Daniel and I started our day at 77 Street and Central Park West by the Humboldt Statue and by one of the more impressive American elms (Ulmus americana) in the park.
Our first plant of the day was collected reluctantly, a beautiful little purslane (Portulaca oleracea), growing along the base of a stone wall probably visited by every dog that enters the park here. But with no other specimens around, science wins and Daniel made the collection.
Along the path to the Triplet’s Bridge in the Naturalist Walk area, we found a knotweed (Persicaria filiformis), aka Antenoron filiforme, with robust leaves adorned with striking chevrons. This is a cultivar, derived from the Asian sister of our American species, jumpseed (Persicaria virginiana). The Asian and American species are very closely related and sometimes lumped into one species, the two sometimes distinguished merely as varieties, subspecies or even forms of one another.
We didn’t collect much else in this area, but it is a lovely spot to visit, featuring a small brook, a wooden bridge and some beautiful shade to enjoy on a hot summer’s day.
A secluded little area behind the Yard yielded a few species, including a, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). Considered a weed by some, this beauty is a medicinal herb used to treat depression.
We also found one of my favorites, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) with its bright orange flowers. It is one of the milkweeds and as such, a host for Monarch caterpillars. This species has been planted by the Conservancy as part of their on-going restoration of native species. It has slowly begun to establish itself.
We had lunch sitting on a bench just south of the Yard, enjoying the intoxicating fragrance of all the linden (Tilia) trees in bloom. We were joined by Ken Chaya, co-creator of Central Park Entire, the beautiful map that depicts all the trees of the park (http://www.centralparknature.com/).
After lunch we walked through the Ramble and just west of the Maintenance shed we found another milkweed, this time the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Milkweeds all have white latex that oozes out of any cut on the plant tissue. It is a toxic chemical the plant produces to protect itself from herbivores. The Monarch caterpillar is the only one that not only survives the toxin, but sequesters the chemical in its tissues, making the caterpillar and butterfly toxic to predators such as birds.
Down the hill from the Delacorte Theater, I have for years watched a tiny patch of whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) struggle to survive and reproduce. One plant became two, then two became a few. I told Daniel we should go look and see if there was enough to make a collection. We didn’t make it to that spot, but instead, stumbled upon this magnificent stand of this species in the Ramble. It seems Conservancy staff planted a few groups and they are reproducing very nicely. What a beautiful find!
Some days it feels like we can never get out of the Park. We attempt to leave, but find one more plant and then one more plant. We found the loosestrife as we were attempting to leave. As we were packing up to try again, Ken mentioned to Daniel that the largest Amelanchiers (shadbushes) in the park were just a little way from where we were standing. Of course, he had to see. I don’t blame him, I have admired these trees for years. These trees are over 10 meters tall with beautifully striated trunks. If you have not seen mature Amelanchier in the wild, you can easily walk by these and not realize what they are.