Seed Heads

I’ve had these seed heads on my desk since the summer. I collected them while working in various gardens. The first seed is Clematis pitcheri, commonly called purple clematis, purple leatherflower, or bluebill. Here’s a link to photos of the lovely nodding purple flowers. This clematis is a climbing, twining vine that begins with purple flowers that turn into fluffy Dr. Seuss-looking puffs and then into these stunning seed heads. The star shaped head is fragile, with the individual paddle-shaped seeds breaking off the stem.

The second seed head is from the Hibiscus dasycalyx, or the Netches River Rosemallow. It is a hibiscus that is native to Texas, and is protected because it is only found wild in 3 places along the Netches River. It has beautiful white flowers with red centers. You can see photos here. It grows in wet conditions. The seeds are sweet fuzzy teddy bears and I’m officially scared of screwing up their propagation.

I also saved some Asclepias purpurascens that I’ve put in the fridge to stratify. They are over year old, so I’m not too hopeful. Reference pictures here. I love milkweeds and always try to propagate and distribute them to fellow gardeners.

Is it obvious that I’m dreaming of Spring?

Painted Bunting


WatermarkPhotoSquare™2015-12-29 03:12:37 +0000This little fellow got sidetracked from his migration and ended up in Prospect Park in the native flora area. I finally got a chance to go see him today and he was as spectacular as anticipated. Right now he should be hanging out in southern Florida or Central America, not in Brooklyn. There have been as many as 100 people a day stopping by to gawk at his stunning coloration. This little guy seemed completely unfazed with all the attention he’s been garnering. He’s been sticking to a very small area and munching on the grass and pokeweed seeds.

He’s puffed up like a little ball in the picture because it was a little chilly today. Hopefully we’ll get some more seasonal temperatures here and that will kick his migration instinct back into gear. Cross your fingers for a good outcome for this beautiful creature!

Blooming Butterfly Weed


I’m excited to report that some of my little Asclepias tuberosa aka butterfly weed have started to bloom. I really didn’t expect them to the first year. Butterfly weed is in the milkweed family, which means that it is the food source for the monarch butterfly caterpillars. Milkweed is a truly fascinating plant. The flowers have a kind of trap system in place which causes the pollinator’s leg to slip in a crack and land on a sticky clump of pollen. When the animal tries to wrench its leg out of the crack it pulls the pollen out as well. The downside is that sometimes the insect isn’t able to pull itself free, or pulls itself free, but leaves a leg behind. Yikes! Nature is rough.


sept 2014-2Today I was gardening at Brooklyn Bridge Park up by Jane’s carousel. There is a very tiny, but pretty garden there that is a rain garden. There is a lot of swamp milkweed in the garden, which is one of my favorite milkweeds. But in addition to being very pretty, it is also a host plant for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies.

sept 2014-3While I was weeding I noticed a monarch caterpillar. I was very excited because monarch butterflies are in decline. It was wonderful to see that the monarchs found a perfect spot filled with their favorite (and only) food. A minute later I noticed another one. sept 2014-4Aren’t they beautiful? And then I noticed that this garden was filled with these beauties. sept 2014-5There was a monarch butterfly flitting about as well. But it was teasing me and I never got a photo of it. I just enjoyed watching it dance happily over all the milkweed.

Still here

IMG_1854A lot has been going on with my volunteer gardening at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Besides working one day at the Osborne garden, I am now working one day in the Native Flora garden. It’s a nice mix of formal beds and action-packed nature. The Native Flora garden attracts all kinds of insects, birds and butterflies, that it’s almost as much a study of animals as plants when I’m there. Below is one of the many praying mantis I saw one morning.IMG_1842

IMG_1838Earlier in the summer, when I was in the Osborne garden, I noticed bright red fruit on one of the trees. The tree was a cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) tree, which is actually related to dogwoods and not cherries. As many of you know by now, my first question was, “Are they edible?” The answer is a hesitant yes, unless you are from Iran, in which case you get a hearty yes. I read that you could make jam with the berries, so I got permission to gather a bunch that had fallen to the ground. The ones on the trees aren’t quite ripe.IMG_1839I followed a recipe I found online for jam, which I can’t say was a complete success. The taste was wonderful. Cooking the fruit took out the mouth-puckering tannin feel that the raw fruit has. The recipe I used called for way too much water. My preference in making jams and preserves is to cook the fruit as little as possible. What I ended up with was a delicious fruit syrup. Perfect for pouring over yogurt or ice cream.

Next year, I will stick with a more traditional jam recipe. If you run across one of these trees, do give the fruit a try.

Gardening at Brooklyn Bridge Park

IMG_1828One of the fun things about gardening at Brooklyn Bridge Park is all the different spaces. There are fields with regular grass and trees, wetland areas, tidal pools, bamboo thickets and native grass meadows. These photos are from when I was weeding in one of the native grass areas. There is a walking bridge above connecting Brooklyn Heights to the park. This particular area is filled with native grasses and sedges, which was a good challenge in identification for me. I had to pull the weeds and invasive grasses, but leave the native stuff. It was really tricky at first, but eventually I was able to really see the differences in coloration and blade texture.IMG_1829When I got home I ordered a copy of the book Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast. It was recommended to me to help in weed identification. And if that doesn’t prove my nerdiness, check out these cool “bird’s nest” mushrooms I saw while weeding. IMG_1827It’s a lousy phone photo where I was trying to get too macro, but if you squint you can see them. There are a few light orange circles that are the mushrooms. When the mushroom wants to spread its spores, the top comes off to expose them. They are the tiny black disks that look like bird’s eggs sitting in a nest. C’mon, you have to admit they are cool!!


IMG_1The first flower to bloom in my garden this spring is bloodroot. I got this native plant from my favorite plant nursery Project Native in Great Barrington, MA. My first encounter with this sweet flower was on a hike in early spring a couple of years ago up in the Berkshires. Although spring was definitely hitting, it was still too early for anything more than buds on the trees. As we walked along, we spied lots of these beauties popping up. They just screamed spring. There was something so hopeful about this flower springing up out of what still looked like winter. I was smitten.

I bought a plant a few years ago. Last spring was to be the first time I would have bloodroot in my garden. Unfortunately I let my chickens loose in the garden and they ran right to that spot and danced a cha cha on the plant and shredded it beyond repair. I was afraid that they had killed it. Needless to say, I didn’t see a flower that year.

On my early spring rounds of the garden, when I’m searching for any signs of life, I noticed the small curled leaf of the bloodroot plant! A couple of days later the little flower opened. Isn’t it lovely?

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is so named because of the dark red of its root. It has been used medicinally for ages. Applying the root directly to skin, kills the cells, which has led people to try and use it as a way to kill cancer cells. It is currently added to toothpaste and mouthwash as an anti-placque and antibacterial agent.

Bloodroot grows in part shade to shade. It prefers woodlands. I have it in a particularly shady spot in my garden. It already looks as though it is spreading, so hopefully a few more blooms will pop up this spring. After it is pollinated, the petals drop off and a seedpod forms soon afterwards. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole process this year.


Butterfly Safari with Project Native

Berkshires-6This past weekend we went up to the Berkshires. I always get my nature groove on when we’re up there. This weekend was no exception.

My favorite plant nursery in the world (it’s so much more than that!), Project Native, was hosting a butterfly safari. They specialize in native plants as a means to promote a healthy ecosystem. I’ve probably gone into it before, but without native plants, there aren’t food sources for native insects and bugs, which then in turn affects what the native birds eat, etc. etc. etc. There are also some insects that will only lay their eggs on one type of plant (called a host plant). Monarch butterflies are one such insect. They will only lay their eggs on plants in the milkweed family. And their numbers are declining drastically. In fact our guide mentioned that their numbers could be down anywhere from 30-90 percent, and that they haven’t seen one all summer! But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Berkshires-4During our safari, we were given butterfly nets and instructed on the best way to catch and then release the butterflies into the holding box. Our guides were amazingly knowledgeable about the different plants and butterflies we saw. They walked us through their property, which was a fun glimpse of the different plants they sell growing in a wide, open setting.

Berkshires-5We caught several butterflies. Lindsay was by far the best at it. And then we brought them to their newly built butterfly house to release them. The butterfly house is a hoop house, with netting instead of plastic. It is filled with native plants for the different butterflies to feed  and lay eggs on.

Berkshires-2Inside, we saw loads and loads of caterpillars. This one is particularly great with its false eyes on it.

And, you might have noticed that after I said that they hadn’t seen any monarchs, my first photo is of a monarch. That was from a woman who donated monarchs she used in a classroom setting. They were from PA, so aren’t considered native to the Berkshires. They will not release the monarch when they release all the other butterflies for the winter.