November 11, 2020

Marine Life on Plumb Beach, Brooklyn, NYC

I was very fortunate that an iNat friend of mine was kind enough to drive myself and my husband on an iNat outing this Sunday. We stopped at three places, but our main destination was Plumb Beach, Brooklyn, off of the Belt Parkway. Plumb Beach is named after the Beach Plums which used to grow profusely there. Plumb Beach faces across the water to the eastern end of the Rockaway Peninsula.

The beach was very rich in beach drift of all kinds of marine organisms, including 19 species of marine mollusks, but also several species of crabs, as well as other invertebrates, and I even made observations of a few birds and salt-tolerant plants.

I found one shell of a Dove Snail which almost never occurs this far west on Long Island, so that was thrilling.

I also found one valve of a species of Venus Clam which supposedly does not occur at all on the East Coast. -- the Japanese Littleneck, aka the Manilla Clam. I suppose that valve was probably just a remnant of someone's seafood dinner or lunch.

Posted on November 11, 2020 21:17 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 69 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Who out there would like to learn about the seashells of the northeast?

If anyone reading this lives in the Tri-State area, in or not too far from NYC, and has some interest, I would be perfectly happy to train someone so that they could learn what they need to know about shells in order to really get into the subject.

I know one local sheller on Long Island, NY, Steven Rosenthal, who is very good indeed, and extremely knowledgeable. He is not as old as I am, but he is no spring chicken. He and I were both saying that it would be great to have some younger people with a serious interest in the local shells. Both Long Island and NYC used to have their own, very active shell clubs, but not any more.

Please let me know (drop me a message) if I can help you learn about the local shells of our area, assuming you have some degree of interest.

Posted on November 11, 2020 20:58 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 16 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 16, 2020

Marine Life on Orchard Beach, NYC

A dear old friend of mine drove me to Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park (which is in the Bronx, on Long Island Sound) yesterday afternoon for two or three hours. I spent most of the time on the beach itself, looking for marine life. I did pretty well considering. I found two seaweeds that were new to me, at least new since I have been on iNat, although I had actually seen them before in my life before I signed up with iNat.

I would like to visit this beach again after a storm that blows in from the east, when I imagine a lot more good stuff would be thrown up. I would also like to investigate further the salt marsh areas beyond the extreme north end of the beach -- there are rocks there too, and even a few small tide pools. It would also be great to walk the foot paths of Twin Islands and Hunters Island.

The beach dates from the 1930s, and it was a Robert Moses project. Millions of cubic yards of sand from Sandy Hook and the Rockaways were brought in to create it. It is an impressively huge curving beach, and the views across the Sound are lovely.

People call Orchard Beach the "Bronx Riviera", and I can certainly see why.

Here is what I found.


Atlantic Horseshoe crab


Asian Shore Crab
Northern Acorn Barnacle

Polychaete worms:

Trumpet worms, the funnel-shaped sand casings
And the "chimneys" and egg masses of a large burrowing species


Kelp Lace Bryozoan



Atlantic Ribbed Mussel
Blue Mussel
Common Jingle
Eastern Oyster
Chestnut Astarte
Atlantic Surfclam
Atlantic Jacknife Clam
Baltic Macoma
Northern Dwarf-Tellin
Softshell Clam


Flat Periwinkle
Convex Slippersnail
Common Atlantic Slippersnail
Shark Eye
Spotted Moonsnail -- new to iNat
Northern Moon Snail
Atlantic Oyster Drill
Knobbed Whelk
Eastern Mudsnail
Three-lined mudsnail


Brown Algae:

Bladder Wrack
Knotted Wrack -- new to me on iNat

Red Algae:

Red puff balls
Several other species

Green Algae:

Dead men's fingers (Codium) -- new to me on iNat
Broadleaf Sea Lettuce
And others, including a possible Ulvaria obscura?

I photographed a dead fish which is an Atlantic Menhaden. I also photographed Ringed-bill Gulls -- no surprise there.

My best terrestrial finds were a nice big Bess Beetle (a Horned Passalus Beetle), and a plant of Black Swallow-Wort. Both were new to me.

Posted on October 16, 2020 13:19 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 42 observations | 11 comments | Leave a comment

October 01, 2020

Spotlight on weeds: three species in the genus Phyllanthus

I knew nothing about the family Phyllanthaceae (which was formerly a subfamily in the Euphorbiaceae), and I had never knowingly seen a plant in that family, until April 25th 2017, when I first noticed a plant which iI believe is the species Phyllanthus amarus, in Charlestown, the capital of Nevis, St Kitts and Nevis, Leeward Islands, West Indies:

At that point in time I did not know what it was, but with major assistance from two other talented and hardworking iNatters, (thank you @nathantaylor, and thank you @adorantes) we were able to put an ID on it.

The common name of this species is "Gale of the Wind". I wonder if it got that name because, like many of the species in that genus, the flowers and fruits hang under the leaf in a way that strikes one as very peculiar the first time you see it -- maybe the "Gale" that blew was so strong that it simply blew the flowers and fruits completely round onto the underside?

Once I had seen one of these Gale of the Wind plants, I started noticing them all over the place on Nevis. Two years later in 2019 on Nevis, I photographed 28 of the plants.

Then in December 2019, my husband and I were staying on the island of Sanibel, Lee County, Florida. I photographed two Phyllanthus plants which were growing in an unkempt roadside verge near Blue Dolphin Cottages, where we stay when we are there. I still don't really have IDs on those two.

They both have flowers and fruit on long stems on top of the leaves like P. tenellus, so maybe that is what they are:

Then this year, in March of 2020, during an unfortunately very abbreviated stay (thanks to a sudden pandemic shut-down of the country) at Oualie Beach Hotel on Nevis, St Kitts & Nevis, West Indies, I photographed more Phyllanthus amara around the hotel grounds while we were in voluntary quarantine there, including this plant:

Also on the hotel grounds, on March 23, by dint of a lot of searching, I was able to find another species of Phyllanthus -- one plant of Phyllanthus tenellus, the Mascarene Island Leaf Flower:

During August of this year, 2020, and back in New York City, in the French Garden part of the Conservatory Garden, in Central Park, New York City, I discovered that several plants of Chamberbitter, Phyllanthus urinaria, were growing as weeds among the immature Korean Chrysanthemum plants. I made 12 observations of the plants on several different days, including these observations:

Then finally, on September 20th and 28th 2020, in New York City, first in Tompkins Square Park, and then at the edge of a flower bed on 59th Street near 12th Avenue, I found in each place, one plant of the Mascarene Island Leaf Flower, Phyllanthus tenellus, the same species that I had been able to find one example of on Nevis, back in March of this same year.

Tompkins Square Park:

59th Street on the West Side:

Daniel Atha was able to find three of the plants in that bed on 59th Street, and so he took one of them to press for the NYBG herbarium, because it is important to make a permanent record of this species which was not known before from NYC or NY State.

He got me to write a little paper about it (with him as co-author) which we have submitted already and it should be out very soon, probably in the "New York Flora Association Quarterly Newsletter, Fall 2020, Volume 31, Issue 4 pages xx - xx.".

Now I feel that I am starting to get acquainted with the interesting genus, Phyllanthus. According to the Wikipedia article there are somewhere between 750 and 1200 species worldwide in this genus, so I guess there are plenty of possibilities out there for meeting more of them!

Posted on October 01, 2020 19:46 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Spotlight on weeds: Petty Spurge, Euphorbia peplus

I was born in and grew up in Hayes, Bromley, Kent, a southeastern suburb of London, England. All through my childhood, in our backyard, Petty Spurge was a common, and aggressive, weed species. I asked my mother what it was called. My mother had grown up in a village in Devon, England, and being a country girl, she knew, and had taught me, the names of about 20 or 30 different wildflowers and weeds, but she did not know the name of this one.

As a kid I used to help in the garden, including pulling out the weeds, so I pulled these out, but I always thought that this plant was attractive and exotic-looking, with its pale green foliage and four-fold symmetry.

Here is an observation of the plant from Downe, Kent, about 5 miles from where I grew up, in a village I often visited because Charles Darwin used to live there:

After I left home, and after I started living in the US, I had not really seen this weed again, or perhaps never noticed it, until September 2018, when to my surprise I came across it in Encinitas, Southern California, near the motel where we stay there almost every year. I discovered it was not only present, but common. I made 5 observations of the species, including this one:

Then in the following month, October 2018, never having seen this plant in NYC before despite all my intense iNatting, I was amazed to find eight examples growing wild as weeds in a flower bed in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. I live on Manhattan's Upper East Side, a few miles away from Battery Park. Of course I made iNat observations of all the plants, including this one:

In June of 2019 I went back to look for the species in Battery Park, and found several examples of it, including this one:

In July 2019, I also found one plant in Bowling Green, which is a small and venerable park just north of Battery Park:

In September 2019, when my husband and I went to California again, I photographed 15 examples of the plant in Encinitas, California. And November 2019 I photographed six plants in Battery Park, Manhattan again.

During 2020 I was not able to find the plant in Battery Park, and I did not come across it anywhere else in NYC, despite the fact that I look very carefully everywhere I go for interesting weeds.

However, Daniel Atha of NYBG has found Euphorbia peplus, once Bronx Park near the NY Botanical Garden in June 2019 (he collected that one):

And Daniel also found the plant once in Central Park, in July 2020:

The Wikipedia article on Petty Spurge,

When it was accessed in October 2020, informs us that:

"Euphorbia peplus (petty spurge,[1][2] radium weed,[2] cancer weed,[2] or milkweed)[2], is a species of Euphorbia, native to most of Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia, where it typically grows in cultivated arable land, gardens, and other disturbed land.[1][3][4]"

"Outside of its native range it is very widely naturalised and often invasive, including in Australia, New Zealand, North America, and other countries in temperate and sub-tropical regions.[1]"

Posted on October 01, 2020 19:08 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 08, 2020

Volunteer plants in Carl Schurz Park

Carl Schurz Park is a particularly lovely city park which is about a mile from where I live. And I spend a fair bit of time there because I serve as something like a "consulting naturalist" for the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy. During normal times I give nature walks to the gardeners and do my best to ID plant pathogens and pests that are causing concern. I also helped the Conservancy get set up on iNaturalist, and I try to record all the wild fauna and flora in the park, as well as some of the more lovely garden plants.

For my own interest, and in case it is helpful to anyone, I am gradually putting together a list of all the volunteer garden plants that I have observed within Carl Schurz Park.

These volunteer plants are garden plants of various kinds which were originally planted, but have subsequently self-seeded. They tend to multiply and spread (at least within the park) by themselves, without human assistance. As they reproduce and establish themselves naturally, these volunteers count as "wild" by iNat standards. Most of the time the gardeners pull out all the volunteers as if they were weeds, unless one or two of them happen to grow somewhere that the gardeners consider to be desirable, then they are left as part of the evolving garden plan.

Many of the Carl Schurz Park gardeners are not in town currently, and have not been around for two or three months, so this is a better time than usual to see volunteer plants, as some of these young plants are not getting pulled out as they normally would.

One reason I am creating this list is because a few days ago I found a volunteer of Oakleaf Hydrangea growing out of the retaining wall on the south side of the 79th Street Central Park Transverse (see photo below), and when I posted that observation, Daniel Atha @danielatha commented that he had never seen a spontaneous one before. I replied that I had seen (and photographed) several volunteers of that species in Carl Schurz Park, and also several volunteers in Bryant Park.

It is interesting that although the plants that I list here self-seed and create volunteers, many of these plants, most of the time, do not successfully escape cultivation completely. So although you find volunteers of these species in the park, and next to the park, you usually don't find them popping up randomly in wilder situations nearby.

So perhaps most of these species of volunteering plants need the somewhat privileged situation of a park (better soil, some degree of watering during droughts) to do well?

Woody plants:

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Leatherleaf Mahonia

Eastern Red Cedar

Hibiscus syriacus

Goldenrain Tree

Quercus spp

Ulmus spp

Soft plants:

Red Columbine

Fern-leaf Corydalis

Russian Sage

Asian Bleeding-heart

Purpletop Vervain

Woodland Tobacco


Japanese Painted Fern

Rattlesnake Master

Spider Flower

Posted on July 08, 2020 11:23 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 12 observations | 4 comments | Leave a comment

June 30, 2020

Freshwater habitats, flora and fauna?

It seems to me that freshwater habitats are not really being surveyed here in NYC. Plenty of people look at water birds, a few people photograph fish, and some people photograph water plants, as long as they are large enough and picturesque-looking, but beyond that no one seems to be searching on or below the surface of freshwater habitats, including ponds. And this is a shame, because freshwater contains an amazing biodiversity.

All you really need is a pond net (Amazon has a TetraPond telescoping net for about 35 dollars) and one or two white enamel dishes (or similar) to dump the contents into. Add some pond water to the dishes and you should be all set. You probably don't need rubber boots or waders, as long as your pond net is the telescoping kind.

Don't worry if you have no idea what anything is. The great advantage of iNaturalist is that you don't have to know what an organism is, as long as you can get an OK photo of it. Some of the organisms you will see are quite small, so you will need to be able to take decent close-ups.

On the surface of ponds there are duckweeds and water striders; in the water there are water beetles, water snails, copepods, nematodes, and a great variety of pond weeds and green algae. If you are lucky you will find the larvae of dragonflies and damselflies.

And, if you have access to a microscope and put a drop of pond water into a cavity slide, it is a whole other world!

Posted on June 30, 2020 13:09 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 11 observations | 7 comments | Leave a comment

May 23, 2020

Viruses in plants, not people!

Humans are not the only ones who are at risk from a virus. Plants can also be under attack from virus species that are plant pathogens.

Of course you can't photograph the virus itself, but when a plant is infected, you can see the ways in which the virus changes the appearance of the leaves, or sometimes all parts of the plant. The symptoms can be quite striking, and can make interesting photographs. Mosaic viruses cause mosaic-like patterns on leaves. And sometimes a virus can affect a plant in other ways: for example, Cucumber Mosaic Virus, when it is on Nandina domestica, can cause extreme stunting, and make the leaves come out really weirdly: dark red, narrow, and curving downwards.

Some viruses only attack one genus of plants, but some others, including the Cucumber Mosaic Virus, attack a very wide range of plants in different families.

Because many of the viruses have long names, they are usually referred to by their acronyms, so Pagoda Yellow Mosaic Associated Virus is known as PYMAV, and Cucumber Mosaic Virus is CMV.

Here are some plant viruses that I have observed. Please note that @jameskdouch, a virologist in Melbourne, Australia, has given me much assistance by commenting on and correcting my putative virus identifications. And @juhatuomola, a plant pathologist in Helsinki, Finland, has been very helpful too.

Hackberry Mosaic Virus -- on Common Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis

Pokeweed Mosaic Virus -- on American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana

Cucumber Mosaic Virus -- on Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina domestica

Ribgrass Mosaic Virus -- on Carolina Bluebells, Mertensia virginica

Rose Rosette Emaravirus -- on Multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora

Pagoda Yellow Mosaic Associated Virus -- on Japanese Pagoda Tree, Styphnolobium japonicum


Rose mosaic virus -- one or more of a group of four unrelated viruses which attack Rosa chinensis

Virus on Erigeron:

Virus on Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia:

Mosaic virus on Kirengeshoma (a garden plant):

On June 4th I found symptoms of an interesting, new-to-me plant virus or viroid quite near where I live, on a seedling on White Mulberry. It might perhaps be hop stunt virus, HSVd:


Badnavirus on Japanese Aucuba, Aucuba japonica -- the effects of this virus are highly prized by horticulturists. The virus is transmitted in the seeds from one generation to the next. I guess we have to consider it to be a cultivated virus.


Cucumber Mosaic Virus on Beach Naupaka, Scaevola taccada, in Sanibel, Florida

Begmovirus on Merremia in Nevis West Indies


Posted on May 23, 2020 01:55 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 13 observations | 15 comments | Leave a comment

May 01, 2020

Mosses of Manhattan

We don't think of Manhattan, NYC, NY, USA as being a particularly "mossy" place, not like overgrown shady ravines in the upstate New York wilderness areas, but when you start paying attention, you discover that mosses are all around us almost everywhere here in the heart of the city: sidewalks, planters, waste ground, edges of paths , etc.

I know nothing about mosses, but I figure that my part of Manhattan must be home to only a limited number of moss species because of the air pollution and lack of fully wild habitat, despite Central Park's extensive "imitation wilderness". So I am guessing there might perhaps be 60 species in Manhattan. I suppose Inwood Park is the closest thing Manhattan has to real wilderness, as it is huge with varied habitat and there is some original forest there, but I have yet to make my way to Inwood. When things normalize I will head up there.

I am working with my iPhone, and the camera is not good at macro/micro pics because there is not enough resolution. However, I am certain there are a number of local mosses that I can learn to ID using the features that are visible to my naked eye, a hand lens, and my somewhat inadequate camera.

I already think I know a small handful of my local moss species, some only to genus. But I could be wrong on some of them -- a little knowledge is dangerous in that way!

One local moss that I have been confident about for a couple of years is Silvery Bryum. Anyone can learn to recognize that moss, even with one hand tied behind their backs.


Here are a few of my few mosses so far:

Silvery Bryum – Bryum argenteum

Seductive Entodon Moss – Entodon seductrix – I may have wrongly ID'ed some of these.

Woody Thyme Moss – Plagiomnium cuspidatum – this could be another species in that genus?

Bristle Mosses, Orthotrichum, I am pretty sure the genus is OK but I am also guessing I have in particular O. stellatum, the Starry Bristle Moss, which may be incorrect, but whatever it is I always find it growing in the crevices of the bark of mature Callery Pear street trees.

Wall Screw-Moss – Tortula muralis

Redshank – Ceratodon purpureus


And with some ID help from a professional moss person, I may also have found:

Common Bladder Moss – Physcomitrium pyriforme

Bonfire Moss – Funaria hygrometrica


The AI/Computer vision has recently started offering guesses on moss IDs. There are many of them, most of which are probably way off, but here is one suggestion:

Bird's Claw Beard Moss – Barbula unguiculata


Posted on May 01, 2020 13:09 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 10 observations | 6 comments | Leave a comment

April 26, 2020

What does a "stay-at-home" order mean?

I live in Manhattan, in New York City. Some of my friends appear to think that a "stay-at-home" order means they have to stay in their apartment and not go out at all under any circumstances. Of course when they do that, they are having food delivered a couple times a day at least, and that is not great for the delivery people in terms of the delivery people's having to commute in from the outer boroughs and therefore their considerable exposure to the virus.

So anyway, I found this quote:

"What is a stay-at-home order? California and New York, two hotspots for the coronavirus outbreak, were two of the first states to implement stay-at-home orders, which limit the circumstances under which people can leave their houses. Under a stay-at-home order, all non-essential workers must stay home. People can leave their homes only for essential needs like grocery stores and medicine, or for solo outdoor exercise."

(A stay-at-home order is not the same thing as a "shelter in place" order.)

NOTE: As mentioned in the quote, solo outdoor exercise such as walking, running or biking is allowed under a stay-at-home order. My husband Ed has been told by his doctor that he needs to walk an hour a day for his health. I go with him, and for me it is a nature walk too. We are very careful to practice social distancing, wear masks and gloves, carry wipes, and so on. Sometimes our walks are longer than an hour (during CNC much longer than an hour), but nonetheless, this amount of exercise is allowed and is healthy.

Of course people who are ill with a somewhat mild case of the virus, and who therefore are not in a hospital, those people should stay in their apartment all the time, and not go out at all for any reason. This is called "self-isolation", which is not the same as "stay-at-home".

Posted on April 26, 2020 12:17 by susanhewitt susanhewitt | 10 comments | Leave a comment