Monday, May 25, 2015

The green islands of the big city

Perhaps heading to Pelham Bay Park, on the Bronx side of the Long Island Sound on the first warm weather holiday weekend of the year was not the brightest idea we've ever had.

Usually we're here in April, for the giant, unsprayed stands of Japanese knotweed, now too tall and tough to collect. Still - for me, the plant lover, I knew that new discoveries lay ahead. The crowd-averse Frenchman was less optimistic.

There were boom boxes, there was salsa, there were unclad bodies of every proportion. There were sprawling picnics emerging from plastic bags and foil trays and there were dozens of portable barbecues. Fully dressed, with backpacks and long lenses, we stalked through the shiny masses, pale aliens from the planet of observation.

And into the green. The salsa brass still shimmering behind us.

This was helpful. The little flowers above belonged to a Smilax vine, but looking at them later I was able to tell the difference between Smilax rotundfolia, above and below...

...and Smilax herbacea (below), which has starburst flowers. The young, growing tips of Smilax are edible and taste (without the cobwebs) a little like grape tendrils, but are more succulent and less astringent.

The last of some native pinxter azaleas were in bloom - Rhododendron canescens.

While the woods here are plagued - dominated - by noxious invasives (a USDA classification) like Japanese knotweed, day lilies, vinca, garlic mustard, mugwort, and field garlic (all high on my Eat List) there are still wonderful, if threatened, patches of indigenous wildflowers.

Common cinquefoil, above (cinque = 5 = the number of leaflets), is Potentilla simplex, masquerading often as the barren strawberry.

Lovely and new, last seen one April when its leaves were red: This is wood betony, above, Pedicularis canadensis. It carpeted the forest floor in just one area for a couple of dozen feet.

Inbetween the wood betony plants grew these dainty flowers - yellow star grass, geophytes whose tiny hairs are indicated in the species name: Hypoxis hirsuta.

There were pathside clouds of Geranium maculatum.

Tall and pretty and invasive dame's rocket - Hesperis matronalis. While it behaves and looks a little like Phlox, its four petals indicate that it belongs to the big mustard - Brassicaceae - family. So, yup, edible.

And growing in sheets down to the water, Aristalochia clematitis. Responsible, apparently, for kidney failure and urinary tract cancers down the ages, in those who consumed it as a medicinal herb. It contains aristalochic acid. It is European in origin and has taken over one side of a small island, here.

We made our usual pilgrimage to our picnic spot.

And were rewarded with the sight of two American oyster catchers on another rocky island.

Two sandwiches, and one all-American beer. We developed a fondness for Miller on a Namibian camping trip, and drink it for the fumes of nostalgia.

I baked a sour cherry sourdough loaf on Saturday morning, and the sandwiches were smeared with beach plum chutney before being stuffed with cheese and arugula.

Another troop of picnickers arrived, three families and four strollers strong, with their barbecue. 

On the way out through the phragmites - also very invasive - I nibbled the pale and tender tips of young stalks that slip easily from the middle of the giant grass cylinder. Tastes like cucumber!

And then it was back out again.

And through the good-smelling smoke of the hundreds of barbecuing partiers with their boom boxes camped beside the giant parking lot.

...onto our bus, driving past pretty pink horse chestnut (Aesculus x carnea) and  back to the 6 train and Harlem.



  1. Lovely. As the wind roars here in the S Peninsula, and our fire burns in the lounge x

  2. The wind, from a long way south, has winter's chill after a very rainy night. I shall tweak soft-earth weeds and make myself a similar picnic for my lunch.Without the Millers.

  3. It's these things that may be all I miss.

  4. Loved coming along for that outing.

  5. miller is the best bad american beer.


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