Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Praying Mantis Lost and Found in the West Village

There were a lot of strange characters in the West Village over the weekend with the Halloween Parade and the pre-election rallies, but the most surprising thing I came across was a praying mantis trying to cross a cobblestone street by Gansevoort. It was not moving very quickly-- in fact it seemed a bit lost and stunned like a deer caught in headlights. A teenage girl had spotted it and she was very concerned that it not be run over but did not want to touch it. I looked at it, and I looked at her, and looked at a van that was coming right at them, and decided to give the mantid a ride on my purse to a safer location. The van honked because we were not moving out of the way fast enough, but I just let it wait-- it is not every day that a praying mantis is trying to cross the street. I was going to bring it to Hudson River park, but the girl asked if she could keep it in her back yard. I was a little nervous it might jump out in her apartment and then there would have to be a bit of a scene trying to retrieve it from behind her sofa, but luckily it seemed to like my purse as it stayed on through her house until I gave it a gentle push into one of her planters.

I still wonder where it came from, as the praying mantis is not a common urban insect. I wonder if it could have come from the High Line, which is only a few blocks away. On the Friends of the High Line web site they say they are using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in their operations, and I wonder if introducing praying mantis to control populations of aphids or other garden pests might be part of their strategy. Maybe there was not enough for it to eat on the High Line so it wandered off into the neighborhood looking for a good restaurant. I have also read that some people keep mantids as pets because they are such large, charismatic insects. Perhaps the mantis I saw was a runaway from a nearby apartment, escaping the torture or neglect of a small child.

I have not yet, and I'm not sure if I ever will find out where it came from, but my suspicion is that somebody brought it to the West Village because I cannot see it coming down on its own accord, no matter how great a reputation the Halloween Parade has, or no matter what it might have heard about the abundance of the bed bugs in the neighborhood. Whatever or whoever brought it to the neighborhood, I hope more will come again next season. It was very cool to see, it will likely help keep the mosquito population down, and anything that forces vans to slow down is a great addition to the neighborhood in my book.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In Orlando New Is Old

When I visited Orlando, Florida last spring, I noticed that in the older neighborhoods, such as College Park, some of the “cutting edge” ideas for sustainable landscaping and stormwater management had already being practiced there in the 1920s. In these neighborhoods, small bungalows were built in clusters, preserving large yards with trees near the homes to keep them cool in the hot summers. Parks were created in low-lying areas with small lakes excavated to receive an overabundance of stormwater. Old fashioned pavers used in the streets allow for permeability, and sidewalks were included in all developments to encourage walking to local errands and activities. And the trees in these neighborhoods are still thriving. It is not just bed space and year round sunshine that helps them flourish, old fashioned pavers allow stormwater to be absorbed into the ground and provide enough moisture to support a healthy canopy in between storms.

Camphor trees create a great perfume as in the air, as well as shade for sitting on porches and a great structure for children to climb.

Live Oak trees covered in Spanish moss give the streets a very distinctive southern character. The azaleas were in bloom when I was there, and seemed almost magical under the branches covered in Spanish moss.

However, even in the sunshine state there are conflicts between trees and overhead wires, as well as other curbside uses, such as garbage collection.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Tale of Two Trees

The two trees that were planted on my street in March leafed out over the last three weeks, and emerged as beautiful young Zelkova trees, most likely Japanese Zelkova, (Zelkova serrata) as these are a species listed on the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation list of approved trees for street tree planting. The majority of the existing trees on the block are Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana), but there already is a mixture of a few other species that the two new Zelkovas are joining, including Ginko, European Hornbeam, Green Ash, and a few older Zelkovas.

Although they were planted on the same street, on the same day, these two trees have had very different experiences. The tree on the southern side of the street has had a much rougher go of it. A branch was torn off of the south side tree in early April, leaving a jagged wound. Coming home from work one day, I saw the damage done, and was afraid that this wound would provide an entry for insects and fungus to attack my new neighbor, stunt its growth, and possibly kill it. Luckily, another neighbor also realized the danger to the young tree, as the torn branch was pruned within a week.

To add insult to injury, the tree on the south side of the street remains shaded by neighboring buildings much more of the day than the tree on the north side of the street. This may not seem like such a big deal to us who can walk to the grocery store to get our food, but the Zelkova is stuck waiting for the sun to bring food to it, so building shadows can really get in the way of a good meal. In fact, the south side tree leafed out a few weeks later and continues to lag behind the north side tree in foliage growth. There undoubtedly were other factors effecting the slower growth rate of the south side tree (the wound, perhaps differential treatment at the nursery or during planting), but the southern exposure that the north side tree experienced certainly gave it a leaf up. Further down the street, the Callery Pear trees on the south side and at the corners (where they were able to get more sunlight) also flowered sooner and more this spring. Most people do not realize just how much of an impact building shadows have not only on what can or cannot grow, but also on the size, shape, and speed of growth of whatever is planted there.

North Side Zelkova

South Side Zelkova

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Spring has sprung and I have been surprised by the speed with which bulbs, pansies, and other cold hardy flowers have begun appearing in tree pits across the city. The emergence of buds, leaves, and flowers on trees and woody plants is also amazing and wonderful. The weather is still tempestuous, varying from the 50s to 20s, but the brave new leaves and buds have come forth and are keeping their own.

In my neighborhood, the crocuses emerged first. Then the dwarf irises. Pansies were planted. And then all sorts of cold hardy plants began emerging on windowsills, stoops, and shop fronts. One interesting thing I've noticed is the different ways in which flowering bulbs have been appearing in tree pits around the city. In many neighborhoods bulbs were planted last season and have sprouted and flowered on their own schedule (such as the purple irises below). In other neighborhoods they do not allow their bulbs to overwinter on the street, but grow their bulbs in greenhouses and then bring in plants that have already sprouted and developed flowers to bring instant color to their tree pits (such as the yellow tulips below). Two different methods. One is certainly more expensive than the other. Another difference is an aesthetic one between a more naturalized planting, bringing a bit of natural woodland into the city, verses filling in the tree pit as if it were a flower box, to be kept to optimize seasonal color. Tree pit plantings are always contrived, cultivated areas. However, there remain different approaches to the aesthetic of a tree pit, and decisions to be made on whether it is to be treated as a bit of nature in the city, or a controlled flower box to be filled with the monoculture of the season.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Trees

I requested a street tree be planted in 2 empty tree pits down the street from me last fall... and last week 2 trees were planted by the NYC Parks Department! With Mayor Bloomberg's initiative to plant a million trees in NYC, getting a street tree planted is faster than you can say spring has sprung. I think the trees planted down the block are a cherry species because of the lenticels in the bark, but I'm waiting for the leaves and flowers for a definite I.D.

I was happy to see that there was not a mulch volcano around the base of the young tree. However, they clearly did not skimp on the mulch, as the pit is practically overflowing, as you can see below. Also note that the new tree pit quickly attracted dog droppings and garbage piling. One can see that a tree guard, even a small one, is needed to protect soil around the tree, as well as the tree itself.

April is MillionTreesNYC Month. There is more information about how to request a tree and other ways to get involved (such as planting a tree on private property!) on the MillionTreesNYC web site.

Monday, February 4, 2008

mystical mulches

A variety of stones can create a mulch that has an elegant yet rustic look in all seasons. Here is an example from the Village.

Some tree pits are better left unplanted...

I came across this beautiful Willow Oak (Quercos Phellos) on Hudson Street, and was struck by the beauty of the bare roots (pictured below). Proof that given a large enough tree pit, enough water, not too much vandalism from pedestrians, dogs, or parked cars, and a bit of luck, street trees can mature to a ripe old age. Older people have longer ears, and older trees have larger roots. Large roots can take over a tree pit to create a beautiful, sculptural element on the sidewalk that has interest in and of itself.

The large roots of the Willow Oak also support a large canopy (pictured below in winter). The tree canopy provides shade, cleans the air, cools the climate, and provides beauty and interest year round. Larger trees may not have room in the tree pit for additional plantings, but large specimens are so majestic they don't need any adornment to make a beautiful statement on the street.