Jul 9, 2012

Found Objects

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

E.E Cummings

I found a bunch of these curious objects on the beach in Longbranch, NJ while visiting with a friend last summer. They look like seed pods but reminded me of embryo cases of skate. They also look like some kind of weapon to be hurled or something belonging in a Star Wars movie. (Maybe I'm influenced by my 12-year old playing online Xbox games).  I wondered if they were from land or sea.

Just recently I learned that they are the seeds pods of Trapa napans or Eurasian water chestnuts. These tough boggers use their spikes to hitchhike rides on geese and are also eaten by muskrats, both helpful in distributing the pods.

Trapa napans are aquatic plants and have become an invasive species, problematic in clogging estuaries, causing flooding as they alter geomorphology and cause a nuisance to fishers and beach goers. Environmentalists are devising strategies to control their aggressive propagation so some day, soon, there may be very few of them washed up to be found on beaches.

                                                                 protective egg case of skate

I have a small bone and insect collection. This squirrel skull was found in the West 148th Street garden. The bronze bird is a pendant, a present from the boys.

Another object from the beach. Looks like a seed head but not sure from what plant it came. Please tell me if you know. Thanks.

Jul 6, 2012

PLANT PROFILE: Physocarpus opulifolius


I spied this shrub growing near the main entrance of Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem. It has long arching branches covered in pleated, burgundy-colored, lobed leaves. Clusters of perfectly round individual flower buds, tinged with pink, open to reveal small white flowers with airy stamens. Corymbs run along the length of each stem creating masses of attractive blossoms, seducing pollinators. Physocarpus opulifolius is a multi stemmed medium size deciduous shrub native to North America. It is a vigorous grower adaptable to most soils and while it likes sun, it tolerates some shade. As a member of the roseaceae family, individual flowers look like apple blossoms and corymbs resemble those of spirea or miniature snowball viburnum.

growing in front of Cornus alba and boxwood
This particular shrub may be Physocarpus opulifolius 'Summer Wine' named for its dark leaves which make a lovely backdrop for the flowers, especially just before they open and are at their pinkest. There are other varieties with orange to deep red foliage and some with gold-green foliage like 'Dart's Gold'. A dark red cultivar is justly named 'Little Diablo'.

White flowers make way for bright red seed pods in July which are said to resemble bladders. Physa is Greek for bladder and carpus refers to the seeds capsules or fruit. Opulifolius suggests that the leaves resemble those of Viburnum opulus. Propagate Physocarpus from seed or from soft wood cuttings in spring.

Physocarpus is commonly known as Ninebark for its many layers of peeling flaky bark which becomes obvious when the colorful fall leaves are gone. The bark contrasts nicely with the red seed capsules that last throughout winter. Only older stems take on the flaky appearance so resist heavy pruning in fall and know that birds will be provided with shelter and food in winter.  I'm considering replacing the purple weigela bush in the148th Street Garden with Physocarpus opulifolius, especially after observing adult and juvenile cardinals there earlier this week. Attractive, not fussy, year-round interesting plant that feeds birds and bees and it is a native. All good reasons to grow Physocarpus.


Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy. The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze ...