A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Solanum lasiophyllum (Flannel Bush)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

In late fall, the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, fills up with intriguing and exotic plants. They all come from warmer regions of the world, so they thrive in this protected environment during the winter months.


A new arrival is the flannel bush (Solanum lasiophyllum) from Western Australia, where it grows into a small shrub two or three feet high. We have several plants, all raised from seed sown in spring this year. Look for the flannel bush in the second pot from the left in the shot above. And here is more of a close-up:


Its purple flower is five-cornered and has a cluster of yellow anther filaments in the center, both typical characteristics of the nightshade family (Solanaceae).


Indeed, one of its Australian common names is “native tomato,” although the flower most resembles that of some varieties of the potato, another member of this family.

The flannel bush’s silvery leaves, densely covered with fine grey hairs, indicate that it is well adapted to dry conditions. Its hairy coating helps to retain moisture and reflect excess sunlight, and is commonly seen on drought-tolerant plants.

Another adaptation, often seen on plants from arid regions that are prowled by hungry herbivores, is the presence of sharp spines on the stems and on the undersides of the foliage.


It is unlikely that our plants will ever be nuzzled by a browsing kangaroo but they do seem to have made themselves perfectly at home in this corner of the Bronx.

Plant of the Week: Salvia confertiflora (Red Velvet Sage)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Ornamental sages come in many shapes and colors, and they are used by the Wave Hill gardeners to provide colorful interest late in the season. A particularly striking one is the red velvet sage (Salvia confertiflora), which can be seen in the Wild Garden.


A large plant, native to Brazil, it takes most of the growing season for it to reach its full size—five feet tall, or more—and blooms in the fall.


The flower spikes are covered with brownish-red hairs, hence “red velvet”, and are crowded with buds. These open to reveal small, orange-red flowers, which are also slightly hairy.



Although the original plant will be killed by the first frosts, cuttings have already been taken and are growing into small plants the greenhouses. These will be planted out next spring.

Plant of the Week: Isodon longitubus (syn. Rabdosia longituba)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Isodon longitubus is an unusual and enigmatic perennial. Through the summer, when it looks like any slightly rangy-looking green plant, it is easily overlooked but, late in the fall, it burst out with masses of tiny, tube-shaped blue flowers.

close-up-1 plant-1

This blue is a wonderful contrast against the fall oranges, reds and yellows of the surrounding trees in our Shade Border. Find it next to the path, just by the service gate.


It is native to the wooded mountains in Japan and is similar in appearance to its more sun-loving cousins, the sages (Salvia spp.).

Plant of the Week: Brassica oleracea var. acephala ‘Lacinato’ (Tuscan Kale)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Edible plants have been grown in ornamental gardens for centuries, and the practice was common in farmworkers’ gardens in rural England. These cottage gardens appealed to designers and writers of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 19th century and they influenced the design of many gardens of the period. The Flower Garden at Wave Hill is modeled on this style and it is appropriate that there are some very fine kale plants flourishing in one of the beds this year.


Looking like miniature palm trees, they add an interesting architectural element. Their bold, blue-grey foliage blends perfectly with the blues and silvers of the plantings and wooden tuteurs nearby.


Tuscan kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala ‘Lacinato’) originated in northern Italy and is now a popular variety in many countries.

Plant of the Week: Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’ (Mexican Sunflower cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

The entrance to the Herb Garden at Wave Hill is an exceptionally colorful sight this fall. Zinnias in shades of salmon-pink and bright-orange vie for space with red-purple globe-amaranths and, towering above them all, giant, red Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’).


This last, a vigorous annual plant, is not a true sunflower but it is closely related; both are members of the aster family. Tithonia rotundifloia is native to Mexico and Central America and grows from spring-sown seed to at least six feet high in just a few months.

Monarch butterflies love its orange-red flowers. One could be forgiven for imagining that they are getting excited about their imminent journey south and are indulging themselves in a little pre-taste of the Mexican flora.


Wave Hill Takes Mapping into the 21st Century

A GIS educator and adjunct lecturer, Amelia Zaino worked as a Garden and Gallery Intern at Wave Hill as a teenager. As an adult, she has been the Kerlin Education Intern and Youth Programs Coordinator. She loves the Bronx’s natural areas and is active in many organizations in the East Bronx.

Wave Hill’s Forest Project internship has always been a leader in ecological restoration here in New York City. The program is known for introducing high school students to the wonders of the Herbert and Hyonja Abrons Woodlands, but did you know that the Forest Project has been leading the way in ecological mapping for nearly 30 years?

In June 1990, Forest Project founder Susan Antenen developed a Forest Project Master Plan that divided the eight-acre woodlands into several management plots, categorized by their then-current vegetation. The master plan also proposed restoration strategies for the future. This important map has been stored on paper for many years.


I scanned the old map, divided it into pages, and assembled the pieces of the puzzle using photo imaging software. After the image was completed, I matched key points on the historic map to a current satellite image using the ArcGIS software. This was the final result:

aerial photo

Wave Hill staff and interns now have a digital way to learn about the history of the woodlands, as well as suggestions for their management for the future:


In addition to being excellent sources of information, digital maps allow us to track changes through both space and time. For example, Wave Hill’s Forest Project conducted a survey of non-native plants in 1990.

woodland map

I scanned the historic map and entered the non-native plants into the GIS database, creating a map that this year’s Forest Project interns could view in one quick, informative glance.

second aerial pic

As we live in an increasingly digital world, there are lots of great ways we can incorporate the knowledge of the past into the practices of the present. Digital mapping allows us to do this.


Mapping Modern Issues Using GIS

Under the leadership of mentor Dara Mendeloff, a GIS specialist from Columbia University, the three WERMs analyzed the potential for exposure to lead paint. Pictured here, left to right, are Dara Mendeloff with WERM interns Gloria Cadle and Roheyatou Ceesay.

the trio

The analysis was based on calculating the percentage of houses built prior to 1960 in New York City.

modern issues 1

They also calculated a hazard index for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals, a known environmental injustice across the city.

modern issues 2

It has been said that “geography is destiny.” Our WERMs are certainly learning that is true. Their awareness of environmental injustices can allow them to become leaders in their own communities to fight against such troubles.

Color Psychology, Naturally

Stivaly Paulino, Wave Hill’s 2017–2018 Kerlin Education Intern, worked with the School Programs and Partnerships team, developing and facilitating science and nature programs for children from kindergarten through high school. She is currently pursuing her Master of Art in Teaching degree at the American Museum of Natural History. 

Stivaly-cropped-moreThe association of green with the natural world is deeply embedded in our minds – and with good reason. The entire first page of a google search for ‘nature’ is filled with green: grassy fields, dense forests and beautiful sunlit parks. Even many natural-ingredient and biodegradable products are labeled as ‘green’ or have green-colored labels. While green is itself a beautiful, natural color (and my favorite color by far) that is very much at the foreground of natural spaces, nature utilizes many other colors to express its vibrant essence. It is the pinks of peonies, reds of cardinals, rich browns of the Earth’s soils, and many, many more. In art, nature is generally expressed in a variety of colors as well.

Working at Wave Hill as an intern for the past nine months, I have seen the cycle of fall, winter rest and spring wake and bloom, as the grounds responded to the change in seasons and subsequently, the changes in colors. Autumn brought on many warm hues, despite the temperature slowly becoming cooler. The reds, oranges and yellows faded from many trees seen on both sides of the Hudson, exposing the rich, dark browns of the woodlands. This shot is of me, on the left, with Samantha Feldman, former School Programs Coordinator & Educator, taken back in February of this year.

Stivaly with Samantha smaller

Winter brought blankets of white snow, melting slowly and keeping us guessing when the last snow would fall. Soon, the small blue-violet hues of blooming Glory of the Snow gave us a gentle reminder that spring was on its way. And while summer hasn’t officially started, every now and then we get a small preview, a typical, blue-skied, bright and sunny day.

When I began my internship at Wave Hill in September, I had the intention of becoming more familiar with nature and plant identification. I was honestly apprehensive about the craft activities, mostly because I had never taught an art-based activity. I thought that if I did exceptionally well in the outdoor, sciences portions of the lessons that the art activity wouldn’t matter as much. That soon proved to be a not-so-great idea.

During our training period, we read an article by Wendy Strauch-Nelson, titled “Reuniting Art and Nature in the Life of the Child.” Strauch-Nelson talks about the impact of educationalist Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852) and the writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) on education and how their models emphasized the importance of nature and art in a child’s development. This inspired contemporary educators such as Richard Louv, who describes that many 21st-century children may suffer from ‘nature deficit disorder’ that leads to attention difficulties, among others. The pedagogical approach modeled by Froebel is heavily emphasized within the School Programs curriculum.

After observing some school programs and participating in a few craft examples, I came to learn that teaching art in connection with a nature-based activity was a lot easier than I had thought it would be. I began to see the process as less directly teaching children how to do art, but more allowing children to express their knowledge through their own art. My only job in that regard was supplying materials, showing how the materials would be used, and standing back to let their creativity and new knowledge flow onto the paper. I was worried that many children would want to paint only green fields and a yellow sun and call it a day, but each and every time I was astounded by the creativity and use of colors to highlight their learning experiences.

Thinking of all the experiences I have had at Wave Hill, learning about the intersection between art and nature was particularly inspiring. As a child, I always thought creating art was fun because there was never a genuinely solid direction or path, but that connection somehow disappeared for me as I got older. Now that I have finished my tenure at Wave Hill, I have reawakened a long forgotten interest that I plan on continuing to explore.

Speaking about the psychology of color, the connection between art and nature, and the importance nature has in everyone’s lives, I think two quotes summarize my thoughts: “Art takes nature as its model” by Aristotle and “Colors are the smiles of Nature” by Leigh Hunt. To me, these quotes reinforce that not only are nature and art interconnected, but that we as people can express our idea of the natural world in the variety of color that we use to represent nature in art.

Plant of the Week: Plumbago auriculata ‘Royal Cape’ (Cape Leadplant cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Our Cape leadplant (Plumbago auriculata ‘Royal Cape’) is a vigorous, climbing shrub thriving in the protection of the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, where it covers most of one of the walls.setting

It blooms for long periods through much of the year but is at a floral peak over the next few weeks. Hundreds of clusters of flowers in a stunning shade of clear, light blue, set against the light-green, glossy foliage are a lovely sight, offering us an echo of spring, despite the rainy fall weather outside.plant

close-upThe wild species is native to South Africa and has paler flowers than our cultivar. Both the common name, leadwort, and the genus name, PlumbagoPlumbum is the Latin for lead—indicate that it had a connection to lead. One theory is that it was used as a cure for lead sickness. Another suggests that a side effect of using the plant to treat eye conditions was that it caused the skin to turn the color of lead.

Plant of the Week: Begonia grandis ‘Alba’ (Hardy Begonia cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Sometimes a previous post provides just the right inspiration for a new one. This week, the chosen plant is one that I wrote about at this time last year. And it’s still worthy of being highlighted again.plant

Most begonias need the protection of a greenhouse for the winter but Begonia grandis, a species from East Asia, is a hardy exception and it will survive outside throughout the year. Unsurprisingly, it is called the hardy begonia.

Winter frosts will kill the foliage to the ground, but the tuberous roots remain unharmed and new growth will emerge in late spring. The upper surface of the leaf is a light green but the underside is tinged with pink and cross-hatched with red veins. When backlit by speckled sunlight, the effect is like that of stained glass.close-up-2

Typical begonia flowers appear in late summer or early fall. Those of the original species, Begonia grandis, are deep pink, but the cultivar, ‘Alba,’ has blooms of the palest pink, an almost pure white. Both can be found under the shade of the pearlbush (Exochorda racemosa) in the southwest corner of the Wild Garden. See it here in the left foreground, looking south.setting

Plant of the Week: Nymphaea ‘Marliacea Chromatella’ (Water Lily cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Claude Monet’s passion for painting water lilies was the direct result of the horticultural efforts of another Frenchman, Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac.

Until the late 19th century all species of hardy water lily—those that are native to temperate climates with cool winters—were resolutely white-flowered. Latour-Marliac discovered a way of hybridizing them and was able to produce a range of plants which would bloom in other colors.

His first success was ‘Marliacea Chromatella,’ a yellow-flowered cultivar (cultivated variety) which he introduced in 1887. We have this same cultivar today in our Aquatic Garden.


It can be seen blooming there over several weeks in late summer. In this next shot, it’s tucked into the left foreground of the pool, looking west.


Latour-Marliac exhibited his dazzling new water lilies at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and they captured the attention of the thousands of visitors. One visitor was Claude Monet and he very soon created his own water garden and bought plants from the Latour-Marliac nursery. He spent much of the rest of his life painting them.



Above: Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1915,  Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8966199.

Latour-Marliac’s nursery still operates and is located in southwest France.