Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Brooklyn Bridge Park - native blossoms

Yesterday, late afternoon, in flat white light, I took a stroll down to Pier 6, five minutes from home, on the other side of the moaning and humming BQE. Shorthand for the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, about eight lanes of serious if submerged (it's in a trench at this point) traffic. 

I intended to be out for fifteen minutes, but was still wandering, an hour later, on one of the most lovely of my spring walks through this city. The air was chilly, but every serviceberry tree was in bloom, near the water. Perhaps thirty-five of them. I should count.  They are Amelanchier species - small trees and shrubs native to the Northeast, and producers of delicious red and purple fruit in June (their pie recipe will be in my book!). 

I think this will be a bumper year for the serviceberries. And I will be 8,000 miles away. Somebody, eat them for me!

I feel privileged to have seen, in person, over the last few years, the transformation of the barren, concrete docklands along the water here in Brooklyn, into one of the best parks I know. I distinctly remember standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, looking down at the wharfs, and thinking, what a waste.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is right beside the East River, and New York Harbor. Hard to beat Lady Liberty, the orange ferries, cormorants sunning their wings, and the looming presence downtown Manhattan right across the water. The park is visionary, and is a big and wonderful Up Yours to the highwayed legacy Robert Moses, the man who cut New Yorkers off from the water.

Yesterday I found something new. I never think I will, but every year I notice a new botanical thing. This time it was sassafras flowers, which I have either never seen, or never registered. I knew they had to be sassafras because I remembered how many of the trees are planted here, at Pier 1, from leafy summers and falls, past. Their powdered leaves are used as thickener in gumbo, or any stew (their roots, famously, made sarsparilla). The viscous effect of the leaves does not appeal to me much, but they are beautiful to look at.

That's them - the chartreuse flowers. The white behind - serviceberries.

And it's easy to note how this native spring is so much more muted than the imported one, on the street (that's the second half my walk, post coming later): Daffodils and tulips and magnolias have been shouting, and this woodland creeps in, behind them.


  1. Sassafras is one of my favorites too! I think you'll always see them now they've popped out of the background. It's amazing how we walk by plants for years unaware. One day they jump out at us and then we can't NOT see them again. I love that. My favorite thing about spring sassafras is how the branches form like little candelabras with a chartreuse pom pom at each tip. It's a beautiful presentation :)

  2. I like the whispering woodland.

  3. i am still very grateful for your tip-off a few years ago about the Amelanchier cherries; as i read, i realized there were 3 trees outside my office. i make yummy scones with the fruit.


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