Thursday, October 20, 2011

Natives, or not so native, in the urban wild

A gardeners work schedule is subject to sudden changes and faithful reading of hourly weather forecast updates. Today I was on call to work in a wonderful hidden garden gem in Brookline, MA, but around 11.30 am my boss called and we agreed to finally cancel for today because of the rain. I decided to go for a walk and headed out. Within 5 minutes the skies cleared up and the sun started to shine, making my woods walk prettier than ever. And all I had to do was to go to Franklin Park, the urban wild at the end of my street. The colors are starting to show, although it does feel like it's on the later side this year. 

I'm one of those people who are not (yet) sensitive to Poison Ivy, and I can't help but think that it got a bad rep. It is really good looking, trailing up the stems of the trees or tumbling over boulders. And as a ground cover it looks pretty fabulous too at this time of the year.
Eventually, I too will start to feel the effects of that chemical Urushiol, since it is simply a matter of exposure to it. Maybe then I will be less pleased to see it in my beloved woods!


 Another beauty is Sassafras. The name is so cute, and this little tree is cute too, with its mitten leaves.
 It has a warm, yellow to orange fall color.
 These maple leaves seem still hesitant to get on board for this whole fall thing.

Green Briar is a vine with thorns and glossy leaves, and it will make a dense mass of wired strands. It makes good shelter for all small critters who need to hide from hawks or owls.

 The sumacs are definitively embracing fall.

And the Spicebushes by the little brook turns bright, clear yellow. Spicebush is a distant relative of avocado, which I think is pretty obvious by the leaf shape. The fruits are nothing like the avocado fruit though - Spicebush carry small bright red berries.

Spicebush, Sassafras, Poison Ivy and Briar are all native plants to this region. There can be different interpretations of what a Native plant is, but often, it's referring to a plant that was here before Columbus. It's a part of the ecosystem here, the intricate - and delicate - web of plants and animals and fungi and bacteria and all the other components of our nature.

Japanese knotweed was brought into the country for the garden trade, and it Does have its estetical qualitites. But it has shown that it is a true Invasive, that effectively takes over a number of different habitats and outcompete native inhabitants. And if the native plants disappear, so will the insects and animals depending on that plant. A symbiosis between a plant and another organism is not replaced easily, and that's why the invasives can be such a threat to wildlife.

Not everything brought in after Columbus is considered invasive. Nobody has complained of lilacs or apple trees or garden mums running amok. And an Invasive can just as well be a plant that belongs in another part of the country but behaves more aggressively out of its own quarters.

And the truth is that there is simply not enough resources to get rid of the invasives that has already got themselves established here for decades or centuries, so we have to accept that they are here to stay. Some people cook Knotweed like Rhubarb and Garlic Mustard is known to be delicious in salad. If they could be turned into fuel, now that'd be something!

But we should try to not repeat the mistakes, and as a gardener who helps people choose what to plant on their properties, I always go with natives first, and if I see a Barberry or a tangle of Bittersweet, out they go. 

Arrowwood Viburnum is one of the natives I like to introduce. I's called Arrowwood because the long slender stems were used by the native Americans to make arrows out of. It has fresh, green shiny leaves that turn burgundy colored in fall, lovely, large flower heads and little blue berries that are a big bird favorite.

Another native: Witch hazel, with little Witches' Cap galls on.

I was happy to see so many Dogwood trees. Come spring, I know where I will take my walks.


Under this particular Dogwood tree was a ground cover of another garden escapee, Vinca or Periwinkle. I do suspect that this one was planted here, and I guess the blue flowers in spring make a nice carpet of blooms. But it is giving no room for anything else such as Canada Mayflowers or any of the other natives that could have been happy here. Vinca supports no nectar feeding bees or butterflies, and no birds or squirrels are feeding off their seeds.
Another little understory tree is Musclewood. Look at the trunk and you'll know why it has its name!

I'm not familiar with these red berries, but they do deserve a picture today.

Out of focus, but amazingly pink: Dewberry, a groundtrailing raspberry relative.

Papery leaves of Solomon's seal.

Still green - blueberry bushes will soon turn crimson red.

And right outside the park, a Black Walnut tree that has been dropping its big rock hard seeds for weeks now, to the joy of my sons and their friends.

Eventually, I called my boss and said that we should really get back to work. The garden in Brookline was lovely as usual and I felt I got the best of both nature and culture.