Fall in Miniature: BBG’s Bonsai in November

A yose (group-style) bonsai specimen of Acer palmatum, Japanese Maple, developed by Stanley Chinn currently on display at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Yose typically group multiple specimens of the same, or closely related species, in the same planting to simplify cultural requirements. Chinn’s masterful touch is the selection of cultivars with different fall foliage colors. This specimen is unusual in that there appear to be only two, rather than the typical three or some other odd number, of the trees in the grouping.
Acer palmatum, Group-style Bonsai, BBG

There is no better time of year to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s C. V. Starr Bonsai Museum than right now. Most of the trees on display are in peak fall foliage color. And while the wind has knocked the leaves off many of the trees on the grounds, the sheltered bonsai have been spared those indignities.

This season, they’ve placed an additional display table at the northern end of the greenhouse, opposite the entrance.
Bonsai Museum, BBG


Related Content

Flickr photo set


C. V. Starr Bonsai Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

What’s a tree worth?

You can quantify the relative benefits of an individual tree, and project its future benefits as it grows through the years, with i-Tree Design:

i-Tree Design (beta) allows anyone to make a simple estimation of the benefits individual trees provide. With inputs of location, species, tree size and condition, users will get an understanding of the benefits that trees provide related to greenhouse gas mitigation, air quality improvements and storm water interception. With the added step of drawing a house or building footprint—and virtually “planting” a tree—trees’ effects on building energy use can be evaluated.

This tool is intended to be a simple and accessible starting point for understanding individual trees’ value to the homeowner and their community.

Using it is straightforward:

  1. Enter a street address.
  2. Select the common name of the tree species or genus.
  3. Enter the size, indicated by DBH: diameter at breast height (5′ off the ground).
  4. Select the general health or condition of the tree, from “Excellent” to “Dead or Dying.”

The results are returned quickly. Details are available from the different tabs.

The application requires Flash to be supported and enabled in your browser, so it won’t work behind many corporate firewalls.


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Urban Forestry


i-Tree Design benefit Calculator

Gardening with the Hymenoptera (and yet not)


One of the great pleasures of gardening is observing the activity the garden invites. I can lay out the welcome mat, and set the table, but the guests decide whether or not the invitation is enticing enough to stop by for a drink, a meal, or to raise a family. While charismatic megafauna such as birds and mammals are entertaining, the most common and endlessly diverse visitors are insects.

The Hymenoptera includes bees, wasps, and ants. Although my garden also provides amply for ants, we’ll stick with the bees and wasps today. Following are some of the few portaits I’ve been able to capture of the many visitors to my gardens. The pollinator magnet, Pycnanthemum, Mountain-mint, in the Lamiaceae, provides the stage for many of these photos. I’m always amazed at the variety and abundance of insect activity it attracts when blooming.

Multiple pollinators on Pycnanthemum
Multiple Pollinators on Pycnanthemum


There are over 250 species of bees native to New York City alone. I’m still learning to identify just a handful of the dozens of species that frequent my garden.

My current favorite is the bejeweled Agapostemon, Jade Bee
Agapostemon, Jade Bee, on Pycnanthemum
Bombus impatiens, Common Eastern Bumblebee, on Monarda fistulosa
Bombus impatiens, Common Eastern Bumblebee

Coelioxys, Cuckoo Bee. I think I’ve got several species from the genus visiting my garden, but I’ve yet to get identification for the others. These are in the Megachilidae, the Leaf-cutter and Mason Bee family. Bees in this family typically carry pollen on hairs beneath their abdomens, instead of in pollen baskets on their legs. You can see this bee isn’t carrying any pollen; it doesn’t even have the hairs beneath its abdomen to do so. It doesn’t need to, because it takes over the pollen-provisioned nests of other leaf-cutter bees for its own young.
Coelioxys sp. on Pycnanthemum


Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus
Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus

Euodynerus hidalgo boreoorientalis, Potter/Mason Wasp, Eastern subspecies
Euodynerus hidalgo boreoorientalis, (Eastern subspecies), Potter/Mason Wasp

Sphex ichneumoneus, Great Golden Digger Wasp
Sphex ichneumoneus, Great Golden Digger Wasp


Along with the Hymenoptera come the mimic flies. Many of the seeming bees and wasps, seen from a distance, turn out to be flies on closer inspection. In “the field,” i.e.: my garden, there are two features that provide quick distinction between the two familes:

  • Antennae: Flies have short, clublike antenna, like feelers, in the center of the face, between the eyes. Bees and wasps have long, segmented antenna arising higher up on the face, almost from the top of the head
  • Eyes: Flies’ compound eyes are huge, covering nearly all of their face. Bees and wasps have compound eyes that wrap partially along the sides of their heads.

The feet are also different, but I usually don’t notice those until I’m browsing and culling my shots. Finally, bees and wasps have four wings, while flies only have two – Di-ptera, two-winged.

The Syrphidae/Flower-Fly family hosts countless mimics of bees and wasps.

Eristalis arbustorum on Hydrangea
Eristalis arbustorum

Eristalis transversa, Transverse Flower Fly

Their tactics of mimicry are not limited to patterns and colors. Many species have evolved body modifications to mimic even the shapes of wasps and bees.

Syritta pipiens provides a good example of this. This is the most wasp-like fly I’ve found yet in my garden, though more extreme mimics exist. Glimpsed from behind as it moves quickly over the flowers, it could easily be mistaken for a tiny wasp.
Syritta pipiens on Pycnanthemum

Viewed from the side, or the front, Syritta is more obviously a fly, not a wasp, and a dedicated mimic.
Syritta pipiens on Pycnanthemum

Toxomerus geminatus sports a radically flattened abdomen. This seems to be an adaptation to present a wider area from above, as a predator might view it, for displaying its mimicry, while preserving a smaller volume and keeping weight down.
Toxomerus geminatus on Pycnanthemum
Bee-Mimic Fly on Pycnanthemum

I wonder what they are mimicing? Might some of these mimics mirror actual target species, not just general “bee-ness” or “wasp-ness”? If so, I would expect to find both the mimic and subject in the same range, and exhibit the same phenology. For example, Toxomerus bears a resemblance to Agapostemon at a quick glance.

Photographing Insect Activity

This is my setup for doing live insect macro photography “in the wild,” i.e.: in my garden. The lens is a specialized macro lens that allows for an extremely close focusing distance, though I’m not taking advantage of it in this example. I target some flowers with lots of insect activity, in this case, a local ecotype of Monarda fistulosa, in the Lamiaceae, the Mint Family. Then I wait for insects to visit the flowers, within range of the camera.
Macro Insect Photography Setup

I use the tripod handle to pivot up and down; it turns side-to-side easily. Ease of rapid movement with stability is critical, as the insect subjects move rapidly over each inflorescence, and from bloom to bloom. Still, the tripod only steadies my own shaky hands. The insects, of course, are moving, but so are the plants, which sway with the slightest breezes. A fast auto-focus helps; a quick hand is still needed when automation fails.

The mobility allows me to track a single insect as it moves around, and capture different shots, and perspectives, on the same individual. This is critical for identification, since I don’t know until later what the key features to look for might be. It’s often some tiny detail, only revealed from some obscure angle, that distinguishes the species.

My subjects, while largely oblivious to my actions, are not cooperative. I have to shoot hundreds of photos to get a few good shots that are in focus, free of motion blur, and have enough of the right details to identify the species, or at least narrow down to the family. This was never possible, or at least not economically feasible, before digital photography.

Macro shot of Pycnanthemum inflorescences, with common objects for scale: left, pencil eraser, right, U.S. nickle coin.
Pycnanthemum in Scale


Related Content

Gardening with the Lepidoptera
Eristalis transversa, Transverse Flower Fly
Sphecius speciosus, Eastern Cicada Killer

Flickr photo sets

Hymenoptera, Bees and Wasps
Agapostemon, Jade Bee
Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus
Bombus impatiens, Common Eastern BumbleBee
Coelioxys, Cuckoo Bee
Euodynerus hidalgo boreoorientalis, (Eastern subspecies), Potter/Mason Wasp
Sphex ichneumoneus, Great Golden Digger Wasp

Diptera, Flies
Eristalis arbusturom
Eristalis transversa, Transverse Flower Fly
Syritta pipiens
Toxomerus geminatus

Recommended Reading

The trifecta:

  • Eric Grissell, Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens
  • Douglas W. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
  • The Xerces Society, Attracting Native Pollinators:Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies


The bug geeks at BugGuide are awesome. Only through their generous sharing of knowledge and expertise have I been able to identify my little visitors. They cover the United States and Canada.

The international Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has lots of information about gardening – and farming – with insects in mind, especially native bees. Their book, Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, is outstanding.

Solstice: Summer Abundant

Illumination of Earth by Sun at the northern solstice.

This season’s Solstice (Summer in the Northern hemisphere, Winter in the Southern), occurs at 17:16/5:16pm UTC on June 21, 2011. That’s 13:16/1:16pm where I am, in the Eastern Time zone, under Daylight Savings Time (UTC-4).

The name is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, its apparent movement north or south comes to a standstill.
Solstice, Wikipedia

As the sun stands still, everything else seems to be in motion. Summer is in sway. The succession of insect emergences quickens its pace even as it near its end. Blooms seem to explode, with something new opening each day. Even so, the day after tomorrow will be shorter, the day after shorter still. The arc of gravity’s rainbow is masked by this abundance. So we celebrate it, as we should.

Some shots from past solstices in my gardens.

Garden in Park Slope, 2001

Passiflora, Passion Flower
Passiflora caerulea?

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oak-Leaf Hydrangea
Hydrangea quercifolia, Oak-Leaf Hydrangea


Garden #4, Flatbush, 2008

Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, 2008
Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed

Echinacea pallida, Pale Coneflower
Echinacea pallida, Pale Coneflower

Related Posts

Winter 2009: Standing Still, Looking Ahead
Summer 2008: Happy Solstice
Winter 2008: Stand Still / Dona Nobis Pacem
Winter 2007: Solstice: The Sun Stands Still


Solstice, Wikipedia

The Years Have Been Kind

This Spring has been a season of garden anniversaries for me. Six years ago, my partner and I bought our home in Flatbush. In the first month after closing, I began weeding, composting, and envisioning the gardens. Five years ago, I started this blog to document what I was doing and record my explorations.

It’s also been a season to celebrate the gardens. Last month, for New York City Wildflower Week (NYCWW), I opened my native plant garden for a garden tour for the first time. This Sunday, June 12, the gardens will be opened again, this time for the Victorian Flatbush House Tour, to benefit the Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC). And in May, I registered my garden as a Certified Wildlife Habitat (#141,173) with the National Wildlife Federation.

My original vision for the backyard native plant garden is largely realized. I’m close to completing development of the planting beds. The shrubs and perennials have grown and spread; there is little bare ground. Unlike me, the garden looks better than it did six years ago. Take a look, and let me know what you think.


By view of the garden

Entrance from the driveway.
Backyard, view along the back path
Arbor Entrance

View West, toward the back of the house.
Backyard, view toward the house
View West

View North, toward our next-door neighbor.
Backyard, view away from garage
View North

View East, toward our back neighbor.
Backyard, view away from the house
View East

View South, toward our garage. The entrance from the driveway is to the right.
Backyard, view toward the garage
View South

Related Content

My Garden


NYC Wildflower Week
Victorian Flatbush House Tour, Flatbush Development Corporation
Garden for Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation

Happy Earth Day

Earthrise over the moon as seen by the astronauts of Apollo 8 on December 22, 1968.
Earthrise, Apollo 8

This was not the first image of the isolated Earth from space. It was the first which contrasted in the same image the wet, blue and green, atmospheric Earth with the barren, dusted, lifeless Moon.

The rising Earth is about five degrees above the lunar horizon in this telephoto view taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft near 110 degrees east longitude. The horizon, about 570 kilometers (250 statute miles) from the spacecraft, is near the eastern limb of the Moon as viewed from the Earth. On the earth, the sunset terminator crosses Africa. The south pole is in the white area near the left end of the terminator. North and South America are under the clouds. The lunar surface probably has less pronounced color than indicated by this print.


Related Content

40 Years of Earth, 2010-04-22
Apollo: a personal/biographical perspective, 2009-07-19
Happy Earth Day, 2009-04-22
Happy Earth Day!, 2008-04-21
We Are All One World, 2007-10-10


Wikipedia: Earth Day
Apollo, NASA

Street Tree Walking Tour, Sunday 4/17

Update 2011-04-16: As nasty as the weather is as I update this on Saturday night, it will be beautiful tomorrow for the tour, windy, but temperatures reaching into the upper 50s and low 60s. Added a Google Map of the tour below.

The Sustainable Flatbush Street Tree Walking Tour of April 2009. Photo: Sustainable Flatbush (Flickr)
Sustainable Flatbush Street Tree Walking Tour '09

The 4th Annual Sustainable Flatbush Street Tree Walking Tour will be Sunday, April 17, the day after the Plant Swap. (It’s a busy weekend for us!) We’re following the same route as past tours, so if you’ve only been able to enjoy our fall foliage in the past, come enjoy the spring blooms!

Once again tours leave from Sacred Vibes Apothecary at 11am and 12noon. Your tour guides will be Sam Bishop of Trees NY, neighbor and gardener Tracey Hohman, and me. On the tour, you can see:

  • Acer platanoides, Norway Maple
  • Aesculus hippocastanum, Horsechestnut
  • Amelanchier, Serviceberry
  • Betula nigra, River Birch
  • Cercis canadensis, Redbud
  • Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood
  • Cryptomeria japonica, Japanese Red Cedar
  • Ginkgo biloba, Ginkgo
  • Gleditsia triacanthos, Honey Locust
  • Liquidambar styraciflua, Sweetgum
  • Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Dawn Redwood
  • Pinus strobus, White Pine
  • Platanus x acerifolia, London Plane
  • Pyrus calleryana, Flowering Pear, Callery Pear
  • Quercus palustris, Pin Oak
  • Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’, Columnar English Oak
  • Styphnolobium japonicum (Sophora japonica), Japanese Pagoda Tree, Scholar Tree
  • Taxodium distichum, Bald Cycpress
  • Tsuga canadensis, Eastern Hemlock
  • Ulmus americana, American Elm

… and many more.
When: Sunday, April 17. Tours set out at 11am and 12noon. The tour lasts 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Where: Tours leave from Sacred Vibes Apothecary, 376 Argyle Road, just down the corner from Cortelyou Road, across the street from the Tot Lot, catty-corner from the Greenmarket. The route is about a mile in length, looping back to where we started.
Suggested Donation: 5$

View 2011 Spring Sustainable Flatbush Street Tree Walking Tour in a larger map

April 2009. Photo: Sustainable Flatbush (Flickr)
Sustainable Flatbush Street Tree Walking Tour '09

[goo.gl] [bit.ly]

Related Content

Previous Tree Tour Posts:

Factoids: Street Trees and Property Values, December 2, 2007
Factoids: NYC’s Street Trees and Stormwater Reduction, November 15, 2007
Basic Research: The State of the Forest in New York City, November 12, 2007

Albemarle Road, Local Landscape


4th Annual Street Tree Walking Tour!, Sustainable Flatbush
Sacred Vibes Apothecary
Trees NY

Second Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap

Do you have extra seed-starts? Leftovers from dividing perennials? No place for that shrub you just dug out? Bring them to the Second Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap on Saturday, April 16. No plants? No problem: everyone can bring home a plant, even if you have none of your own to swap. And it’s a great way to meet other local gardeners, whether you’re a beginner or a pro.

Plant Swap 2011

Sponsored by Sustainable Flatbush and the Flatbush Food Coop, the First Annual was, coincidentally, just last year. It was a great success, especially for an inaugural event: we distributed over 330 plants. Let’s see if we can distribute even more this year!

When: Saturday, April 16, noon to 3pm
Where: Flatbush Food Coop, 1415 Cortelyou Road, at Marlborough Road


Related Content

The First Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap, 2010


Flatbush Plant Swap, April 16th, Sustainable Flatbush
Flatbush Food Coop

Upcoming Events for Brooklyn Gardeners

Saturday, April 16

Rain Barrel Giveaway, NYC DEP
9:00 am – 2:00 pm
Marine Park Parking Lot
Avenue U

Millions Trees NYC Tree Giveaway
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Green-Wood Cemetery
500 25th St, Brooklyn

2nd Annual Great Flatbush Plant Swap
12noon to 3pm
Flatbush Food CoOp
1415 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn
Sponsored by Sustainable Flatbush and the Flatbush Food Coop

Sunday, April 17

4th Annual Sustainable Flatbush Spring Street Tree Walking Tour
11am & 12noon

Sunday, April 23

Millions Trees NYC Tree Giveaway
1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Restoration Plaza
1368 Fulton St, Brooklyn

Sunday, May 1

Millions Trees NYC Tree Giveaway
Grand Street Campus
10:00 a.m. – noon
850 Grand Street, Brooklyn

Friday, May 6, through Sunday, May 15

NYC Wildflower Week
Events city-wide

Saturday, May 7

Millions Trees NYC Tree Giveaway
Neighborhood Housing Services of East Flatbush
noon – 2:00 p.m.
Holy Cross Church School Yard
2530 Church Ave., Brooklyn

Sunday, May 15

My garden will be on tour for NYC Wildflower Week!

Saturday, June 4

Millions Trees NYC Tree Giveaway
Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Blessed Sacrament Church
198 Euclid Avenue, Brooklyn