Having worked for the Conservancy for 19 years, I did my fair share of planting. It is wonderful to see the species we have used for restoration spreading on their own. Soil throughout the Park used to be so compacted that there was not much regeneration. On the south shoreline of Turtle Pond there are several large redbuds (Cercis canadensis) that were probably planted during the 1997 restoration of the area. If you look around, you can see seedlings popping up in many places. The distinctive heart- shaped leaves make this tree easy to identify and if you remember back to earlier this spring, they have fantastic fuchsia-colored flowers.
Last week we went looking specifically for ferns. Today we found one species of fern that has been planted for restoration purposes and has begun to spread on its own.
Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is a colony-forming fern and grows in a beautiful vase shape. This species is dimorphic – the fertile fronds look different from the sterile fronds. They are shorter, and when ripe have brown tissue covering the sporangia (see the June 30 blog entry). This fertile frond can persist throughout the winter and is very attractive in the snow. The photo below shows a fertile frond still green, before it is fully ripened. The second photo showing the colony-forming habit was taken in the Shakespeare Garden.
At the Castle, along one of the pipe rail fences, we found bouncing-bet (Saponaria officinalis). Another common name of this plant is soapwort, the name Saponaria comes from the Latin meaning soap. It contains a toxic substance called saponin that lathers up when shaken with water. Used externally and diluted, it has traditionally been used as soap.
Crown-vetch (Securigera varia) is a perennial in the bean family (Fabaceae) that forms a dense groundcover. It is native to Europe, Asia and Africa and is considered invasive here. It has a dainty pink flower but it is a tough little plant, growing strongly with little to no maintenance. We found this stand growing along the fence line north of the Great Lawn along the inside of the 86th street transverse.
Also along the transverse but closer to the East drive, we found two plantain species (Plantago sp.) growing together. Another opportunity to compare species of the same genus, side by side. There are three species in this genus that are common in our area. The two shown below are often misidentified as one species because they resemble each other closely. Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is a Eurasian species and Pale plantain (Plantago rugelii) is native to North America. At first glance they look alike, but examine the leaves. The base of the petioles (leaf stem) of the Pale plantain will be reddish or purplish. Compare the ripe fruit with a hand lens, the capsules of the pale plantain will be longer and narrower than that of the broadleaf plantain. The third species (not shown here) is the English plantain (Plantago lanceolata).
Our final plant of the day is a little non-native biennial plant that is growing around the Still Hunt statue on the east side of the Ramble. Honesty (Lunaria annua) is in the Mustard family (Brassicaceae), but the fruit does not look like the typical pods of a mustard. The fruit also gives this plant its other common names – money plant and silver dollar. Gardeners love to plant this, not only for its bright flowers, but also for the seed-heads which can be dried and added to flower arrangements. The second photo was taken back in May. I have seen it in this spot for many years and it is spreading, although it spreads very slowly.