HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.


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Accessories

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” ~ Coco Chanel

Accessories. I like the whole idea of them. Bracelets, earrings, hats, snazzy shoes, purses. I have a sister who has a scarf for every occasion, and another sister with equally significant sunglass options from which to choose for any given moment. But my fascination with accessories stops at admiration. I do collect tiny stud earrings (usually horticultural in nature) made in whatever place I travel, but I rarely change from the tiny leaves that adorn my earlobes daily.  Though I lean to the austere, I admire those who manage to put together combinations of clothes and accessories that tell the world who they are. I admire people who wear their personalities, regardless of what the world thinks. Folks who own whatever runway the world throws at them that day.

On a recent visit to the southeast, the Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) caught my attention. Though they were immense and old, stately and sinuous, it was not those features that captured my attention. It was their accessories.

A Well-Accessorized Live Oak

A Well-Accessorized Live Oak

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Pine Trees

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Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) is NOT a Pine Tree

Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) is NOT a Pine Tree

According to my dad all cats are girls and all dogs are boys. That’s just the way it is. Every cat is a ‘she’ and every dog is a ‘he’. Of course for many years we had a male cat and a female dog, but that didn’t matter.  My dad doesn’t seem to be alone in this sentiment. My father-in-law ex-father-in-law also always refers to dogs in the masculine and cats in the feminine.

Something similar happens at this time of the year. As people start searching for their Christmas trees, often they refer to every Christmas-tree shaped object in the lot and in the woods as a pine tree. Just like all cats are not girls and all dogs are not boys, all evergreens are not pine trees.

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Parking Lot Picnic

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Nearly ripe persimmon fruit

Nearly ripe persimmon fruit

I’ve heard and read that when you thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, trail magic happens. This is the “kindness of strangers” that happens on the trail. Someone gives a hiker a lift to a dry shelter on a rainy day or leaves some delicious snack in a shelter for a weary hiker to find, that’s magic. I have only heard and read about this and that is likely all I’ll ever do. Though the idea of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is appealing to me, I would never be able to do it. Well, I could do it, but it would take me 432,567 days because I would be stopping to look at every flower and bud, taking pictures of each leaf and nifty pattern and talking to anyone who will listen about the wonder of the plants around. (Think I’m exaggerating? Just talk with ANYONE who’s ever hiked with me!)

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Seeds Travel

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IMG_9418

Ouch! That was definitely an acorn that just hit me on the head. There seems to be a bumper crop of them falling from our trees this year.  When a slight breeze blows it sounds like hail falling through the trees. THUNK!  A black walnut hits the top of the car as I cruise along River Road taking in the fall colors and noting Delaware River water levels (low). Holy moly was that loud and a little bit scary! No dents (in my head or in the car) but all of this fruit flinging has gotten me thinking about the purpose of fall.

Turns out that there are other reasons for fruits to fall from the trees than providing ammunition for you to throw at your younger (though similar sized – I’ll have you know) sibling.  The autumn colors signal to many of us winter is on the way. It’s time to split the rest of the firewood, dig out the long sleeves and extra blankets and find the snow shovel underneath the accumulation of beach chairs and coolers that piled up this summer. Similarly, for wildlife, the changing of the leaves signals a bounty to be eaten and preserved for the cold winter months.

Think about the small red fruits of a dogwood or spicebush, they would be tough to see from a bird’s location high above, and it would take a lot of energy to stop at each tree to figure out if there were ripe fruits to eat. Instead, birds can keep an eye out for the changing of the colors, an entire tree full of red leaves signals to those flying above ripe fruits to be had, fuel for continuing the long migration or fattening up to make it through a (hopefully) snowy winter.

As I explore various places this fall I take a look at the fruits, and the trees from which they fell, and consider their purpose and value.

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Goldenrod

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Bloom of Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

Bloom of Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

“Oh sweetie, not you, what are you doing here?”

said the security guard behind the desk in the campus security office. It is the night before graduation and I am being escorted with my then boyfriend, now husband ex-husband, by local police into the security office for on-campus drinking.

The fact that we are both of-age and the campus wasn’t a dry campus when we both started school (I mean shouldn’t there be a grandfather clause?) and that we didn’t even have anything to drink (honestly!) – we were leaving campus – cooler in tow – for an off-campus party – doesn’t mean anything to these uniformed fellas. I am trying to keep calm and tell the officer that in fact I WILL be graduating tomorrow regardless of what he thinks. He’s telling me I am not going to walk. This is the first time I have been in trouble at college (unless you count the whole outdoor holiday lights inside the dorm debacle) in the 4 years I have been there, and it is the next to last day of school.

The reason the security guard was so surprised to see me was because the only time I’ve been in that small structure was to buy my parking pass. My relationship was fairly new at the time, but I was fairly sure this was not his first run-in with security.  A few hours and a confiscated cooler later, (they decided we weren’t doing anything wrong after-all) we’re allowed to go and I graduated the next day.  If it hadn’t been for the company I was keeping, would I have been in that situation? Probably not, I probably would’ve been reading a book somewhere quiet. But I also wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun, met as many terrific people or had stories to tell.

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Closed Gentian

Flower colors can range from pale purple to deep sapphire depending on age, light, time of day.

Flower colors can range from pale purple to deep sapphire depending on age, light, time of day.

It’s hard enough for me to get my kayak down a whitewater river upright without being distracted by flowers along the way. I am happy to say on my latest voyage, it was not the blooms that tripped me up but my own inexperience. (I’m still learning the basics when it comes to whitewater kayaking and as the two River Zen Masters in my life constantly remind me “Kayaking is what you do between swims”… it is my own mantra now.)

Paddling with other horticulturally-minded people means extra time on the water, paddling back upstream to get a closer look at the flowers along the bank. This trip was no exception. Today’s distraction – Closed Gentians. I don’t know if it is the seeming simplicity of these flowers, the intense color or their apparent rarity that makes me stop (or paddle back upstream) to look at them, closely, and for a while, every time I see them. This day these were blooming along with White Turtleheads (Chelone glabra), and Red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinals).

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Yellow Late-Summer Blooms

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Yellow False Foxglove Flowers

Yellow False Foxglove Flowers

Moving to a new state, even just across one big river, can lead to interesting new discoveries.  Two horticultural discoveries have intrigued me since I have moved here. These are two late summer blooming flowers I was unfamiliar with until I started exploring the natural areas around the place I now call home.

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Sumac

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Smooth Sumac Fruit (c) Kathleen V Salisbury

The fruit cluster, or Bob, of Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) along a Rail Trail in Southeastern PA

 

My dad looks at me dubiously over the dining room table all decked out for Thanksgiving. I recognize the look, because I have inherited it. If I feel someone is feeding me a line of crap you can read it all over my face, and that is what I am seeing here, across the table. Why the look? I have just told my dad the contents of the flower arrangement nestled among the good china, newly shined silver and gold rimmed wine glasses. I have always loved to go outside and gather what’s interesting from the yard to create seasonally representative flower arrangements. I enjoy doing this anytime but always create something for the big holidays. To me, it is fun to explore the yard in a different way, looking at plants and their parts as components of a floral design instead of a landscape design or plant community.

My dad has every right to be a little doubtful about this creation. My penchant for bringing nature onto the holiday table has certainly resulted in our fair share of spiders, caterpillars, moths and other insects venturing out from their botanical hiding place and onto the crystal butter dish.  This is not lost on him. Family and friends at these dinners have always taken these visitors with good humor, laughing as, red-faced, I capture the critter and release it back into the wild. This late afternoon, the guests have not yet arrived, the table is still being set and I just placed an offending flower arrangement in the center of the table.

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Blueberries

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Many Stages of Blueberry Fruit

Many Stages of Blueberry Fruit

“Girls, can you run outside and pick some blueberries for the pancakes?”

was a question common in our house each June and July Sunday. We would grab a cup and head out to the woods, not the garden, the woods, to pick as many blueberries as the cups would hold, presenting them proudly to mom and dad who were in the kitchen whipping up pancake batter while we stalked the wild berries. If I remember correctly, it was “2 for the cup one for me”, or maybe the other way around. I think about this during a recent visit to western Maine as I squat down to examine small blueberry bushes, with diminutive fruit on them. These are similar to those we harvested beneath the oaks and pines in NJ but are a far cry from the behemoth berries I picked a week ago from a friends farm in Northern NJ.

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About that tree in Brooklyn (or… Adventures in Finding Free Things to Do in the City…)

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Lily Pond at the Narrows Botanical Garden

Lily Pond at the Narrows Botanical Garden

Perhaps you read the Betty Smith novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  {{Spoiler alert}} The tree in the story was an Ailanthus altissima or Tree of Heaven. This tree is known for its ability to thrive in even the harshest of conditions, hence its use as a metaphor for the strength and tenacity of the main character in the book.

“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps.  It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree  that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It should be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.” Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The “ghetto palm” (as my inner-city high school interns once described it to me) has become a bit too successful dominating roadsides and vacant lots in all but 6 of the states. Introduced from China as an ornamental plant Ailanthus was planted widely throughout the Northeast in the first half of the century. It fell out of favor with the horticultural crowd but despite its lack of popularity continued to insert itself into devoid and neglected areas of our landscape.  In his book Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast Peter Del Tredici asks us to take a different look at these weed plants colonizing waste spaces.  He suggests that these “weedy” and “spontaneous” plants benefit the cities by creating forests and the ecological benefits associated with forests, at no cost to the residents. Hmmm. Del Tredici says these are as important part of the urban landscape as the native plants restricted to protected natural areas and the highly maintained cultivated gardens on display throughout the city.

I am still digesting this point of view as it flies in the face of everything familiar to me. While I appreciate the sentiment, science and statistics, it is still hard for me to promote the embrace of invasive, weedy plant species to the detriment of native plants and the wildlife they support.  As I continue to consider and explore this topic, I visit those highly manicured cultivated garden spaces that are also an important part of the fabric of a city. This trip takes me to Brooklyn.

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