Friday, December 18, 2009

Air - Cleaning Plants

Plants remove toxins from the air and absorb them, leaving your home safer for you, your family, and your pets.

Next time you go shopping for eco-friendly home cleaning supplies, consider adding large-leaved plants for every room in house. The reduce unhealthy pollutants as well as airborne bacteria and fungi while adding the humidity needed to combat respiratory and allergic conditions.

According to B. C. Wolverton, Ph.D., a retired NASA research scientist, indoor air pollution can be a major threat to our health. To determine how the earth produces and sustains clean air through plants, Wolverton and his fellow NASA scientists studied plants in controlled environments. The researchers found that houseplants can purify and revitalize air in our homes and offices, protecting us from the negative effects of such common toxins as ammonia, formaldehyde, and benzene.

Asbestos, pesticides, fumes from detergents and solvents, fibers from carpets, draperies, insulation, even glass - not to mention mold and tobacco smoke - all add up to a cleanup best tackled by Mother Nature. Plant leaves are able to absorb pollutants and send them to the roots, where they become food for microbes.

To get the most out of your house plants, set them up, 2 to 3 per room, so there is plenty of space around each one for ideal air circulation. Keep the air moist by misting plants. Avoid locations in the rooms where there are drafts or sudden temperature changes. Pollutants are absorbed through the leaves, so keep the leaves clear of dust by gently wiping with a damp cloth.

Top 10 Air Cleaning Plants

Chrysalidocarpus lutescens, Areca palm

Chamaedorea siefritzii, Reed palm

Phoenix roebelenii, Dwarf date palm

Nephrolepis exaltata, Boston fern

Nephrolepis obliterata, Australian sword fern

Hedera helix, English ivy

Ficus benjamina, Weeping fig

Ficus elastica, Indian rubber plant

Epipremnum aureum, photos
Photo credit: mr_subjunctive, at the blog Plants are the Strangest People

Spathiphyllum wallisii, Peace lily

Article from Organic Gardening, Dec 2005/Jan 2006

Friday, December 11, 2009


When you think of mistletoe, holiday decorations and stolen kisses come to mind. In the garden, however, mistletoe leads a life of crime, plundering nutrients from trees and serving up highly toxic berries. A native plant, American mistletoe, Phoradendron flavescens, isn't all that bad, providing shelter and food to a variety of birds, bugs, and butterflies. The great purple hairstreak, Atlides halesus, a beautiful southern butterfly, relies on the mistletoe as a primary food source for its larvae.

Partners in Crime
Birds thrive on mistletoe berries and use the growing clusters for nesting. Unharmed by the berries' toxins, birds end up with sticky mistletoe seeds stuck to their beaks and feet. They assist the spread of mistletoe when they land on new branches or preen to clean their beaks. The seeds get lodged in the bark, germinate, send 'holdfasts' to the branch , and produce foliage about a year later

Mistletoe facts...
  • There are 1,300 species of mistletoe
  • Cost of a sprig of mistletoe (minus the berries): $5
  • It was once thought that mistletoe grew spontaneously from bird droppings
  • Age at which a mistletoe plants flowers: 5 years
  • Best way to rid a landscape tree of mistletoe is to prune the infected limb
  • In 1893, mistletoe was chosen as the floral emblem of Oklahoma
  • Medical use of mistletoe extract in Europe: cancer treatment

Mistletoe 'balls' and trees can coexist for years. The berries ripen in November

Article by Abigail Poulette, Organic Gardening, Jan 2007

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Recycled produce?

Allium wakegi, Scallion

The next time you buy fresh green onions or scallions at the market, don't compost the heads you cut off, instead replant them! Follow these easy steps and you can have a continuous crop for months on your kitchen window sill.

Green Onions:
1. Use green onions with healthy, white roots attached to the bulb. Snip off green tops for cooking with a scissors. Leave a little green top on the onion bulb.

2. Plant the entire onion while leaving the short top above ground in a small pot filled with a loamy, organic potting soil. Make sure your container has drainage holes. Put in a sunny windowsill and water once a week or when soil feels dry to the touch.

3. Harvest new green shoots with scissors to use for cooking or as a tasty garnish. Continue to leave the onion in the soil. With each new growth the onion will taste more potent. After each harvest of onion tops, dress the topsoil with organic compost. Enjoy green onion tops in stir-fries, omelets, and in sandwiches all winter long

*Organic Gardening Magazine

Monday, November 23, 2009

The First Thanksgiving

Jennie Brownscombe, 1914

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.

The Pilgrims' Menu (Foods That May Have Been on the Menu)

Seafood: Cod, Eel, Clams, Lobster
Wild Fowl: Wild Turkey, Goose, Duck, Crane, Swan, Partridge, Eagles
Meat: Venison, Seal
Grain: Wheat Flour, Indian Corn
Vegetables: Pumpkin, Peas, Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Radishes, Carrots
Fruit: Plums, Grapes
Nuts: Walnuts, Chestnuts, Acorns
Herbs and Seasonings: Olive Oil, Liverwort, Leeks, Dried Currants, Parsnips

Thanksgiving Fun Facts Over the Years...

Though many competing claims exist, the most familiar story of the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth Colony, in present-day Massachusetts, in 1621. More than 200 years later, President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. Congress finally made Thanksgiving Day an official national holiday in 1941.

Sarah Josepha Hale, the enormously influential magazine editor and author who waged a tireless campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday in the mid-19th century, was also the author of the classic nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative Thanksgiving stamp. Designed by the artist Margaret Cusack in a style resembling traditional folk-art needlework, it depicted a cornucopia overflowing with fruits and vegetables, under the phrase "We Give Thanks."

Vitis labrusca, Concord grapes

The cranberry is one of only three fruits—the others are the blueberry and the Concord grape—that are entirely native to North American soil, according to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association.

Originally known as Macy's Christmas Parade—to signify the launch of the Christmas shopping season—the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade took place in New York City in 1924. It was launched by Macy's employees and featured animals from the Central Park Zoo. Today, some 3 million people attend the annual parade and another 44 million watch it on television.

Snoopy has appeared as a giant balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade more times than any other character in history. As the Flying Ace, Snoopy made his sixth appearance in the 2006 parade.*

*Information from

All of us at The Horticultural Society of New York would like to extend our wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving Holiday, to all of you!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Autumn in New York...

'Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.'
Albert Camus

While I was walking through St. Nicholas Park in west Harlem the other day, I snapped some wonderful photos of the colors and textures of autumn. I hope you enjoy them.

Rhus copallina var. latifolia 'Morton', Shining sumac

Ulmus parviflora, Chinese elm samaras

Platanus occidentalis, Sycamore bark

Ulmus americana, American elm

Rhus typhina laciniata, Cutleaf staghorn sumac

Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Boston ivy

Quercus rubra, Red oak

Crataegus phaenopyrum, Washington hawthorne

Phytolacca dioica, Pokeweed

Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia creeper

Friday, October 30, 2009

Spring Awakening

There is nothing that makes a gardener more excited than seeing a beautiful carpet of color beneath a budding tree's branches. Winter's cold and grey days are finally rewarded with early spring bloom of crocus or hyacinths. With some initial fall labor and care, there is little effort but to enjoy the spring show. Bulbs will also naturally set seed and produce offset bulbs that will continue to increase your display.

If trees and bulbs compete for food, light and water, trees will always win. Give your bulbs a fighting chance by planting them under trees that:
  • Are deciduous, this allows sunlight to reach the ground when the bulbs are sprouting before leaves are formed.
  • Have deep root systems or large surface roots like oak, redbud, hawthorne, magnolia
  • Have limbs that start high on the trunk, casting as light shade
To minimize potential damage to trees:
  • Choose small bulbs, they require smaller holes which means less disturbance
  • Plant between the tree's roots
  • Avoid tearing roots; never cut into a root
  • Don't pile soil on top of roots to plant bulbs, the extra layer will stop necessary oxygen from reaching the roots.
Avoid planting bulbs under trees that:
  • Are evergreen
  • have shallow or fibrous root systems, such as maples and rhododendrons
  • Are allelopathic (meaning they produce chemicals that hinder the growth of neighboring plants), like black walnut, black locust, southern waxmyrtle
After planting the bulbs water them in. There is no need to fertilize, just mulch them with ground-up leaves or compost.*

The best bulbs for planting under trees*
Crocus, crocus
Iris reticulata, dwarf iris
Narcissus, early daffodils
Chionodoxa, glory of the snow
Muscari, grape hyacinth
Cyclamen, hardy cyclamen
Puschkinia scilloides, Lebanon squill
Scilla sibirica, Siberian squill
Galanthus, snowdrop
Leucojum, snowflake
Anemone blanda, windflower
Eranthis, winter aconite

*Organic Gardening, Aug-Oct 2007

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lawrence Halprin

In the news… and in the Library…

Lawrence Halprin, the Brooklyn born, California-based landscape architect who designed the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington as well as other important public works around the world, died on October 25, 2009.

In its obituary, The New York Times calls Halprin “the tribal elder of American landscape architecture…” noting that he “used the word choreography to describe his melding of modernism, nature and movement.” (NYT, 10/28/09)

The Dec ’07 issue of Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes focuses on the private gardens that Halprin designed with a catalogue of 36 gardens including photographs and maps, and a listing of 393 commissions. The Jan ’06 issue is devoted to his public projects.

The Library also owns Sketchbooks of Lawrence Halprin published in Japan in 1981 featuring delightful color illustrations dancing across the page in Halprin’s signature style. The works represented are Sea Ranch, Portland Open Space Sequence, the FDR Memorial, Levi Plaza, and Jerusalem.

Skyline Park, Arapahoe Street from 15th to 18th Sts, Denver, CO

Lawrence Halprin: The choroegraphy of private gardens
Studies in the History of Garden & Designed Landscapes, Oct-Dec 2007, Vol. 27 Issue 4 p258-270

Lawrence Halprin's Public Spaces: Design, Experience and Recovery. Three case studies
By: Hirsch, Alison, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, Jan-Mar 2006, Vol. 26, Issue 1, p1-93, 8 diagrams, 5 maps, 17 cartoons, 119bw

information from Katherine Powis, HSNY Librarian

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Toad Lily

I was hoping someone may be able to help in identifying a flower/plant that sprung up in my garden.
I have attached a few photos. The flower is 2 - 2 1/2 inches across and the stem is about 10 inches high. The stem is very strong, it feels like a twig. I live in Jericho, NY (Long Island) The photos were taken yesterday, so you can see the flower is in bloom now even after frost. The leaves are hard to see in the photos but they are not like day lily leaves. I have looked in as many books as I can and on line but have found nothing.

Please let me know if you can help. Thank you for your time.

What you have discovered in your garden is a Tricyrtis hirta, or Toad lily. A member of the lily family (Liliaceae), with a beautiful cascading growth pattern. Plus, the blooms last up to 6 weeks.

No fall garden should be without toad lilies. These Asian curiosities bloom with orchid-like flowers that demand a close look, when the garden is winding down in fall. They do best in light shade in humus-rich soil that retains moisture, and are suitable for borders or less formal parts of the garden and among shrubs gradually becoming large clumps. Some self-seed but not aggressively.

Light: Part Sun, Shade
Zones: 4-9
Plant Type: Perennial Plant Height:1-3 feet tall, depending on variety
Plant Width:1-2 feet wide, depending on variety
Flower Color:White, mauve, yellow flowers, depending on variety; variegated leaves, depending on variety
Bloom Time:Blooms late summer through to late fall, depending on variety
Landscape Uses: Containers, Beds & Borders Special Features: Attractive Foliage, Fall Color, Cut Flowers, Drought Tolerant, Tolerates Wet Soil, Deer Resistant, Easy to Grow*

Here is a look at some of the amazing color variations and shapes of the Tricyrtis hirta.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Conservation Counts

You can immediately cut your own gasoline use by following these recommendations from Organic Gardening and the U. S. Department of Energy:

  • Drive sensibly (obey the speed limit and avoid rapid acceleration and braking)
  • Replace your car's air filter when it's dirty-boosts gas mileage by 10%
  • Keep tires at the recommended air inflation: 3% improvement
  • Use the recommended grade of motor oil: 1 to 2% improvement
  • Buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Drive less; carpool; plan car use. Take the train
talk about going green.....

Monday, September 14, 2009

Plant ID

This tree--on Broadway between 77th and 78th St--is one I don't know and can't find in any of the books on trees, including some on New York City trees? It's about two stories high. Attached is a scanned picture of the leaves and the fruit/ or seedpods. Thank you. Anne

The tree is Sophora japonica, Japanese Pagodatree or Scholar Tree. It is a member of the Fabaceae family which includes the peas, as you should be able to tell by the fruit.

In an open area, such as a park, this tree can reach to heights of 70 feet with a dense, rounded, full crown of rich, green leaves; quite an impressive sight. In July to August, creamy white panicles of flowers create a lacy veil over the canopy. The fruit are 8 inch pods that change from pea-green to yellow and brown. The Scholar tree loves well drained soil and is quite adaptable, which is why it was suggested as a city tree.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Social Butterflies?

Unlike their party-hopping counterparts, these delicate beauties prefer nectar to martinis. Whether you are amazed by the awesome potential of a caterpillar or the symmetrical perfection of an unfurled wing, the butterfly is truly a spectacular creature.

With increasingly threatened habitats, the butterfly is becoming a much less frequent visitor to the urban garden. Here is a quick look at some local natives and the plants that attract them. Consider including some of these plants in your garden or terrace palette.

Take a look at some of these common, native Lepidoptera and some of the plants they are most attracted to.

Papilio polyxenes asterius Stoll, Black swallowtail

The black swallowtail is a black butterfly with yellow markings near the margins of the forewings and hindwings and more limited blue and red markings on the hindwings. Its wing span can reach 4 ½ inches. Full grown parselyworms or caterpillars can reach 2 inches in length and are smooth and green, marked with black bands and yellow spots. This butterfly is easy to attract and raise by planting dill or fennel in your vegetable garden.

Foeniculum vulgare, Fennel

Pieris rapae, Cabbage butterfly

The cabbage butterfly is the common white butterfly throughout most of the eastern US. The larvae of this species is a pest when it feeds on cabbage, broccoli, the Brassicas, but it also feeds on many wild host plants. One of its favorite is wild mustard. There are several other white butterflies that also share the name as cabbage butterflies.

Brassica nigra, Wild black mustard

Papilio glaucus, Eastern tiger swallowtail

The male Eastern tiger swallowtail is yellow with dark tiger stripes. The female has 2 forms: one yellow like the male and the other black with shadows of dark stripes. of both female forms has many iridescent blue scales and an orange marginal spot. On the underside of the forewing of both female forms the row of marginal spots has merged into a continuous band. Adult wingspan can measure 3 5/8 - 6 1/2 inches. The adult butterflies visit many plants, both wild native plants and garden flowers. Some of these flowers include milkweed, thistle, Japanese honeysuckle, Ironweed and red clover.

Asclepias tuberosa, Butterflyweed

Colias eurytheme, Orange Sulphur Butterfly

Upperside of male yellow with orange overlay, yellow veins, wide black border, and dark black cell spot. Female yellow or white with irregular black border surrounding light spots. Underside hindwing spot silver with 2 concentric dark rings, and a spot above it. Wing span can measures
1 3/8- 2 3/4 inches. Adult butterfly will feed on nectar from many kinds of flowers including dandelion, milkweeds, goldenrods, and asters.

Solidago rigida, stiff goldenrod

Butterflies and Moths of North America