Tick check. Photo: Vincent Mounier
...in which I check my ankles for ticks, on Staten Island. I had been walking in the long grasses, roadside. And yes, I wore white pants on purpose - to spot them, fast.
The tick thing isn't funny. They are tiny. And they transmit diseases with large consequences: Lyme disease, babebiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis and the rare but virulent Powassan encephalitis.
We are drenched in spray for mosquitoes that transmit the occasional bite of West Nile virus, but the ticks, that affect thousands of people, march on (although there is now a senate-convened Tick Task Force). The Frenchman and I tire of the threat, neither of us having grown up in tick-plagued countries.
This really was not going to be a tick post
But there is no part of the great Northeastern outdoors that is free of their threat. Except, perhaps, for this pocket of Staten Island, where not a single tick did we find.
Photographing common milkweed. Photo: Vincent Mounier
I did find beautiful common milkweed, whose flowers were just beginning to open. I picked about 25 flowerheads from the hundreds, for a lavender-colored cordial.
If you have a garden, or own land, consider planting milkweed. Asclepias syriaca is the only one - that we know of - that is deliciously edible for humans (shoots, buds, flowers and pods). But plant any of the over 100 species of Asclepias on which monarch butterfly larvae feed.
Botanical Interests sells Aslepias incarnata seed. The plants are perennial, so wait two years after sowing to see your flowers bloom. Glover Perennials on Long Island's North Fork propagates and sells (wholesale) milkweed plants, so ask your Tri-state nursery to stock their products. You can order milkweed plants online, too.
The only way to spread milkweed is to demand it or to broadcast the fluff from the seed pods, when you find it. Most of it falls victim to roadside and railside herbicide spraying, and most farmers consider it a pest, like the one on whose land I was permitted to collect the shoots in May.
This Staten Island common milkweed colony (they rise from an underground series of rhizomes) is threatened by the relentless crush of invasive and exotic - and edible! - mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), which dominates the green area.
I doubt these acts of milkweed planting that I advocate will save the threatened monarch, whose forests far, far south have been depleted by logging (read Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior - whose rather dismissive review I will never forget, on NPR, the reviewer questioning the monarch hook around which the novel is written, as rather - I am paraphrasing - esoteric and inconsequential).
But it can't hurt to try.
1. Check for ticks
2. Plant milkweed
3. Make cordials
4. And come on my wild edibles walk tomorrow, in Prospect Park!