Archive for the ‘Flora’ category

The Gingko: Stinky, Yes, But Also Edible

November 29, 2013

Newsflash: If you can get past the extraordinary stench and the toxic outer flesh, the fruit of the gingko tree is edible.

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Who would have thought it?

After all,the Gingko tree seems to have gone to a lot of evolutionary trouble to discourage predation of its potential progeny, starting with the extraordinary stench of its fruit (Gorgonzola cheese gone bad? dog shit? trenchfoot?). Then there’s the toxic outer flesh that can cause blisters and skin peeling.  Oh, and the fact that the fruit can be poisonous when consumed in large quantities or over a long period of time.

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None of those qualities deterred the charming and friendly Chinese lady I encountered this morning in Riverside Park, where she was digging in the leaves with a stick.  When I asked what she was digging for, she said, “Gingko fruit.”

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Her accent was so heavy that at first, I thought she was saying “Cocoa fruit.” Then I saw her collection.

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Unmistakeably gingko. I realized we were standing beneath an enormous gingko tree. “Very tasty,” she said. “Very good.”

While I have no plans to harvest and cook gingko myself, here is a fascinating post by someone who did just that. Chichi at Serious Eats describes the Gingko as “the Camembert of nuts” and the taste as “complex and utterly good to eat.” While I believe her, I doubt I’ll be trying any of these gingko recipes any time soon. I’ll just stick to my admiration of the Gingko’s glorious golden leaves.

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Note: If you decide to harvest gingko fruit, wear gloves when peeling to avoid a  bad skin reaction.

And if you’ve ever eaten gingko, or if you plan to, please leave a comment to tell us about it.

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Leaves Are Down

November 24, 2013

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Suddenly it’s freezing in NYC. On an early afternoon walk in Riverside Park, the temperature is still in the 20s.

Most branches are bare.

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Snow lingers on downed leaves in the shady spots beneath the retaining wall.

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A leaf carpet glows golden.

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The staircase at 116th Street is also carpeted in gold, thick with the lovely fan-shaped leaves of the Gingko tree.

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But the beautiful carpet reeks of rotten feet or sour vomit, thanks to the stench of the gingko tree’s fleshy, easily-crushed fruit.

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The fossil record shows ancestors of today’s Gingko biloba, also known as the Maidenhair Tree, date back over 250 million years. Native to China, the trees seem to thrive in NYC.

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A few steps further on, oak and maple leaves have transformed the wire fence into a wall of brown.

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I’ve never seen this before.

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Here the leaf carpet is brown.

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Bare branches make for good viewing of the river.

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Good hawk viewing, too. Today we see only a flock of dark-eyed juncos and a few mourning doves. But a few days ago, a red-tailed hawk watched over Riverside Park for at least twenty minutes.

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As we head out of the park, the dog poses under our favorite flame tree, its fire extinguished.

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Just a couple of weeks ago, the same tree blazed with a fiery glory.

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If you’re lucky enough to see leaves still hanging on the trees, enjoy them. They won’t last long.


				

Never the Same Walk Twice

November 13, 2013

You never know what you’ll find when you go out walking.

Today’s walk brought us:

A mysterious ziggurat by the Hudson.

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A tepee.

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A giant compass.

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Vertical objects, man-made and natural.

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Balanced stones on top of a stone in Riverside Park.

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Berries in Riverside Park.

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Osage oranges in Morningside Park.

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Never the same walk twice.

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What will tomorrow bring?

Happy May Day

May 1, 2013

Happy May!

Phil, the white peacock of Saint John the Divine.

Phil, the white peacock of Saint John the Divine.

People, flowers, wildlife and pets are out in force.

Art meets cherry trees on the grounds of St John's.

Art meets cherry trees on the grounds of St John’s.

Fine weather to sit with your dogs.

Sitting in the shade with the dogs.

Sitting in the shade with the dogs.

Or your birds.

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A bird cage with six parakeets becomes mobile atop a laundry cart.

Here’s a closer look at one of six happy parakeets on their outing to the river.

Oh, what a pretty bird.

Oh, what a pretty bird.

Fine weather, too, for human lovebirds.

On the Greenway by the Hudson in Riverside Park.

On the Greenway by the Hudson in Riverside Park.

Or for sitting alone near the forsythia.

On the retaining wall of Riverside Park.

On the retaining wall of Riverside Park.

Wherever you go and whomever you’re with, keep an eye out for color.

Tulips in Riverside Park.

Tulips in Riverside Park.

And enjoy the flowers before they go.

Magnolia carpet in Riverside Park.

Magnolia carpet in Riverside Park.

The brief life of flowers, and the word “enjoy,”puts me in mind of William Blake’s poem, Eternity:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

Happy May!

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Gimme Shelter

December 6, 2012

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A branch-and-leaf structure recently appeared in Riverside Park.

What is it?

What is it?

A closer look reveals a solid low doorway from which the proprietor – or a shaggy interloper – can keep an eye on the grounds.

My house is a very very very fine house.

My house is a very very very fine house.

Built with fallen branches and leaves by an unknown architect, the above ground tunnel looks something like a sleeping animal covered with leaves.

A sleeping animal covered with leaves.

Long, low and leafy.

Tall branches leaning against a tree make for a taller space.

At the other end.

At the other end.

The walls are tightly woven, like the brambles of the 100-year forest that sealed Sleeping Beauty from the world.

Dog inside.

Dog inside.

And leaves are thickly strewn.

Walking the tunnel.

Walking the tunnel.

The structure both hides and reveals.

The view from within.

The view from within.

And speaking of tunnels as well as of hiding and revealing, my friend Charlotte of The Rat’s Nest blog recently observed a gopher near her house in Los Angeles. She videotaped the little rodent with her iPhone as it repeatedly popped its head out of its hole, looking rather like a large thumb, then disappeared. Charlotte reports that she could actually hear the gopher tunneling in the earth.

The rodent holes I see in and around Riverside Park are not gopher tunnels. These, my friends, are rat holes, and as swiftly as the Parks Department fills them in, the rats dig them out.

Entrance to rat tunnel.

Entrance to rat tunnel.

This particular spot, most recently filled in after Hurricane Sandy, sometimes becomes a huge gaping sinkhole leading in and out of the mysterious tunnels where rats live much of their lives, sheltered from predators. Intriguing, but…

I think I’ll stay above ground.

Above ground action.

Above ground action.

For more on man-made structures in Riverside Park:

Riverside Park Weekend: The Tepee Builders

Journey North: Beyond Manhattan’s Easter Island

Beauty and the Tepee: Central Park and Riverside Park Go To the Mat

Johnny Burdock Seed, or You’ve Been Burred!

November 25, 2012

We spent Thanksgiving on Long Island.

Esau the dog near Mecox Bay. (Note how all plants are brown, killed when the bay flooded its banks during Hurricane Sandy.)

Returning to the city, I let my guard down as the dog and I strolled along the upper path in Riverside Park. I was daydreaming, working out a problem in a short play I’m writing. Suddenly I noticed the poor dog was limping. Leaves were hanging off his hind legs, but leaves don’t make a dog limp.

The culprit? My old enemy. Burrs!

Esau, you’ve been burred!

I pulled off the leaves to reveal the hated seeds of the burdock plant.

Burrs on both hind legs.

The evil burdock plants that line the path  had once again entangled my dog’s fur with sticky seeds, turning the poor beast into Johnny Burdockseed, an inadvertent carrier spreading the gospel of burdock wherever he might go.

Still distracted by my thoughts, I didn’t think to take off my mittens before pulling out the burrs.

Grrr. These things are almost impossible to pull out of thick knitted fabric. They break apart easily, and stick to everything they touch, even bare skin. For more on the incredible sticking properties of burdock and the amazing invention they inspired, watch Kelly Rypkema’s video on burdock.

Here are burrs dangling off a burdock plant, like ornaments on Morticia Adams’s Christmas tree.

But lest the brown withered stalk make you think the plant is on its last, er, legs, just take a look at those big healthy-looking green leaves. This burdock is here to stay.

Damn you, burdock. Leave my dog alone.

The Burry Dog Goes Hollywood

November 16, 2012

Kelly Rypkema’s co-star gets a pat from the cameraman.

Fellow NYC nature lover Kelly Rypkema, a biologist and actress, is the creator and star of Nature in a New York Minute.  If you haven’t discovered these charming, informative one-minute videos, here’s your chance as Out Walking the Dog’s own “burry dog” co-stars in Kelly’s most recent video, Burdock.

Be sure to watch until after the credits to see Strider, aka Esau, give a burdock plant a little payback for all those burrs.  If you’re a regular follower of OWTD, you may even recognize the location.

Visit Kelly’s website to sign up for email notifications whenever a new video is released.

For more on the burry dog, the burry man, and all things burdock, visit the links below:

The Burry Man, the Burry Dog, and Burdock

Plant People: Green Man, Burry Man, Moss Man and Poison Ivy

The Return of the Burry Dog

After Nor’Easter in Riverside Park

November 8, 2012

A squirrel contemplates the heavy wet snow that blanketed New York City last night.

The New York Times reported 4.5 inches in Central Park. But by the time I got outside this morning at 8:30, the roadways were clear and building supers were hosing off the sidewalks.

Broadway islands are still snowy.

No need to salt the streets, for which Esau and all city dogs are most grateful.

The wind must have whipped off the Hudson, since trees just west of Riverside Park were coated with snow only on the westward-facing side.

Riverside Park shows a bizarre mix of leafy green trees and snow.  That’s the Hudson River peeking through the trees, and beyond is New Jersey, which reportedly received 12 inches of snow in some unfortunate places.

Esau the dog and I took these steps down to the upper path.

Looking further down to the wide promenade and the river still further below, you can see why we who live up here in Morningside Heights are safe from flooding.

We looked north along the upper path as elements of three seasons mingled: the green leaves of late summer, the colored leaves and bare limbs of late fall, and the snow of mid-winter.

As ever, dogs were delighted with the change in weather.

Sparrows were unfazed.

In fact, a conflagration of sparrows (thank you, Dr. John, for the felicitous coinage) seemed happy to forage among leaves and seeds knocked from the trees.


A lone squirrel seemed to enjoy bounding along the snowy top of the retaining wall.

He headed first this way.

Then that way.

Look at the green leaves on one side, rust on the other.

Then … oops.

See ya.

The Return of the Burry Dog

September 28, 2012
Dog and burrs

The Burry Dog

Yes, readers, It’s that time of year again: It’s Burdock Time.

Burrs

Giant clump of burrs waits for unsuspecting passerby.

I’ve written at some length about burdock and its progeny, the burr, as well as about wonderfully bizarre ancient celebrations like the burry man.  So I’m familiar with this tenacious non-native weed whose extraordinary clinginess inspired the invention of velcro.  And yet, despite my heightened burdock awareness, on a recent walk on the upper pathway inside Riverside Park, the dog and the burdock became again … as one.

Dog with burrs in his fur

Eyebrow burrs from a 2010 encounter.

The day shone, the air was fresh, and for a moment, all had seemed right with our little world.  And then the dog started limping. Checking his paws, I found burrs, burrs and more burrs. In a moment of inattention, lulled by the beauty of the day, we had once again been ambushed by burdock, which lies in wait for moving targets like my poor dog in order to spread its seed and take over an unsuspecting world.

Burdock plant in fall

It only looks dead.

Since I first wrote about burrs in 2010, readers have shared their burry encounters. Carlie wrote me about the annual Burdock Festival of Benson, Vermont.  And Tricia of Amusing the Zillion, the peerless blog of all things Coney Island, told me burdock is a Japanese delicacy known as gobo, and is readily available at local Japanese restaurants. (Note to  Tricia: we still need to meet up for that burdock dish in the East Village.)  I also learned that burdock root, which is said to have anti-bacterial and healing properties, was one of the original ingredients in root beer, which is the nicest thing I’ve heard about burdock yet.

Antique Hires Root Beer Advertisement

Hires Root Beer, the health & temperance drink. Image: James D. Julia Auctioneers

Now I see that NYC’s own forager, Wildman Steve Brill, offers lots of burdock information as well as a video on cooking the evil vegetable.

And there seems to be a whole movement to Eat the Weeds, which sounds to me like a very good idea, indeed.

Just do us all a favor, and start with burdock. The dog and I will thank you.

The dog and I: same hair style.

Read more:
The Burry Man, the Burry Dog and Burdock
Plant People: Green Man, Burry Man, Moss Man and Poison Ivy 

What a Day: Wildlife on Long Island

September 18, 2012

What a day.

It started with a monarch butterfly on the deck.

An hour later, as Esau the dog and I were on our way to the ocean, the sight of an airborne river of butterflies made me stop in wonder. A wavering parade of monarchs fluttered across the parking lot, the road and the dunes, heading west-southwest. They crossed Mecox Bay and Channel Pond, crossed fields and yards, some flying high, some low, in small groups or singly, too small for my camera to catch.

The sun was already hot, but the air stayed cool with the tease of a promise of fall.  After about ten minutes, the insect stream slowed and we continued on to the ocean. A huge flock of swallows dipped and hunted over the dunes before heading off in the same general direction as the monarchs. They were also too small, fast and high up for my camera to catch, so you will have to look at swallowless dunes and take my sighting on faith.

Down the beach, a man and a little boy were surfcasting.

On the way home, we stopped, as ever, at the bridge, where a snowy egret and a great blue heron stalked and hunted.

Snowy egret on the left; great blue heron on the right.

Within a minute of our arrival, the heron took flight, squawking three mighty squawks as it went.

The heron takes off toward the serene little egret.

The heron circles and flies off to the right.

The snowy, now in sole possession of this prime fishing spot, seemed unmoved. In fact, it didn’t move.

“Squawk all you like, big fella. I shall not be moved.”

Snowy egrets seem to me to be bolder than great blue herons , and great blue herons to be bolder than great egrets. At least, this seems to be true around Mecox Bay this fall. The big guys startle and fly off, as this great egret did several days ago at sunset.

The little guys just go about their business.

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Snowy egret stabs a fish.

Out on the bay, a single Mute swan floated strangely on the water,

mute swan, strange posture

A mute swan rests on the water.

its neck twisted round, its beak tucked into its feathers, and one wing raised like a protective screen.

In the afternoon I biked into town for food, as I am without a car for a few days.

I passed reeds that resounded with birdsong, but no birds could, at first, be seen.  Stopping for a closer look, I understood that the reeds were a temporary city dense with red-winged blackbirds.

Then the blackbirds – the males in fall-faded epaulets and females in drab brown – began to fly out of the reed city and across the road.  Fifty or sixty or more winged away and yet the reeds remained full of song.

I passed a single deer feeding by the side of the road.

When I stopped the bike, it watched me intently.

Then, surprisingly, it moved a few steps closer.

And began again to feed.

I too moved quietly closer, trying to get out of the bright sunlight.  And …

“What’s that?”

the deer and I reached the end of our tale.

Near the end of the day, Esau and I again walked to the ocean.  On the way, I noticed a swan swimming in its customarily regal posture, but unusually close to a man fishing from the roadside. I wondered about this.

Esau basked at the beach.

On our way back, we saw the kingfisher perched on one of its favorite pilings near the egret’s fishing spot.

The swan had again tucked its head under its wing

and was letting itself drift on the open water.

I wondered if it were ill or injured, and Esau sat down to ponder that question or another.

What will we see tomorrow?

Oh Dallas, My Dallas

June 19, 2012

With the return of the television show Dallas, the city that everyone loves to hate is back.

But my Dallas,

Sunset at White Rock Lake, Dallas, Texas

the city where I lived for 16 years,

Harry S. Moss Park, Dallas

is a very different place.

Grackle in Dallas, Texas

I’ll be spending the month of July 2012 in Dallas, where my new play, NYC Coyote Existential, is being produced by Echo Theatre as part of the Festival of Independent Theaters.The Festival takes place at one of my favorite Dallas haunts, the Bath House Cultural Center at White Rock Lake.  When I visited in early May for casting, a cormorant perched atop a piling in front of a hazy skyline.

Somewhere in the large park, coyotes prowled or waited for dusk. I didn’t see coyotes – although we looked. But I talked to people who have seen them or heard them calling.

My sightings were mostly of water birds, which abound around White Rock Lake.

Near the shoreline, ducklings massed,

geese waddled,

wood ducks glided,

herons and egrets fished,

a blackbird vied with a flock of tiny ducklings for bits of bread,

and a mama mallard nested right by the path to the water.

The next day, in Harry S. Moss Park, a few miles north of the Lake, a lovely fox squirrel kept an eye on me.

 I strolled the paths and the edge of the prairie.

Behind me was Royal Lane.

But there were better things to look at than the roadway.

Like a prairie with a distant cityscape.

I’ll be posting more from Dallas in July. See you then, little fox squirrel!

NYC Peacocks and Blossoms

March 31, 2012

It’s cold and grey today, cold enough that I wished I had brought gloves on my morning dog walk.  So to warm us all up, here are recent photos from a walk through the grounds of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights.  As you look, you must try to imagine the continual sound of Saint John’s three peacock boys, screeching like trumpeting elephants and honking like city buses.

Phil, the white peacock, strolls in the garden by Columbus Avenue.

So many colors in the gardens:

pink

Are these hyacinths?

red

white

and white again

Ah, here is the wall that surrounds the secret garden, the Biblical garden where plants grow that are named in the Bible.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why not go inside?

Look, tulips

Let’s have a seat. The birds don’t mind us.

Okay, enough sitting. Time to look for the other peacocks. Ah, here’s one now.

A little higher with the tail, please.

And … we’re done.

Sparrows and pigeons share the peacocks’ food, put out in a cookie tin near their house.

“Wait a minute, I want some of that.”

On our way to Morningside Avenue, we spot the third peacock, perching and watching. (Blurry, thanks to the dog pulling at the leash.)

Until next time…

Spring Evening in Riverside Park

March 21, 2012

Tonight the dog and I took an early evening stroll in Riverside Park.

The park is just about perfect right now. Many branches are still bare, letting the river show through.

Some trees on the Cherry Walk are budding,

while others are blooming.

We left the river walk,

and headed back up to the center promenade.

Like the river, the city shows easily through the trees.

I love the seasonal layers, daffodils coming up through last fall’s leaf litter

bud-fuzzy branches,

forsythia,

lovely white blossoms,

and magnolias.

In a month or so, views of the river and the city will be obscured by layers of lush green leaves.  But meanwhile, I’m loving spring.

Look Up: Men in Trees!

March 8, 2012

What is this man looking at?

Men in trees, of course.

You never know what you’ll see on your morning dog walk in New York City.

Today, with the Hudson River as a backdrop, these guys were as good as a circus aerial act

or perhaps a troupe of nature-loving funambulists,

working with wires and spotters,

but without a net.

On this beautiful spring-like morning, it was like seeing tree spirits come to life

until they touched earth again

and were transformed back into humans.

You know, just, normal young guys with gear.

But don’t forget: these guys really do walk in trees.

Check back soon to find out what they’re doing up there.

Top Five Urban Nature Stories of 2011: From Peacocks to Mastodons

December 31, 2011

Yesterday we began our coverage of Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten Stories of 2011 with Numbers Ten to Six. The stories explored urban coyotes and whales as well as a secret garden in the middle of New York City and two peculiar NYC plants, one of which is connected to an on-going ancient British festival.

Today the countdown continues with the top five stories. Here we go:

Number Five:
Great White Peacock of Morningside Heights takes a look at the pure-white free-roaming peacock of Saint John the Divine. My readers appear to be in the grip of a communal fascination with peacocks in general and white peacocks in particular. Well, who can blame them? The birds are extraordinary. More peacock posts will follow in 2012.

Number Four:
City Hawk Snatches Chihuahua? recounts an eye-witness report by a fellow dog walker in Riverside Park of a red-tailed hawk flying off with a pink-leashed chihuahua. Believe it or not, similar stories are regularly reported. Urban legend? Fact? You decide. With a made-to-order illustration by Los Angeles writer and blogger Charlotte Hildebrand.

Number Three:
Rabies in Manhattan: What About Squirrels and Rats? is a search engine favorite, as readers from NYC and around the country seem especially concerned about the possibility of rabies in squirrels.  I wrote the post almost two years ago, during the early days of the NYC raccoon rabies epidemic, but it continues to receive a large number of hits.

credit: Marcelo Barrera

Number Two:
NYC Coyote Watch 2011: Coyote in Queens
was published at the end of January 2011, when a coyote had been seen – and photographed – in Calvary Cemetery, Queens. Queens and the Bronx seem to be the coyote’s current boroughs of choice with a breeding population in the Bronx and on-going sightings in several Queens neighborhoods. Long Island has fallen to the adaptable predator. Today, Queens. Tomorrow, the Hamptons.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, drum roll, please. The Number One Story on Out Walking the Dog during 2011 is …

Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got its Spikes. Written in 2010, Mastodons in Manhattan has consistently been my most-read post. Go figure. It tells the story of how the Honey locust tree, which may be seen in abundance in NYC parks, adapted to predation by North American megafauna by developing long, fierce spikes that are tough enough to pierce mastodon tongues (and automobile tires).

And that’s it for 2011, folks. We hope you’ll continue to follow our urban nature explorations in 2012.


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