Friday, June 15, 2007

On the Terrace and on the Street

Figs have always been one of my favourite fruits. They're evocative and sexy in a way a grape can't be (except perhaps a peeled grape, fed to one?). So when I saw this little tree at Union Square in the spring, with tiny green fruit already set, I bought it and carried it home on the subway. That was probably the most fun part of the whole experience, because the plant in my arms broke down the barriers that people normally throw up, where they studiously ignore everyone else, with the most bizarre behaviour eliciting the most indifference. But with plants, and bunches of flowers, and apple pie, I've noticed, people become engaged. Most didn't even know what it was, and asked. Some people just smiled inclusively, as if we shared a secret. It was nice. So now it's two months later and yesterday evening I noticed that four of the figs are nearly ripe...Another party? With one segment per person, with a piece of Serrano ham?

Otherwise the poor little tree has had a hard time. It has blown over, it has nearly toppled from the roof, it has become windburned, beaten by rainstorms and it has been pricked by my climbing roses. But perhaps the stress has been good for it, because the fruit is beautiful and undamaged. When the figs are done, I'll repot it and look after it and perhaps we can bring it through the winter. It deserves it.

And more Tilia (remember the Shake Shack tree?). This one is in full bloom (as they all are, around the city), on the corner of Henry and Congress. I've discovered that the scent is subtle - you have to be downwind to get it, or under the tree on a still day. Here's more Tilia trivia:

Formerly an important tree in lowland England, characterizing the original forest as the last tree to enter Great Britain after the last Ice Age but not reaching Scotland and Ireland, it is now cultivated ornamentally internationally. The lime tree is a national emblem of Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, where it is called lipa. The tree also has cultural and spiritual significance in Hungary, where it is called hars(fa).The Croatian currency, kuna, consists of 100 lipa, also meaning "linden". In the Slavic Orthodox Christian world, limewood was the preferred wood for panel icon painting.

It provides useful bee-fodder though some sugars are toxic in excess, so dead bees (often bumblebees) are often found below flowering trees.The honey is very pale but very richly flavoured. I want some!

The blossoms of the linden tree emit a strong and delightful perfume which can be reproduced quite satisfactorily by mixtures of synthetic aromatics (hydroxycitronellal, etc.) and essential oils. The natural flower oil of the linden blossoms is, therefore, rarely produced commercially. Weird.

Tilia cordata is the preferred species for medical use, having a high concentration of active compounds. It is said to be a nervine, used by herbalists in treating restlessness, hysteria, and headaches.

The leaf buds and young leaves are also edible raw.

The timber of lime trees is soft and easily worked, so it is a popular wood for carving. The wood is often used for model building , and for making electric guitar bodies! Other musical instrument uses include its use for wind instruments such as recorders. It is also the wood of choice for the window-blinds and shutters industries. Real wood blinds are often made from this lightweight but strong and stable wood which is well suited to natural and stained finishes.

It is known in the trade as basswood, particularly in North America. This name originates from the inner fibrous bark of the tree, known as bast (Old English). A very strong fibre was obtained from this, by peeling off the bark and soaking in water for a month; after which the inner fibres can be easily separated. Bast obtained from the inside of the bark of the lime tree has been used by the Ainu people of Japan to weave their traditional clothing, attus.

Now: this guy. Bill, at Holly, Wood and Vine helped me ID it. It's in full bloom right now on the corner of Congress and Clinton Streets - and I had no clue. It looks vaguely acacia-like. What it is, is the beautifully named Golden rain tree (rent "Raintree County" for the full experience: or read it, same title, by Ross Lockridge. Eva Marie Saint, his wife, starts in the movie with Liz Taylor. Also Montgomery Clift before his face is smashed up. Filmed by MGM in 1957 - book = 1948. End of digression), Koelreuteria paniculata. I used Google to get to that point, googling "yellow flowered trees" (there aren't many), and then Bill got out Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, which is really lovely. Dirr writes: "Excellent and unrivalled for late yellow flowers;...very lovely to look upon and lay under on a hot July day." What sweet language. It belongs in China, and was introduced to the US in 1763...another source (New York City Trees) says Jefferson planted seeds in 1806.

(thank you Wikipedia)


  1. Yes, very professional. I appreciate the use of latin words and the detailed descriptions of plant material. :-)

  2. F-off!

    You're missing two lobsters and flank steak as we speak...A toast shall be drunk in honour of missing Husbands.


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