Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pelham Bay Park in early April

The woods, the weekend.

This is the Bronx. Funny, ain't it? Early spring up there on the mainland resembled a pale, washed out fall, until you looked at your feet, and at the low lemony branches of spicebush.

We saw, in the grassy bits, the wildflower called spring beauty - Claytonia virginica. The bulbs are edible and the flowers were plentiful but how, as an urban forager, could I start digging them up? I could not. I unearthed just one for research purposes and it sits in an old milk bottle now, collected from Dead Horse Bay, the translucent striped flower looking at the sun on the terrace, the bulbs and roots dipped in water. I let the rest be. Wildflowers in the city are too unsual, too lost, too overlooked, to sustain any tampering. The bulb is small, like a smooth beach pebble. As the weather warms the plants retreat, summer-dormant.

Below, this was new to me, and delicately exciting. Stems like burgundy thread with winestained petals opening to palest striped pink. It is Anemone quinquefolia. The leaves are five-lobed, hence the name, but I had been thinking along the lines of Thalictrum.

They were just beginning to open; most the of fragile-looking plants were only just in bud. Imagine these in the untended and abused woods of Prospect Park. They'd be stomped into oblivion.

Below, wood betony - Pedicularis canadensis (see comments).

Low on the forest floor the earliest shoots of native Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum biflorum.

No obvious sign of spring in the marshes around Hunters Island.

...except for the beginning of blueberries.

The rocks that edge the water are striped and complex.

Tide out, on another grey day. I have never seen this park beneath a blue sky. Does the sun ever shine on the Bronx?

We sat on a chilly rock over the water of the Sound to eat our baguettes and saucisson and sip our glasses of wine. We were accompanied by the cries of hysterical oyster catchers and the aerial ballet of gulls dropping shellfish onto the rocks to shatter them for their own lunch.

On our way back we stumbled upon some serious birders. Big lenses like red sports cars. Mine's bigger than yours? They were pointing at a tall tree trunk, snapped off and hollow, in which blinked a fluffy and sleepy-looking owlet. 

After admiring the sweet baby (offspring of a great horned owl, who apparently nests here every season) for a while I snuck off into the undergrowth and occupied myself with Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) shoots. The most invasive of invasive weeds. And delicious. All of us a New York City pastoral scene.

The old, hollow stalks (excellent pea shooters) were still in place, unlike in Central Park, where their absence points to mechanical or chemical control. This knotweed is clearly beyond control, but a boon to people like me. The fat young stalks looked so much like asparagus it was hard to stop my mouth watering. Unlike asparagus, they collapse into a sour, sorrel-y cream when cooked.

More new spring wildflowers. The pretty, submissive flowers of cutleaf toothwort - Cardamine concatenata, quite prolific. I found the name quite fast after Googling "trifoliate spring ephemeral."

And our old friend, lesser celandine or fig buttercup, Ficaria verna (I think I've called it Ranunculas ficaria, elsewhere - its old name), native of EurasiaYes, I did steal some flowers. Here's why:

Fig buttercup is a vigorous growing vernal [occurring in the spring] plant that forms large, dense patches in floodplain forests and some upland sites, displacing many native plant species, especially those with the similar spring-flowering life cycle. Spring ephemerals complete the reproductive part of their life cycle and most of their above-ground development in the increasing light of late winter and spring, before woody plants leaf out and shade the forest floor. Some examples of native spring ephemerals include bloodroot, wild ginger, spring beauty, harbinger-of-spring, twinleaf, squirrel-corn, trout lily, trilliums, Virginia bluebells, and many, many others. These plants provide critical nectar and pollen for native pollinators, and fruits and seeds for other native insects and wildlife species. Because fig buttercup emerges well in advance of the native species, it has a developmental advantage which allows it to establish and overtake areas rapidly

We headed back to the wide scoop of Orchard Beach and its empty sand, which always looks post-apocolyptic and leaden. We were cold, so skipped walking over to City Island and headed instead back to our traffic circle and bus to the subway (6 train, end of the line), skirting the massive parking lot which must be visible from space, and keeping an eye out for the two wild turkeys we had seen earlier, on our way in. See the Frenchie's will post of those. Handsome feathers.

Good day, far from home.


  1. It's nice to do a good deed (removing a bully) and still end up with pretty flowers for the table! I just love all your ephemerals - wish I had a place to search for them here. It's like they are hiding in plain sight.

  2. Lovely! One of the absolute best wildflowery places in NYC. The "Achillea"is yet *another* native & rare wildflower, wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis).

  3. I recently discovered your blog and love it. I lived in NYC many years ago and your photos allow me to relive some of those days. I especially love your rooftop/terrace and culinary photos.

  4. Ok, the Frenchie is late but will post soon. Very nice pictures, by the way!

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I used to live nearby and yes, they do have full sunshine in the Bronx too. :)
    There is an extremely beautiful place if you go a little bit more up north, taking Pelham Road, it is called Davenport Park. It is an open space going to the water edge with an astonishing view for the Laong Island Bay. It is especially beautiful during those sunny days. :)


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