Today the rain cut our day a bit short, but we managed to find a few good species. We entered the Park at West 86th Street aiming to walk around the Reservoir. Daniel had spotted butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris) while on his morning run so we knew we wanted to catch it while it was in flower.
Our first plant of the day was Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus). Sycamore maple is a Eurasian species that is invasive our region. However, in Central Park, it is not as invasive as the Norway maple (A. platanoides). It requires moist soil and many have not survived several summer droughts in past years. Sycamore maple leaves are a very dark green with red petioles (leaf stalks).
On the south side of the reservoir there are many areas that have been planted with native plants by the Conservancy. Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is one that is now spreading nicely on its own. It is a perennial with a square stem, which is typical of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and the light green leaves are wonderfully fragrant. Sometimes if you look closely at plants, you can find unexpected beauty. The stigmas (female organ) of the bee balm are feathery and delightful to look at.
As we rounded to the east side we found a vine growing in one of the plant beds. We knew it was in the Gourd family (Curcurbitaceae), the family that includes melons, squash, pumpkins and zucchini. With help from Tom Andres, a curcurbit specialist, the plant was determined to be a melon (Cucumis melo), the cantaloupe or honeydew. We will revisit the site and if it has not been weeded out of the planting bed, we can see what it will become.
Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) is a species we have already collected, but we found a some plants full of fruit and I thought it deserved to be shown off. The specific epithet "cannabinum" refers to this plant's similarity to marijuana (Cannabis sativa) not as a drug, but as a source of fiber.
Further along there was a beautiful specimen of wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis). A tall plant, this specimen was over six feet tall, with beautiful deeply lobed leaves and an inflorescence with many small flowers in different stages, some flowering, some fruiting. Most people consider the wild lettuces weeds, but some are native and they belong in our open sunny fields.
We finally made it to our stand of butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris). And a beautiful stand it was. A Eurasian species, it is a common perennial in North America, often found in sunny, disturbed locations. If you look at the individual flowers, you'll see they are similar to snapdragon flowers and in fact the two species are in the same family (Scrophulariaceae). Butter-and-eggs is an example of a garden plant that has escaped cultivation and has become a permanent part of our flora.
Along the bridle trail around 94th Street there is a beautiful stand of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). We've collected this one before, but it is worth looking at again. The red inflorescence (cluster of flowers) is distinctive, making it easy to identify as a sumac, as do the very large compound leaves. The dense hairs on the stems tell us it is staghorn sumac (compare with the stem of smooth sumac above).
Our final plant of the day is a common perennial seen throughout the City during the summer. Just look in sunny places for a pale blue flower, leaves that look like dandelion leaves and you have found chicory (Cichorium intybus). Here is another moment to take out your hand lens and look at the details of the flower, you will be treated to some interesting shapes. A non-native that is invasive in some areas, it is a beautiful plant.