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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!