Progress of the Seasons Journal: 14 May, 1832-1862.

Current Columbia County Phenological Events for 2015: Celandine, Barberry, and Wild Cicely all seen blooming along the Hudson

Here is the penultimate regular historical phenology report from the ‘Progress of the Seasons Project’ for May 14. After Friday, we will go to a more periodic schedule – time to leave the computer and dig into other work!


Story Behind the Headlines:

26 japanese barberry IMG_6836

Japanese Barberry’s appealing side – jolly fruits and lively autumnal color.

Barberry is not really a popular plant at the moment. When we think of it at all, it’s usually as a non-native we have too much of, something we try to remove if we can. But Barberry was once so popular that it was introduced not once, but twice.

Barberry seems to have appealed to settlers for a variety of reasons, including a somewhat attractive appearance, berries that were good for jams and preserves, and bark and wood that was used in dyeing and even tanning. European Barberry was established relatively early. Seventeenth century reports are known; and Jefferson raised it a Monticello. In our mid-19th century phenology records, it is reported from such far-flung counties as Oneida, Westchester, Monroe and St. Lawrence.

This plant seems to have slowly come into disrepute as farmers noticed an apparent connection between it and a decimating rust of wheat. This prompted some New England states to outlaw the plants in the mid 1700s. Although many 19th century scientists seemed to discredit the Barberry/Wheat rust connection, it was finally proven that European Barberry was, in fact, a secondary rust host.

By the early 1900s, eradication programs and European Barberry bans were reducing the abundance of this species. By 1927, for example, the USDA estimated that more than 14,000,000 barberry bushes had been destroyed around the country. Unfortunately, the native American Barberry also hosts the wheat rust and its numbers were also severely reduced. The native species, however, so far as I can tell, has never been known from NY state, occurring instead farther south in the Appalachians.

Japanese Barberry's small, smooth-margined leaves.

Japanese Barberry’s small, smooth-margined leaves.

However, Barberry fans were not going to be denied, and Japanese Barberry began to be widely sold and planted in the late 1800s. Although it appears as if some strains of this species do, in at least certain locations, (notice all the qualifiers?), host wheat rust, most apparently do not, and this species has been widely planted, in part for its beautiful autumn foliage.

Unfortunately, Barberry’s prickly branches, which help protect it from browsing; its quick growth, combined with bird-facilitated dispersal; and its relative shade tolerance have led to its current reputation as an invasive species. Barberry removal is again occurring, although largely for ecological reasons. Today in Columbia County, both European and Japanese Barberry coexist in forests along the Hudson; a reflection of our history, painted in plants.

Euro barberry2

European Barberry’s larger, slightly toothed leaves.

Euro barberry

A dangle of European Barberry flowers.


Herbs: Wild Columbine flowered in New Lebanon, 1852.

Woodies: Leafing Sweet Chestnut was reported from Spencertown in 1853. In 1846, Lilac flowered in Poughkeepsie.

Agriculture: In Kinderhook, Plums and Cherries had bloomed in 1837. In 1851, Blackberry blossomed in Chatham and in 1852 their Apple trees flowered. Poughkeepsie noted blossomed Peas in 1846. Apple flowered in 1853 in New Lebanon. Bloomed Flowering Almond reported from Fishkill Landing in 1857.

Wild Cicely IMG_2582

Sweet Cicely in flower yesterday near the Hudson.

Herbs: Yellow Clover, Solomon’s Seal, Buttercup, Mayapple, Wild Pepper Grass, Spring Beauty, Wild Sarsaparilla and Trillium had all bloomed in single reports.

Woodies: Three reported bloomed Lilac. Bittercress, Butternut, Whortleberry, Dogwood, Rhododendron, Shadbush, Nannyberry and White Ash had flowered. Showing leaves were Sycamores, Rhododendron, White Ash and Trumpet Creeper. European Barberry flowering.

Birds: Observed in single reports were Hummingbirds, Goldfinches, Swallows and Whippoorwills.

Agriculture: Quinces, Plums and Peas had bloomed in two reports. Five reported blossomed Apple trees. Ripened Cherries and flowered Cherries both reported. Bloomed Flowering Almond and Gooseberry observed.



The introduced Morrow’s Honeysuckle in bloom.

Woodies: Bloomed were Chestnuts, Lilac and Black Walnut.

Woodies: Leafed Elderberry and Flowered Shadbush reported.

Agriculture: Blackberry had put forth leaves; two reports that Currants had bloomed

Herbs: Dutchman’s Breeches, Wild Columbine and Solomon’s Seal had bloomed.

Woodies: Aspen reported as having leafed.

Birds: Two reports of arrived Barn Swallows.

Agriculture: Three reported bloomed Currants. Solo reports that Apples, Strawberries and Cherries had blossomed.

celandine IMG_2572

Celandine, also a non-native, in bloom.

Herbs: Dandelion bloomed.

Woodies: Reported flowering Lilac.

Agriculture: Bloomed Plums in five reports; four observed flowered Currants; Apples blossomed in two reports and Strawberries were also in bloom.

Herbs: Pink Corydalis reported as in bloom.

Woodies: One report of Leatherwood flowered.

Agriculture: Apples and Currants bloomed in single reports. Two reported flowering of Plums; Corn planting was commenced.

Herbs: Mayapple had bloomed.

Woodies: Three reported flowering Lilac; two for the bloomed Shadbush. Tartarian Honeysuckle and Mockernut Hickory had flowered.

hickory IMG_2551

The male (pendant catkins) and female (upright, spikey globules above and to right of catkin cluster) flowers of a hickory.

Birds: Arrived were Barn Swallows, Whippoorwills and Martins.

Agriculture: A solo report for bloomed Pear; Peaches, Cherries, Currants and Strawberries flowered in two reports; flowered Plums noted in three.

Herbs: Bellwort, Thapsia, Sheep’s Sorrel, Mayapple, Goji Berry, Wildd Geranium, Softleaf Sedge and Wild Columbine flowered.

Woodies: Twice reported in bloom were Rhododendron and Butternuts.

Birds: Rochester reports arrived Bobolinks in 1843 and 1850.

Agriculture: In two reports were observed flowered Peaches, Currants and Apples. Gooseberries and Cherries had also bloomed.

Herbs: A solo report for blossomed Dandelion.

Woodies: Flowered Snowball and Lilac.

Birds: In 1840, Bobolinks arrived in Springville.

Agriculture: Bloomed Currants and Apricots in two reports. Cherries, Plums, Strawberries and Apples also flowered. In leaf were Cherries and Plums.

Ribes IMG_2580

A young Gooseberry forming.

Herbs: Solomon’s Seal, Wild Columbine, Marsh Marigold and Spotted Geranium bloomed.

Agriculture: Two reports of bloomed Apples and Peaches. Currants flowered in one report.

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