Diversity of flower forms

Human have always enjoyed the beauty and variety of flowers. But flowers serve a specific function for plants - they are the reproductive structures. With over 300,000 species of flowering plants world-wide, plants have evolved all sorts of variations and adaptations for reproducing. The basic parts of a flower are the carpel (female organ), the stamen (male organ), petals and sepals. See here for a diagram of the parts of the flower. Some flowers have both sexes (perfect), some only one (imperfect). Some plants have the sexes on separate flowers, some on separate plants. Some flowers have large beautiful petals, some have none. The variety and combinations is seemingly endless. Here is a small sampling of some interesting flowers one can find on a walk in Central Park.

The Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias)  seems to have lovely chartreuse petals. However, each tiny flower has no petals or sepals at all. The lime-green structures are bracts, modified leaves sometimes associated with flowers. They serve the same function as petals, that is, to attract pollinators, in this case, bees, flies and ants. Both male and female flowers are found in the inflorescence (cluster of flowers) of this species. We found this stand of spurge in the flower beds at Cherry Hill this summer.

Euphorbia cyparissias Euphorbiaceae

The next flowers shown below are from a Hackberry tree. Hackberries are interesting for many reasons, one reason being that it has three types of flowers - male, female and perfect flowers. The flowers are small and inconspicuous because they are wind pollinated. There is no reason for showy petals or bracts since no pollinators are being attracted. The flowers dangle and let the wind carry the pollen!

Celtis occidentalis Cannabaceae

Everyone knows what violet flowers look like right? Well.... maybe not! The purple and white flowers that violets put out in the spring are what we are used to seeing. But did you know they develop a second set of flowers in the summer that most of us never see? The second set of flowers are called cleistogamous flowers. They produce no petals or sepals. They don't even open, except to eject the ripe seeds. Cleistogamy is an energy efficient way to reproduce (no need to make petals, sepals or nectar). But it means the plant self-fertilizes and there is no genetic variation (except by rare mutation). In the two photos below you can see the small cleistogamous flowers at the base of Viola sororia. Daniel and I found these along the bridle trail on the west side this summer.

Viola sororia Violaceae

Viola sororia Violaceae

This next one is not a flower, but it is an interesting way to reproduce and it occurs on what looks like a flower stalk. Members of the genus Allium (onions and garlic) grow from underground structures called bulbs. One of the ways they reproduce is to produce small new bulbs called bulbils, which are attached to the bulbs and eventually break off and form a new plant. But in some cases they produce the bulbils on flower stalks.  The next two photos below are of a species called Walking onion (Allium x proliferum). The bulbils make the stalk heavy so that it bends to the ground. Once they touch the ground the bulbils germinate into new plants. These are the steps in the onion's "walk".

Allium x proliferum Amaryllidaceae

Allium x proliferum Amaryllidaceae

Wild garlic (Allium vineale) also makes aerial bulbils, and when they are knocked off the flowerhead they can germinate into new plants. In the photo below, the bulbils are germinating while they are still attached to the stalk.

Allium vineale Amaryllidaceae

To see male and female flowers on the same inflorescence, let’s look at Cattails (Typha spp.). This genus produces inflorescences with a huge number of tiny flowers. The top part of the inflorescence is the male flowers and the bottom part, the female flowers. This is another species that is wind pollinated, so there are no petals or sepals present. Each male flower is just a pair of stamens, and the flowers wither once the pollen is shed. The female flowers are equally inconspicuous, but there are so many packed so densely that the structure looks like a sausage (some say corn dog). The second photo below shows where the male and female flowers meet and show some pollen already shedding. 

Typha angustifolia Typhaceae, at the Pond

Typha angustifolia Typhaceae, at the Pond

Orchids are a favorite flower of many people, and with this family being one of the two largest families of flowering plants, there are lots of orchids from which to choose! In Hallett, there is a small stand of Yellow lady's slipper orchids (Cyprepedium pubescens) that the Conservancy planted. Orchids are pollinated by insects so they do produce showy petals and sepals, three of each. The lower petal is shaped like a slipper or a pouch and the two lateral petals are twisted and hang along side the pouch. Two of the three sepals are fused together, this and the third one form a hood above and below the petals. The flower is showy so pollinators come thinking they will find nectar, but they are fooled! There is no reward for pollinating this plant. They get stuck in the slipper and get pollen dusted on them as they are trying to figure out how to get out. Once they do, they are often fooled again and pollinate the next flower in which they are unlucky enough to get stuck.

There are so many more examples of strange and wonderful flowers. All one has to do is look closely, so keep your eyes open when enjoying your walk though Central Park!

Cyprepedium pubescens Orchidaceae

Restoration plants

There are many aspects to managing a park like Central Park. The landscapes throughout the Park are highly varied - playgrounds, ballfields, lawns, water bodies, woodlands, etc., and each type requires its own set of management practices. Managing the more natural areas involves controlling invasive plants, improving soil conditions, planting natives and protecting the areas just restored.  In this blog post I want to share with you some of the species of native plants the Conservancy has used to restore the natural areas of the Park. Many have been quite successful. Some are a bit slower to establish, but will hopefully flourish given time.

When I first started working for the Conservancy in 1993, most of the landscapes were quite degraded from trampling. One of the few native wildflowers that survived those conditions was the white wood aster, Eurybia divaricata (formerly called Aster divaricatus). As we began working on restoring some of these woodland landscapes, we protected the stands of asters and allowed them to spread. White wood asters are still the backbone of many landscapes in the Park as they do so well on their own.

Eurybia divaricata Asteraceae

  • One of the first planting jobs I did as a seasonal back in 1993 was in the newly restored Great Hill area. We planted along the woodland edge along the paths leading up to the Great Hill from the West Drive. One of the species we used was the spring ephemeral, Virginia bluebell, Mertensia virginica. Although spring ephemerals are perennials (the same plant comes back year after year), they go dormant early in the season. This species leafs out and flowers in spring, by early summer they have formed and released their seeds, the foliage dies back and the plant goes dormant until next spring. Some ephemerals, such as trout lilies, go dormant in an even shorter time span.
  • Virginia bluebells are a successful restoration species. The stands that have been planted have persisted for many years and have even spread. They add wonderful colors to the spring landscape - the flower buds are pink and they open into beautiful blue flowers.

Mertensia virginica Boraginaceae

Mertensia virginica Boraginaceae

In the early days of restoration work in the Park, we limited ourselves to planting species that we knew would survive the harsh conditions of a public park. The soil had been compacted and impoverished for many years and we were working to add compost and protect it from trampling. This took a long time and a lot of outreach to the public to convince them to stay on paved paths. As the years passed, this outreach worked and soil improved in many areas. We were eventually able to start trying new species. Now that areas were more protected, we could use species that were more sensitive to compacted soil and trampling.

One of the most successful native species the Conservancy introduced was American ginger (Asarum canadense). This is not the species of ginger we use in cooking (that one is Zingiber officinale, in the Zingiberaceae, the ginger family). Our ginger is in the Aristolochiaceae, the Birthwort family. American ginger spreads very rapidly and makes a nice groundcover on the woodland floor. Unlike some of the other woodland wildflowers, it is not an ephemeral, so it keeps its leaves all season until it goes dormant for the winter.  It has an interesting looking flower which is usually not seen because one has to crouch down on the ground and lift up the leaves to find them near the soil. Flowers this close to the ground are often pollinated by ants or other ground-dwelling insects. American ginger is one of the host plants for Pipevine swallowtail butterfly larvae.

Asarum canadense Aristolochiaceae

Flower of Asarum canadense Aristolochiaceae

One wetland species that has been used for restoration in Central Park is Blue Flag (Iris versicolor). There is an invasive iris, called Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) that grows in the same habitat and is very difficult to distinguish from the native until they are flowering. Because the only sure way for a gardener to tell them apart is with the flowers, gardeners pull the Yellow Flag only when it is flowering. This is always a challenge in a public park. Park patrons don't often understand about the problems of invasive plants and get very upset when they see a gardener yanking out beautiful yellow flowers from the landscape. But the Yellow Flag eventually dominates the water's edge and pushes out other native plants, so it is important to remove them and replace with a variety of native species.

Iris versicolor Iridaceae

A mix of Iris versicolor and I. pseudacorus Iridaceae

It is interesting to look at restoration species in the same genus and see differences in success. The white violet pictured below is Viola striata and has done very well since being introduced into several landscapes. Plantings survived and spread nicely over the years.  The second violet species pictured below is Viola labradorica, which was introduced around the same time as V. striata. However, the Labrador violet petered out after a while and there are only a handful of them left.

Viola striata Violaceae

Viola labradorica Violaceae

Herbaceous plants are not the only types of plants used for restoration projects. Trees and shrubs are also introduced into the landscapes.

Many people are familiar with the small tree called Flowering dogwood. There are also several species of shrubby dogwoods that are part of woodland and wetland landscapes. The dogwood pictured below is called Gray dogwood, or Northern swamp dogwood (Cornus racemosa).   Daniel and I are not sure yet if this species is spreading by seed, but it certainly spreads by sprouting new stems and suckers, each stand getting larger over time.  Aside from being an excellent habitat plant -the fruit is eaten by many bird species and it is a very full shrub that provides good cover for wildlife - the flowers and fruit are very attractive.

Cornus racemosa Cornaceae

Cornus racemosa Cornaceae

Many areas that have been restored in Central Park are now very well protected, and not just by fences.  Years of outreach - staff speaking with Park Patrons and other types of outreach - has led to a great deal of respect and cooperation from the public.  Many Park users understand what the restoration is all about and see the success of these efforts. This has led to more people staying on pathways and other behavioral changes that help protect the Park landscapes.

Because of this, the Conservancy has been able to begin introducing species that years ago would have been too delicate or too picky to survive in Central Park. 

Twin leaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) is one such species. Although technically not native to New York City, this is a threatened species in the forests of New York and New Jersey, so it is gratifying to see it surviving and beginning to spread in Central Park. This is another species whose flowers are close to the ground and are pollinated by ants. It produces green capsules as fruit, as you can see in the photo below.

Jeffersonia diphylla Berberidaceae

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is not a threated species - some people consider it a weed - yet it is very slow to establish in Central Park. It has a wonderfully odd looking flower which comes out at the end of the winter. It is one of the few species of plants that can generate its own heat. This warmth, coupled with the rotting-flesh color and smell of the flower attracts flies or other early insects as pollinators. The leaves, seen in the second photo below, are lush as this plant can be fairly large. Crushing the leaves and taking a sniff tells you how this species got its common name!  If you look closely at this photo, in front of the skunk cabbage you see a small yellow flower, a Trillium, another spring ephemeral.

Emerging flower of Symplocarpus foetidus Araceae

Symplocarpus foetidus Araceae

The last species I'd like to leave you with today is one that in all my years working for the Conservancy, I never thought would survive. My staff and I planted this clump of orchids over 10 years ago. I thought it was a long shot, but the plant made it and has very slowly spread into a larger clump. This Yellow Lady's Slipper orchid (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens) started as three plants and has grown into about a dozen stems. Not much for a decade of growth, but considering Central Park lost all of its orchid species in the early years of the Park's creation, and orchids in natural areas throughout the state are threatened, this is a triumph. 

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens Orchidaceae

Nursery plants

Buying plants from a nursery is a regular part of managing a park, whether the plants are exotic ornamentals or natives used in restoration projects. But once in a while, you get something different from what you ordered, or something in addition to what you ordered. 

In this first image, you see a sweet little plant from the carrot family. It is called Erigenia bulbosa. We found this on the south side of the Reservoir growing in a bed of native pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens). The common name for this plant is Harbinger of Spring because it blooms so early. Although this plant is native to the northeast, it is not native east of Binghamton, New York. Our best guess is that it came in soil with the pachysandra that was planted. It may or may not persist in the Park, we will have to wait and see.

Erigenia bulbosa Apiaceae

This next species is also likely to have hitched a ride in the soil with species planted in the Park. This is Euphorbia cyparissias, cypress spurge, which we found growing at Cherry Hill. It is a lovely ornamental from Europe, but it is a weed and so can easily show up in plants purchased at a nursery.

Euphorbia cyparissias Euphorbiaceae

Some species are very similar in appearance and it is easy for nurseries to make mistakes in plant identification. And once the plant is in production, it keeps being sold under the wrong name.

This photo shows Viola striata, a lovely native violet. However, when I ordered the plant (back when I was working in the Park), I had ordered Viola blanda.  Viola blanda is another native that looks very similar. One difference is the upper petals of V. blanda often twist or bend backwards. Also, Viola blanda are stemless and very low-growing. In this case, there was no problem with the misidentification, both are native white violets that grow in similar habitats.

Viola striata Violaceae

Sometimes a misidentification by a nursery can be problematic. Years back we ordered Alnus serrulata, smooth alder, a native species. Instead we got Alnus glutinosa, black alder, a European species that is invasive. It took time for the small shrub to mature, but now that it is producing fruit we can see that we have the wrong species.

Alnus glutinosa Betulaceae

As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, a survey of the flora of Central Park was done in 2007. Herbarium specimens were collected for many of those species. This next plant is a good example of why herbarium specimens are important. When Daniel and I were looking through the specimens of the 2007 collection, we came across one labeled Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, a common native vine used in restoration projects. However, Daniel immediately recognized from the flower of the pressed specimen, that this was not P. quinquefolia, but rather P. inserta, grape woodbine. The two species are very similar and it is an easy mistake to make. The reason science works is because scientists make their data available to others for verification. It's always satisfying to add another species to the flora of Central Park, especially a native one! This was a nice find, as we now have another native species on our list and the 2007 list.

We looked in the field in several places, and sure enough, both species are present, sometimes growing side-by-side.  

Nurseries need to know the difference between these two species for a good reason. Both are native and neither are invasive; but only Virginia creeper can climb. The image below shows the suction cup discs that are formed on the roots of Virginia creeper as it is climbing up the tree. Grape woodbine does not do this. So if a landscaper is looking for a vine to climb a wall or other structure and gets grape woodbine instead of Virginia creeper, she will be very disappointed.

Suction cup discs on Parthenocissus quinquefolia Vitaceae

Parthenocissus quinquefolia Vitaceae

Parthenocissus inserta Vitaceae; Central Park Conservancy Herbarium specimen

This last species, is one of the milkweeds, Asclepias purpurascens, purple milkweed, pointed out to us by Conservancy staff. Daniel and I almost did not document it because we thought it was a new restoration species the Conservancy was trying. But after checking with the Woodland staff, we learned that no one planted it. This species has seeds that are wind dispersed so it is unlikely that it came in on its own, there are no populations near enough to spread to Central Park. So this one also is likely to have come in with other plant material. A nice hitchhiker to have arrived in the Park.

Asclepias purpurascens Asclepiadaceae

Tree seedlings

One of the main goals of our Central Park Flora project is to document which species of plants are not only living and surviving in Central Park, but reproducing. For trees, this means finding seedlings.  You can have large, beautiful trees, but if the habitat is not conducive to seedlings, the future of our native species will not be guaranteed. As the condition of the Park deteriorated in the '60s and '70s, trampling compacted soil to the point where many seedlings were unable to regenerate. During the years that I worked for the Central Park Conservancy, one of the most satisfying accomplishments was seeing the benefits of improved soil. In areas where we loosened compaction, added compost and provided protection from trampling, oak seedlings, as well as other species began popping up! The two images below show red oak seedlings in the North Woods. We saw many healthy seedlings. 

Quercus rubra Fagaceae Red oak

The image below shows bud scales still attached to this red oak seedling. Bud scales protect the developing embryonic leaf until it finally emerges in the spring.

Red oak seedling with bud scales still attached.

This next seedling is a honey-locust, Gleditsia triacanthos. Honey-locust is native to central North America but has become common in our area. It is a commonly planted street tree.

Gleditsia triacanthos Fabaceae Honey-locust

Anyone familiar with our oak trees, might not recognize this as an oak, the shape of the leaf is unusual. This is a willow oak, so-called because the leaves look more like the leaves of a willow tree. There are several large specimens in the Ramble near the Boathouse and many seedlings were emerging in the surrounding area.

Quercus phellos Fagaceae Willow oak

Quercus phellos Fagaceae Willow oak

Ginkgos are an interesting case when it comes to seedlings. We see areas with many small seedlings, but we have not found any juvenile trees. We are not sure why they don't seem to survive to adulthood.

Ginkgo biloba Ginkgoaceae Maidenhair tree

Another non-native we have seen reproducing is the goldenrain tree. This is an Asian species planted for ornamental purposes. The second photo below shows the interesting lantern-shaped seed pods on the parent tree. We have been finding seedlings wherever we find an mature tree. Will this eventually be invasive?

Koelreuteria paniculata Sapindaceae Goldenrain tree

Koelreuteria paniculata Sapindaceae Goldenrain tree - last season's fruit

This next species is no surprise to find anywhere in the Park. It is one of our worst invasives -the Norway maple. This species has been widely planted as an ornamental and shade tree. It leafs out earlier than our native trees, casting shade that prevents our woodland wildflowers from growing. It keeps its leaves longer in the fall, giving it an advantage over our native trees. It out-competes many of our native species and forms monocultures. The Conservancy has had good success with manually removing young Norway maples on a regular basis. In the North Woods, this removal of Norway maples has allowed one of our loveliest natives to flourish, the trout lily.

Acer platanoides Norway maple Sapindaceae

Despite being one of the most common trees in the U.S, the silver maple, a native of our area, is not common in Central Park. It is a wetland species that is tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions. It grows quickly, but has a shallow root system and brittle wood, therefore is easily damaged in storms and so it is not really a good choice for urban parks or as a street tree. We found one large specimen near 110 street on the west side. There were seedlings growing around the parent tree. The very deeply-lobed leaves make this species easy to identify.

Acer saccharinum Sapindaceae Silver maple

Acer saccharinum Sapindaceae Silver maple

My favorite native maple, the sugar maple does well in Central Park as long as the Norway and other weed trees are kept under control. Here are sugar maple seedlings flourishing in the Hallett Nature Sanctuary in the south end of the Park. Notice that the leaves are not as finely lobed as the silver maple. This species turns beautiful orange to red colors in the fall. This fall, head up to the south side of the North Meadow ballfields area, where there are several mature specimens, to see a spectacular display of color!

Acer saccharum Sapindaceae Sugar maple

Blockhouse April 22

Spring is taking her time warming up this year. But this gives us a chance to slow down and see all the different plants emerging.  Take a close look, the details in early spring are particularly wonderful. 

As trees leaf out, you begin to see the final shape leaves will take when they are mature. The Linden below looks fresh and shiny. Many young leaves are full of compounds meant to protect the young succulent leaves from browsing animals. You can also see the reddish bud scales still clinging to the stem. Bud scales protect the embryonic leaf as it forms over the winter and waits for spring.

Tilia sp. Malvaceae

One of my favorite plants is one that many people would love to get rid of. Poison ivy. The oil, urushiol, is used by the plant to retain water but gives many people a rash if they come in contact with it. The severity of the rash varies from person to person. This is a native plant and the fruit is excellent for migrating birds. And if you take the time to look, it is a beautiful plant. As it emerges in the spring the leaves are tinged a shiny red. The leaves are trifoliate - divided into three leaflets ("leaves of three; leave it be"). As the leaves mature, they will turn dark green and often lose their shininess. 

Toxicodendron radicans Poison ivy Anacardiaceae

Here is another species where the leaves are tinged red as they are expanding, our native Black cherry. Having red coloration when young seems to give the plant protection from browsers, who can't see color in that range. The red curly structures on the stems are likely the left-over bud scales from the winter.

Prunus serotina Black cherry Rosaceae

When young, the black cherry's bark is smooth, shiny and has prominent lenticels - porous tissue which allows gas exchange between the atmosphere and the internal tissue. This is true for many cherries and a few other species such as birch. 

Prunus serotina Black cherry Rosaceae

The bark of a mature black cherry is dark and scaly, with sections that have raised edges (burned potato chips, as a dear friend used to call it). Look closely at each of those sections and you will still see the characteristic lenticels.

Prunus serotina Black cherry Rosaceae

This next photo shows another member of the Rose family, the Callery pear, also called Bradford pear. This is a commonly planted street tree throughout the City. It has escaped cultivation and is regenerating in the woodlands.

Pyrus calleryana Bradford pear Rosaceae

Oaks don't regenerate well on compacted soil, so it is great to see oak seedlings coming up in the woodlands. Everywhere the soil is protected or restored, you see oak regeneration.  If we can keep the Norway maples under control, these will grow into the mighty oaks that dominate our forests. This is probably red oak and like our previous examples, is tinged red until it matures. It also has hairs and young bristles. In the second photo below you can see the bud scales still clinging.

Quercus rubra Red oak Fagaceae

Quercus rubra Red oak Fagaceae

Next we found a fairly large stand of chokecherry, another one of our native cherries, Prunus virginiana. Unlike the black cherry, this one is a shrub and forms a thicket. The leaves were fairly far along in growth and the flowers were beginning to form. We must check back to see them fully open. Chokecherry is the most widespread cherry species in North America and is an important source of food for wildlife.

Prunus virginiana Chokecherry Rosaceae

Although I focus mostly on plants when I am out walking, I do notice other organisms out there. Some you see, some you hear and some leave indirect evidence of their presence. In the photo below, the holes in the tree were made by a sapsucker, probably the yellow-bellied sapsucker. They drill holes into the trunk of a tree to get the sap to ooze out. As it does, they lap it up, enjoying the sugary sap the way we love maple syrup. They also eat up any insects that get trapped in the sticky sap!

Sapsucker holes

I will leave you today with a photo of a beautiful view of life in the Big City. Not the view one typically thinks of with regard to New York, but one that should be more familiar to all of us.

North Woods

The 2015 season begins!

After a long winter, Daniel and I are back in the field working on our Central Park Flora Project. It is great to be in the Park again hunting for new specimens! 

We ventured out on March 25 visiting the Pool and Loch, and on April 1 in the Ramble. It had not really warmed up yet (still hasn't, really) but we were ever hopeful that we would find something blooming. 

One species especially noticeable was the invasive onion Allium vineale, lush and green while other ground dwellers like violets and mustards are still dormant.  

Allium vineale Alliaceae Photo by Daniel Atha

Here is a young plant peeking through the leaf litter. From the leaves we can tell it is in the carrot family, Apiaceae, but we cannot identify it to species yet. Apiaceae is an interesting family. From it we get several common vegetables but also some of the deadliest plants in our area.

Apiaceae Photo by Daniel Atha

Dormant plants, especially some shrubs can look beautiful in the winter. Here we see the stunning stems of native roses and of black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis). The Rubus has purplish-red, glaucous stems. Glaucous in botany refers to a grey or white waxy coating that is easily rubbed off. Both shrubs form thickets that give wildlife good cover (places to hide from predators) and they produce fruit that is edible to wildlife. They are both in the rose family, Rosaceae. We previously collected four specimens of Rubus occidentalis, which you can find here

Rosa sp. Rosaceae

Rubus occidentalis Rosaceae

Of course, there are species that bloom even if it is still cold out. Crocus and Galanthus (snow drops) species are early bloomers and a welcome sight after a long winter. Both of these species are planted for ornamental purposes, but populations can persist for many years. Perhaps they are spreading slowly, or perhaps the population is shrinking. We will keep an eye on them to find out.

If you buy either of these from a catalog, they will be listed as bulbs, along with tulips and daffodils. Galanthus are in fact bulbs. If you cut one open, you will see several layers of tissues. Bulbs are underground storage organs, made from modified leaf tissue. An onion is a bulb, the layers of tissue easily seen if you pry one apart. Crocus, on the other hand, look like bulbs, but they are actually corms. Corms are also underground storage organs, but made from modified stem tissue.  If you cut one open, it will be solid.

Crocus luteus Iridaceae Photo by Daniel Atha

Galanthus sp. Amaryllidaceae Photo by Daniel Atha

Two other ornamental species we found are Pushkinia (possibly scilloides) and Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite). We found them in the Ramble, an odd place for these since they are not native plants used in woodland restoration. They are found in the Shakespeare Garden and probably hitched a ride to the Ramble on some Ostrich fern transplants (Matteuccia struthiopteris, Onocleaceae), a native restoration species. Both are small species and worth laying on the ground to take a close look. In the first Puschkinia photo below, you can see that it has beautiful blue stripes on the petals. In Daniel's photo, you can see the black stems of the Ostrich fern clump that was transplanted from the Shakespeare Garden.

The image of the Eranthis shows numerous little plantlets to the right of the main clump. This clump is persisting and seems to be slowly spreading. We made a specimen of this plant last year which you can find here

Puschkinia sp. Amaryllidaceae

Puschkinia sp. Amaryllidaceae Photo by Daniel Atha

Eranthis hyemalis Ranunculaceae Photo by Daniel Atha

One early blooming shrub is witch hazel. Here we see the non-native Hamamelis x intermedia. The "x" indicates this is a hybrid between two other species, in this case, H. mollis and H. japonica. It is a deciduous shrub (it loses its leaves in the winter) but sometimes hangs on to the dead leaves through the beginning of spring. We have collected three other species of Hamamelis. You can see the voucher specimens here - just scroll down to Hamamelidaceae.

Hamamelis x intermedia Hamamelidaceae

One last early bloomer to show you is one of my favorites. It is a common wetland plant in most of our area. However, it has been a difficult species to get established in Central Park - the skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus. The specific epithet "foetidus" is accurate in that this is a stinky plant.  The foul odor that emanates from the flowers attract pollinators such as scavenging flies. The flower which is shown in the photo below emerges from the mud very early in the spring. It is unusual in that it can generate its own heat and sometimes can be seen poking up through snow. This photo was taken by our friend and colleague Ken Chaya who often joins us on our walks. For rare plants which cannot be collected without compromising the population, we do not make a regular herbarium specimen, but rather we use a photograph to serve as a voucher. When possible, however, we do take a tiny tissue sample for DNA analysis.

Symplocarpus foetidus Araceae Photo by Ken Chaya

This red maple is barely in bud now, probably a month behind recent historical trends, but just about on time by 19th century records. We think this specimen is self-sown and is a good candidate for collection later.

Acer rubrum Aceraceae Photo by Daniel Atha

Staff place logs in areas to impede erosion and discourage off-trail walking (which tramples plants and encourages erosion).  Central Park is a relatively small area with an unusually high number of visitors. This makes it especially important that we all stay on designated paths to protect the bit of nature we have.

This patch of grasses (or are they sedges?) is doing well as a result of the protection. Now it is up to Daniel and me to figure out what plant this is!  

Erosion control Photo by Daniel Atha