I’ve got a good one for you guys, a joke I’ll give to you — for free! — to use as we get back into hosting and habiting friendly gatherings. Ready?
April showers bring May flowers and what did the Mayflower bring...?
Historical rumor is that this twist on the classic childhood zinger holds true. It is thought dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) first came to North America in 1620 as passengers aboard the Mayflower, providing vital vitamins and minerals for the pilgrim settlers  once the plants took root in the ‘New’ World. It wouldn’t be hard to squeeze dandelions onto the menu of your next Thanksgiving meal now, either; the dandelion is edible from flower to root, bearing leaves of a “slightly astringent flavor prized by salad eaters, Canada geese, and porcupines” , alike. Among just a few of the recipes offered to The New York Times Cooking subscribers: a “generous bunch of dandelion greens,” alongside onion, mushrooms, garlic cloves, and Gruyère for a delicious tart; a dandelion salad with beets, bacon, and goat cheese toasts; dandelions puréed with fava beans; and one that particularly caught my eye, “Southern” Dandelion Greens with Crispy Onions. The flowers are said to be delicious fried in batter, the greens taste best blanched (to remove bitterness) or sautéed like a spinach or a kale.
Dandelions also became quite popular during America’s Prohibition era, so popular in fact that a report from Detroit in 1923, nestled among other notices in The New York Times, remarked on the city’s need for more garbage men just to handle all the dandelion mash being thrown away on nearly every city block. In 1919, proactive American soldiers in Germany picked up recipes for loewenzahnwein (dandelion wine) in anticipation of “difficulty in obtaining any sort of liquid refreshment of a cheering nature when they reach[ed] home” [see this article in my collection of NYT dandelion pieces, The Daily Dandelion, below]. No longer restricted to home brewing and speakeasies today, dandelion wines continue to delight.
Forty feet in the air, I perched hesitatingly on the uninviting, creaky metal slats of my friend Kate's rusty fire escape in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It was a deceptively cool summer morning in 2020 and one perfect for a coffee alfresco. I’d wedged myself “gracefully” through the apartment’s window moments before, managing not to send any notebooks or pens plunging below as I maneuvered myself, akimbo. At the window sill, Kate's dog, Djola, (and my charge for the weekend), had surveyed my acrobatics with concern until I found myself a seat. Savoring slow, quiet mornings like this one had become my standard: a coffee, a crossword, a few pages of a book. The cozy, quotidian sounds of muffled city traffic as background music, I settled down with that day’s offerings, content, and realized: I had always wanted to be here. Not so much here, literally, but here in the larger sense, in New York City—as my home.
The seed (pun intended) that planted my love for the Big Apple was sowed by Betty Smith in her classic 1945 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. On my mom’s urging (her mom had loved it as well), I first read the book in middle school at about the age we meet its protagonist, Francie Nolan. Francie was a balance between dreamy and observant, earnest, reflective, bookish; I identified with her and romanticized the New York City world she inhabited. I loved Smith’s rich descriptions of Francie’s life in Williamsburg in the early 20th century, particularly of the many characters Francie encountered as she walked her block or gazed out from the perch of her fire escape. Of all the neighborhood’s residents, the book opens with a description of its most famous one:
On the fire escape in 2020, I could easily have been looking out at the same scene. A tree effortlessly towered over the 6-story apartment buildings that crowded it. Its canopy lent dramatic shadows that covered the dusty and cement yards below; I followed the outstretched branches with my eyes, tips to the trunk, to really make sure they all came from the same tree (they did).
What tree was this?
Welcome to Planted!
Hello, Katherine here! An ecologist and anthropologist by training, I am here to talk about plants: broadly, how they shape human spaces and persist within them, and, more personally, how they are helping me feel at home (one might say, rooted) as I adapt to life in NYC.