We live a couple of hundred feet from Montreal’s magnificent 494-acre Mount Royal Park, which was laid out by Frederick Law Olsmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park. A lot of the people on our street have beautiful gardens in their front yards. Our front yard, which is thirty feet by fifteen, has two box elder or as they’re called in Canada Manitoba maple trees that I’ve given up trying to prune and the suckers from the base of their trunks have now taken over half of the front yard. Under the front one are some lilac bushes whose growth was being impeded by their overhanging branches until friend of my boys climbed it and cut them this spring. The lilacs have been enjoying a spurt of growth since then.
There is all kinds of wildlife on the street. I’ve seen monarch and red admiral butterflies, a tiger swallowtail caterpillar, jammed with a hermit thrust in the back alley (they sing in the pentatonic minor, and we exchanged several bluesy runs before it figured out I was no thrush and clamed up). In just our Manitoba maples I seen and listened to a red-breasted grosbeak singing his heart out, and on other occasions a cardinal, and several species of warbler. There’s a squirrel nest. The grey squirrels are still grey, unlike the ones in Central Park, which are black, and one of them is an albino.
Imagine my surprise a few days ago when I saw clusters of small whitish-yellow pine-cone shaped seed packets draped on a vine winding through the upper branches of the lilacs. Wild hops, native to the region. Latin name, Dioscorea villacia. I recognized them from a day I spent in the early l970s botanizing in a nature sanctuary in Mount Kisco, New York, that I was looking after, with Timothy Plowman, an Amazonian ethnobotanist at Harvard’s Peabody Museum and a dear friend. He found some hops in our marsh, a first for Westchester County.
So what on earth was this hop vine doing in our lilacs? Probably a bird landed in them or the Manitoba maple above them and pooed out the seeds of some hops it had eaten somewhere else, somewhere to the south, a songbird passing through on its spring migration north.