Thursday, June 18, 2009

Do Not Bemoan The Spines, Part 1

They call this the porcupine tomato plant, Solanum pyracanthum, or firethorn nightshade - you get the idea.

In this unseasonably cool early summer, they haven't started to flower, even at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. In a few weeks, light purplish blue flowers with yellow anthers will bloom, soon to be followed by small round greenish yellow fruits- just like a tomato.

But need I tell you that those thorns mean business? I would suggest strongly that this plant be admired for purely ornamental reasons, and that one desists from eating this "tomato." For one thing, being of the nightshade family, the deadly- deadly, as in poisonous - qualities of select nightshades are reputedly truly potent. And this particular one would fall in with that reputation.

But look at those gorgeous flame-orange thorns against the glaucous leaves. Wicked plants can be beautiful too.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Redbud in the Red

One can get granular in the garden sometimes. Pick up a leaf. Look at it against the sky, in the light. Take the heart-shaped leaf of the purple-leaved variety of the redbud, Cercis canadensis "Forest Pansy."

The underside of the leaf is bright red shooting off magentas this time of the year. The midrib runs straight through, the lateral veins branching off this main track, glowing light along a greengold stretch. As one follows this tracery, the remarkable crisscross of veins across the surface of the leaf blade suggests an aerial map of an unworldly beauty.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Birds, They Do Come to Brooklyn

If you've ever spent serious time pursuing the activity of birdwatching, you will understand the excitement when a male indigo bunting, Passerina cyanea, is sighted during a mundane trip to the compost bin in a Brooklyn backyard. Apparently male indigo buntings will sing conspicuously out in the open, (the reports also state that the females are a drab brown but secretive - you gotta love Nature.) So here he is, folks: my INDIGO BUNTING - first sighted, singing on the reed fence, and then, here, perched on the power line running through the neighbor's yard.

As far as I can surmise, this would not be a common occurrence, by any stretch of the imagination. Buntings, grosbeaks and such birds are not known to frequent urban backyards, though more and more these recent years, pairs of cardinals appear to be nesting hereabouts, gracing us with their bright presence.

And then there was the youthful Veery, Catharus fuscescens, whom I initially mistook for a mouse when he hopped into the pile of twigs I was bundling up after trimming the branches of the thirty-foot tall Callery pear tree overhanging my yard from my neighbor's astroturf- carpeted one. We stared at each other - he, most certainly, with trepidation - and I, in great astonishment. Thanks to the marvels of present day communications technology, I was able to make a phone call to my photographer retainer sitting thirty feet away inside the house in his study, to come outside and snap this testamentary photograph.

Misgivings about definite identification of my little friend were quelled upon checking in with Donald and Lillian Stokes, who inform us in their Field Guide to Birds that the eastern subspecies of the Veery is cinnamon brown above with a slightly spotted white breast. We are told that it gleans food from the forest floor and the bark of trees, often overturning leaves on the ground with its bill in search of food and eats insects, larvae, spiders, snails, earthworms and wild fruit - most of which abound in my little patch of dirt. Furthermore, "the male Veery often sings his beautiful song from a perch at dusk. Although commonly heard, this bird frequently stays hidden in dense woods, making it a challenge to observe. Much more needs to be learned about its behavior."

I am happy to say that for ten minutes this late lingering spring, I have been graced with the challenge. And reader, I will tell you, that the behaviors described in the books do fit the birds.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Down the Garden Path

And the long view


It's hard to resist posting these portraits of tulips this time of the year. So here they are.

And, no, for once I will not name them.

I'm just going to let them be

What they are

Who they are.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Purple Fritillaries

The purple version of the Fritillaria mileagris looks as if an artist took a fine sable paintbrush and meticulously dabbed dark and light grape-colored gingham checks onto the flower petals. As might be expected, one of its common names is the checkered lily. There is a white variety as well, quite as dainty - though I can't help but have a special fondness for the checkerboard patterned ones which, after all, lends its latinate meaning to the word "fritillary."

There is another purple fritillary, the statuesque Fritillaria persica - native to Turkey - from whence many of the bulbous flowers (a prime example being the tulip) seem to have hailed. F. persica lords it over many of the shorter bulbs blooming at this time of the spring season. The flower begins the season as a stack of tiny white seed beads, each row lengthening into buds gradually fattening into nuggets of grapes, finally unfurling into a stalk of clustered alternating bells heads above the rest.

And if you're naughty and look up their purple skirts, you will see the chromium orange stamens and pistils peering back at you impassively. And they will not fritter nor twitter nor flutter. Those Queen of the Night petals wear their regal raiment with suitable gravitas.

Damn your impertinence. So, there!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pokey, Again

Portrait of a Turtle

This week's cold snap has sent Pokey the Turtle, our red-eared slider, who lives in the little pond back down under. But she was caught sunning herself quite blatantly on those few warmish days that hit the sixties.

And this year she did not chase me down the garden path on her first day up and about. She was quite sedate.