When the crush of urban life becomes too much, I can always close my eyes and travel in my mind to places where time and space become one. It may be disconcerting to some that there are places without roads, powerlines, and Starbucks. Here your soul can become of place and the place can become of soul.
This is a value of wilderness. It makes us better people. In solitude we are free.
Metasequoia is not the only ‘living fossil’ tree in the DC area. One of the most common street trees in DC is Ginkgo biloba the only surviving species of Ginkgoales – a gymnosperm lineage that traces back to the Mesozoic (~290 million years ago).
The Ginkgo is pollution, heat, and cold resistant. Ginkgo is also pleasing to look at. For these reasons Ginkgo is a popular urban tree. The Ginkgo has male and female plants. The male plants are pretty good citizens; the female plants in the fall drop their fleshy, slimy, putrid-smelling seeds (you could call them ‘fruit’ but gymnosperms do not produce fruit). In Boise, ID there were some streets that were so nasty and slippery with Ginkgo seeds that bicycling and walking were difficult.
DC has about 800 female Ginkgo trees and actually has a 24c (a special pesticide registration) to spray the trees with chlorpropham. The urban forestry people spray the trees at night, this year the spraying was done 19 April 2021. The communication of the spraying is well done, the city makes sure to mention that ‘the chemical’ is used to inhibit sprouting in potatoes we eat, so it is safe. The city doesn’t use the chemical name, chlorpropham, and doesn’t mention that the chemical is banned in the EU due to toxicity concerns.
The Ginkgo, like the Metasequoia, is native to China. As a gymnosperm Ginkgo is wind pollinated, and therefore does not support pollinators. Ginkgo, being non-native, does not help DC (and other urban areas) support a native ecosystem. However, as a living tree, it does provide shade, muffle sound pollution, etc.
‘Living fossils’ provide us a glimpse of how organisms solved ‘the business of life’ millions of years ago. The weird venation, motile sperm (like cycads), crazy secondary shoots, and stinky seeds all have evolved out of the angiosperms, yet are still with us in this plant. It is pretty cool to think of Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus perhaps enjoying the shade of Ginkgo trees along the Mesozoic roadways of their Nation’s capital on a hot day just like we do today.
Kelly and I were out paddling on the Anacostia River earlier this week. We had stopped to pull a tire from the mud and since I was out of the boat I did a quick clean up of the surrounding shore.
It was a coldly pleasant November day. As Kelly and I were talking and bagging trash, a gentleman popped out of the shoreline brush. I think he thought we needed help. When he saw what we were doing, he asked to take some photos. Long story short, Jim West is a professional photographer (www.jimwestphoto.com) and you, dear reader, get to enjoy some photos on the blog not from a cell phone.
We weren’t expecting pro photographer documentation of the pick. Kelly is still in her boot and not able to wallow about in the freezy mudflats along the river’s edge. No body likes to be photographed when not at their peak. But, Kelly is willing to do what she can until she can get backinto full action.
The real heroes of this story are the park staff at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. They deal with a lot of trash and are always very gracious about it. Without their support, doing any sort of river clean-up would be much more difficult.
Our neighborhood in NE DC had some issues with dumping. Even though there was years of trash, it didn’t take too long to clean it up. I am always amazed at what a difference a half hour of effort can make. Even though it seems ugly and hopeless, you never know until you try.
In addition to making the neighborhood look nicer, removing the trash had to make the area less attractive to rats and remived some mosquito breeding containers. After the clean up, the area is staying fairly clean.
Dueling Creek Natural Area is a small spot near our house. As such we go there a bunch. Everytime I go, I pick up some trash. Last winter I took before and after photos of a trash pick up. It is amazing the difference a few minutes can make in how things look along the trail.
There are many reasons to pick up litter, but for any who don’t understand the simplest reason to pick up litter is: there are many things I can’t control, but I can control what I do (unless it involves chocolate). The before and after photos are about 10 minutes apart and do show a difference. A small investment in time yielding big results.
Bicycles are a multiplier of human effort and a magic way to travel. Long distances become shorter and errands become quicker. The crazy part is a bicycle still allows you to be part of things, while in a car you are isolated. Bicycles are a mode of travel that can be good for you and for the environment.
I have two bicycles: a nice touring bike and the bicycle I ride the most – an urban bike. The requirements of urban riding mean that a good urban bike is sturdy, stable, and comfortable. My urban bike is a 1996 Schwinn MOAB steel frame mountain bike. The tires have been swapped over to slicks, the paddle shifters are swapped to friction shifters, The handlebars have been cut down, lights are in play, and BMX style pedals have been installed.
The process of turning a nice mountain bike into an urban bike started with changing out 2.1″ knobbies for 1.5″ road tires and adding lights. The front light is a nice 400 lumen rechargeable unit. In back I have a strobe unit and a small LED flasher. I also run a helmet rear light and a backpack light. I like to think the lights make riding safer, but the fact is DC drivers make my reflective gloves, safety coat, and lights nothing more than a prayer for mercy to the gods of bad driving. Next I cut 2″ off each end of the handlebars. It is amazing how much this has increased my comfort – both in improved riding position and in tight spaces. The swap to BMX pedals has made any shoes riding shoes. I never really liked the paddle shifters, and in traffic I just prefer to not mess with the irritation.
The seat is the original seat. I didn’t like it at first and ran a nicer seat when this was a mountain bike. Eventually, the nicer seat was torn up and replaced with the original seat which has become more comfortable as the seat has “aged” (of course my butt has also aged which may also play a role).
The seat helps my bike to survive bike racks. Bike racks can be nasty affairs that can damage your bike and they also attract bike thieves. Urban bikes spend time in bike racks. Because my bike is old and has a nasty saddle it isn’t very pretty, but that is the beauty of it. So far it hasn’t been stolen.
The National Arboretum is a real Jekyll and Hyde sort of place. It can be super crowded or it can be empty. There are really cool collections, and I am often wishing for more interpretation so I can understand the botany better. It is the biggest arboretum I have been in, but it is schizophrenic and tries to do everything, so individual aspects can be small.
A major draw is the old columns of the Capitol building. While not actually trees these things are a major draw for people – as if DC doesn’t have any historical columns anywhere else that column history enthusiasts can enjoy. The same goes for the abundant roads throughout the arboretum – as if there is no place else for jackasses to drive in DC.
My favorite spot is the Fern Valley trails (which have been closed to public for most of the pandemic). This the native plant collection of the arboretum. There are other interesting collections – plants are always pretty darn cool.
5 November 2021, Mount Hamillton Trail, National Arboretum, Washington, DC
The arboretum is 400+ acres of plants in DC. It is on the Anacostia River which gives it connectivity to other green spaces. Bald eagles nest here. There is a stream restoration project. Bonsai trees that are 100’s old. There is a grove of Metasequoia. You will always find a cool and amazing plant.
After hiking around the arboretum it can be nice to have some Cider. TheSupreme Core is the closest refreshment to the arboretum and a groovy place to hang out apres hike. Cider comes from trees, so cider seems a natural celebratory beverage for a successful arboretum adventure.
The Chesapeake Arboretum was absolutely gorgeous and well-groomed when we visited.
The trails were super cute and there was a good amount of interpretation.
The arboretum is small, but makes for a pretty hike in a very pleasant woodland and you might even learn something. I know we were very surprised with what a great job Chesapeake, VA has done with their arboretum.
It is starting to get cold here in DC and we have been putting our garden to bed. Today was the final pepper harvest.
The harvest was going along pretty normal until I started in on a variety called ‘Sante Fe Grande Guero Hot Pepper’. One branch of the pepper bush had a colony of ~15 Oncopeltus fasciatus (a.k.a. milkweed bug) on it – specifically on two ripe peppers. Of course I didn’t have my phone and by the time I got back most of the colony had scattered.
Oncopeltus is a member of the Lygaeidae, a true bug family that tends to feed on seeds. Milkweeds are their primary food source. In our yard Asclepias syrica and Asclepias tuberosa are not as favored as the single Asclepias incarnata plant in our native garden, but all will see Oncopeltus use. Nerium oleander is also reported as a food plant for Oncopeltus. I found no reports of Oncopeltus using any plants in the Solanaceae, such as peppers.
Next year I will keep my eyes open and try to document this fascinating use, or learn that a really cool one off behavior occurred this year in our garden. I used the term garden pest in the title of this post, but that is a silly concept. In our garden we have come to celebrate the diversity. So if I have to plant an extra pepper plant for Oncopeltus, so it will be.
Metasequoia glyptostroboides is a gorgeoustree. Native to China, you can find Metasequoia on college campuses and botanical gardens around the world. The reason Metsequoia is de rigueur for educational collections is because it is a living fossil.
The first fossils of Metasequoia were found in 1939 and when the trees were found in China and recognized. A tree that was present during the late Cretaceous (50 million years ago!) when dinosaurs were still extant was found to still be with us.
If I were to choose a tree as a ‘living fossil’ it would be covered with thorns, foul smelling, slow growing, and short of stature. Thankfully the I did not get to choose the attributes of this tree.
Metasequoia grove, National Arboretum, Washington DC, 14 November 2021
I had only seen plantings of 1 – 3 Metasequoia at various places in my travels and had always been struck by what stately trees they where. At the ogrod botaniczny at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland I was transfixed by a grove of Metasequoia – it was so beautiful.
While Metasequoia is beautiful, so are most trees. A grove of trees can be wonderful. However, native trees in a natural setting always makes me glad. Go enjoy some trees today!