This past week, it was unusually foggy, warm and wet for mid-winter. My mother and I went walking in the part of Stamford, CT, aptly named “Waterside”. The birds were ecstatic to find it 55F instead of 20F; us, too.

picture: a bird-planted juniper bush with a crabapple to the left. Stamford CT January 2005

Where we were walking was a roadway around a man-made inlet off the Long Island Sound. Many years ago, when the inlet had just been excavated, it had been landscaped with junipers, crabapples, pussy willows, and a few larger pines. It was interesting to see what native and alien plants had added themselves to the landscape.

The water had an unusual jade-green cast which was variously explained as an optical effect caused by the fog and the result of excessive run-off from the recent rains.

picture: invasive Asian bittersweet overwhelms its neighbors along the shore of the Long Island Sound. Stamford CT January 2005



In early spring, the understory wildflowers to advantage of the sun filtering down through bare tree branches to put on their breath-taking annual show. By mid summer, the forest floor is thickly shaded and the color comes from mushrooms and ripening berries. Out in the in the meadows and swamps, and along the roads, however, the summer bloomers are making the most of the August sun.

As a suburban walker, my “beat” is the tiny wild areas along roadsides, between the lots, and behind the parking lots. It’s amazing how much of the summer manages to squeeze into these untended spaces. Many of the denizens are aliens of at least mid-level invasiveness. Some are natives.

The question with the aliens is our ability to restore the wild lands to their pre-Columbian status. Laudably, many try to fight the tide with laws against the continuing sale of the worst invaders and massive clean-up projects on protected lands. Some feel that “rooting out” the entrenched invaders is a hopeless task. To name just a few, how can we ever clear all of the woods of Norway maples

and winged euonymus (euonymus alatus) all of the streams of loosestrife, and all of roadsides of Porcelainberry, and Asiatic Bittersweet?

We can stop new invaders by refusing to plant them in our gardens. We can protect the native treasures being overwhelmed in the wilds by turning our gardens in “gene banks” for them. In the wilds, we can, with continuing vigilance, save some space for the original flora.

Meanwhile, we can enjoy the beauty along the roadsides, regardless of origin. If you’re harboring the easily-spread aliens; it’s important to dead head them before the birds and wind can spread their seeds. The reverse is true of the natives. Leave the seeds for continued interest, often through the winter, and for the birds’ lunch. And let’s hope they do spread back into the wilds.




To me, the action as a naturalist is downtown. It’s not that hard to find something to appreciate in a pristine forest (assuming that there are any left). The challenge is to find the beauty under our feet and above our heads in the parking lot.

So if you look up in Hoyt Street Alley, you’ll find this eastern cottonwood (a poplar like the aspen) turning luscious caramel buds into gorgeous catkins.

pictures: eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) bud to catkin (flower) , Hoyt Street Alley, Stamford Ct. April 2005

Some of the other local trees with catkins are from the Betula (birch) clan: the river birch, paper birch and alder (male alder catkins are the long ones: female are the shorter redder ones).




September 18, 2005, Issue 179

By mid summer, the forest canopy closes over the woodland floor, blocking so much light that it’s hard to take photos without a flash; most of the spring wildflowers go dormant until next year. Color comes from an endless array of fungi, ferns and moss, accented by a ripening berry here and there. From late August through last week’s Equinox, the woods are wonderful: the gnats and mosquitoes have thinned out, the temperature and humidity are down a bit (usually) but the still-green forest canopy keeps the forest dark even at noon; the forest’s summer treasures are still on view but the walk is much more comfortable.

In the meadow, along the shore, in the forest glades, and along forest edge, where sun hits the ground, asters, goldenrod, sun flowers, and grasses preview fall’s color and texture.

Picture: Goldenrod at Cove Beach, Autumnal Equinox 2005. There are something like 125 kinds of goldenrod in North America; this one might be a seaside goldenrod but it would take an expert to be sure.

Picture: wild sunflower along the Mill River, Stamford, CT 2004