A few weeks ago my cousin Vivian came to visit my mom for the weekend. It was a great weekend and it made my mom super happy to have her niece here for a few days. Vivian accompanied me on a nice walk through Trinity Cemetery on 155th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive. Besides being the final resting place for several famous people such as John James Audubon and John Jacob Astor, it is a beautiful natural area overlooking the Hudson. We enjoyed some wonderful old trees and a few choice herbaceous species.
I'll start with the American beech (Fagus grandifolia), since it is my mother's favorite tree. It's smooth grey bark is a helpful characteristic when trying to identify it, but unfortunately it also a blank canvas for people with no regard for trees to carve their names. This beauty looks like it's been around a while.
This property is dotted with many large tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), one of my favorite species. This species grows to be one of the tallest in our Northeastern forests. In the woodlands the tulip tree "self-prunes" and drops lower branches as they get shaded out, so the trunks are straight and branches are found high above the ground. In more open areas such as this cemetery, the lower branches remain, which is a treat since it lets you see the characteristic shape of the leaves and in spring, the beautiful yellow flowers.
American elm (Ulmus americana) was once a common tree throughout the United States. It was planted for it's beautiful growth habit and lined many streets across the country. Unfortunately, an introduced fungus (three species of Ophiostoma) has wiped out many of them. The fungus is carried from tree to tree by one of the elm bark beetle species. They pick up the spores of the fungus as they crawl around inside the bark of the tree and carry it to the next tree when they move on to mate and lay eggs. Some places such as Central Park have programs to manage the disease, pruning out infected branches and removing badly infected trees to prevent the spread. I don't know if this cemetery has such a program, but this is a very impressive specimen of an American elm.
Oaks are always magnificent trees when they get older. When they grow out in the open, such as the one in the photo below, they develop strong branches spreading out from a massive trunk. Red oaks can be recognized by shiny stripes along the center of ridges in the bark and leaves that are not deeply lobed like some other oak species. The fruit of the oak is of course the acorn, one of the favorite foods of the squirrel. They collect and bury lots of acorns to have a stash of food in the winter. However, they never eat all of them and the forgotten ones germinate into new trees. But oaks struggle to germinate in soil that has been compacted by too many people walking on it. I observed in Central Park that areas with compacted soil has little to no regeneration of oaks. Once we restored an area, tilling the soil, adding organic matter and protecting the area from trampling, oak seedlings began popping up. In natural areas you often don't have to plant new trees. Protect the soil from erosion, trampling and invasive species and the native species will return.
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a good native plant that many people are afraid of. I can understand it, around half the population is allergic to it, and a percentage of those are severely allergic to it. Urushiol, the oil that causes the skin rash is found on all parts of the plant (except the pollen) and is active all year long. But this plant is native to this area and its fruit are a good source of nutrition for migrating birds. So it is unfortunate that this large stand growing up a tree was destroyed. With education and proper management, we can coexist with this wonderful plant. After all, mangoes and cashews are from the same family with similar toxins in their leaves and we cultivate those plants extensively.
Pennylvania pellitory (Parietaria pensylvanica) is a species I learned last August while doing the BioBlitz with Daniel in Central Park. It is a native annual herbaceous plant that grows in disturbed sites and on walls. The inflorescence is not very showy and grows from the leaf axil. It seems to be having a good year as we have found lots of it growing in Central Park and there is a large stand of it here at the cemetery. Or maybe I am just noticing it more since I learned what it is. I will have to pay attention and see how it does next year.