Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fothergilla gardenii - Dwarf fothergilla

This is one of several plantings that went along with the construction of the Environmental Center here at Pace - Pleasantville. In fact, this picture is of a shrub just outside the door to my building.

When I first saw it, I thought it might be some sort of alder, based on the leaf shape. I looked through all the books I had available to me, but didn't find anything convincing. So I asked our local naturalist and he said "Forthergilla". From there, I went to the internet - first stop, Wikipedia. The genus Forthergilla has the common name Witch Alder. According to the Wikipedia entry, there are only two or three species in the genus. The family is Hamamelidaceae, the witch-hazel family. So while alder is in the common name, this species isn't in the same family as the genus Alnus (Betulacea - the birches). It made me pretty happy that at least I wasn't the only person to think of this resemblance.

So why couldn't I find this plant in any of my books? Well, most all of my guides are northeast based. And my favorite website for identification, GoBotany, is also northeast based. According to information from the Missouri Botanical Garden entry for F. gardenii, this species is native to the southeast US. This makes me wonder if I should start expanding my collection of guides.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Linden viburnum - Viburnum dilatatum

I went for a nice walk with my cousin in Rockefeller State Park Preserve yesterday evening. He identified a number of the plants there for me. This one is of particular interest, because it is a non-native reported as becoming more widespread in natural areas.

Viburnum dilatatum
Honestly, I don't think it would have stood out to me as anything out-of-the-ordinary. Very little is known about the potential ecological impacts of its spread, but it is assumed that it can crowd out natives, particularly along forest edges. It is native to east Asia and commonly cultivated/planted in gardens throughout the mid-Atlantic USA.

Some distinguish characteristics:

  • Gleason and Cronquist note that it lacks stipules and it's leaves are hairy on both sides. I don't recall noticing this in the field, but I also wasn't looking carefully. (I tried to zoom in to the pic, but no luck.)
  • The fruits are apparently quite showy. I'll keep my eye out for this in the future.
  • The UCONN Plant Database also had a good entry for this species, which pointed out features like pubescents on both surfaces of the leaves, but more densely so near veins, and the presence of bright orange lenticels. 
I'll keep an eye out for these features next time I'm botanizing in the park!

Saturday, April 30, 2016


I like spending time in botanic gardens. For the purposes of becoming better at plant identification, it's nice to be able to look at a plant and have a label nearby that tells me 'the answer'. However, in most gardens, many of the labeled specimens are exotics or hybrids. Nevertheless, looking at the plants and studying their characteristics, then connecting them to the genera listed, still seems like a good way for me to learn more.

Two weeks ago we made our first trip of the season to our local botanic garden, Old Westbury Gardens. Being so close, we became members here last year, and find that it's a great place to bring our daughter for a few hours of running around outside. These little plants caught my eye, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they're native to South Africa. Well, to be clear, as someone who studies invasion biology, I didn't think that was so great, but as someone who's spent sometime studying the flora of the Cape Region of South Africa, seeing these guys made me feel a bit nostalgic.

Nemisia hybrid
Their were a number of different varieties, all equally pretty I think.

Nemesia fruiticans

This last one was particularly stunning.

Nemesia hybrid

While writing this post, I looked up Nemesia in the book Field Guide to Fynbos. I was happy to see the genus in there, but not surprised that N. fruiticans (they only one of these three with a species name) was not listed. This field guide is not exhaustive. But the generic description sounds pretty right - leaves opposite, variously toothed, flowers solitary, combinations of white, yellow, orange, pink, or blue, calyx 5-lobed, corolla 5 lobed and strongly 2-lipped. There are about 60 different species of these little guys, about 25 in the fynbos. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Magnolia 'Elizabeth'

Spring is definitely coming in the NY metro area. This past Sunday I spent a few hours walking around the Planting Field Arboretum with my daughter. It was a great day, just a bit cool (around 50F), and oddly, a few hours before we would get an inch of snow. We saw many plants blooming, but the one I want to talk about in this post is the Magnolia tree we saw.

I love the site of flowering trees in the early Spring!
To be honest, I'm still not 100% certain this is a Magnolia, and I haven't been able to get it to species. The first place I looked was the Trees of New York: Native and Naturalized by Donald Leopold. But the Magnolia species described in there didn't quite fit what I was seeing. In particular, the bud on this tree is fairly big and hairy, which didn't match the buds described in this book.

Bud, not so focused. And bark of relatively young twig.
I tried looking through a few of my other books, but eventually went to the internet and started Google searching terms like "fuzzy flower bud early spring" and what not. Ultimately, the images and descriptions I found that best fit my observations were for Magnolia 'Elizabeth'. This is a cross between M. acuminata (Cucumber tree) and M. denudata (Yulan magnolia), so a native and a exotic, respectively. It was neat to read on the Missouri Botanical Garden site that this variety is patented by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. All things considered, it makes a lot of sense that this tree would be planted at an estate along the north shore of Long Island.

My daughter, enjoying the early spring day outside, while dad takes pictures of plants.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Japanese barberry - Berberis thunbergii

My wife, daughter, and I went for a nice walk the Friday after Thanks Giving at Fahnestock State Park. Along the way I noticed a fairly large infestation of Japanese barberry. This is a plant that I'm fairly confident in my ability to identify in the field, but I wanted to use this opportunity to learn more about its characteristics.

I usually ID this based on the red fruits, straight spines/ thorns, and the surrounding environment and plant community. However, in the past, I've not bothered thinking about the difference between Common barberry (Berberis vulgaris), which is native to Europe, and Japanese barberry (B. thunbergii). One of the key differences is that Common barberry has sharply toothed leaf margins, while Japanese barberry has 'entire leaf margins' (no teeth). It's late Autumn in NY. Looking at this picture, it's clear that leaf characteristics are not going to help me.

Another trait difference is that Common barberry as 3-pronged spines. I didn't recall seeing this in the field. When I zoom into this picture, it becomes pretty blurry, but I'm pretty sure that each of the spines is by itself. So I'm going with Japanese barberry as my ID.

Both Japanese and Common barberry are in the Berberidaceae family (i.e., the barberry family). There's some nice information on this family both in the above referenced Wikipeadia page and in eFlora. Seems to be a fairly species rich family (ca. 650 species), but relatively few here in northeast North America (based on Flora Novea Angliae).

Sources used:
previous knowledge
Flora Novea Angliae
USFS Weed of the Week information sheet (Common barberry)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

American crab apple - Malus coronaria

There are a lot of plants in my own backyard that I'd like to work on IDing here. This is the first. American crab apple or wild crab apple or sweet crab apple ... let's just go with Malus coronaria. This tree caught my eye because the fruit have turned a beautiful yellow / gold color this fall (and presumably every fall). I'm not fully convinced it's M. coronaria though. From what I saw, it lacks the thorn-like structures at the end of the twigs. That might be just based on the branch I pulled off the tree, or it might be some sort of cultivar. Or perhaps I just got it wrong.

Sources used:
Trees of New York State Native and Naturalized
Trees of Eastern North America (Princeton Guides)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Changing the focus of this blog

I started this long neglected blog to write down ideas I had as worked my way through getting my PhD in Ecology and Evolution. I've since gotten said degree, finished my postdoc, and started as an assistant professor at Pace University in New York. I've also started a different blog (of sorts) using Github pages. 

So where does that leave this site? I had thought of continuing to neglect it for a while, until I finally just closed it all together. But today, I had another idea. You see, while I fancy myself a plant ecologist, I'm not especially good at knowing the names of many plants. I've wanted to get better at this for a long time, and perhaps some day I will. So I'm going to use this space to post pictures of plants I try to ID.