A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Begonia fuchsioides (Fuchsia-flowered Begonia)

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

This glossy-leaved begonia, with its deep-red stems and light-pink flowers, is called the fuchsia-flowered begonia because at a casual glance it could be mistaken for a fuchsia.close-up

Many hundreds of species of begonia exist and almost all come from tropical or sub-tropical regions of the world. This particular one, Begonia fuchsioides, is native to Columbia and Venezuela, where its blooms range in color from bright-red to a soft pink.

The genus Begonia is named in honor of Michel Bégon (1638-1710) who, as intendant (governor-general) of the Windward Isles of the Caribbean, developed a keen interest in the local flora.the-plant

While there, he met the botanist Charles Plumier who, because of his generous habit of celebrating his friends when applying names to new genera, was a good person to know. Plumier also honored botanists of earlier generations, including Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), now remembered principally by the name of the plant we know as the fuchsia.

Our fuchsia-flowered begonia can be seen in the Palm House section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory.setting

Plant of the Week: Pinus parviflora ‘Azuma’ (Japanese White Pine cultivar)

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

Sitting in a large pot at the center of the Flower Garden is Pinus parviflora ‘Azuma,’ a dwarf Japanese white pine.setting (1)

It is a very handsome little tree with a neat yet informal framework of branches, covered in dense tufts of blue-green needles that, because they are slightly curved, show off the narrow white lines on their undersides.close-up (2)

Dwarf mutations of conifers occur naturally, often in the form of a “witches’ broom”—a compact, many-branched shoot arising from just a single bud of an established tree.

Propagation material is taken from these growths and grafted onto rootstocks, which are young specimens of the regular species, thereby producing trees that display this compact habit. A close look at the base of this tree’s trunk reveals a difference in girth just at the point where it was grafted by the nurseryman, many years ago. The rootstock is much thicker because it doesn’t have the dwarf habit of the cultivar.root

“Dwarf” can be interpreted as “slow growing” and that is certainly true of this tree. It is at least two decades old and yet stands barely three feet high.

Planted around the edge of the container is a planting of perennial pansies, adding a touch of color for season.plant (2)

Plant of the Week: Veltheimia capensis (Sand Lily)

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

The sand lily (Veltheimia capensis) is one of many South African bulbs that will be on display this winter in the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory.the-setting

It produces a spike of tightly-packed, pink flowers from a rosette of wavy-edged, sea-green foliage and can be spotted this week, perched on one of the window sills.close-up

This relative of the hyacinth comes from the southwestern region of South Africa, where summers are hot and dry and the winters cool and moist. Many of the plants from this region grow and bloom during the more amenable winter months and go dormant before the searing heat of summer.

The genus, Veltheimia, is named for Count Augustus Ferdinand von Veltheim (1741‒1801), a German geologist.

Plant of the Week: Photinia villosa var. laevis (Christmas Berry variety)

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

One of our finest trees for fall foliage is certainly not the largest. Located in the area of the garden just to the north of the visitors’ parking lot is the small, but highly colorful, Christmas berry tree (Photinia villosa var. laevis). It is on the right in the shot below, which was taken on the path east of the Flower Garden.


It is a member of the rose family (Rosaceae), and related to such flowering trees as the apple, pear and hawthorn, and it puts on a similar show of five-petaled, white blossoms in spring.


The small, mid-green leaves of summer slowly turn into a fiery orange by late autumn and they contrast strongly with the tiny, red berries which are just beginning to ripen. These berries remain on the tree into winter, long after the foliage has dropped, and give the tree its common name of Christmas berry.


Native to East Asia, it is not often seen in parks or gardens. Our specimen is well worth a visit this week.

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.