It is a photograph of a crowded seabird rookery on the Chiswell Islands within Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. The National Parks of the US are surely the greatest American idea; maintaining the last remaining wildernesses of the continent, unmarred for future generations. This photograph captures a meeting of geology and biodiversity- two important components of natural history. Loud and busy, but at the same time, a meeting that happens annually to ensure the continuity of life. It is also a story of hope, as wildlife thrives once again after the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 in this region.
The ruby-topaz hummingbird (Chrysolampis mosquitus) is one of the most beautiful birds in South America. For a few weeks each year cacti come into bloom in the the dry forests of eastern Brazil. These flowering events attract swarms of hummingbirds which provides a narrow window of opportunity to observe the ruby topaz. I was lucky enough to be birdwatching on a granite outcrop covered in cactus this year at the right time. The sunset lit up the birds and after lots of tries I got one clear shot that captured the experience.
This photo captures the beauty of the sparkling ocean surrounding Key Biscayne, also known as the Island Paradise. The local native plants still have full reign in this protected key off of Miami. This bird's carefree stance and the bright sunlight dancing on the ocean waves epitomized the mentality of me and my bridesmaids as we explored the sandy trails, beaches, lighthouses, and forests of this magical wonderland.
For sixteen years I have lived on the north side of Van Cortlandt Park, a scant two minute walk from my apartment door to be surrounded in its northwest forest. During this time I have grown to appreciate many of the park's wonderfully unique qualities, from massive erratics left from the Pleistocene to errant Scarlet Tanagers and even Coywolves! All are astonishing for my now old and well traveled eyes. Over this time I became aware of two small evergreen plants that had variegated leaves, each producing small white flowers from a slender central stem. I had no clue as to what they were but was very taken with their not quite impudence but certainly disconcerting year round presence and beauty. (Who are you? And why have we not been introduced?) It took me years to find out what they were named but I still have questions about them. One is called Pyrola americana, it has both rounded and pointed leaves, a very odd plant in that it has limited photosynthesis; hence its changing red pigmentation? The other is the subject of my submission.
Chimaphila maculata or Spotted Wintergreen, is growing in a small colony on a narrow strip of land between the Van Cortlandt lake and the Putnam Trail. I recently discovered this small colony and it has caused a stir among some of my friends. It is very important for the preservation of the trail because the department of Parks & Recreation, in conjunction with outside interests want to pave the trail, to which I am very opposed. Spotted Wintergreen is listed as an "Exploitably Vulnerable" plant by New York State. The federal government has designated the wetland area in the park with the highest protection according to savetheputnamtrail.org.
Chimaphila maculata is now in bloom making this small evergreen plant easier to spot. It is related to Pyrola americana (same tribe) which seems to always be in proximity to Spotted Wintergreen. There is much more Pyrola in Van Cortlandt Park and it is present in two other city parks to my knowledge. However Spotted Wintergreen, is only present in Van Cortlandt Park. It is extinct in Canada and Maine. (The Canadian government last year issued a plan to revive C. maculata. The plan is available online.) It has a wide range and is present as far south as Panama. In Mexico it is used as a fermentation agent in the making of an alcoholic drink called Tesgüino. Spotted Wintergreen, like its cousin, Pyrola, is extremely soil dependent and probably mycorrhizal due to limited photosynthesis capacities. More study is needed to determine this. (See, William Cullina, The New England Society of Wild Flowers Guide to Growing and Propagation of Wildflowers.) I have observed that C. maculata also has periods where red pigmentation is seen and may be and indicator for mycorrhizal activity.
Another interesting shared aspect of these two plants is that they both produce the compound Chimaphilin, which according to the National Institute of Health web site is now used in the treatment of bone cancer.
Spotted Wintergreen is pollinated by insects and this was seen (an unidentified ant) first hand by a member of the Friends of VCP who is an entomologist. Please reach out to people at, FriendsofVanCortlandtPark.org, I am sure they will be interested in MSNH.
This snap shot is a document that has added meaning for me and I hope for others, in an active ongoing experience of natural world, of its present, its history and possible future.
Through this one 290-million-year-old Dimetrodon vertebra, time and space compress enough for a glimpse of a lost world, unimaginable without such messengers. And similar things can be done with all natural history objects.