John Bartram introduced Europe’s most widely spread maple tree to Philadelphia in the 1750s, and it’s probably best known for some seasonal features.

In summer, the Norway maple casts a deep leafy shade on the ground.

And kids like to peel open its ripening green samaras, pasting the sticky sides to their noses.

In late fall, the tree’s foliage is brilliant yellow.

And its browning seed pods helicopter down in copious amounts, seeming to fill every surrounding inch and crack of ground.

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Now, in spring, with so many other trees in bloom, it can be easy to overlook the Norway maple’s green inflorescence.

Fortunately a gray squirrel happens along, nibbles off a twig, and lets it fall to the ground.

Then we get a better look at the clustered flowers, resting on the tree’s surfacing roots, amid the refuse of prior seasons.

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By the calendar start of spring, copious crowds of leafy rosettes were already greening the streamside.

Also known as pilewort or fig buttercup, lesser celandine was introduced from Europe where Wordsworth celebrated its overlooked beauty and ornamental promise.

It is now considered invasive in Pennsylvania, reviled by many for diminishing the local diversity of spring ephemerals.

In fact, few, if any, flowering natives seem to penetrate its smothering profusion here in this part of the Little Crum corridor.

But soon its own brilliant florescence lightens the dark green space like a starry sky.

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Then, too bright to photograph in direct sunlight, one might shadow the flowers for clarity, outlining a constellation of our complicity in the natural character of our creeks.

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Garlic mustard is leafy, tall, and slender, producing button-topped clusters of white petals. 

Its sudden flowering has spruced up the brown leaf-strewn hill. That’s why it suddenly stands out in a list of plants to be vigilant about. As an “invasive species,” garlic mustard spreads aggressively, often in already compromised areas, squeezing out native diversity by taking up nutrients, space, and sun while distracting insects (like the hoverfly) from pollinating native plants.  Apparently it even secretes a chemical into the soil to kill fungi that other plants require.  Then it seeds voluminously in the second year of a biennial life-cycle, just after flowering.  Seeds will hitch a ride on hair or hide to spread. And the plant is usually threatened only by other invasive species.

That’s where I come in.  Knowledge, even a little, is responsibility, right?  One by one, the garlic mustard is coming up at the root. 

But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, too. People brought garlic mustard from Europe to America in the 1860s. At the time, it was a useful medicinal herb and seasoning, a nice complement to the garden.  One hundred fifty years later, it is invasive and insidious. States across the country scramble to control garlic mustard before it can dominate native populations.  

Medicine, menace.  Seasoning, spoiler. Planter, supplanter.  

To stand in the wilding spawn of a garlic mustard garden:

what an enduring and delicate balance of knowing and not. 

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