GREEN THOUGHTS: Two yellow Bettys

I LIKE WHEN PLANTS MAKE ME do a double-take. The enormous weeping beeches at the Vanderbilt Estate, an entire field ablaze with sulfurous dandelions and the giant witches broom in a white pine along a central New York road all had me putting on the brakes for a prolonged investigation. So last week when a small front yard tree in Rensselaer appeared to be filled with yellow canaries, I came to a complete stop, then rejoiced over a yellow magnolia.

Afterward, I rather sheepishly decided that I shouldn’t have been so surprised, since I have a yellow magnolia in my front yard, too. While such a thing might seem like a horticultural myth, akin to a truly blue rose or lawn grass which stays green but doesn’t need mowing, the real story goes back to 1977, when the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (BBG) patented what is generally acknowledged to be the first yellow magnolia, a hybrid called ‘Elizabeth.’

I saw a plant of ‘Elizabeth’ for the first time in the early 1990s, when it was truly rare, at BBG’s Kitchawan Research Center in Westchester County, and I vowed that someday I would have a tree of my own. The woman behind the tree, Elizabeth Van Brunt, was a friend and benefactor of the BBG who donated the Kitchawan site for the research facility. Read more…

COMMUNITY BRIEFS: April 30 – May 7

Image contributed

Weeds have some good points

CLAVERACK—Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties (CCE) announces free resource for farmers and gardeners on how to use wild edible plants in cultivated soils. Edible Weeds on Farms: Northeast farmer’s guide to self-growing vegetables is a free resource that demonstrates that edible weeds are nourishing, resilient, powerful, culturally rich, ecologically essential, economically useful, and much maligned. Weeds can compete with cultivated vegetables in some spaces, but to consider them a nuisance is to disregard the ecological, social, and economic benefits they contribute to a farm or garden.

Consider the benefits and use this free guide to learn more:

*To the farmer, edible weeds provide supplemental income, diversify production, abate biological risks, offset labor costs and fossil fuel input, and open new markets Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: The swallows are back!

TODAY WAS A HAPPY DAY; I spotted my first tree swallow flying above a pond. I hope they survive until the more hospitable May weather. Every year when the first few swallows arrive I wonder what makes them head north before the rest. Maybe this is their first northern migration and they just go for it without the experience of the older and wiser adults, the rebellious teenager types of the flock.

Tree swallow in flight. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

When the intense spring sun warms the earth, the insects emerge and are ready to provide food for our returning birds. While we are swatting mosquitoes and worrying about ticks and Lyme disease, the birds, like the swallows, are gobbling them up by the thousands. As the water warms there are hatches of insects and our swallows follow the Hudson River north and skim the surface of the water to feed before branching out inland. I love to watch the river for them and when they arrive in full migration there may be thousands of birds. It is amazing that as they zip and dart they can be side by side and crossing near other birds and never run into each other.

It is impossible and dizzying to try to follow one bird. The tree swallow, like the one in my photo, is usually the first species of swallow to reach our place here in the Town of Austerlitz. They catch the insects over the field and ponds and then check out our bluebird boxes. Tree swallows intimidate the bluebirds and usually get most of the boxes for themselves. Caution is needed when cleaning out a box because some of the mice may still be in their nest. One fall I found seven deer mice snuggled in a nest of milkweed silk with nuts and seeds stored in the bottom of a bluebird box. One started wriggling around and leaped out on my chest and ran down my leg. Fortunately I am not afraid of mice. Sometimes a snake will take up residence in warm weather. Read more…

GREEN THOUGHTS: A “plastic” plant with real history

ALTHOUGH WE LOVE FORSYTHIA, the shrub with the colorful yellow flowers which fade into seasonal green leaves, many gardeners don’t consider it a very interesting plant. However, even forsythia’s history contains many interesting quirks and curiosities.

First, there are actually several species of forsythia. Many plants are hybrids, technically called Forsythia x intermedia, but there is also weeping forsythia (Forsythia suspensa) and greenstem forsythia (Forsythia viridissima), to name just two.

With hundreds of named varieties that look similar, and with much confusion as to what is what in the nursery trade, many folks just give up and call it all forsythia. That’s okay, except when it comes to hardiness. Read more…

HEALTH: Opioid OD spike, Donate blood, CMH ball date

Opioid overdoses spike again

HUDSON—The Columbia County Department of Health reports in an April 21 press release that the county is in its second opioid overdose spike since the beginning of the NY on PAUSE social distancing order. In all, Columbia County has seen 19 overdoses since March 1.

It is likely that this dramatic uptick is connected to the Covid-19 pandemic and the cancellation/postponement of events, holidays, and closing of schools and many workplaces. This incredible reduction in human physical contact that is saving the public’s health is also putting those in active addiction and those in recovery at risk.

In these trying times, reach out to those you know who struggle. Human interaction does not have to mean physical contact. Continue to stay home, but make it a point to call, video chat, text message loved ones at least a few times a day. Being stuck at home is a perfect time to cultivate supportive relationships in one’s life, eat well, practice mindfulness, get in some exercise, and get good, quality sleep. Read more…