The Country in the City: Natural History in Northwest Philadelphia
In 1903, regular newspaper readers in Germantown enjoyed a weekly series of articles titled, “A Flora of Germantown.” Written by Edwin Jellett, they ran every Friday for almost 40 weeks and covered Jellet’s wanderings throughout Northwest Philadelphia as he recorded plants in bloom, noted changes in the flora from previous decades, and referenced local history. To celebrate its centennial year in 2016, Awbury Arboretum republished Jellett’s articles in sequence, re-creating for the 21st century electronic reader what the newspaper consumer of 1903 enjoyed – a vicarious Friday jaunt through Germantown.
Note: This week’s edition of The Country in the City: Natural History in Northwest Philadelphia covers two of Jellett’s entries: May 15, 1903 and May 22, 1903.
Edwin C. Jellett – May 15, 1903 – from “A Flora of Germantown”
As originally published in the Germantown Independent Gazette
At this time, mahonia, or spreading Barbary, is in leaf, and I am reminded of the walk of Muhlenberg and Baldwin which we rather abruptly brought to a close. Now, I do not know certainly that “Upsal Nursery” was the objective point of these enthusiastic pedestrians, but I believe it was, for McMahon was a friend to both, and both had correspondence with him but a short time before the meeting of the synod in Philadelphia, and as well, “Upsal” was an attractive place to visitors who loved both flowers and good company.
I for a long time endeavored to locate this nursery, but indefinite and inaccurate directions concealed it. James Mease described it as being near “junction of Township line and Turnpike road,” Townsend Ward located it practically the same, and Thomas Meehan placed it on Germantown road, immediately north of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The last time I called on Thomas Meehan, I asked him his authority for his location of Upsal, and he replied, “John Jay Smith, who knew McMahon.”
There was an error somewhere, and not until last year, when with the aid of Dr. Naaman H. Keyser and B. Frank Harper, I was enabled to definitely locate the nursery within the lines of “Oakdale Park” of happy memory, which east of Broad street extended to Tenth street, immediately south of what is now Lehigh avenue. Bernard McMahon was an Irish gentleman of culture and means, who, unfortunately for his comfort, took active part in the Rebellion of 1795-98, and in consequence his property was confiscated by the victorious government. Being thereby without means, and at home an object of suspicion, he came to America, where the knowledge he acquired of gardening as an amateur he turned to good account as a professional, and soon became possessed of a nursery, where he long and successfully conducted his work. By his industry and worth McMahon soon became favorably known, and his house became a resort for intelligent men of like tastes and acquirements. At Upsal the Lewis and Clark expedition, the first expedition to cross the American continent, was organized, and to this same place it returned with its collection upon the completion of the journey. For some time the Lewis and Clark collections were stored at McMahon’s house, and we find Henry Muhlenberg writing Baldwin concerning them, desiring the names of new plants, so that he may include and credit them in his new catalogue. Bernard McMahon in 1806 published “The American Gardeners’ Calendar,” the first important book upon American gardening, which passed through many editions, the eleventh edition being edited by John Jay Smith, of Germantown, a book which yet may occasionally be seen on “old book” stands.
Many times I endeavored to impress upon Prof. Meehan the desirability of a book of “reminiscences” from him, for I knew no one possessing a fund of interesting information equal in extent and value to his, but his invariable reply was, “I have not the time.” In McMahon Prof. Meehan was greatly interested, and with anecdotes of him and others he could have given the world a record of enduring worth.
John Jay Smith, who well remembered McMahon, was the friend of many other noted scientific and literary men of the middle of the last century. To all living in Germantown thirty years ago he was a familiar figure, active and forceful, enjoying the honors he most justly earned as organizer of Laurel Hill Cemetery, editor of the “Horticulturist” and of many books, translator and editor of Michaux’s “North American Sylva,” a most important work in three volumes; the “Jacques” of the Gardeners’ Monthly, whose periodical reports were eagerly awaited by old “school readers,” who appreciated the value of the contributions, without knowing the identity of the writer, and last but not least, the founder of the Germantown Horticultural Society. John Jay Smith occupied “Ivy Lodge,” on East Penn street, where he lived among his books and his flowers, rested the good wishes of his friends, and, ripe in years and honors, passed to the rewards which await all who help to make the world more bright.
“Ivy Lodge” is a most interesting place, and its trees and old-fashioned garden continue much the same and worthy of more attention than has been given it. I hope that some time some one will be prompted to write a book of “Germantown, Its Old-time Gardeners and Gardens.” The subject is rich, and the field ample, for where can we find better or more numerous gardens than we have had, and now have, in our midst – gardens such as Alfred Cope’s on York road, Fox’s on Fisher’s lane, Henry’s on Main street, Logan’s, Betton’s, Freas’, Wister’s, “Awbury,” Miss Haines’, Miss Channon’s, Miss Johnson’s, “Upsala,” Bayard’s, Carpenter’s, Frank Miller Day’s, and others too numerous to mention from Mt. Airy to Chestnut Hill, up to and including a notable one of the new school owned by John T. Morris, located on the Wissahickon creek, near Reading pike.
In Vernon Park bald cypress is leafing, and this directs our attention to an exceedingly interesting tree. This tree is a “deciduous evergreen,” an anomaly it would appear, but then there is no tree which is really evergreen. Just now, if we examine spruce, hemlock and other “evergreens,” we shall find anew growth at the tips or each shoot, and if we should go into a pine wood we would there find the surface covered with dried pins of a previous year’s fall. These trees do not shed their clothing annually, nor in entirety, but do so partly each year, and in course of time a complete change is made. There is a difference concerning this, but as closely as I have been able to observe this is correct.
The cypress trees, however, and also the larch now leafing, shed their leaves completely every “fall,” and stand bare throughout the winter. There are but few of us, I think, who have not heard of the “giant cypress” of Bartram Gardens, and how it was picked up for a “whip” by John Bartram, and brought in a saddlebag from Carolina for planting in his garden. Now, whether this story be true or not, I know not, but this I know, that a large percentage of those who view the famous tree at Bartram’s fail to connect it with a tree common enough in our parks and gardens, and look upon it as extremely rare; indeed as a variety not to be duplicated.
In Germantown there are many cypress trees, in Town Hall lot, Walnut lane, near Wayne street; “Upsala,” and elsewhere, fine specimens may be seen, and at Ellwood Johnson’s, on Main street, three noble specimens, not as large in diameter, but superior in form to the Bartram relic, tower in vigor above nearby buildings, and attract the attention of all who pass near Main street and Washington lane. These trees are situate near the Johnson famous spring, upon “Honey Run,” whose dubious contributions of ancient memory gave name to the stream and sustenance to the growth, for which in a measure it was responsible. One of the peculiarities of the cypress is its tendency to develop “knees,” and the reason for this has never been adequately explained. It has been asserted that “knees” do not develop in cultivation, but this is not strictly correct, for “knees” are plainly discernible in the Bartram cypress. My belief is that these projections are supports which nature provides, sufficient where needed, but where not needed the natural tendency is yet strong enough to assert itself. One who visits South Carolina will there find this tree in abundance in marshes and swamps, where the root-hold is shallow, and where these “knees” serve as braces to maintain the tree in its position.
Along garden edges English daisies, which have been blooming vigorously for some time, are beginning to wane, and yellow cowslips, blue polymonium and other bright-colored flowers are in the ascendant. In neglected corners day-lily is in leaf, and ice-plant, which for an unknown reason usually associates with it, is rising clean and strong; hollyhocks and hydrangeas of high and low degree are in leaf, and cultivated columbines in variety are in flower. Late peonies, with erect stems and spreading leaves, are covered with small hard buds, which will soon expand into spheres of bloom, and the early crimson variety is now in flower. Dentzia, which should be called bridal wreath, so white and delicate is it, is a globular mass of green, dotted by pearls of “purest ray serene.” Red pyrus yet holds its own, and pink pyrus, later, and if not so striking, more beautiful, keeps it company. Privet and osage-orange hedges are strong in leaf, and soon the click and snap of barbarous shears will for a time disturb the usual serenity of our peaceful town. Mock-orange, snowberry, spireas and viburnums, both common and rare, with bloom ranging in color from pink to white, and in variety too numerous to record in detail, are in bloom, their bright green leaves and attractive colors making a picture as pure as an unpolluted mind created to receive it.
Some years ago there were a few native rhododendrons growing in the Wissahickon woods on a hill above Allen’s lane bridge. The bridge has disappeared, and so have the plants, but in their place there is growing near the “spring-house” in the same neighborhood, rhododendrons placed there by the Park Commission. These plants, and others like them on many lawns in Germantown, are now showing bloom in varied shaded colors. The nearest locality I know for native rhododendrons is one shown me by George Redles, who, with his father, discovered it about thirty miles east of Camden.
Along roadsides the so-called “common plants” are beginning to assert themselves. Some of these plants have attractive flowers, but a majority of them are plain, and like “hewers of wood and drawers of water” in humble life, are treated with little consideration. Fortunately, both are able to take care of themselves, and flourish in spite of a self-satisfied plutocracy, native to our common observance. Dock, a weed common to our barnyard borders, although apparently valueless, belongs to a family from which came rhubarb, valued for medicinal and other properties. Wild radish of waste places is the original of the well-known welcome visitor which in season finds a place at every table, and wild carrot, which by cultivation has produced one of the most important staples we use. These, and butter and eggs, or snap-dragon, asparagus, fumitory, dog-daisy, clover and grasses in variety, are thickening the by-ways.
In fields and swamps star of Bethlehem, popularly known to children as “day-breakers and night sleepers,” one of our freshest flowers, possessing a delicious subtle fragrance, is everywhere, and meadow saffron, with glacous leaves and dark yellow flowers resembling those of a kerria, may be found both in damp and dry places. Swamp buttercup, with distinct foliage, and a large five-pointed yellow flower; meadow saxifrage, strong grower in damp grounds, with erect stalks of dingy white flowers and a pleasing odor which reveals its identity, is blooming in Unruh’s meadow and Chew’s wood. Tare, with purple flowers, an undesirable plant, and near Germantown rare, is blooming at “Riverside Mansion.” On dry, sandy banks, lupine, a gaily dressed gallant, is displaying his showy attire near Conshohocken, but I do not now know it nearer to home. Common along the edges of woods is pigweed, with dark mottled leaves; wild sarsaparilla, of strong-scented leafy growth, and spikenard, a near relative, with like habits and properties. The woods have now lost the lankiness of youth, and have developed to a rotund maturity, a veritable “forest of Arden.” The oak, butternut and walnut are partly or wholly in leaf, and the last remnant of procrastination is awaking. Nearly all the wood flowers previously named hold their bloom, and will continue do so for some time to come. The period of bloom of even our most transient plants is more extended than many imagine, and with few exceptions continues from two to three weeks, so that there is always, as Uncle Josh says, “a treat in store for you.” Honeysuckle, or wild azalea, one of the brightest flowers of our woods; false Solomon seal, erect, with a white feathery head like astilbe in flower, reach over alum root, yellow oxalis, and pink oxalis also in bloom.
The famous Lippincott evergreen magnolia at Broad and Walnut streets is now breaking into new leaf. On lawns, and in parks, horse-chestnut, one of the most striking of our ornamental trees, is at its perfection, and at the “cocoonery” white mulberry shows its leaves and flowers together. This latter tree reminds me of the silk craze of sixty years ago, which for a time disturbed our quietness and brought us into undesirable prominence.
Philip Syng Physick, son of the celebrated surgeon of the same name, becoming enthused with the possibilities of the silk industry for America in general, and for himself and associates in particular, organized a company, imported a variety of mulberry which silk-worms were known to prefer, and erected on Morton street, opposite Tulpehocken, a building which became known as “The Cocoonery.” The effort proved futile, the company lost and the “multicaulis craze” became a thing of history. The “cocoonery” altered, continued, and was long conducted as a select boarding home, which I often visited, and well remember. This, too, has disappeared, and the only reminders of the excitement are the few silk mulberry trees now in bloom on the original grounds, and Physick street near by, which preserves the name of the directing spirit of the movement.
Mahonia. Mahonia aquifolium.
Spreading Barbary. Mahonia aquifolium.
Bald Cypress. Taxodium Distichum.
Norway Spruce. Picea Excelsa.
Hemlock. Tsuga Canadensis.
Pine. Pinus Inops.
Larch. Larix Americana.
Giant cypress. Taxoduim Distichum.
English Daisy. Bellis Perennis.
Yellow Cowslip. Primula Officinalis.
Blue Polymomlum. Polymonium Richardsonii.
Day lily. Funkia Subcordata.
Ice-plant. Sedum Ternatum.
Hollyhock. Althaea Rosea.
Hydrangea. Hydrangea Paniculata.
Columbine. Aquilegia Vulgaris.
Peonia. Peonia Officinalis.
Dentzia. Deutzia Gracilis.
Red pyrus. Cydonia Japonica.
Pink pyrus. Cydonia Japonica, var. Rosea alba.
Privet. Ligustrura Vulagre.
Osage Orange. Maclura Aurantiaca.
Mock orange. Philadelphus Coronarius.
Snow-berry. Symphoricarpos Racemosus.
Rhododendron. Rhododendron Maximum.
Dock. Rumex Crispus.
Rhubarb. Rheum Rhaponticum.
Wild radish. Ranhanus Raphanistrum.
Wild carrot. Daucus Carota.
Butter and eggs. Linaria Vulgaris.
Snap dragon. Linaria Vulgaris.
Asparagus. Asparagus Officinalis.
Fumitory. Fumaria officinalis.
Dog-daisy. Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum.
Star of Bethlehem. Ornithogalum Umbellatum.
Day-breaker. Ornithogalum Umbellatum.
Night sleeper Ornithogalum Umbellatum.
Meadow saffron. Krigia Amplexicaulis.
Kerria. Kerria Japonica.
Swamp Buttercup. Ranunculus Pennsylvanica.
Meadow Saxifrage. Saxifrage Pennsylvania.
Tare. Vicia Sativa.
Lupine. Lupinus Perennis.
Pigweed. Amarantus Retroflexus.
Sarsaparilla. Aralia nudicaulis.
Spikenard. Aralia Racemosa.
Oak. Quercus Alba.
Butternut. Juglans Cineraea.
Walnut. Juglans nigra.
Wild honeysuckle. Rhododendron nudiflorum.
Wild azalea. Rhododendron nudiflorum.
False Solomon’s seal. Smilicina Racemosus.
Astilbe. Astilbe Japonica.
Alum-root. Heuchera Americana.
Yellow oxalis. Oxalis stricta.
Pink oxalis. Oxalis vioalcea.
Evergreen magnolia. Magnolia Grandiflora.
Horse chestnut. Aesculus Hippocastanum.
White Mulberry. Morus alba.
“Multicaulis” mulberry. Morus alba.
by Claudia Levy
As we a look back a century through Edwin Jellett’s eyes, we find that he too looked to his predecessors for insights into the lost nature of his city. This week he begins by heading south to Lower Germantown and Nicetown and the area that was once the estate of James Logan. Jellett is quick to mention that the area has greatly changed, and in many ways the landscape that he sees has more in common with the one we know than with that of early generations of Logans.
To those familiar with this area, Jellett’s mention of “Logan’s meadow” as a “favorite resort” might seem at once jarring and familiar. Stenton, the exquisite 1730 Georgian brick mansion that James Logan designed, and from which he governed the colony of Pennsylvania, today is a uniquely authentic house museum. Its agricultural estate of over 500 acres was bisected by a railway line in the 1830s, abruptly inserting industrial and urban systems into a rural ecosystem. That once vast estate is now represented by about 15 acres of open space shared by Stenton Park, the 2.6-acre grounds associated with Stenton Mansion, a vacant lot across N. 18th (now covered by opportunistic urban meadow-like plants,) and the SEPTA easement across Windrim Avenue.
Stenton Park is now a valuable recreational open space. Although in recent weeks the typically shorn turf has been resplendent with buttercups, the park is usually horticulturally unremarkable. The Wingohocking Creek once passed through the site, evidenced today only by a slight grade change. The old Logan Family Burial Ground is now paved over with asphalt. The headstones are gone but a wall of Wissahickon schist remains.
The Stenton Museum Grounds are another story. Stenton has been under the stewardship of the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, Pennsylvania Chapter, since 1891. In addition to preserving the mansion, the Dames have sought to keep the Logan horticultural legacy alive. A floriferous “colonial revival garden,” established in 1911, still thrives. Few know that the Garden Club of America was founded here, and for its centennial year in 2015, the GCA awarded Stenton its prestigious Founders Award to fund the establishment of a small urban meadow.
The new Stenton meadow (coincidentally being planted this week!) will not be a fragment of what once was: the ecology of the area is now so very different. Tall trees cast varying amounts of shade, so rather than fodder grasses like timothy we will see numerous native sedges. Even so, perhaps in a few years we will be able to find the odd wildflower that Jellett knew, or even a red-robin or painted cup.
Edwin C. Jellett – May 22, 1903 – from “A Flora of Germantown”
As originally published in the Germantown Independent Gazette
Some 40 years ago, when the craze for grapes was dominant, and E. W. Bull, with whom the “Concord grape” originated, was issuing, under numbers, new varieties, much in the same way as Edison of our time issues new inventions, “Logan Nursery” on York road was in its incipiency, and William Bright, its proprietor was struggling for a place in the business world. Soon Bright undertook, and made a specialty of, growing grapes, becoming an authority upon the subject, and writing a book on “Grape Culture,” which became a standard, passing through two editions. This book was a model of good English, was written in a delightful style, and its author was a man whose conversational powers delighted and fascinated all who came within reach of its magic charms.
Bright was an Englishman, tall, erect and handsome, once a member of the “Queen’s Guard,” well connected, received periodically a small income from “home,” but beyond this even his most intimate friends knew but little. Through a misfortune beyond his control, he lost his property, and after many “trials and tribulations,” died about twenty years ago, in poverty. Long before his death his place changed hands, was altered, and is now included within the spacious grounds of William Graham, near Logan Station.
William Bright was widely and favorably known by Germantown gardeners of the last generation, and in addition to his nursery work he carried on landscaping, and so far as I know was the first to follow this professionally in the vicinity of Germantown. Before the days of Meehan & Saunders, Charles H. Miller and later “landscape engineers” of prominence, he was established, and much of his work, which was of the old style, formal type, continues with us, a notable example being the home of the late Thomas Drake on East Washington lane, a gentleman with whom tie was Intimate.
“Bill” Bright, as he familiarly was known, is gone, the “school” he represented has been replaced, and as I passed his nursery on the way to “Stenton,” and saw grapes in bloom, I was reminded of him and his cruel fate, and awed by the mystery of the impenetrable, I wandered into elysian fields, where “everything works together for good,” where discouragement and disappointment never is, and where the “weary are at rest.”
Time was when Logan’s meadow was a favorite resort, and although it has greatly changed, and from it many interesting plants have disappeared, it must always appeal to us because of James Logan, its original settler and owner. All readers of the early history of Pennsylvania are familiar with the political Importance of William Penn’s assistant and secretary, but Logan was much more than a politician and a shrewd business man of skill and discretion. He was indeed this, but as well he was one of the most learned men in the colonies, whose scientific and literary work lives to exhibit to us his knowledge and its worth.
James Logan was not only an acute botanist, whose work was honored by Linneus in the dedication to him of the genera Loganiaceae, which includes the beautiful yellow jessamine of the Southern States, but to him, in part at least, the success of John Bartram, as well as that of Godfrey, the inventor of the quadrant, is directly due. Logan procured books for Bartram, translated for and instructed him in Latin, and both directly and indirectly encouraged and aided him in business and intellectual ventures.
Historic Stenton has always been an interesting place, and though its once rich fields have been shorn, and its area contracted, it is well worth our attention for a moment as we pass through it to parts beyond. Time was before the Winghocken creek was housed, and both before and after it received its name, of which ere long we shall know more from Dr. Keyser and his associates, Logan’s meadow was a famous place for flowers, and a favorite collecting place for flower lovers. Here George Redles and “Freddie” Fleckensteln, both expert botanists, who knew the hiding place of every native plant, its medicinal properties and name, spent – as George Redles, Jr., informed me – many happy hours, and here some of Germantown’s rarest plants long blossomed unmolested.
Now many and permanent changes have taken place, and the red robins, or painted cups, which the same authority have told us were common in Logan’s meadow many years ago, are there no more. But other flowers continue, and there in bloom is wild tulip, rare, with erect yellow flowers, only less conspicuous, because smaller, than the large yellow tulips of our gardens. American brookbine, also a rather uncommon plant near home, flourishes at the “spring” and in the exposed portions of the stream. Water-plantain, duck’s-meat, and other water plants now developing, flourish in the water below the railroad bank which cuts the estate in twain, and at the spring to the north, which soon will be no more, William Wynne Wister at one time collected Goldles’ fern, one of the rarest in our territory.
But though painted cup, which directed attention to Logan’s meadow, has from it disappeared, as it has also from Flourtown, where Jonathan Jones told me it grew in immense numbers on his farm, there is yet one meadow near Chestnut Hill where it sparingly appears. Along the Skippack and Perkiomen creeks painted cup is more plentiful, and gorgeous are numerous meadows, which at a distance-appear as lakes of “radiant fire on flickering Phoebus’ front.” In the “Dutch Township,” where this plant seems best to thrive, it blooms about the time the whippoorwill appears, and for this reason it is there generally known as “whippoorwill flower.”
So many plants bloom early that it is impossible to fairly present all worthy of special notice, but rare or odd plants we shall sketch as we are able. With the exception of a few late blooming varieties, all the violets native to our territory have flowered, or are now in flower, and those who attended the May meeting of the Germantown Horticultural Society were treated to a dissertation on the same by a skillful botanist and member, long a resident of “The Cedars,” a part of Logan’s meadow, who as curator of the botanical section of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences occupied an important position in the scientific world, and who, though young in years, has already earned a place in technical nomenclature.
So many of our blue violets are mixed, and unquestionably are the result of natural crossing, that I prefer to accept the classification of Prof. Gray, until a conservative reclassification by one as careful as the late Prof. Thomas C. Porter, of Lafayette College, is made, for several of the varieties accepted and recorded by Britton and Brown are ephemeral, and I am satisfied cannot stand. For example, viola angellae is nothing more than a variety of viola palmata, and was so diagnosed by Joseph Meehan, George Redles and myself on collecting the plant near Blackwoodstown, N.J., three years before its discovery by Miss Angell. Indeed, in some sections this new and supposedly rare violet is one of the commonest of plants. Other violets now in bloom are common blue violet, of which its early variety is now in seed; long spurred violet, with pale lilac flowers, and nearly all the blue violets previously noted. The violets form a most interesting group of plants, their beauty, two-fold distinctness of form, varying foliage, open and hidden, or cleistogamous flowers, all contribute to heighten the interest and enhance the pleasure of their study.
In gardens tiger lily is pushing forward to a head, akebia is covering trellises with its clean, finely formed leaves, while matrimony vine is endeavoring to hide the posts of porches with a matted mass of green. Chrysanthemums, as miniature forests, are pushing six inches above ground; “yellow lily,” erect and strong, is showing Its bright yellow flowers; mountain mignonette, rugged and sturdy, is thick with subdued flowers, and Dutchman’s pipe, with large, smooth, round leaves and peculiar, pipe-shaped flowers, hangs gracefully from many a twining support. About old buildings and elsewhere burdock and motherwort, both rather rank, rough-growing weeds, are crowding out refined and more desirable plants, and both may be seen leafing in the Wissahickon, near “Happy Kelly’s” home in Kitchen’s Hollow. Both high and low growing varieties of Indian tobacco are in bloom in dry open fields, the first plantain everlasting, and the second cud-weed, or pearly everlasting, with small, ruffled, fluffy heads. A plantain rather rare near home, though common enough elsewhere, is Virginian plantain, now in bloom on the dry slope facing the rear of Walnut Lane Station. At this same place now shows in leaf patagonian plantain, a rare plant, though not an especially attractive one, which I first discovered here about ten years ago.
The trees may be said to have fairly started on their way, and white oak, chestnut oak, red oak, dwarf oak, witch hazel, sweet birch, hickory, shell-bark, butternut, beech, horn beam, catalpa in the Wissahickon and other Germantown nearby woods, locust and virgilia on Manheim street, swamp magnolia on Chelten avenue, fringe tree on Herman street, coffee tree of Dr. Willits on Walnut lane, copper beech of Nixons on Tulpehocken street, the famous magnolia tree of Vernon Park, the rare Franklin tree of Joseph Meehan on Pleasant street – these and others of interest too numerous to now mention are all in leaf in various stages of development.
In Wister’ Hollow empress or paulownia tree is yet purple with straggly flowers; along fences and in woods wild cherry everywhere white with appetizing bloom; quince almost hides its branches in the profusion of its apple-like blossoms; mountain ash, neither rare nor common, often met in unexpected places, is covered with cymes of whitish flowers, which will soon give way to bunches of highly colored decorative fruit. Along almost every fence in open fields juniper and other evergreens stand like sentinels to guard the boundaries.
Hawthorne, green, with small dissected leaves and prickly stems, is covered with a white spire alike bloom, and may be seen on many lawns. The finest hawthorne I know in Germantown, and equal to any I saw in England, where it is better appreciated, stands on a lane east of Morton street, near Johnson street.
One who passes up Chew street, north of Washington lane, will notice two long rows of high juniper trees extending westward over “Vinegar Hill.” Ellwood Johnson told me that in his youth a farmhouse stood at the top of this hill, and that these trees marked the lane leading to same. This hawthorne tree, then like poor “Tom’s a cold,” stood long alone, but in spite of ill fortune it lives to mark the site of an old garden and to serve as a reminder of a generation past.
In streams and meadows many plants are starting or in bloom. In pools near the “lava-beds” at Nicetown, and also near Wissahickon Heights, cattails are standing green and erect; in a creek near Miles’ wood calamus, resembling flags, is high in leaf; spatterdock, with large, smooth, green leaves and heavy, cup-shaped yellow flowers, are in bloom along the Wissahickon creek, near Mount St. Joseph; caltha, or marsh marigold, of which there are a few plants near Price’s lane bridge, but which is more plentiful near Telford and in Southern New Jersey, is now in fruit.
Along dry roads, and in damp meadows, blue-eyed grass, or “grass pink,” and red-sorrel is everywhere. Fly-poison, a very rare plant in our territory, is in leaf near Chestnut Hill. Yellow and red native lilies are up from two to four inches. Meadow saffron, native blue flags in wild flower gardens are in bud, and the bright-faced, smiling little star grass, whom every one is pleased to meet, waits for us along grassy paths.
Broadcast in fields dog-daisy is in flower, and though by many despised, beautiful it is. This “weed” now so common, like many weeds, is an introduction, and by some writers is credited to the Hessians, who at the time of the Revolutionary War, it is said, brought the plant to this country in hay. This, however, is not correct, for Gottlieb Mittelberger, in 1753, the organist of Muhlenberg’s Church at Trappe, Pa., states in his journal that there the daisy was grown as a pot plant, it no doubt being prized as a pleasant reminder of “home.” Although a “weed” and a nuisance, I imagine we should not like to be without it. I never knew a man who could not stand his own faults, and where so much beauty is we surely should be willing to overlook much.
The lanes and woods now revel in life exuberant. Squirrels and ground hackeys leap from fence to fence, or disappear in crannies in walls. Barn swallows, bright and gay, and rusty chimney swallows, skim close to the ground in apparently aimless gyrations, and high overhead, in secluded parts, rasp-voiced night-hawk and plaintive whippoorwill may be seen and heard in the early evening. For a long time the night-hawk and whippoorwill were thought identical, but Alexander Wilson demonstrated to the satisfaction of William Bartram that they were distinct. In Indian grass fields and also in thickets and woods fleet-footed rabbits start, and stop to think whether they will desert their young, and one who stops to take up one of these large-eyed, tender, crouching, trusting creatures can have nothing but contempt for a “sport” which would destroy them.
Everywhere in woods smilax, grasping and green; oak-leaved gerardia, with bright, new, tender leaves, and several summer blooming plants, are making ready for the “bridergoom when he cometh.” Wild honeysuckle, with azalea-like flowers, ranging in color from pink to white; alum-root, with long spikes, surmounted by a close, brown-tufted head; rattlesnake weed, whose showy leaves now support upon a nodding stem an unyielding weight of yellow flowers – these, and spiderwort, dressed in robes of regal splendor, with three sepals, three petals, and six “fuzzy wuzzy” stamens, surmounted by lobes of richest yellow, the colors in exact shade of those of our Mermaid Club, of which it always reminds me, may sparingly be found throughout the Wissahickon from the river to Chestnut Hill. Moccasin flower, or lady-slipper, one of our choicest wild flowers, well known both by description and cut, is now in flower in the middle Wissahickon, and elsewhere in dry hemlock or pine woods, near Weldon, and across the river in New Jersey, it is blooming more plentifully.
Hound’s-tongue, another rare Wissahickon plant, growing near Livezey’s lane, with bright, clean leaves, closely resembling those of cultivated tobacco, has now a slender spike supporting a flower cluster of delicate shaded blue. Obolaria is “passing,” and its odd lilac flowers though present, in spots by seed vessels have been supplanted.
Orchids are always interesting, and to George Redles and wife are we indebted for the weird pogonia shown at out May Horticultural Society meeting, which is in bloom in home wild flower gardens, and native to secluded retreats near Jenkintown. Blooming also in the lower Wissahickon is coral-root, a strange, beautiful plant, very shy and very rare. Closely allied to it is “Wister’s coral plant,” growing along Gulf creek, near Conshohocken. This plant was named in honor of Charles J. Wister by Thomas Nuttall, and I regret that later botanists, in reclassifying, included it with a variety which never here blooms before June. But so it must ever be, so soon as we ceasing turning the music stops, and “dead men have no rights,” and so long as pride and ambition exceed sympathetic loyalty and reverence, so long will there be individuals ready to kick over the “ladder by which they rise,” and who by another turn of the “wheel,” to be toppled from the ignoble height they thought the sky by successors as inconsiderate as they.
Concord grape. Vitis Labrusca.
Red robin. Castilleia Coccinea.
Painted cup. Castila Coccinea.
Wild tulip. Tulipa Sylestris.
Water plantain. Alisma Plantago.
Duck’s-meat. Lemna minor.
Goldie’s fern. Aspidium Goldianum.
Whippoorwill flower. Castilleia Coccinea.
Pollard violet. Viola Angelae.
Blue violet. Viola Palmata.
Long spurred violet. Viola Rostrata.
Tiger lily. Lilium Tlgrinum.
Akebia. Akebia Quinata.
Matrimony vine. Lycium Vulgare.
Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum Indicum.
Yellow lily. Hemerocallis Flava.
Mountain mignonette. Reseda odorata, var. Grandiflora.
Dutchman’s Pipe. Aristolochi Sipho.
Burdock. Arctium Lappa.
Motherwort. Leonurus Cardiaca.
High Indian Tobacco. Antennaria Plantaginifolia.
Low Indian Tobacco. Gnaphalium Ullginosura.
Plantain everlasting. Antennaria Plantaginifolia.
Cud-weed. Gnaphalium Uliginosum.
Pearly everlasting. Gnaphalium. Uliginosum.
Virginian plantain. Plantago Virginica.
Patagonian plantain. Plantago Platigonica, var. Gnaphaloides.
White oak. Quercus Alba.
Chestnut oak. Quercus Alba.
Red oak. Quercus Rubra.
Dwarf oak. Quercus Illicifolia.
Witch-hazel. Hamamelis virginiana.
Sweet briar. Betula Lenta.
Hickory. Carya Tomentosa.
Shell-bark. Carya Alba.
Butternut. Juglans Cinerea.
Beech. Fagus Ferruignea.
Horn-beam. Ostrya Virginica.
Catalpa. Catalpa Bignoniodies.
Locust. Robinia Pseudacacia.
Virgilia. Cladrastis Tinctoria.
Yellow wood. Cladrastis Tinctoria.
Swamp Magnolia. Magnolia Glauca.
Fringe tree. Chionathus Virginica.
Coffee tree. Gymnocladus Canadensis.
Copper beech. Fagus Sylvatica, var. Purpurea.
Meng’s Magnolia. Magnolia Macrophylla.
Franklin tree. Gordonia Pubescens.
Empress tree. Paulownia Imperialis.
Paulownia. Paulownia Imperialis.
Wild cherry. Prunus Serotina.
Quince. Cydonia Vulgaris.
Mountain ash. Pyrus Americana.
Juniper. Juniperus Virginiana.
Hawthorne. Crataegus. Oxyacantha.
Cat-tail. Typha Latifolia.
Calamus. Acorus Calamus.
Flag. Iris versicolor.
Spatterdock. Nuphar Advena.
Caltha. Caltha Palustris.
Marsh marigold. Caltha Palustris.
Blue-eyed grass. Sisyrinchium Angustifolium.
Grass pink. Sisyrinchium Angustifolium.
Sorrel. Rumex Acetossella.
Fly-poison. Amianthium muscaetoxicum.
Yellow lily. Lilium canadense.
Red lily. Lilium Superbum.
Meadow Saffron. Krigia Amplexicaulis.
Blue flag. Iris veriscolor.
Star-grass. Hypoxis Erecta.
Dog-daisy. Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum.
Indian grass. Chrysopogon Nutans.
Smilax. Smilax Rotundifolia.
Oak leaved gerardia. Gerardia Pedicularia.
Wild Honeysuckle. Rhododendron Nudiflorum.
Azalea. Rhododendron Nudiflorum.
Alum-root. Heuchera Americana.
Rattlesnake weed. Hieracium Venosum.
Spiderwort. Tradescantia Virginica.
Moccasin flower. Cypridedium Acaule.
Lady-slipper. Cypridedium Acaule.
Hemlock. Tsuga Canadensis.
Pine. Pinus Inops.
Hound’s tongue. Cynoglossum officinale.
Tobacco. Nicotiana Tabacum.
Obolaria. Obolaria Virginica.
Fly orchid. Pogonia Vertlcillata.
Pogonia. Pogonia Verticillata.
Coral root. Corallorbiza Innata.
Wister’s coral plant. Corallorhiza Odontorhiza.
All botanical illustrations, unless otherwise noted, are by Alois Lunzer, from Thomas Meehan’s “The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States,” first published in 1878. Plates from this book were clipped and included in Jellett’s scrapbook/manuscript “The Flora of Germantown.”