauty, with each one bursting like a miniature firework.
One of the easiest plants to grow and take care of is the common daylily. We (again, first person singular form of we) planted the extension with them, and also the autumn joy stonecrop. They take zero care, and spend the month telling passersby to have a nice day. Each flower lasts a day, so you can cut some stems, put them in a vase, and have a steady stream of flowers inside as well, as each bud opens in series. Not native but doesn't spread or escape to the wild.

Among native shrubs, bottlebrush buckeye is doing its version of glorious, 
along with oak-leaved hydrangia. I've created a grove of these hydrangias by looking under the original shrub for sprouts or rooted limbs that could be dug and replanted nearby to quickly form new shrubs.
Maybe this year we'll get around to picking the elderberries, if the birds don't beat us, and make a delicious elderberry pie. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Chance Encounters with Trees in Lambertville and New Hope

My awareness of trees made me a mixed bag as a companion on a recent visit to Lambertville. The same eye that spots nature's wonders makes it hard to ignore tragedy.

My first find was a red mulberry tree, encountered on the Lambertville side of the bridge, draping itself over the canal. My daughter and I gorged on the berries.

Most mulberry trees grow straight up, leaving the abundant berries frustratingly out of reach, but this one grows right out of the old stone wall of the canal. Suspended above the water, its limbs grow horizontally towards the sidewalk, making for a beautiful presentation of berries to passersby.

The view down the Delaware River from the bridge was glorious, the air above the long-traveled water fresh and richly scented. It was a time to be positive, to focus on the upside, but I couldn't help scrutinizing that seemingly verdant distant hillside. 

There, mixed in with the green, was evidence of the massive dieoff of ash trees--a profound moment in history that we are living through, ever since the Emerald ash borer hitchhiked to America in the wood of packing crates twenty years ago. 

There are immense ash trees perched on the bluff overlooking the river, like the grove on the left here that shaded us as we began our leisurely walk across the bridge. They are still green enough to deceive most people, but will end up like those just to their right in the photo. These observations could have triggered thoughts of past dieoffs that transformed our forests, marginalizing once dominant trees like American chestnut and elm, but

fortunately, there was a more positive tree story to shift to. Walking across the bridge, I noticed an improbably large tree rising above the houses along the shore in New Hope that looked to be flourishing. Later, I ducked down an alley to have a closer look. A bicentennial plaque in front of it says it was alive at the time of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. That makes it more than 234 years old.

A man living next to it, who grew more friendly once he realized we were interested in the tree, said it's a willow oak. 

When I lived in North Carolina, we had many willow oak trees. Conveniently, their narrow leaves would settle in nicely with the pine needles, and after a few years I let that mix of leaves and needles replace the lawn as a pleasing surface for the yard. 

Some of the branches of this specimen would be impressive trees on their own.

New Hope prospered early on because of the ferry, and also because of the mills powered by the steady springfed waters of the resident stream. Tucked behind the Bucks County Playhouse, which used to be a mill, this dam frames a scenic, misty cove. A great blue heron stood stockstill, scrutinizing the falling waters, waiting for the stream to deliver dinner.

As if it were an old friend, I pointed out the native indigo bush lining the shore below the theater. I didn't get much of a response from my companions, but for me, knowing the plants makes it possible to feel familiarity even in a place where one knows no one at all, and makes an extraordinary place all the more extraordinary. 

Saturday, June 05, 2021

PrincetonNatureNotes on TV: An Interview on Storyline about Periodical Cicadas

I was delighted to be interviewed by Princeton TV for their weekly Storyline series. They call this segment about cicadas "The Great Awakening." Patricia Trenchak hosts the series, and George McCollough did the filming/editing.

In addition to the Storyline series, a scroll down the screen at PrincetonTV.org brings up Donna Liu's video called "Princeton's Water Story," which tells where Princeton's drinking water comes from; a League of Women Voters video of a primary candidates' forum--useful for prepping to vote this coming Tuesday--a Riverwatch series that gives an update on the decline in the population of red knots--an amazing bird that migrates from patagonian Argentina up to the arctic each year, with a very important stopoff for refueling in NJ--and other timely matters. 

Storyline The Great Awakening from Princeton TV on Vimeo.