When walking in the woodland area of the Native Plant Garden this time of year, you will meet up with the native fern Polystichum acrostichoides, commonly known as the Christmas fern. These ferns can form large, one- to two-foot clumps; are easy to grow; and are standouts in winter due to their evergreen leaves.
The individual leaves on each frond are stocking-shaped, reminiscent of Christmas stockings, which some people claim is the origin of the plant’s common name. But, in fact, the name “Christmas” fern comes from its having deep green fronds at Christmas time, says NYBG fern expert Robbin C. Moran.
Dr. Moran’s entertaining and enlightening book, A Natural History of Ferns, (available in the NYBG shop or by print-on-demand from Timber Press), explains how these amazing plants reproduce by actually “shooting” their very tiny spores. “The spores leap more than an inch into the air and arch downward,” Moran observes. “It is like watching popcorn popping.”
Fall is a good time to identify many of the common invasive plants and wildlife that may be threatening your garden. While you’re cleaning up your leaves and garden beds, you can spot the invaders including mile-a-minute vine, multiflora rose, Norway maple, oriental bittersweet, phragmites, porcelain berry, Tree of Heaven, winged euonymus, and more.
Many of these exotic species were intentionally introduced from other countries more than a century ago. Some were used as packing material, while others just took a ride on ships from Asia and Europe. Some plants were cultivated for their ornamental value without regard for the fact that they could out-compete important native species. A detailed list of prohibited and regulated invasive plants in New York State with pictures is provided here.
You can learn to identify some of these invasive plants right in your own backyard and then report your findings by signing up on a new smartphone app, online database, and website called iMapInvasives.
In the book, Tallamy, known as the “guru” of native plant gardening for his earlier, award-winning book, Bringing Nature Home, actually recorded as many as 20 different bird species—many beautifully photographed in the book—eating berries and insects from an alternate-leaf dogwood tree planted outside his bathroom window.
“So many birds visit this tree during the summer that our bathroom has become the hottest birding destination in our house,” he jokes. But the serious message of this story and one of most important points of his entire new book is that “our plants are our bird feeders!”
The spring trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is one of several native perennial wildflowers blooming now in the Native Plant Garden. Its flowers appear in sunny patches in the forest woodland area. At the base of each plant are its telltale leaves—speckled, elongated, and looking like brown brook trout.
The flowers come up quickly in the early spring, then produce fruit and create new leaves, all before the tall, deciduous trees leaf out and block much of the sunlight. In the heat of summer, the flowers and foliage disappear, which is why they are called ephemerals.
Some other examples of native ephemerals are blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), liver’s leaf or hepatica (Hepatica nobilis), and Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). But the trout lily is by far my favorite for there are so many stories about it.
Joyce H. Newman holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden and has been a Tour Guide for over seven years. She is a blogger for Garden Variety News and the former editor of Consumer Reports GreenerChoices.org.
Roy Diblik’s new book, The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden, out this month from Timber Press ($24.95 paperback) and available in NYBG’s Shop in the Garden, is a veritable goldmine for gardeners dreaming of lush, low-maintenance planting designs. The book provides dozens of fresh, detailed plans and gorgeous color photographs of easy-care, yet highly artistic, gardens.
Diblik is a designer and nurseryman best known for supplying the extraordinary perennials—around 26,000 plants in all—for Dutch designer Piet Oudolf’s inspiring Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. Diblik actually grew many of the plants and helped with the layout and design. He has more than 35 years of experience as co-owner of Northwind Perennial Farm located in the rolling hills of southeastern Wisconsin.
The book contains 62 garden plans laid out in color-coded grids. Many of the plans express themes, Diblik notes, that are “loosely inspired by the colors, compositions, and emotions” of Impressionist paintings by Cezanne, Monet, and Van Gogh, among others. Some plans replicate Piet Oudolf’s pioneering use of grasses for The High Line in New York City, and others recreate the dynamic plantings at England’s Great Dixter garden in Sussex.
Visitors to Stone Barns Center’s farm and food gardens in northern Westchester were treated to an engaging interview with Alice Waters this past weekend, as well as the 200 new recipes in her latest vegetable-focused book, The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes, Flavor, and Inspiration from the New Kitchen Garden, out this month from Clarkson Potter ($35.00) and available in the NYBG’s Shop in the Garden.
Ms. Waters, a kind of legend in her own time, has authored something like 14 books, launched the Edible Schoolyard Project all over the world, and is a chef and owner of the famous Chez Panisse restaurant and cafe, which she founded with others in 1971. She pioneered the cooking philosophy that today we call “farm-to-table.” Her restaurant, located in Berkeley, California, uses only fresh, flavorful seasonal ingredients that are shopped for and produced locally and sustainably.
The Native Plant Garden‘s entrance decking, promenade, and benches are all made with lumber from native, sustainably harvested black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia)—a wonderfully durable, rot-resistant hardwood species with a long and colorful history.
Native Americans in Virginia made bows from black locust and are believed to have planted the trees moving eastward from the Southern Appalachians. Colonists at Jamestown reportedly used the trees to build corner posts for their first homes. The wood was also used by pioneers for fence posts, ship masts, and for pegs—called trunnels—in ship building.
When wet, the wood expands and becomes leak proof. So the ship trunnels were so strong that they lasted even longer than the ship hulls. According to naturalist Donald Peattie, after the War of 1812, the British claimed that they were defeated on Lake Champlain because of the superiority of the Americans’ “locust fleet” built with the trunnels.
Black locust trees grow rapidly by sending out underground stems that send up new shoots to form new trees. For this reason some considered them to be invasive or at best a nuisance. Because the tree spreads naturally, it is usually found in groves and these can be managed sustainably. For outdoor projects in the New York metro area, some progressive landscape architects seem to be using it more frequently as an alternative to tropical hardwoods.
Monarch butterflies are among the most popular and prominent insects in the Native Plant Garden, easy to spot with their dramatically dark orange and black patterned wings. One reason for their high visibility and large numbers is actually their relationship with the tall milkweed plants, which are flowering now in the dry meadow. Without the milkweeds, we wouldn’t have the monarchs.
In fact, monarchs (Danaus plexippus) depend on milkweed throughout their entire life cycle—when they lay eggs and when their larvae, in caterpillar form, feed exclusively on milkweed.
Many different species of native milkweed provide nourishment for monarchs, including swamp milkweed, green, purple, redwing, whorled, and horney spider varieties. The dry meadow contains a total of more than 500 milkweed plants. Of these, by far the most numerous are the butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).
The wetland area of the new Native Plant Garden is home to many kinds of animals, but none more magnificent than the dragonflies that hover and buzz over the water, performing amazing airborne feats in search of food. Almost as soon as the water feature was filled during construction, the dragonflies moved in.
The latest scientific evidence suggests that their aerial performances are not just lovely to look at—they’re highly choreographed to target prey. In fact, a recent New York Times report notes that dragonflies are much better hunters than African lions or sharks. Dragonflies “manage to snatch their targets in midair more than 95% of the time,” often eating “on the spur without bothering to alight.” By comparison, the success rate for lions is just 25%, and for sharks just 35%.
Dragonflies are not new residents to the Garden, either. We have long had a healthy population of these amazing insects, and we’re quite happy to have them here, too. Dragonflies may be an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. While adult dragonflies are terrestrial insects, immature dragonflies, also known as nymphs, are aquatic and can be sensitive to pollutants in the water.
Another reason we like having dragonflies around? Guess what they eat … mosquitoes!
Coming just days after 2012 was named the hottest year on record for the contiguous U.S., the draft report is unique in that it points out the impacts of climate change on specific regions, including the Northeast. It also notes economic risks and adaptive strategies for our area.
The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media has excerpted the report’s basic findings, which are deemed the scientific consensus. The findings underscore the human-driven causes of climate change as follows:
— “Global climate is changing, and this is apparent across the U.S. in a wide range of observations. The climate change of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.”
— “Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and there is new and stronger evidence that many of these increases are related to human activities.”
— “Human-induced climate change is projected to continue and accelerate significantly if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase.”