January 2, 2009

Long Island Observations

Happy New Year! For the holidays I spent some time visiting family in Long Island. For the first time, I was really able to notice the botanical and climatic differences between Long Island and Syracuse. I’ve always known that it was a little warmer there (zone 7 compared to our zone 6 in Syracuse), but it surprised me as to how much I was able to feel the difference from a mere one zone change.

Besides the milder temperature and less ice, the next thing I noticed were the rhododendrons. Not only in people’s yards (almost everyone has rhodies in their front yards), but also along the highways in the woods. For example, along the Northern State Parkway wild rhododendrons abound. These aren’t just Department of Transportation plantings either; I’m talking deep in the woods wild rhodies, like you would see in the Appalachians. Now the woods, they are pretty typical second-growth hardwoods. However, I noticed many healthy-looking American beeches. Healthy that is, until the Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) thriving in those woods kills them. The bright red bittersweet berries are beautiful, but disheartening because those berries will be carried by birds to continue the spread of this very invasive plant.

The next thing I noticed was the widespread planting of yucca. These are along buildings, at gas stations, in front yards, inside highway medians, etc. Many of these aren’t just the little spiky clumps; they are trunking yuccas. It gave the appearance of little palm trees everywhere. Now several yuccas are quite hardy; I have some in my garden here in Syracuse. I don’t know my yuccas very well however, and I’m not sure if the kinds planted in Long Island are of a more tender variety. I know that not all of them trunk, so there’s probably a few different kinds planted there. Many of them are probably Yucca filamentosa which is a common garden plant. In fact, I believe there is a relatively new planting of this along a building wall on the north side of Erie Boulevard here in Syracuse.

Finally, the crown jewel of my Long Island observations; Southern magnolia. I noticed two specimens growing in Great Neck in front yards. They weren’t very large trees, but well beyond saplings. I’d say they were about 12-15 feet tall.

· Long Island is acidic (rhododendrons need acid soil to thrive)
· Long Island is warmer (large, healthy Southern magnolias and preponderance of yuccas, both of which can be grown in Syracuse, but which grow faster in warmer climates)

Thus concludes my holiday report. Happy New Year (again)!