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Natural Cleveland: April

Jill Collins  |  04/05/16 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Natural Cleveland

Flowers are out and on the trees. The world is flowering. Everyone knows the daffodils. Most trees also flower even if they are quiet and unobtrusive, like oaks. If you know you are looking for a tree's flowers, you could stalk the tree to learn its phenology—the study of seasonal phenomena.

Some tree flowers you might like, and notice more, like the horse chestnuts who cluster pink and white flowers.

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Our urban cemeteries are one of the best places to see to see flowering trees, unique plants, and wildlife. Cemeteries are places to see plants that were popular in other time periods because well-loved species were often planted with deceased loved ones. There are a variety of trees in Monroe Cemetery, in Ohio City, but I can only speculate on why these trees were chosen over others.

I wonder whether the lindens were planted because they were close to the hearts of the Germans, the primary residents of the cemetery. Osage oranges, strange trees that produce large orange-like fruit in the fall, were popular for hedgerows before the 1880s. These trees are planted along the path at Monroe.

Lake View Cemetery, on the city's East Side, is a labyrinth of plants, all with rich but likely indiscernible stories behind their presence. The stones too are records of historical trends. Gravestone use changed over time as changes in transportation allowed for moving heavy stone over greater distances. Local stone was no longer the only option for graves.

An urban cemetery’s popularity with wildlife may or may not be linked to its size and also to its accessibility. Lake View Cemetery is large and Monroe Cemetery is next to the RTA Rapid tracks, which provide an accidental migratory route for mammals. Erie Street in Downtown Cleveland attracts birds, but does not support much other wildlife given the heavily urbanized surroundings.

Migrating birds do not have the same habitat requirements as other animals. This time of year, along with warblers and vireos in the trees above, a bizarre gamebird called a woodcock hunkers down between the gravestones at Monroe. It is difficult to see the large but well camouflaged woodcock until you nearly step on it and flush it from its hiding place. Woodpeckers search old trees for cavities to settle down and begin their domestic affairs. Remnants of coyotes and telltale signs of deer, the odor of skunks, and evening sightings of raccoons stand as proof of wilderness in the city, at least among the larger or well-connected cemeteries.

Text and illustrations by Jill Collins. Edited by Justin Glanville.

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